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Storm clouds swirled across the ceiling of the Great Hall, flickering with lightning. The dull rumble of thunder swelled over the clatter of cutlery and the hissed whispers of hushed conversations.
Quiet, red-eyed students scattered the four tables and ragged gaps hung heavy amidst the Seventh Years.
Those mourning, those who’ve died fighting and those who’ve fled.
Ron shovelled eggs onto his plate, and onto the plates of those around him. ‘Eat.’ He nudged at Dean and Seamus. ‘Not eating doesn’t help with anything.’
‘Malfoy looks like he hasn’t eaten all holiday,’ Nev muttered.
Harry cast a glance across the room. He’s probably running out of time before Voldemort’s patience ends.
Malfoy stared at his plate as Pansy added mushrooms to his breakfast, patting him on the arm and chatting away.
‘He’s as skinny as I used to be,’ he said.
‘Not a very cheerful start to term,’ Neville replied. ‘Things are looking bad.’
Harry gave Katie a gentle poke in the arm. She dropped her fork, reaching out and squeezing his fingers, poking her toast around on her plate with the tip of her knife.
Her father’s still with what’s left of the Ministry forces in London. Harry glanced at the front page of the Daily Prophet and the collage of Dark Marks hanging over small villages. In a few weeks, Voldemort will have crushed everywhere but here and London.
‘I’m planning on going to Gringotts soon,’ he murmured to Nev. ‘I went in over the holidays and had a flick through their bookings list. The Lestranges are going in to talk to the goblins about unfreezing their assets in a few days.’
Nev’s face paled. ‘What are we going to be doing?’
Harry lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘We’re going to Polyjuice as them, split them up, then you’ll accompany one and I’ll accompany the other.’
I’ll get rid of one where you can’t see, Nev, then use the other to let us into the vault. He weighed things up. It’ll be risky, but we’re out of time.
‘What about the goblins?’ Nev hissed. ‘And what do we do with the Lestranges?’
‘I’ve got a plan,’ Harry said. ‘Do you trust me?’
Nev held his gaze and sucked in a deep breath. ‘I do, but… why’re you asking me?’
‘Polyjuice requires that both of us be male.’ Harry poked Katie. ‘Room of Requirement in a minute? Only if you want to come.’
Katie shoved her plate away and sipped orange juice from her goblet. ‘I’ll be there.’
‘I’ll bring Fleur,’ Harry whispered.
‘Here?’ Katie’s head swivelled. ‘What about the wards?’
He smirked. ‘I have my ways.’
‘Nobody really believes anything about the two of you outside of our little crowd, you know,’ Katie whispered. ‘They think she’s just another stupid rumour. I keep getting asked if I feel safe dating you…’
I guess they’ve more than enough to talk about now. A small smile spread across his face. Fleur’s going to really hate that, but at least it means she’s safe. Voldemort probably doesn’t know about her.
‘What do you tell them?’ he asked, waggling his eyebrows at her. ‘How fantastic I am?’
Katie snorted. ‘I tell them that you really know your way around a pair of handcuffs, are great with your fingers and tongue, but that Teen Witch Weekly was right about your impotence.’
He chuckled. ‘Thanks. Feel free to tell Romilda, I’m a little concerned about how desperate she’s getting. I might get love-potioned…’
‘Are you coming to Defence this afternoon?’ Nev asked, dragging himself out from under the bench.
I probably should. Harry drummed his fingers on the table, then stood up and headed for the Room of Requirement. But no, it’s a waste of time. And I’ve little enough left of that as it is.
‘No,’ he said. ‘I do wonder who’ll be teaching it, though.’
‘At this rate it will be Voldemort, because everyone else will be terrified of the curse,’ Nev muttered, pausing to wait for Katie at the door. ‘Even Snape couldn’t last.’
‘Again,’ Harry said. ‘It will be Voldemort again.’
‘He taught here before?’ Katie demanded. ‘Who let him?’
‘Dumbledore.’ Harry grinned. ‘Although Voldemort didn’t apply in the conventional method, spent most of his time sticking out the back of the head of our favourite stuttering idiot.’
‘You mean…’ Katie feigned horror and clapped her hands to her mouth. ‘Surely not!?’
Harry laughed, skirting a group of Second Years. ‘I’m afraid so…’
‘But he seemed so harmless! He was such a cute wizard, all shy and stuttering, quite chubby, though, and terribly forgetful.’
‘Hey!’ Nev cried. ‘There’s nothing sticking out the back of my head, thank you.’
Katie batted at the tufts sticking up from the crown of Harry’s head. ‘More than can be said for you, Harry.’
‘Shush you.’ Harry slipped a hand down the inside of shirt and pulled out the acorn. ‘Azure,’ he murmured, watching it spread out into a mirror.
‘That’s amazing,’ Katie breathed. ‘Is that a magic mirror? Where did you get that?’
‘Fleur made it,’ Harry said. ‘You two go on ahead, I’ll be with you in a moment.’
Fleur’s blue eyes and small smile shimmered into view. ‘Ready, mon Cœur?’
He gave her a slow, deliberate blink. I love you.
She returned his blink and her smile softened. ‘If I bounce off the wards, you’re going to have to buy me a mountain of cake, mon Cœur.’
‘I’ve invited you, it’ll be fine.’ Harry grinned. ‘And I’ll end up buying you cake anyway. Make sure you use the cloak, it’s on the desk in the study. So’s the map of the castle, but you can probably remember the way?’
‘I can.’ Fleur wavered, reappearing cast in shadows. ‘This cloak smells. Do you ever wash it?’
‘No. It never occurred to me.’
‘I am going to have to wash my hair,’ Fleur groused, hurrying through Myrtle’s bathroom.
‘I don’t think it’s been washed in centuries,’ Harry whispered, setting off toward the Room of Requirement.
‘Harry.’ Ron stepped out of one of the secret passages. ‘Headed upstairs?’
‘Yeah.’ He studied Ron’s expression. ‘You’ve misplaced your girlfriend?’
‘We split up.’ He shrugged. ‘Hermione’s all wound up over Malfoy and whatever you’re up to. Doesn’t have time for anything like that.’ A brief shadow passed across his face. ‘I think she was afraid I’d try and cage her up at home like Mum chose one day, too. I’d never, but, you know Hermione, once she’s got something in her head…’
‘Sorry to hear about it,’ Harry said. ‘It’s not much fun, splitting up.’
Ron nodded. ‘Yeah. It really isn’t. Still, we made a decent job of it, still friends when she’s not off tailing Malfoy or worrying about you.’
‘She’s got no reason to worry about either of us,’ Harry said, feeling a pair of arms snake around his neck and catching a whiff of marzipan. ‘Malfoy’s clearly not having any luck and about the only nefarious thing I’ve done recently involved a bench, a nice view, and something that may well be considered public indecency.’
Ron’s ears turned red. ‘Right. Well, I’ve got to get to my Care lesson. Later.’
‘It wasn’t public,’ Fleur whispered in his ear. ‘And your view was definitely better than nice, mon Cœur.’
Harry smothered a flash of Fleur’s flushed face, trembling nude legs and the skirt bunched about her waist. Not helpful thoughts. He opened the small wooden door opposite Hogwarts’s worst tapestry and led Fleur inside.
Nev and Katie sat around a small fire on battered chintz sofas. ‘Harry?’
‘And Fleur.’ He tugged the cloak off her, mussing her cascade of silver hair. ‘See?’ Harry stepped out of range and took a seat in the middle of the sofa beside Katie.
‘Why am I here?’ Katie demanded, swinging her feet around and dropping them close to Harry’s lap.
Harry eyed her toes as Fleur settled herself down beside him. ‘Well, someone has to be around to cover for us while we’re gone.’
‘Have you come up with a plan, mon Cœur?’ Her eyes dropped to Katie’s red-varnished toe-nails and flicked up to her face. ‘A real plan?’
‘We turn up just before the Lestranges meet the goblins at the bank, acquire some hairs, split the pair up and go from there.’ Harry pointed at Nev. ‘You can go as Rabastan, as he doesn’t say much, by all accounts. Rodolphus is the eldest and the leader, so it’s more of a risk. I’ll be him. One of us will go to the vault. The other will delay and then go down. Once we’re in the vault and out of sight, I’ll deal with the Lestranges.’ He grinned. ‘Then we can just walk out.’
‘You will have to cross the protections that Gringotts employs.’ Fleur tugged at her little finger. ‘Most of these won’t trouble you, since you’re being taken to the vault by one of their tellers, but the Polyjuice will only last until you cross the waterfall.’
‘It undoes the effects of most magic,’ Fleur said. ‘It’s one of the goblins’ finest pieces of enchanting. The water is enchanted and cycles ‘round.’
‘Does nobody ever complain about getting wet?’ Harry asked.
‘It only needs to be near you,’ Fleur said. ‘It passes either side of the path, but the touch of the spray is enough.’
‘It’s not much of a plan,’ Nev murmured. ‘If the Polyjuice can’t get through the waterfall, then even a second dose will still not get us out, because we’ll go back through the waterfall.’
‘Harry’s plans never are, he likes to improvise.’ Fleur’s eyes darkened several hues. ‘And you can’t take a second dose of Polyjuice, it’d be too soon after the first dose.’
‘How good are you at duelling, Nev?’ Harry exchanged a long look with Fleur. ‘Decent?’
‘I’m not sure,’ Nev said. ‘Nowhere near as good as you, probably, but I’m one of the best in the DA. You should come and help us, really. Things are getting pretty bad…’
‘I can do that.’ He leant back on the sofa, ignoring Katie’s feet squirming under his leg. ‘If Voldemort attacks here, you’ll need to be able to fight.’
Even if it’s just long enough to let me go after Voldemort’s snake or Voldemort himself.
‘Good.’ Nev let out a sigh. ‘The next meeting is in a few days’ time, I’ll drag you there if I have to.’
‘Excellent.’ Harry watched the little fire dance. ‘That’s probably about as much planning as there’s any point in doing. Once we’re in, we’re in, we can worry about the rest as we go.’
Katie hunched her knees into her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs. Fleur lifted herself over Harry’s lap and pushed him to the far end of the sofa, murmuring in Katie’s ear.
Nev shuffled his feet, glancing between the two girls and Harry. ‘I’d best be off. I need to do a few things in the Greenhouses.’
‘Bye, Nev.’ Harry watched the door swing shut. ‘You okay, Katie?’
‘No,’ she snapped. ‘This is stupid. And dangerous. And you’re probably not going to come back to me!’
‘He’ll be fine,’ Fleur murmured. ‘If he doesn’t come back in one piece I promise to let you hex him, but only after I’m done with him.’
‘I suppose you should go first.’ Katie sighed and buried her face into her knees. ‘All things considered.’
‘It’s okay.’ Fleur patted her on the shoulder. ‘It always feels like this, I understand.’
‘Do you?’ Katie’s tone turned bitter. ‘How could you? Even if he comes back, he’s not really coming back to me. And of course he isn’t. It’s not even unfair. You’re everything anyone could ever hope to be, it makes perfect sense.’
Harry winced from a sharp stab of guilt and wished the Room of Requirement would open up and swallow him whole.
The fire vanished.
He sighed. Wishes never come true.
Fleur caught Harry’s eye. ‘Not too long ago, beside the Black Lake, I watched Harry turn away from me. I was sure he hated me, so there was nothing I could do but watch him walk away, watch you follow him, watch you catch him. I was certain I’d lost.’
‘I should’ve walked faster,’ Katie muttered. ‘But even then, you’d’ve only stolen him in the end anyway.’
‘It’s probably best not to think about it.’ Fleur rose from the middle of the sofa and plucked the cloak off the arm. ‘Things are what they are. It’s too late to change them now.’
Katie flinched. ‘Sorry.’ She threw a furtive glance at Harry, caught his eye and flushed bright red. ‘That must have been awkward for you…’
‘Little bit, but I’m glad I heard it. You’ll always be my friend, Katie.’
Thank you. He shared a soft look with Fleur.
‘I should go.’ Katie leapt from the sofa and hurried out.
The door slammed shut.
‘Thank you,’ Harry said.
‘I told you,’ Fleur murmured, sliding into his lap. ‘She loves you, but she wants you to be happy. She knows you’re happy with me.’ She rested her head in the crook of his neck. ‘The moment I make a mistake, she’ll try and steal you, but if I don’t, she’ll do nothing more than try and put her feet in your lap.’
‘I’m still glad you were nice.’ He pressed a kiss to the tip of her nose. ‘She’s my best friend, even if it’s kind of complicated.’
‘She’s not wrong, either.’ Fleur sighed. ‘I did steal you, in a way. It was me throwing my allure at you that caused your fight, then after I tore you apart, what did I do if not sweep in and take you for myself?’
‘Katie’s a nice girl. Cute, too.’ He smiled at the pout that crept across her lips. ‘I can go back, if you prefer?’
‘Non.’ She dragged his lips down to hers. ‘You are mine, mon Cœur. I feel bad for Katie, but it was her dream or ours.’
‘She’s not perfect,’ Harry whispered.
‘Nobody else is perfect for you like I am.’ Her lips traced the line of his jaw. ‘I am Fleur Delacour.’
Harry chuckled. ‘Doesn’t say it on the Triwizard Trophy though, does it?’
‘Only by accident and that was the only round you actually beat me in.’ Harry cradled her into his chest and sighed. ‘Have you found anything else about the Resurrection Stone?’
‘We’ll find it,’ Fleur murmured. ‘There’s no time now, but after we’re free, we can try scrying for it or something like that.’
‘Anything is worth a try.’ He folded his cloak up. ‘You can just leave this in the study.’
‘Non.’ Fleur wrinkled her nose. ‘That’s not happening.’
‘No?’ Harry frowned. ‘If you don’t wear it, you’ll show up on the castle wards straight away.’
‘I meant I’m not going to fold it up and put it back in the study,’ she said. ‘I’m taking it back to the Meadow and then I’m washing it… Repeatedly.’