Towering stacks of paper and crates loomed over Fleur’s desk like the twinned mountains over Beauxbatons’s turrets. Her enchanted quill scratched away beside her and the stack of forms dwindled beneath its determined progress.
Still half an hour before I can leave…
She levitated a wooden torc with bronze studs out of her crate and closed her eyes. A faint warmth lingered in the metal points, the comfort of a blanket trapped behind a bubble of magic. Fleur tossed it back into the crate and left her quill to run through the forms, tugging her list out from beneath the strap of her bra.
Nott. Avery. The Lestranges. The Carrows.
She pulled the notebook out of her desk drawer and drew an H on the front cover with the tip of her wand, it shivered, the ribbon shrank away and it flopped open.
Nott’s the loner. Don’t know much about Avery. The Carrows are a violent pair of siblings with an unconventional relationship. The Lestranges are the Carrows, but brothers, and more dangerous.
‘Fleur!’ Bill’s voice echoed down the hall.
She snapped the book shut, redrew the pattern and slipped her list back into her bra. ‘Bill.’
He strode over waving a small, dark box. ‘I brought you a challenge.’ Bill paused and tugged at the dragon fang dangling from his ear. ‘I was going to make a joke, but thought better of it. However, since you’ve beaten me every time so far, I needed to bring out something a bit trickier.’ He grinned. ‘This time, I’ll win.’
A faint smirk curved Fleur’s lips and she stuck out her hand. ‘I will win. As always.’
Bill placed the box on her palm. ‘It’s inside.’
She pried it open and found a gleaming bronze band upon black velvet. ‘A ring?’ Fleur narrowed her eyes at him.
You’ve been bearable, even enjoyable, company. A tiny flare of heat rose in her chest. Don’t ruin it now.
Bill raised his hands. ‘Remember, I didn’t make the joke—’
‘Wise of you.’
She closed her eyes and held her wand tip to the ring. Threads of magic writhed in an endless circle within the bronze, slithering ‘round like a thousand tiny serpents. Fleur took a deep breath and focused harder. Each thread hummed a little different from the others, together, their buzz rose and fell in a strange, repeating crescendo.
‘Intriguing.’ Fleur opened her eyes and put the ring down on her desk.
‘Any idea what it does?’ Bill edged a little closer.
‘Do you?’ Fleur fixed a pointed stare at the gap between them. ‘I assume you stopping by means I remain qualified to play with these little trinkets?’
‘Unless you’d rather not be?’ Bill frowned. ‘Tell the truth, it doesn’t make much sense for you to be here. You’re way too good to be working here. You could probably have my job if it didn’t require a few years of experience.’
‘My boyfriend.’ Fleur tapped the ring with her wand. ‘So?’
‘Right. Your boyfriend.’ Bill’s eyes lingered on her for a moment, then snapped back to the ring. ‘Sorry, your magic got me for a moment there. I can ignore it if I’m not looking at you, but that feels a bit rude, you know.’ He swept the box off the desk and stuffed it back into his pocket. ‘I’ve no idea what the ring does, by the way. The magic just goes around and around.’
‘It has a song,’ Fleur said. ‘All the little threads that go round buzz and together it makes a pattern.’
‘Well, that’s more than I got.’ Bill shrugged and fingered the dragon fang. ‘Keep it. See if you can figure out anything more. It’s harmless, we got it from an old lady who’d worn it half her life, she even swallowed it as a baby, so it can’t cause any harm.’
Fleur weighed the ring on her palm. ‘I will solve it.’
‘I’ve full faith in you.’ Bill gave her a thumbs up and glanced at the clock. ‘And on that note, I’ve checked up on you, so you might as well head off a few minutes early.’ He waved a hand at her quill. ‘Something tells me that will keep going even if you’re not here.’
Fleur chuckled. ‘Of course.’ She slipped her notebook back into the drawer.
Bill strode toward the stairs, then paused. ‘Oh. Fleur. Before I forget. There’s a “social drinks” thing happening sometime over the next couple of days. Things aren’t looking great, so we decided to get together in case it’s the last chance. You’re more than welcome to come.’
Fleur wrinkled her nose. ‘I’ll think about it.’
‘There’ll be drinking.’ He flashed her a grin. ‘But it’s entirely voluntary for the most part and you can always crash at mine or Bronwyn’s if it gets too late.’
Fleur pursed her lips. ‘I’m sure.’
‘Right.’ Bill spun on his heel. ‘I’m off. Later, Fleur.’
She waited for the sound of his steps to fade, then stuck the bronze ring on her left forefinger, grabbed her wand, and hurried down the stark marble corridor to the apparition point.
Time for home.
She pictured the kitchen of the Meadow and willed herself there.
Harry glanced up from his book on untransfiguration. ‘Fleur.’
She blinked. ‘Not a fun book, mon Cœur?’
The ghost of a smile crossed his lips. ‘Not really, but at least it’s easy.’ His gaze drifted down to her hands. ‘New jewellery?’
‘One of the curse-breakers gave it to me.’
‘I thought they were all tasteless English boys?’ Harry buried his nose back in his book. ‘I hope you checked it for enchantments. Have you tried putting it in the fire and looking for any writing?’
Merde. A lance of fear pierced through her. Of course he reacts like this. Even the faintest hint of doubt and he’ll fear I’m just another false hope.
She pushed his book down with one finger. ‘I saw you in Diagon Alley a couple of days back. With Katie.’
Harry nodded; his smile so bright and false it turned Fleur’s stomach. ‘I stopped by to talk to her while she was on her lunch break. I saw you, too.’
‘And Bill.’ She winced at the darkness that flitted through his eyes, but the smile never faltered. ‘He’s my supervisor.’
His book rose back up. ‘How’s the cake in the other café? I didn’t get a chance to try the cake at Katie’s parents’ place.’
‘It’s not as good as it is in Paris.’ Fleur tugged the book out of his hands and set it down on the kitchen table. She placed her hand down beside his. ‘I told you not to smile at me like that once; it upsets me.’
The bright cheer slid off his face. ‘You’ve said a lot of things to me.’ He leant back in his chair and put his hands in his lap. ‘I remember them all.’
My promise. Her heart sank. How many wishes were ripped away from you to leave you so brittle, mon Cœur?
She sighed and pushed his chair back from the table with her foot, swinging herself into his lap. ‘What would you like me to say, Harry? I spoke to him for less than two minutes and you’re acting like you caught us in bed together.’
He tensed and leant back from her. ‘Will I?’
Heat bubbled up in Fleur’s bones, little white feathers bursting through her skin and her face shifting as the liquid warmth shivered through her chin. She took a deep breath and stopped her change. ‘Non. You are being an idiot. And you are lucky that I know why you’re being an idiot.’
Harry turned away to stare out over the meadows. ‘I can’t help it. The moment I saw you… I can’t stop thinking about it.’
And now you’re waiting for it, because it’s always happened before. She caught her pitch-black eyes in the glass and sighed. Time will prove his doubts wrong.
She slipped the ring off her finger and held it up. ‘This — this is a puzzle, nothing more. He is… well, I don’t dislike him, but he’s not even a friend.’ Fleur forced the heat to fade. ‘I love you, Harry.’
‘For now.’ Harry avoided meeting her eyes in the window. ‘But you’re you. One day, someone else will come, and if you wanted them, you’d just have to smile and you could walk away.’
‘Walk away with who? Some stupid, shallow boy who looks at me and only wonders what I look like on my back with my legs spread?’ Fleur’s lip curled and she slipped the ring back onto her finger. ‘I’m not stupid, mon Cœur. I know how devoted you are to reaching our sunset together. I’m not trading that. I’m not trading that for anything.’
The shadow faded from his eyes. ‘Sorry.’
‘You should be sorry.’ She sighed and rested her head on his chest. ‘It’s not like you were sitting alone and pining for me, Harry…’
‘Katie.’ A faint smile quirked his lips. ‘Of course.’ The dark, desperate gleam flitted through his eyes. ‘Would you like me to swear a vow? I will if you want.’
Fleur twitched and slid herself out of his lap. ‘I don’t want you to swear a vow because you’re afraid.’ She took a deep breath and held his eyes. ‘You will learn to trust me.’
‘I don’t dis-trust you—’
‘Yes you do.’ She stifled the wash of heat through her bones before the feathers could slip from beneath her skin. ‘And I don’t like it. If I didn’t understand why you were being like this, I would be far less forgiving, mon Cœur.’
Panic flashed through his eyes. ‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered. ‘I don’t – I just…’
Fleur’s heart twisted. ‘Let’s not talk about this anymore. I will give the ring back and when we are done with Voldemort, I am leaving Gringotts anyway. You will have all the time you need to realise that no matter what happened to all the other things you wished for, I am going nowhere.’ She cupped his cheek and let the words spill out. ‘Love’s not meant to be endless bliss; it’s meant to hurt. If it didn’t hurt to hold onto it, it wouldn’t be so satisfying to have.’
I’ll give the ring back when I’ve figured it out. She twisted the slim band of bronze around her forefinger while Harry stared at it like it’d caught flame. It’s not like he doesn’t spend all his time with a girl he used to date, then laugh when I get jealous.
‘I need to get some more books from the Chamber of Secrets.’ Harry pushed himself to his feet. ‘I want to try and pin down what happened to the Peverells. I’ve stolen the spare bedroom for it.’
Fleur cocked her head. ‘Show me? Before you go?’
He vanished with a soft snap and the floorboards creaked above her head.
Not together? She pursed her lips, apparating herself upstairs.
A soft purple glow bathed a swirling storm of parchment covered in Harry’s cramped handwriting. Grindelwald’s mark burnt upon the ceiling in violet flame, lines of indigo fire spreading from it like the roots of a tree, linking the pages stuck to the walls.
Fleur wrinkled her nose. ‘I’m not sure I like your redecorations, mon Cœur.’
Harry flicked his wand and the whirling pages rustled back into stacks upon the wall and ceiling. ‘I’ve got everything I could ever need about the Peverell family up until about 1300 AD on the ceiling, after that the family kind of breaks up into three parts.’ He traced his wand tip down one of the purple lines. ‘This is the part of the family that ends up becoming part of the Potter family. My theory is one of the other branches had the stone.’
‘It won’t be easy to find.’ She traced her fingertips along where one purple line split into seven, then came to an abrupt end at a single stack of paper. ‘Any one of them could have ended up with it and that’s if it even remained with the family. Someone might’ve stolen it.’
He grimaced. ‘The wand was stolen before the split. Godric Gryffindor died trying to retrieve it, according to Salazar. I’ve no idea where it went or who took it, but I don’t care. I’m not after all three, I just want the stone.’
Fleur scanned the pages running along the wall beside the window. ‘This is the line that remained Peverell after the three-way split?’
‘Two daughters and one son.’ Harry nodded and pointed his wand at the far stack of paper. ‘And the son’s descendants got wiped out during the Wars of the Roses. They changed sides to play kingmaker with the Earl of Warwick once too often.’
He isn’t going to give up. She pursed her lips. He believes the stone exists and until it’s proved beyond all doubt that it doesn’t, he won’t give up. Just like I wouldn’t.
‘Would you like me to have a look at the Gringotts records?’ Fleur tossed her hair back over her shoulder. ‘I have more than enough time to go hunting for what happened to the things owned by various Peverells after they died.’
‘You will?’ Harry’s expression brightened.
‘I will.’ She raised a finger. ‘But only if you can prove we’re not just chasing a silly myth. I don’t want to waste our time together, mon Cœur. Just like there’s no sense hating all the stupid, shallow people who’ll try to drag us down, there’s no point obsessing over impossible things.’
Fleur frowned. ‘That’s not proof.’
Harry’s brow creased, and he wavered and reappeared with a soft double-snap. A silver cloak pooled in his hands. ‘I thought it was an old family heirloom, and it is, but…’ He held it up in the purple light. ‘It’s also the cloak.’
The faded symbol Grindelwald had left across Europe gleamed on the cloak.
Fleur’s breath caught and she pulled her wand out. ‘May I?’
A faint smile passed across his face. ‘Don’t take it apart.’
‘I won’t.’ She touched the tip of her wand to the cloak and closed her eyes.
An endless void danced at the edge of her senses like the northern lights in the sky. Her magic bled into it and vanished like a candle dropped into a well.
‘I can’t make any sense of it,’ Harry said.
Fleur opened her eyes. ‘Me neither.’ She tucked her wand away. ‘Perhaps we can let Gabby take a look at it?’
Harry froze. ‘Yes. I’ll take it to her. I think I want to talk to her anyway.’
‘Another private visit to see my little sister, mon Cœur?’ She arched an eyebrow at him and rested her arms on his shoulders, brushing her nose against his. ‘It sounds like it’s me who ought to be worrying.’
‘I’ll put this back where it’s safe and get my books.’ Harry vanished with a quiet snap.
No kiss. A soft little ache twisted between her ribs, a sweet sharpness beneath her skin. Well, you’ll realise soon, and how much it hurts now will just make things taste all the sweeter later.