A pale 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, but the world remained still.
The wards. 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.’ 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. 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, then 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 of Fleur’s favoured café. ‘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, then away at the blue umbrellas. ‘Ok, 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 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. She never has. Except for me.
Katie’s eyes flicked past his shoulder, then she twisted ’round and pointed 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, then turned around and glimpsed 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.’
She 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 and took a seat. ‘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 bored into 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, I wouldn’t waste any time waiting around to watch you betray me.’
‘I would never,’ he whispered. ‘I couldn’t.’
‘But I could?’ Fleur demanded. ‘What have I not done? What more can I do?’
‘I just don’t like it,’ he murmured. ‘I can’t stand watching you with him.’
‘You have no reason to not be able to stand it,’ she hissed. ‘Everything you feel, it comes from in your own head. I tolerate him. I talk to him. C’est tout!’
‘Can’t you just leave?’ Harry asked. ‘Can’t you just not talk to him?’
‘Can’t you just stop being friends with her?’ Fleur jabbed her cake fork at the red umbrellas. ‘I worry she will try something, but I trust you. You… You do not trust me, Harry. You sit there and despair over less than nothing.’
‘But it’s not nothing,’ he murmured. ‘It could happen. It always happens to me.’
Fleur stabbed her fork into the pastry crust of her fruit tart. ‘I’m meeting Bill here for lunch tomorrow.’
His heart stopped, panic bubbling up like hot tar. ‘Why?’
‘Because I want to.’ A fierce, fey light burnt in her black eyes as she twisted the fork. ‘You go visit Katie often enough at her cafe, why should I not talk to a friend at this one?’
‘I thought you tolerated him?’
Fleur shrugged her slim shoulders. ‘If I can trust you to spend time alone with Katie, then you should be able to trust me to spend time with Bill.’ The dark drained from her eyes. ‘Go on, go back across to her cafe. Go talk to her. I do not want to talk to you right now.’
Harry reeled, the breath slipping from his lungs. ‘But… I thought…’
‘You thought you could keep me separate from all the rest of the world, so it couldn’t ever steal me away.’ Fleur ate the last pieces of her fruit tart, brushing crumbs off her lips. ‘It doesn’t work like that. I’m not something to be hoarded in the dark.’
He drifted across the street, a raw heat roiling beneath his ribs, head spinning. His stomach churned, flashing hot and cold until the bitterness of bile crept onto his tongue.
‘Hey. Hey.’ Katie waved a hand in front of his face. ‘All okay?’
Harry stared at the messy fringe scattered over her forehead. ‘Not really.’ He threw a glance across the street to where Fleur’s silver hair shone beneath a blue umbrella. ‘Not at all,’ he whispered.
Katie frowned and balled her fists, glaring across the street. ‘Sit down.’ She pushed him into a seat. ‘And spill.’
‘Spill?’ Harry ran a fingertip across the cold table, tracing coffee stains. ‘What’s there to spill?’
She dropped down beside him, scooting across until her warm knees brushed his. ‘Do I need to find us some Firewhiskey?’
‘I don’t really feel like drinking.’
‘What about eating?’ Katie asked. ‘We have cake or sandwiches.’
‘Not cake.’ He stared down into the table grain, tracking the little lines through the wood. ‘Or sandwiches. I’m not hungry.’
The world drifted into the distance. In his mind’s eye, the street stretched open, the cobbles gaping like a chasm between the rows of red and blue umbrellas.
‘Oi.’ Katie poked him in the side. ‘Don’t go inside.’ Her lips twisted. ‘Tell me.’
‘She doesn’t want to talk to me.’ The dull, raw ache tore deeper, catching his heart in a tight twist of barbed panic. ‘I don’t know how to fix it. I thought I wasn’t meant to have to fix things…’
‘Why doesn’t she want to speak to you?’ Katie’s voice dropped to a whisper. ‘Is is because—’
‘Because I can’t bear seeing her talking with him,’ Harry hissed. ‘Standing next to her, beside her, where I’m meant to be. She — she’s mine.’ His voice cracked. ‘And I’m hers.’
‘Is it just talking?’ Katie asked. ‘Talking’s not anything to worry about.’
‘I don’t know,’ he muttered. ‘How could I know? It might be. But it might not be.’
She pursed her lips. ‘Do you trust her?’
Fury flashed through him and Harry twisted round.
Katie flinched back. ‘Just a question.’ She held her hands up. ‘Because, well, it sounds like you don’t.’
‘I do.’ He smothered a flash of Fleur smiling at Bill, crushed it right down as far as he could crush it. ‘I do. Why doesn’t anyone understand that?!’
‘Well, if you trust her, then it’s what she says it is.’
‘But what if it’s not?’ Harry glanced across at the blue umbrellas and his heart twisted. ‘What if things change? What if she leaves?’
Katie squirmed. ‘I mean, you’re never going to know for absolute certain, are you?’
‘Shouldn’t you?’ he whispered. ‘Shouldn’t you just know?’
‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘You have to trust them.’ Katie studied her red-painted fingernails, picking at chipped polish. ‘I can’t really pretend I’m an expert here, but that’s one lesson I have learnt. If I’d trusted you, I’d’ve known there was nothing to get upset about last year before the Yule Ball, and then, I’d not have, well, you know…’
‘Yeah.’ A brief, nervous laugh burst through Katie’s lips. ‘That whole stupid disaster.’
‘So I should just pretend it doesn’t bother me?’ Harry clenched his jaw. ‘I don’t think I can. She’ll know. As always.’
Katie bounced her knees. ‘I think, maybe, you need to have this talk with Fleur, Harry. I — I’m not your girlfriend, remember. Telling me doesn’t change anything.’
‘She doesn’t want to talk to me.’ A soft little pain twisted beneath his ribs. ‘She said so.’
‘That sounds like the sort of thing I’d say when I really did want you to talk to me,’ Katie said. ‘I think you should go back over there and tell her this. You don’t want her to misunderstand and do something she can’t take back.’
Fear bit into him, cold as Petunia’s pond in winter; its jaws clamped around his spine.
‘I’ll go.’ Harry stumbled to his feet and forced a smile onto his face. ‘Thanks, Katie.’
‘Happy to help,’ she murmured. ‘Go sort things out.’
He crossed the cobbles, sucking in a deep breath and took the seat beside Fleur.
Fleur’s blue eyes flicked up. ‘You’re back.’
The confidence drained away like water through his fingers. ‘I thought I should. Katie said I should.’
‘Katie said.’ Fleur’s lips thinned and her irises darkened a few hues. ‘And what did Katie say you should do?’
‘Tell you…’ He hunted for words. ‘Things.’
Fleur’s midnight blue eyes pierced right through him. ‘What things?’
‘I don’t like seeing him where I should be. I don’t like not knowing if it’s just talking, or if…’ Harry watched her eyes flash black and swallowed. ‘If it’s not just talking.’
‘And how would you know?’ Fleur demanded. ‘You want to know for certain. The only way to know for certain is if I can only ever speak to you.’
‘I don’t know what to do,’ he whispered. ‘I can’t stand it and I can’t fix it.’
Fleur stood up, little white feathers bristling down her arms. ‘I’ll tell you what to do. You have to turn off whatever it is in your head that makes you think like this. I—’ she raised her chin and drew herself up ‘—I will be in France, waiting for you to come and tell me you have.’
‘No!’ Harry grabbed for her.
She wavered and vanished, leaving him clutching at the air.
‘No…’ A jagged pain ripped through him. ‘She can’t leave.’
He pictured the willow and wrenched at the world, but it hung still, fixed as firm as the blue umbrellas over his head. Harry forced his magic into it, clawing at it, yet the blue umbrellas above his head remained.
She’s warded me out. Panic seized him by the throat, tight, hot bands of it crushed about his chest, and dark spots swirled before his eyes. Merde.
Warped mirth bubbled up within his breast, slipping through the fingers of the fist of panic clenched beneath his ribs. Inside its grasp, a hot knot of emotion tightened like a vice.
‘I think maybe I do want that Firewhiskey after all.’
He glanced down at the discarded cake fork and plate. A numb, cold crept in, smothering the panic like heavy snow, the first faint touch of a hollow hand upon his heart.
Harry dragged his feet back across the cobbles and slumped down beneath the red umbrellas. There really is just no point, is there? Nothing ever comes true.
Katie sat down beside him. ‘I take it that didn’t go well,’ she murmured.
He shook his head, swallowing back the words boiling up from a numb, bitter heart. ‘What gave it away?’
‘You look like someone just ripped your heart out.’ She slid a warm arm around his shoulders, breathing a faint wash of Firewhiskey over him. ‘I’m afraid I already drank the last finger of whiskey, I was feeling a little shaky and I thought I had another bottle we could share stashed somewhere.’ She swallowed and threw a long look at him out of the corner of her eye. ‘What did Fleur say?’
‘She — she said she’s waiting in France,’ Harry replied. ‘But she left.’
‘What’s Frenchie waiting for?’ Katie asked. ‘An apology?
‘No, well, probably, but not really.’ He sighed. ‘She wants me to stop worrying, or, at least, stop doubting. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. She’s left. And she’s warded me out.’
Katie gave his shoulders a gentle squeeze. ‘Do you love her?’
‘She’s everything.’ The words burst from the tangle of feeling beneath his ribs, tumbling off his tongue. ‘The only thing.’
Her lips twisted. ‘If you love her, you need to get her back. Right?’
‘It doesn’t work like that,’ Harry muttered. ‘She’s gone.’
‘Hey.’ Katie poked him in the cheek with a warm fingertip. ‘Everyone makes mistakes. You just have to make up for it, however long it takes. Have faith. Things will work out for the best.’
‘What if they don’t?’ He curled his fingers into a fist. ‘What if it just gets worse?’
She swung her legs over his lap and hung off the arm around his shoulders. ‘Is Frenchie still upset about you not being able to trust her?’
‘I do trust her.’ Harry stared down at where Katie’s knees arched over his legs. ‘I don’t understand how to explain it. I know she’d never do anything, but something might just happen. Something always just happens.’
‘If you trusted her, then you’d know nothing would happen. You wouldn’t even think about it.’ She stretched her legs and kicked off her shoes, wiggling her toes in the sun. ‘Are you worrying about me portkeying you off to Voldemort?’
Harry blinked. ‘No?’
‘Did you even think about it?’ Katie asked.
‘Of course not.’
‘That’s trust, Harry,’ she said. ‘If you’re already worrying…’
‘But I can’t not worry about losing her,’ he said. ‘I just lost her!’
‘And how did that happen?’
‘Because she — she didn’t understand…’ A little chill crept down his spine. ‘She’s supposed to understand. She’s meant to always understand.’
Katie’s brow creased. ‘What goes on inside your head, Harry? How can she understand if you don’t tell her?’
‘I did!’ A flicker of heat flared in his breast. ‘And she left!’
‘Did you tell her why you can’t trust her?’ Katie asked. Her lips twisted. ‘Why don’t you trust her? Is there actually a good reason?’
‘I trust her.’ He sucked in a deep breath, wrestling with the tight knot of emotion whirling in his heart. ‘It’s just…’
‘Just?’ Katie coaxed.
‘Something always snatches good things away,’ Harry whispered. ‘It doesn’t matter how much I want them, or how hard I try, they just slip through my fingers.’
She hummed. ‘Do I count as a good thing?’
‘Yes.’ He managed a faint smile. ‘You’re my best friend.’
‘Well, I’m still here, and we had our moments, didn’t we?’ Katie glanced away across the cafe. ‘When your name came out of the goblet. After I stupidly said yes to Roger Davies.’
‘You really should’ve told him you changed your mind,’ Harry said.
‘I should’ve,’ she said. ‘But don’t change the subject. Roger Davies isn’t going to fix this mess you’ve made.’
‘I don’t think it can be fixed.’ Harry shrugged through a stab of despair. ‘I can’t stop worrying something will steal her away. She said come and find her when I’ve stopped, but I can’t. I don’t know how.’
Katie fixed him with a long, searching look. ‘Just come and find her afterward?’
‘Yes.’ He caught a glimmer of disapproval in her eyes. ‘It’s not like that, Katie. She cares — she’s waiting for me, and she’ll be lonely, and it’ll hurt her, and then I’ll come.’ A small smile spread across his lips. ‘And then everything will be beautiful, and that moment will be worth how much it hurt.’
The corners of Katie’s mouth turned down. ‘That doesn’t sound like a recipe for happiness, Harry. It sounds like twisting the knife in yourself just so the moments it doesn’t hurt feel like bliss.’
Harry stared up at the red umbrella spreading above their heads. ‘You don’t understand, she’s perfect.’
‘Why?’ Katie demanded. ‘Why is Frenchie perfect? She has a right to be upset about you not trusting her, but what did she do? She left you to panic alone, told you to fix it alone and for what?’
‘Because it will be beautiful when I go back to her,’ he whispered. ‘Like stepping from the dark and cold to reach the sunset.’
Katie shivered. ‘It’ll feel good because it’ll be a release from all the stress and pain she’s left you in. That’s not… that’s not the right thing to do.’ Her eyes flicked to the empty tables. ‘She should be here, where I am, talking to you. Not tormenting you.’
‘And what happens next time?’ Katie pulled her legs off his lap and drew back her arm. ‘Let’s say you fix this. You make yourself stop worrying about her talking to other guys. What then? How many times will Frenchie make you panic like this just so you come running back to her for another sunset? Your sunset will never really last, Harry.’
Would she really do that? An awful certainty settled on him. She would. Sunsets don’t last forever. Each time that moment passed, she’d crave the next.
His heart sank. ‘I don’t want to believe that,’ he whispered, clawing his heart back up from the dark. ‘If I believe that, then there’s no point going after her at all.’
‘You should be with a girl who makes you happy all the time, Harry.’ She reached out and tugged at his arm, pulling him right round to face her, a serious look in her brown eyes and the heat of Firewhiskey on her breath. ‘This… this isn’t healthy. We all have our quirks, but it’s too much. She twists the knife in your heart and you’re in love with her for when the pain stops.’
‘There’s nobody else.’ Harry struggled with the summer sun and the warm willow bark, with Fleur’s small, soft smile, the faint, sweet scent of marzipan, and the taste of her kisses. ‘Nobody. Maybe it’s meant to hurt a bit.’
Katie inspected the chipped nail polish on her thumb. ‘If you’re sure it’s Fleur you want, then that’s your choice, I’ll always be there when this happens. I—’ she swallowed and blinked hard ‘—I will help you fix it every time forever if you need me to.’
A brief warmth touched his heart, a small smile spreading across his face. ‘I know you will.’
Warm, soft lips met his. Katie’s arms slid round his neck, pulling his mouth against hers. The soft taste of chocolate and the gentle burn of Firewhiskey lingered on his lips as she drew back.
Harry touched his fingers to his mouth. ‘I—’
‘I shouldn’t have done that,’ Katie blurted. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘I just thought, before you go chasing back after Frenchie, before you choose to love how it hurts, that you should know,’ she whispered. ‘It’s not her or nobody.’ Katie stared into her lap, pink blossoming across her cheeks. ‘I’m — I’m still here. I’m not perfect. I’ll do silly things. I already did silly things. But I’m here and I — I promise I don’t want it to hurt us. And I won’t leave you alone to hurt if something ever does.’
She squirmed. ‘I thought I’d ruined it and then I thought I should give you some time. And you seemed really happy with Frenchie, and that was okay, because I want you to be happy, no matter who it’s with.’ Katie’s hand crept over his. ‘Only, now it doesn’t seem like you’re so happy after all. And I—’ her fingers brushed her lips ‘—I just had to…’
‘I love Fleur.’ He winced from the pain that flashed through her brown eyes. ‘I love Fleur so much I can’t breathe without her.’
‘Oh.’ Katie’s hand slipped away. ‘Well—’
‘But you’re right.’
She froze. ‘I — I am?’ she whispered. ‘As in?’
‘She loves how it hurts,’ he said. ‘It’s how she loves. If it doesn’t hurt, if you don’t feel the sacrifice, it’s not worth having.’ Harry buried Fleur’s soft smile beneath the fey gleam in her dark eyes. ‘And someone once told me to be careful what I sacrifice. I — I know what happens to people who keep sacrificing things until it’s too late. I don’t want to become that.’
Katie gulped. ‘So?’
‘I think it will take me some time,’ Harry murmured. ‘I want that moment when I get what I suffered for, I want Fleur back, I want to hold her, I want to be able to breathe, and I would do anything for it, no matter how much it hurts.’
‘But?’ Katie scooted a little closer with a weak smile. ‘There is a but, right?’
He flashed her a faint grin. ‘You’re the but, silly Katie.’
‘I do have a great butt. It looks almost as good in that lacy underwear you saw as it does not in underwear.’ Katie’s eyes met his and her breath caught. ‘But I’m not going to wait for you to fix things by yourself like Frenchie has, I’m here and I’ll help you.’ Her gaze dropped to his lips and she leant in. ‘If you want me—’
‘I want you.’ Harry drew her into a soft kiss. ‘I think maybe I need you.’ He held her against him until she melted into his arms. ‘It’ll take a little while, it’ll hurt a bit, and there are things I have to do, but if you can wait…’
I think this has to be au revoir, mon Rêve. He stifled a wrench of raw pain, smothering a flash of Fleur in the French sun. It won’t matter if I win if there’s nothing of me left.
‘I can wait.’ Katie’s smile lit her face up like the sun and a little rush of gentle warmth settled on Harry’s heart as she lay back against him. ‘Hmmmm, I guess I’m going to have to buy that seashell bra to show off to you after all.’
Harry chuckled. ‘No bra will work just as well. Maybe even better.’
‘Two kisses and he’s already trying to talk me out of my clothes.’ Katie feigned a sigh, grinning from ear to ear. ‘I’m probably not going to put up much of a fight—’ she squirmed around and cupped his face in her hands ‘—but I think it would be smarter to wait a bit.’
‘I’ll endure.’ A small twisted smile crept onto his lips. ‘The more it hurts to have, the more satisfying it is to get it.’
Katie huffed. ‘That is the first and last time I want to hear that.’ She kissed him on the cheek. ‘I don’t want Frenchie’s knife still in you when we get there and I don’t want her in your head. I don’t want everything to get all tangled up together and painful for you. I’d really rather not have to wait, I did have plans for us after our first kiss, you know, but we should wait until you’re… healed.’
Harry nodded. ‘It’s not at all what I want, but you’re probably right.’ He pressed the fingers of his hand to his chest. ‘It hurts here and you — you aren’t just something to make it stop hurting. I should love you like you’re meant to love people, even if it takes us some time.’
‘It’s not perfect.’ Katie covered his hand with her warm fingers and smiled. ‘But nothing ever is.’