10 - Antwerp
Well, yet again, I apologise for the delay. Basically, after taking the summer off, this should have been out in October. Unfortunately, the great Fanfiction Loss of September 06 wiped
out my desire to rewrite the parts of this I'd lost.
The good news, is that parts 11 and 12 are written, and are being betad at the moment.
Harry watched Gabrielle from across the Hall at Beauxbatons as she gave interviews to the press, and started to have some serious thoughts about pushing to marry her sooner than he’d originally planned.
It was killing him to watch his Mate from a distance, especially when he could feel that all she wanted was a hug, a touch, his kiss.
Even now, a few days later, he could pinpoint the exact moment when his desire to go slow had vanished. The moment Draco Malfoy touched her, the very thought of him, of all people, touching Gabrielle triggered a reaction so incredibly strong that he had to acknowledge it.
The idea of going slow seemed silly now, now that he knew that Gabrielle loved him. He no longer cared if it was the magic or the girl; he suspected it was the girl, because he was feeling the same thing.
“You are doing a lot of this,” Aimée said from his shoulder.
“Making cow-eyes at Gabrielle?”
She laughed softly. “Oh no, your face is expressionless. You do not give away your secrets that easily to everyone. To me, on the other hand…”
He smiled slightly at her. “I think she’s going to be a while yet.”
“Jean will be staying with her as she deals with the press. In the future, that will be your job.”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed with a sigh. “I need to do something to stop myself from brooding. Fancy a trip?”
Harry grinned, took Aimée’s arm and Apparated them away from Hogwarts and halfway across Europe. They appeared in a small dark alleyway, and he led her out into the courtyard.
“The Cathedral of Our Lady,” Aimée whispered in wonder. “That is what international Apparition is like?”
He nodded. “Welcome to Antwerp.”
She tilted her head. “This is the diamond capital of Europe, is it not?”
“If I’m going to get Gabby a ring, it’s got to be the best.”
“You do not want to use a family heirloom?”
Harry shook his head. “I’ve looked, and none of them are right for Gabby – my family has a habit of marrying brunettes and red-heads. Besides, they all have charms on them, and it would be irritating to remove them.”
“Why would you want to remove them?” Aimée asked.
“Because I can do better charms. I’ll spend some time with Filius, and we’ll make sure the rings are the most powerful since Merlin gave his to Morgana. Of course, Merlin made a mistake with his ring and it started to corrupt her, leading to her eventual betrayal. But, he knew what mistake he made and how to fix it. Besides, he never had a bond to Morgana – she was just a very beautiful brunette with a wicked right hook.”
Aimée looked at him with an arched eyebrow.
“They were in Arthur’s palace once when Lancelot, having been rebuffed by Gwenhwyfar, tried to chat her up – thinking that as Merlin looked like an old man, she would be open to his charms.
“She punched him, and then kneed him in the stomach, then punched him again, before kicking him and breaking his nose. Merlin healed Lancelot and then took Morgana back home, and they weren’t seen for a week.”
He sighed and smiled.
“That was a true love. It was Merlin’s biggest regret and nightmare that he had a hand in her downfall.
“It had a happy ending of sorts. Morgana eventually managed to fight off the effects of the ring, and they destroyed it together, and were reunited – but the battle took too much out of her, and she died a few years later.
“I truly think that was one of the reasons Merlin died when he did. First he lost his love, and then his dream for a utopian society was ruined. He still had the guilt of what had happened with Morgana, and I think he no longer wanted to live.”
He stopped and looked at Aimée, who had an awed expression her face.
She took his hand silently and led him over to a small coffee shop. She ordered tea for them and sat down on one of the tables on the terrace, staring at him curiously.
“What?” he asked, feeling a little uncomfortable under her piercing gaze.
“I think,” she said slowly, “that I have just discovered exactly why my daughter loves you more than her own life.”
Harry flushed and looked away.
“You have depth, Harry. I was concerned that you were, well, just a sportsman and a fighter. Jean has often described you as a Chevalier, but I wasn’t sure. A Chevalier is not just a knight; he is a gentle and chivalrous man. He does not just fight with honour, he thinks as well.
“Tell me, how exactly do you know so much about a legend? A legend that contradicts what I know about the events of the past.”
“I have Merlin’s diaries,” Harry admitted quietly. “So I’ve read what really happened, and not what Muggles turned into a great story. And I’d ask that you please don’t let anyone know.”
She nodded. “You could sell them for a fortune.”
Harry smiled faintly. “I wouldn’t sell these if I was homeless and starving. These are worth more than anything anyone could ever give me. They’re my link to a past that I can only dream of.” He paused, “And to be honest, I doubt they’d be much use to most wizards.”
“Because you need power to pull off the spells that Merlin put in his diaries. Real power. It was Merlin who taught me how to bend the boundaries of magic that allowed Beauxbatons to slip through the ancient wards of Hogwarts.” He lifted his cup and took a long sip.
“Harry,” Aimée said after a few moments of silence.
He looked at her.
“You have my blessing.”
“You had my permission to marry Gabrielle before, but only because it needed to be done to rectify her silly mistake. You can have no idea the fear I have felt for so many years, that you would turn out to be a normal man, one who would give in to the temptation of having a beautiful slave. Even though Jean reassured me, I never truly believed.
“I found you an honourable man from the start, but now that I know you, I am reassured. All my daughter needs is your affection, but that is not enough for me. I want my daughter to have everything, and I now believe that you can give her that. She would have settled for so little, but I would never have been happy.
“Tell me, what did you do on your date?” Aimée asked.
“I took her to Tintagel and showed her Merlin’s final resting place.”
Aimée swallowed her tea. “Is there anything you don’t know?”
He laughed under his breath. “There’s a whole universe out there. Merlin knew a fraction of what there is to be learned, and I know a fraction of what he knew. Some time in the future, I’d like to try some of his experimental spells.”
He nodded. “When we’re older, we’ll go through them together, and we’ll see how we can rock the world. We’ll see if Merlin was truly as great as I think he is.”
“And you think he was?”
Harry nodded. “I think his legend is underplayed, if anything. He was a man who invented more magic in his one hundred and sixty years than most countries have done since the dawn of time. Magic was natural to him, like breathing, and he revelled in it. If he hadn’t had more important things to worry about in the last third of his life, there were no bounds to what he might have done.”
“He is your hero,” Aimée said without a trace of irony.
Harry nodded eagerly. “And my role model. He never settled for mediocrity, not when he could achieve excellence. And that’s what I have to do.” He smiled faintly. “It’ll take me another fifty years before I’m even close to understanding some of what he wrote, but with Gabrielle’s help, we will make it together.” He paused and looked at her directly. “I didn’t have an easy time of it growing up. After Voldemort was defeated I was lost. My friends went on with their lives, but I was alone. I pushed myself into Quidditch and studying, but then after my injury at the World Cup, I lost Quidditch and I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere with my studying, and I let myself be distracted by the hole my life was in.
“Then Gabrielle slipped into my life. Her innocence shone through from the start, and I found that I couldn’t be morose in her company. But then I found that I was being manipulated.”
“I had a choice. I thought I’d made up my mind – I was going to break the bond. But then Gabrielle begged me for a chance. That’s all she wanted, and I couldn’t deny her.
“If she had used an erg of Veela power, I would have broken the Bond, but she didn’t. She sat in front of the one man with the power of God over her, she knew that a misstep would send her into madness, yet she pulled back and asked that I make a decision, not in anger, but after consideration.
“Her courage was outrageous.”
Aimée moved her hand and lightly covered his. “I will not tell anyone, even Jean, what you have said today, Harry, but I thank you.”
Harry smiled at her. “You’re the only person who’s been normal in all of this, and you’re going to be my mother-in-law. I feel like you, more than anyone, deserve to know more about who I am, and not who I play at being most of the time.”
“What sort of relationship do you desire with me, Harry?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I have heard stories from Fleur about how Molly Weasley treats you. I find myself wanting to have as good a relationship with you as I can, but I do not want to make you uncomfortable.”
Harry sighed, “I do like Molly and Arthur, but Molly is just a little bit overbearing – and in her heart she still thinks that Ginny and I will get together. I tend to only see them at family events, and that’s not very often.”
Aimée nodded. “I do not want to lose my daughter, Harry, nor do I want to lose you. And rather than risk doing something by accident, I want to know what you will accept from me.”
He looked at her for a very long moment, then smiled slowly. “I think, Aimée, that I will accept anything that you want to give.”
She looked a little surprised. “I did not expect that response.”
“No, you probably didn’t. My biggest issue with Molly is that she does not, and will not, accept that I am now an adult. You have treated me like an adult from the start, and just now, you asked me for my preference, like an adult. I want a very good relationship with you, Aimée. I do want someone I can talk to who is a little older, is a little more mature, and can perhaps understand me better than my friends – who, as much as they try, can’t understand the pressure of being young, rich and famous.”
Aimée nodded and smiled at him. “You have always acted like an adult, Harry, so there is no reason for me not to treat you as such. Even in the face of extreme provocation, you have kept your honour and your dignity.” She paused, and then changed the subject completely. “How many people know about Merlin’s diaries?”
“Two, now: you and Gabrielle.”
“Not even Hermione?”
Harry shook his head. “This has always been my secret. The one thing that was mine alone, that I didn’t have to share. But let me ask you a question. What do you do?”
“You mean professionally?”
Harry nodded. “Yeah, I mean, I’ve seen you reading the Financial Times, but you don’t seem to have an office or a job.”
Aimée sighed. “I was, until last year, a director for one of the largest cosmetic companies in France.”
“I reached the mandatory retirement age of sixty five and was forced to retire. I’d been using make-up to make myself look older, so that the Muggles would not be suspicious of an older woman who seemed to have stopped aging at forty, but they have rules and I fell foul of them. Now, I putter around while I try to decide exactly what I want to do next.”
She finished her tea.
“Come, let us find my daughter a ring that will show her that she is luckiest girl on the face of the planet.”
“I think I’m the lucky one,” Harry muttered, trying to control his blush.
Aimée reached into her purse and placed a few Euros on the table, before she took Harry’s arm and walked with him into a small shop with only two counters. An elderly man looked up at them with a slight sneer on his face.
Aimée took one look at him and sniffed. She turned abruptly and walked out.
“Aimée?” Harry asked as he followed her.
“One so blind cannot be of assistance to us,” she replied coldly.
“We might be dressed casually, but your watch is worth more than half his shop, as are my earrings. We both carry ourselves differently than your average shopper, and if he was not paying attention, then he does not deserve our patronage.”
Harry laughed. “The wood behind him was also slightly dusty – shows a lack of care. Probably a tourist trap.”
“We will try this one,” Aimée decided, and they walked together into another shop. This one was slightly bigger, with a series of mahogany cases taking up most of the floor space.
“Welcome,” the man behind the counter said cheerfully in French. “I am Tomas. May I help you find anything?”
Aimée looked at him thoughtfully, before she glanced briefly at the displays. “Do you have anything of real quality?”
An amused look flickered across his face. “I presume that a lady who wears such earrings would not be impressed by my normal fare. What are you seeking?”
“I need an engagement ring,” Harry replied. “Nothing too gaudy. It needs to be elegant and restrained.”
Tomas looked at him for a brief moment. “Like your watch,” he said with a nod. “Please wait here. I will be back shortly.” He vanished out of the room.
“Happy?” Harry asked.
Aimée smiled. “I am, indeed, as I am amused that he brought up the clues I mentioned. Of course, normally I dress for shopping, but today, I did not want to distract from my daughter. And you did not give me time to change.”
“The day you look anything other than beautiful is a very long way away,” Harry replied. “You look barely old enough to be Gabby’s mother, never mind Fleur’s.”
Aimée smiled at him. “Flattery will get you everywhere.”
“It’s not flattery,” Harry grinned. “I was the recipient of many jealous looks when we stopped for tea. It was quite an experience for me to be the younger partner.”
“You did not mind then?” Aimée asked, a playfully flirting expression on her face.
“Mind? A thousand poets could struggle for a year to capture a tenth of your beauty and elegance, and a decade to describe the looks of hatred and envy I received for having you on my arm.”
Aimée’s laugh echoed around the room. “You smooth-talking rogue! This is an aspect of your personality I have not seen before.”
“Not many have,” he agreed. “All little boys grow up, it’s just that some of us have to hide who we become.”
“Why hide it, Harry?”
He smiled faintly. “I have enough trouble walking some places in England without getting assaulted by overly amorous fan-girls, and that’s with my reputation for being cold and aloof. I shudder to think how bad it would be if I was truly myself.
“I am a private person. As long as my friends know me, I’m happy.”
Aimée nodded. “Has my daughter seen you flirt yet?”
“Not seriously. Until recently, I didn’t think it was a good idea.”
“You should. It will make her smile, and Gabrielle is often far too serious.”
Tomas returned with a polite cough. “Should I ask if price is going to be an issue?” he asked delicately.
“No,” Harry replied with finality.
Tomas nodded and place a small walnut casket on the counter. He opened it slowly. “These represent some of my best work,” he said reverently.
Harry looked at them; there were eighteen different rings in the box, some with huge diamonds as their focus.
“That one,” Harry said, pointing to one on the far left. “That’s the one.”
Tomas pulled the ring out gently and handed it to him. The platinum ring was a little heavier than expected. The platinum criss-crossed all around the ring, with each strand being surrounded by small cut diamonds. From a distance it looked restrained, but when it caught the light it sparkled and shone.
“I have a matching wedding ring,” Tomas continued. “When worn together, the patterns match, and the effect increases.”
“Do you have a matching wedding ring for me?”
“I’ll take the engagement ring,” Harry decided. “And I’ll bring Gabrielle back with me to look at your wedding rings.”
“You are a wise man,” Tomas said approvingly. “A man may choose an engagement ring, but it is a foolish man who chooses the wedding bands alone.”
“What do you think?” Harry asked Aimée.
“I think that you do not truly need my advice,” she responded with a smile. “You know my daughter well.”
“Do you need the ring sized?”
Aimée moved forward and took the ring from Harry, slipping it onto her finger. “No,” she said. “My daughter’s hands are the same size as mine.”
Tomas looked a little surprised, but didn’t say anything as she handed him the ring back. He pulled out a small leather box and carefully placed the ring inside it. Harry pulled out his wallet and handed him his credit card.
Tomas turned and pulled out a surprisingly modern terminal. “I was forced to upgrade to the PIN technologies,” he explained with a sigh. “In the old days, a man’s word was his bond, and a simple cheque did the business. Now, most of my customers are Americans, and they do not even care that the jewellery they buy is merely adequate. Still, a shop owner must provide what the clientele desire. Please enter your number,” he finished, handing the terminal back to Harry.
Harry tapped in the number, smiling faintly at the price. Despite being five digits, it was still a long way from two months of his salary. But, he was very aware that to spend that much would require a diamond the size of an egg, which would not look right on Gabrielle’s hand.
“Thank you,” Harry said, as he took possession of the ring.
“No, Mr Black, thank you,” Tomas replied. “I do hope to see you again.”
“And if, later, you happen to run across the owner of the shop two doors down from yours, you might want to remind him of the power of first impressions,” Aimée added.
Tomas’ eyes lit up. “Gauthier is not the most observant man. He does make some good rings – not as good as mine, of course – but good all the same. I shall tease him tonight.”
They walked out of the shop and into the sunlight. “How about some lunch?” Harry suggested. “Gabrielle is safe with Jean, and the press will probably keep them another hour or more.”
“I would be delighted, Harry. You can tell me more about Merlin, and how you plan to emulate his work.”
“That was a most frustrating day,” Gabrielle complained as she threw her robes onto her bed.
“Gabrielle,” Aimée sighed reproachfully as she picked up the robes.
“I was going to do that, Mama.”
“Of course you were, my dear,” Aimée murmured.
“I wanted to be with Harry, not with Papa facing those horrible vultures,” Gabrielle continued. “But at least Papa was there to stop them getting out of hand. Ron was good as well.”
“I know that Harry wanted to be with you.”
“Where did you go?” Gabrielle asked, as she deposited her shorts and top on the dresser and tried to decide what to wear.
“Wear the black muslin blouse and skirt,” Aimée suggested. “You are eating with Ron and Hermione, so you want to appear formal, but comfortable as well.”
“Yes, Mama,” Gabrielle replied as she pulled out the patterned black blouse and the matching skirt. She quickly changed into a black bra before pulling the blouse on and doing up the buttons. She slid the knee length tulip skirt up her legs and stepped into the patent black leather sandals her mother had placed on the floor for her.
“You look lovely,” Aimée said with a smile.
“Thank you, Mama,” Gabrielle replied and looked at her watch. “So, where did you go with Harry today?”
“He took me to Europe,” Aimée replied. “We had a very nice German lunch.” She paused. “Sit down, Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle did as she was told, sitting down formally.
“I gave Harry my blessing today,” Aimée said. “I hope you realise just how extremely lucky you have been.”
Aimée nodded. “I am proud of the woman you have become, Gabrielle. There are times when we have argued, and times when we have fought. But I have always loved you, my dear, and I have always been proud of how you have fought to acquire what you wanted.”
“Do not interrupt,” Aimée said gently. “It was your courage that has led you to this point, and despite my misgivings, you have everything I ever wanted for you. I am sorry for doubting you, Gabrielle. You have proved me wrong, all these years, and for that I owe you this apology.”
“Mama,” Gabrielle said, as she burst into tears. She threw herself off the chair and into her mother’s arms, and hugged her mother tightly. “I always knew that you loved me,” she declared fervently. “And that all you wanted was for me to be happy. What I did eight years ago was foolish, and I have been incredibly lucky that my Mate has accepted me. You were right, Mama.”
Aimée tightened her arms around her daughter, and they stayed like that for a little while.
“Mama,” Gabrielle said in a small voice.
“You are welcome.”
“Not just for this,” Gabrielle continued, “but for everything you have done for me, for backing me up, even when you disagreed with me. That was how I knew, you know? I knew that you would always be there for me, no matter what.”
“And I always will,” Aimée added. “And now, for Harry as well.”
“He has won you over then?”
Aimée nodded. “He told me about the diaries. Has he talked to you about his long term plans?”
Gabrielle shook her head negatively.
“Then I suggest that you ask him about them.”
“They include me, then?”
Aimée laughed softly. “My dear, he will push you further and harder than you can dream, but enough – I will not divulge his secrets to you, or to anyone. Now, fix your face.”
Gabrielle nodded and leaned back. She concentrated for the briefest of seconds, letting her Veela power fix her tear-stained face, before she smiled brightly at her mother. “I am excited,” she said. “This is the first time that I have been let into his life like this.”
“You will be fine,” Aimée said firmly. “You are a Delacour.”
Gabrielle smiled and kissed her mother gently on the cheek. “I love you, Mama.”
“I know you do, child.”
Gabrielle stood and smoothed down her skirt. She looked at her watch, and right on time, the Floo activated and Harry appeared.
“You look lovely,” he said, as he walked over and kissed her.
“You are looking very handsome yourself,” Gabrielle replied. Harry’s dress sense was always simple, but the clothes always fit him perfectly, and showed off his slim and powerful figure.
Harry walked over and kissed Aimée gently on the cheek, before he took Gabrielle’s hand. “Ready?”
“I will see you both tomorrow morning,” Aimée said. “You need to spend some time talking this evening as well.”
“We will, Mama,” Gabrielle replied, before Harry Apparated them away.
They arrived in a fairly modern living room. Black leather sofas matched a dark mahogany wooden floor. The walls were painted in cream, and were filled with bookcases.
“Welcome,” Ron said cheerfully as he walked in, a bottle of wine in one hand and a bottle opener in another. “As always, you’re bang on time – which means that Hermione is still a few minutes away from being ready.”
“In France,” Harry said with a grin, “it’s polite to turn up late, I suspect, for this very reason.”
Ron nodded. “So Jean was telling me. Of course, if we just told to you to arrive at the real time, we’d have avoided a lot of these problems.” He expertly opened the bottle of wine, moved over to the table, and poured four glasses. “Spending time with Jean has taught me as much about wine as politics.”
“Papa is a little obsessed,” Gabrielle said fondly. “But everyone should be allowed their own little foibles.”
“And it’s much better than the Chudley Cannons,” Hermione said as she entered the living room. She was wearing a slim black dress with a pearl necklace. “Ron buying decent wine is something I can appreciate – the desire to paint our bedroom orange is not.”
Gabrielle and Harry laughed, while Ron pouted playfully.
“I love your dress,” Gabrielle said to Hermione, as Ron and Harry moved into the kitchen.
“It’s not bad,” Hermione agreed. “It’s not, however, an Yves St Laurent original outfit.”
Gabrielle shrugged daintily. “Mama has always been into fashion. It is like my father and his wine. It is her current hobby as well. She enjoys buying me new outfits, and Harry certainly appreciates them. But I am just as comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt.” She smiled slightly, “Although these clothes do make me feel, well, a little sexy, and I like it.”
Hermione nodded. “I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes it’s nice to dress up, if only to remind certain people that we can look beautiful and elegant,” she continued with a teasing grin aimed at the kitchen. “I can’t believe how long the press conference went on for today.”
Gabrielle groaned. “All I wanted to do was get a hug from Harry,” she complained. “They kept asking the most inane questions.”
“You gave them what they wanted,” Hermione said. “You mentioned the work that Harry and Viktor put into training you. You were calm and collected, and gave full answers in three different languages.”
Gabrielle nodded. “There will be a time, soon I hope, that it will be Harry next to me, not Papa, and this was good practice in vermin handling. Even so, I did not expect it to finish so late.”
“I saw Harry disappear with your mother shortly after it started?”
“They went to Germany, where Harry managed to charm Mama. They had a lot of fun.”
Hermione smiled. “I know that you’ve been studying Harry, so if I get his permission, will you tell me how his magic works? I’ve been trying to work it out since I saw him make holes in Hogwarts’ wards.” She paused and smiled in a self-depreciating manner, “Of course, actually seeing him Apparate within Hogwarts was a bigger shock.”
“Apparating through wards is like wading through treacle,” Gabrielle said thoughtfully. “It is harder, but you just have to keep going.”
“You have done it as well?”
“I borrowed Harry’s magic to get us some breakfast one morning.”
Hermione laughed. “A perfectly good reason to use that sort of power.”
Gabrielle smiled in agreement. “At least as good as protecting myself with his power earlier. I was amazed that I did not feel a single thing when Malfoy cast the Cruciatus curse at me.”
Hermione’s eyes flashed. “So will you?” she asked, following up on her prior question.
“If Harry gives his permission, then of course I will.” She paused a moment. “Do not be upset if he does not, however. And as I have not told him yet, please do not ask until I’ve discussed it with him.”
“I won’t,” Hermione promised. “What did you think of his London flat?”
“It will be fine when we have a few pictures, a few more clothes, and we add some new lights.”
Hermione laughed under her breath. “You think that will warm the place up?”
Gabrielle grinned. “That, or when we make love on that balcony. Either way, he will like the place a lot more once I am there.”
“You’ve come a long way, Gabrielle.”
“And we still have a long way to go,” she agreed. “But at least I can see the end now; when I started, that seemed so very far away.”
“I hope you’re hungry,” Ron called from the kitchen. “If you two can sit down, we’ll bring the food out.”
Gabrielle walked over to the glass table and sat next to Hermione, so that Harry would be sitting opposite her. Harry walked out of the kitchen, carrying two plates, and put one in front of her and the other in front of Hermione.
Ron appeared next with two more plates, while Harry fetched the open bottle of wine, and his and Ron’s glasses. “Don’t stand to attention,” Ron said cheerfully. “It’s duck spring rolls to start with.”
Gabrielle daintily cut a small bit off, and took a bite. “Wow,” she said in surprise. “This is really good.”
“Thank you,” Ron beamed proudly.
“The way to my hero’s heart is to praise his food,” Hermione said in a stage whisper.
“Shush, you,” Ron commanded.
Hermione grinned unrepentantly.
“It is good, Ron,” Harry agreed. “Are you two going to tell me what’s up yet?”
Ron and Hermione looked at each other.
“Something is up?” Gabrielle asked, concentrating on her food. She hadn’t eaten since the large breakfast Harry had made her that morning, and the first bite had awakened her appetite. The duck spring rolls had a nice plum sauce accompaniment, along with some cucumber slices.
Harry nodded. “Mr and Mrs Subtlety are being far too formal, which normally means that something is up, and they’re trying to hide it.”
“Damn it, Harry,” Ron sighed. “Couldn’t you have waited until after we’ve eaten?”
“Not if I want to enjoy the food,” Harry countered. “And I do – the smell in the kitchen was fabulous.”
“So it should be,” Ron said grumpily. “It’s been cooking for eighteen hours. Hermione, why not tell His Perceptiveness, then we can get on with having a good time.”
“One day we’ll learn,” Hermione admitted with a deep sigh. “I wanted to give you a proper apology for my behaviour this summer, so I worked on, and found, a way to suspend the Bond you two have. It doesn’t break it, nor will it send Gabrielle mad, but it will allow you both to see what life is like without it, and perhaps be reassured that what you feel is genuine – or not. I’ve not done anything with it; I just wanted to give you the option.”
Harry nodded and smiled at her. “See, that wasn’t hard, was it? Thank you for doing it, but it’s not needed.”
“Harry,” Gabrielle said quietly. “I think we should do it.”
“You do?” he asked in surprise.
“I know that I love you more than any mere Mating could force me to,” she said with complete confidence. “I’d like you to know it as well.”
“I do,” he said softly, his green eyes seeming to burn into her soul. “I have no doubts.”
“You do have doubts,” she contradicted gently, ignoring the slight protest from her magic as she argued with her Mate. It was easier with the firm knowledge that he wanted her to argue. “I think it would set your mind at rest.”
He shook his head, but agreed. “All right. We’ll do it, but it is not needed.” He paused, “Now, can we talk about something more fun?”
“Definitely,” Ron agreed. “When are you going back to the Cannons? They’re hardly winning without you.”
“Quidditch, Ron?” Hermione groaned.
“Now that you mention it,” Harry said softly. “I’m quitting the Cannons.”
Hermione dropped her fork. “You’re doing what!?”
Harry looked at Gabrielle and smiled.
“Harry is quitting the Cannons,” Gabrielle repeated, “because he has agreed to form a new team with Ollie, Katie, Angelina, Alicia, Fred and George. I will be managing it.”
“I hate you, Potter,” Ron groaned. “All these years of support, two years of glory, and now you’ve gone and pinched the best players from three clubs and offered something even better.”
“Are you sure about this, Harry?” Hermione asked. “It’s a big gamble.”
“So is life,” Harry said with a shrug. “I’ve got the money to finance it, we’ll have no trouble getting a crowd, and while we might have to spend a season in the second division, that won’t be a problem, as it will allow us to start before the stadium is fully built. The whole point is to allow us to have fun playing Quidditch, and not be at the beck and call of our current teams’ owners, who like to treat us like well-paid, well-trained dogs.”
“I think it is a good idea,” Hermione said after a few moments’ reflection. She finished her starter and settled back with a glass in hand. “Where are you planning on being based?”
“Durham. I’ve got enough land there to build the best stadium in the country.”
Gabrielle smiled suddenly as the reason for Durham sprang to her mind. “The Durham Dogstars?” she asked.
Harry smiled bashfully and nodded.
“A good name to honour Sirius,” Ron said quietly. “Are you going to name any of the stands for Tonks and Remus?”
“I hadn’t thought of that, but it would be a good way to honour some of the people who fell.”
There was an awkward silence for a few seconds. “What are we having next?” Gabrielle asked.
Ron seemed to perk up instantly. “A French dish,” he said proudly. “Braised Ox cheek with potatoes au gratin.”
“I can feel the pounds settling around my hips,” Hermione said with a smile. “But boy, is it worth it.”
“How is it that you can you cook, Ron, but Harry cannot?”
“After we left Hogwarts, Harry was too busy being famous and fighting dark lords,” Ron explained. “I went home to Mum.”
“And then went on a four week cooking vacation,” Hermione added. “It was his twenty-first birthday present from Harry and me.”
“Well, yeah,” Ron said, “but that’s not important.” He stood and started to gather the plates, Harry helping him.
“Ron’s had a lifelong love affair with food, and wouldn’t want anything to disrupt that,”
Hermione said as the two men walked back into the kitchen. “When we were preparing for the final fight with Voldemort, we were living on anything that was easy – we opened a lot of boxes and cans – sometimes even ate directly from them. It was the first time that Ron didn’t have anyone to cook real food for him, and he decided that he would learn so that we would never be in that situation again.
Gabrielle laughed. “I am looking forward to finding out all of Harry’s peculiarities.”
“What makes you think I have any?” Harry called from the kitchen.
She winked at Hermione. “You are male, are you not?”
“I am,” Harry responded. “And one of my peculiarities is being permanently surprised by the blonde who’s insinuated herself into my life.”
Harry walked back in with four plates and a blue cast iron oven dish floating next to him. Ron followed with a matching casserole dish and a third bottle of wine. Harry gave everyone a plate, and then opened the wine with a snap of his fingers.
“I’ve always wanted to be able to do that,” Ron said, as Harry filled everyone’s empty glasses.
“All it takes is a bit of practice,” Harry said with a shrug. “And only using your wand for show.”
“Only,” Ron mumbled. “Serve your girlfriend, Harry. She’d only give me a polite answer if I asked her how much she wanted.”
Gabrielle felt herself blush and stuck her tongue out at Ron.
“No, that’s not an invitation to you,” Harry said, before Ron could say anything. “Yes, it was for me, and yes, I will be taking it up later.”
She could actually feel her face heat up. Harry walked around and placed a very full plate in front of her. He leaned in and gently kissed her, “We’re only teasing,” he whispered.
Gabrielle took his hand briefly and smiled at him.
“That’s almost Ron sized,” Hermione pointed out. “I take it you’ve not eaten today?”
“Not since Harry made me a wonderful breakfast. I wasn’t quite aware how much using Harry’s magic would take out of me. It was like,” she paused, as she tried to translate an analogy that would make sense in English. “It was like being attached to a giant power supply. My magic did the control, while his magic provided the power. The control was difficult, because Harry’s magic just wanted to swat Malfoy.”
Harry smiled at her. “And all the gymnastics had nothing to do with me,” he added. “They were pure Gabrielle.”
“I was impressed,” Hermione said.
“Many years of ballet and dancing lessons growing up,” Gabrielle explained, in between bites of the gorgeous food. The general conversation became a little fractured as they all concentrated more on eating than on talking.
Harry cast a spell on the wine bottle that kept everyone’s glasses full, and as they neared the end, the conversation picked up again.
“I always think that Ron cooks far too much,” Hermione said as she leaned back, her wine glass held casually between two fingers, “but then I see how much is left, and I am glad he did.”
“If there’s one thing I know, it is that you always cook more,” Ron said. “If there’s any left over, it makes for a great second meal, and if not, it means that everyone really enjoyed the food.”
“That I did,” Harry agreed, “and as always, I’m going to have to hit the gym twice as hard tomorrow.”
“You and me both,” Ron agreed. “Worth it, though.”
“Absolutely.” Harry absently waved his hands, and the plates and pan floated toward the kitchen, and the sound of washing was heard shortly afterward.
“I keep expecting to see thousands of miniature broom sticks come chasing after you when you do that,” Hermione said.
“You think I should add a little music?”
“Please, no,” Hermione groaned. “I’ll be humming L'apprenti sorcier all evening as it is.”
“I am confused,” Gabrielle said. “What does a French composer, Monsieur Dukas, setting to music a tale told by Goerte, have to do with the Wizarding world?”
“You really are well educated, aren’t you,” Hermione said admiringly. “Well, this English girl first heard the music from that French composer as it was used in a Muggle film called Fantasia, and was accompanied by images of a magician doing some housework.”
“I come from a long line of very educated women,” Gabrielle replied. “We can trace our maternal tree back many, many centuries.”
“Do you have any famous people in there?”
“Mainly Muggle – there was less concern about mixing then – but yes.”
Gabrielle wrinkled her nose. “I did say educated,” she said reproachfully, “not notorious. The most famous and accomplished of my ancestors would be Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson; she was always my hero growing up. Fleur is the first of our maternal line to have Veela power, so Jeanne was purely human.”
“Sorry,” Hermione apologised. “My French historical knowledge isn’t what it should be, and I didn’t actually think about Marie Antoinette’s life before I suggested her.”
“Who is this Poisson lady?” Ron asked. “Doesn’t poisson mean fish?”
“She was the most powerful woman never to rule France,” Harry said softly. As Gabrielle and Hermione looked at him in surprise, he shrugged. “She was nicknamed Reinette, or ‘little princess,’ and was one of the most beautiful women in the world. She totally entranced Louis XV, and was his mistress for many years. She was a musician, an interior designer and an amazing conversationalist.” Gabrielle could feel Harry’s eyes digging into hers; the look he was giving her was flooding her with emotion and keeping her under his spell. “She died at the age of forty two, and her enemies tried to sully her name by blaming her for the Seven Year War. She was a very remarkable and determined woman who managed to cram so much life into so very few years.”
There was a silence around the table for a few seconds.
“Since when did you get into history?” Ron asked.
At that moment, Gabrielle could have cheerfully stabbed Ron for breaking the intimate mood.
“Ron,” Hermione said softly, “why do you insist on leaving your well-honed political instincts at work?”
“Erm, whoops?” Ron said apologetically. “But my question stands. Since when are you an expert on anything historic?”
“Ron, even you must have heard of Madam de Pompadour,” Harry said.
Ron shook his head.
“Hermione?” Harry asked.
“Remember, Harry, that the Hogwarts education system was limited. If it didn’t relate to magic, they didn’t teach it. But I’ll admit to being curious about the same thing.”
Harry shrugged. “I don’t sleep much – I don’t need to. I asked Olympe for a few decent history books, and one of the ones she provided was a biography of Jeanne-Antoinette. As I knew a little about her anyway, I read that one first.” He paused and looked at Gabrielle again. “I thought it was one of her more subtle moves,” he added.
She felt herself blushing again.
“Well, why don’t we move to somewhere a little more comfortable?” Hermione suggested. “I’m not going to be able to eat dessert until this has settled a bit.”
Harry nodded, and they all stood, and moved over to the leather couches. Harry dropped into one corner, and Gabrielle sat down against him, as Hermione curled up next to Ron.
“So how does this way of blocking the Bond work?” Harry asked.
“It’s a spell that blocks the connection. The Mating Bond works vaguely like Legilimency, but at a much lower and gentler power. It’s very subtle. My spell mimics the effect of Occlumency, but incorporates a loop-back device, so Gabrielle’s magic will think that it is still in place.”
“Do you want do to do it now?” Harry asked her.
Gabrielle nodded. She didn’t want to do it at all, but knew that it was the best way to convince him.
Hermione climbed up and walked through one of the other doors. She returned with her wand. Gabrielle shifted so that she was facing Harry and took his hand reassuringly.
“Ready?” he asked her.
She nodded and smiled at him.
“Do it, Hermione.”
Hermione started to cast the spell, a series of words that sounded Latin.
Suddenly it was gone.
The Bond was gone.
And with it, the focus of her life for the past eight years.
She burst into tears. It felt like her heart had been ripped out. She couldn’t feel her Mate; it was as if he was dead to her.
“Stop the spell,” Harry growled. She could see that his wand was pointing directly at Hermione, and that his hand was glowing.
The spell stopped and she could feel him again.
She looked up and could see tear tracks down his face. His hand was no longer glowing.
“We’ll be back in a minute,” he mumbled, before he Apparated them both away.
They landed next to his bed in his cottage in the Lake District. She pushed him so that he was sitting on the bed, and ripped at his shirt, before struggling to remove her own. She could feel his hands on her waist, as he slid her skirt up.
She managed to get her top off and throw it haphazardly away, before removing her bra with the same haste. She couldn’t wait any longer and kissed him hard; trying to get inside him, at the same time wrapped her legs around him, sitting on his lap.
His kiss was equally as fervent as he crushed her to him, his hands roaming over her back and rear, ensuring that no gap existed between them. She broke the frantic kiss and buried her face in his neck, breathing him in and shaking deeply.
She didn’t know what was happening; she just knew that she had to be close to him, closer to him.
“I love you,” Harry said softly.
“Harry?” she whispered.
“I love you,” he repeated, a bit louder this time.
She reached into the Bond, searching.
“You love me,” she whispered again.
“You love me.”
He held her, silently for a while, before he started to take some very deep breaths. “I never want to feel that way again,” he said firmly.
She nodded in complete and total agreement. “I could feel that I loved you, but you weren’t there. It was like you were dead.”
“That was it exactly,” Harry replied. “You were still in my heart and I could see you right in front of me, but it was like I was looking at a ghost.”
She inhaled deeply. “You love me?”
He laughed softly.
“Yes, I do.”
She burst into tears again, but this time through sheer relief. After everything that had happened over the last eight minutes, and the last eight years, she could finally relax. Everything else would come in its time, but right now, she had her Mate. She felt his hands running all over her back and slowly regained her self-control.
She kissed his neck softly, before pulling back. “I guess we should get back to Ron and Hermione?”
He sighed and nodded, then reached up and lightly stroked her hair away from her eyes. “When the Quidditch match is over, we’ll announce it to the world,” he said. “I don’t want to take away from you and the others winning.”
Gabrielle smiled and nodded. She looked around the room. “We made a bit of a mess.”
“We needed the skin contact,” Harry said, and caressed her before continuing. “Next time, we won’t stop at the top half.”
She smiled happily and climbed off him, before picking up her bra from the corner. Harry stood and picked up his shirt. He looked at the rips where buttons used to be and smiled.
“Sorry,” she apologised as she pulled her own shirt back on and wiggled back into her skirt. “How do I look?”
“Beautiful, sexy, and slightly debauched.”
“And that is a good look for me?”
“Only if I’m the only person to see it,” he said with a smile. He opened his closet and pulled out a clean shirt. “Come on, love, let’s get back and explain what’s going on.”
Gabrielle shivered with pleasure. That was a term of endearment she could get very used to hearing. She quickly fixed her appearance with her Veela power and moved into his arms.
They arrived back at Ron and Hermione’s to find the couple on the other couch. Hermione looked like she had been crying.
“What happened?” she cried. “I didn’t meant to hurt you, I just…”
“Hermione,” Harry’s voice cracked through her slightly hysterical apology. “It is not your fault!”
She took a deep breath and nodded.
“And I apologise for pointing my wand at you. When you cast the spell, it blocked the connection Gabby and I share. What we didn’t realise was just how much we’ve come to rely on that connection. It felt like someone had killed Gabrielle, and that I was alone again.”
“What we feel is true, and you know, it doesn’t matter if it was caused by a spell, or caused by the magic of eyes meeting across a crowded room. What matters is that I have all the love you have for Ron, but I have a cast iron guarantee on top of it.”
She nodded slowly. “Are you sure, though?”
“I want you two to look at each other,” Harry said, his voice was soft, but the command was absolute. Ron and Hermione looked at each. Harry whispered something under his breath.
Gabrielle reached into the Bond to try to see what he was doing, taking his hand at the same time.
A minute later, he broke the spell.
“That is what you feel?” Ron asked.
“I am not going to rest until I work out how to duplicate that,” Hermione stated softly. She turned to face them. “I believe you,” she whispered. “And I envy your surety and passion.”
Harry moved off the couch and hugged Hermione, and then Ron as well. “Sometimes magic can be a wonderful thing,” he said. “And Hermione, if you found how to block it, it shouldn’t be hard to mimic bits of it.”
She nodded. “It’s unlikely that we’ll ever be able to get the full deal that you two have, but a tenth would be better than nothing.”
“Yeah,” Ron agreed as he looked at Hermione. “Harry, old friend, old pal, do you think you could make that last for an evening?”
Harry blinked and then nodded.
He nodded again and cast the spell, but pulled back this time. He gently pulled Gabrielle to her feet and hugged her. The next thing she knew, they were in his flat in London.
“Why here?” she asked.
“The further I am from them the better,” he said with a slight shudder. “I’ve got to keep part of my mind on keeping them linked together, without paying any attention to what is going on.”
“What is going on?”
He looked at her, eyebrow raised and then she slowly blushed.
“Exactly,” he agreed. “I think we’re going to need to talk until they’ve finished. What my best friends get up to in bed is not the sort of thing that I need to know – ever.”
Gabrielle nodded. “Has this fireplace ever seen a fire?” she asked.
He shook his head.
“Then we shall make a fire and sit in front of it.”
He raised his hand, but she lightly grabbed it. “Let us do it the Muggle way.”
He nodded and walked over to the piles of wood. “There are some matches in the drawers in the kitchen, and we may as well use the Prophet for kindling.”
She smiled and danced into the kitchen to get what they needed. She returned and handed him the matches and paper, and then looked around. She wanted to be on the floor in front of the fire, but she couldn’t see a single comfortable looking rug, so she dashed upstairs into the bedroom area and picked up the duvet.
When she pulled it back downstairs, Harry already had the fire going, and was in the kitchen.
She stretched the duvet out and kneeled in front of the fire. It didn’t seem fair that they couldn’t make love this evening just because of the connection that Harry was having to maintain with his friends. They, after all, had been married for years.
Harry returned with a bottle of red wine and two glasses. He passed her one and filled it, before he sat down, and leaned back. She smiled faintly and sat cross-legged in front of him. Her mind flashing back to the summer’s day many months ago when she wished she had been wearing a skirt as they had sat on the grass.
“Harry,” she said, after a long silence. “What happened today?”
“I was talking to Hermione about how your magic took away the Cruciatus pain, and her eyes flashed. What really happened?”
He sighed and moved so that he was flat on his back. He turned his head so that he was looking up at her. “I took the pain.”
She furrowed her brow slightly. “You took the pain where?”
He smiled faintly. “No, Gabby, I took the pain – away from you and into me.”
The answer was not a big a surprise as it might have once been.
“Because I knew that he’d do it and because I promised you that you wouldn’t be hurt.”
“But what about your pain?”
“My pain, in this case, was negligible. I’ve been under the Cruciatus many times in my life, and it’s something that I can accept. You have not, and what’s more, I will not let you feel that pain. It changes you, deep inside.”
She nodded slowly before leaning over and kissing him. “Thank you.”
He looked slightly surprised.
“You are wondering why I am not upset?” she guessed.
“It is because I have accepted who you are, Harry. You would never let anyone else suffer if you could prevent it. It will be up to me to make sure that the situation does not happen again. I do not like you in pain, any pain, especially not pain that you took for me, but I accept your reason, and I thank you for protecting me.”
He reached up and gently caressed her face. “I’ll be protecting you for the rest of our lives,” he promised fervently.
“As I will do everything I can to protect you,” she promised. “Mama said that you have some long term plans for us that you haven’t mentioned yet?”
“Do you remember when we worked together to float the small model of Beauxbatons?”
“But of course,” she said with a soft smile.
“That’s what we’ll be doing. There’s a long way to go before we can get there, forty or fifty years, but we will decipher and understand how Merlin’s greatest spells work – and we will cast them.”
“What are the spells?” she asked quietly.
“There are so many. The first I want to try is making something float for eternity – like a castle, so that we can live in the sky. The trick is to change the structure of the castle, rather than use magic to float it – that way it will last.”
“How would you even start to do that?”
“Carefully,” he said with a grin. “Merlin left his notes, but the theory behind them is immensely complicated. That’s where the studying comes in. We’ll need to be able to understand magic on a completely new level.”
“And I can help because I can use yours,” she said slowly. “What other ideas did he have?”
“A replacement for the Floo system, that will allow instant travel anywhere in the world, without having to use a Portkey or Apparating.”
“And before we are ready, we can play our Quidditch, and have fun with our lives?”
“Yeah,” he agreed, as he shifted so that he was on his side.
She moved so that she was lying down with him, and moved into his arms. “Is it wrong of me to resent that they are making love, when we have yet to do so?”
“No,” he said with a sigh. “I’m trying to be a good sport and console myself with the fact that we have many nights ahead of us, but it’s not really working.”
“No, it is not,” she agreed as she shimmied forward so that she was against him. “I do not want to talk anymore; I just want to be with you. Today has been full of highs, and I just want to relax.”
“I love you,” he whispered. “You can relax Gabby. I have you, and I’ll never let you go.”
Sybill Trelawney walked slowly down Diagon Alley. She was wearing a plain grey cloak over her plainest robes. She did not want to be noticed this morning.
She opened the door to the Daily Prophet building and made her way up to Rita Skeeter’s office. She was there long before Skeeter normally started working, but it was the only way to avoid being seen.
She settled down and waited, idly looking through the photographs one more time.
Skeeter bustled in an hour later. “Who are you and what are you doing in my office?”
Trelawney sneered. “I have a scoop for you.”
“That only answered half of my question. Lower your hood.”
Trelawney did as she was told.
“Sybill,” Skeeter sighed. “What is this ‘scoop’ that has you out of your belfry at this time of the morning?”
She smirked and handed over the pictures. “Potter, in a relationship with a student.”
“Gabrielle Delacour,” Skeeter said absently. “Daughter of the next Minister for Magic in France, talented Seeker, and yesterday she beat the snot out of Draco Malfoy. What, exactly, are you expecting me to do with these pictures?”
“Ruin Potter’s reputation like you did before.”
Skeeter sighed and settled down. She raised her wand and whispered a spell. The door behind Trelawney slammed shut. “You were a nutcase at school, Sybill, and you’re still barmy now. Let me try and bring some reality into this for you.
“For the past few years, the press have been playing games with Potter. We print everything we can find about him, up to a point, because it sells newspapers by the bucket load.
“We irritate him, and push him as far as we know we can go safely, because we know who we’re dealing with. It’s like poking a tiger with a feather. He bats it away irritably, because we’re really not worth his attention, and we’re filling a need that he understands to exist.
“It’s a kind of stalemate between us.” She paused. “So, let me try and read the future here. I’m sure you’ll be amazed at how I can practice divination.
“We print these pictures and the gloves come off. Potter counterattacks. Potter wins. We end up in the gutter, begging for Sickles.
“Now, I’m sure you’re wondering just how Potter can win when we are the press, and to some extent, we control people’s general opinions. Let me break it down for you into simple terms.
“First, he is Harry Potter, defeater of Voldemort. For most of the population, he could go on a murderous rampage and he would still be treated like a god.
“Second, he is Harry Potter, star Seeker for the Chudley Cannons and England. Every single sports fan would be behind him, because along with Oliver Wood and Viktor Krum, he is one of the three best players in the world.
“Third, he is Harry Potter-Black, the heir to two of the oldest and most prestigious families in the Wizarding World, and has more power and resources than most people can dream of. He’s tried to go against us a few times, but never seriously.
“Fourth, he is Harry Potter, the most powerful wizard since Merlin himself. You might have missed it, but he created a hole in Hogwarts wards to allow Beauxbatons – using a spell he devised – to drop into place, something everyone in the Wizarding world would have said was impossible.
“If we print these pictures, we stop poking a tiger with a feather, and start poking with a very big stick, and the tiger will quite definitely poke back. He will use his money, his power, his resources and his fame, and he will wipe us out quicker than you can sneeze. He won’t rest until every single person connected with this stupidity is out on the street.
“And this is before Delacour himself gets involved. He’s not known as the most feared diplomat in France for a joke. He controls France’s Auror force.
“And finally,” Skeeter was almost yelling at this point, “I will not be made a bloody fool of again. These pictures of yours show Potter and the youngest Delacour having a bloody coffee! They’re not in bed, they’re not even kissing, they’re having breakfast the bloody morning after the whole mess with the idiot Malfoy blew up. Delacour was proven innocent yesterday, so it is easily within the bounds of realism that Potter was just trying to cheer her up after an attempted rape.
“Even if there is something going on, this is Harry bloody Potter we’re dealing with. There will be a reason for it, and that reason will be honest and noble, and he’ll come out of it smelling like roses and my reputation will once more be in the gutter. Well, I’m not having that again, Sybill. Where did you get these bloody photos?”
“You couldn’t foresee your way out of a paper bag, you old fraud,” Rita yelled indignantly. “The truth!”
“A friend of mind stumbled across them on holiday,” Trelawney mumbled, thoroughly cowed. “She’s Salem’s divination professor. She sent them to me.”
“Exactly why are you trying to ruin his reputation?” she demanded.
“Because he treated Madame Prévoyez with scandalous disrespect!”
“You mean after she tried to test him, and he smacked her down like the stupid puppy she was?” Rita sneered.
“He has never respected us! He deserves to be ruined like he has ruined us!”
“Why the bloody hell should he respect you? All you ever do is predict his death. Face it, he’s not going to die until he feels like it, and that won’t be for decades yet! And he hasn’t ruined you. Your own bloody incompetence has ruined your career for you!”
“But - ” Sybill whined.
“I’m going to do you a favour, Sybill, for old times’ sake,” Rita interrupted her. “If you don’t listen, then I promise you I’ll say a few nice words about you at your funeral.”
“Your funeral. You continue to play in games far above your capacity, and you will be killed. Not by Potter, but by the people who need him, and who will merely find you aggravating and annoying. You are outclassed at every level here, Sybill. Are these the only copies of the photographs?”
“Yes,” Sybill replied before she could even think.
“Good. Incendio.” The photos burnt slowly to a crisp.
“Go back to your tower, Sybill. Live the rest of your life showing kids how to read tea leaves. Stop trying to play with the adults.”
Sybill nodded jerkily and stood; she turned and walked out silently, all thoughts of revenge against Harry gone.
She shuddered, feeling death pass, closely, by her side.
Skeeter watched her go and smirked to herself. She turned to the Floo. “Percy Weasley,” she called.
“Skeeter,” Percy greeted her, his face and his eyes completely blank “To what do I owe the honour this morning?”
Skeeter held up the single picture she’d palmed and hadn’t burned. “I just had Trelawney come in with a bunch of pictures with Potter and the half-Veela girl.”
“Oh?” Percy asked quietly, his face not giving any indication of real interest.
Rita nodded. She liked Percy. He was honest, but he played games in the real world, and was a useful ally. “I sent her packing with a bee in her bonnet – she won’t try anything against Potter again – but I want the first interview.”
“The story is buried?” Percy asked.
She nodded. “No one else knows it existed. I know that something is going on between the two of them – I’ve never seen Potter that open with anyone. When it hits the press, I want exclusivity.”
Percy looked at her for a long moment. “That’s not the sort of thing that the Prophet usually deals with.”
“I know,” she agreed, “but the Prophet is on its last legs. The owner is too set in his ways and can’t see how the wind is turning. This interview will get me a better job at the Quibbler or somewhere, and I’ll be set.”
“You have a deal,” Percy said. “I’ll get Harry and Gabrielle to ensure that you get the first official exclusive interview when they’re ready to make the relationship public.”
Skeeter smiled. “A pleasure doing business with you.”
“I didn’t think I’d say this, but you did a good thing today, Rita. Thank you.”
She closed the Floo and smiled slightly. Today was definitely a good day. She’d secured her future, got an exclusive with the first genuine royalty seen in a few centuries, and Percy now owed her a favour – and all because she was covering her own rear.
She opened up today’s Prophet and almost laughed. Potter was going to be livid when he read this – and she was now safe from his wrath.
Gabrielle stretched luxuriously and snuggled deeper into Harry.
“Morning,” he whispered softly.
She murmured something, she wasn’t sure what, as she reluctantly opened her eyes. They were still on the floor from the night before. The fire had burnt itself out, and they were wrapped in the duvet.
“I haven’t slept on the floor in a very long time,” he said, an amused tone in his voice.
“I do not think that I have ever slept on the floor,” she replied. “It was fun.”
“That from the person who decided she wasn’t comfortable during the night and slithered on top of me.”
She nodded in agreement. “Do we have to go back to school today?”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “I’ve got a class to teach at nine, and you have lessons.”
“The sooner I can just take my exams and leave school the better,” she sighed. “But, at least when this Quidditch match is over, I will be able to spend all my free time with you.”
“What do you fancy for breakfast?”
She placed her hands on his chest and pushed herself up into a stretch. “Something light,” she decided. “I am still full from the meal that Ron made last night.”
Harry smiled up at her. “You know, you really are beautiful.”
She smiled back and lowered herself so that she could kiss him. She climbed off him and looked down at herself. “My clothes were definitely not designed to be slept in,” she said with a laugh. She tried to straighten the skirt that had twisted around her legs, but gave up after noticing the deep creases.
Harry stood and removed his own shirt. “Leave the clothes in the corner, I have a service that will get them dry cleaned.”
She nodded and casually stripped to her underwear, then she wandered to the bathroom to use the facilities.
A few minutes later, feeling a lot more awake and a lot cleaner, she walked over to his drawers and used one of his t-shirts as a makeshift dress. This was one of the drawbacks of being a lot shorter than he was – none of his clothes would fit her.
She joined him in the kitchen. He was still only wearing his trousers from the day before, and she sighed softly, just admiring the flow of his muscles as he moved around the kitchen. He placed some cereal in front of her and leaned against one of the cabinets as he ate his.
She smiled at him and let her mind drift as she ate automatically. She had all her homework done for the week, and was on top of her senior project, so there was nothing really pressing for her to be concerned about. A scraping at the window made her look up. “Cici,” she smiled as she opened the window. “My parents’ owl.” She took the package from the owl and stroked her head a few times. “Good girl,” she praised.
Cici hooted and took off, flying back out the window. Gabrielle opened the package and looked at the enclosed note. “It’s this morning’s Prophet,” she told Harry. “My parents would like to meet us in my room when we’ve read it.”
She placed the paper next to her bowl and turned to the marked page. “Listen to this,” she said, as she read the garbage printed.
French Veela Shows Her True Colours
Yesterday, the most eagerly awaited duel since Barnaby the Second duelled Horace Hable for the title of Grand Master in the seventeenth century ended in controversy.
Draco Malfoy, scion of the Malfoy dynasty, was expected to prove his innocence easily against the scurrilous charges levelled against him by known coquette and Veela, Gabrielle Delacour.
The blatantly false charges of attempted rape by Delacour – an experienced strumpet rumoured to be available for a fixed price – were to be dealt with in the time honoured way of trial by combat, where Malfoy, well-known war hero, would successfully regain his sullied honour.
As anyone who attended this travesty can tell you, that was not what happened.
Proving that the steps our beloved Ministry has taken to protect us and control the behaviour of these predatory dark creatures were both needed and very welcome, Miss Delacour showed all present, and the rest of the Wizarding World through this newspaper, that she is a monster wrapped in the guise of a girl. Not content with taunting the poor Hogwarts Professor, the half-breed showed knowledge of spells and magic well beyond what any human could be expected to be exposed to. Her use of spells of questionable origin and dubious intent were far beyond anything that should have been allowed in an officially sanctioned duel.
Professor Malfoy, his grey eyes revealing the depth of his betrayal, did everything humanly possible to counter these shadow arts and gallantly remained within the bounds of duelling etiquette.
After being pushed to the limit by the questionable and dishonourable tactics employed by the Veela, the brave combatant was forced to flee for his very life, as no one present, not even the supposed ‘hero’ of the recent war, Harry Potter, saw fit to attempt to control the non-human’s unsavoury conduct.
We at the Daily Prophet extend our deepest sympathies to Mr Malfoy, as well as our hope that he will remain safe from retribution from the foreigners currently occupying space at Hogwarts until the Ministry and the Wizengamot can reverse this decision and Mr Malfoy can resume his humanitarian teaching at Hogwarts.
“It’s un-attributed,” she finished softly. “It’s an opinion piece on page two.” She looked up, but Harry’s face was a blank mask.
“How do you feel?”
She felt like this was some sort of test, so she didn’t use the Bond. She opened her mouth to respond, but then stopped and thought about it for a second. She slowly started to smile; she couldn’t help herself and started to laugh.
“Is this it?” she asked, “A few dark-creature remarks and complete sycophancy to Malfoy? Is this supposed to hurt me? It’s such an obvious fabrication, and anyone who was there yesterday will know it.” She paused thoughtfully. “And if this is bad, just wait until they find out that I’m completely in love with Harry Potter – and he is completely in love with me!”
He slowly smiled at her, but before she could react, he moved, lifting her out of the chair. Before she could even breathe, her back was against one of the glass windows, and he was kissing her as if he wanted to consume her soul.
She moaned against his mouth and squirmed so that she could wrap her legs around him. This was definitely the sort of behaviour that she wanted to encourage as much as she could. She let her hands fly into his hair and held him against her as he deepened the kiss.
“I’m proud of you,” he whispered as he broke the kiss.
She smiled brightly at him as she luxuriated in the feelings coursing through the Bond; they were intoxicating.
“I was worried about how you would react the first time the press attacked you,” he said intently. “About the last thing that I expected was amusement.”
“How do you feel?” she asked.
“Bloody furious,” he admitted. “But I think I’m going to give this one to Jean to handle.”
He nodded. “I had to deal with Malfoy; it’s only fair that he gets to take on the Prophet.”
She kissed him. “We need to hurry if we’re going to meet my parents before class.”
“True,” he sighed. He reluctantly lowered her to the ground and then patted her on the rear. “Finish your breakfast while I use the bathroom and change.”
“Am I a coquette?” she asked shyly, looking up at him through her eye lashes as she leaned back slightly and pulled the front of her borrowed shirt down so that he had a good view of her cleavage.
“For me, definitely,” he said with a cross between an amused look and a sigh. He tore himself away from her and walked over toward the bathroom.
She smiled happily and finished her breakfast quickly, then used her Veela power to fix her face and hair. She watched as he walked up to his bedroom to get changed, and looked around his kitchen.
She jumped up onto one of the counters and posed on her side, holding her head up with one hand and pulling her t-shirt up so that her knickers were on display. She smiled as sexily as she could, and waited for him.
He walked downstairs and looked at her. He stopped dead in his stride. “Are you trying to kill me, woman?” he groaned.
She sat up as slowly as she could, and removed her t-shirt, shaking her hair loose dramatically. She put her hands above her head and stretched back, thrusting her chest forward. “I am trying to break through your self-control,” she whispered. “I love you, and now I know that you love me. You will no longer regret waking up next to me – and besides, you know you enjoy the teasing, so I am going to tease you as much as I can until you can not stand it anymore, and you make love to me.”
He walked over so that he was standing between her legs. His hands dropped to brush lightly against her thighs. “You’re right, I am looking forward to sleeping with you properly, and I’m looking forward to making you pass out in pleasure.” He gently kissed her. “But right now, you need to put your shirt back on so I can take you back to the school and you can get dressed properly.”
She pouted cutely at him, but did as she was told. He pulled her into a hug and Apparated them both back to her rooms at Beauxbatons. Jean and Aimée were enjoying a morning coffee as they waited for them.
“Morning,” Harry said casually as he released her. She smiled at her parents and walked into her room to get dressed. Her mother had thoughtfully laid out her uniform, so she was able to dress in a matter of seconds.
She walked back out, settled herself down firmly on Harry’s lap, and beamed at her parents.
“You are looking cheerful,” Aimée noted.
She nodded eagerly. “Last night, Harry told me about the work we will do to make Merlin’s dreams come true,” she said. “Oh, and he told me that he loved me,” she finished as brightly as she could.
Aimée smiled, while Jean sighed deeply. “I take it you’ve read what we sent you?” Jean asked.
She nodded. “It was good to start the morning with a laugh.”
“You are not upset?” Jean asked in surprise.
“Papa, I am a Veela who is Mated to the most powerful and influential man in the country, possibly the world. I will be called a whore and a slut just because I fell in love with Harry – a few dark-creature remarks and the sycophancy is just amusing.”
“You’re impossible,” Jean sighed. “Harry, what do you think?”
“I think that Gabrielle’s right,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. I had Malfoy, so the Prophet’s yours to destroy.”
“Really?” he asked in pleased surprise.
“Fair is fair,” Harry said. “It was libellous at the very least.” He paused, “We’re going to announce our relationship after the final Quidditch match is over. I really don’t want my personal life to overshadow the work that Gabrielle and the others have put in.”
Jean nodded. “I’ll get a hold of my lawyers this morning. We’ll have an injunction against the Prophet by lunch time.”
“Don’t forget to talk to Percy and Ron,” Harry suggested. “Especially Percy. He’ll probably know more details about them than anyone else.”
Harry looked at his watch. “You need to get to class,” he said to Gabrielle.
“I could skip,” she suggested playfully.
Aimée gasped in shock. “Gabrielle, willing to skip class?”
She pouted at her mother. “It is just this once.”
“I have to go to class as well,” he pointed out. “Aimée, what are your plans for today?”
“I have nothing planned, apart from watching Jean tear the Prophet apart.”
“Then why don’t you spend the day with me?” Harry suggested. “I could use an assistant.”
“I think I will,” Aimée replied. “Thank you.”
Gabrielle climbed to her feet and gave Harry a long kiss – she was planning on getting in as many as she could over the next few decades, given that she was about eight years behind – and bade her parents farewell, then trotted off to class.
“Something changed last night,” Aimée said as Gabrielle left.
“It did,” Harry agreed. “Hermione found a way to block the Bond so that we could see what it was like without it. I tried to persuade Gabrielle that we didn’t need it, but she was determined.”
Aimée laughed softly. “My daughter, determined?”
Harry sighed. “It was horrific. It was like she was dead. We seem to be defining our lives through life-changing moments – that was definitely one of them.”
“You did not propose then?”
“The ring wasn’t ready. I talked to Filius yesterday afternoon, and he’s willing to help this afternoon.”
“Harry,” Jean said, “have you thought about how bad the press is going to be? You’re going to have to talk about the Mating to keep your reputation, and the press will crucify Gabrielle.”
“No, they won’t. You’re going to set an example with the Prophet today about what happens if they talk badly about Gabby, and I’ll make it very clear that this is my choice.”
Jean nodded and looked at his watch. “Well, with the time difference, my lawyers should be wide-awake and fully caffeinated by now. It’s time they earned their keep.” He kissed Aimée lightly and took the Floo out of the room.
“May I watch you cast the spells on Gabrielle’s ring?” Aimée asked.
“As my assistant, you can do what ever you like,” Harry replied with a teasing smile.
“You do know that this is the happiest and most carefree that I have seen my daughter in a very long time?”
“She’s planning on driving me insane today. I can say one thing about this without any form of doubt. I will never be bored with her. She’s so incredibly natural in what she does.”
“Have you thought, Harry, that it is the fact that you desire a Mate like that, that is the cause?”
“I did, and then I discarded it. Gabrielle is far too strong willed to be anything more than guided by the Bond. She is her own person, right up to the moment when I call on the Bond. If I do, then she follows the dictates it places on her, but otherwise she is definitely her own person.”
“But Harry,” Aimée said with a soft smile, “that is what you want.”
”You admit that your daughter is stubborn? She is, and she has beaten the magic into submission. I honestly believe that it wouldn’t have been the spell that would have driven her mad if she had failed, but her own disappointment.”
“You sound like a man in love, Harry – and I will admit that if anyone is able to find out how my daughter thinks, it is you.”
“Aimée, can we talk about this for a few minutes?”
She nodded solemnly, the teasing smile dropping from her face.
“The first time I kissed Gabrielle, she scratched my back, and was then very surprised and apologetic that she had done it.”
“Now, if her Veela power had told her that I wanted it, then she would not have been apologetic, as she would have been reacting to what I wanted.”
“I see,” Aimée said softly. “You think that her passion overrode the constraints that Mating has placed on her?”
He nodded. “There are other examples, when she does what she wants regardless of what her magic might dictate. It’s difficult to explain, because most of the time she enjoys the magic involved and willingly follows it.”
Aimée nodded. “I can see that you have given this some thought, and you may indeed be right. Some of the things that she has done growing up have been impossible, yet she never let that stand in her way. She is truly unique.
“Veela do not normally Mate, and very rarely at such a young age. The times in the past were the equivalent of an arranged marriage to cement alliances – some of the age differences were truly obscene. However, they all had one thing in common. The Veela was instantly with her Mate.
“With you, Gabrielle had eight years alone to contemplate what she wanted from life, and perhaps you are right, the constraints of magic are not as firm as they should be. They are still there, as was shown clearly by the way she reacted to your direct order.”
He nodded and smiled cheerfully. “I’ve got a long time to work out exactly what makes Gabrielle Delacour tick.”
“Was there anything else?” Aimée asked.
“Yeah,” Harry admitted, trying hard not to blush. “I…”
“Want to know how you should deflower my daughter?” she asked in the same dry technical tone she used when ever the conversation turned to something like this.
“Yeah,” Harry said again, scratching the back of his neck in embarrassment. “I keep expecting that Gabrielle will be more…”
“Human?” Aimée offered.
“Yeah, exactly. You know, the whole rose petals on a bed thing.”
“And you are confused because she does not seem to care what, how, or why, as long as it is you?”
“Harry, you must accept that Gabrielle is telling you the truth. If you want to be romantic, do so, and she will love it. If you want to get carried away in passion, do so, and she will love it.”
He exhaled softly. “It’s hard, at times,” he confessed, “to think of all this power I have over a truly beautiful woman.”
“Is it any different from the power you have in your every day life? The power of the money you have, the power of the magic you have?”
Harry looked surprised. “You know, I don’t think it is,” he eventually said. “So, basically, I should get my head out of my arse and just enjoy what I’m lucky enough to have?”
Aimée laughed. “Indeed, Harry. But enough of this idle chatter, we have a lesson, do we not?”
Harry nodded and stood, he walked over to Aimée and took her hand, Apparating her to the Quidditch pitch of Hogwarts in an instant.
The noise that they appeared in the midst of was incredible.
“Quiet!” Harry roared – even without a Sonorus spell, he managed to silence everyone. To one side, he could see Minerva with a smirk on her face.
“Professor McGonagall?” he asked, his tone clearly questioning.
“As our flying professor is currently being hunted for attempted rape and use of an Unforgivable,” she said smoothly, “it was decided that we would merge the Beauxbatons and Hogwarts classes.”
“And ve decided dat Durmstrang shut participate as vell,” Viktor announced from behind him.
“Which,” Minerva continued, “snowballed into an open house for the top three years who don’t have a class.”
Next to him, he could hear Aimée laughing softly.
“Just remember that you agreed to help,” Harry told her with a sigh. He turned back to the students. “Okay, I want you all organised by year groups – everyone start moving. Seventh years on the left, then in descending order to the right.” He repeated the instructions in French and German.
As the students started to move, he took a few steps back. “Viktor, Minerva, are you staying to help?”
“I can not,” Viktor said apologetically. “I haff meetink.”
Harry nodded. “I’ll see you later?”
Viktor nodded and pounded Harry on the back, then walked off.
“Consider this my revenge for what happened to my lessons,” she whispered. “But yes, I am here to help if you need me.”
“So it’s a challenge, is it?”
“Right, go and take a seat. We’ll show you how we do things, Beauxbatons style.”
Minerva laughed and did as she was told.
“Can you fly?” he asked as he turned to Aimée.
“Of course,” Aimée replied. “What do you have planned?”
“I think we’ll do an obstacle course.”
She nodded. Harry smiled and snapped his fingers, pulling two brooms out of the thin air. The first was his specialised Seeker broom; the second was the normal broom that he used in lessons. He passed that to Aimée.
“Right, everyone into the air!” he yelled, then repeated it in German, as Aimée translated it into French. He jumped, swung the broom between his legs and rocketed into the air, as Aimée flew up more sedately with the students.
Harry worked as fast as he could to create an obstacle course. Most of the material he summoned from Beauxbatons, and allowed it to float in the air. The course would be static for the first round; the second round would start to have things moving, which would get progressively faster. The top level used Bludger simulators – so that they wouldn’t hurt if they hit someone – to make it even harder. There were also floating flags to show how to get around each obstacle. When he had finished, he looked at the number of students in the combined class, and duplicated the course.
He flew next to Aimée and hovered. Everyone was looking at him. “What you see before you is a version of the training course that we use at the Cannons. To make it fun, we’re going to have a competition. The winner gets an award at dinner tonight.” As before, he worked with Aimée to ensure that everyone understood. It was easier than repeating himself in all three languages.
The students cheered loudly.
“What you’re going to do is fly through the obstacle course, and if you clear it without touching anything, then you get to take part in round two. Round two will be harder, and we’ll keep going until there is a clear winner.
“If you’re eliminated, fly down to Professor McGonagall, pick your favourites, and start cheering.” He looked at Aimée. “This is my assistant, Madame Delacour. She’ll be watching the second course for me. Now, are there any questions?”
The students shook their heads. “Professor Potter,” Aimée called.
Harry raised an eyebrow at her.
“It would be fair if the students get to see the course in action first. Otherwise, the students who go first would have a disadvantage. Why don’t you demonstrate?”
He laughed and nodded. “Okay, I’m going to do it pretty slowly, so you can see what to expect.” He swivelled his broom and dashed over to the start of the course. It was actually harder for him to dodge, duck and dive at a slow speed through the course than it would have been to take it at full speed.
At the other end, he looped around and zoomed back to the start. “Aimée, if you’ll get in position, we’ll start.”
She smiled and gracefully flew to the other start.
“Right,” Harry called, “You and you, go.” He chose two students at random. The course didn’t care about age – it was all about talent and ability.
Some of the students started to cheer. It was pretty much along school lines, as they cheered for their friends.
What soon became clear was that Beauxbatons and Durmstrang had much better flyers. The Hogwarts players seemed to rely too much on strength over technique, which was useless against the obstacle course.
He could see some Slytherins drop to the ground in disgust as they failed the course, and they were soon joined by other students from Hogwarts. After a gruelling hour, the race was down to a Beauxbatons sixth year named Marie and a Durmstrang student he didn’t know by name.
“This is the last round,” he yelled. “If you both clear it, the winner will be the person who finishes first. Ready? Set, go!”
The two players took off. The cheers from the ground were deafening. As more students seemed to have joined the crowd, Harry glanced down. He could feel that Gabrielle had joined the other students, and was helping keep them in line. Even the Hogwarts students were cheering.
Both racers dodged expertly, avoiding closing cushioned pads before they dived through a circle that was opening and closing. The Bludgers chased after the flyers. It was tight, but the German just managed to come out on top.
“Congratulations,” Harry said to him in German. “Well done.”
“Thank you,” he replied with a huge smile on his face as he floated down to his friends. Harry flew over to Marie, who looked devastated.
“Hey,” he said, switching to French, “you did incredibly well.”
“But I didn’t win.”
“Marie, winning isn’t everything. At the start of the year, did you think that you would do so well on a broom? Did you think that you would beat so many students from three different schools?”
She shook her head slowly.
“So you didn’t win – what you did do is give it everything you had, and you’ve come so far, I’m very proud of you.”
She slowly started to smile. “Now,” Harry continued, “get down there and join your schoolmates. They are pleased with you as well.”
“Thank you, Professor Potter,” she said gratefully, as she dove down to meet her cheering friends.
Harry smiled and floated down. To the right, Marcus Flint was surrounded by most of the Hogwarts team, and he was looked angry. The kids were avoiding his gaze.
“Can you all be quiet please?” Gabrielle’s voice, enhanced by a Sonorus spell floated over the students. She repeated her request in French and German. “I think,” she continued, “that the competition we have just seen was outstanding, but we do have the very rare opportunity of having two professional Quidditch players with us. I know that I would like to see this course done by Professor Potter and Professor Flint. Do you all agree?” As fast as she could, she translated her little speech into the other two languages, having to shout as the students began to cheer. The noise got louder and louder; he looked over at Aimée and Minerva, who were both nodding encouragingly.
He raised his hands. “Okay,” he said simply. The roar of approval nearly blew him up to the correct height. “Marcus?”
Flint sneered at him and barked to a student, who sprinted away to fetch his broom.
“I’m going to make it a little more interesting,” Harry shouted, he could hear Gabrielle translating for him below. “I’m going to put it into professional mode. The difference is that there is an extra Bludger, and all the obstacles move faster.”
The student returned carrying Flint’s broom. Flint flew into the air near Harry and scowled at him. “I’ll show you,” he sneered.
“You’ll show me what?” he asked. “That Lee was right, and that Malfoy has ruined these kids’ chances of ever going pro?”
“That you aren’t as good as you say.”
“I’ve never claimed anything; it’s others who say that I’m one of the three best in the world,” Harry replied coolly. “But we’ll see, won’t we?”
Aimée flew up between them. She cast a Sonorus spell, “On three, Mr Potter, Mr Flint. One, two, three!”
Harry shot off as fast as he could, but not at full speed – full speed would have made it impossible to get around the course. The first obstacles were simply blocks that he had to swerve over and under. He followed the course, hardly paying attention to it. The next set of blocks were moving, so he had to time the flying just right. He absently spun around the axis of his broom, avoiding a couple of Bludgers, and then pushed forward.
There was a way of doing the course much faster, if you had the skill. The timing was the same at eighty as it was at forty, so he hugged his broom and rocketed forward, floating up and down as he avoided the horizontal barriers. He squeezed through the first closing obstacle, narrowly missing the vertically swinging barriers. Then he dived down, inverting so that he could skim closer to the next obstacle, and rotated ninety degrees so he could squeeze through the horizontal barriers.
He was now flying on instinct alone – nothing else would do – as he shot through an opening barely big enough for his shoulders, and powered on. The Bludgers were left far behind; they were charmed for normal speed, not the suicidal pace he was setting.
With a stomach-turning roll, he burst through the last gap and crossed the line. As he slowed, the familiar roar of an approving crowd met his ears. He turned to look at Flint, who was only halfway through the course. Flint bellowed in disgust and dropped out; he swooped down and stormed toward Hogwarts.
Harry floated down slowly. The first person to meet him was the Hogwarts Head Girl. He looked at her curiously.
“Professor Potter,” she said formally, ignoring the noise around them. “I wonder if I might have a minute of your time?”
“Aimée, can you finish off for me?” he called in French.
She nodded and smiled at him, before turning and shouting in English, followed by French. Gabrielle moved next to her and translated into German. It took a lot of his willpower for him not to spend a few minutes watching his Mate.
“How may I help you?” he asked, as he turned his broom sideways, placed one hand to control it, and rested his hips against it, as if he was leaning against a bench.
She smiled at him, and tilted her head, then slid her long brown hair behind her ear. “I’m Natalie Jenkins,” she introduced herself, “although my friends call me Nat.”
He nodded, amused.
“Anyway, I was wondering if you’d be able to help me out and Hogwarts, too.”
“Natalie, what are you doing?” a new voice shouted.
Natalie sighed as the Hogwarts Head Boy stormed over to them. “What do you want, John?”
“I want to know what you’re doing,” John snarled.
“You will adjust your tone and talk politely,” Harry said softly. “I do not tolerate this sort of behaviour at Beauxbatons, and I won’t tolerate it here either.”
John looked at Harry, who hadn’t moved from his casual pose, and turned his back to Harry.
Harry looked vaguely amused and waved his hand. John vanished.
Natalie blinked. “Where did you send him?”
“The Head Boy’s room,” he said with a shrug. “He can cool off there for the next few hours.”
“You’ve locked him in?”
Harry nodded. “Anyway, you were about to ask me something?”
“Oh, yes, sorry. John and I disagree about this – but then, he’s a Slytherin and been a devotee in the cult of Snape and Malfoy for the past seven years. Hogwarts Quidditch is in a mess. You saw them today, all strength and no sophistication. You helped Beauxbatons humiliate them. But now we have a chance to do something about it. When this is over, Professor Flint will leave, and we’ll need a new professor.”
“Anyway, everyone knows that you’re Harry Potter, and that you’re the best – I was hoping that you’d be able to help us pick someone who’d actually be able to teach us properly.”
“Professor Dumbledore and I don’t really get on anymore,” Harry said quietly. “But I’ll happily suggest someone to Professor McGonagall, and have a word with a few of the other Professors to see what we can do. The person I’m thinking of is an extremely good flying coach, and he might be able to sort out the mess that Malfoy’s incompetence has put the players in.”
Natalie smiled at him, tilting her head a little and looking up through her lashes, “I don’t suppose we could persuade you to come back to your own school, could we?”
He shook his head. “Once this school year is out, I’ll be back playing Quidditch. Technically, I should be back after Christmas, but I’ve signed a contract with Beauxbatons, and I will honour it.”
She nodded, casually running her hands from her front to her back – which managed to pull the robes a little tighter around her, showing off her figure. “If you ever need a guide to show you how Hogwarts has changed in the last four years, I’d be happy to help.”
“Thank you,” Harry said evenly. “I’ll talk to Professor McGonagall later today, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Natalie nodded and gave him another smile before she turned and walked off, her hips moving in a slightly exaggerated manner.
Harry shook his head, shifted so that he was back on his broom, and went to dismantle the obstacle course.
“And so the Prophet offered us a thousand galleons,” Jean said. “I laughed at them, and told them that the only way that we’d lift the injunction is if they guaranteed a full front page retraction tomorrow and gave ten thousand galleons to the Equality League. Tiberius, the owner, refused, and called me a few names. The judge then decided he was in contempt of court, and ordered him arrested. In the meantime, there will be no Prophet published tomorrow. Their lawyers have filled an appeal, but that won’t be looked at until tomorrow afternoon.”
“How did you manage all of this, dear?” Aimée asked.
Jean smiled. “Percy,” he said quietly. “He pointed to a few little-known laws, and managed to arrange for an open-minded judge to hear our case. Basically, because Gabrielle is under-age and the allegations involved rape, this was a sex offence case – and as Gabrielle was completely exonerated by winning the fight, they didn’t have a leg to stand on, and the fact that they implied that Gabrielle was a prostitute was the nail in their coffin.
“They tried to argue that Gabrielle is not under-age, as she is a creature, not a human, but the law is very clear. It states any female under the age of eighteen is classified as being underage, regardless of species.”
“So will we get the apology?” Harry asked.
Jean nodded. “Oh, yes. The money is irrelevant, and I think that is what has thrown them the most. They are used to simply throwing money at the people that they have libelled. The fact that we don’t need money, and more, are quite prepared to outspend them, leaves them with the courts as their only option, and we have the law on our side.”
“Good work,” Harry praised.
Aimée leaned in closer to Harry and whispered, “I’ve told everyone that Gabrielle is not feeling well. She is waiting for you in her room.”
“Thanks,” Harry replied. “In that case, I’ll say what I have to and get out of here.”
“And leave us to face this food alone?” Jean demanded playfully.
“Damn right,” Harry agreed. “May I have your attention, please,” he said, quickly repeating his request in German and French. He moved into the centre of the expanded Great Hall, and ignored the looks he was getting from Snape.
To his surprise, Simone and Gunther moved next to him. “You do the English; we’ll translate for you,” Simone said.
“Thanks,” he replied. Speaking with pauses for his translators, he continued. “This morning, we held an informal tournament of Quidditch skills to see who the best flyers were. Today’s winner was Stephan, from Durmstrang!”
There was a huge cheer as a blushing Stephan came forward. Harry handed him a small envelope. “Those are tickets to the next World Cup final,” he said. Stephan looked stunned, then his face broke out in a wide smile.
Harry waited until the noise quietened down a little. “Now, I am aware that not everyone got to play today, so I’ve had a talk with Professor Krum, and with Professor McGonagall, in Malfoy’s stead, and we’ve agreed that I will hold seven more sessions like today’s. The top ten students from each year will get tickets to a professional Quidditch match of their choice, and they will go forward to a grand final – where the winner will get an executive box at the next World Cup, and will get to meet the team of their choice beforehand.”
There was another explosion of noise as all three schools cheered in unison.
“I’ll start with the first, second and third years tomorrow, so I’ll see you on the field at four!”
There was another resounding cheer. “Thank you both,” Harry said to his translators, who both grinned back. With a wave, he Disapparated home to get changed, then Apparated again to Gabrielle’s room.
Gabrielle placed her quill down and turned to face the corner. A micro-second later, Harry arrived. She smiled at him.
“Did you have fun today?” she asked as she ran her eyes over him, and the smart suit he was wearing. It emphasised his trim waist and powerful shoulders. She loved it when he dressed formally; he gave off the subconscious impression that he was the most important man in the world.
“It was kinda fun beating Flint,” he admitted.
“I thought you would enjoy that,” she replied. “And did you enjoy the attentions of the Hogwarts Head Girl?”
Harry rolled his eye playfully. “I did my best to ignore her – I didn’t want to tell her she had no chance.”
Gabrielle nodded. “I could feel that you were being nice.” She paused and smiled at him teasingly, “Not tempted by a tall brunette with big breasts?”
“It depends,” he teased back. “Are you planning on colouring your hair and wearing high heels?”
She laughed and tidied away her parchment. “What are we going to do this evening?” she purred as she deliberately slunk her way over to him.
He opened his arms. “I think we’ll have a meal somewhere nice, and see where the evening takes us.”
“So I should get changed?” she asked, as she gave him a quick, but intense, hug.
“If you’re still in your school uniform under your robes, then yes. We’ll be eating in the Muggle world.”
“And you do not want a school-girl clinging over you?” she asked teasingly.
“Only in bed, love,” Harry responded, and she had to fight a blush.
“So you quite like the uniform?”
“On you, yes,” he said, before adding, “and off you, as well.”
“Last year’s uniform was cuter,” she responded, as she moved into the bedroom and quickly stripped down to her underwear. She liked that he was now more than happy to flirt with her. She already had her sexiest lingerie on – just in case, so she didn’t change that. “And it is a little tighter in places, and the skirt barely covers my bum now – I shortened it a bit,” she called as she looked through her wardrobe. She pulled out a black silk voile dress and shimmied into it quickly. It was almost floor length, but had a slit that went all the way up to her thigh. Some three-inch black pumps finished off the outfit.
“You did? Why?”
She pulled her hair out of her ponytail. “Because it looks really sexy, and you will love it when I wear it,” she replied. She concentrated, using her Veela power to style it quickly into a slightly more sophisticated look. Her blonde hair curled slightly as it cascaded down her back and over her shoulders. “So, do I look good enough for you to eat?”
“Yes,” he replied, after looking her up and down slowly. “However, I’m going to need real sustenance beforehand.”
“Then let us go,” she said, moving into his arms. She could not remember ever being this happy.
She snuggled into his arms, inhaling deeply. When she looked up, they had moved, and were outside an impressive looking hotel with a wide flight of steps. Harry indicated for her to precede him, so she walked carefully up the steps and into the hotel.
Harry walked over to the desk and had a low voiced conversation with the concierge. His already formal pose seemed to stiffen as Harry introduced himself. A slight handshake – where she was pretty sure he had passed some money – and the concierge walked over with Harry.
“This way, please, sir, ma’am,” the concierge said, and led them into a beautiful large dining room, styled in a warm golden colour with red-backed chairs. They walked slowly through the restaurant, and she carefully allowed a small amount of her Veela powers come out to play. Tonight, she wanted to prove one last thing to Harry – that she could accompany him anywhere his career and his power might take him.
The concierge almost tripped as he pulled out a chair for Gabrielle and then for Harry.
“Thank you,” Harry said, as he settled down. The concierge reluctantly moved away, trying to keep her in his line of vision.
“Order for me,” she said, without looking at the menu.
He raised an eyebrow quizzically at her, but she just smiled mysteriously back at him.
“I can’t decide which of us is the most hated at the moment,” he said, an amused smile playing around the edges of his mouth.
“Oh?” she asked.
“The men hate me for my luck, bringing the most beautiful woman they have ever seen to this restaurant. And the women hate you because you have the audacity to make one of the most expensive hotels in the world look parochial in comparison.”
She smiled. “I think, Harry, that the men do not hate you, they envy you, and they would like to know you, to find out just how you have managed to find me.”
He laughed softly. “Another point proved, Gabrielle.”
“Do you mind me having fun like this?”
“Not if you’re enjoying it.”
“For so many years I have hidden,” she said softly, “hidden and waited for when I would grow up and be able to be everything to my Mate. Tonight, I am secure, I have your love, and that is more than I ever dared wish for. Tonight, I want to be the centre of attention. Tonight, I want everyone to envy you as I show the world how much I love you. Tomorrow, I will hide again, and be happy doing it, but tonight I feel free, and I will enjoy the feeling.”
He reached out and lightly stroked his hand over her cheek, the gentle and tender caress reverberating through her soul.
There was a polite cough next to them.
Without looking up, Harry said, “We’ll have the confit of organic salmon, followed by the roasted rack of Cornish lamb. Please ask the sommelier to suggest the best wine for each course.”
“Of course, sir.”
After he had left, Harry smiled faintly. “I’ve eaten here a few times - the discretion is worth it - but this is the first time I’ve been served so fast.”
She shook her head and smiled at him.
“I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my life finding out just who you are, Gabrielle Delacour.”
“What do you mean?” she asked in surprise. “I am not complicated.”
“You are a girl who is just as at home in jeans as she is in exclusive designer clothing. You are a girl who can tease me about wearing her old school uniform one moment, and look five years older the next. You are a girl who can talk about classical music with the same depth of knowledge that you can talk about Quidditch. You are a girl who can ignore her surroundings, whether they be a nightclub or a school, and then decide to captivate everyone to make me look good.”
“And that is a good thing?”
“You are the best, Gabby,” he whispered.
Another uniformed man appeared, this one carrying a bottle in the crook of his arm. He opened it with a well-practiced movement and poured a small amount into Harry’s glass.
Harry’s eyes never moved from her as he tasted the wine, each movement so familiar to her, and yet so different from her father. “Thank you,” he said softly, as the sommelier filled both of their glasses and placed the wine on the table.
He raised his glass as she raised hers. “To us.”
“To us,” she echoed, as a burst of pleasure and pride shot through her.
They were an ‘us’ now – a fact that blazed within her.
Afterwards, she would never remember what they talked about, or what the food tasted like. She just did everything she could to absorb the feelings that she was getting from him.
With the last plate removed, he invited, “Would you like to dance?”
“I would like nothing more,” she replied.
He stood and moved her over to the dance floor. There were a few other couples dancing off their food.
She moved into his arm and slowly her slight feeling of introspection faded. The music was a slow paced waltz and she wrinkled her nose.
“You don’t like the music?”
“It is fine for a funeral,” she replied, “but I want to dance now.”
“Wait here,” he ordered.
She shivered slightly and stood in the same position. No longer did she worry that he wouldn’t return to her. Now, she just enjoyed the feeling of her own magic reacting to the order she was obeying.
Harry walked over to the four-piece band and whispered something to lead guitarist. Another subtle handshake, and Harry turned, a slight smile on his face. As the music picked up, he made a small gesture that freed her, and she glided over to him. “This is more appropriate,” she agreed as she twirled in his arms. “Do not hold back.”
“Tonight Harry Potter does not exist, nor does Gabrielle Delacour,” she said with a laugh, letting herself lean back in his arms so that she had to look up at him. “Tonight, we are unknown, two people in love dancing before our peers. There are no responsibilities, no press. It is just us.”
He flashed her a boyish grin, then he took her hand and pulled her back up. He paused, waiting for the right beat, and started to dance with her, a brisk paced tango. She laughed happily, as much at the look on his face, before she had to concentrate on the dance. She had danced the tango a thousand times before, but never with such intimacy, never with the feeling of her Mate pressed against her body, and never with such freedom.
The dance floor was their domain, the other dancers ignored as they let themselves go into the dance. She could feel how he would lead just before he did so, so she was able to follow him as if they had danced together for eternity.
Always in the past she had danced with her sister, with her mother, with her father, with her female dance instructor. She had thought that dancing with Harry would be somewhat like dancing with her father, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t just the fact that one was her father, one her future love; it was more that Harry was a professional sportsman and had an incredible amount of power and presence that her father could not match through personality alone.
He wasn’t even breathing hard as they stopped with the music. The sound of polite applause drifted over them as they waited for the music to start again.
A fast samba beat filled the air and she smiled at him, challenging him deliberately.
His answering smile accepted her challenge, and before she could take a breath, she was whirled away and she had to concentrate to keep up with him as he pushed her to match his bouncing steps.
One dance merged seamlessly into the next and the number of people watching them had grown. Some of them were drawn by her looks, she had no doubt of that, but more drawn by their passionate dancing, and by the way that her Mate was not outshone by her. She was convinced that any other male in the world would have faded into the background, next to a Veela using just a fraction of her power. Not Harry. His personality and self-belief allowed him to radiate as much as she could.
As the last dance ended, and a fresh round of applause erupted, he grinned at her, and she knew she had done the right thing.
He took her hand and led her off the dance floor, the crowd parting before them. As soon as they were outside, Harry quickly led her to a private spot, away from casual view. From there, they Disapparated and landed on the balcony of his London apartment. Before them was the wonderful panoramic view of London at night, the dark sky setting a wonderful background to the way the city was lit up.
He opened the door with a wave of his hand, and then cast a warming charm over the whole balcony, before he led her over to a bench. One of the benefits of being in love with Harry was that she was never cold – he always looked after her.
She sat, curiously watching him.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think recently, Gabrielle, and I’ve been thinking about our situation, and everything else involved.”
That opening would have terrified her, even a week ago.
“And I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want from my partner. And I’ve come to the conclusion that you are what I want, because you are everything I thought I wanted, and million times more.”
She smiled brightly at him.
He moved from next to her and knelt in front of her, lightly taking her hand. “I have your love, Gabrielle, I have this Bond that tells me that you’ll love me forever, but that isn’t enough.”
She blinked; what else could she give him? He already had her mind, her body, her heart and her soul.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small leather box. “Gabrielle Delacour, will you marry me?”
Everything seemed to stop. All she could see was the ring as it sparkled in the light, and the look on Harry’s face.
“You don’t have to do this,” she whispered.
“You are the woman I want to wake up next to for the rest of my life, Gabrielle.”
“Yes,” she whispered, “oh, yes, please, Harry.”
He smiled and took her hand, placing the ring on her finger. She closed her eyes as a rush of pleasure flew through her, then a second rush of power quickly followed it.
“You’re mine, Gabrielle,” he whispered, not moving from the floor. “That ring will protect you, even when I can’t.”
This wasn’t how she had expected this evening to end. She was engaged to be married to her Mate.
She had never really thought about marriage. All of her thoughts had been about being with her Mate any way that she could. Marriage hadn’t seemed necessary; the only commitment she needed from him was for him to take her to bed.
The idea that some day, somehow, he might take another in marriage crept into her nightmares, only to be banished quickly on awakening, when she would redouble her efforts to study him, to ensure that she alone would be enough for him.
This was his commitment to her, that he would never take another, would never leave her, and would always be there for her. She felt herself start to cry as she slid off the bench and hugged him tightly, burying her face in his neck.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
His hands stoked up and down her back. “Gabrielle?”
“I never dreamed, never dared truly hope that you would marry me,” she mumbled. “Why would you need to? I am a silly girl who made a mistake. I do not need such consideration.”
“You are never just a silly girl; you are Gabrielle, my Gabrielle.”
“Forever,” she promised. “Forever.”
She took a deep breath and then used her Veela power to clear her face. Now was the right time. All evening she had been waiting for this moment, and she wasn’t going to wait any longer.
She slowly stood and took his hand, helping him off his knees, and led him indoors. The weight of the ring on her hand was a constant reminder that he had proposed to her.
He had made a commitment to her that she hadn’t expected. She knew her Mate, better than anyone else in the world, and she knew what this ring represented. Before taking this step, he would have asked her parents, and her mother’s words about her blessing him now made more sense.
Next to his bed, she turned and faced him, her hands moving up his shirt, undoing the buttons.
She shook her head, lightly touching his lips. She didn’t want words anymore, she didn’t need words. The ring on her finger said everything. She eased his shirt off his back, and then reached for his belt. She knelt before him and eased his trousers down, and removing his socks and shoes as he moved to help her. She reached back up and pulled his shorts down, trying hard not to get sidetracked by the overwhelming urge she had in this position.
The time for that would be later, not now. She stood and gently pushed him back on to the bed. He moved as directed, on his back in the centre of the bed. She stood back and undid her zipper, shrugging the dress off so that it pooled by her feet. She stepped out of her heels and crawled onto the bed, kneeling by his feet, just out of reach.
He was looking at her hungrily, his desire obvious. She opened the front-catch of her bra and removed it slowly, enjoying the sharp intake of his breath. She moved her hands back to her waist and dropped to her side so that she could slowly remove her knickers. When she had pulled her lingerie on earlier, she had enjoyed visions of sexily stripping for him, dancing for him in the lingerie. She would do that later, but not now, not when he had just managed to give her more than her dreams.
He wanted her. He loved her, and as she searched his eyes she saw there was no hint of doubt, no hint of disbelief and no hint of worry.
Her Mate wanted her, without a single string attached.
She slowly crawled up his body, brushing herself against him as she moved up, until she was hovering, her lips a millimetre from his. “I love you,” she whispered, and gently kissed him.
He returned the kiss and his hands moved around her, crushing her to his chest, and then the kiss turned serious.
Gabrielle stretched luxuriously and smiled. Two things were immediately clear to her: she still had the ring on her finger, and she was sore in places she’d never been sore before.
She looked up at her future husband. “Better than ever,” she whispered, as she tilted her head and stretched to kiss him gently.
“How do you feel?”
“Slightly sore,” she confessed, “but it was worth it!”
Harry chuckled. “That wasn’t what I meant. Have you checked the Bond?”
“Why?” she asked, before it hit her. “Oh, I forgot about that,” she gasped. “I can’t believe I –”
She checked and gasped again. Always before, the Bond had been lightly tethered to her, thin tendrils of magic attached to her heart and her mind. It had been annoyingly fragile; sometimes appearing that a summer breeze could tear it away. The strands were barbed, and if their magic had been torn out, either by it breaking, or by an external source, they would have destroyed everything they touched.
Now the Bond was solid, a giant oak compared to a seedling. There seemed no way that it would ever break.
“I am safe,” she whispered in shock. “I will not go insane.”
“Damn right,” Harry agreed.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she whispered as she kissed his face again and again. “For so long I’ve tried to forget this, not just for me, but so that you would not feel me worrying about it as well,” she explained, “but it has been there, a constant pressure in my life for so long, that for it to suddenly be gone is unbelievable.”
His hand was playing with her hair, lightly stroking it, and the Bond was giving her such strong messages of love, satisfaction and contentment. Last night had been the single most amazing night of her existence. He had played her body, forcing her to go to places she had never imagined existed, never dared dream that she might reach.
The final consummation of their relationship had been more controlled. It had been important to her that she had lowered all her barriers, that he was able to take her mind as he took her body. What she hadn’t expected was for him to reciprocate; he had turned off his magical protections and lowered his mental protections, so that he was as vulnerable as she was.
“What time is it?” she asked.
“Five in the morning.”
She smiled happily, a quick burst of her Veela power taking away any last remaining soreness, and she climbed on top of him. Last night had been amazing, it had been gentle and loving, but now it was time for fun.
He looked at her curiously.
She kissed him intently, her hair draping down around her face. “I have been dreaming about you for eight years,” she whispered, a smile on her face. “You have a lot of catching up to do.”
Harry smiled against her lips.
“Challenge accepted,” he responded with equal intensity.
I really should write these as I write the story, that way I wouldn't forget things...
Anyway, first, a big thank you to BJH. S/He suggested the Prophet's article in a review of the previous part, and I felt that it was so good that I had to include it in this chapter.
Huge thanks to my beta, who do put an incredible amount of effort into these stories. Kokopelli, Greywizard, Ishtar, GardenGirl.
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