“My family we’re nobility – a dying breed in this modern age. Much of our influence and power diminished considerably during the war, and while we were never poor, such times bring to light the importance of more intangible qualities. Honor, Mr. Potter, and Valor, and History – the importance of the Name. Such things often are lost in piles of gold, but they never disappear, and it is the duty of each generation to cherish them before passing them along to the next.”
I nodded, and I understood – I’ve been treated to the fickle winds of fortune, and Monsieur Delacour seemed to recognize my empathy – a thin smile crossing his face as I met his eyes.
“My wife, on the other hand, had a very different childhood. Though her family had been in high standing in the Veela communities, her father was a wizard – she was a ‘Sang bas’. Veela, as you no doubt are aware, have an incredible ability to project an aura of lust and beauty…such a union between Veela and wizardkind is not at all common, for many reasons.” He let out a grim chuckle, a bittersweet sound.
“For centuries, law has forbidden Veela to intermarry with wizards, our kind deeming the risk of a Veela hijacking a family line far too great, and in theory, it remains a justified fear, if unlikely. It is typical of wizards to be so short sighted – the Veela are a proud race, not mere objects of sexuality, but a glorification of the female spirit – as deadly and proud as they are beautiful… While they have there own who would use such tricks, as a species they would never throw themselves so wholly into another’s dependence – even if only in name.”
“Those facts have done little however, to make relations between us anything more than tolerable, and it was only in the chaos of the time that my wife’s parents were able to do what they did. Nonetheless, she and her family were ostracized from the greater magical community, and while they maintained their position among the Veela courts, the family’s influence diminished considerably, even if the coffers themselves did not.”
“And so, a number of unusual events came together, the wheel of fate, for those that believe in such things, began to turn. My wife does not possess the aura, nothing save her natural beauty. As such, her position within the courts was jeopardized, a sang bas – a low blood, with a significant lack of Veela magic – unacceptable.”
“And then there was myself, with a diminished inheritance and a meaningless title, I was able to…move through the loophole of the law, yes? My family, and hers, saw an opportunity, and an alliance was formed, sealed through marriage. An unusual alliance, but one that would prove most profitable to all involved.”
His eyes glazed slightly, his rough grin becoming softer, genuine. “I found her beautiful of course, the moment we met, and hardly more than twenty, I admit that I cared for little else. In time however, I came to appreciate the depth of her character, and I understood just how lucky I was. I had a beautiful spouse, but she was far more than a concubine to warm my bed. She became my partner, my equal, my wife.”
“Our unusual circumstances have been a mixed blessing outside of the home. We have cultivated many allies, and in doing so have reaped just as many enemies. Right now, I confess it is difficult to tell one from the other. The resurrection of your Voldemort – people here are nervous, they remember all too well the previous Dark Lords, and in their fear, they turn to those most like themselves, those who share the same prejudices. What was once seen as a progressive step forward – the equal cooperation between wizard and Veela – is now looked upon with suspicion, and those who have long opposed me have taken advantage of the fact.” His look was replaced with one of deep sadness. “Despite my best efforts, my name is quickly becoming mud.”
Any wistfulness in his expression disappeared, replaced with a grim and determined glint. “My two daughters mean everything to me, and I think any man who cannot see the women they will become a fool. However, one must be realistic, and Fleur, unfortunately, has inherited her grandmother’s aura. There is nothing for her in France – I only hope that Gabrielle does not follow in her footsteps.”
Dammit, but despite everything, I’m still a brave-and-honest-to-the-point-of-stupid kind of guy, and before I could stop myself, I responded, angrily. “You tell me you love Fleur, yet you seem quite willing to abandon her, banish her from her own country. I suppose our families are quite sim–”
His low growl cut me off, anger radiating off him in waves. “Do not ever doubt that I love my daughters, Mr. Potter, but what would you have me do? Do not pretend you understand my situation, you have no child of your own, you cannot possibly feel the torment as I do.”
I didn’t respond, simply sat there, silently conceding the point. With a nod, he continued. “If Fleur remains here, in France, her future is very much limited, and in the current political clime, even her name is worth little. Her fiancé, from what I heard, is as well as she can expect to do.” His calm exterior fell for a moment, replaced with an angry snarl, “unless, Mr. Potter, you think I should bind her to a man who cares nothing for her, nothing more than a putain for one of a higher station.”
Yes, I’m an idiot – though in my defense I hadn’t intended to insult a very powerful and desperate man within his own home by questioning his love for his own family. It just…happened.
He fell silent, and with a gesture, indicated that I speak. I had no idea how to possibly respond – what I could say to take back my previous statement. So instead, I took my half of the bargain, telling him the story of the last six months, starting with the kidnapping of his daughter.
I didn’t tell him everything, truthfully, I hardly scratched the surface – leaving out everything involving my watching him. What I did say would have been enough to have me thrown in Azkaban for life if it could be proven, which was far too much information in my opinion, but like Monsieur Delacour, I’m nothing if not honorable. An hour later, he left, telling me Christmas dinner would be ready in another hour, and if I was capable, I was invited to the table. I nodded, before falling once more against the sheets, exhausted.
The dinner, by contrast, was a splendid affair. In contrast with the opulence of the evening prior, dinner with the Delacours was a private affair, familial and with an understated splendor. None of the Delacours had forced the issue, though I imagined that the relief in Fleur’s return was a major contribution to the joyful mood, and I was honestly surprised how despite the oath, Monsieur Delacour invited me to what amounted to a reunion, especially given my role as hostage taker in the first place.
Mercifully, Gabrielle never ceased talking, allowing me the luxury of eating the delicacies in front of me in peace. The food was all superb, and though my own cooking is hardly terrible, it was no small wonder that Fleur never seemed satisfied. Imagine my shock when later, I was informed that the actual Christmas dinner had been served the night before, and all of this – great plates oysters, a plum, sizzling duck glazed with a pepper sauce, and an assortment of cheese ranging from Camembert to Saint-Marcellin – were leftovers from the night before. A profitable alliance indeed…
The French that buzzed around the table was far too fast and fluid to make any sense of, and so I sat, slightly uneasy when more than once Fleur sneaked a glance in my direction, her expression questioning, and I didn’t doubt that she knew her father and I had shared a lengthy conversation, though what she knew of it I wasn’t sure. Finally, I was startled by Monsieur Delacour addressing me directly.
“Mr. Potter, what are your plans for the coming days?” They’re all looking at me, and though Gabrielle’s expression is innocent, the other three were regarding me with various stages of deliberation, Fleur’s face slightly wary, her father’s carefully blank. Her mother was clearly aware that an uncomfortable situation existed, though said nothing about it, merely sending me an unnerving smile, and saying, “Certainment, vous êtes bienvenu ici.”
I nodded, though declined, “Merci Madame…mais…” toss it “I’m afraid I must return home, no doubt my friends and my professors are worried sick.” She nodded, though her expression remained doubtful, and I could have kicked myself for my oddly phrased response. Nothing for it now, but every time I thought I’d mastered the art of subtlety, I managed to muck the whole thing up.
“Of course, Mr. Potter, and no doubt, Fleur will need to return to England as well. She does, after all, have a fiancé waiting there, no?” He spoke casually, though the unspoken challenge was there, and this time, I did not fail to meet it. “Of course sir…I thank you for your hospitality, but I was planning on leaving tomorrow. Fleur may join me, if she wishes.”
We exchanged a look, and I begged her, silently, to come with me. Nothing in our oaths would force her to, and after last night, and the fact that I had forced her into this mess to begin with, no matter how honorable my intentions – she was at this point free to do as she chose. Still, our…my position was in jeopardy, and whilst she could not directly speak against me, discrepancy would catch Dumbledore’s attention – send him down a dangerous path. Fleur, once again, had me in a tight spot.
She nodded, and I feared my sudden show of relief was obvious to all. No one noticed, fortunately, as they all turned to Fleur as she began to explain in veiled terms why she needed to return with me, and that she’d be back to France to visit for a longer time when all had settled down. Monsieur Delacour spared me a glare for a moment, before the dinner conversation returned to its previously joyful tone.
The next day, we made our goodbyes quickly – or I did at any rate. Fleur lingered, and I felt uncomfortable, as if I was intruding on a personal moment, which I suppose I was. Despite their hospitality, it was clear my presence was something that was merely tolerated by the Delacour patriarch. Madame Delacours seemed genuinely affectionate, though I may have simply misread her natural charm. Gabrielle, bless her, had been thrilled with my unexpected arrival, ever the hero after rescuing her two years ago. With a final round of goodbye’s, we apparated, away from the lavish gardens of the Delacour’s courtyard, and into a suddenly inadequate, dimly lit, three roomed flat near the Munich city-center. Charming.
“’Arry, I am not certain our previous plan will work – we do not know just how many recognized us from last night.”
I sighed, irritated at how things had gone ass over tit in the last few days. “I don’t think it matters in the short term – Bellatrix and Voldemort are hardly going to inform Dumbledore of my outing, and I doubt that Bellatrix shared our presence with the others – not after she let us get away. Hell, we talked to Malfoy, and he didn’t so much as blink.” She looked at me, unconvinced, and I felt the need to vent my frustration.
“We don’t have time to come up with a brand new story, and the one we have now is truthful enough that we might get away with it. Not to mention, we look a mess – we’ll put on the robes I…acquired, and I’ve still got the Emaciation Potion stocked away – they’ll buy us time, it’s not as if I’m intend to go back and finish up a traditional Hogwart’s education.
Now Fleur was angry – fantastic, just what we needed right now. “You’re plan, ‘Arry, is foolish and rash. Un, we, you particularly, may look a mess, but it is obvious we have not gone without treatment. Even with the robes, which I admit will do much to cover our appearance, deux, your little potion will not work – any healer will know that it was recently ingested, and it will make you look suspicious. Et trios, as I have said – we do not know what we are dealing with, and for all we know, your Daily Prophet is already bellowing that the great ‘Arry Potter was seen at the French Minister, not two nights ago.
Good points, all very good points. She even numbered them. That did nothing to relieve my mood. “Dammit Fleur, it’s the best plan we have, and the later we postpone this, the greater chance now of something happening, catching us out. And the potion, who cares – bloody thing is bound to be painful, just say I was force fed the thing before we escaped.” I laughed around a forming sneer. “Anyway, I’ve spent ages in the hospital. Believe me, Grimmauld will be a madhouse –odds are they’ll see I’m half starved to death, assume the worst, and off we go. It shouldn’t matter anyway, not with the price I paid for it…” I was grumbling now, my argument spent.
I took the potion, waiting the full six hours for it to work through my system. I was wrong – it wasn’t painful. It was excruciating. Enough to make me pity Fleur despite my state – she had to pack everything of use by herslef, all while listening to my whimpers and moans as muscle quite literally melted off my body into nothingness. It was a price I had to pay, to ensure my story rang true – I had the antidote carefully wrapped in my cloak, but until I could safely conceal my true state back at Hogwarts, and in the short term, get a few good meals and a long sleep, I was going to be as weak as a kitten, and knowing Molly’s penchant to smother, it could grow tiresome rather quickly. It made the self inflicted black eye, and the reopening of some of my more obvious wounds a walk in the park.
We had obtained a portkey to Hamburg earlier in the week, and while neither of us could make one yet from scratch, Fleur was adept enough to break through the rather flimsy anti-tampering charms, and change the destination to an unused warehouse in Brighton. Close enough to London that Fleur could apparate the pair of us. Yes, this was growing tiresome rather quickly.
“’Arry”, Fleur whispered, just before we took off, “do you trust me?”
My first response would have been a hearty ‘no’, though I doubt it would have come out as anything more than a whimper. Yet here I was, deliberately weakened to the point that I was relying on Fleur simply to stand up, and after a long moment of deliberation, nodded, a weak ‘yeh’ pouring from my lips.
“’Arry, when we arrive…I suspect that several of your friends, and no doubt Dumbledore…you must trust me when I say I have another way to perhaps…throw them off the scent, non?”
Strange, but she sounded slightly nervous, hesitant. “Huh?” I responded, not for the first time showing off my ability to communicate intelligently.
“You will have to trust me, but I can…I can perhaps make their minds wonder to more…irrelevant topics.” I nodded, though clearly clueless. “What I need is for you to understand what I will do. For you, you must simply…follow my aura, yes?”
Follow her aura, whatever she meant by that. A moment later, I felt a tiny twinge, a wave of gentleness that urged me to look up, and for a moment I felt the strongest desire to kiss her – nothing passionate, just a gentle touch to convey my gratefulness. Oh…that.
I nodded, too tired to debate the issue, and shivering in my greasy and dirt riddled robe, we underwent the uncomfortable twisting that follows a portkey transportation. Five minutes later, we came down into the cold London night, just beyond the sight of Grimmauld Place.
We struggled forward, or rather, Fleur struggled as she half led, half dragged me through the drizzle towards our destination. We arrived, and I reached for the doorknob, the door opening instantly at my touch. The corridor was dark, and nearby, it was obvious something of importance was going on – Dumbledore’s voice leaked out from the room next door – seems like the Order intended to have Tonks pretend to be me.
A moment later the door slammed shut with a loud crack. Fleur jumped at the noise, and we stumbled, dripping over the troll’s leg umbrella stand and knocking it over entirely. I moaned, embarrassingly enough in real pain, and we heard voices, frantic, coming down towards us.
“Who is – POTTER! What in Merlin’s balls is going on.” Moody then, along with McGonagall, and Dumbledore himself.
I wheezed, deciding to seize the moment. “Good evening professor…professor, Moody. I guess you won’t need Tonks after all.” The girl in question appeared a moment later, slipping in between Dumbledore and Moody, her normally expressive face frozen in shock. I waved slightly, before heaving over, a combination of acting the part and a sincere lashing of pain from the sudden hunger that the potion had caused me. With a grunt, I fell down, the potions effects moving rapidly forward as the last traces of it worked inside my system. As the pain reached its crescendo, the world around me plummeted into darkness.