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Harry crept down the stairs into the common room, one eye on the back of Katie’s head as he slipped through the huddles of students until he was right behind her sofa.
‘It’s exam day!’ he cried, shaking Katie’s shoulders.
Nev glanced up from where he clutched his transfiguration book.
Katie twisted ‘round with a growl. ‘Stop shaking me. I don’t even have exams today.’
‘Oh, that’s right.’ Harry gave her a few more shakes and a grin. ‘You’re in the in-between year, so you only have pretend tests.’
‘Yes.’ Katie waved her fist under his nose. ‘So stop, before I hit you.’
Harry swung himself over the back of the sofa and slumped across the other half. Katie squirmed and dropped her bare feet into his lap, her red toenails gleaming in the light of the fire.
‘Aren’t you going to do any last minute revision?’ Katie pointed at Nev. ‘He’s been cramming since about 4am.’
Harry raised an eyebrow.
‘Of course you’re not.’ She sighed. ‘It’s Potions, Transfiguration, and Defence today, you don’t need to revise for any of your exams, let alone the last two.’
‘Potions is later in the week,’ Harry said. ‘And that’s not even close to being true, I couldn’t confidently take anything except Charms, Transfiguration, and Defence without revision, though I might be able to have a stab at Arithmancy and Runes if I were completely unconcerned about my OWLs.’
And Potions means Snape, who’s even more of a thorn in my side now than he was in first year.
‘You’re not getting into the spirit of things, Harry,’ Katie complained. ‘I was frantic in my OWL year. Not only were you doing your best to die in some stupid tournament, but Mad-Eye Moody taught us nothing to do with the exam. Angelina had to slip me alcohol before our Defence exam to calm me down.’
‘Well there’s no tournament this year.’ Harry patted her feet. ‘There, there. And I’m not an alcoholic, so that wouldn’t work on me anyway.’
Katie shivered and wriggled her toes against his palm, then pouted. ‘Neither am I.’
‘Angelina — and Alicia, if she ever speaks to me again — would disagree.’
Katie’s face fell. ‘I’m sorry about her.’ She glanced at Nev and scooted closer. ‘She’s not happy about how close we are after that article.’
Harry scowled. ‘Does she still think it’s true?’
‘No. Don’t worry about it.’ Katie squirmed. ‘I’ll deal with it.’
‘As long as you’re okay with it, then I’ll let it be.’
Katie beamed. ‘Thanks, Harry. It’d make everything terribly awkward if you waded in.’
‘So what exams do you have?’ Harry asked.
‘I’ve already taken most of them, higher years go first. Just Charms left and that’s one of my best subjects.’
A twist of guilt lanced through his stomach. ‘Sorry. I should’ve known, really, I’ve been caught up in everything else.’
‘That’s alright.’ Katie stretched and yawned, pushing her legs over his lap and bunching her skirt on his thigh. ‘I know you must have a good reason for being distant and they went well enough I didn’t need a shoulder to cry on.’
‘You’re giving me a bit of a show, Katie dearest.’ Harry reached out and tugged the hem of Katie’s skirt down to her knees.
‘What a gentleman.’ She fluttered her eyelashes. ‘That’s why it’s you I come crying to.’
‘You wouldn’t’ve come to cry on me.’
‘I definitely would’ve.’ Katie smoothed her skirt out and kicked her feet. ‘You wouldn’t’ve known what to do and might’ve bought me chocolate or even let me keep your Firebolt.’
‘So shallow.’ Harry feigned a deep sigh. ‘It’s really no wonder you’ve not managed to find a boyfriend all year.’
I remember how you crying on me feels. Harry’s fingers slipped to his shoulder, where the memory of her warm tears had soaked into his robes.
‘Hush,’ Katie admonished, bending forward. ‘Some of us don’t fall head over heels for the first sexy French girl we see,’ she whispered.
Harry poked her on the nose. ‘So if you don’t have exams and you’re clearly not working, why’re you up and down here so early on a Saturday?’
‘I wanted to wish you luck, of course.’ Katie beamed. ‘Just because you forgot to wish me luck doesn’t mean I’ll forget as well.’
‘Well, I wish you luck with your Charms exam,’ Harry replied.
‘I won’t need it. Watch.’
She pulled her wand out of her robes and pointed it across at the table in the corner where Ron, Dean and Seamus had buried their faces in a huge stack of Hermione’s notes. Katie charmed the edging of Ron’s robes from red and gold to a bright shade of orange.
Ron squinted at his robes, then grinned and gave her a crooked thumbs up. ‘Chudley colours!’
‘Thanks.’ She laughed. ‘Ron seems to appreciate it. I was expecting an explosion.’
‘He’s grown up a bit,’ Harry said. ‘If you’d done that to Hermione, we’d’ve had a duel on our hands.’
‘She’s not here. Nobody’s seen her since yesterday. Apparently she got so afraid of failing she nearly had a breakdown.’
‘It’s probably for the best,’ Harry said. ‘She’d be furious if she saw that they’d taken her notes out of their proper order.’
Katie shrugged. ‘That girl’s wound too tight. She needs some proper hobbies and a boyfriend.’
‘Don’t say that where she can hear you.’
She snorted. ‘What’s she going to do, throw a book at me?’
‘She is pretty good at magic.’ Harry chuckled. ‘But mostly because she can hit a pretty high volume when she gets pissed off and I like the quiet.’
‘It’s almost time for you to go. If you get there early enough for a practical exam, they’ll let you go first and get it out the way.’
‘What about being drunk?’ Harry teased. ‘Do they mind that?’
‘I wouldn’t know.’ Katie smiled. ‘I was only confident.’
‘I suppose I’d better go.’ Harry stared at the pair of bare feet still in his lap. ‘If someone will let me.’
‘Oops.’ Katie giggled. ‘Sorry. You make a good foot rest.’
‘Thanks.’ Harry tapped his finger on Katie’s polished toe nails. ‘So?’
‘Right.’ Katie flushed and curled up on the far side of the sofa. ‘Bye then.’
‘Coming, Nev?’ Harry asked.
‘Don’t have much of a choice, do I?’ Nev stuck his head out from behind his book. ‘And it’s better than watching you two on the sofa.’
Harry rolled his eyes. ‘We weren’t being that distracting.’
Katie’s cheeks turned a little pink. ‘Shut up, Longbottom, or you’ll have to take your Transfiguration exam from the hospital wing.’
Harry laughed. ‘He might prefer that. That way, when he faints, they’ll have a bed for him right there.’
‘Well, we both know who’s going to come first in most of these exams,’ Nev joked.
‘Hermione.’ They both laughed and headed out of the tower toward the exam room.
‘What do you reckon the practical will be on?’ Nev asked.
‘Probably a couple of the spells we’ve learnt this year. They’re the harder ones, but I’ve heard you can go above and beyond the material to earn extra credit.’
‘I think I’ll just stick to the spells they suggest,’ Nev said.
‘I won’t hold it against you.’ Harry grinned. ‘Not unless you get the Doubling Charm wrong again and sabotage the whole exam.’
Nev swallowed and fingered his wand.
‘Don’t worry about it, Nev.’ Harry clapped him on the shoulder. ‘You’ll do fine.’
‘Gran has a NEWT level in Transfiguration,’ Nev muttered. ‘She’d be awfully disappointed if I didn’t at least pass my OWL.’
‘You’ll pass,’ Harry told him, pushing the door to the exam room open. ‘Besides, you’re not your Gran, you’ve got a much better taste in hats.’
‘You’re early,’ a stern-looking witch snapped.
‘And quite relaxed to be taking such an important examination.’ A portly wizard commented. ‘You can go first, if you like?’
‘Why not.’ Harry nudged Nev forward.
‘Over here then, Mr Potter,’ the stern-looking witch instructed.
Harry abandoned Nev to the portly wizard with a wave and a smile, striding across the floor to his examiner. Nev’s probably quite happy I got the witch, she looks like how Nev describes his Gran.
‘The first thing I would like you to do is vanish this.’ The witch placed a large block of wood on the desk in front of her.
‘Evanesco,’ Harry murmured, flicking his wand from its holster to draw the wand motion for the spell in the air.
The wooden block faded away.
‘Good.’ Her tone relaxed a little. ‘Now, I’d like you to use whatever method you prefer to create another desk such as this one.’ She tapped the desk in front of her with one, long-nailed finger.
Just make another desk? Okay. Harry brought forth a perfect copy of the desk, conjuring it from the air just as he did his butterflies. Oh, she probably meant the doubling charm… Oops.
‘Very good, Mr Potter,’ she breathed. ‘Is there anything you’d like to try for extra credit? If you should fail, it will have no bearing on the grade you have already obtained at this point.’
‘I don’t see why not.’ Harry shrugged and glanced at his conjured writing desk. A swirl and flick of his ebony wand and the writing desk shivered into the form of a large, glossy-feathered raven.
The witch broke into a smile and clapped her hands together, startling Nev who’d just conjured a lopsided desk of his own. ‘Is there any reason you chose to do that particular piece of magic, Mr Potter?’
Harry grinned. ‘They seemed similar to me.’
‘An outstanding piece of Transfiguration, especially for an OWL student.’ The witch poked the raven with the tip of her wand. The bird hopped onto the desk and cawed, snapping its beak at the assault. ‘Full marks, I think, Mr Potter, and that is all. If you want to wait for your friend, please do so outside.’
Somewhere on the other side of the room, Nev sighed.
Harry counted the stones in the wall. I wonder how Fleur’s day at work is going. He imagined her pouting at some old, dust-covered object, wand in one hand, hot chocolate in the other, and chuckled. She’s probably bored out of her mind.
Nev stumbled out.
‘That wasn’t so bad,’ Harry said.
‘You’ve ruined the exam for everyone else,’ Nev said. ‘I managed to successfully cast the doubling charm on the desk and the wizard told me I’d done well, but it wasn’t quite a raven.’
‘Well it wasn’t, but it sounds like you did well.’
‘I think I passed, but my desk had less detail in the grain and the back legs were a bit shorter than they should have been.’
‘Still a pass,’ Harry reckoned. ‘Might not be an outstanding, but at least an acceptable or an exceeds.’
‘That’s true,’ Nev’s face brightened. ‘Perhaps Gran will be pleased.’
‘She won’t notice anything after seeing your marks for Herbology and Defence.’ Harry laughed. ‘The only way you’re not ending up the top student for Herbology is if Hannah distracts you midway through the practical.’
‘They won’t let me do the practical on my own plant,’ Nev replied.
‘Wrong Hannah, Nev. I meant the pretty blond one that doesn’t shoot goo at people when they get too close.’ He cocked his head. ‘Or at least I don’t think she does.’
‘Oh.’ Nev flushed scarlet. ‘Do you think we can do our Defence practical early too?’
‘Worth a try,’ Harry said.
Hermione brushed past them halfway along the corridor, her back stiff as a stone, her fingers clutched to her chest, muttering beneath her breath.
‘Do you think she’ll outdo you?’ Neville asked.
‘Not in the practical,’ Harry said. ‘But she’ll do better in the written part. We won’t be able to tell who did best anyway, since it’s likely we’ll end up with the same grade.’
‘It’s one of my best subjects. I’ll get an outstanding, just like we both will in Defence.’
They continued along the corridor, fighting against the flow of students trying to get to the Transfiguration exam.
‘Did you leave the raven in there?’ Nev asked.
‘Yes.’ Harry chuckled.
‘Hermione’s going to take it as a challenge,’ Nev muttered.
‘If she wants to. I’m more worried about it escaping and flying off with a first year. My reputation is bad enough already.’
‘Maybe it will take Mini-Creevey.’ Nev pushed open the door to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. ‘I heard he’s almost as annoying as his brother.’
Harry threw a look around the desks and benches. ‘Room’s empty.’
‘I guess we won’t be taking this one early.’ Nev peered into Umbridge’s office and whistled. ‘Whatever spell did this isn’t something I want to be on the wrong end of.’
The door behind them creaked open and a quartet of old wizards strolled in, carrying an odd assortment of items. Harry spied egg cups, a whole box of crystal balls, and a rather disgruntled iguana.
‘I think we’re late, Tofty,’ the foremost complained.
‘We’re on time,’ the second quavered in a paper-thin voice. ‘These young men are simply early.’
‘Early? Are they allowed to be early?’
‘There’s no rules against it,’ the youngest of the four, who was not a day under sixty, said. ‘If I help Phoebus unpack, then Tofty can get started with Mr Potter, and you can examine his young friend.’
‘A splendid idea.’ The eldest adjusted his glasses and lifted the iguana out of the box. ‘Come on then, Mr Potter.’ The old examiner meandered past a few desks and placed the iguana down. ‘I’m Professor Tofty and this is Kanoni. He’s older than two of my colleagues and has overseen just as many exams as I have, not that his judgement will have any impact on your grade.’ Tofty chuckled. ‘He gets lonely when I leave the office for long periods of time, so I have to take him with me or he causes trouble.’
‘It’s nice to meet you both.’
Is there a particular age at which wizards start to go a little peculiar?
‘Well then.’ Professor Tofty smiled and adjusted his glasses. ‘We might as well get started.’ He rummaged around in the pockets of his robes to retrieve a long list of names. ‘Could you name and perform the spell you would use to defeat a boggart, Mr Potter?’
‘The Boggart-Banishing spell,’ Harry answered.
But Fiendfyre works pretty well, too, and it’s much more satisfying.
‘And to demonstrate?’ Tofty twitched toward the edge of his chair.
‘Riddikulus.’ Harry flicked his wand out and demonstrated the motion.
‘Good.’ Tofty leant back to make a few notes on his paper with a bent-feathered quill. ‘Now I’d like you to cast the Impedimenta jinx and its counter for me.’
The iguana crept behind Tofty.
‘He’s not going to do it to you, Kanoni.’ Tofty sighed. ‘I had one student hit him with the Levitating charm a few years back, he’s been nervous around wands ever since.’
Harry cast both the Impedimenta jinx and its counter silently.
‘Excellent,’ Professor Tofty squeaked. ‘Non-verbal spells aren’t meant to be covered until NEWT level.’ He scratched several lines of illegible scrawl across his piece of paper. ‘Shield charm next.’
Harry summoned a bright, silver shield that gave off a faint, bell-toned shimmer.
‘Oh my,’ Tofty said. ‘That’s quite extraordinary.’
The other examiners stared across the room at him.
‘Is there anything you’d like to try for extra credit? It won’t harm your grade if you fail.’
‘There is.’ He raised his wand and pointed the ebony tip toward a clear part of the classroom. He closed his eyes and remembered the first time Fleur had kissed him in the summer sun, letting a warm glow flood through him.
The Anzu burst from his wand in an eruption of brilliant silver. It hovered in the air, flexing its wings and peering at the room’s occupants, then threw its head back to give a soft echoing cry and vanished.
‘Outstanding!’ Tofty cried.
‘Really?’ Harry asked.
‘Well.’ Professor Tofty flapped his hands. ‘I didn’t mean it quite like that, but just between us, my boy, it’s more than likely.’
‘Thank you, professor.’
Harry watched Nev breeze through his exam, then circled away from the exam room. ‘That went pretty well.’
‘You showed off again.’ Nev rolled his eyes. ‘Not so bad as the raven, though.’
They ran into the back of a huddle of green and silver lined robes.
‘That went so badly,’ Pansy Parkinson whined. ‘It’s so unfair.’
Malfoy sighed. ‘It wasn’t that hard, Pansy,’ he drawled. ‘I’m sure it didn’t help that the giant raven stole your wand at the start, but that’s not going to count against you. You completed all the tasks, so you got at least an acceptable.’
‘But I didn’t manage to do anything for the extra credit,’ Pansy moaned.
‘You don’t even want to take the subject for NEWTs,’ Malfoy said.
‘It was hard not to when I get told every lesson.’
‘You dislike some subjects too,’ Pansy sniped. ‘I know how you feel about Care for Magical Creatures; you’re still scared of Hippogriffs.’
Harry stifled a laugh, then the acorn on his necklace flared hot and he ducked away into a quiet corridor. ‘I’m off to the library, Nev. I’ve got something I want to have a look at in the section I’m not supposed to be in. I’ll catch you later.’
Gabby must be able to come and sort out the wards, but why now?
‘I’ll tell Katie,’ Nev said. ‘So she doesn’t set up camp in the common room waiting for you to tell her how your exams went.’
‘See you later, mate.’ Nev drifted off.
Harry stepped into the nearest empty classroom, then shut the door behind him and sealed it with a flick of his wand. ‘Azure.’
Fleur’s face shimmered into view. A strained, indulgent smile hovered on her lips. ‘Gabby’s being difficult. She wants to talk to you before she casts the Fidelius for us and apparently it has to be now.’
‘I’m coming.’ Harry switched to French. ‘I can bring Sirius, too.’
‘Sirius Black?’ Fleur’s eyes softened. ‘Are you finally going to tell someone about us?’
‘He can be trusted and we need somewhere secret so he can tell us what’s happening with the Order of the Phoenix.’ Harry grinned. ‘If nothing else, we can trade him to Gabby as a pet in return for performing the charm.’
‘She would say no. She wants to talk to you. Only you.’ Fleur’s face tightened. ‘I love my little sister, mon Cœur, so be nice, even if she’s difficult, which she will be.’
‘I will be,’ Harry promised. ‘I like Gabby.’
‘I know you like Gabby.’ Fleur shot him a playful glare. ‘And she likes you. I probably shouldn’t leave you two alone together.’
‘I’ll be with you soon.’ Harry gave her a wave, then let the mirror shrink back into the acorn pendant and hurried toward the Chamber of Secrets.
I’ll have to apparate to Grimmauld Place. He disillusioned himself and took the quick way, slipping through groups of students, then diverting into Myrtle’s bathroom.
‘Myrtle,’ Harry greeted, pausing to peer into the open cubicles. ‘How have you been?’
She was acting kind of strange a few weeks back.
‘Harry.’ She floated across to him. ‘Professor Dumbledore was here earlier.’
‘He was?’ Harry tensed and peered ‘round the bathroom. ‘Did he do anything?’
‘He asked if anyone had been in here.’ Myrtle fretted and bobbed in the air. ‘I said no, of course, and that seemed to please him.’
‘Did he cast any magic while he was here?’ Harry asked.
‘No.’ Myrtle shook her head. ‘He just asked me some questions. Is everything ok?’
‘Everything’s fine, Myrtle.’ Harry smiled. ‘Don’t worry. Dumbledore’s just concerned about anyone going down there, only he can’t actually enter like I can, so he doesn’t know for sure that it’s safe.’
Not that it is safe. Voldemort could apparate in whenever he wants. It’s a good thing there’s no reason for him to come to Hogwarts yet.
‘That’s good.’ Myrtle’s silver form dimmed until Harry struggled to see her frown. ‘He’s never trusted you. Not since he first met you. I remember you telling me.’
Pretty sure I never mentioned anything like that.
Harry shrugged and headed down the steps. ‘Thanks for telling me, Myrtle. Don’t worry about Dumbledore.’
‘Bye, Harry,’ she whispered after him. ‘Thank you for coming to see me. It doesn’t feel like anything’s missing when you’re here.’
‘How are your exams going?’ Salazar asked as he stepped into the study. ‘Are they hard?’
‘A complete waste of time,’ Harry said. ‘If I didn’t think I might need the grades and I didn’t know Fleur would never let me hear the end of it if I didn’t do well, I’d probably just not bother turning up.’ He waved a hand at the time-turner. ‘If things go wrong, I can always use that to cheat.’
‘Don’t use that unless you absolutely have to,’ Salazar said. ‘I warned you about the strain of using it on your mind. Nightmares will be the least of your worries if you keep putting that sort of pressure on yourself.’
‘It’s just a few sessions here and there for the next week or so.’ Harry picked up Sirius’s mirror. ‘Right now I need to set up some wards on my house.’
‘Be thorough,’ Salazar said. ‘I liked to leave an obvious way in. Most people jump at what seems like a minor risk and that stops them looking for another solution which might’ve been a better option.’
‘Sirius,’ Harry murmured. His breath fogged on the cold glass of the mirror.
‘Harry!’ Sirius’s face appeared in the mirror. ‘I’m sorry, I was just having a very unusual conversation with my mother’s portrait.’
Harry shot him his best imitation of Fleur’s smirk. ‘Has she found you a spouse?’
‘Don’t joke. She was being oddly civil, said something about me associating with some wizards of respectable descent and not being a completely lost cause. Told me I should take my responsibilities to the Black family more seriously, then proceeded to list every eligible pure-blood of close enough relation and with no allegiance to either Voldemort or Dumbledore as a potential heir to be named.’
‘Was it a long list?’ Harry asked.
‘No. There’s only one name on the list. He isn’t even really a pure-blood, though my mother insists that he must be considered as one.’
A sinking feeling crept upon Harry. ‘Was my name really the only one?’
Sirius laughed. ‘First thing my mother and I have agreed on in twenty years. It only took most of the family dying for her to see sense again.’
‘Are you alone?’ Harry asked.
‘Coming to visit?’
‘No. I’m coming to pick you up and take you somewhere exciting.’
‘It had better not be another department of the Ministry,’ Sirius quipped. ‘I’ve already got a badge.’ He shifted the mirror to show off the badge he’d obtained from the phonebox.
‘Can I apparate to you?’
‘Actually, you probably can now.’ Sirius frowned. ‘You have Black blood and you know the secret.’
‘You’re a recognised member of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black as of today.’ Sirius grinned. ‘You’re even on the tapestry, which is more than can be said for me.’
‘Wonderful. I’m coming over.’ Harry set the mirror down and wrenched the world back past him until he stepped onto the hall at the foot of the stairs.
Sirius sat on the bottom step. A small white vase of violet flowers stood on the marble stones to his right.
‘So what exciting place are we going to?’ Sirius asked.
‘My house,’ Harry said. ‘I just bought it.’
‘Ah, so that’s how you intend to avoid the Dursleys,’ Sirius said. ‘Dumbledore will never allow you to live on your own, though.’
‘You’ll see.’ Harry offered his arm in preparation to apparate.
Sirius grabbed his wrist and they stepped forward onto the front path of a small, neat little converted farmhouse. Sirius collapsed face-first into the grass.
‘Smooth.’ Harry glanced at the neat trees and grass. ‘Welcome to my house. That I’ve never been to before.’
‘Where are we?’ Sirius asked.
‘West country.’ Harry led him down the path toward a worn, chipped white door.
‘Your door needs repainting.’
‘You’re going to make remarks about the condition of my house?’ Harry shook his head at Sirius. ‘I had to kill a boggart last time I visited you.’
‘Fair enough, but it does need repainting.’
‘It needs more than that,’ Harry said. ‘Furniture, paint, a new name, and some more serious wards.’
He glimpsed a flash of silver hair though the window as they approached the peeling, white-painted door. Fleur and Gabby are already here. Harry knocked on the door.
Fleur opened the door. ‘Welcome home, mon Cœur.’ She snaked an arm ‘round him and drew his lips to hers.
Gabby craned her head ‘round Fleur’s shoulder. ‘Fleur! Share! In the veela harem, we’re all sister-wives!’
Harry choked. ‘What?!’
Fleur kicked Gabby in the shin with her heel. ‘Ignore that. She rediscovered some trashy veela-based romance novel last week in Maman’s collection. It was written by a witch’s witch who really wanted to spend her life surrounded by pretty blondes in lingerie.’
Harry chuckled. ‘Goals for the future, Gabby?’
She flushed. ‘Nope.’
‘Harry?’ Sirius prodded him in the side. ‘You’re meant to introduce me.’
‘Oh. This is Fleur Delacour, my girlfriend, and behind her is Gabrielle Delacour, her younger sister.’
‘Nice to meet you,’ Sirius said. ‘I’d say Harry’s told me all about you, but he’s actually told me nothing at all.’
‘Come in.’ Fleur ushered them both inside, shutting the door after Sirius and dislodging several slivers of paint.
Harry glanced at the bare walls and floorboards. ‘Homely place.’
‘You weren’t joking about furniture,’ Sirius said.
‘We really did only just buy it.’
Sirius wrestled with himself. ‘Just tell me! There’s a long story somewhere here.’
‘We’ve been together since the start of the summer,’ Harry said. ‘It’s quite a short story really.’
‘Especially if he leaves out all the embarrassing parts,’ Fleur jibed.
Harry chuckled. ‘Which I am definitely leaving out.’
‘So you’re living together now?’ Sirius asked. ‘That’s quite a step.’
‘Yes it is,’ Gabby murmured.
Fleur shot Harry a long look. ‘Perhaps I should tell Sirius about us, while you and Gabby talk, mon Cœur.’
‘Shall we go out the back?’ Harry suggested.
Gabby pattered across the floorboards after him in her small, white socks, shutting the door behind Harry.
He raised an eyebrow. ‘Planning on finally eloping with me?’
A small smile flitted across her face. ‘No. I wanted to talk with you seriously for a bit.’
Harry nodded. ‘Talk away, Gabby.’
‘I don’t like the idea of my sister living here in England on her own for most of the year,’ she said. ‘She is safer in France, all her dreams are in France, all of them except you.’
‘I won’t let anything happen to her, Gabby.’ A hot, tight knot coiled in his chest. The sharp, cold teeth of the void chewed at his heart. ‘I can’t lose her.’
‘If you asked, if you really forced her to, she’d come back to France with me,’ Gabby murmured. ‘Could you do that?’
‘She’d hate me. I promised her I wouldn’t.’ Harry cringed. ‘I don’t think I could endure that.’
‘Not even if it saved her life?’
‘She wouldn’t forgive me,’ Harry whispered. ‘She might not leave, but she’d never forget I made her do that. I — I can’t, Gabby. I’m sorry.’
‘Show me.’ Gabby reached out one hand and placed it over Harry’s heart, spreading her fingers across his chest and closing her eyes. ‘You can use legilimency and I’ve a gift for sensing the emotion in magic. Prove you really can’t do it.’
Harry met her grey eyes and drew on a little magic to connect them, letting all the feelings that came with thoughts of Fleur seep through the bond.
A quiet gasp slipped through Gabby’s lips. ‘How strange,’ she murmured. ‘I thought it would be all soft, fluffy love, but there’s so much fear.’
‘I need her.’ Harry broke the connection and turned away. ‘I just… do.’
‘I felt it.’ Gabby put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Fleur needs you, too, you know. She’s tied all her dreams to you and there’s nothing she wouldn’t do to protect you and them. Don’t forget that. Just because everyone else has let you down doesn’t mean she will.’
‘I know.’ Harry buried thoughts of a fading red sunset, a burning ring of gold on Fleur’s finger, and the tall, strong shadow at her side. ‘I do know.’
‘But it’s hard.’ Gabby’s grey eyes darkened to a charcoal hue and small white feathers prickled across her neck. ‘If you hurt my sister because of your inability to trust, I will hurt you, Harry. She deserves nothing but your full faith. She’s risking her life just to spend the summer with you.’
Guilt twisted in his chest like a blade. ‘I know.’ He tried to hold Gabby’s charcoal gaze, but couldn’t. ‘I’ll try. I promise.’
Her eyes lightened. ‘If you’re struggling, come talk to me. Nobody knows Fleur better than me.’ She wiggled her fingers. ‘And I always understand what you’re feeling.’
Harry mustered a grin. ‘More cheating veela magic.’
Gabby grinned. ‘Come on, then. We have a Fidelius charm to cast.’
Harry followed her back through into the other room.
‘I’m satisfied,’ Gabby chirped. ‘Let’s go cast it!’
‘Cast what?’ Sirius asked.
‘The Fidelius. Gabby will be our secret keeper. Dumbledore can’t send me to the Dursleys if he can’t find me.’
‘I can do it,’ Sirius offered. ‘Wouldn’t you rather Voldemort comes after me?’
‘Gabby will be far out of his reach and he won’t even know of my connection to her,’ Harry said. ‘And when Dumbledore comes looking, you will be too obvious a choice.’
‘The last time words like that were spoken they were mine.’ Sirius’s face darkened. ‘It was the last thing I ever said to James and Lily.’
‘I can do it.’ Gabby huffed and darted out through the front door onto the path. ‘This way I know that Fleur and Harry are safe so long as my lips are sealed.’
Sirius raised his hands in defeat as they followed her out. ‘I concede.’
‘Close your eyes, Sirius,’ Harry said. ‘I don’t know what would happen if you watched the charm being cast since you aren’t technically part of it. Don’t open them until we tell you the secret.’
Fleur pulled her wand out. ‘Gabby, mon Cœur, this may feel strange.’
A soft white glow appeared at the tip of her wand, slim threads of light swirled ‘round it, snaking through the air and falling over him like a net, fading into his skin. Harry felt the magic curl ‘round his heart; a tight, short shackle stretching back to Fleur.
‘Gabby…’ Fleur sent the glowing speck of light floating across onto the tip of Gabby’s wand. ‘Hold onto that.’ She touched her fingertips to her chest, then pulled a slim thread of bright azure away; it curled into a small flame that danced on her palm. ‘Gabrielle?’
Gabby swallowed and scooped the flame out of Fleur’s palm. ‘This is…’
‘Me.’ A small, soft smile crooked the corner of Fleur’s lips. ‘That is me.’
Gabby cupped it in her hands, then pressed the flame to her chest; it flickered, slipping through her clothes and vanishing, and she shivered.
‘Mon Cœur,’ Fleur whispered. ‘Give yourself to Gabby.’
Harry’s fingers slid to his sternum and the magic churned beneath his hand. His wand turned hot as flame against his forearm and unease prickled down his spine, coiling in his gut. Just do it.
Gabby’s eyes flicked to his. ‘You can trust me, Harry,’ she murmured. ‘I promise.’
It doesn’t matter. I have to do it anyway. He closed his fist against his ribs and ripped it out. Or Fleur’s not safe.
Wisps of black mist trailed through his clenched knuckles as he thrust his arm at Gabby.
She pried it from his fingers and pressed it against her sternum with a shudder and a gasp. ‘Mon Dieu! That’s cold.’
The shackle clamped about Harry’s heart and snapped back toward Gabby like he was hooked on a fishing line. It wrenched at something deep inside, tearing a groan from his lips. The light at the end of Gabby’s wand zipped into the sky and burst into a shower of silver sparks, sending a shimmer rippling away over the fields.
Fleur wrinkled her nose, then sagged a little. ‘And done.’
‘Harry Potter and Fleur Delacour live at the Meadow,’ Gabby whispered.
Sirius cracked open an eye. ‘Done?’
Harry looked at Fleur.
‘Done,’ she repeated. ‘Are you okay, Gabby?’
‘I could do with something to eat.’ Gabby grinned. ‘Do you have anything tasty?’
‘In Britain?’ Fleur laughed. ‘Non.’
‘I can probably supply you with a lifetime’s worth of sherbet lemons,’ Harry suggested. ‘Dumbledore has hundreds of them and they’re quite tasty, but I’ll have to steal them from his office.’
‘Okay. You owe me a sherbet lemon. I want to try one. I’ve never heard of them before.’ Gabby looked around the house. ‘If you don’t have anything tasty, then take me back to France, Fleur, I need to study. And you both owe me a trip to somewhere nice in Paris.’
‘Come on then, little chick.’ Fleur shot her sister a warm smile. ‘I’ll be back later, mon Cœur.’
‘Bye Harry.’ Gabby stepped forward and hugged him, then pulled his head down to whisper in his ear. ‘If you don’t trust her, you’ll lose her. Maman’s books are right about that.’
I trust her. Harry tried to push it into his eyes. She’s never done anything for me not to.
Fleur took a firm grip on Gabby’s shoulder and the two vanished.
‘She can apparate silently,’ Sirius said.
‘She does it to rub it in my face.’ Harry chuckled. ‘She knows I can’t do it.’
‘You’re a lucky guy, that’s one hell of a girl you’ve got there, Harry. James would be so very proud of you. She’s a veela, isn’t she?’
‘Yes.’ A small smile crept onto his lips. ‘Is her magic an issue for you?’
‘After Azkaban?’ Sirius’s smile twisted into a grimace. ‘Not even a little bit.’
‘Good.’ Harry sighed. ‘How’s Dumbledore been?’
‘Busy.’ Sirius fixed Harry with a long look. ‘Amelia Bones and Rufus Scrimgeour are fighting for Fudge’s seat. Neither are any friend to Voldemort. Dumbledore seems quite pleased with how everything has turned out, really. He’s assured the whole Order you’re on the right path to defeat Voldemort.’
‘He’s more right than he realises,’ Harry said. ‘I’m close, Sirius. There’s still him, of course, but we’re only one step away from making sure he doesn’t come back again.’
Diary. Diadem. And one more somewhere.
‘I won’t ask.’ Sirius cracked a grin. ‘If I don’t know, Dumbledore can’t get anything out of me. Just be careful, Harry. Hiding away in a little house is no way to spend your life. If things go wrong, if Dumbledore’s schemes unravel, if Voldemort starts to win, just leave. Take Fleur and go far away. Find somewhere to be happy together. This isn’t your fight. You’re supposed to be sixteen, doing things sixteen year olds do.’
Neither can live while the other survives.
‘Voldemort won’t stop chasing me.’ Harry stared up at the sky and imagined the streaks of red light fading away in the distance. ‘There’s nowhere to run where we won’t end up hiding. Fleur won’t want to live like that.’
She’d try. She’d try so hard, but in the end she’d leave. He could see it behind closed eyes. Her bright eyes dimming as the price of being tied to him wore her smile away. Of course she’d leave. Anyone would.
Sirius’s brow creased. ‘I guess we’d better win, then.’
‘Whatever it takes,’ Harry murmured.