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Sunlight filtered through the willow leaves, glowing red beyond Fleur’s eyelids. Heat soaked into the smooth bark and her skin. She yawned and opened her eyes, then fished her necklace out of the front of her robes.
A silver seed dangled from a slim, shining chain; an acorn hanging from its cup of celtic knots. The sun flashed off it, stabbing at Fleur’s eyes. She pulled her wand from her waist and touched its tip to the seed. Her magic swirled through the silver, spiralling into its centre and flitting back and forth from there to its distant twin.
‘Azure,’ she murmured.
The chain melted back into the seed like a stream into a lake; it hovered in the air like heat haze. Silver branches sprouted from it, putting forth tiny, shining leaves, identical roots webbed beneath. A faint shimmer rippled through the metal, then it spread into a mirror no larger than the spread of Fleur’s hand.
Her own blue eyes stared at her in the bright surface, then a soft glow suffused the silver and Harry’s face appeared.
‘Fleur?’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘You’re free?’
‘Want to come visit?’ She smirked. ‘I’ll warn you now that it’s another trap. Gabrielle let slip that I’ve been seeing a boy for the first time, the annoying little chicken.’
He laughed and the mirror shifted. Fleur caught a brief glimpse of shelves of books and an imposing portrait in green and silver, then the surface of her mirror darkened. It shrank back into a seed and the chain slipped back around her neck.
A soft snap echoed across the river.
Fleur dropped her necklace down the front of her robes and twisted round.
Harry leant against the tree trunk, staring up at her with a broad half-smile on his face as he tucked her picture portkey into his pocket. ‘You look amazing.’
Fleur dropped off her branch. ‘As always.’ She buried her face in his chest and breathed in the warmth of him. ‘I missed you.’
‘Good.’ Harry squeezed her closer to his chest. ‘I’d hate to think it was just me.’
She leant back and kissed him. ‘Are you ready for the trap?’ Fleur switched to French.
Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Just about.’ His accent wobbled.
Fleur wrinkled her nose. ‘Just about.’
He laughed. ‘I learnt a whole language over the summer for you. And I helped you get a little better with your English, too. Are you ever satisfied?’
‘Non.’ A pout crept onto her lips. ‘Not until things are perfect.’
‘You’re perfect.’ Harry’s hands encircled her waist and his lips brushed her forehead. ‘As always.’
Fleur’s heart squirmed. ‘Come on. My parents are waiting… impatiently.’ She grabbed his hand and tugged him along the river shore to the bank and the grass slope up toward home.
Harry let her tow him. ‘What about Gabby?’
‘Distracted by her newfound ability to hurl fire at things.’ She laughed. ‘It is the best part of growing up as a veela. A good thing maman fire-proofs everything.’
‘I’m not fire-proof.’ A flicker of emotion passed through Harry’s eyes as he stared past her toward the chateaux.
Fleur hung back a step and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. ‘They don’t bite, mon Cœur. Am I not worth it?’
Harry chuckled. ‘I’d promise you that I’d walk through fire for you, but I’m a little worried I may have to. My reputation’s not at its all-time high right now.’
‘Nobody here believes that silly English paper.’ Fleur huffed. ‘They might be a bit protective, though.’
‘Can’t blame them for that, I guess.’
‘Come on.’ Fleur tugged at his hand. ‘I’ll apparate us the rest of the way. You aren’t included in the chateau’s wards, I have to take you in with me.’
‘I’m not all that surprised you live in a chateau,’ Harry murmured.
‘All old french houses are called chateaux.’ Fleur shrugged. ‘You’ll see.’
She pictured the entrance hall of her home, with its open, sandstone walls and floor, the scatter of Gabby’s shoes, and the handful of tasteful landscapes of pine covered mountain slopes, enchanted to change with the seasons. A soft snap and they stood there staring down at Gabby’s collection of footwear.
‘It looks a lot like a chateau to me,’ Harry whispered. ‘I think I’m beginning to see where Gabby’s first scene in our story will start.’
‘We don’t have a tallest tower and I am not a princess.’ Fleur wrinkled her nose. ‘Not that Gabby will let that stop her.’
‘You already dealt with your own dragon, too.’ Harry let out a quiet chuckle. ‘No self-respecting princess would interfere with the hero’s task like that.’
‘Perhaps you should’ve let me deal with the Horntail, then?’
‘I seem to remember you not wanting to face that particular dragon, you were one of the lucky three whose dragon had actually been tamed.’
Fleur stuck her nose in the air to hide her smile. ‘A dragon is a dragon. Now stop delaying, my family’s waiting.’ She ushered him down the entrance hall into the main hall. ‘Maman, papa, we are here.’
‘Fleur.’ Her parents sat on the far side of the hall on the ivory sofa. The empty fireplace yawned beyond them. ‘We were just about to head out for a wander round the gardens.’
Nice try. I know you were waiting here in case I tried to sneak through.
‘And you must be?’ Papa stood up.
‘Harry.’ The corner of Harry’s mouth twitched.
‘It’s nice to meet you.’ Maman clasped Harry’s hand between hers and pressed her lips to either of his cheeks. ‘I’m Fleur’s mother.’
Fleur stifled a wince as Harry tensed. I forgot to tell them not to get too close.
Papa stepped forward. ‘Laurent. Fleur’s father, obviously. You can clearly see she got all her beauty from me.’
Maman laughed. ‘Do not listen to Laurent, Harry. The only thing my daughter inherited from him is her stubbornness and her temper.’
Papa’s eyebrows disappeared into his hair. ‘My temper, Petite Fleur?’
A delighted cry echoed down the hall. ‘You finally brought him to meet me!’ Gabby tossed a pair of shoes down the entrance hall and darted over the stone floor.
‘Gabby, I presume.’ Harry extended a hand.
She bounded past it and wrapped Harry in a hug, plastering both cheeks with kisses. ‘We’ve already met, actually. You saved me from the Black Lake for Fleur.’ Gabby giggled and released Harry.
Fleur vanished the faint red marks of Gabby’s lip gloss and shot her little sister a warning glare.
‘It would be Harry Potter, then, would it?’ Papa asked, shaking Harry’s hand.
‘Just Harry suits me fine. My surname always seems to complicate things.’
‘Well, it is almost lunch,’ maman said. ‘You’re most welcome to join us, Harry.’
A well-planned ambush. Fleur smothered a faint trickle of heat. And they said they just wanted to meet him briefly.
Harry fixed a bright smile on his face. ‘I’d love to.’
Poor Harry. Fleur squeezed his fingers.
‘We usually eat in the kitchen,’ Papa said. ‘It’s a little more informal and you don’t have to shout all the way down the table.’
Her parents drifted toward the kitchen.
Gabby threw a glance at Fleur. Mischief burnt in her baby sister’s eyes. ‘Sorry, Fleur,’ she chirped, staring right at Harry.
Harry blinked and shot Fleur a rather bemused look.
Did she just try and charm him?! Heat bubbled in Fleur’s bones and feathers prickled beneath her skin. You’re dead, Gabby!
She motioned for Harry to follow her Maman ‘round the doorframe and pinned Gabby against the wall. ‘What were you trying to do?’
‘Gabrielle,’ Fleur hissed, letting some of the heat seep out of her bones until she felt her face shift.
‘He didn’t even notice,’ Gabby whispered. ‘And that was everything I could direct at him!’ She squealed. ‘He must really love you, Fleur.’
‘Did you just use your magic to test Harry?’ Fleur demanded. ‘You know it doesn’t even work like that!’
‘I don’t have magic like yours, Fleur, but nobody ever just doesn’t notice it like that.’ Gabby’s eyes turned dreamy and she wriggled out from under Fleur’s arm. ‘It must be true love.’
I’m burning every single romance novel in this house. She hauled Gabby after her into the kitchen. It’s for her own good.
‘Are you going to tell me why Gabby decided to try and charm me?’ Harry murmured as Binky made the food appear in front of them. A simple, Italian salad of goat’s cheese, artichoke hearts, and olives, with basil, bay leaves, and oregano scattered over it appeared on plain, white bowls.
‘She wanted to see how much you loved me.’ Fleur threw a dirty look at where Gabby was making eyes at the pair of them across the table. ‘It doesn’t even work like that.’
Or she wanted to show me how much you loved me. She’s a sneaky little chick.
‘So you’re the heir of the Potter family?’ Papa leant forward.
‘As far as I know,’ Harry said. ‘I’ve not met any others.’
‘That’s a big name to be responsible for, especially in Britain where pure-blooded families are still held in such high-esteem,’ papa said.
‘I’m not a pure-blood.’ Harry shrugged. ‘My mother was from muggle parents.’
‘Ah.’ Papa took a sip of water. ‘If I remember correctly, the Potter family has some quite illustrious ancestry. A great number of great names ended up becoming Potter.’
A slight flush climbed up Harry’s face. ‘Honestly, I wouldn’t know. My only living relations are muggles from my mother’s family. I know very little about the Potter family, only that it nearly came to a very abrupt end fifteen years ago.’
Papa’s eyes sparkled. ‘I know a little if you want me to tell you?’
Please no. Fleur stifled a groan. Not another history conversation.
‘Perhaps another time, Laurent.’ Maman shared a small smile with Fleur. ‘I understand you won the Triwizard Tournament, Harry?’
‘I think I simply lost the least.’ Harry studied his fork. ‘It didn’t quite go as it was meant to.’
Fleur poked him in the thigh with her wand. I should’ve told him I’d not said anything about the third task.
‘Fleur was quite confident that she would win,’ Laurent said.
A broad grin spread across Harry’s face. ‘Yes. When I asked for her name the first time we spoke to each other, Fleur told me I could read it off the Triwizard Trophy at the end.’
Gabby giggled and opened her mouth. Fleur kicked her under the table.
‘Fleur said that she would beat you by such a margin in the last task that it would make you losing points for rescuing me irrelevant,’ Gabby said.
Fleur released a quiet sigh. I said a whole lot worse than that.
‘I didn’t in the end,’ she said. ‘But Harry had help, so I don’t think it counts.’
Papa put down his silverware. ‘Help? You cheated?’
‘Laurent…’ Maman tapped her nails on the table. ‘What did happen in the third task? Fleur said she was knocked unconscious early on by one of the other champions, but she was being evasive, and there were stories in the papers and rumours that contradict each other.’
Harry glanced at Fleur. ‘A wizard, one of the judges, interfered with the task. He was responsible for everything that happened in the maze. Viktor Krum was killed, Fleur was attacked and stunned about halfway in, and I got Cedric Diggory.’
Maman pursed her lips. ‘Fleur said she was found on her own, at the centre of the maze?’
A slight red tinge crept up Harry’s cheeks.
‘Harry took me with him,’ Fleur said. ‘It wasn’t safe.’
‘That’s so romantic.’ Gabby sighed. ‘Why couldn’t you have chosen someone your own age, Fleur? I’d love to be carried to safety by a nice wizard one day.’
Harry’s cheeks flared bright crimson. Fleur felt the heat rush to her face and stamped on Gabby’s toes under the table. Her sister squeaked and closed her mouth.
Fleur glared at her. Say something like that again at your own risk.
Gabby shot her a wounded expression and her parents half-hid their smiles behind their hands.
Silverware scraped and clinked as they finished their meal. Harry picked his way through with great care, grimacing faintly with each olive until the clock chimed from the kitchen wall.
‘You need to return to Hogwarts,’ Fleur said.
Harry glanced up at the clock, then nodded. ‘I do.’
‘You are welcome to stay,’ maman suggested. ‘There are plenty of spare rooms.’
Gabby pulled her feet back under her chair. ‘Or you can just share with Fleur, Harry. I’m sure she’d prefer that.’
‘I’d be missed if I was away for any longer,’ Harry said. ‘But thank you. The food was fantastic and it was nice to finally meet you.’
A small pout crept onto Fleur’s lips. Make it sound like I kept us apart, why don’t you?
Papa’s face creased into a smile. ‘Then it was a pleasure to meet you, Harry.’
Maman nodded. ‘You’re welcome back whenever.’
‘Bye, Harry,’ Gabby chirped, giving him a cheerful wave.
Harry raised an eyebrow at Fleur.
‘It will work,’ she said.
He reached out and gave her hand a gentle squeeze, vanishing with a soft snap.
Maman rose from her chair. ‘Gabby, come help me tidy your shoes away.’
Gabby pouted, but let Maman lead her away through to the entrance hall.
Papa folded his arms at the far end of the table. ‘He’s a fair bit younger than you, but he seems mature enough. I don’t dislike him.’
Fleur narrowed her eyes at him. ‘I’m not asking for permission, Papa. It’s my choice.’
Papa sighed and raised his hands. ‘I know, ma cherie. He is British, though. He seems like a good choice, especially as he was unaffected by the magic of my three ladies, but Britain isn’t the same as France, or the rest of Europe and the old magical countries.’
‘So?’ Fleur crossed her arms. ‘I didn’t choose the country. I chose Harry.’
Papa pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘That short stretch of sea between France and Britain has kept them isolated and exempt from the turbulence of the last few centuries. Across Europe, revolutions have come, then wars, and Grindelwald’s anarchy followed to finish things. The pure-blooded families that dominated France were broken by the half-blood Robespierre and his attempt to create one equal French nation, their fading influence was shattered by the devastation of Grindelwald. Britain has never weathered such change, its Ministry is still controlled by a handful of old families, and the prejudices and hatred of darker times remain beneath the surface of British society.’
He fears they will hate me because I am veela and not pure-blooded enough for a Potter. Fleur huffed. As if any of them are a better fit for him.
‘Harry doesn’t care,’ she said.
‘He’s the heir to an esteemed pure-blooded family, over time he will be exposed to and affected by those opinions.’
The Delacours are descended from the Beaulieus, but it’s a tenuous connection. Égalité, liberté, fraternité brought an end to such silly things.
Papa studied his fingernails. ‘And that’s ignoring the rumours that are flying about him in Britain…’
Heat flooded Fleur’s bones; feathers slid from her skin and her body boiled with liquid heat. ‘They’re lies!‘
And I wouldn’t care if they weren’t. Fleur bit her tongue. I don’t care what happens to shallow, little people. What do they expect to happen if they keep poking at a sleeping dragon?
Papa winced. ‘I’m just worried about your safety, ma cherie. Either Harry’s not what he seems, or their Dark Lord has returned and The-Boy-Who-Lived will be his first target.’ He pulled a stern expression onto his face. ‘I don’t want my little girl hurt and if you’re involved with Harry Potter, you’ll be dragged into the chaos that surrounds him.’