Books and files stamped in red-inked Gobbledegook sprawled across three desks. A score of white-feathered quills scribbled and scratched, sketching lines between paragraphs of her looped shorthand.
‘Bloody hell.’ Bill stuck his head around the tower of empty crates. ‘At this rate, you’re going to end up replacing my entire department.’
Fleur’s lips quirked. ‘I will not miss them.’
He grimaced. ‘Yeah. I had a word with the boys today. Told them to back off or I’d do more than just yell at them. You might have to stick that ring I gave you on a different finger to really get them to shut up, though.’
Harry really might kill you if I did that. Fleur smothered a pang and the soft ache that followed. He will learn to trust me with everything.
‘Merci,’ she said.
He strolled over and scanned her writing. ‘I can’t read a single word of that.’
‘You’re not meant to.’ She closed the files and books with a flick of her wand. ‘They’re between my beau and myself.’
‘Your boyfriend?’ Bill cocked his head and tugged at the dragon fang hanging from his ear. ‘Not going to lie, Fleur, you can drop that whole thing with me if you like. I’d hope you’ve realised I’m not the sort to pester a girl.’
Fleur arched an eyebrow at him. ‘Drop that whole thing?’ she echoed.
‘Well. Yeah.’ Bill shuffled his feet. ‘I mean. Nobody’s ever seen him…’
Fleur drew a small circle in the air with her wand tip. ‘I think you’d be smart to drop this topic.’ Her quills slowed to a halt, floated back to their little box and dropped home. The sheet of parchment folded itself up into a square the size of Fleur’s palm and zipped into her fingers. ‘You don’t want me to lump you in with the rest of those idiots downstairs, non?’
Bill winced. ‘Right. Not where I was going with that, Fleur. Just wanted to let you know you could trust me, because I wanted to make you an offer.’ He fiddled with the fang, bouncing it on the ball of his thumb. ‘Best to just say it, I suppose. Things in Britain are about to get dangerous. And, well, I know a few people, I can get you back to France—’
‘I’m not leaving.’ Fleur rose from her seat and slipped her wand away. ‘There’s nothing that will make me leave.’
Bill chuckled. ‘Yeah. Had a feeling you’d say that. So… I don’t know where you stay or what kind of protections you’ve got, but, well, my family’s place, it’s got pretty much the best wards you can find. And if you’re alright with it, you can come stay with us. It’d make me feel better knowing you were safe.’
He’s a decent guy. Fleur tossed her hair over her shoulder and studied the gleam in his blue eyes. Not that he wouldn’t try.
‘I appreciate it.’
‘You’ll come?’ Bill perked up. ‘My little sister would love to have another girl around the place. I’ve, well, a lot of brothers.’
‘I know.’ A small smile spread across Fleur’s lips. ‘I’ve met one of them.’
Bill blinked, then dissolved into howls of laughter. ‘Ron. Bloody hell. How did I forget that!?’ He took a deep breath until his chuckles subsided. ‘Well, he’s grown up a lot, so don’t worry about him. Man, I’m quite excited now.’
Fleur shook her head. ‘I am not coming, Bill.’
The grin slid off his face. ‘You’re not?’
‘I am safer where I am.’ Fleur hunted for a good reason. ‘Your family, you’re known to be friends of Harry Potter, no?’
‘We were, but not anymore.’ Bill’s lips tightened. ‘Ron messed that up. And after Dad died, I don’t think Mum can see Harry the same way. Poor kid. Nothing much ever seems to go his way, wouldn’t blame him if he just up and left one day.’
‘It seems you’re far more of a target than I am,’ she said. ‘And, while I’m sure you would be perfectly polite, I tend to refuse invitations like that on principle.’
He shrugged. ‘Well, I offered. And the offer stands, so if you change your mind, just let me know.’ Bill watched the last of her things tidy themselves away, his eyes dropping to her hand. ‘Figured it out yet?’
‘The ring?’ Fleur twisted the warm band of gleaming bronze ‘round her finger. ‘Not quite. Nearly, though.’
‘Oh?’ A curious gleam welled up in Bill’s eyes. ‘Do tell. We have a betting pool downstairs.’
‘The reason it doesn’t seem to do anything is because the enchantment’s not active.’ Fleur pursed her lips. ‘You have to have the right blood to activate it, apparently. Until then, the magic in it just swirls ’round and ’round instead.’
‘Blood magic.’ Bill’s face darkened. ‘Guess it’s not such an innocent thing after all.’
‘It’s just a ring.’ Fleur toyed with it for a moment or two, recalling the faint shadow in Harry’s eyes when his gaze dipped to her hands. ‘When I’ve figured it out, I’ll give it back.’
‘Keep it.’ Bill waved a hand at her. ‘Looks much better on you than if I tried to force it on one of my huge fingers.’
I guess I could keep it. Fleur checked the time. It’s just a ring. And perhaps seeing it will help Harry learn to trust me.
‘Time for a slightly early lunch,’ she said.
‘Where are we going?’ Bill asked.
‘I am going to Diagon Alley.’ Fleur swept past him toward the exit. ‘You can go wherever it is you would usually go.’
‘Ouch.’ Bill chuckled. ‘Fancy some time by yourself, huh? Fair enough. I’ll catch you later.’
She hurried out, ignoring the weight of Bill’s gaze.
A scatter of small huddles drifted across the cobbles. A blond wizard with familiar green eyes watched her from where he leant against the wall of the bank.
Waiting to see if I can recognise you? Fleur rolled her eyes and strode over. I could spot you a hundred times out of a hundred.
Harry grinned. ‘What’s a hot bank like you doing in a dreary girl like Gringotts?’
‘I’m sorry.’ Fleur turned her nose up. ‘Who might you be?’
His grin broadened. ‘I am Tom Marvolo Riddle… but blond.’
‘Am I supposed to know who that is?’ She ran her eyes over his features. ‘You didn’t put all that much effort into your face. Apart from the nose and chin, you look almost the same.’
‘Tom has a new name now. A new face as well. And there aren’t many who wouldn’t recognise either.’
‘You’re wearing Voldemort’s old face around Diagon Alley.’ Fleur swallowed a little flutter of heat and sighed. ‘Of course you are. I bet you were imagining me scolding you when you chose it, weren’t you?’
‘You know me too well.’ Harry laughed, then his eyes dropped to her hands and his smile faded. ‘How’s work?’
Even after talking with Gabby, you’re still afraid, aren’t you? Fleur’s heart sank. Is there nothing you can truly trust in anymore, mon Cœur? She stamped that thought out. He will learn. I will make him trust me. However I have to.
She waved her square of parchment at him. ‘It was productive, but not all good news.’
Harry dragged his gaze back up from the bronze band on her finger. ‘Research?’
Fleur stepped close to him and slid an arm ’round him. ‘It’s just a ring, Harry.’
He flinched. ‘Sorry.’
‘Why does it bother you so much?’ she murmured. ‘I stopped having lunch with him. I barely speak to him, though I didn’t much before, yet you still stare at that ring like it’s about to portkey me away somewhere.’
He stared up at the faint shreds of white cloud. ‘I stumbled on a boggart when I went to meet Sirius before the fiasco at the Ministry. It took your form.’
‘Scared of me?’ Fleur narrowed her eyes at him. ‘Or of me doing something I would never do.’
A deep dark rose in Harry’s eyes, looming over everything like the breaking crest of a great wave. ‘You were leaving.’ His voice caught and broke. ‘And you had a ring on your finger. It was bright and gold as the sun. I can see it as clearly as if it was right here.’
Hot tears blurred on her lashes, heat bubbled in her bones and feathers prickled beneath her skin. ‘And you didn’t tell me?’ She snatched the ring off her finger and stuffed it into her pocket. ‘You kept your stupid secret and let me wear it in front of you all this time?’
His brow creased. ‘You knew I didn’t like it.’
‘It’s not the same.’ Fleur smothered the heat trickling through her bones. ‘It’s not the same at all. I thought you were just struggling because…’ She touched her fingertips to his cheek. ‘Because you’re you. And you’ve been letting me twist the knife in an open wound all this time.’
‘The more it hurts…’ Harry murmured.
The sweeter it tastes.
‘You’re an idiot, mon Amour.’ Fleur rested her head on his shoulder. ‘This is where your secret-keeping leads us.’
He stared up at the clouds and squeezed his eyes shut. ‘How could I tell you? If I told you and you were upset, you might leave.’ Harry’s fingers curled into fists. ‘And I can’t. You know—’
‘I know.’ She pressed her lips to his cheek. ‘It’s gone. I won’t wear it again. Now, let’s go buy some furniture from Caratacus’ warehouse.’
Harry groaned. ‘Shopping?’
Fleur laughed and wiggled her fingers into his. ‘We are in dire need of new furniture, Harry.’ She hummed. ‘Actually, I can’t call you that, can I?’
‘It’s a common name, I’m sure—’
‘I shall call you Marvolo,’ Fleur said.
Harry sighed. ‘I suppose it could’ve been worse.’
‘Much worse.’ Fleur tugged on his hand and led him down the steps. ‘Now, shopping time. It will probably be cheaper than buying me or Gabby sweet things.’
‘How hard can it be?’ Harry shrugged. ‘We’re just buying a bed, a few chairs, and some cupboards.’
‘That, Marvolo, is why you’re not choosing,’ Fleur said. ‘There’s all sorts of more complicated things to consider. There’s the colour scheme, the time period, the style, the price, and then we have to arrange them when we get back.’
‘I knew I should’ve stayed at the Dursleys’,’ Harry quipped. ‘So where are we actually going?’
‘There’s a place on the North side of the Alley that enchants and sells furniture,’ Fleur replied, leading him across the street. ‘What colours do you like?’
‘Blue.’ He shot her a soft smile. ‘Silver.’
Fleur’s heart squirmed. ‘Ivory? With pale wood and pastel blues?’ She shot him a small smile. ‘I may have already made some reservations…’
‘Or that.’ Harry grinned. ‘The only thing I have good taste in is girls, according to you.’
‘But you’ve managed to learn a little good taste from me.’ She looped her arm through his and led him towards the door to the shop. ‘Now it’s time to buy some furniture for our home, Marvolo.’
Harry screwed his face up and glanced around the chaotic store. ‘I don’t think shame and hate for his muggle relations were the only reasons Tom changed his name.’
‘Marvolo is a wonderful name. His mother clearly had good taste.’
Mirth gleamed in Harry’s green eyes. ‘Well, if Riddle’s father looked anything like him, then his mother had very similar taste to you.’
‘Sometimes a pretty face can make up for all the underlying personality flaws,’ Fleur jibed.
‘I sure hope so. Otherwise, I chose a hot bird-girl for nothing.’
‘The hot bird-girl chose you,’ Fleur muttered. ‘I made you take me to the Yule Ball—’
‘Out of pride and because you really overreact when you think someone is laughing at you.’ Harry peered through the stacks of furniture. ‘Isn’t there anyone else in this shop?’
‘And I invited you to France when you weren’t doing anything about us except sitting in that room moping,’ Fleur added.
‘Kidnapped,’ Harry said. ‘You lured me there and trapped me. If I hadn’t kissed you, I’d probably still be stuck under our willow tree.’
‘No.’ Fleur gave him her most innocent smile. ‘The wind would’ve blown your ashes away by now. I would’ve been very upset if you’d messed that moment up.’
Harry chuckled. ‘Even Gabby might struggle with the romance of that.’
‘It worked.’ Fleur squeezed his fingers and pulled her hand free to ring the bell on the desk. ‘You are mine now.’
The chime echoed away through the chairs, tables, beds and ornaments into the dark at the back of the store.
‘I can’t complain.’ Harry’s smile softened and his eyes flicked past her shoulder. ‘Oh, there is someone here. I was beginning to think this was a way for you to start crossing off rooms from your little list that we don’t own.’
A flush rose on her cheeks and Fleur twisted about. Caratacus’s thick glasses and stiff, white moustache tottered out from behind a copper-faced grandfather clock. She stepped back into Harry’s chest.
His hands slid to her waist, pulling her back against him. ‘Too late to cross the furniture warehouse off your list now,’ he murmured in her ear.
Caratacus shuffled around behind the desk and fumbled through a stack of papers. ‘Are you here to pick up and pay, Miss Delacour?’ He slid a sheaf of paper across, small images spun on the page before ever-changing backgrounds.
‘I am.’ She glanced at Harry out of the corner of her eye and wiggled her hips back into him a little. ‘Do you like what you see, Marvolo?’
Harry glanced at the furniture over her shoulder and nodded, then swept his gaze over her and shot her a suggestive grin. ‘I definitely do.’
It’s a good thing Caratacus’s hearing isn’t great.
‘This is for you and your friend, Miss Delacour?’ Caratacus croaked.
‘His name is Marvolo,’ Fleur announced.
Harry’s fingers slid lower down her abdomen, his fingertips traced the hem of her underwear. A little shiver swept through Fleur and the sharp, heated gleam in his eyes flitted before the eye of her mind. She bit her lip and ignored the twist of desire curling within.
‘Wait…’ Harry glanced between the page and the nearest and largest of the stacks. ‘This is all for us?’
‘Of course.’ Caratacus fumbled a thin pair of glasses onto his nose and beamed. ‘Miss Delacour has spent many hours choosing some of my finest pieces.’
‘I’m sure she has.’ Harry’s fingertips crept a little lower.
Fleur could feel his smile against the nape of her neck and nudged her elbow into his stomach. ‘Not now,’ she murmured.
But plenty of time for that later.
‘It looks perfect.’ His hands slid back to her waist. ‘Thank you.’
‘I’ve had every piece of furniture enchanted as you requested, Miss Delacour,’ Caratacus wheezed. ‘You will find it quite hard to accidentally ruin or spoil any of these pieces.’
‘Thank you, Caratacus.’ Fleur smiled. ‘It would’ve taken me some time to do it all by myself. How much do we owe you?’
‘Five hundred galleons and fifteen sickles,’ Caratacus quavered. ‘A signed letter of promise is always preferable to a mountain of coins.’
‘I’m going to have to shrink everything, aren’t I?’ Harry grumbled.
‘Yes, you are. It will give you something better to do with your hands.’
‘My hands were happier where they were,’ he murmured in her ear.
‘The letter, Miss Delacour?’ Caratacus asked.
She flushed, then tugged out a piece of parchment and drew up a letter of promise, signing it with a quick flourish. Harry leant past her and added his own name at the bottom with the tip of his wand. A dust-free space stretched where the stack of furniture had been.
‘Thank you.’ Caratacus shuffled out of sight clutching the letter of credit in one wrinkled, veined hand.
‘What now?’ Harry asked.
‘We apparate back and arrange the furniture,’ Fleur said. ‘Or, more accurately, we apparate back and you arrange the furniture where I want it while I enjoy my lunch break.’
‘That feels unfair,’ Harry teased.
‘I chose it. All you’ve done is shrink a few things and let your hands wander in the middle of a shop.’
‘I didn’t hear you saying stop.’ A soft chuckle slipped from Harry’s lips. ‘In fact, the only response you gave was that little shiver.’
Fleur let a small pout creep onto her lips and stuck her chin in the air. Kiss me, mon Cœur.
The corner of his mouth twitched, then he bent and pressed his lips to hers. ‘You’re a sneaky bird-witch, mon Rêve.’
She apparated them back into the hall of their home with a soft snap, throwing an arm around Harry’s stomach when he staggered.
‘Now what?’ Harry eyed the empty spaces in their rooms and flopped onto the old sofa. ‘Do you have a planned place for every piece?’
‘Non.’ She laughed. ‘Unshrink them and put them wherever you think looks best, we can move things around later this evening after I’m done with work. I shall fix the shower, too.’
‘Finally. Just because you’re resistant to heat doesn’t mean the rest of us enjoy being scalded every morning.’
‘I’ll fix it.’ Fleur flicked her hair back over her shoulder. ‘Now, I’ve been combing through all the records I have access to at Gringotts. Nott, Avery, the Lestranges, Dolohov, Macnair, Yaxley and Travers are all on your list and have vaults, but there’s very little available to read.’
‘They’re all pure of blood, powerful, and well-off,’ Harry said. ‘I believe Voldemort would’ve entrusted his horcruxes to those he thought were the most loyal and capable. If I were in the habit of giving pieces of my soul out, that’s what I’d do.’
‘Those who went to Azkaban were likely the more loyal,’ Fleur suggested. ‘Travers, the Lestranges and Avery were all imprisoned.’ She draped herself over the sofa, dangling her feet off the arm and dropped her head into Harry’s lap. ‘Their vaults are all right down at the most secure levels.’
Harry grimaced. ‘And we’re not going to be able to get our hands on them, since they’re in hiding. I think our best bet is to go for someone on the edge and see what they know. Someone like Yaxley or Nott.’
‘Nott?’ Fleur tossed her square of parchment onto the floor and flicked her wand; it unfolded and rose up into the air. She scanned her shorthand. ‘He’s the reclusive one who lives alone with his son since his wife died and always refuses to attend the sessions of Britain’s Wizengamot.’
‘Theodore Nott’s a Slytherin in my year.’
‘How exactly do you intend to find out what they know?’ Fleur asked. ‘Maman isn’t licensed for veritaserum, remember.’
‘Legilimency.’ Harry’s smile turned slim and cool, faint danger gleamed in his green eyes. ‘I’ll tear the knowledge I need from their thoughts.’
Fleur’s stomach fluttered. His small smile tugged at her heart and curled her toes, igniting a soft, hot fire in her abdomen. ‘We’ll need to be careful. By all accounts, the inner circle are accomplished fighters.’
‘We?’ Harry slipped an arm ’round her head and cradled her against him. ‘I’d—’
‘Don’t even finish that thought.’ Fleur twisted ’round and straddled his lap, resting her forehead against his. ‘It is we. It’s always going to be we, mon Rêve.’
Shadows flitted through his eyes, his brow creased, and the corner of his mouth turned down. ‘It’s not going to be — we’re going to — we have to kill him.’
Fleur nodded. ‘I know.’ She slid her fingers into his hair and tugged his lips onto hers. ‘I don’t care. If we want to see our sunset, then we pay the price to get there. They would kill me if they could.’ A cold chill rippled down her spine and clamped around her heart. ‘And that’s if I was lucky enough not to be captured.’
Harry’s eyes turned hard and cold as ice, and he drew her close, cradling her head into the crook of his neck. ‘Anyone that hurts you will beg me to kill them and end their torment. But I won’t. I’ll make it last forever.’
She took a deep breath and let the fear fade. ‘We can pay him a visit at home. Gringotts has the address.’
‘Nott it is, then. You can get through the wards. I can beat Nott and his son.’
A burst of fierce, hot pride flared within Fleur. ‘When?’
‘Not long. The summer is trickling away and soon I’ll have to be back under Dumbledore’s nose. A few days.’ Harry pressed his lips to the crown of her head and breathed in. ‘Why do you always smell like marzipan?’
Fleur smiled into his collarbone. ‘Because my perfume has almonds in it. Don’t you like it?’
‘Oh I like it.’ He ran his hands through her hair, tugging and wrapping her silver locks ’round his fingers. ‘I just wondered.’
She kissed his neck. ‘I’m afraid I don’t have time for anything that involves you pulling my hair, mon Cœur.’
‘How disappointing.’ He laughed and mussed her hair. ‘I guess I’ll have to ask Gabby about that veela harem instead.’
Fleur huffed. ‘Not if you don’t want your face melted off, you won’t. She’s bad enough without you encouraging her.’
‘But I enjoy encouraging her.’
‘I noticed.’ Fleur swung herself out of his lap, straightened her clothes, and shook her hair out. ‘Back to work for me. I’ve traced a few more branches of Peverells, but they’ve all long since died out and none of their wills had anything that we’d be interested in.’
‘Damn.’ Harry’s smile faded. ‘Still, it’s out there somewhere.’
There aren’t many branches left. And most of them are descended from the family the goblins refused to work with because they kept practicing incestuous marriages.
‘Somewhere. Enjoy arranging the furniture, mon Amour.’ Fleur pressed her lips to his cheek and apparated away.