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A single line of green flame flickered upon the wall. Harry glared at it and scanned the spread of parchment hovering in the centre of the room.
All this cataloguing and there’s no mention of anything remotely like a resurrection stone. He sent the pages streaming back into a stack beneath the green line. Not anywhere. Ever.
‘They probably never even told anyone they had it.’ He released a long sigh and strode out and downstairs. ‘I wouldn’t either.’
It’s fine. I have years. I’ll find it eventually.
‘Taking a break?’ Fleur arched an eyebrow at him as she ladled sugar into a steaming mug.
‘Can you look at my family’s Gringotts records?’ Harry asked, settling into a chair by the kitchen table
She nodded and scooped another heaped teaspoon of sugar in. ‘Can and have.’
‘Checking out if I can still afford to buy sugar?’ He gave the jar a shake. ‘I’m sure I filled that up yesterday.’
‘You did.’ Fleur screwed the lid on and slid it across the side into its usual spot. ‘Why can’t you look at your own records?’
‘I didn’t want you to be bored at work?’
A soft laugh escaped Fleur. ‘Yes you do.’
Harry grimaced and the bronze ring shone before the eye of his mind. ‘A little bit.’ He shot her a small smile. ‘Did you see anything about my cloak?’
‘No…’ Fleur cocked her head and swept her silver hair over her shoulder. ‘Actually, it wasn’t mentioned at all.’
Harry muttered a few choice words under his breath. ‘I bet whoever got the stone and the wand did the same thing.’
She nodded and took a sip of her drink. ‘I suspect they passed it down by hand. A lot of families do, especially with goblin-made things, since Gringotts likes to try and repossess them at any chance they get. There’s no mention of any goblin-made dagger for eight generations of Gaunts, then suddenly they traded a goblin-made dagger heirloom back to Gringotts in return for waiving interest payments on a loan.’
He ground his teeth. ‘So they kept the stone hidden, whichever branch had it, and someone either stole it or was given it, but we’ve no way of finding out who or when.’
Fleur stepped across the kitchen and put her mug down to take his hands between hers. ‘There are other ways of finding things. The only limits magic has are the ones we believe it has. Perhaps we can give scrying a try.’
‘Scrying?’ Harry asked.
‘An obscure form of divination. Gabby knows a bit about it. It requires a similar gift to hers. We might be able to create something similar.’
‘I picked the wrong sister,’ Harry teased.
‘Don’t worry, mon Cœur, in the veela harem, all sisters are equal.’ Fleur rolled her eyes. ‘Now I’m making those jokes. Incroyable.’
Harry chuckled. ‘I guess it’ll have to wait.’
‘Better to focus on the now, I think.’ She plucked her drink off the table and took another sip. ‘Otherwise, I’ll need the stone for you.’
He nodded and folded up a spare piece of parchment, sliding his wand from his sleeve. ‘I made a new spell…’
‘So?’ Fleur raised her eyebrows at him over the steaming mug. ‘I finished my box. If you get the right shape, it unlocks the box, if you don’t, the enchantment opens all your synapses and paralyses you.’
Harry threw a glance at the flowing bronze design upon the small box. ‘Is this how you plan to stop me stealing your cake?’
She laughed. ‘The only thing I’ve put in it are the vials full of your memories and a few other bits and pieces you’ve given me.’
‘Hoarding things like a magpie, mon Amour?’ Harry’s heart flopped about in his chest. ‘No shiny rings?’
Fleur gave him a small smile. ‘No rings.’ She poked him in the shin with her toe. ‘Tell me about your spell.’
He tapped the piece of parchment with his wand and watched it crumble to fine dust. ‘It’s a curse, really, like the withering curse, but faster acting and only effective against inanimate things.’ Harry vanished the dust. ‘I couldn’t get it to overcome the survival instinct of magical living things without it being slow again.’
‘Do you have to imbue it?’ Fleur asked.
He nodded. ‘Yeah, I have to be able to push the magic into whatever I’m targeting, which basically means I need to touch it with my wand.’
‘You used it on the table at the Nott mansion,’ she said.
‘First test.’ He grinned. ‘It worked well.’
‘Don’t test new spells at reckless moments,’ she scolded. ‘What if it had gone wrong?’
A brief twist of guilt tightened in his breast. ‘It was fine, wasn’t it?’
‘This time.’ She folded her arms, a small pout creeping onto her lips. ‘If you keep taking risks, eventually you lose.’ Fleur sipped her drink. ‘Have you tried imbuing conjurations with your spell?’
‘No…’ Harry turned it over in his head. ‘I could do that, couldn’t I? It’s basically the same thing, just a bit less direct.’
‘Your pretty butterfly spell.’ She set the mug down. ‘Try that.’
He conjured a single, ebony-winged insect, suffusing it with his new spell as it left his wand’s tip, and directed it across the table to alight upon another piece of parchment. It collapsed into dust and the butterfly vanished in a wisp of black vapour.
‘You’re brilliant.’ Harry stood up and pressed a light kiss upon her lips.
Fleur clutched the front of his robes and dragged his lips back to hers until his heart raced. ‘A brilliant girl deserves a longer kiss, no?’
His hands slipped to her waist, pulling her dress up inch by inch. ‘You can have more than kisses, if you want…’
Fleur bit her lip. ‘Tempting…’
Hedwig fluttered through the open window with a low hoot and dropped a letter upon the table.
‘Your results.’ Fleur slipped out of his hands and grabbed the envelope. ‘Let’s see…’
‘Mood-killer.’ Harry shot Hedwig a glare. ‘I wish the Fidelius still kept you out.’
Hedwig nibbled her foot, turned her head around and stared out the window.
‘Not even a hint of guilt.’ Harry tutted. ‘Shocking.’
Fleur waved the envelope at him and scrunched her face up. ‘A shame the Fidelius doesn’t keep out spiders or earwigs.’
‘If only you were so lucky,’ Harry teased. ‘Sadly, you have no magic powerful enough to keep you safe from such terrifying creatures.’
‘Just thinking about their creepy little tails and legs makes me shiver.’ She drew her slim shoulders together with a little shudder. ‘They’re horrible.’
‘It’s a good thing nobody else knows about this Achilles heel.’ Harry laughed. ‘If I can conjure butterflies, I’m sure I can manage earwigs too.’
She offered him a sweet smile. ‘If you summon so much as a single one of those ugly creatures, you’ll find kisses will be all you get for a very long time.’
Harry chuckled. ‘It might be worth the screams.’
‘Oh?’ Fleur’s smile turned sultry. ‘Tu es sûr de ça?’
‘I’m fairly sure your inherent sexual veela nature will bring you crawling back to me, bird-girl,’ he teased.
‘Crawling?’ Fleur huffed. ‘Never. I might let you make me ask, but I will never crawl.’ A wicked, wild gleam welled up in her blue eyes. ‘There are far more fun things I can do on my knees…’
‘Promises, promises.’ Harry tugged the envelope from her fingers. ‘Don’t you want to know if you beat me first?’
‘I don’t want to know if I have beaten you.’ She smirked and pressed her lips to his cheek. ‘I want to know by how much.’
‘What did you get?’ Harry asked. ‘Perfect Os?’
‘Right.’ Harry slid a finger through the envelope and pulled out the slip of paper within. ‘So in other words the best I can hope for is a draw.’
‘Can I see?’ Fleur turned her wide, soft, blue eyes on him.
His heart squirmed in his breast and a smile spread over his lips. ‘Cheating bird-witch, you’re using your unnatural wiles, again.’
She plucked the letter from his hand. ‘My wiles are au naturel.’ Her eyes dipped to the letter and her playful smirk widened. ‘There are a few letters in here that aren’t Os. What do they mean?’
Harry laughed. ‘You know full well what that means.’
‘You mean that you didn’t get the highest grade in four subjects. Well, I suppose I can help you.’
‘What challenging things are we ever going to need to undertake involving Astronomy, or History of Magic?’ Harry asked. ‘Unless you’ve been planning a goblin rebellion while you’ve been at Gringotts?’
Fleur’s smile faded a fraction. ‘It’s more than likely the goblins are planning their own rebellion. The stronger Voldemort gets, the more old followers of Grindelwald start to dream they’ve a new champion. The goblins will revolt the moment they think they have a chance.’
A soft thrum echoed through the house.
‘Someone’s here,’ Harry said.
‘Sirius, unless they’re very good with wards.’ Fleur’s wand appeared in her hand. ‘Gabby’s not meant to be visiting for a while now. Just in case.’
Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve and strode to the door. Sirius waited on the step, staring up at the sky.
Just Sirius. He tucked his wand away. I wonder if something important’s happened?
‘Only me.’ Shadows lingered under Sirius’s eyes, deep and dark.
Little Nym. Harry smothered the brief recollection of warmth beneath the image of her still face and empty eyes. She might’ve been another friend like Katie, but Voldemort took her away. His heart slipped down into the dark. He’ll take everything away if he can. Until all the wishes are gone and all our dreams are dust. A twist of pity seized him, then dwindled into the void. Because all his dreams turned to dust and now he doesn’t believe in them at all.
‘Come in.’ Harry ushered Sirius into the house and shut the door. ‘Has anything happened?’
‘Dumbledore’s back.’ Sirius trudged into the lounge and slumped into the chair across from the sofa. He gave Fleur the faintest shadow of a smile and a wave. ‘He just popped in like nothing’s changed since the summer began, then popped out again.’
Harry took a seat beside Fleur on the sofa and slipped an arm ‘round her. ‘Did he say what he’s been doing?’
‘Something crucial was all he said.’ Sirius clenched his fists and jaw. ‘He outlived my parents’ generation, he’s nearly outlived mine, and now he’s started outliving yours.’
Fleur leant forward. ‘He prefers to let people die nobly than dirty his own hands. His own conscience is more important to him than ensuring we win.’
Sirius glowered at the carpet between his feet. ‘You’re damn right it is. He had to be dragged out of Hogwarts to fight Grindelwald according to my mother. If he’d gone a year or so earlier, there’d be a lot more people still alive. Same with the war against Voldemort before you were born. He just talked and planned and waited until suddenly there was you, Harry.’
‘Imagine what would’ve happened if Harry hadn’t been there,’ Fleur murmured. ‘Imagine if Harry was just another student…’
Sirius snorted. ‘Until recently, I thought he was.’ He shot a long look at Harry. ‘I don’t know whether I should be proud of you… or sad and angry with everyone else that they let it come to this.’
‘Probably all three,’ Harry replied.
‘Each time one of us disappears, they all repeat Dumbledore’s words to themselves and go back to doing nothing.’ Sirius shook his head. ‘They’re waiting for you to be a hero, hoping you die for them, before they die doing nothing.’
Fleur’s eyes flashed pitch black. ‘They’re not getting their hero!’ Little white feathers sprouted from her skin and heat washed across the room. ‘Little, shallow, hollow, selfish creatures! They could fight back themselves and stop this, but they’d rather watch Harry die than do anything! They don’t deserve a hero!’
Sirius sagged. ‘Dumbledore’s spent years talking about love, and sacrifice, and heroes. It’s sunk too deep. I tried. I tried. But they’re all convinced of it. Harry is their hero. They just have to survive until he saves them.’
Until I die. Heroes die. A faint pang echoed beneath Harry’s ribs. And they die alone.
‘And let me guess,’ Fleur hissed. ‘Every time someone dies or disappears, it’s Harry they blame, for not throwing his life away for them quick enough.’ Her skin burnt beneath Harry’s arm and the white tufts stretched into full feathers. ‘I bet they hate him. And even when he wins, they’ll only envy that he’s better than them and hate him more.’
They preferred their jack-in-the-box hero. Harry let his heart sink down into a numb, dark place. Was it really so bad that I didn’t want to die alone?
Fleur’s hot fingers curled ‘round his wrist and her ink-black irises bored into him. ‘Don’t waste thought on them. They put you on a pedestal so you’d save them, then delighted in tearing you down from it when they thought they didn’t need you. Now they want you to throw away your life to save them. You have never owed any of them anything, mon Cœur.’ She cupped his chin and pressed her forehead to his until the world shrank to just the dark of her eyes. ‘Don’t waste time worrying about their web of selfish little wants. To reach our sunset, we’ll cut right through it.’
Sirius cleared his throat. ‘They’re just people. People being people. They do some terrible things and some great things. It takes a bit of time to understand that, I certainly didn’t at your age.’ He sighed. ‘I wish Moony was still around. He’s a serious, miserable bastard nowadays, but other than little Nym, he was the only person that talked to me. Everyone else’s gone.’
‘Who’s left?’ Harry asked. ‘What don’t I know?’
Sirius shrugged. ‘Shacklebolt’s gone. Disappeared in Yorkshire helping hit wizards in one of the Ministry’s victories. Little Nym, of course, and Mundungus, and Arthur. Emmeline Vance vanished a week back.’ He fell quiet. ‘Haven’t heard from Moony in a while, either, not since Dumbledore suggested it might be a good idea to offer werewolves an alternative narrative to Fenrir Greyback’s.’
Lupin. Harry caught Fleur’s glance in the corner of his eye and gave her a slight shake of the head. If he really cared about me, he wouldn’t have vanished for two years without so much as a letter.
‘What about everyone else?’ Harry asked.
‘The Ministry’s lost half its hit wizards and there’s only a dozen or so real aurors left.’ Sirius tugged his wand out and toyed with it on his lap. ‘Voldemort’s drawing more and more support from Europe. He’s no Grindelwald, but the more desperate or hateful don’t really care at this point. If it keeps going, we’ll lose.’
‘I guess you’ll need your hero,’ Harry murmured.
Fleur’s nails bit into his wrist and her fingers tightened until his hand turned numb and tingled. ‘They don’t deserve one.’
‘It’s the inner circle of Death Eaters that are the problem.’ Sirius pointed his wand at Harry. ‘They’re all decent in a fight and they know a lot of fairly obscure or nasty spells. Hit wizards are trained to catch smugglers and be able to deflect common curses. Someone like Dolohov or the Lestranges can tear right through them.’
‘Is there any kind of plan?’ Harry asked.
‘Dumbledore has one.’ Sirius sneered. ‘It seems to boil down to arranging a string of dominoes leading to you sacrificing your life and killing Voldemort. The Ministry’s abandoned its war of attrition and fortified Azkaban. Amelia Bones sends her squads out from there to crush any raids they learn of and brings anyone they capture straight back to the Dementors. Beyond that, I think the Ministry is buying time to train everyone they can and hope those who oppose Grindelwald come to fight his remaining followers even though they’re now beneath Voldemort’s banner.’
A soft chill slid down Harry’s spine. ‘Has Dumbledore been looking for us?’
‘He asked me if I know any secrets,’ Sirius said. ‘So I think he must’ve been and has realised why he can’t find you.’ His expression darkened. ‘Harry… I don’t know what he plans for you, but I doubt it ends any better for you than it has for any of my friends or family. Don’t go back.’ Sirius stabbed his wand out the window. ‘Leave this damn country. Take Fleur and go. She’s right. You don’t owe anyone here anything.’
‘Voldemort and Dumbledore will only come after me.’ A grim certainty settled on Harry. ‘And if I run away, Voldemort will just be even more powerful when he catches us.’
Sirius sighed. ‘So be it.’
Harry nodded. ‘I’m sorry, Sirius.’
‘Don’t be. It’s not your fault.’ Sirius tucked his wand away. ‘I would say don’t go back to Hogwarts, but something tells me you’re going to, so at least make sure nobody can find you anywhere else.’
‘I need my NEWTs.’ Harry offered Sirius a faint smile. ‘Someone told me that if all I do with my life is try and survive Voldemort and Dumbledore, I’ll be as lost in victory as in defeat.’
Fleur’s grip on Harry’s wrist loosened and a fierce tingling seized his hand. ‘Sorry,’ she murmured as he massaged some life back into it.
‘I’d stay out of London.’ Sirius’s expression turned grave. ‘The Ministry’s finally thrown up a load of wards over Diagon Alley and its headquarters, so no Death Eaters can get in, but that means Dumbledore can easily keep eyes on it at all times.’ He stood up and stretched. ‘I’d better head back before anyone notices I’ve slipped away.’
A loud crack echoed through the room and Sirius vanished.
Harry shared a long look with Fleur. Please don’t be stubborn about this.
A small smile crossed her lips. ‘I’ll terminate my contract with Gringotts. The goblins are getting shifty, the curse-breakers are annoying, and I don’t need to be there anymore. We’ve learnt all we probably can from their records.’
A little sigh escaped him.
‘Were you expecting me to argue?’ she teased.
‘I generally assume you’re going to be difficult about everything,’ Harry replied. ‘I’m sorry you’ll have to give up your lunch time dates with that curse-breaker.’
‘Such a shame.’ Fleur’s tone shifted dry as dust. ‘I’ll miss him terribly.’
‘Does he buy you cake?’ The lightness he’d intended didn’t quite make it off his tongue.
‘Harry…’ Fleur’s tone sharpened a fraction.
He winced. ‘Sorry. I was being unfair.’
‘You were.’ She twisted ‘round and dropped her head into his lap. ‘But can you tell me one single thing I’ve not done for our dream?’
Harry swallowed, a flash of green and Theo Nott’s crumpling body flitting before his mind’s eye. ‘No.’
‘Exactement.’ She wriggled about and swept her hair aside. ‘They left you with scars, mon Cœur, but all the bits that were cut away are a perfect match for me.’
A hot swell of emotion tightened into a knot beneath Harry’s ribs and his eyes prickled with tears. ‘The only perfect thing is you,’ he whispered. ‘I’d think this was all a dream, but I couldn’t dream up something half as perfect as you.’
There’s nothing but you. He bit those words off before they slipped out. And without you there’ll only be nothing, forever, win or lose.
Fleur pulled his arms around her and closed her eyes. ‘Just hold me,’ she whispered. ‘I’d like to pretend it’s still last summer for a while. Like we still have a little time left with nothing to think about but us.’