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Summer sun soaked into him, shining through the soft green leaves of the willow tree. Their fronds tangled ‘round him like a hundred slim snakes. Somewhere beyond the green and the bright, the river burbled and gushed over warm, white stones.
‘Perfect,’ Harry murmured.
Arms slipped around his shoulders from behind. ‘As always,’ Fleur whispered in his ear. ‘And one day, this will be every day.’
The sun wavered, the warmth faded, and Harry opened his eyes. A silver blanket covered him to the faded green arm of the old sofa beyond his toes and Fleur’s warm thigh rested beneath his cheek.
The deep, cold ache crept back in where the warmth of the willow tree had been.
She brushed his hair off his face. ‘Did you sleep well, mon Cœur?’
‘Yes.’ He shot her a small smile. ‘Kind of wish I didn’t have to wake up.’
Fleur’s blue eyes held his gaze and she traced the line of dried tears down his cheeks with her fingertip. ‘Will you tell me? Will that help?’
‘I don’t know. Has it ever helped you?’
‘Sometimes,’ she murmured, running her hands through his hair. ‘It seems to help Gabby.’
‘I had to seal the Chamber of Secrets,’ Harry said. ‘All of the wards bound to Salazar’s blood had to be altered so that I and those of my bloodline can still enter, but Voldemort can’t. I had to sacrifice someone invaluable to demonstrate intent strong enough to create such an incredible piece of magic.’
‘Someone?’ Fleur’s hands froze in his hair and her breath caught.
‘Salazar,’ Harry mumbled into her leg. ‘He said there was no other way.’
It was him or you. His heart twisted itself into a tight knot. And it can’t be you. It can’t ever be you.
‘I’m sure that he was right,’ Fleur whispered.
‘I needed him. Without him I’d still be blindly walking to my death, just as Dumbledore plans. Now he’s gone…’
‘But I am not.’ Fleur lifted his head off her legs and squirmed. ‘You will always have me, mon Cœur.’ She kissed him on the cheek, then turned his head to face her with two slender fingers on his chin.
‘It hurts.’ Harry pressed his fingers to the point in his chest where the ache was almost tangible.
‘It always does.’ Fleur rested her head on his shoulder. ‘But it will pass. What’s done is done.’
But it can be undone. The silver mark on his cloak, the faded, black symbol upon the white graves at Godric’s Hollow and the mark above the Veil hovered before the eye of Harry’s mind. I can undo it.
‘There is something I can do.’ Hope flared anew. ‘I can see him again.’
‘How, mon Cœur?’ A small, worried gleam hovered in her eyes. ‘He is gone.’
‘There is a stone. An artefact that can raise an imprint of the dead.’
Fleur sighed and stood. ‘I know the story. The three brothers, the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and Death’s Cloak. It is a myth.’ She fingered her wand. ‘We don’t have time for you to try and convince me, either. It’s time for us to find our own way or make one.’
Harry sprang to his feet. ‘I need to go.’
Fleur led him to the kitchen. ‘I am coming and you are eating something first.’
She can’t come to that place. Harry struggled with the two images, but no mental contortion he could manage would force the picture of Fleur into that house. She shouldn’t be there. It’s wrong.
‘There isn’t time,’ Harry said. ‘And if the members of the Order are there, then they can’t see you.’
‘Why not?’ Fleur tossed her hair over her shoulder and rummaged through the cupboards. ‘I do not care if they know we are together, in fact, I would prefer it if they did.’
‘But you’d be a target.’ Harry’s heart seized. ‘They’d try to take you away.’
‘I will be under the Fidelius. Safe as can be.’
‘And Gabby?’ Harry tried. ‘What about when Voldemort goes looking for our secret keeper knowing of your link to me? Will your family be safe?’
Fleur whirled on him. ‘He will never reach my sister when she is behind the walls of Beauxbatons. Voldemort will not dare risk provoking France’s enmity while he still struggles in Britain.’ Her eyes darkened to pitch black. ‘And if you try to use my sister to manipulate me into hiding away like some shallow, little trophy of a girl again, then you will regret it, mon Cœur. I will fight or I may as well return to France.’
She knows me. Harry’s heart sank down into the pit of his stomach. I can’t lose her.
Fleur’s expression softened and her eyes faded back to summer sky blue. ‘You didn’t fall in love with some silly little girl who wanted to wait for her hero to save everyone, then sweep her off her feet into the sunset. You fell in love with me.’ She tilted her chin into the air. ‘And so you will have to get used to the idea of me being me all the time, not just when it’s convenient.’
‘I know,’ Harry murmured. ‘But—’
‘In the end, they’ll all find out,’ she said. ‘Are you ashamed to be seen with me?’
‘Of course not,’ Harry said. ‘Who could be?’
‘Then why should I hide?’ Fleur returned to rummaging and passed him a rather flat, battered croissant. ‘It was under the jam.’
‘Thanks.’ Harry peeled layers off the pastry and chewed. ‘Is there really nothing I can say or do that would change your mind, mon Rêve?’
‘Is there anything I could say to you that would keep you from helping me?’ Fleur demanded, crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes. ‘The answer to that better be no.’
‘Of course it is,’ he whispered. ‘But I, well, you know I’m a bit weird, Fleur. I can’t lose you. I’d do anything to stop that.’
A small soft smile spread across Fleur’s lips. ‘I know.’ She stole the last piece of croissant from his hand and ate it with a small smirk. ‘Now, we need to go. I very much want to meet your family.’
No you don’t. Harry caught the darkening hue of her eyes and the faint pinpricks of white along her arms. Or maybe you do.
‘Well, if you get attached to any of them, I’m prepared to trade for Gabby.’
‘That bad?’ Fleur arched an eyebrow.
‘Gabby at her most mischievous is a thousand times preferable to any of my relatives.’ Harry chuckled. ‘Let alone all of them together.’
Fleur huffed. ‘You can’t fool me, mon Cœur. You encourage her.’
‘I do.’ Harry grinned. ‘You make the most adorable pout when you get teased.’
A faint blush rose onto Fleur’s cheeks. ‘You might change your mind about that now we’re both the target. I told her that we’d, well, you know, and now I can’t say anything about you to her without getting suggestive looks and cheeky remarks.’
‘She did that already.’ Harry extended an arm.
She draped his arm across her shoulders and wrapped her own arm around his waist. ‘Shall we go? It’s time for Harry to fly the nest.’
‘Bird references?’ Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘You’re making bird references about me?‘
She laughed. ‘Hush and apparate us, mon Cœur.’
Harry shifted their weight forwards, apparating them both straight into the back garden of Number Four, Privet Drive.
Fleur lifted her wand from her waist. ‘Homenum revelio. Only three people are close enough to the house to see us.’
‘Perhaps my intended baby-sitter isn’t here yet.’ Relief flooded through Harry’s chest and a smile crept onto his lips.
‘Don’t look so pleased.’ Fleur huffed. ‘I am not some secret to be hoarded away from the world. You don’t shut perfect things away in the dark where you can’t appreciate them, mon Cœur.’
Harry apparated them both upstairs to his room with a soft snap, disentangling himself from Fleur to gather his things into a small stack. He shrank it down with a flick of his wand and slipped the whole pile into his pocket.
‘You don’t have very many things,’ she murmured.
‘My relatives are not overly zealous about spending money on me.’
‘I can see that.’ Heat haze shimmered around Fleur’s palms and her eyes flashed dark as pitch. ‘So this is the sort of distant, empty place that leaves a child so alone he begins to wonder if he’s even real.’
Harry flinched. ‘I—’
Fleur pressed a finger to his lips. ‘I don’t care.’ She kissed him on the cheek and turned his lips to hers. Her black eyes burnt a finger’s length from his. ‘You are mine now, despite what they did, maybe even because of what they did, but that doesn’t mean I won’t hate them for hurting you.’
‘It didn’t hurt at the time. I just wasn’t really there.’ Harry stared down at the close-trimmed lawns and roses. ‘I don’t even remember most of it. It feels almost like a dream.’
‘Are we going downstairs?’ Fleur asked.
‘Will you promise not to do anything drastic?’
‘What are you going to do?’
Harry studied the fierce glint in her black eyes. And I’m going to have to do something. A quiet satisfaction rose in him. I owe them eleven years of emptiness. They deserve a parting gift.
‘I’m going to give them the same safety and security from the magical world that they gave me,’ he said.
Fleur tilted her head to one side and nodded. ‘I promise.’
Harry strode out over the creaking floorboards of the landing and down the stairs.
‘I think he’s back.’ Petunia’s prim tone and sharp sniff drifted up from the living room.
He stepped through the door. ‘I am indeed back.’
The muted television played an endless sequence of bizarre events. Familiar potted, plastic plants squatted on the window and in the corners, flowery wallpaper spread beneath the swirl-patterned plaster ceiling, and the same collection of photos of the three Dursleys hung on the walls.
‘Well things aren’t going to be the same as last summer,’ Vernon blustered, heaving himself out of his chair. ‘Your aunt and I—’
‘Mais bien sûr.’ Fleur stepped through the door after him. ‘As if I would leave Harry to endure another day in this tasteless, lifeless hovel with you.’
Petunia’s hands darted to her hair and curled into her pockets. ‘Who is this, Harry?’
‘Fleur Delacour.’ Fleur glanced between the three Dursleys. ‘I am with Harry.’
Dudley gawped. ‘With Harry?’
Harry snorted. ‘Well, Duddikins, when a boy and a girl love each other very much, they become partners. If you keep eating your grapefruit, you might even find out for yourself one day.’
‘You’re married?’ Petunia gasped and her gimlet eyes peered at Fleur’s fingers.
Fleur raised her fingers and waggled them. ‘No ring.’
‘I’m not even sixteen until the end of the month,’ Harry said.
‘Lily married young,’ Petunia said. ‘Your kind have all sorts of strange ways.’
‘Why’re you going out with Harry?’ Dudley demanded. ‘You’re, like, a model.’
‘You think I’m attractive?’ Fleur’s eyes flashed dark as ink.
‘Yeah…’ Dudley gaped. ‘You’re so hot.’
Fleur’s face shifted and her nose and chin jutted into a cruel, hooked beak. ‘How about now?’ she hissed.
Vernon swore and recoiled into his chair, Petunia let out an odd little shriek, covering her mouth with both hands, and Dudley went pale as a sheet.
‘That’s it,’ Vernon shouted, turning an interesting shade of puce. ‘I won’t have this anymore.’
‘Oh?’ Harry raised an eyebrow at him. ‘What do you intend to do, Vernon?’
‘I’ll — I’ll…’ Vernon caught Petunia’s warning glare and deflated like a punctured balloon.
‘It’s nice to meet you, Fleur.’ Petunia simpered. ‘Can I get you anything? A cup of tea?’
Fleur let her face shift back and smirked. ‘I’ve already got the only thing I’d ever want to take from this place.’
A small smile crept onto Harry’s face and his heart squirmed in his breast. ‘We’re not staying long.’
‘You’re not?’ Dudley dragged his eyes away from Fleur’s legs. ‘Why not?’
‘I came back to say goodbye. I’m leaving.’ Harry grinned and raised his hands when Petunia opened her mouth. ‘I know it’s sooner than you expected and I’m sure you’ll all miss me terribly, but we’ve got our own house now and I did promise Albus Dumbledore I would stay where I was safest.’
Vernon bristled, drawing himself up in triumph as the idea that Harry would be gone sank in past the sarcasm.
‘But the protections,’ Petunia squeaked. ‘If you’re gone, there’s nothing keeping us safe from your kind.’
Harry offered a small, thin, cold smile. ‘Don’t fret, Petunia. I’m going to make sure you’re every bit as prepared for the magical world as I was.’
Vernon released a long sigh and slumped back into his chair. ‘Least you could do after we took you in, boy.’
Petunia shivered. ‘What are you going to do?’
‘You know what they say, Petunia. Ignorance is bliss.’ Harry flicked out his wand and turned toward Dudley and Vernon. ‘Obliviate.’ He ripped himself and all magic from their memories, then smoothed Dudley’s friends into the gaps left behind.
‘What did you do?’ Petunia shook Vernon’s shoulders, then Dudley’s. ‘Did you hurt them?’
‘I modified their memories,’ Harry said. ‘They have no memory of me, magic, or anyone connected to me, and in a moment, neither will you.’
‘What about Lily?’ Petunia whispered. ‘Will I still remember my little sister?’
‘You’ll never even know you had one.’
‘But our childhood together, all the happy times I have from before she left me, they’d be gone.’ Tears smeared the precise lines of Petunia’s eyeshadow and mascara. ‘I loved my perfect baby sister.’
‘It never sounded like it to me.’ Harry turned his wand on her. ‘Obliviate.’
Petunia slumped on top of her spouse.
‘What now?’ Fleur watched Harry levitate them back into their usual chairs.
‘We walk away.’ He slipped his wand back into his sleeve. ‘Dumbledore or someone from the Order will come here when they realise I am gone, and my memory charm may be weakened by their enquiry, but I doubt it. For all Petunia’s proclamations of love, they just won’t want to remember me.’
‘And what if Voldemort comes?’
‘Then they have every protection from him that they afforded me,’ Harry whispered. ‘And I suspect he won’t bother saying more than a very specific couple of words to mere muggles.’
They’re not worth hating. Just like all the other selfish hypocritical people who begged for a hero, then loathed him for not vanishing after they were saved. Harry took one last long look around. I have Fleur now. She’s all I’ll ever need.
Fleur’s eyes remained dark blue. ‘I hope they’re not as lucky as you were.’
‘I should thank them, really.’ Harry kissed her on the nose and smiled at her glower. ‘Without them, I might not’ve ended up with you.’
‘You would’ve loved me anyway.’ Fleur slipped her fingers through his. ‘I am perfect for you, non?’
‘As always,’ he murmured.
Privet Drive twisted and Harry found himself spilling across the hall floor in the Meadow. Fleur draped herself over him.
‘You did that deliberately,’ he accused through a smile.
Fleur sat up and straddled him with a smirk, leaning back until he could feel the heat of her through his clothes. ‘Shall I show you the house?’
‘Is there anything to see yet?’ Harry tried to ignore the warmth of her pressed against him.
She rolled her hips over him until a groan slipped from his lips. ‘The bedroom?’ Desire smouldered in her blue eyes, then she vanished. Something soft and warm slid over Harry’s face.
He pulled it away and sat up. Fleur’s clothes pooled on the floor around him. Dark blue silk lace dangled from his fingers. ‘That seems like an excellent place to start.’