The Astonishing Colour of After

‘One for me—’ Fleur scooped a heaped teaspoon of sugar into her hot chocolate ‘—and one for you, ma petite sœur.’ She piled in another, stirring it into the steaming mug until it dissolved away. ‘Voilà.’

And now we need to find something tasty to share, Gabby.

Fleur skirted the table and curled her toes over the cupboard door handle, pulling it open. ‘Éclairs? It is only fair, non? I stole yours when I was pregnant.’ She swept them out and slid them onto a small plate on the table.

The chocolate-topped pastries sat on the slim pale porcelain, still in the quiet of the chateau.

A sharp pang knifed through Fleur’s heart; she turned her nose up at it and pulled the plate closer. 

‘One for me, Gabby.’ Fleur took a bite, letting the sweet taste of cream and chocolate melt on her tongue as she chewed. She swallowed. ‘And one for you.’ 

Tu me manques, Gabby. Fleur took another bite, closing her eyes as the rich chocolate flavour flooded her mouth.

A soft snap echoed through the kitchen and heat washed through her thumb.

‘Mon amour…’ Fleur opened her eyes.

Harry quirked an eyebrow at her over the top of a stack of books, his fingers drumming across their spines.

‘From One Thing to Another.’ Fleur read the title of the top one and swallowed her mouthful of pastry and cream. ‘Gabby’s alchemy books from the chamber? Why do you have those, mon Cœur?’

Is it for the pensieve? A little flutter of anxiety trembled in the pit of her stomach. It cannot ever be fixed. That was the price for using it to help stop you remembering.

‘I thought it might be useful to know,’ Harry replied, a faint wild light shining in his eyes. ‘For my new project.’

Fleur studied the gleam amidst the green of his irises. ‘Waiting and hoping never was your forté, mon Amour.’ The anxious flutter in her tummy curled tighter. ‘What are you planning to do?’

Is it something important? Something great?

Harry set the stack of books down on the table, the glint in his eyes sharpening. ‘I’m going to make everything better.’

Her stomach snapped taut, coiling into a trembling knot. ‘Everything…?’

‘No more secrets,’ he murmured. ‘I don’t know exactly how to make it work yet. But I know Grindelwald will ruin everything if he isn’t stopped and I think the only way to stop him might be to convince him there is a better solution to the crucible, like Dumbledore did. So I’m going to find one. I don’t have to do anything risky, just create the ritual. They’re all dying for a better world already. Every spell. Every sacrifice. Every drop of blood… It will change the whole world eventually—’ a fierce manic light smouldered in his eyes and his fingers tapped against his thigh to a frenetic beat ‘—like the magic of Kart Hadasht, but greater; all those wishes made true, instead of taking away so many dreams for nothing.’

A sharp flash of cold fear bit through Fleur. ‘C’est la folie,’ she whispered, pushing back her chair and standing up. ‘Mon Amour…’

‘It’s the only way,’ Harry said. ‘You are right. Even if Grindelwald disappears, another will just take his place. Voldemort. Dumbledore. Grindelwald. They all come from the same crucible. Even us.’ His fingers curled into fists. ‘I don’t want our baby bird coming back to just… more of the same senseless struggle.’

Fleur slipped around the table and caught his hands in hers. ‘And while you chase this, how will we enjoy our dream?’ She stuck her lower lip out and tilted her mouth up toward his. ‘If you need something to do to avoid fretting while we wait for our little chick to come back to us, I can think of better things…’

‘I can’t just wait and hope,’ he whispered, staring through her into the distance. ‘I can’t. I have to make sure it worked. And I promised. No crucible. No more hurting. No more secrets.’

A little heat flared, rising onto Fleur’s tongue, and her skin prickled. ‘And when you have done something great, mon Amour, will you remember us then?’

Harry flinched. ‘I thought…’ His voice dropped to a murmur and deep creases wrinkled his forehead. ‘I thought you would understand.’

Fleur’s temper ebbed. ‘I do.’ She cupped his cheek. ‘I know it is hard for you, to wait and trust that La Victoire Finale worked when you do not remember it, but it did. You will see.’

‘I’m sorry. I just… I need it.’ Harry held out his free hand. ‘Folie à deux?’ A rueful smile hovered on his lips. ‘Madness shared with me, mon Rêve?’

Fleur swallowed the anxious tangle of thorns and a sinking heart. It is too close to playing hero, mon Amour. If you save them, they will expect you to keep saving them, no matter what it costs us.

‘As always,’ she promised, taking his hand. ‘But no risks, mon Amour. Promets-le-moi.’

I will help you until our daughter comes back to us and you know for sure it worked, and then it won’t matter anymore and you will forget about it as we enjoy our dream.

She squeezed his fingers. ‘Mon Amour?’

‘Je te le promets,’ Harry said. ‘There are no risks. We can create it together in secret, like you and Gabby did the pensieve. Nobody will ever know we did it.’

‘In secret?’ Fleur murmured. ‘Nobody needs to know? Or see? We just design it and do it?’

If nobody ever knows, nobody will demand you be their hero. Relief flooded through her, sweeping her heart back up. And you will stay mine.

‘If we can make it work.’ A broad bright grin spread across Harry’s face and he pressed a soft kiss to the tip of her nose. ‘It’s not just our sacrifice, see? It’s everyone’s. Everyone fighting each other for their dreams. Everyone fighting for hope, like my sisters. And everyone dying for despair, like Julien. We just have to find a way to—’

‘To use their magic in our ritual without them knowing.’ Fleur pursed her lips. ‘I do not know if that is even possible.’

But all the better if it is not, non? The corner of her mouth curved up into a small smirk. As long as you have something safe to do while we wait for Katie, it will all be fine.

‘I will find a way or I will make one,’ Harry whispered. ‘If it works, I can make all those wishes come true. All those little girls like Roxie, who desperately look up and dream of something a little better, won’t be left hoping. I can help create something greater than a world where everyone is forced to choose between sacrificing their dreams or taking away those of others. A world that won’t steal away every perfect thing we yearn for.’

Something a little better. A little chill slid down Fleur’s spine. Something greater…

‘Je comprends,’ she murmured, wrapping her arms around his head and drawing him down into her embrace. ‘But it will not be easy, mon Cœur. And when Katie comes back to us, we have to keep our promise, non? She will be scared and upset and need her papa far more than anything like this…’

‘Nothing will keep me away from her,’ he breathed. ‘Nothing. I just need to know she will be happy if she comes back, that whatever she wishes for won’t be stolen away from her like all those things that were stolen from us.’

‘When.’ Fleur narrowed her eyes. ‘Not if, mon Amour. When.’

Harry’s arms slid about her waist and pulled her close. ‘I will make sure it’s when,’ he murmured. ‘And I will make sure it’s as perfect as we can manage.’

You already did, mon Amour. A sudden swell of sadness seized her and she blinked back tears, flicking them away with the edge of her thumb. You just cannot remember it, so you have to keep trying.

‘But not now,’ she murmured in his ear. ‘I am busy sharing éclairs with Gabby.’

His quiet chuckle tickled her collarbone. ‘You were sharing them about as much as you used to before.’

A small pout crept onto Fleur’s lips. ’Then you can be Gabby and eat them with me, mon Cœur.’

‘My sugar-addicted bird-girl is allowing me to eat her cake?’ Harry leant back and feigned a deep frown. ‘Imposter, who are you?’

She laughed and dragged him a couple of steps toward the table, hooking a chair out with her foot. ‘I am your beautiful bird-wife and you are my shiny rock for my nest.’

He sank into the seat and stole the plate of eclairs. ‘I could think of many worse things to be, mon Trésor.’

‘There are no better things for you to be,’ Fleur murmured. ‘Except maybe papa to our little veela hatchling.’ She pushed the plate of éclairs a little closer to him. ‘One bite, for Gabby.’

‘Only one?’ Harry grinned and took a huge bite. ‘Seems unfair,’ he mumbled through the sweet cream and chocolate-covered pastry. 

Fleur turned her nose up. ‘You are worse than Gabby. She would never fit that much éclair in her mouth.’

He swallowed. ‘She’d try.’

‘She would.’ A sad little smile curved Fleur’s lips and her fingers crept up to the wisteria earring dangling from her left ear. ‘She was a cheeky harpy.’

Harry slid the plate back across. ‘Your bite, I think.’ He smiled. ‘Did you see my sisters? Are they doing okay?’

‘I was in Belgium last,’ she said. ‘But I’ve heard no bad news, so I am sure they are fine; they can handle themselves.’ Fleur weighed her next words. ‘But there are rumours that Grindelwald used dragons to inflict a huge defeat on Polans and Tsarina Bugrov. Desrosiers has not been able to contact them to confirm it.’

‘Grindelwald is winning, then,’ Harry murmured. ‘Of course he is.’ His fingers twitched and tapped the table, a distant gleam in his eye. ‘Charlie Weasley went off to join him when I was in Greece; I bet that’s how he got hold of the dragons.’

‘According to what I overheard from—’ Fleur bit back a flash of fury ‘—Ginny Weasley’s aurors, France’s allies have withdrawn into the secret hideouts in the magical forest.’ She lifted the eclair and swallowed the last bite. ‘Come and play the Never-Ending Stairway with me, mon Amour. You can explain the ritual to me tomorrow, non?’

Every moment brings us closer to our little chick coming back. Fleur leant forward and kissed his cheek. And then there will be no fretting, then you will know for certain.

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