A soft heat pulsed on his chest. Harry opened his eyes and yawned, then dragged the silver acorn out from under his shirt. ‘Azure,’ he muttered, sitting up and patting down his hair
The metal acorn bloomed into a tree, then shimmered into a mirror.
Fleur’s face appeared. ‘Bonjour, mon Cœur.’ Her eyes swept over him. ‘You look good like that. Come see me, I have your Polyjuice and we need to talk.’
Harry’s breath caught. ‘That sounds ominous.’ He dragged a smile onto his face; a bright, wide one. ‘Have I done anything deserving of being scorched?’
Fleur’s eyes softened. ‘Nothing to worry about, Harry. I meant my promise.’
Relief flooded through him. ‘Coming, ma princesse.’
‘Be quick.’ Fleur’s face vanished and the mirror shrank back into an acorn.
Harry dropped it onto his chest and pulled some clothes on, then disillusioned himself and slipped out of Gryffindor Tower. He bypassed Filch, who stalked the corridors with a horrid grin muttering about beatings to his vicious cat.
You’re on my to do list. Harry paused to watch him shuffle along the corridor. Dobby can’t watch you and Umbridge at the same time.
He hurried into the bathroom and have Myrtle a wave. ‘Hi!’
She half-raised a hand. An odd distant look hovered in her silver eyes. ‘Have you ever been to London?’
‘A few times.’ Harry paused as the chamber opened. ‘Why?’
Myrtle shook her head. ‘Was I there?’
Harry blinked. ‘Er… no? I thought you couldn’t leave the castle grounds?’
‘Right.’ Myrtle drifted through the cubicle doors and stared down into the dark of the chamber. ‘It must’ve been a from when I was alive, but I’m sure you were there with me.’
‘I don’t think so.’ Harry shot her a rueful smile and headed stepped into the passage. ‘Sorry, Myrtle.’
A shiver rippled through her translucent, silver form. ‘Don’t worry, Tom.’
He froze on the step and a fist of ice clamped round his spine; its chill rushed through his blood. Tom?! Harry hurried strode down into the chamber and stared into the pool. No. He let the chill fade. I must’ve misheard.
Harry shot a grin at Salazar and snatched a sufficient handful of galleons from what remained of his Triwizard winnings.
‘Enjoy yourself, Harry,’ Salazar called.
‘I will!’ He spun the world back past him and stepped into the atrium of the Delacours’ chateau.
Fleur sat on the bottom step of the stairs, her silver hair swept over one shoulder of her midnight blue dress. A single vial of Polyjuice rested on the ground between her feet.
‘I’m here. How—’
She surged to her feet and crushed her lips against his. ‘Good. I missed you.’
Harry fought down a thick, hot lump in his throat and blinked back a liquid heat from his eyelashes. So that’s what that’s like.
‘I have your Polyjuice.’ She scooped the vial off the floor.
Harry watched her bend over for it and felt a little heat trace through his veins.
She smirked as she stood up. ‘I saw that.’
Fleur laughed and slipped her hand in his pocket, fishing out a handful of galleons. ‘That’ll do it.’
Harry took the vial and shook it. ‘This looks an awful lot like badly cooked porridge. Why is it that potions are always so unappealing.’
‘Not all of them are.’ Fleur tucked the galleons into her bra with a wince. ‘Why’re these so cold?’
‘They were in the chamber, it’s chilly down here.’
‘They feel like ice cubes on my nipples.’
Harry’s gaze dipped to Fleur’s cleavage. ‘Why on earth do you know what that feels like?’
‘I don’t.’ She shrugged. ‘But it’s supposed to be a thing…’
‘Weird.’ Harry tucked the vial away. ‘What was so important?’
I was accepted by the Bureau des Énigmes,’ Fleur said.
‘That’s brilliant.’ Harry swept her into a hug and pressed her against his chest. ‘I said you wouldn’t fail.’
Fleur rolled her eyes. ‘You just had to get your I told you so in, didn’t you?’
Harry chuckled. ‘As if you’d’ve done anything different.’
A peal of laughter burst from Fleur’s lips. ‘I would’ve said it in a better French accent, mon Cœur.’ She took a deep breath. ‘I said no.’
‘What?’ Harry leant back and stared her in the eye. ‘But that’s what you wanted for ages?’
‘I asked to delay the beginning of my role their until I had completed my contract at Gringotts,’ she said.
‘You have a contract at Gringotts?’ Harry frowned. ‘Why? For what?’
‘I signed it a few days ago. I start in a few weeks as a liaison for Gringotts and the private magical artefact retrieval groups. I’ll be based in London. This way we won’t have to endure another year like this one and I’ll be there to help you.’
His heart seized. ‘But it’s safer in France.’
Fleur’s eyes narrowed and darkened several hues. ‘Have you forgotten your promise, mon Cœur?’
‘No,’ he whispered. ‘But I still don’t like it.’
‘I would be upset if you did,’ she murmured. ‘But I will not be sitting here like some shiny, silver cup for you to win at the end of your fight.’
Harry clawed for a way round it. Someone else might be able to persuade her to stay here.
‘Have you spoken to your parents?’ he asked.
‘I did.’ Fleur’s eyes shifted to midnight blue. ‘They weren’t ecstatic about it. They knew straight away the reason I’d taken the role, I’ve little interest in the enchanted trinkets they scrape out of holes in the ground and hike to fools; it’s basically part time and not very challenging.’
Harry’s heart sank. ‘What did they say?’
‘They told me to be careful in Britain. Maman suggested I try and apply for a role at Hogwarts.’
‘And your father?’
‘Papa asked about what our plans were. I think he understands that anything we plan will be for the both of us now.’
Harry wrestled with the warm glow and the tangle of fear. ‘So they don’t mind.’
‘They’re not going to be able to stop me either.’ Fleur’s eyes flashed black. ‘So stop trying to find a way to keep me here without breaking your promise!’
He sighed. ‘I’m sorry, mon rêve. I am, it’s just—‘
‘I know.’ Fleur kissed him on the cheek, then rested her forehead against his. Her eyes faded back to blue. ‘The only perfect thing you’ve got. Something you can’t bear to lose.’
He pulled her against him and tried to smooth the tangle of emotion out. ‘I can’t lose. I can’t.’
A small pout crept onto Fleur’s lips. ‘We can’t lose. I will work at Gringotts, it pays well enough to cover the cost of renting.’
‘Have you chosen anywhere?’ Harry ran a hand through his hair. ‘I could ward the place to make sure it’s much more safe.’
‘How?’ Fleur cupped his chin and tilted his head up. ‘I’m better with wards than you are, remember?’
‘Blood magic.’ Harry grinned. ‘It will leave me a bit under the weather, but it’s worth it to keep you safe.’
‘Us,’ Fleur said. ‘You’re not living with your muggle relatives when you could be with me. You don’t need them anymore, you have moi.’
‘You want us to live together?’
She flinched. ‘You don’t want to?’
Harry shook his head and grabbed her hands. ‘Not like that, I just didn’t expect it. I’ll only be sixteen in a couple of months, although, thinking about it, that time-turner might actually mean I’ve already made it.’
‘We’ve been together for almost a year,’ Fleur murmured. ‘It’s not such a short time and, well, I refuse to let you go back to that place.’
‘I’ve never even talked about it.’ Harry quirked an eyebrow. ‘Why do you think it’s so bad?’
Fleur’s eyes turned dark as pitch. ‘I know because you don’t speak about it. I know because you used to avoid even touching me and because people don’t cling to one perfect wish if they didn’t spend all their lives wishing and never watching any of them come true.’
Harry grimaced and studied the vial of polyjuice. His heart shrank down into his stomach. ‘I guess I’m a bit weird, aren’t I. I’m sorry.’
Fleur turned her nose up. ‘Don’t apologise for being yourself, mon Cœur.’
‘I want to live with you,’ he murmured. ‘I do.’
‘Really?’ Her heart hovered in her blue eyes. ‘I know it’s a big step, but I – I would very much like it, mon Cœur. I would come home every day for the whole summer and you would just be there…’
‘I just, I don’t want anyone to know about us.’
‘Hiding me away, mon Cœur?’ Fleur’s lips curved into a smirk. ‘Afraid all the girls at Hogwarts will realise you’re just toying with their hearts?’
Harry snorted. ‘More like I’m concerned about getting unexpected house calls from Dumbledore or Voldemort.’
‘So we do it in secret,’ Fleur said. ‘You go back to your relatives, then you just disappear and come to live with me. We keep our distance in public, but that’s fine, because we’re not likely to cross paths anyway.’
‘Dumbledore will find me,’ Harry said. ‘The Dursleys will tell him I left and that I’m able to use magic outside of school, they’ve no reason to keep my secrets.’
‘Memory charm them,’ Fleur replied. ‘I know most of the theory behind the Fidelius Charm, with a few months I’m sure I can learn how to cast it, then we can’t be found even if he knows you’re gone.’
‘How does it work?’ Harry asked. ‘Because I’m fairly sure my parents relied on that charm…’
‘It can only be used to protect the permanent location of living, sentient, magical things, and by permanent, I mean in almost constant residence. It has something to do with souls.’ Fleur frowned. ‘The book I read it in writes as if the soul is almost like an enchantment. Magic cast by subconscious intent or perception, like the belief you’re alive.’
The Killing Curse kills because it affects the soul, dementors are meant to affect it, too. Perhaps they strip away part of that sense of self from the body, somehow. The former so thoroughly a person can’t endure it without an anchor elsewhere. He turned it over in his head. But how does the fidelius use that principle to work?
Harry? Fleur poked him. ‘You’ve gone very quiet.’
‘Souls are tricky,’ Harry murmured. ‘A magic-powered sense of self, I read.’
Fleur blinked. ‘I would love to read whatever it was you read that in. It sounds very similar to what I read and the book I read wasn’t intended to be read by students or teachers or anyone but the head of the school.’ She wrinkled her nose. ‘It was a gift from Grindelwald to the headmaster back when he was seeking support.’
‘What did it say?’
‘The Fidelius isn’t something to be done lightly, mon Cœur. If we do it, we create a bubble within which our sense of self, as you called it, will be concealed beneath the secret keeper’s own. If our secret keeper dies, is attacked by a lethifold, or anything like that, then we’ll share their fate. However, while we’re in the bubble, our existence and the existence of anything within that bubble, requires the sense of self of our secret keeper to understand. Like a key, it unlocks the ability to perceive anything within the bubble. Our secret keeper can share that key with any deliberate action that confirms the existence and location of us and our bubble.
‘Is it dangerous to cast?’
Fleur hummed. ‘I don’t think so. Just difficult. If you get it wrong, you can just cancel the bubble.’
‘So we’d just need to choose a secret keeper we can trust completely and who won’t be in any danger whatsoever.’
‘I know just who to choose.’ Fleur smiled. ‘Someone most don’t even know exists, but every reason in the world not to give us away. Someone who will be safely here in France.’
One of her parents?
‘Gabby, of course.’ Fleur laughed. ‘Who knows about the two of us? And who of them knows about my baby sister? She’s well protected here in France out of the eye of either Voldemort or Dumbledore.’ She pulled a face. ‘Why are you so worried about Albus Dumbledore?’
Harry swallowed a bitter heat. ‘I am beginning to believe he would rather make a martyr of me than anything else.’
Fleur’s eyes flashed ink-black and swelled to twice their usual size. Her chin and nose thrust forward into a serrated beak and feathers sprouted through her skin everywhere Harry could see. Her magic tugged at his thoughts, pulling his gaze to the swell of her breasts and the curve of her hips. White-hot sparks danced over her hands and heat washed over Harry’s face.
Harry swallowed. ‘Fleur?’
She took a long deep breath, then her face shifted back to usual. ‘Pardon,’ she murmured. ‘I hope you don’t find my other form too unattractive.’
‘Your magic makes that literally impossible.’ He cupped her cheeks between his palms and kissed her soft, rose lips. ‘And it’s you. I’d love you covered in feathers or not.’
Fleur’s lips curved into a pout. ‘But you’d probably prefer there was no beak.’
‘It does look moderately terrifying.’ He grinned. ‘If a kiss goes wrong, you might bite off my nose and then I’d look like Voldemort.’ Harry caught her eyes and tapped his temple. ‘Besides, I’m probably just as weird.’
Fleur stared at him for a long moment, then crushed her lips and self against him, knocking him back against the wall. ‘You are staying mine,’ she whispered between and into kisses. ‘Weird or not.’
Harry smiled and pulled her tight to his chest. ‘I can live with that.’
‘You will have to. I am not letting you go.’ She tucked her head into the crook of his neck. ‘It’s decided, then. We will find a place for ourselves, I will get Gabby to be secret keeper, then we will ward the whole place. You will come to join me as soon as the summer starts and we will go from there.’
‘I have a trust fund,’ Harry said. ‘It’s around fifty thousand galleons, from memory.’
‘That’s some trust fund.’ Fleur shook her hair out and swept it back over her shoulder. ‘Enough for us to discretely find a small place for ourselves if I help.’
‘From what Nagnok said, I suspect that the Potter family fortune is around six times that.’ He grinned. ‘Though I can’t access any of it except that trust fund until I’m seventeen.’
‘Your fund tops up every year, doesn’t it?’
‘Good. That means we won’t have to get a loan to buy somewhere, only combine what we have.’
‘Have you looked at anywhere?’ Harry asked.
‘A few places that seemed like they might be affordable,’ she said. ‘I saw a nice apartment I liked, but having muggle neighbours can cause a lot of problems. There was a small house in one of the magical villages in Dorset and a nice little place in Godric’s Hollow…’
‘You don’t like Godric’s Hollow?’ Fleur asked.
‘I don’t think I want to live in the village my parents were killed in,’ he said. ‘Every time I pop to the shops, I’d walk past the memorial to their deaths. Maybe the other small house?’
‘It’s in Budleigh Baberton,’ Fleur said. ‘A charming place. It’s in the West Country. I could happily choose there.’
‘I leave it up to you,’ Harry replied. ‘Just not Godric’s Hollow, or Ottery St Catchpole, the Weasley’s live there and they’d alert Dumbledore.’
‘You’re going?’ Fleur narrowed her eyes. ‘You’re in that much of a hurry to get away from me, mon Cœur?’
‘I would very much prefer to stay.’
‘Then why do you have to go?’ Fleur moaned.
‘Now I have this Polyjuice, I can sort out a vicious old man with a broom, get rid of Umbridge before she hurts anyone else, and go prophecy hunting before Fudge gets thrown out of office and Dumbledore pops back up in the Great Hall like a giant, wrinkled, sherbet lemon sucking, bad penny.’ He paused. ‘Know anything about veritaserum? Or, more specifically, how to resist it?’
‘Couldn’t find a book?’ Fleur jibed.
‘You’re prettier than a book and you smell nicer.’
Fleur’s lips quirked. ‘Flattery will get you everywhere, mon Cœur. It’s a very powerful compulsion, it sedates the mind to sap will and focus, then creates a sense of trust to get the person to talk. If you can fight the sedation and keep your wits, then you can resist it, but the best way is the antidote.’
‘Which you just happen to conveniently have?’
Fleur laughed. ‘It takes a long time to brew and Maman doesn’t have the license for it.’
‘You will be fine.’ She slipped a hand into his hair and gave it a light tug. ‘Because if you are not, I will melt your face off.’
Harry winced. ‘And on that tender, loving note, I need to go.’
‘Go on then.’ Fleur scowled. ‘You come and visit me as soon as you can, and now you owe me cake, too.’
‘Oh I do, do I?’ A smile spread across his lips as her scowl morphed into a huge pout. ‘I’ll find you something sweet, mon rêve.’
‘Marzipan,’ Fleur ordered. ‘And plums.’
‘Of course, ma princesse.’ He stood up and bent to kiss Fleur goodbye. ‘I’m sure that’ll be an easy combination for me to find.’
‘The harder it is to get, the more satisfying it is to get it.’ She tangled her hands in his hair and held his mouth against hers. ‘I was expecting you to stay,’ she murmured. ‘I had plans.’
‘Sorry.’ He kissed her once more. ‘But you’ve got the whole summer for plans now.’
Fleur’s pout curved into a smirk. ‘What an excellent idea.’
Harry twisted the world past himself and reappeared in the study.
‘No vampires this time?’ Salazar asked.
‘No.’ Harry activated the Marauder’s Map. ‘It’s time to sort things out before Fudge is deposed and I run out of time.’
‘Up to something nefarious?’ Salazar peered at the map.
‘Yes, but first I’m going to encourage the caretaker to be nicer to the students.’ Harry grimaced. ‘It’s a good opportunity to test out my ability to modify memories on someone who only deserves anything that goes wrong.’
And if hear about him hitting another elven year old girl afterward, I’ll feed him to the giant squid in small pieces. He spotted Filch patrolling the third floor, his name marker floating up and down the corridor as if he was pacing.
Harry set off at a brisk pace, spinning his wand around on his palm. Filch’s name drifted down the stairs, so he tucked away the map and waited halfway down them.
‘What’s this?’ Filch cackled. ‘A student out on his own? Up to no good, I reckon.’
‘Hello, Filch,’ Harry said.
‘What are you up to, Potter?’ He snarled and clutched at his broom. ‘You think I’ve forgotten what you did to my Mrs Norris?’
‘Legilimens,’ Harry whispered.
Harry tore through his mind, following the trail of hatred and resentment back to its birth half a century ago. The beaming visage of a young, dark-haired, pale-eyed girl wielded a wand in Ollivander’s, surrounded by yellow sparks. She bathed in the pride of her parents while Filch watched on, forgotten, forlorn, and furious.
‘Obliviate,’ Harry murmured.
He purged every moment of bitterness, forced every memory of watching magic and feeling resentment to shift from discontent to calm acceptance. Harry twisted the resentment toward the parents who’d ignored him rather than the sister who’d been driven away, then drew all the small moments in which she’d tried to help her brother to the front of Filch’s mind.
Let’s see if that works. He severed the connection. Otherwise, I’ll have to get rid of him from the castle.
Filch’s eyes rolled up in his head and he slumped to the floor. Harry flicked his wand back into his sleeve, turned on his heel, and strode back in the direction of the chamber.
Dobby stumbled into the puddle of Myrtle’s bathroom with a loud crack.
‘Dobby?’ Harry asked.
Dobby slumped to the floor. Threads of red twisted their way across the surface of the puddle.
Merde! Harry turned the elf over.
A trio of deep, gaping cuts ran from Dobby’s collarbone to his waist. Bone gleamed beneath bright blood. Harry muttered the healing charm, but the cuts refused to close no matter how much magic he poured into them.
‘Master Harry Potter,’ Dobby whispered. ‘Dobby saved the students. Dobby saved them all.’
Crimson blossomed across the white tiles. Harry watched it spread through the lines of grout between the tiles and choked down a knot of thorns. ‘Well done, Dobby.’
‘Dobby did well?’ Dobby blinked and shifted. A fresh wave of red gushed across the puddle. ‘Dobby tried to do what Harry Potter would have done, but the nasty pink teacher was faster than before.’
‘You did well, Dobby.’ He caught Dobby’s hand. ‘I won’t forget.’
But everyone else will. A spot of ice in his chest spread, across his chest; it screamed Umbridge’s name like the distant shriek of foxes in the night. They’ll celebrate they were saved and never even notice you’re gone. You’ll be nothing. Harry smothered the words.
‘You’re free forever now, Dobby,’ he murmured.
‘Free…’ A small smile curved Dobby’s lips as his fingers slipped from Harry’s arm. ‘Dobby is free.’