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Pink paper decorations and lacy white bunting hung in the windows of Madam Puddifoot’s. A handful of couples sat upon pink cushions and chairs over little white teacups and teapots. The light of the sunset gilded the china pink and orange.
Tasteless. Fleur turned her nose up.
‘Last time I was here, it was Valentine’s day,’ she said.
Katie laughed. ‘Who did you go with?’
‘I did not go in.’ Fleur shuddered. ‘This was when Harry was moping.’
Harry shot her a betrayed look.
Sorry, mon Cœur, but you were. Fleur smirked at him and pressed a kiss to his cheek. I had to trap you in France.
Neville sniggered. ‘Moping, Harry? What happened to just asking her to Hogsmeade?’
‘It’s a long way to Hogsmeade from France.’ Harry gave Fleur’s fingers a gentle squeeze.
‘You weren’t in France,’ Neville said. ‘You were right here.’
‘And I had a tournament of death to worry about.’ Harry raised his finger. ‘Which I won.’
Katie grabbed Harry’s other arm and tugged him into Honeyduke’s.
Fleur frowned at Katie’s gentle grip on Harry’s wrist. Are you testing my reaction now you know I know? She released Harry’s hand and paused to rummage through the shelf of sweet crystals, one eye on Katie’s reflection in the window.
‘Some of these, I think.’ Katie pulled boxes of Firewhiskey chocolates from the stack at the end of the aisle and thrust them at Harry.
‘Nope. I’m not your keeper.’ He sidestepped and they ended up in Neville’s arms. ‘Nev can look after you, I’m probably going to have more than enough to carry as it is. Fleur in a sweets shop is more dangerous than a dementor in a primary school.’
Fleur smiled and placed her armful of sugar crystals in his hands. ‘Hold these, mon Cœur.’
‘See.’ He weighed the sugar crystals. ‘That’s actually not that much, is this it?’
‘Gabby brought me cake from home,’ Fleur murmured in his ear. ‘So I don’t need lots.’
Neville disappeared beneath a metre-high animated chocolate bowtruckle, wrestling with a dozen limbs as it pried its way free of the box.
‘Don’t let it get away,’ Katie ordered. ‘I want to eat it.’
Harry sent the bowtruckle back into its packaging with a flick of his wand.
‘It’s worse than Trevor,’ Neville groaned. ‘Are you sure you want this, Katie?’
Katie beamed. ‘I’m going to eat it alive.’
‘We should move on,’ Harry said. ‘Nev’s gran will come to apparate him back home for Christmas soon.’
‘She’s still apparating at her age?’ Katie enquired. ‘Really?’
‘There’s not much that will stop Gran,’ Nev replied. ‘We do need to move on to the Three Broomsticks if we’re ever going to have this talk Harry’s been promising all morning.’
Katie’s gaze lighted upon the free samples. ‘Or we could have it here…’
Fleur glanced up and down the aisles. ‘There’s nobody else in this part of the shop.’
‘See.’ Katie helped herself to all the oval-shaped samples. ‘Fleur knows better than to pass up free sweets.’
‘She also has better sense than to eat all of the alcoholic ones,’ Harry remarked, plucking the last couple out of Katie’s fingers and replacing them. ‘You need help.’ He glanced at Fleur.
A ward. She threw up a bubble of magic to suppress the sound of their conversation. Easy.
‘So, you know I’m doing my NEWTs early, right?’ Harry stacked Fleur’s sugar crystals on the counter on top of Katie’s box of chocolates and the bowtruckle. ‘I’m doing them in January, if things go to plan.’
‘Without doing any studying,’ Katie muttered. ‘It’s outrageous.’
Harry chuckled. ‘I did my studying over the summer. Fleur kept trying to distract me.’
Fleur laughed. ‘You kept begging me to distract you.’
‘Liar.’ Harry grinned. ‘I would never do such a thing.’
‘So what?’ Neville asked. ‘You’re just going to do Advanced Arithmancy afterward?’
‘I’m going to leave,’ Harry murmured. ‘When my NEWTs are done, I’m going to go home to Fleur.’
Katie’s last chocolate slipped through her fingers. ‘Leave?’ Her voice wavered. ‘But—’
‘Maybe not straight away,’ Harry said. ‘But I won’t stay long.’
Neville shrugged. ‘Fair enough, I guess. Are you going to help Dumbledore fight?’
‘I’m going to fight.’ A small smile crossed Harry’s face. ‘If you need me, send your patronus. I’ll come back as soon as I can. The same over the Christmas holidays, Nev. If you’re attacked, I’ll come. I need to hunt down the remaining members of Voldemort’s inner circle and… talk… to them.’
Nev flinched, then drew himself up. ‘It’s one thing to stop them doing more harm, Harry, but you can’t torture them.’
‘Torture?’ Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘I’m going to use legilimency, Nev, not the Cruciatus Curse. It’s what I did to help you learn Occlumency.’
‘Oh.’ Neville shrank back. ‘Sorry,’ he whispered. ‘I just thought—’
‘You thought he would torture people?’ Katie rounded on Neville. ‘Are you insane?’
‘I’m sorry,’ Neville said. ‘What else was I to think?’
‘You should know me better,’ Harry murmured. ‘I do what I have to, that’s all.’ A bright smile spread across his face. ‘It’s okay, don’t worry about it, Nev.’
Fleur scowled and reached for Harry’s shoulder. Her fingers brushed Katie’s; she snatched her hand away and squirmed as Fleur gave Harry’s shoulder a soft squeeze.
He’s mine. Fleur levelled a long stare at her. You can dream and hope, but he’s out of your reach. I’ll never let him go.
‘I need to go,’ Neville said. ‘Gran’s probably waiting for me.’
And it’s nearly dusk. Fleur glanced at the darkening sky. The full moon is tonight.
‘I’ll see you after Christmas, Nev,’ Harry said.
‘See you, mate.’ Nev waved a hand at Katie and Fleur, then hurried from the shop.
‘You can come and visit me whenever, Harry.’ Katie beamed. ‘You know where the café is.’
‘You’re safer here,’ Harry said. ‘Voldemort will go after you if he gets the chance. Stay here for Christmas.’ He poked Katie in the side. ‘Besides, I’m leaving soon, you ought to stick about while I’m still around.’
Mon Cœur. Fleur shot him a glare out of the corner of her eye.
Harry gave her a small, helpless shrug. ‘Katie?’
‘I’ll stay,’ she blurted. ‘I promise.’
Of course you will. Fleur buried a flash of heat and ignored the prickle of feathers just beneath her skin. Even now, you still hope to steal him.
‘We’d best go,’ she said, glancing up at the sky.
Harry nodded and counted out a handful of sickles and galleons. ‘We should.’ He patted Katie’s stack of chocolates. ‘There you go, payback for that time we abandoned your café without paying.’
Katie pouted. ‘Ditching your third wheel already?’ She shook the bowtruckle in the box and giggled when it shook its chocolate fists at her. ‘Ah well, I’ve got this not-so-little guy instead. I’ll see you soon!’
‘Au revoir, Katie.’ Fleur took Harry’s hand, apparating into their kitchen to grab the silver mask she’d enchanted, then onto the scree slopes of the Lake District.
Harry stumbled forward, then caught himself just before toppling down the hill. ‘Could’ve warned me.’
‘That’s for encouraging her,’ Fleur said. ‘Using yourself as a bribe to get her to stay at Hogwarts…’ She let the heat curl back up and her eyes darken. ‘Katie still wants to steal you. I don’t like it when you give her hope.’
‘I want her to be safe,’ Harry replied, glancing up at the faint outline of the full moon as the last light of the sun faded. ‘She’s never going to take me away from you, but she’s still my best friend. I’d be upset if anything happened to her. Very upset.’
Fleur sighed and slipped her fingers through his. ‘I know. I just don’t like the way she’s all over you. I’m the only girl I want to be that close to you.’
‘What about Gabby?’ Harry shot her a grin. ‘I did promise that when she went through her veela majority I’d help her, even if it led to us becoming veela bondmates and being trapped into veela threesomes by the whimsical laws of magical romances.’
Fleur laughed. ‘Gabby gets a pass.’
‘Awesome.’ He chuckled. ‘I can tick veela threesome off my bucket list, then.’
‘No you can’t.’ She let a pout creep onto her face. ‘Not unless it involves a time-turner and two of me.’
Harry cocked his head. ‘Now that is a thought. Salazar did want me to experiment with a time-turner and I honestly can’t think of any better way than that.’
‘Something for you to look forward to.’
‘Definitely.’ A glimmer of mischief hovered in his eyes. ‘Worst case scenario, we get stuck in a time loop having that threesome forever. I could live with that.’
Fleur sniffed. ‘There is virtually no chance of that happening. You’d have to deliberately mess with the enchantments on the time-turner to manage that.’
Harry grinned. ‘And, just out of curiosity, how would I do that?’
She gave him a sweet smile. ‘You will never know.’
‘Siren,’ he accused. ‘I know your inherent sex-magic bird nature means you’d really like it.’
‘At least I can manage a proper beak without hopping around the room like an excited budgie and trying to grab anything shiny — usually my hair.’ Fleur glanced up at the bright moon. ‘I think we’ve waited long enough, mon Cœur.’
He sighed. ‘Yes, I think so.’
Fleur raised the mask and rearranged the patterns to activate the portkey. ‘Now we just have to wait for him to say the word, but given the word I chose, it shouldn’t be long. Anything he or his magic is touching will come with him when he does, but together, we’ll be more than able to handle him.’
‘Okay,’ Harry said. ‘What word—’
A loud crack echoed through the dusk. Dark shadows thudded into the scree and spilt down the slope, sending shale slithering and scraping toward the gleaming lake below.
Harry took a deep breath and levelled his wand at the glimmer of silver beneath the hood of the standing figure.
The clouds slid past the bright moon.
Tangled blonde-hair tumbled over milk-white skin, pale lips, and blank blue eyes. Twenty corpses sprawled over the scree, cold and still as stone.
Fleur’s heart stopped. They look like Gabby.
‘Potter.’ The dark-robed figure above them held his wand between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand like it were a paintbrush and twirled it in a circle. ‘I will not make the same mistake as my fellows. This is not quite the spell I intended for you, my beauties, but I have no choice.’
The corpses of the girls jerked and spasmed, then dragged themselves upright, clawing at the scree with torn, pink-varnished nails. Smeared lip gloss glittered on snarling lips about bared little white teeth. Bright-coloured bracelets hung on slim, dark-veined, pale-skinned wrists.
Travers’s eyeholes fixed themselves upon Fleur. ‘You’re a little older than I normally would like,’ he muttered, the fingers of his right hand groping at the air. ‘But you will make a fabulous addition all the same.’ Desire seeped from beneath the silver mask and hung hot and heavy in his loud rasping breaths. ‘When your skin is cold as porcelain, your eyes bright with death, I will make you mine. You will serve at my side until your perfection’s tainted by time or you no longer please me.’
Harry’s wand snapped up, unleashing a gout of water up the incline. Spears of ice lanced from the floor as the water splashed upon the stones, impaling the girls that hurled themselves down the slope. They tore free, ripping off limbs and wriggling through, lunging forward.
Fleur reached for the fire within and hurled a glob of blue flame at the first inferius to break free of Harry’s ice. It staggered as the fire burst across its chest, then threw itself forward, trailing a blazing mane of hair, stumbling to a halt as the muscles and tendons burnt away. She banished it back up the slope, leaving nothing but a line of smoke and the reek of seared flesh and scorched hair.
Harry flicked his wand, sending a thin ribbon of purple fire slicing across the scree. Half a dozen inferii vanished beneath it, crumbling to ash, and the ice exploded in a rush of steam. A bright hail of curses hissed toward him, but Harry swatted them aside with a contemptuous flick of his wand and hurled a bright pinprick of silver light back through the steam.
A bright flash burst beyond, throwing the sharp shadows of young girls up against the steam. Travers let out a raw cry.
An inferius lunged through the white cloud. Fleur flinched and blasted it to pieces with an instinctive jab of her wand. The pieces glowed an eerie yellow and dragged themselves back together. Thick, raw, red lines stretched across the girl’s face and limbs and the stub of her tongue stuck from between her gloss-smeared lower lip and the gaping hole stretching up to the bare, ragged cartilage of her nose.
The torso of a girl no older than eleven clawed its way uphill on her right, snapping at her calf. Fleur kicked its head away and set it alight with a swish of her wand, letting the fire in her bones bubble up to the surface and bathing her left palm in azure flame.
Travers howled within the fading steam and a bright flash of green burst into a wisp of dark mist before Harry’s chest.
‘Enough,’ Harry said.
A cloud of black butterflies burst from his wand tip, streaming around him and Fleur in a circle. He flicked his wand and they scattered from the swarm, streaking out to alight upon the remaining inferii. The little girls crumbled to dust.
‘No,’ Travers moaned. ‘You destroyed all of them.’ A choked sob echoed from beneath the silver mask. ‘My precious collection…’
‘You disgust me,’ Harry snapped.
‘Imperio!’ Travers cried, directing his wand at the insects around Harry.
One small, black butterfly broke from the cloud, floating to burst against his chest with a small puff of ebony mist.
Harry laughed. ‘That’s not how that piece of magic works.’
‘Fine,’ Travers hissed. ‘Taste the beauty of everlasting death; the perfection in which I will keep you and her until I am tired of you, or until your flesh has worn out too much to be of service to me.’ He thrust his short wand at the scree.
Shale crawled together, slithering and scraping into a great shivering cairn, then bursting into a great stone serpent.
‘Contusio.’ Harry shattered the crude snake with an ear-splitting concussion and flash of bright light.
Sharp shards of slate sprayed off into the night.
Fleur threw up a shield and watched the bits of stone bounce away. A metallic ping echoed through the dusk and Travers ran the edge of his thumb along the bright groove in his silver mask.
The gravel swirled together into a rumbling mound, then coiled back into the form of a snake and lunged at Fleur. She cast a shield and watched it wrap itself around the outside, crushing the light of her shield inward.
A battering ram of a spell. Force is useless. Fleur slipped her magic into the threads of power that tied the stone serpent together, stripping away Travers’s enchantments and rebinding the snake to her own will. It collapsed, writhing, and Fleur abandoned her shield, sending the gravel creation up the slope.
Stray spells batted aside by Harry and Travers bored smoking holes into the dirt and left dark, angry scorch marks on the stones. Her stone serpent lunged straight into a gush of cherry-red flame and burst into molten rock, spattering across the scree. Her magic melted away beneath the torrent of fire like snow from boiling water.
Smoking tears scattered Travers’s robes and dark spots marked the ground beneath his feet. His breath came in hoarse, light gasps. ‘Avada kedavra,’ he spat, hurling a viridescent beam at Harry.
Harry side-stepped, his wand crackling with white sparks and giving off a strong tang of ozone. ‘Fulminis.’
A crackling bolt of lightning flashed from his wand’s tip, leaving a smoking hole the size of Fleur’s hand in Travers’s stomach and a web of raw, weeping burns. The short wand in Travers’s hand exploded into splinters.
‘Kill me then, Potter,’ Travers rasped. ‘Make me as beautiful as my girls were. Let pale, cold hands caress away my fears, feelings and future.’
Harry thrust out his hand and ripped the spell-scarred, silver mask off Travers’s face. A pale sneer twisted a matted tangle of ginger stubble and pale green eyes into ugliness.
Fleur strode up the slope and rested a hand on his shoulder. ‘He’s good enough to know things,’ she murmured. ‘Perhaps one of these other horcruxes Dumbledore has identified is in his keeping.’
Harry nodded and pointed his wand between Travers’s eyes. ‘Legilimens.’
Silence hung upon the night as Travers’s face twisted into a grimace, then spread into a broad grin.
Unease gripped Fleur. Is he good at mind magic, too?
A small smile curved Harry’s lips and he dropped Travers to the ground. ‘Bellatrix Lestrange. Voldemort entrusted one of them to her, her husband and his brother, the cup that Dumbledore discovered, and she placed it in the safest location she knew, her vault at Gringotts.’
Travers let out a low moan. ‘Kill me,’ he pleaded. ‘Make me as perfect as they were, with white, cold skin, bright, brittle hair, and such wonderful, blank eyes. I want to be as I made them, my porcelain people.’
‘You can rot here,’ Fleur retorted. ‘They’ll never find you. Your flesh will be picked clean by crows and rats and smothered in mould.’
Travers flinched and his breath caught. ‘No!’ He fell to his knees. ‘I don’t want to rot! I don’t want to change! Don’t let me change!’
‘Then you can burn.’ Fleur cast a fistful of blue fire into his face.
Travers screamed and writhed on the ground, clutching at his face and kicking his heels into the stones. The fire lit his robes, wrapping him up in a veil of flame, and his screams and spasms faded to stillness. A thick column of black smoke drifted off into the night.
Fleur wrinkled her nose at the stink of burning flesh. ‘Let’s go home, mon Cœur.’
Harry slipped an arm around her waist and tugged her tight against him. ‘Let’s.’