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A faint square of stone gleamed in the flickering purple flame of Harry’s hovering runes. Shadows fluttered along the bookshelves, pooling in the corners of the study.
He watched the symbol of the hallows burn in the air before the empty wall above the door, then swiped his hand through them, scattering purple flame and showering the floor in violet sparks. ‘What do I do, Salazar?’ His voice shrank to a whisper. ‘What if — what if she changes her mind and leaves? What if it’s just me again?’
Silence closed over him like thick, cold fog.
Gabby. Harry snatched the cloak off the chair. Gabby said to come talk to her. She’ll know better than anyone if Fleur would change her mind or not. And Fleur said to show her the cloak.
He pictured the turret-top. It’s too far to apparate. I need Fleur’s portkey.
Harry drummed his fingers on the desk and watched the faint glimmer of the time-turner. ‘I’ll have to go visit Fleur at work.’ His stomach knotted, churned and thrashed, and his heart clamped up in the base of his throat.
And what will I see this time? An embrace? A kiss? He wiped his palms dry on his thighs and took a long, deep breath. Just tell her you’re coming and you’ll see nothing. His fingers crept to the acorn dangling on its silver chain and his heart sank. But I’d want to know sooner. It might hurt less.
He pictured the red umbrellas and stepped forward past the board toward the scatter of sun-drenched tables. Katie’s mother caught his eye and poked Katie on the shoulder. She spun, her eyes went wide as galleons, and she darted ’round the counter, scattering cutlery over the floor.
A little warmth spread through Harry as she caught him in a tight hug. ‘You’re probably the worst waitress that has ever waitressed.’
‘That’s what mum tells me!’ Katie beamed. ‘Did you come to surprise me?’
His gaze slipped across to the blue umbrellas. ‘Not just you.’
Her face fell. ‘Are you still worried?’
Harry plastered a bright smile on his face. ‘I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.’
‘Uh huh.’ She shoved him down into a seat. ‘Frenchie won’t be there for another few minutes. She turns up like clockwork.’
‘Been watching her?’ Harry’s heart hovered in his throat. ‘What did you see?’
Katie smoothed her top down. ‘Well. I mean—’
‘Just tell me.’ He released a long breath. ‘I’d rather just hear it, you know.’
She studied her fingernails. ‘She comes for lunch at the same time and she usually just eats cake, which is weird, and I have no idea how she keeps looking so good when she eats that much cake, but I can’t exactly go ask her—’
‘Right. Sorry.’ She glanced up at the blue umbrellas. ‘Okay, so, before I say anything. I haven’t seen a single thing that looks bad, like nothing.’
Harry’s heart twisted beneath his ribs. ‘But you have seen something.’ His voice trembled. ‘You wouldn’t be trying so hard to avoid saying anything if you’d not.’
‘That cursebreaker is there a lot,’ Katie blurted. ‘But they really do just chat, Harry.’
But she doesn’t chat with other guys. A flash of the photo of Gabby and Fleur and all the trinkets on her bookshelves flitted through his thoughts and a cold, sick feeling tore through him. She never has. Except for me.
Katie’s eyes flicked past his shoulder, and she twisted ’round, pointing at the counter. ‘Want some food? A drink? On the house, or, well, probably on me, because mum doesn’t really give discounts. Business isn’t great these days.’
Harry caught the little gleam of worry in her eye and glanced back across the street, glimpsing silver hair drifting through the shadows beneath the blue umbrellas.
‘Don’t do anything stupid, Harry,’ Katie whispered. ‘You don’t want to ruin something good over a misunderstanding.’
‘I need to talk to her anyway.’ He swung himself out of his seat. ‘If I come back in a few minutes in a really bad mood, then I might need a drink. I assume you have a stash of Firewhiskey?’
A faint smile passed across Katie’s face. ‘Deal. If it all goes wrong, you come back here and I’ll find us some Firewhiskey.’
He mussed her hair. ‘Sounds good.’
‘Oi.’ Katie shook her hair out. ‘Just because it’s not silver and doesn’t look like I spent an hour carefully washing and brushing it, doesn’t mean you can ruin it.’
Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath. ‘Hopefully, I won’t see you for a couple of days.’
She stuck her tongue out at him. ‘You can come back afterward, it’s not like there’s anyone here to wait on.’
‘I have to go sort some stuff.’ Harry reopened his eyes. ‘See you later.’
Katie gave him a small wave, but he felt her eyes on him all the way across to the blue umbrellas.
‘Fleur.’ He pulled the chair out. ‘Slightly different company at lunch to your usual boy, I’m afraid.’
Her eyes darkened to midnight blue. ‘How is she?’
Harry blinked. ‘How is…?’
Fleur pointed one slim finger across at the red umbrellas. ‘You know who.’
‘Voldemort?’ A brief laugh burst through Harry’s lips. ‘I assume he’s scheming some kind of convoluted death trap for me. He usually is.’
Pitch black irises pierced through him. ‘Katie. Katie Bell. The cute girl you were with before me. The girl you were chatting to just now. The girl who I’d have every right to be far more worried about than you have to be about anyone. Tu as de la chance que je te connais, mon Cœur!’ Fleur took a deep breath. ‘If I didn’t know you, mon Cœur, I wouldn’t waste any time waiting around to watch you betray me.’
A cold fist clamped around his heart. ‘I wouldn’t. I would never.’
The dark drained from Fleur’s eyes and her expression softened. ‘I know. Because you’re different.’ She reached out and touched a warm fingertip to his temple. ‘Up here.’ Her hand slipped into his hair and dragged him forward. ‘But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt to see the suspicion in your eyes.’ She pulled his lips down to hers and placed a small glass bead on the table. ‘Now. Go talk to my little sister.’
‘Mon Cœur.’ She smiled and poked the bead across. ‘I know Gabby. And I know you. Go talk to her. I hope it helps.’
The knot in his stomach loosened. ‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered, taking the bead.
‘I know.’ Fleur’s lips quirked. ‘And you will be making it up to me.’ She pointed her cake fork at the bead. ‘Say hi to Gabby for me… Aimée.’
The world jolted forward and Harry staggered across the turret top to lean on the crenulations and stare out at the mountains.
The door creaked. ‘Fleur?’ Gabby’s footsteps paused. ‘Harry.’
He turned ‘round. ‘I’ve come to elope with you.’
Her grey eyes darkened. ‘No you haven’t. You’re here because you’ve upset my sister and you don’t know how to stop doing it.’
Harry winced from the twist of guilt beneath his ribs. ‘I also brought you a legendary magical artefact to listen to, but yes…’ He sighed. ‘I know she hasn’t done anything. I don’t even really think she would—’
‘But you can’t stop thinking about it, can you.’ Gabby’s eyes shifted to storm-grey. ‘So you’re hoping I’m going to tell you there’s nothing to worry about.’
‘Yes,’ he admitted.
‘And when you leave, you’ll go right back to worrying.’ Gabby stalked across the turret top. ‘I am going to tell you a lot of things Fleur made me promise not to, Harry. Some of them I hope you already know. And if that doesn’t help, then nothing will, and unless you change, you’ll lose her.’
Harry swallowed hard. ‘Okay.’
Gabby stabbed a finger over the wall down at the buildings below. ‘Fleur hates this place. Really hates it. When I leave, I doubt she’ll ever return again. She’s got all the best parts of Maman and Papa and never really struggled with anything at all until she began to dream of the sort of perfect romance everyone craves at some point or another. Maman’s books, the whole L’Amour d’Aimée series, were bought for Fleur when she was younger, but, well, the perfect romance didn’t come easily. People can be shallow, friends and boys alike, and Fleur hates how selfish and fickle they are.’
‘She said it isn’t meant to come easily.’
‘Fleur measures the value of things by how much they hurt to have,’ Gabby murmured. ‘She expects to find things easy, but only really loves the things that aren’t. If she wasn’t convinced you loved her as completely and utterly as she expects, she’d never have spoken to you. She nearly didn’t.’
‘During the tournament.’
‘Oui.’ Gabby glowered at him. ‘You misunderstood and lashed out at her. She assumed that meant she wouldn’t be able to get what she wanted no matter how much pain she spent to buy it.’
‘But she realised.’
Gabby scoffed. ‘She realised and refused to do anything. I made her write to you. If I hadn’t convinced her it was worth trying…’
‘Thank you,’ he whispered.
‘Well, at least you said thank you.’ Gabby flicked chips of stone off the edge. ‘Fleur knows I know she’s grateful, but she’s not said it, and she didn’t even tell me you’d come to see her and things had worked out.’
‘But if she reached out to me.’ The words bubbled up from the cold well of fear in Harry’s breast. ‘She could do it again. I know she’s been talking to another guy. A lot.’
‘Don’t be stupid.’ Gabby shot him an ink-black glare. ‘You are the only boy I’ve ever seen keep her interest for more than a few conversations, let alone six months, and even if she’s stumbled across another one that doesn’t irritate her, Fleur will never trade away her perfect romance.’ Gabby’s eyes softened back to grey and she screwed up her face. ‘Everything Fleur finds easy, she doesn’t value very highly, simply because it’s easy. You are the one thing she thought it was impossible for her to have after she craved it. There’s no comparison. If you don’t ruin things, she will never leave you.’
And she knows I’d never leave her, she said she understands. The churning eased in Harry’s gut, but a fresh knot tightened there. But if it has to hurt for her value it, will she keep finding guys like this curse-breaker to make sure it does?
‘Thank you,’ he muttered.
Gabby hummed. ‘I have already scolded Fleur for making me play peacemaker between her and you as well as her and our parents. Now I have scolded you, too. That is everyone.’
‘Want to have a crack at this?’ Harry held the cloak out. ‘Just listen. I wasn’t joking when I said it was legendary.’
She gathered the cloak into her arms and closed her eyes. ‘It’s—’ a gasp tore from her lips ‘—incroyable…’ She screwed her face up and clutched the cloak to her chest. ‘I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s that niggling fear of eyes in the dark, the unsettling little feel of the creeping count of birthdays, the helplessness of watching the sun set on a perfect day, inevitable, intangible, inescapable, all woven with magic into the threads of this cloak.’
‘It’s a Deathly Hallow,’ Harry murmured. ‘I’m descended from the Peverells. Your Papa can probably tell you all about it.’
‘Merde,’ Gabby whispered, opening her eyes. ‘I don’t know how they made this, it’s not like anything else. There’s no structure… It’s just feeling and magic, as one, no threads of different enchantments at all.’ She passed it back to him. ‘I’m not even sure this cloak is enchanted silk, it might just be magic.’
‘Do you know about the other two Hallows?’
‘I do.’ She flicked her hair back over her shoulder. ‘And if they’re anything like this, I can only imagine how potent all of them are together. Are they different facets of death, perhaps, so having all three makes you master of it as a whole?’
‘Your guess is going to be better than mine.’
Gabby pointed a finger at the cloak. ‘That is not an enchanted garment; it’s not an object with magic imbued into it at all, it’s — it’s like listening to the magic of a person, like when you used legilimency to show me how you felt or when I listened to your wand.’ She frowned and poked at the stonework. ‘It’s almost a manifestation of death, created by all the little feelings we have about the idea of dying, and I can’t begin to tell what it really does.’
Makes sense. Nothing stops death in the end. Not even horcruxes.
‘I’m going to head back,’ he murmured. ‘Thank you, Gabby.’
A faint smile passed over her lips. ‘Be perfect for her Harry. I won’t forgive you for being anything less.’
Neither will I. He closed his eyes and apparated back into the kitchen, side-stepping Fleur and a chocolate-smeared cake knife.
‘Did it help?’ She licked chocolate from the gleaming steel with the tip of her tongue. ‘How was Gabby?’
Harry let himself feel the fear, the twisting, thrashing coil, then smothered it. ‘It helped.’ He offered her a faint, wry smile. ‘The only boy who’s going to ruin this is me.’
Fleur placed the knife on the counter and pressed her lips to his cheek, resting her forehead on his and her arms on his shoulders. The soft wash of her sigh fluttered past his neck. ‘I missed this. You kept leaving or finding things to do.’
Guilt clenched its fist about Harry’s heart. ‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered, wrapping his arms ‘round Fleur and drawing her tight against him. ‘I hope it didn’t hurt too much.’
‘It hurt.’ She leant her head back, her bright blue eyes staring up at him through her dark lashes. ‘It hurt just enough to make this moment perfect.’
He cradled her warmth against him, breathing in her sweet, sharp scent of burnt holly, marzipan, cherry-perfume and rich, dark chocolate. ‘I love you.’ Harry tightened his arms around her and swallowed a hot, thick knot of feeling. ‘I love you more than anything.’
Fleur’s lips brushed his cheek. ‘I know, mon Cœur, I know.’ Her fingers curled into his back and slid down to his waist. ‘You will make it up to me later, non? Give me anything I ask for?’
A little heat trickled south and his breath caught. ‘Whatever and wherever you like.’
A soft laugh left her lips and Fleur drew back, picking up two steaming mugs. ‘But not until after your godfather has gone. He’s just finishing up in the shower, I think he prefers the bathroom here to where he was before.’
Harry glanced at the mugs. Simple tea sat beside cream-topped, sugar-sprinkled hot chocolate. ‘Perhaps this would be a good moment to finish the protections for our home.’
‘Something sanguine?’ She lifted her hot chocolate to her lips and took a small sip.
‘Yes.’ Harry dragged his eyes away from Fleur’s mouth.
‘Will you need some of my blood?’ Fleur asked.
‘Yes,’ Harry admitted. ‘I’ll need blood from you and Sirius.’
Fleur placed the mugs down on the table and reached for the knife. Holding it with two fingers she dipped her thumb upon the gleaming, silver tip. A bright crimson bubble welled up on its ball.
‘Thanks.’ Harry flicked his wand out to levitate the drop of blood over the table, his eyes on her thumb. ‘Is it okay?’
‘It’s just a pinprick.’ Fleur sucked the red away, grimaced and took a long drink of hot chocolate. Cream clung to her nose as she wiped the knife clean.
‘Do you want me to heal it?’ Harry reached out and swiped the cream from her nose with a finger, licking it off.
Fleur smiled and tossed her hair over her shoulder. ‘I am quite good with healing spells, Harry, even if I do not heal like you do.’
‘Nobody naturally heals like me.’ Harry shrugged. ‘That door lock scratched me pretty badly and it healed up after a minute or two.’
‘I am very envious.’ Fleur sighed. ‘It looks very useful.’
‘You can wordlessly and wandlessly conjure fire hot enough to melt people,’ Harry said. ‘No ritual will gift me that.’
‘I had a read through that book.’ She pointed in the direction of the tome he’d taken from Salazar’s library. ‘None of the rituals within seem prudent considering my nature.’
‘I’m not sure how your nature would mix with the new imbuements.’ A grimace slipped onto Harry’s face. ‘And you don’t need to do them anyway. You’re perfect.’ He leant across and pressed a soft kiss to her lips. ‘As always.’
‘Maybe when we have more time we’ll be able to create some of our own and I’ll find a way to safely replicate that ability of yours for myself.’
‘It’ll be fun.’ Harry grinned. ‘Although we’ll have to be careful. Don’t want to mess up and lose my bird-girl.’
‘You have to be careful, too.’ Fleur cocked her head at the sound of thudding upon the stairs. ‘I saw your notes in the margins. You designed the next one yourself.’
‘Yes. It’ll be okay, though, especially when I have you around to nurse me back to health.’
Salazar would be proud. He crushed the hollow claws before they could sink too deep. Salazar will be proud. I will see him again.
‘I won’t be gentle on you just because you thought it was a good idea to empty your veins for a fractional advantage over others,’ Fleur jibed.
‘A fractional reduction of my disadvantage you mean,’ Harry murmured. ‘Voldemort’s likely done every ritual imaginable on himself and even though his old body was destroyed, it’s likely many are still effective.’
‘How many more do you intend to do?’ Fleur’s blue eyes darkened a few hues. ‘I know you enjoy creating them, but they’re dangerous.’
‘Only two for now.’ Harry mentally scrapped plans for a third, risky ritual as her eyes shifted toward deep azure. ‘One will be to try and even things between Voldemort and myself. As it stands, I can match him for speed and likely for power, but I tire much faster than he does. This ritual will help me recover quicker and ensure I last a bit longer in a prolonged duel.’
‘And the other?’
‘A precaution.’ Harry gave her a small smile. ‘Given that the potions master at Hogwarts is likely a Death Eater, or, at the very least, influenced by them, it feels prudent to try to create a ritualistic immunity to most poisons.’
‘Is that actually possible?’
‘I believe so. I can imbue my body to magically resist poisons the same way you’d enchant a cup, it just comes with a higher price. That and I need to buy a few things from Diagon Alley.’
‘I suppose that will at least get you out of the house.’ Fleur wrinkled her nose at him. ‘You spend all your time going over books. Either new ones for your NEWTS or old ones to find the Resurrection Stone.’
‘And horcrux hunting,’ he added.
Fleur tossed her hair over her shoulder. ‘I’m the one going to be doing all the hunting. Days and days of reading through Gringotts’s files.’
Sirius stumbled into the kitchen with a loud yawn. ‘Harry!’ A broad, mischievous grin spread over his face. ‘I bring good news.’
‘Oh?’ He leant back on the kitchen side. ‘That sounds highly suspicious. Is the Order up to something?’
A small smirk crooked the corners of Fleur’s lips. ‘Scrambling to find their missing hero, no doubt.’
‘Nothing so boring. Harry, you have a chance at the honour of being named the new head of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.’
‘I do?’ Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘I’m waiting for the catch.’
‘You do.’ A few more of Sirius’s teeth became visible as his smile spread. ‘My dearest mother has decided that there’s nobody more suitable to carry on our family name, though she refuses to tell me why.’
‘Is there some kind of dark magic adoption ritual I have to undertake to join the pureblood elite?’ Harry quipped. ‘A drop of blood, a wave of a wand, a nice potion, and suddenly I have three extra names stolen from unsuspecting constellations, a body to die for, and talk like Malfoy.’
Fleur laughed. ‘What’s the actual catch?’
Sirius snickered. ‘To be the head of my illustrious family, you must be able to produce pure-blooded children directly descended from the Black family tree. You are related through Dorea Potter, but not directly enough.’
‘So I can’t become the head of your family?’ Harry frowned. ‘That’s not a catch, that just doesn’t work.’
Fleur folded her arms and levelled darkening irises upon Sirius. ‘That is not what he means.’
‘You have to marry a daughter of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black,’ Sirius crowed. ‘And there’s only one available…’ His humour slipped. ‘Not that she’d be keen on doing anything but hunting Death Eaters right now.’
Nymphadora. Tonks. Little Nym. Harry dragged all the names together into a single woman. Part of the Order, Sirius’s cousin and an auror good at finding people.
‘I thought you were the last member of your family?’ He forced a light smile. ‘If you’re about to tell me you’re secretly a girl and have been under a spell all this time, I’m not going to believe you, and I’m certainly not going to be flattered by your interest.’
‘No!’ A scandalised expression crossed Sirius’ face. ‘I’m far too rugged and handsome to be a girl.’
‘So there is a girl who fits the description?’ Fleur’s soft, even tone carried no hint of danger, but her eyes were black as pitch. ‘Is she particularly devoted to continuing your family?’
Sirius’s smile vanished. ‘She’s a disowned daughter, whom my mother will graciously allow to return to the family tree because her skill as a witch is evidence that the Black blood has overcome any muggle taint. I can’t imagine she’d seriously consider it for even a second.’ He chuckled. ‘No offence, Harry.’
‘Well, Harry?’ Fleur turned a small, gentle smile on him. ‘Are you interested?’
Harry took one look at her ink-dark irises and the small tufts of white upon her forearms. ‘Nope. I choose life.’
‘I shall convey your refusal, and my I told you so to my mother.’ Sirius laughed. ‘It will, of course, make no difference to her plans.’
Harry sighed. ‘Wonderful.’
‘If you see Kreacher nearby, don’t sign anything until you’ve read it, even if you think you’ve already read it,’ Sirius added.
‘Isn’t he your house elf?’
‘He’s much more fond of my mother than he is of me. I was cruel to him as a child,’ Sirius confessed. ‘He sees me as a traitor to the family he’s devoted his life to.’
‘Can’t you just order him to stay within the house?’ Harry asked.
‘Well I could.’ Sirius grinned. ‘But it’s far funnier not to.’
‘I’m glad you find it funny.’ Harry grimaced. ‘Does, er, Nymphadora know about this?’
‘Oh yes.’ Sirius’s grin broadened. ‘My mother’s portrait went into great depth and detail in explaining it to her before the last meeting of the Order, including a solid ten minutes on how best to ensure she gets swiftly pregnant to ensure there’s an heir for the family. I’ve never seen Nym so flustered. I would’ve stepped in, but I think it might’ve actually helped her stop thinking about her parents.’
‘I think that I’d quite like to meet your mother,’ Fleur said.
‘The portrait’s all but indestructible. I’ve tried everything short of Fiendfyre, and I would’ve tried that if it wouldn’t also destroy the wards on the house and bring the whole place down.’ A darkness flitted through his eyes. ‘But when we no longer need that house, I’m going to raze it to the ground and spit on the ashes.’
Fleur glanced at the clock, then pressed her lips to Harry’s cheek. ‘I must go. Be careful with your blood magic, mon Cœur.’ She flickered away.
Off to see her cursebreaker. Harry stamped out the thought and smothered the scattered images of Fleur, the shadows, and the bronze ring burning on her finger like a circle of flame. She won’t leave you. Gabby knows best.
‘So how’s everything going?’ Sirius asked. ‘You still need to find some furniture.’
‘Fleur’s been choosing some, I think,’ Harry replied. ‘I’ll just arrange it when she’s ready.’
‘Lily never let James arrange anything,’ Sirius murmured. ‘She had this thing about having everything in parallel lines or at perpendicular angles. We used to move things by a few inches just to tease her.’
‘I didn’t inherit that.’ He cocked his head. ‘Although Petunia might have had the same thing, thinking about it.’
‘Never liked her.’ Sirius’s face twisted like he’d bitten into something sour. ‘And speaking of people I dislike, Dumbledore’s still off doing who knows what. Moody and Tonks are in charge of finding you, but they’ve not even come close.’
‘And they won’t, not unless Moody’s creepy eye can see through the Fidelius Charm.’
‘It’s not foolproof, Harry. You should know that better than anyone.’
‘I know,’ Harry said. ‘It’s not the only ward placed over the Meadow. I’m going to add some more in a moment now I’ve got you here.’
‘Anti-apparition wards don’t keep out dark wizards for very long,’ Sirius said.
‘The Unyielding Shield Charm will. Fleur’s more than just a pretty face.’
Much more. His heart lurched. So much more.
‘That can be broken too,’ Sirius replied.
‘Well, if they get through all those, then they’ll still have to break the one I’m about to make.’ He crooked a finger at Sirius. ‘In fact, let’s do it now.’
‘What sort of ward is it?’ Sirius asked. ‘I don’t know much about them, only that they’re never as impregnable as the casters claim.’
‘The sort that requires blood.’ Harry flicked his wand into his palm and strode through the hall and out onto the path.
‘Blood wards,’ Sirius murmured. ‘Not the sort of magic most witches and wizards would choose.’
‘Blood is just a medium. And it’s a good one.’ Harry drew burning, purple runes along the walls and windows of the Meadow, leaving them inscribed in glowing, spiralling patterns across the stone. ‘In this case, it’s also the key, but it’s not like I’m sacrificing virgins every other Thursday, Sirius.’
Sirius snorted, then a sly smile crept across his face. ‘Do you even have a virgin to sacrifice, Harry? You and Fleur have been alone here together for a while…’
Heat crept onto Harry’s face, but a tight, hot sense of pride coiled ’round his heart. ‘I’m not going to dignify that with a response.’
‘But if you did, you’d have a great big smile on your face.’ Sirius chuckled. ‘Lily would tan my hide for not making sure you were a bit older before some girl got her claws into you.’ He shrugged. ‘Actually, she’d probably be too busy whaling on James for whatever stupid celebration he’d be pulling right now.’
‘I killed someone when I was eleven.’ Harry finished the last few runes and turned to Sirius. ‘With my bare hands. I don’t think clinging to chastity for a few more months would change anything.’ He laughed. ‘Well, it might’ve made Fleur cranky.’ A small smile crept onto his lips. ‘Or pouty. She’s not a very patient girl.’
Sirius chortled. ‘That really doesn’t sound like the most terrible thing, Harry. Not to be weird, but that girl is stunning.’
‘I know,’ he whispered. ‘She’s perfect.’
A faint frown creased Sirius’s brow. ‘So, this blood magic ward?’
‘To enter requires blood the ward recognises.’ Harry summoned the drop of Fleur’s blood. ‘And it only recognises those that use their blood to pledge themselves to the terms of the ward, or the three of us, who will be exempt.’
‘What are the terms?’ Sirius bit the side of his thumb and let the blood run down the side of his hand.
‘To attempt no harm on anyone within the wards.’
A nice big loophole to hide any potential flaws. He smothered a smirk. Voldemort can come and visit us for lunch every day, but if he doesn’t break the blood wards, then the only thing he can do any damage to is Fleur’s dessert stash.
Harry drew a drop of blood from Sirius’s hand, then opened his palm with a flick of his wand.
Sirius winced. ‘So I have to lose blood every time I visit?’
‘No. The ward will know when you try to cross whether your blood is allowed entry or not.’ Harry guided the drops of blood onto the runes over the mantle of the door, closing his eyes to avoid being temporarily blinded when they flashed a brilliant, bright white.
His godfather yelped with surprise and swore, squinting at Harry. ‘Couldn’t have warned me?’
‘Consider it payback for bringing up your mother’s plan in front of Fleur,’ Harry retorted.
‘I guess that’s fair.’ Sirius grinned. ‘She did look pretty pissed. Did not realise her eyes change colour like that when she gets mad.’
‘Well. They do.’ A faint smile crossed Harry’s lips. ‘A veela thing.’
‘It’s done?’ Sirius pulled out his wand and healed his hand, then turned to Harry. ‘Huh. Beat me to it.’
Harry glanced down at the fading pink line on his palm. ‘How’s the Order faring?’
‘The Order’s torn between hunting for you and trying to help the Ministry counter the Death Eaters. Voldemort has many supporters, though most of the more dangerous ones were fortunately expelled from the Ministry after that debacle with Rita Skeeter. But it’s chaos.’
‘The Ministry is trying to give the impression they’re winning,’ Harry said. ‘I’m not sure how true that really is.’
Sirius studied his wand. ‘Tonks says they are, but the cost is much higher than the papers know. Voldemort’s learnt from his mistakes, instead of fear-mongering to excess like last time, he’s been directing his Death Eaters at important targets and throwing his other supporters at the hit wizards to wear them down. The Ministry’s suffering, but holding out, and in a war of attrition the larger party wins.’
‘He can’t have that many supporters.’
‘You’d be surprised,’ Sirius muttered. ‘The Ministry has been influenced by his supporters, those like Lucius Malfoy, since he fell from power. They have constantly ensured groups like werewolves, vampires, and giants are oppressed and embittered.’
‘And once they have turned them against the Ministry, they offer them emancipation on behalf of Voldemort,’ Harry said.
‘There are no flocks in Britain, vampires have never settled here in numbers, but the werewolf packs are united under Fenrir Greyback, and he follows Voldemort to take revenge against all wizards and witches who have oppressed them.’ Sirius rubbed his eyes and released a long sigh. ‘And that says nothing of those he has swayed to his side in the hope of power; many minor pure-blood families hope for a share of the spoils once the Ministry is toppled.’
‘So what does the Order do?’
‘We pass information to the Ministry,’ Sirius said. ‘Snape tells us what he can and we pass that on to Amelia Bones, then we assist wherever we can. There are relatively few of us, so we’re limited to protecting that which Dumbledore deems most important.’
Harry’s lip curled. ‘His martyr.’
‘Yes.’ Azkaban’s shadow hung under Sirius’s eyes, a furious and feral light gleaming in his grey irises. ‘Do you know what Dumbledore is off doing?’
‘I have my suspicions,’ Harry admitted. ‘There’re a number of objects that are very important to Voldemort, destroying them is crucial, and I suspect Dumbledore is searching for them as we speak.’
‘What else do you know about them?’ Sirius asked. ‘I won’t tell Dumbledore what I know, Harry. That meddling old man has sacrificed his last pawn if I can help it.’
‘They’re called horcruxes. They contain a fragment of Voldemort’s soul, in a way. I believe there were three, but I’ve already destroyed two. Dumbledore is aware of one of those, the diary that possessed Ginny and opened the Chamber of Secrets was a horcrux.’
‘What about the other?’
‘Ravenclaw’s Lost Diadem.’ Harry stifled a shiver. ‘I found it in the Room of Requirement and destroyed it once I realised what it was.’
Although it took far too long for me to realise. A prickle of horror crept down his spine. And I nearly gave it to Fleur.
‘I don’t know anything about the third, but we’re looking for it.’
‘I have no secrets from Fleur,’ Harry said.
Not anymore. A green-eyed girl with silver hair beamed from within her mother’s arms before Harry’s mind’s eye. Well, maybe one secret.
‘Is there anything I can do to help?’ Sirius demanded. ‘I feel useless at Grimmauld Place.’
‘Dumbledore must not know that I am aware of horcruxes,’ Harry warned. ‘Must not.‘
‘That sounds like a no,’ Sirius muttered. ‘I guess I’ll try and distract Tonks. Keep her from sinking into dark places inside her head.’
‘You can keep a careful eye on Dumbledore,’ Harry suggested. ‘If you can learn anything about the inner circle, especially one of them being given something to guard by Voldemort, then that would be very useful.’
‘These horcruxes are the priority, then.’
‘While they exist, Voldemort can’t truly die,’ Harry said. ‘They have to be destroyed and he mustn’t learn what we’re doing until the very end if it can be avoided.’
‘I understand.’ Sirius nodded. ‘I’ll keep an eye open and have a look in the library for anything that might prove useful. There’s plenty in there about all kinds of dark and dangerous magic.’