Sunlight poured in through browning willow leaves. The breeze plucked a few and scattered them across the river surface. They drifted downstream, bumped by the sleek noses of curious fish, then washed ashore on the white pebbles at the river bend.
Fleur draped herself along the length of the branch, their branch, and spun the acorn pendant of her necklace round her finger on its chain. Merde. She ripped this morning’s copy of the Daily Prophet out from under her arm. A younger Harry stared back at her.
Fleur studied the hollow glint in his eyes and traced a finger down his cheek, then dragged her gaze across to the title. ‘Boy-who-lied attempts to curse fellow pupil over quidditch accident.’
Vraiment? Harry wouldn’t curse someone over something like that.
She skimmed the text. ‘Sixth year student Katie Bell…’ Heat bubbled in her bones and feathers thrust through her skin. The bones of her face shifted and heat curled round her palms. ‘Katie Bell!’
Fleur took a deep breath. There’ll be a good explanation.
She glanced at the paper, then flicked through the pages to the next article. Katie Bell’s messy brown hair, eyes, and bright grin beamed off the page at her. ‘Merde. Merde. Pourquoi s’est-il mis en colère contre cette pute? Il l’aime toujours?’
Fleur’s face flooded with liquid heat. A curved beak thrust from her nose and chin. The paper burst into flames. She watched the ashes float down from the branch, then drift away into the river on the breeze.
Harry’s coming soon. She smothered the heat back down until her face shifted back and the feathers of her arms slipped back beneath her skin. He better have a really good explanation for getting so angry over that girl.
Fleur stifled another rush of heat before she changed again. ‘And if you don’t, mon Cœur. I will kill you, and then we will have a very long talk.’
A very very long talk. She lay back on the branch, closed her eyes, and let the sound of the willow leaves rustling in the breeze drown out her thoughts.
A soft snap echoed under the leaves.
Fleur snapped her eyes open and leapt down onto the pebbles. Heat trickled through her bones. ‘Bonjour, mon Cœur.’ Small white feather tips slid out from under her skin as she stepped close to him. ‘Que voulais-tu?’
Harry winced. ‘You’re angry,’ he murmured.
Fleur glimpsed herself in his eyes. Her irises gleamed black as night. ‘Of course I’m angry.’ Fleur smothered her change.
‘I sort of knew you would be,’ he whispered. ‘I hoped you’d understand.’
‘Understand?’ Fleur threw her hands up in the air. ‘You impaled this Malfoy with four inch spikes of ice! Et pourquoi? Katie Bell!‘
Harry shook his head. ‘I would’ve done it if it’d been anyone, Fleur. I promise.’
‘You promise.’ The heat spilt into her eyes from the bones beneath her face. Fleur’s lip trembled. ‘How do I know? I am here. You and her are over there together!’
Harry grimaced. ‘Fleur…’
‘Non.’ She pressed her finger to her lips. ‘If it were me who got hurt, what would you have done, Harry? Don’t lie.’
He studied the sky and green light flickered beneath his right sleeve. ‘I didn’t mean to hurt him, you know, just shut him up and get him out of the way. I was angry and that messed with my water-conjuring spell.’ Harry’s eyes met hers. They turned cold and hard as agate. ‘If it’d been you, I would’ve killed him.’ A gleam of worry hovered in his eyes. ‘I know that might not be what you want to hear, but I’m not some jack-in-the-box hero who comes out to save the day, then gets packed away until next time.’
Fleur’s heart squirmed. ‘And I’m not just a pretty face, mon Cœur. I face my own dragons.’
Harry’s lips twisted. ‘So? You’re not angry?’
‘Not anymore.’ Fleur grabbed him by his robes. ‘But if you give me a reason to think you’re running around with Katie Bell behind my back…’ She traced her fingertips along his jaw, smiling when he shivered. ‘I do not like how fiercely you defended that girl. You’re mine.’
‘Katie’s just a friend,’ Harry said. ‘I–’
‘I’m not going to abandon you, mon Cœur. Not now, not ever.’
‘Not even if I told you what I’ve done?’
Unease tangled itself in Fleur’s abdomen. ‘As long as you’re my Harry, I won’t care.’
He pulled her close and pressed his lips to her forehead. ‘Definitely yours, ma princesse.’
‘Vraiment?’ Fleur’s voice shook. She huffed at his small smile and stamped on his toes. ‘Vraiment?’
‘Vraiment,’ he echoed. ‘I got myself trapped in other people’s unfair and selfish expectations not so long ago. Now, I’m free of that. There’re billions of individuals trying to get what they want, and I’m just one of them.’ He slipped a finger under her chin and tilted her face up toward his. ‘And you’re what I want.’
Her heart fluttered. ‘And what would you do to get that, mon Cœur?’
The corner of Harry’s lips twitched. ‘Anything I had to.’ He rested his forehead on hers. ‘You’re the one perfect wish that came true. Nothing else is worth a fraction of you.’
Perfect. As always. Warmth flooded through Fleur’s chest.
‘Then you’ll be more careful next time you want to curse someone, won’t you? You can’t come visit me if they lock you up in Azkaban, Harry.’
He pressed his lips to hers, slipping a hand onto the back of her neck to keep her against him. ‘I was afraid that you wouldn’t understand,’ he murmured.
‘Do you think I’m so different?’ She cupped his face between her palms. ‘Gabby is the one who believes in things like this. I gave up a long time ago. Until you.’ Fleur pouted. ‘And now look at me, planning the rest of my life with some English boy.’
‘Isn’t it a little early to say things like that?’ A teasing glint hovered in his eyes. ‘We’ve only been together for a few months.’
‘Are we going too fast for you, Harry?’ She leant in close, brushing the tip of her nose against his. ‘I suppose I should stop–’
Harry caught her lips with his, pressing her back into the warm willow’s trunk. His hands tangled in her hair, drifted to her hips, and cupped her waist. Her breasts crushed against his chest and fire seared through her veins.
He pulled back. ‘Still want to stop?’
A soft moan escaped Fleur’s lips. She flushed.
He laughed, but heat smouldered in his eyes. ‘That was a very sexy moan. Are you sure this spot’s too uncomfortable?’
She dragged his mouth back down onto hers for a soft and kiss and let the fire fade from her blood. ‘Yes.’ Fleur rested her arms over his shoulders. ‘Now, I want to see what you can do. The Daily Prophet spent so much time talking about this dark curse you used that I want to see it for myself.’
Harry smirked. ‘I have a better idea. You know how to duel, don’t you?’
Fleur sniffed. ‘Of course. I am the champion.’
He laughed. ‘Of course you are. Want to try me?’
‘You will lose. I am a good duellist.’
‘I need the practice.’ Harry wagged his finger at her. ‘But you should know better than to tell me you’ll beat me. You said you’d win the Triwizard Tournament, too.’
‘I would’ve done if Voldemort’s follower hadn’t interfered.’ She grabbed his arm and apparated them back to the chateau. ‘You will see.’
They arrived amongst Gabby’s shoes.
‘Are your parents home?’ Harry asked.
‘Not today, not until late. There’s an event in Paris they’re attending together.’ She took his hand and led him around the main staircase to the smaller second set of steps and down towards the basement.
‘Do you have a dungeon?’ Harry grinned. ‘Please tell me you do.’
‘No, but we have a basement that is partly a wine-cellar and partly empty. Maman used to brew potions down there, but when they enlarged the shop in Carcassonne she no longer needed to. Gabby and I use it occasionally, normally for practicing magic since it’s well warded.’
‘What’re the rules?’
‘Normal duelling rules,’ Fleur said.
Harry raised an eyebrow.
He doesn’t know the rules?
‘Nothing more dangerous than a stunner, no stepping out of the ring, and no speaking except for spell incantations. I want to see the curse you used on Malfoy first, though.’
She tugged him down the steps and out under the high, vaulted cellar ceiling. An earthy, musty reached Fleur’s nose. Racks of wine bottles lines the walls.
‘What about the wine?’ Harry asked.
‘We are going in there.’ Fleur pointed at the small door at the far end.
Otherwise very expensive vintages of wine get ruined and papa gets angry. Fleur swung the door shut. Very angry.
‘Show me,’ she demanded. ‘You wouldn’t show me the fire one, so you have to show me this one.’
Harry drew himself up, adopted a serious, focused expression and slid his wand from his sleeve.
Fleur laughed. ‘I hope that is not your duelling face, mon Cœur.’
Harry shot her a grin, twirling his wand like a conductor’s stick. ‘Aguamenti!’
A small stream of water burst from the tip of his wand and spattered on the floor.
Fleur pulled her wand. ‘Show me, or I’ll curse you.’
‘That’s the spell I used. I promise.’
She pouted. ‘Then stop being difficult and show me what you did to it.’
‘What will you do if I don’t?’ Harry teased.
‘I’ll tell Gabby about the photos in the Room of Requirement,’ Fleur promised. ‘She will pester you about it every time you see her until the end of time.’
Harry paled a fraction. ‘That seems a little harsh.’ He closed his eyes for a moment and turned away from her. Ice crept back into his expression. ‘Aguamenti,’ he hissed.
Water sprayed across the room against the wall, sharp chunks of ice smashed against the sandstone and shattered like glass.
Fleur stared at the shards of ice upon the floor. ‘How did you do that? That’s a simple conjuring spell, not a curse.’
‘I told you. I was angry.’
She walked over to the pile of jagged fragments and poked it with her toe. Thick, sharp-edged pieces the width and length of her palm. ‘I’ve never seen anything quite like it.’
‘You haven’t?’ A frowned creased his brow.
‘It’s brilliant. Dangerous, but brilliant.’ She poked the pieces of ice with her toe. ‘I don’t know why your emotions have so much more influence over your magic, but I’m not duelling you seriously until you can control that. It’s not safe.’
Harry’s wand disappeared into his sleeve. ‘Then we’d best not duel.’
‘When does it happen?’ Fleur murmured.
‘When I’m angry,’ Harry said. ‘I don’t know why it happens. It doesn’t happen much. Just a couple of times.’ He folded his arms. ‘We’re not duelling until I’m sure it won’t happen.’
He’s as bad as papa.
‘Let’s go somewhere,’ Fleur said. ‘Somewhere nice.’
‘I know a place in Paris,’ Fleur assured him, ‘but we need to go kidnap Gabby first.’
‘We do?’ A smile crept back onto Harry’s face.
Oh, smile because Gabby’s going to come and help you tease me. A slight pout curved Fleur’s lips. A good thing I met you when I did, or Gabby might’ve really stolen you first.
‘I promised her that we’d go there with her,’ she said. ‘It’s our favourite place and she’s been lonely at Beauxbatons with me always coming to see you. I made her promise to be good, or as good as she can be, at least.’
Harry chuckled. ‘How are we going to kidnap her?’
Fleur pulled the portkey she’d made for herself out of her robes and waved it at him. ‘Madame Maxime lets me do what I want, within reason. She might chide me for stealing my little sister away, but only because I forgot to ask first.’
‘Doesn’t Beauxbatons have anti-portkey wards?’ Harry asked.
‘Of course it does.’ Fleur smirked. ‘Only someone keyed into the wards can create a portkey to the school.’
Harry raised an eyebrow and nodded.
Fleur huffed. ‘Aren’t you going to ask me how I did it?’
A broad grin stretched across Harry’s face. ‘How did you achieve this most brilliant and noteworthy accomplishment, ma princess?’
‘I created my own ward key from scratch.’ Fleur turned her nose up. ‘It’s the sort of thing that gets you into a lot of trouble, then gets you a very well-paid job in a very particular part of the government.’
Harry pulled his necklace out of his robes. ‘A shame this one’s wasted on me, then. I portkey to and from outside them anyway.’
‘Fortunately, my enchantment hasn’t been wasted on you. I can’t create a key for Hogwarts wards without spending a lot of time there figuring them out.’ Fleur extended her arm. ‘Let’s go.’
Harry linked his arm with hers.
‘Argent,’ Fleur murmured.
They stepped into her room.
Harry smiled and pointed at the photo on her bedside table. ‘I remember that picture.’
Gabby waved at Harry, who waved back. Fleur’s own image stared at Harry with a wrinkled brow.
‘Where’s your sister?’ Harry’s half-smile lit up her room like the sun. ‘Do we have to sneak through Beauxbatons?’
‘Well, if we were anyone else we could just walk and nobody would think twice, but since you’re famous and I am who I am, it’d be best to disillusion ourselves.’
Harry chuckled. ‘Will she scream if we grab her while we’re invisible?’
‘Not anymore. She’s used to it. If she knows I’m coming, she’ll feel for my magic and grab me instead.’
‘Does she know we’re coming?’
‘Not this time. Follow me.’
She led Harry out of her room, taking his hand and pausing only to disillusion themselves, then down the corridor in the direction of Gabrielle’s favourite spot.
‘I prefer Hogwarts,’ Harry whispered. ‘Beauxbatons is beautiful, but it doesn’t quite seem as magical.’
‘You are a biased, tasteless English boy, though. Beauxbatons is far more elegant and just as magical,’ Fleur murmured. ‘Hogwarts is grey, draughty, and has that horrible forest.’
Harry squeezed her hand with a quiet laugh. ‘You haven’t seen half of the horrors of that forest.’
The burnt skeleton amidst the pine trunks and needles hovered briefly before Fleur’s mind’s eye. I’ve seen enough.
She pointed their joined hands at the door toward at the far end of the corridor. ‘Gabby’s out there. The door leads out over the buttress to a small balcony, nobody else ever goes there.’
Fleur eased the handle open and pushed the door. It let out a loud creak.
Gabby’s head snapped round in a swirl of silver hair. She closed her eyes. ‘Fleur! And you brought Harry.’ Gabby peered around. ‘I can only see where Fleur is.’
‘Hello, little chick.’ Fleur let her magic fade and swept Gabby into a hug.
Harry faded back into sight and shot Fleur’s sister a smile. ‘Gabby.’
Gabby pouted. ‘You were right next to Fleur. How couldn’t I see you?’
‘My disillusionment charm’s better.’
‘Our magic battles with the intent of the charm,’ Fleur said. ‘Our allure requires us to be seen to work best, so it draws attention to us.’
‘Why are you here?’ Gabby chirped. ‘Am I being kidnapped again?’
‘This is a regular thing?’ Harry asked.
‘Beauxbatons is boring.’ Gabby bounced on her feet. ‘I always get Fleur to come and rescue me and take me somewhere more fun. Normally we go to Carcassonne or Paris.’
‘Paris.’ Fleur mussed Gabby’s hair. ‘We’re going to your favourite place in all of France.’
Her eyes lit up and she seized Fleur’s hand in one of hers and Harry’s in the other. Let’s go! I’ve been craving meringues all day.’
Fleur retrieved Harry from her sister’s grip, linking arms with him. ‘Do you remember your promise?’ she murmured in her sister’s ear.
Gabby sulked. ‘Of course I do. No trying to charm Fleur’s boyfriend, she gets overly tetchy about it.’ Mischief gleamed in her blue eyes. ‘You never made me promise not to tell him about you.’
‘I made you promise to be good,’ Fleur reminded her. ‘If one word of the things I said about Harry comes out of you, I’m going to burn every pair of shoes you own.’
‘Are we going?’ Harry asked.
‘We’re going.’ Fleur side-long apparated them onto the cobbles of Paris opposite a quaint little restaurant.
‘Welcome to Madam Antoinette’s.’ Gabby grinned. ‘It’s got the best desserts in all of Paris and most of France. We’ve checked.’
A small, stout man wearing the a chocolate-stained chef’s coat glanced up at them as they entered. A hint of glaze crept into his eyes. ‘Mademoiselles Delacour. Bienvenue. Your usual table is free.’
Gabby beamed and darted to a table at the back.
‘I thought this was Madam Antoinette’s?’ Harry took a seat opposite Gabby and accepted the menu she thrust at him.
‘It’s a very bad joke,’ Fleur said. ‘The owner is muggle-born and doesn’t realise that most wizards won’t understand, of course he does make wonderful food, so we have forgiven him.’
Gabby huffed. ‘They’re out of meringues. I shall have to have Clafoutis instead.’
Fleur rolled her eyes. ‘How terrible for you, Gabby. Stuck eating your favourite cherry dessert.’
‘I wanted meringues today, they’re sweeter.’
Harry raised an eyebrow.
Fleur smiled. ‘It’s not a veela thing, just a Delacour one.’ She turned a pointed look on her baby sister. ‘Gabby is the worst of all of us.’
‘I am not,’ she said. ‘Everyone knows Fleur is the worst. She once ate a whole box of icing sugar in the middle of the night.’
‘I remember having a significant amount of help eating that,’ Fleur murmured.
Gabby flushed. ‘You have honey for breakfast.’
‘Lots of people eat honey for breakfast.’
‘Fleur eats it out of the jar,’ Gabby crowed. ‘With a tablespoon.’
‘That is unusual.’ Harry grinned. ‘I think Gabby might be right.’
Fleur shrugged. ‘You should be grateful for my love of sweet things, Harry. If I did not love dessert wine so much, our evening at the Yule Ball might’ve ended very differently.’
Harry flushed. ‘True,’ he muttered.
Gabby squeaked and turned crimson behind her menu. ‘Fleur?! You didn’t?!‘
Gabby shifted in her seat and glanced at Harry. ‘You know…’ Her eyes flashed with mischief, and the flush rose further up her face.
‘No!’ Harry’s flared bright red. ‘She kissed me under the mistletoe, then she ran away.’
‘I did not run away.’
Gabby giggled. ‘Did she try and avoid you and pretend nothing was happening?’
Harry grinned. ‘Definitely. Has she done that before?’
‘Not with a boy.’ Gabby leant across the table, snatching her feet back just in time to avoid Fleur’s stomp. ‘But whenever she was in trouble when we were younger, she’d always run off and then pretend she’d done nothing wrong.’
‘Better than giving maman the big eyes and blaming me, little chick.’ Fleur shot Gabby a half-hearted glare. ‘I got blamed for everything by this tiny harpy. Don’t trust her, Harry. She’s a greedy little bird.’
Gabby tried to pout, but ended up giggling too much to manage it. ‘Fleur’s only being mean because I told her if she didn’t want you, I’d have you. I think she’s worried I was being serious.’
Harry laughed and winked at her. ‘Well, if you change your mind and decide you are serious, Gabby. You just let me know.’
Fleur huffed and crossed her arms. ‘We both know I am perfect for you, Harry. You’d never leave me for another girl.’ She gave him a sweet smile. ‘And if you did, especially for my little sister, I would burn you to ashes.’
Gabby sighed. ‘Just like in maman’s books.’
The chef strode over, a small book in his hand. ‘Mademoiselles? Monsieur?’
‘Clafoutis,’ Fleur said. ‘Trois, s’il vous plaît.’ She shared a smile with Gabby. ‘We need to teach you some good taste, Harry. I’ve eaten English food and all the good bits were stolen from other countries. Clafoutis is a good place to start.’
‘If Gabby will share it, that is,’ Harry quipped.
‘Gabby doesn’t share cherries,’ Gabby said. ‘But Fleur made me promise to be good, so this one time I’ll make an exception.’