White flower petals tumbled through the grass beneath the twisted bark of the vast beech trunk, caught on a faint, warm breeze. Ancient boughs arched over Harry’s head, bearing a swathe of fluttering green leaves. Bright sunlight burst in through a gap in the green, shining upon the worn, rune-marked stone before the beech trunk.
Gemenc Forest is beautiful. He dragged his eyes away from the tree, back across the long, whispering grass and white petals to Gabby.
She beamed, her grey eyes bright with laughter, and flourished her wand.
A faint shimmer at her side wavered into Fleur.
The white silk dress flowed from her shoulders and white roses bloomed through the weave of her braided, silver hair. A girdle of blue silk met in a gleaming bronze clasp around her waist, the concentric circular pattern shifting and swirling. Her blue eyes met his and Harry’s heart lurched, hammering against his ribs as she stepped up beside him.
‘Don’t look so nervous, mon Amour.’ Fleur’s small smile sent his heart flopping about in his chest as she took his hands. ‘Nothing’s coming to snatch this perfect day away from us.’
Fleur’s mother covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes shining with tears, and Fleur’s father wrapped his arms around her, murmuring in her ear with a broad smile on his face.
‘I consent to be wed,’ Fleur said, giving Harry’s fingers a light squeeze. ‘By my will alone.’
A ribbon of white flame curled around her wrist and looped over his own.
‘I consent to be wed,’ he echoed. ‘By my will alone.’
The pale fire sprang up around his forearm, coiling into the existing ribbon and sinking away into their skin.
‘Do you remember the words?’ Fleur whispered, raising their joined hands between them.
He nodded, his mouth dry as dust. The red ring he’d given her glowed beside the silver band on his finger.
‘Say them for me,’ she murmured. ‘Say them with your wife.’
My wife. His heart clenched and tears sprang to his eyes. All that time alone without hope… and somehow I made it after all.
‘Your fortune is my fortune, in success and sorrow, until death parts us.’ Fleur’s words rang in his ears and the sound of his voice drowned in the bright blue of her eyes.
Gabby stepped forward, a small honey-glazed cake hovering before her. ‘May this union be blessed with long-lasting love and luck.’ She split the cake in half with a flick of her wand.
Harry linked his arm with Fleur’s and slipped one small half into his mouth. The sweetness of the honey melted on his tongue like spun sugar and the faintest taste of marzipan lingered as he swallowed.
‘To light your journey from the house of your parents to the house of your new life,’ Gabby said, holding out a smooth wooden torch and a slim, silver blade.
Fleur cut a lock of hair from her head with the knife and lit it with a spark of white flame from her finger. She placed the burning curl of hair upon the torch and watched the flames lick up the wood. ‘You can relax, mon Cœur,’ she whispered. ‘You are officially mine now.’
A rush of warmth flooded Harry’s chest and he bent to kiss her past the heat of the torch. ‘And you are mine,’ he murmured as their lips parted.
‘Food time,’ Gabby chirped. ‘Back to France!’
The world lurched as Fleur apparated him onto the patio before the wildflower fields. A long table stretched across it beneath the grapevine trestle, laden with steaming dishes and towering spirals of sweet desserts.
‘It’s traditional,’ Fleur whispered in his ear. ‘It all is, really. I didn’t care, it was going to be perfect regardless, but Gabby thought we should do it this way when you finally got ‘round to asking me.’
That little harpy. She knew the whole time.
‘You didn’t warn me,’ he murmured as a trio of soft cracks rang through the fields.
‘I wanted to see the look on your face.’ Her lips curved into a little smirk. ‘And it was worth it. I’m going to put today in my pensieve when it’s finished and relive it over and over.’
The rippling flames of the torch hovered behind Fleur as she slid into one of the two seats at the table’s head. Her parents and Gabby sat around the edges, Fleur’s mother dabbing at her eyes with one hand and clutching her husband’s hand tight with the other.
‘Help yourself,’ Gabby said. ‘There’s no ceremony here.’
He glanced at the torch floating behind Fleur. ‘Somehow, I don’t quite feel convinced.’
Gabby giggled. ‘You’ll see what that’s for later.’
‘Soul-bonding?’ he asked.
‘No, it’s for me!’ Gabby threw a mischievous glance at Fleur. ‘Would you like some wine, big sister?’
Fleur narrowed her darkening eyes. ‘Non. I’m fine, thank you, Gabby.’
‘Non?’ Gabby poked the condensation-veiled bottle of champagne across with the tip of her finger. ‘What about champagne, then? I mean, if this isn’t a reason to drink it…’
‘Gabrielle,’ Fleur hissed, her eyes flashing black.
Fleur’s mother cocked her head, the tissue slipping through her fingers. ‘Pas d’alcool, ma chérie?’
Fleur turned her nose up. ‘Non.’ A touch of pink rose on her cheeks and she twisted about to her sister. ‘You’re dead, Gabrielle.
Harry slid a hand onto her lap and squeezed her fingers, wincing a little as the heat washing off her hands burnt his skin.
‘Secrets are bad,’ Gabby chirped. ‘Especially happy secrets.’
Fleur drew Harry’s hand to her abdomen and the burning sensation faded. ‘Well, there aren’t any secrets now, Gabrielle.’
Gabby beamed. ‘Bon.’
Fleur’s father leant forward. ‘So… you’re…?’
‘Yes.’ Fleur shoved the champagne bottle away down the table, faint wisps of condensation steaming from her fingers.
‘How long?’ her mother whispered.
Fleur crossed her arms and clamped her lips shut.
‘About a month, I think,’ Harry said. ‘Or close to it.’
‘You can’t feel any difference between the magic of the mother and the child for a month,’ Fleur’s mother said. ‘And even then, you have to be very talented to be able to tell for certain.’
‘I am sure,’ Fleur said. ‘So I am not drinking.’
‘Have you thought about names?’ Gabby asked. ‘Fleur, don’t let him choose a terrible English name.’
‘I am not going to.’ Fleur skewered a stuffed pepper and dropped it onto her plate. ‘If it’s a girl, it will be Katrina.’
‘And if it’s a boy?’ Fleur’s father perked up. ‘We could really use another boy around here, I feel quite outnumbered.’
Harry exchanged a long look with Fleur. ‘We hadn’t got that far. We’ve not even got to middle names yet.’
‘Gabrielle,’ Gabby suggested.
‘Non.’ Fleur turned her nose up at her sister, cutting her stuffed pepper into neat slices. ‘One of you is enough trouble, right, mon Amour?’
Gabby batted her eyelashes at Harry. ‘You can’t get too much of me, right, mon Cœur?’
‘We still need to think about names.’ He picked at garlic-buttered mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and butter beans in tomato and basil. ‘So, why Gemenc Forest?’
‘It’s a sacred site to veela,’ Fleur’s mother said. ‘When our ancestors fled Mesopotamia, driven out by the rise of empires there, they settled in the forest. They wove their magic into the trees there for centuries, until they were eventually forced to leave again. The trees that bore our magic have died, but some few worn relics remain and it’s a tradition for us to return there for certain events.’
‘Fortunately, you still can,’ Fleur’s father muttered.
Her mother wrinkled her nose. ‘Indeed. The vampires get touchy about witches and wizards coming and going within their princedoms, but there is an old agreement they still honour with us.’
‘Vampires?’ Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘As in…’
‘There have been vampire flocks in Eastern Europe for millennia,’ Fleur’s father said. ‘At some point in the chaos of the Dark Ages, their little territories turned into princedoms. The Sunset Princedoms is the name given to them. They’ve been there ever since.’
‘No history lessons at Fleur’s wedding, Laurent,’ Fleur’s mother chided, waving her wine glass at him. ‘Eat some of this wonderful food instead.’
Fleur’s father chuckled and dug into the mushrooms. ‘As you wish, ma Chérie.’
‘Harry, could I borrow you for a moment?’ Fleur’s mother stood and tucked her chair back in. ‘There is a cake and neither of my daughters can ever be trusted with cake.’
Fleur’s eyes narrowed a fraction, but her grip on his hand loosened.
I suppose I’ll find out what it’s actually about.
‘Of course.’ He jumped up. ‘Where are we going?’
‘I hid it in the kitchen.’ Fleur’s mother led him through the hall. ‘But, as I’m sure you’ve realised, that’s not really what I wanted you for.’
‘I had my suspicions.’ He grinned. ‘Is this where I get murdered so you can all steal my family fortune?’
‘You have a family fortune?’
‘I guess it wasn’t that, then.’
‘Non.’ She opened the cupboard beneath the sink and levitated out a cake of towering, sugar-glazed fruit. ‘I feel bad. Very bad. We were not… kind to you, when Fleur first brought you here.’
Harry fixed his smile on his face. ‘It’s fine.’
‘Non,’ she murmured. ‘It is not fine.’ She sighed. ‘You’ve made Fleur happier than I ever hoped she’d let herself be. I don’t know what on earth Laurent and I were thinking when we tried to convince Fleur you were a mistake.’
‘I’m fairly sure I know what you were thinking,’ he said.
‘Perhaps.’ Her lips twisted into a grimace. ‘I’m tired of being my own daughter’s enemy, Harry. Tired of watching her smile with you and Gabby, then seeing her guard rise when she speaks to us. I don’t know how to undo that, but I can fix this and maybe that will help her realise we’re on her side.’
‘There’s nothing to fix here.’ Harry let the bright cheer fade from his face. ‘I would never let anything take Fleur away from me.’
A faint smile passed across her face. ‘Not even death.’
‘That was luck.’ He studied the halved-strawberries ringing the cake. ‘I did not intend to come back when I did it.’
Her face softened. ‘Well, Laurent and I, we are very glad you did. She was… not happy afterward. It was like her third year at Beauxbatons all over again, only so much worse. She barely spoke and I don’t think she smiled even once.’
‘Well, I’m back.’
‘Yes.’ She flicked her wand at the cake. ‘I would like for you to call me Apolline, Harry. And the same for Laurent. You are our son by law, and for how happy you have made our daughter, we love you as if you were our own.’
Family. He swallowed a hot lump before it choked his words. The one thing I always used to wish for.
Apolline smiled. ‘Let’s take the cake out, or my daughters will think we’re eating it and there will be fire everywhere.’
Harry chuckled, following the floating tower of confectionery down the hall. ‘What were they like when they were little? Fiery tantrums?’
‘The fire conjuring comes in our teens,’ Apolline said. ‘Which I’m not sure is much better. The rest…’ A familiar spark of mischief welled up in her blue eyes. ‘Well, you might find out for yourself soon, why spoil the surprise?’
‘That sounds very ominous.’
She laughed. ‘I will give you one tip, always explain why. I do not think Laurent and I explained why we had rules and expectations to Fleur quite as well as we did to Gabby.’
‘I’m not very good with rules,’ Harry admitted. ‘And neither is Fleur.’
‘You’ll learn.’ Apolline floated the cake down onto the table. ‘Laurent and I did.’
Fleur caught his eye and cocked her head.
He let his thoughts wash into hers. Later. But there’s no need to worry.
‘Cake!’ Gabby bounded to her feet. ‘You were taking so long I thought you were making it.’
‘We were checking for sneaky bitemarks,’ Harry retorted. ‘In case you’d snuck a little snack ahead of time.’
‘I would never.’ Gabby grinned. ‘Not this cake.’
‘Liar,’ Fleur accused. ‘I stopped you stealing the cherries and replacing them with raspberries.’
Gabby turned pink. ‘Traitor. You only stopped me when you realised what it was for. You’d already got yourself a fork!’
Harry laughed, a warm glow welling up within. ‘Is it another tradition?’
‘Non.’ Fleur shook her head. ‘The honey cakes at the ceremony are, this is just part of the food.’
‘The feast is a tradition,’ Laurent said. ‘It was considered only polite to host and feed the guests, though I think part of it was about encouraging them to be truthful witnesses of the marriage.’
‘We needed witnesses?’ Harry glanced around the table. ‘Why?’
‘Not these days.’ Apolline sliced the cake with a flick of her wand and sent pieces gliding onto clean plates. ‘Laurent tells me that wizarding marriage traditions are mostly Roman.’ She pointed her wand at the torch. ‘Like that.’
Harry eyed the flickering flame hovering behind Fleur. ‘Which is for…?’
‘Me!’ Gabby chirped.
‘Not for a few years, I hope,’ Laurent muttered. ‘And certainly not how you’re suggesting, Gabrielle.’
Gabby giggled. ‘Don’t you want to see both your daughters happily married, papa?’
Laurent levelled her with a long look and stabbed a strawberry. ‘Not to the same man.’
‘Don’t worry.’ Fleur shot Gabby a dark stare. ‘She wouldn’t dare.’
Harry tucked into his cake, enjoying the sweetness melting on his tongue and the crumbling pastry. ‘Sorry, Gabby. Fleur got there first.’
‘So unfair.’ Gabby pouted. ‘Can I at least borrow him for the occasional night, Fleur?’
‘Gabrielle,’ Apolline chided. ‘Behave.’
Laurent put down his fork. ‘I can’t eat anything else without exploding and it’s probably about time, ma Chérie.’
‘Fleur?’ Apolline asked.
Fleur nodded, resting her hand on Harry’s shoulder. ‘Let’s go.’
He quirked an eyebrow. ‘Where?’
‘The Meadow.’ She bent to his ear. ‘It’s tradition for the bride to journey to her husband’s home, then pass the torch on.’
‘Pass it on to?’ Harry’s eyes fell on Gabby’s enormous grin. ‘Oh dear.’
‘It’s time for the veela harem!’ Gabby cheered. ‘Let’s go!’
Apolline smiled behind her hand. ‘Have a lovely evening, ma Petite Fleur.’
‘They stay behind,’ Fleur whispered. ‘It’s tradition for the parents of the bride.’
The world lurched and Harry stumbled across the front path of the Meadow toward the blue door.
The last time I was here was before I died.
Fleur’s fingers slipped through his as she reached up and plucked the torch from the air with her other hand. ‘Normally, this would be thrown into the crowd of witnesses, but…’
Gabby rubbed her hands together and beamed. ‘All mine.’
‘Right.’ Harry eyed the dying flames of the torch. ‘There’s no weird rule about me having to marry whomever catches it, is there?’
‘Yes!’ Gabby chirped. ‘Otherwise Magic will kill us both.’
Fleur rolled her eyes and tossed the torch into Gabby’s hands. ‘Go away, little chick. Henri Delacour is going to be making his new bride a very happy woman. You’re not invited.’
‘Not yet.’ Gabby ducked a ball of blue fire with a squeak and vanished.
‘You need to carry your wife over the threshold, mon Amour,’ Fleur whispered in his ear. ‘Or, since it’s just the two of us now Gabby’s scarpered, we could head straight to the bedroom…?’
‘That does sound tempting,’ he murmured, sliding an arm ‘round her waist and apparating them to the foot of their bed.
‘Just how we left it…’ Fleur muttered, drifting across the carpet to run her fingers over her silver blanket. ‘It feels so long ago.’
‘I went straight back to France.’ A small smile flitted across her lips. ‘I didn’t ever want to see this awful country again; it stole you from me and then pretended like I never mattered to you.’
‘Well, it didn’t steal me forever.’
‘Non.’ Fleur’s smile spread into a smirk. ‘Nothing will. You are mine. Forever.’
‘Until death do us part,’ Harry whispered.
A brief chill prickled down his spine. The world will try and take her away from me. Somehow. At some point. It always does.
She caught his fingers with one hand, drawing them down to the gleaming bronze clasp of her girdle. ‘There is one last bit of tradition, mon Cœur…’ Fleur toyed with the shoulders of her white dress, sliding them off one after the other with the tip of her finger and letting the silk tumble to her waist. ‘Maman put this on me, and you’re meant to take it off. And after you have…’ Her blue eyes smouldered. ‘You know what I want.’
Harry twisted the bronze clasp open and watched the white dress slide down Fleur’s bare skin to pool on the floor around her ankles. ‘I’m all yours, mon Rêve. I always will be.’