If you prefer audiobooks, listen to the audio version created by Sam Gabriel below!
Water gurgled through the pipes and Fleur’s soft singing echoed from beyond the steamed window of their bathroom. Harry wriggled out from under the covers and Fleur’s silver blanket, dragging on some clothes and clawing his hair down.
‘Up already?’ Fleur stepped from the bathroom in just a towel. Damp, silver locks hung over her bare shoulders, leaving gleaming wet streaks along the delicate line of her collarbone. ‘Usually you don’t stir until I’m gone.’
Harry kissed her on the nose. ‘I always notice you leaving. I’m no longer lying next to a feathery furnace.’
A hint of a pout crept onto Fleur’s lips. ‘I am not feathery.’
‘Liar.’ Harry shot her a grin. ‘I’ve seen all those cute little white tufts you get.’
‘When I’m angry.’ She breezed past him and tossed her towel over his head. ‘Which is usually your fault. I will admit that I am quite hot, though.’
‘Very hot.’ Harry tugged the warm damp towel off his face and admired Fleur’s legs as she bent to retrieve underwear from the drawers.
‘I know you’re watching me.’
‘You did say I could.’
Fleur laughed and slipped her feet through something lacy and blue, pulling on a matching bra. ‘I did. And I meant it.’ She swivelled about and offered him a coy smile. ‘Am I not the prettiest of them all, mon Cœur?’
Harry chuckled and stepped forward to pull her into his arms. ‘The prettiest bird-girl I’ve ever seen,’ he murmured.
‘I’m the only bird-girl you’ve ever seen.’ Fleur turned her nose up at his kiss. ‘You will have to do better than that to steal kisses, Harry.’
He smiled down at her. ‘I’ve seen Gabby, she’s a bird-girl too.’
‘Not in just her underwear, you haven’t.’ She slid her fingers into his hair and gave it a light tug. ‘Or you better not have.’
‘Well, you’re the only girl I’ve seen in just her underwear, feathery or otherwise.’ Harry slid a finger under the front-facing clasp of Fleur’s bra and teased it up and down. ‘Although I can’t decide if I like you more with or without it.’
‘Stop that,’ Fleur murmured, batting his hand away. ‘I do not have time before I must be at work.’ She kissed him and wrinkled her nose. ‘Brush your teeth. And look at the list I left you.’
‘What’re you doing at work?’ He stepped back to let her dress. ‘Anything exciting?’
She folded her arms across her chest. ‘I waste my time taking apart trinkets and ignoring crass English curse-breakers. Occasionally, I get something that’s an interesting challenge, but mostly it’s just clock watching and avoiding annoying, tasteless English boys.’
‘Have fun, then.’
‘Au revoir.’ She tucked her wand through the girdle of her dress, then vanished.
Silence settled over the house.
It’s not so long until she comes back. Harry made his way into their small, tiled bathroom, divested himself of his clothes and wand, and tapped the large, bronze shower tap. And it’s time to face this highly suspect piece of enchanting.
The pipes hummed and Harry jumped back against the wall, grimacing as ice-cold water splashed his legs. A faint groan echoed through the house and the water began to warm. Harry stuck his head under the water and let the water stream out of his hair. Steam clouded the windows, the pipes gurgled, and the stream of water stuttered.
Oh no you don’t. Harry eyed the bronze dial and jumped out as the water turned scalding. Fleur really needs to fix that. He grabbed his wand, dispelling the steam and drying himself off.
The hum of the water pipes faded into silence.
Harry spun his wand ‘round on his palm. ‘Let’s go do something.’ He slipped his wand back into his sleeve and smothered a soft, rising swell of melancholy. ‘Let’s go back.’
I’ve got to go back at some point. He stepped forward, whirling the world back past him, and into Salazar’s study.
‘I’m…’ The words died on his lips. ‘I’m back,’ he whispered.
Harry ran a finger along the spines of the books stacked upon the desk. NEWT stuff. He set aside the books on Dementors and non-verbal spells and skimmed through the pile. untransfiguration, which I know a tiny bit about, human transfiguration and substance-altering charms. He ground to a halt before the Potions stack. We’ll worry about that later and I’ll need Fleur’s help for Arithmancy, if she’s got time. He stacked the books back up and shrunk them.
A glimmer of gold caught his eye.
He plucked the time-turner off its hook and held it up. Faint light suffused the sand, flickering like a dying bulb.
It was bound to the wards of the Chamber. Harry slid his wand from his sleeve and touched its tip to the small hourglass. A strange twist writhed inside the glass, the world bent around it, folding into it over and over until he lost count of the layers; yet the magic around the twist unravelled like a loose thread from a wool jumper.
He spun it once, blurring back fifteen minutes and disillusioning himself to avoid a complicated conversation.
Almost a quarter of the magic bled from the time-turner.
I’ll have to save it. It’s no longer restricted to the Chamber of Secrets, but there’s not much left. Harry glanced up at the faint outline above the door and the silence closed around him, hollow, cold teeth gnawing at his heart. I’ll find a way. I’ll find a way or I’ll make one.
He swept Salazar’s books on heraldry off the shelf and raided the remnants of his tournament winnings for a few galleons. His invisibility cloak pooled over the chair, the Peverells’ symbol gleaming in the faint light.
The last enemy. Harry spared the symbol a long look and apparated back to the Meadow. He concealed the books on the Peverell family beneath the sofa, casting a quick tempus. What to do for a few minutes?
He spread the remaining books across the kitchen table and opened the book on inferi. The Inferius is a re-animated corpse bound to the will of its creator. A macabre puppet of flesh, whose greatest advantages lie in the horror and fear it inspires, the inferius can be a potent tool in the arsenal of any wizard or witch. They are best employed in ambushes or in great numbers to compensate for their lack of magic, but make for devastating weapons against the non-magical. A well cast animation may produce puppets with not only increased speed and strength, but also imbue them with the ability to weather grievous damage. Harry skimmed through a few pages of graphic images. The inferius’s greatest weakness is fire, but severe physical damage will also destroy them. Fiendfyre, then.
Harry set the book aside, tugging a scrap of parchment covered in Fleur’s elegant, flowing script across from beneath a small glass orb in which bubbles of water swirled. Fleur’s list of Voldemort’s inner circle. He ran his eyes over the names. Malfoy. Crabbe. Goyle. Nott. Avery. The Lestranges. The Carrows. Dolohov. Macnair. Yaxley. Travers. A thin line ran through Malfoy’s name and the last four. Harry pulled out his wand and crossed out Crabbe and Goyle. Nobody in their right mind would give a horcrux to a Crabbe or a Goyle, they’d probably try and eat it.
He stood up and stared into the window, tweaking the bone structure of his face, altering the tone of his skin, charming his hair blond, concealing the fading scar on his forehead and changing the shape of his nose a fraction. Tom Riddle stared back at him from the window with green eyes and blond hair.
That’ll do. Harry chuckled under his breath, straightening his collar and sweeping his fringe to one side. Voldemort would be furious. He paused. Or amused, I suppose.
Bright sunlight stabbed at Harry’s eyes as the kitchen swirled back into Diagon Alley. He blinked once or twice and glanced about. Fleur sat in the corner beneath blue umbrellas, a slice of cake in front of her and a small warm smile on her lips.
He took a step toward her. I can’t… or they’ll go after her.
A tall man’s shadow loomed over Fleur, flopping into a seat opposite her and leaning back with the hint of a broad grin. Harry’s heart seized and his breath caught in his throat. The dark fingers from his dreams traced Fleur’s bare skin in the back of his mind.
She wouldn’t. She promised. He crushed the thoughts down, but doubt bubbled up like thick, hot tar, roiling in his gut.
Harry watched the two of them chat beneath the blue umbrella and forced down a bitter lump.
He’s probably just one of the curse-breakers she was complaining about.
He tore his eyes away and headed toward the red umbrellas on the far side of the side-alley, pinning his gaze on the top of the centre umbrella as the faint sound of Fleur’s laughter drifted over the hedge.
Harry spotted Katie and Nev in the corner at one of the old wooden tables, and pulled a third chair up to the table. ‘You’re starting to sunburn, Nev.’
Nev started, squinting at him. ‘Oh, Harry. I’ve been outside shopping with Gran all morning before her Wizengamot meeting about awarding Amelia Bones emergency powers.’ Nev groaned and scrunched his pink face into a grimace. ‘I’m here pretty much everyday at the moment. The Wizengamot are busy.’
‘They do have things to do at the moment.’ Harry’s eyes slid past Nev’s shoulder to Fleur’s table. She sat alone, a small warm smile on her face, twirling her cake fork in her fingers.
My smile. For whoever that was. The breath fled his lungs like he’d been punched in the gut and his heart began to pound. He shoved his anxiety down, wiping the sweat off his palms and taking short, shallow breaths until everything steadied. Of course she’s got other friends. I’ve got other friends. It doesn’t matter she didn’t mention him. Remember what Gabby said. You have to trust her.
Katie shielded her eyes and prodded him in the shoulder. ‘Why are you in disguise?’
He plastered a bright smile onto his face. ‘Because I don’t want to be recognised, of course. Why else would anyone be in disguise?’
‘Nice glamours.’ Nev grinned. ‘You make a good blond. Malfoy ought to be jealous.’
‘They’re not glamours.’ Katie poked him in the face and tugged at his hair. ‘Too detailed. The hair’s charmed, but the rest is transfiguration.’
Harry removed her hand from his cheek and tracked Fleur as she left the café and drifted back toward Gringotts. ‘I don’t know enough about eyes to alter them, though, so they had to stay the same.’
‘You have quite distinctive eyes.’ Katie fiddled with the white-hemmed collar of her robes. ‘They’re a very nice shade of green and they do the same thing Dumbledore’s do.’
‘My eyes do not twinkle.’
Nev snorted. ‘No, but they do have a bit of an aura. They’re a bit more vivid and bright than anyone’s eyes should naturally be.’
‘It started when you began wearing those lenses Hermione told us about. Did you get magical ones or enchant them somehow?’ A wicked grin crossed Katie’s face. ‘Do they let you see through girls’ clothes?’ She batted her eyelashes. ‘You know you only needed to ask, Harry.’
‘I’m still here, thank you, you two.’ Nev waved a hand between them. ‘And I very much don’t want to see Harry with no clothes.’
‘But you’d be happy if it was Katie?’ Harry quipped.
Nev squeaked. ‘What? No!’
Katie laughed. ‘I wasn’t offering to show anything to Neville.’
Harry shrugged. ‘He prefers cacti and weird tentacle vine plants, anyway.’
She waved a finger at Harry’s eyes. ‘What about these lenses, then? Hermione told everyone you must’ve switched from glasses to muggle contact lenses.’
‘Hermione’s usually right.’
A group of wizards wandered past their table, cutting out the sun; Katie levelled them with a glare and turned her glower on Harry. ‘But not this time.’
A faint warmth trickled through him and the ice faded from his chest. ‘No.’ He smiled. ‘Not this time. I fixed my eyesight magically, but it had a few side-effects. I prefer the lenses explanation to having to tell everyone about my solution.’
‘Well, whatever you did was a good idea,’ Katie said. ‘Those glasses really didn’t suit you.’
‘I don’t miss them.’
Nev’s eyes tracked movement over Katie’s head.
Harry followed his gaze to a pair of blonde pigtails. ‘See something you like, Nev?’
Nev turned bright red. ‘Nope.’
‘I’ll only make snide comments until you tell me.’
Katie nodded. ‘And I’ll make lewd ones.’
‘Fine.’ Nev squirmed. ‘I bumped into her earlier and we said we’d meet up and get lunch.’
Harry grinned and gave him a thumbs up. ‘Well done, Nev. Good for you.’
Nev squinted at him. ‘You’re not going to say something mean?’
He shrugged. ‘I mean, I can if you want?’
Katie laughed. ‘Go get your girl, Neville. I’ll see you next time you drop by.’
Nev dragged himself out of his chair and touched the back of his hand to his sunburn. ‘Have you shown Harry your work robes, Katie?’ He stumbled away through the tables, blundering through the chairs.
Harry studied Katie’s robes. ‘They are a bit French maid…’
‘Well, if Frenchie would like some, they’re not expensive.’ Katie rolled her eyes, glanced about and hopped up, displaying a large, white blotch covering her side from stomach to mid-thigh. ‘Nev meant this; it’s magic resistant, too. Some old wizard’s potion.’
He chuckled. ‘You took out another goblet, didn’t you?’
‘Technically, it was a glass.’
‘Have you tried transfiguring it?’
Katie glanced about again, then pulled her wand out. ‘This happens.’ She gave her wand a wave.
The white patch turned transparent, giving Harry a glimpse of dark lace and pale skin, then returned to normal. Heat crept onto his face.
Katie giggled. ‘You did ask.’
Harry fought down his blush. ‘I wasn’t expecting you to do that.’
Fleur wouldn’t be happy. The shadow of her companion flitted through his thoughts and his heart flinched. Probably. Hopefully.
He buried those thoughts, but the tight knot in his stomach refused to untwist. ‘Do you think Hannah will say yes?’
Katie nodded. ‘Everyone knows that Hannah Abbott has the hots for Neville.’
‘All the girls do.’ Katie beamed. ‘That’s why it’s so funny. He likes her and she likes him, but they’ve been dancing around each other nervously for a whole year instead of just getting together.’
‘They weren’t that bad,’ Harry said. ‘None of the guys in Gryffindor knew anything about Hannah liking Nev.’
‘Well, Neville could’ve been worse, he could have gone to a ball with her, disappeared for the evening, pretended to hate her while moping, then tried to keep his relationship a secret while hiding the bruises on his neck.’
‘I never pretended to hate Fleur. I didn’t mope, either.’
‘That’s not what Neville said. He mentioned something about the Room of Requirement…’
‘Well you shouldn’t listen to him,’ Harry replied. ‘He’s a malicious liar.’
‘He’s the soul of gentility and truth,’ Katie retorted. ‘I danced with him at the Ball just after you left with Frenchie actually.’
Harry sighed. ‘I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I’d stayed.’
Would Katie have promised like Fleur? He wrestled with the sharp, cold claws in his belly. Would I have found her here with another guy, too?
‘So do I,’ Katie murmured.
There’s no point wondering. Harry took a deep breath and let the emptiness rise; it swallowed everything like cold, dark water. And there’s no point wishing. In the end, we’ll find out if it’s nothing or not.
‘I’m sure I would have had one wonderful dance,’ he said. ‘Then Fleur would’ve probably immolated me for abandoning her.’
Katie giggled, then the humour faded from her face. ‘You’re not laughing.’
‘It wasn’t that funny.’ He offered her half a smile. ‘And besides, you’re not meant to laugh at your own jokes.’
She studied him with a soft gleam in her eye. ‘You usually laugh. Are you okay?’
Should I tell her? He wrestled with the barbed tangle of emotion as it rose back up in his gut; flashes of Fleur’s companion and her small, warm smile snarled the thorned coil of feeling. What would Katie even say? Tell me not to worry? Warn me like Gabby did? She knows even less about what Fleur’s doing than I do.
‘Is there any food?’ Harry asked.
Katie held his gaze for a moment. ‘It’s a café, Harry. We have food. Mainly sandwiches and cake, but the cake is good.’
He shook his head. ‘Not cake.’
‘Mum!’ Katie waved at the short, brunette witch by the counter. ‘Oi!’
‘Aren’t you meant to be working?’
‘I’m on my lunch break, so that means mum has to get my sandwich instead.’
‘You’re a terrible employee,’ Harry said.
‘Yes, she is.’ Katie’s mum bounced across, a note-pad and a red quill reminiscent of Rita Skeeter’s hovering over her shoulder. Long mahogany bangs fell either side of brown eyes and a few, faint freckles.
She looks a lot like Katie, just a little older.
‘This is Harry,’ Katie said.
‘Harry?’ Katie’s mother’s eyes drifted over his face. ‘Harry who?’
‘I’m in disguise.’ He traced a zig-zag on his forehead with his finger. ‘Katie has forgotten.’
‘It’s nice to finally meet you.’ Katie’s mother smiled. ‘I’ve heard so much about you.’ She flapped a hand. ‘From Katie, that is, not the rubbish in the Daily Prophet.’
‘What would you like, Katie?’ Katie’s mother waved her hand toward the counter.
The quill perked up; the feather snapped straight and the nib dipped towards the page.
‘We’ll just have two chicken and bacon sandwiches,’ Katie said. ‘But without the tomato for me please.’
‘Worried you’ll make a mess of yourself again?’ Katie’s mother patted a fuming Katie on the cheek. ‘Harry? My daughter often forgets that her friends like to choose their own food.’
‘I don’t mind,’ he said, smiling. ‘I’ll go with it.’
‘Any drinks?’ The quill bobbed.
Katie shook her head.
Harry shook his. ‘No thanks.’
‘I’ll bring them over in a minute, Katie. You can have a bit of a longer break today than usual, too.’ Katie’s mother threw a smile at Harry, then bounced off to the next table.
Harry grinned. ‘She’s so like you.’
Katie grimaced. ‘So everyone always tells me. I took an ageing potion once when I was a kid and Dad almost mistook me for her.’
‘He realised as soon as he saw what I was wearing.’ Katie shrugged. ‘Mum’s more concerned about her appearance than me. I don’t really bother with pretty clothes or make-up.’
‘It gets in the way of quidditch and it makes it harder to scare firsties.’
She nodded. ‘No smart Dark Mistress wears pretty dresses and make-up. They’d get ruined by all the blood or torn during some nefarious deed.’
Katie’s mother gave her daughter an odd look and slid their sandwiches onto the table. ‘Here you are. I took the tomato out for you, Katie, so this time you won’t spill it all over your lap like a baby.’
Katie growled. ‘Thanks, mum.’
Her mother smiled, then her eyes flicked past them into the street and her expression darkened. A pair of Hit Wizards drifted past the table.
‘What was that about?’ Harry asked as Katie’s mother wandered away.
‘Dad used to be a Hit Wizard for the Department of Law Enforcement,’ Katie said. ‘He fought in the war against — against Voldemort, and he was fairly accomplished. Amelia Bones has been trying to get every trained wizard or witch back into uniform now things are escalating, but mum doesn’t want him out fighting where he might get hurt.’
‘He might not have a choice about fighting,’ Harry murmured. ‘Even if he doesn’t go back to law enforcement, the war might come to him. Diagon Alley’s a big target.’
‘I know.’ Katie took a small bite of her sandwich. ‘I’d still rather he was at home and a bit safer, even if it’s selfish.’
He nodded. ‘I can understand that. I’d prefer it if you were safe.’
‘It’s going to be bad, isn’t it?’ Katie whispered. ‘I’ve never seen Diagon Alley so busy, everyone’s trying to get things done before the chaos begins, all the shops are packed.’
‘It’s going to be bad, but you’ll be fine. I promise.’
‘And you. You’ll be right in the middle of it. He’ll be going after you himself.’
‘I’ll be safe.’
‘You better be,’ Katie muttered. ‘If you get yourself hurt, Frenchie won’t get the chance to set you alight, I’ll get you first.’
‘I think Fleur will probably resent you stepping in line ahead of her.’ Harry tried to grin, but the blue umbrellas over Katie’s head sapped the cheer from him. ‘She’ll set you alight too.’
‘Okay.’ Katie dropped her sandwich. ‘What’s wrong with you and her?’
Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘What?’
‘The moment I mentioned her, you went all miserable.’ She brushed crumbs off her hands. ‘So what’s wrong? I’m your best friend, Harry, you can talk about it with me. You can’t just deal with it all by yourself. That’s not going to work.’
He sighed. ‘I suppose.’
Katie slid her hand across the table and gave his fingers a squeeze. ‘And?’
‘I saw her with another guy—’
‘She what!?’ Katie clapped her hands over her mouth. ‘Sorry. I was just surprised. You two seemed happy.’
Harry shrugged. ‘They were just talking and smiling, nothing bad.’
She chewed her lip and picked at the crust of her sandwich. ‘Well, don’t go and start a fight over it, and don’t do anything stupid. Because if it’s really nothing, then you’ll only create a problem.’ Katie’s lip trembled as she smiled. ‘And, most importantly, if Roger Davies asks you to the Yule Ball before you’ve had a chance to talk things out with Frenchie, don’t say yes.’
Harry snorted and rolled his eyes. ‘Roger Davies isn’t my type.’
Hedwig fluttered down between their plates, stealing the remaining part of Harry’s sandwich.
‘Hey!’ He reached out to retrieve his meal.
Hedwig hissed and started pulling it apart with her beak.
‘She’s mad at you,’ Katie said.
‘I left her in the Owlery because she can’t find where I’m currently living,’ he said. ‘She appears to have taken it on herself to find me.’
‘And your sandwich.’
‘And my sandwich.’
Hedwig finished Harry’s sandwich in a few, swift beakfuls and hopped toward Katie’s. She stuffed hers into her mouth with a triumphant, if muffled, cry. Hedwig hooted, hopping back across to peck at Harry’s fingers.
‘I shall have to take her back with me,’ he said, wincing as Hedwig’s beak took a piece out of his knuckle.
Katie laughed and eyed his ravaged hands. ‘She might take a whole finger next time if you don’t.’
‘Sorry, Katie.’ Her mum squeezed between two tables to take their plates. ‘It’s becoming really busy and I need your help.’
‘I guess I’d better get back out there, then.’ Katie sighed and stood up. ‘Sorry, Harry.’
‘Don’t worry.’ He slid out of his chair. ‘I’ve got a few books about family history to find.’
Katie’s mother turned away, twisting between chairs and tables, followed by her floating pad and quill.
‘Until next time—’
Katie threw her arms ‘round him and pulled him into a tight, warm hug. A pleasant scent of broom polish and coffee reached Harry’s nose.
‘You’re a lot shorter than me now.’ He patted the top of her head where it tucked under his chin.
‘Hush,’ Katie murmured. ‘I still remember when you were a midget back in first year, all skinny and tiny.’ She tightened her grip on him. ‘Don’t mess things up with Frenchie over nothing, Harry, but if she’s too stupid to realise how great you are and is sneaking about behind your back with some other guy, then ditch her and find yourself someone better.’
There’s nobody else. A parade of girls flooded past the eye of Harry’s mind; they faded away from Fleur’s small, warm smile and her bright blue eyes like shadows before the sun. She’s my only perfect wish.
‘I won’t lose her.’ Harry eased himself out of Katie’s hug.
I mustn’t. A cage of thorns clamped around his heart. I can’t.
Katie’s mother watched them with soft eyes from across the café and Katie flushed when she followed his gaze across.
‘I’m sorry if she gets the wrong idea,’ Katie whispered.
‘Don’t be. Can’t be any worse than the Daily Prophet.’
She laughed. ‘You don’t know my mum very well.’ Her face fell. ‘Stay safe, Harry. Please.’
Hedwig fluttered to Harry’s shoulder and nibbled at his ear. He took a deep breath, glanced across at the blue umbrellas, then apparated back to the Meadow with a soft snap.