Harry sipped rich, dark hot chocolate from a white mug, admiring the cupped fingermarks melted into the glaze in the midday sun.
‘One of Fleur’s,’ Laurent said, stumping into the kitchen. ‘I think I said something mortifyingly unfair and rude about you, and it took the brunt of her temper.’
‘Better it than you, I guess.’
Laurent grimaced, flicking through envelopes. ‘I was pushing my luck a bit there. She’s… volatile at the best of times and you were a sore spot.’ He dropped two on the table in front of Harry. ‘Another letter from that British auror captain you were once friends with and this…’ A sly little smile crossed his face. ‘Should I tell my petite Fleur that you’re getting invited to lunch by France’s most famous trio of ladies?’
‘Someone’s going to have to tell her.’ Harry skimmed the invitation, wrinkling his nose at the red lipstick kiss pressed into the parchment. ‘And I’d rather it wasn’t me.’ He chuckled. ‘Usually, when I say something like that, she turns out to be standing behind me. I think she has a sixth sense.’
A quiet step came from over his shoulder.
‘That’s not Gabby, is it?’ He smothered a laugh. ‘I suppose this is au revoir, cruel world.’
‘The Dufort sisters?’ Fleur waddled over and snatched the letter. ‘Why are they inviting you out to lunch?’
Laurent busied himself with his mug, spooning coffee grains in with utmost concentration.
Harry chuckled. ‘I think Isobel, Céline and Colette like me.’
Her eyes flashed pitch-black. ‘Oh they do, do they?’
‘As a friend.’ He pointed at the letter. ‘They sent you their best, mon Rêve. That kiss at the bottom is for you.’
The dark drained from Fleur’s eyes. ‘They asked you to ask me if it was okay to not set fire to you for coming to lunch with them.’ She lowered the letter. ‘How do they know who you are, mon Amour?’
‘I gave away a bit too much when I turned down their last dinner invitation, I didn’t know Laurent had been proudly announcing his coming grandchild to everyone he met.’ Harry grinned. ‘It’s okay, I know enough of their secrets that they will keep mine and, well, them knowing I am Henri Delacour is not such a bad thing for us.’
‘You are allowed to go, but you have to bring me back something tasty and sweet from Paris.’ Fleur folded the letter up and dropped it on the table. ‘Your other friend seems to have written to us again, too.’
‘It’s addressed to you, actually,’ he said. ‘So he must be your friend.’
‘He is no friend of mine.’ She wrinkled her nose. ‘He was a stupid little child and he nearly got you killed. He did get Sirius killed.’
‘He was just a child.’ Harry sighed. ‘Add it to the stack, I guess. You can read it if you want, but it’s probably more of the same.’
Fleur ripped it open and skimmed it. ‘It is.’
Laurent looked up from his coffee. ‘Anything interesting?’
‘He’s very keen to see us,’ Harry muttered. ‘Us being Fleur and Henri Delacour, with the tacit implication that Henri is Harry Potter.’
‘Have you ever replied?’
‘Non.’ Fleur tossed the letter aside. ‘He does not deserve a reply. He is hoping for his hero to come and save him, just like the last time he nearly got Harry killed.’
Laurent grunted. ‘Will he ever give up?’
‘Hopefully. Either way, I’m too busy to play hero.’ Harry reached out as Laurent left the kitchen with his coffee and drew Fleur down onto his lap, cradling her stomach and lifting the weight off her.
She let out a long sigh. ‘Merci beaucoup, mon Amour.’
‘Is little Corbin Abelino kicking again?’
Fleur leant her head back on his shoulder and rolled her eyes. ‘Non. Our baby has been quiet this morning. I just came downstairs to make sure you were not having courgettes for lunch.’
Harry snorted. ‘I think I’ve lost my taste for those forever.’
‘Bon.’ She squirmed on his lap. ‘Gabrielle owes me cake for snuggling up to you, too, so do not let her forget to pay next time we go.’
‘Did she tell you what we talked about?’
‘The little harpy’s silly theory about my magic?’ Fleur turned her nose up. ‘It’s just chirping, mon Amour. Gabby is a sneaky chick, she was trying to distract you so she could snuggle. She likes to get all close and touchy sometimes.’
Harry rested his cheek against hers and smiled. ‘So you don’t think there’s any truth in it at all, then?’
A faint pout curved her lips. ‘Maybe a little.’
‘You just don’t like it,’ he teased. ‘If you admit it makes sense, Gabby wins.’
‘Hush, mon Cœur. Or I’ll tell Gabby to make up one about you, too.’
A little heat crept south as she wiggled atop him.
‘Don’t wriggle too much, my beautiful bird-girl,’ he murmured in her ear. ‘Otherwise you’ll get me all excited before I have to go see Isobel, Céline and Colette.’
A little smirk curved Fleur’s lips and her hand slipped down to trace her fingertips over his stomach. ‘Such a shame you’re going off to lunch with them, mon Cœur. You will have to just imagine all the things I might’ve done with my mouth instead.’
He sighed and tried to let the heat subside. ‘You’re a very cruel bird-wife.’
‘I am perfect for you, non?’
‘Absolutely perfect for me.’ Harry eased her out of his lap and onto her feet. ‘I’ll bring you something tasty back from Paris.’ He pressed a kiss to the back of her neck. ‘But you’re going to have to earn it after teasing me like that.’
A little shiver rippled through Fleur. ‘And how am I going to earn my present, mon Amour?’ she murmured. ‘On my knees with my mouth?’
Heat pooled in his belly. ‘I could think of worse ways.’ Harry rested a hand on her stomach. ‘Maybe not on your knees, though. Not with this bump to look out for.’
‘Don’t be away for too long.’ She twisted around and caught his lips with hers. ‘Or I might change my mind.’
He kissed her on the tip of her nose. ‘I wouldn’t dream of being away from you for too long.’ Harry glanced at the letter. ‘À bientôt, mon Trésor.’
He slipped Violette’s ring onto his finger and whirled the world back past him, stepping out onto cobbled streets.
‘Henri!’ A trio of blue frocks bounced across the road.
Colette and Céline smiled. ‘Bonjour, Henri.’
Isobel grabbed him in a hug and pressed a kiss to each of his cheeks. ‘You must fix your clothes, Henri. We’re going to a very nice place.’
Céline shook her head. No—’
‘We haven’t decided, sister,’ Colette murmured.
‘We have,’ Isobel said. ‘It’s my turn to choose.’
‘This is separate.’
Isobel folded her arms. ‘It’s not.’
‘It is.’ Colette brushed an imaginary speck of dirt off the sleeve of her dress. ‘It’s completely different. We have company.’
‘I don’t want fish again,’ Céline moaned. ‘I want something nice.’
Isobel wrinkled her nose. ‘All we’ve had is steak and fish the last few times. It’s my turn and I want moussaka. I saw one with courgette and aubergine. It looked so good.’
Harry snorted. ‘No courgettes for me, thank you.’
‘You have to eat your greens, Henri,’ Isobel replied. ‘Or you won’t grow up to be big and strong like us.’
‘I’m avoiding courgettes for the foreseeable future,’ he muttered. ‘Possibly forever if Fleur gets her way.’
Colette perked up. ‘How is your wife? Is she okay?’
‘She’s expecting me to buy her something tasty in return for being set free to have lunch with you,’ Harry replied. ‘So she’s probably quite cheerful right now.’
Céline smiled. ‘You are a lucky man, Henri. Your wife is very beautiful. And Laurent is mildly infamous for being very proud of her breaking most of the records we set at Beauxbatons a decade ago.’
‘What does she do now?’ Isobel asked, cocking her head. ‘Or what did she do before you got her pregnant?’
He laughed. ‘She got herself pregnant, really, I’m not sure I had too much say in it.’
‘Can you not tell us, Violette?’ Colette murmured.
A little unease twisted in his stomach and Harry caught her eye for a moment. ‘Fleur’s not working at the moment. We haven’t decided how things are going to work after the baby comes.’
‘You probably should,’ Isobel said. ‘It’s not long now.’
‘No.’ His breath hitched. ‘It’s really not.’ Harry shoved his trembling hands in his pockets. ‘I feel really young right now.’
Céline laughed. ‘You are really young, Henri. We can tell even if you’re hiding your face. You’re a little like we were a few years ago.’
‘Don’t make it worse,’ he muttered. ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’
Just that I mustn’t leave them alone. A shudder swept through him, pooling into a cold sickness in the pit of his stomach. And that I’m going to make sure everything I thought was just dreams, they’ll always be able to trust in.
‘Moussaka?’ Isobel twirled a golden curl around her finger. ‘Henri?’
‘I’ve never had it.’
A broad grin spread across Isobel’s face. ‘Then it’s a good choice.’ She grabbed his arm and the world lurched.
Harry stumbled over the curb toward a window full of white-covered tables. Céline and Colette appeared beside them with a loud crack, grumbling under their breath.
Isobel let go of his arm and ran her eyes over him. ‘Clothes, Henri. It is a very nice place.’
‘You might have to help me out,’ he said. ‘I’ve no idea what I ought to be wearing.’
She laughed and prodded him in the chest with her wand. His clothes shivered into a sharp, tight blue suit and white shirt, his shoes shifted into shining, brown leather brogues.
‘Better.’ Céline nodded. ‘In we go.’
‘Next time, I get to choose,’ Colette said. ‘This is you using up your choice, Isobel.’
‘No, you said it was separate.’ Isobel crossed her arms, sliding her wand away into her dress. ‘Henri chose, so I still have next choice.’
Colette scowled. ‘No—’
‘It’s fair,’ Céline said. ‘You take forever to choose, Colette. Henri’s lovely wife would think we’ve stolen him away by the time we found somewhere to eat.’
Isobel held the door open for them, holding up four fingers at the man behind the desk. ‘One extra.’
Harry followed them through to a table near the window, settling into a comfortable chair. ‘So why did you invite me to lunch?’
‘To say thank you,’ Colette murmured. ‘Mostly.’
The three of them exchanged a long look as the waiter placed a carafe of water on the table and twisted his corkscrew into the top of a bottle of red wine.
He tugged the cork free with a loud pop and set the bottle down. ‘Would you like a few minutes to decide?’
Colette nodded. ‘Yes, please.’
The waiter swept the corkscrew into his pocket and bustled off.
‘We aren’t sure what would’ve happened if Le Cancrelat’s magic had reached us,’ Isobel blurted. ‘We cannot die. Not while one of us lives.’
‘But if all of us die…’ Céline whispered.
Harry offered them a small smile. ‘Well, you didn’t.’
‘Another scar,’ Colette muttered.
Isobel scoffed and ran the ball of her thumb over the purple line along her neck. ‘You will always have one fewer than me, sister.’
Céline rolled her eyes. ‘It’s not a competition.’
‘Yes it is,’ they replied.
Harry chuckled. ‘So what now? Back to North Africa?’
‘Gui is there now, keeping things in check. We will go wherever La Belle France needs us next.’ Colette sipped her water, running her eyes down the menu. ‘Why is there never anything but vegetables on this?’
‘Because it’s a vegetarian restaurant, sister,’ Isobel said. ‘It’s been that way for the last six years.’
‘I wanted something tasty.’ Colette set the menu down. ‘I guess I’ll just have the mushroom risotto again.’
‘Or you could try something else?’ Céline lowered her menu. ‘Like moussaka.’
‘Non.’ Colette sipped her water. ‘It’s not as nice as real moussaka.’
Isobel rolled her eyes. ‘Henri are you getting moussaka with me?’
‘I feel like if I changed my mind and took away the thin justification for us coming here, I might start a fight,’ he said.
They laughed. ‘We never fight.’
‘We just squabble,’ Isobel replied. ‘It’s usually Céline’s fault.’
Céline shook her head. ‘It’s Colette.’
‘Isobel,’ Colette said.
Harry snorted. ‘I’m suddenly a little disappointed Fleur only wants the one baby at the moment. It must be nice having two sisters.’
‘It is very nice,’ Céline said. ‘Except when they’re always in the bathroom all morning.’
Isobel studied her napkin. ‘That’s always Colette.’
‘It is not.’ Colette slid the wine bottle closer to her across the white tablecloth and inspected the label. ‘Céline and I are always waiting for you.’
‘That’s only because I got in there first.’ Isobel smoothed the napkin back out. ‘Do you have any annoying sisters, Henri?’
‘I have an annoying sister-in-law,’ he said. ‘Well, not annoying, I’m quite fond of her really.’
Colette poured him a glass of wine. ‘Any brothers?’
‘I had a cousin, but we weren’t close.’
‘What are they doing now?’ Céline asked.
‘Not much, I hope.’ Harry took a small sip of wine, letting its flavour wash across his tongue. ‘He died over a year ago. A werewolf killed him.’
‘In France?’ Isobel exchanged a glance with her sisters. ‘We don’t remember that.’
‘He wasn’t in France at the time.’ He set his wineglass down with a smile. ‘To be honest, we really weren’t very close. I’ve married into the only real family I’ve ever had.’
Three pairs of grey eyes softened.
‘We are our only family,’ Céline said, toying with her golden ringlets. ‘Our Papa, he died in a potions accident when we were very young. We have no Maman.’
Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘You just appeared out of nowhere?’
Isobel’s expression darkened. ‘She did not understand us.’
‘Maman was a very busy woman. We grew up without seeing much of her.’ Colette filled the other three wine glasses. ‘But when we were sixteen and breaking records at school, she began to pay attention, and so Maman learnt about… us. She was not so unaffected as you were, Henri.’
‘She separated us,’ Isobel muttered. ‘For a whole year.’
‘She tried to tear us apart.’ Céline reached across the table and traced the purple line on Isobel’s neck with a sad smile. ‘It did not end well.’
‘Not for her,’ Isobel muttered.
‘To me, family’s always been something you find one day,’ Harry murmured. ‘Something you keep hold of, at any cost.’
‘Friends, too,’ Colette said. ‘We do not have many. Not real ones.’
Céline wound one gold curl around her finger. ‘It is hard to have real friends while living two lives. We have to be careful about when we can really be ourselves. I’m sure you understand that, Violette.’
Isobel grinned. ‘We can’t steal you from Les Inconnus, and we would never try and take you away from your lovely wife, but with all the people who would turn away from us in disgust if they truly knew us, we would be silly not to pursue friendship with one who doesn’t.’
‘We decided.’ Céline smiled. ‘Rock, paper, scissors. Isobel won.’
‘You two were being silly,’ Isobel said. ‘Dragging our feet.’
‘We were being patient,’ Colette replied.
Céline nodded. ‘Cautious.’
‘We would like you to be our friend, Henri,’ Isobel declared. ‘So we have brought you to lunch to tell you.’
‘Friends.’ He smothered a raw pang and a flash of bright opals. ‘That sounds nice—’
‘See, Isobel, he is being cautious,’ Céline said.
Isobel puffed out her cheeks. ‘Oh hush—’
‘Sisters,’ Colette murmured. ‘I don’t think Henri was finished talking.’
Three pairs of grey eyes bored into him.
He offered them a small smile. ‘I would like us to be friends.’
‘Will you show us your face?’ Isobel asked. ‘It is hard to be friends with a faceless man.’
Harry reached up and touched his fingertips to his cheek. ‘I’ve not been all that lucky with my friends.’ He sighed. ‘Well, that’s unfair. There was nothing really wrong with them. I was just different. It was hard for them to understand.’
‘Is that a yes or a no?’ Céline asked.
Temptation fluttered through his stomach. But the world likes to take things away from Harry Potter. Unease tangled in his gut, a taut, hot knot tightening like a vice. And what would they do if they knew who I was? Who I could be for Britain?
‘It’s a maybe,’ he said. ‘For the future.’
‘But we already know who you are,’ Isobel said. ‘What’s—’
‘A maybe is okay,’ Colette said, dipping a hand into her dress. ‘We have a present for you.’ She placed a tiny toy upon the table. ‘Well, for your baby, when it’s born.’
Three small, golden lion heads stretched and yawned on the white tablecloth.
Harry scooped it up in his palm. ‘It’s quite small.’
‘You can unshrink it,’ Isobel said. ‘Then it’s going to be quite a bit bigger.’
‘It’s called Colette.’ Céline giggled. ‘She lost rock, paper, scissors.’
He laughed. ‘Is that how you decide everything?’
‘Most things.’ Isobel grinned. ‘We always have.’
Harry tucked it into his pocket with a chuckle. ‘Thank you.’ He threw a wry smile at Colette. ‘I’m sure each lion head needs its own name, though.’
Isobel and Céline groaned.
‘It’s fair.’ Colette declared. ‘Now, let’s order some food. I am starving and waiting for mushrooms just makes it all the more disappointing that they’re not real food.’
‘They are real food,’ Isobel retorted.
Colette shook her head. ‘Are not.’
Céline sighed. ‘Do we really never get tired of this argument? It’s been nearly twenty years.’
‘Henri, real or not real?’ Isobel demanded. ‘They’re real, right?’
‘I mean… you can eat them,’ he said. ‘And though they’re not my favourite, they are nice.’
Isobel grinned. ‘What a lovely boy you are.’
‘He’s a traitor,’ Colette accused. ‘What’s your favourite food then, Henri?’
‘It was treacle tart when I was younger, but probably what I like to go and get most is…’ Harry mulled over all the things he’d eaten with Fleur with a rush of warmth. ‘Oh dear, I think it might be clafoutis.’
‘Oh dear?’ Céline asked.
‘I’ve just realised my wife’s sweet tooth might be contagious.’ He sighed. ‘And whatever inexplicable magic lets her eat all that sugar without any side effects probably isn’t going to save me.’
‘It’s okay.’ Isobel patted him on the cheek. ‘We’ll let you know if you start to get chubby.’
Katie’s bright smile flashed before his mind’s eye and a sharp pain knifed through his ribs. His smile crumbled.
‘Henri?’ Céline shared a long look with her sisters. ‘Are you okay?’
Harry touched his fingertips to the lingering feel of Isobel’s hand on his face and smothered a raw pang of loss. I’m always going to miss you, aren’t I, Katie?
He mustered a smile. ‘I’m okay. One of those friends I wasn’t so lucky with used to pat me on the cheek when she thought it was funny.’
‘Pardon,’ Isobel murmured.
‘No. It’s fine. You only caught me by surprise.’ He breathed the quiet ache out, letting it fade from his heart. ‘I just miss her every now and again.’
‘She is gone?’
‘Gone forever.’ Harry sighed.
‘You have to make new friends,’ Colette said. ‘It’s—’
‘Not to replace her.’ Céline held his gaze with a serious glint in her grey eyes. ‘For your own wellbeing. And for La Belle France. You are powerful, Henri, and isolated suffering is the chrysalis of monsters.’
‘Oh I know,’ he murmured. ‘I’ve seen it.’
I’ve been it. He ran his thumb down his sleeve along the line of his wand, feeling the warmth shiver up his arm. If only for a short moment while I tore my soul.
‘How do you know?’ he asked.
They exchanged another long look.
‘Maman,’ Isobel said. ‘It was just a year, but it was enough. The things we would have done to be together again.’
‘The things we did do,’ Colette whispered.
‘Don’t dwell on pain alone.’ Isobel’s fingertips brushed the red scar on her neck. ‘Suffering shared is a burden eased. What one can’t do, many can.’
‘We would know,’ Céline said.
‘I’m not alone.’ A small smile tugged at his lips and he cupped his wedding ring against his chest. ‘I have my wife, our baby and all our family.’
Three pairs of grey eyes softened. ‘And us, too.’
Isobel raised her glass. ‘While one of us lives, none of us will die.’ She smiled at Harry. ‘We will not allow it, little brother.’