So, here's the next chapter. This fic took a slight pause as I started another fic, Something To Hope For, but now we're back here. I loved writing this chapter; was so much fun, honestly. Let me know what you thought!
Biggest thanks go to Raph, Michal, ThisDude, x102reddragon, and Darkened Void for their wonderful help in beta-reading this chapter, and their support with writing. They're all the best, and I urge you to check out Honorversefan and Voidy, as they write brilliantly, too. Big thanks to Pander, too, for being such a great sprinting partner.
Anyway, here it is!
For the first time in nearly a week, as morning fell upon the moorland, fog did not wreathe itself over its falls and rises. Frost still crackled under foot and upon branches, though the growing light of the sun made the biting sharpness of the cold last only briefly.
Through messages passed over milk bottles, Harry and Fleur had decided that they were to begin their search on Tuesday. Fleur had met with Bill once more in the interim, speaking of their plans for the day and to not be surprised should correspondence be absent over the coming days. He had frowned over the latter news, though said nothing. Equally, Harry had taken time off work for what appeared to be the first time in his parent's memory.
Arielle flew overhead, at last free to take in the clear winter air as her nature so desperately called for her to do. Her flight lacked grace, unfamiliar with flying under the flowing forces of the countryside's air currents, her wings fighting against the rising air. Until, at last, she spread her wings and floated from one tree to another, silently steering herself over the Earth.
And, in front of Fleur's very eyes at the peak of all the hills in view, the forest of Hartoft stood, alone. Dawn's light did not illuminate it, though, for a moment, Fleur ignored the dark shadows that hung onto the woodland. Instead, for as long as the world was hers, she took in the world as it was. From the height she stood, she felt like it was hers to take in and to see in its fullness. Hills and valleys, peaks and crests.
There were few sights like it. Rivers carved into hills and tiny, ancient villages were placed upon the jagged edges. Fleur had never seen a sky as truly giant as the one above her, unobscured by all else, an infinity of blue. She wished to see the stars upon that sky, to see that infinity in such tranquil terms. Every constellation would be laid bare for her eyes to see.
She breathed in the clean air, her mind clear, and her eyes closed. All she did for a multitude of moments was breathe. Before she met with whatever stood before her, in the darkness she held no hope of seeing through, she just breathed.
A twig snapped to her side. Fleur's eyes snapped open.
"Morning," said Harry. Fleur turned to face him. Despite not working, he still dressed for labour, though his cap was missing to relieve his wild, black hair and upon his back, he wore a rucksack that looked to weigh a great deal, but burdened him none. In his hand, he held a wooden walking stick that stood as tall as he did, though the terrain held no need of it; not yet, at least. "Are you ready?"
Fleur nodded. "Let's go."
Harry nodded in agreement, though Fleur turned her focus once more to the forest. Just as the sky grew beyond her own reckoning above, the forest too seemed to grow. The trees giant, their roots sprawling, their branches overlapping until nothing could be seen within. Where once the bare branches simply stood, now they formed a wall, guarding against all that might wish to enter.
"We need to go this way," Harry said, extending his walking stick toward the left of the indomitable mass. "All will soon become clear, I suspect."
Harry walked on. Fleur glanced upward, to Arielle, who still floated along the air and followed him. He pushed away the branches that crossed over the first treeline, opening a path for the pair of them to walk. For his hands, the forest made way, taking Fleur along too.
The apparent depths of the forest were no mirage, either. Even with some yards covered, the trees did not lose their close grouping. The further they entered, only more absolutely did the branches crowd above them like a second sky, bringing nightfall to the morning. Yet, as Harry pushed through what lay before them, a path started to emerge. Where twisted roots ended and even in the darkness, clarity soon came to be.
The air there felt as it did in the village. Serene. Still.
Fleur, then, took a moment to take in the air of this forest she had before only watched. There was magic to the air, undoubtedly, though it was not of a kind Fleur had ever encountered before. Not fae, not folk, nor any magic she'd ever learned herself. Though she had been trained for encounters with unknown magic.
Unfamiliar magic was almost always volatile, especially as it interacted with any magic that would attempt to diagnose its origins. As a result, many of the days a curse breaker spent working were spent without magical aid. And, as she walked, Fleur grew to understand that this day would be one such day.
Thankfully though, she did not sense the tell-tale cling of an anti-apparition ward upon the forest and so, if there were truly horrors living amongst the trees, she could disappear before they found her.
"I spent a lot of time here when I was a child," Harry said, as he led her along. There was no wind to the air, and so the branches did not drift. They stood motionless, except for when he passed by to push them out of their way. "I used to go in here while my parents were working. I'd wander for hours, but I'd always find my way home when I needed to."
"What is this place?" Fleur asked. The words were laboured as, despite the ease with which Harry traversed this world familiar to him, Fleur's boots seemed to find every odd rise and parcel of loose underbrush. Arielle still flew above, though not overhead, instead she tracked the trees in-front, searching silently.
"It's the Forest of Hartoft," Harry said, turning to look at Fleur as he walked, even as they passed over the unclear terrain. "There are not many that know of it, and few that enter it. The tourists of the national park do not come here, those in the village do not either." He stopped suddenly, forcing Fleur to do so as well. "It's why the forest is as it is. No one dares touch the trees, and so it can grow as wild and sprawling as its nature desires."
"How can not many know of it?" Fleur asked. "We are at the top of the highest peak for miles."
Harry pushed his walking stick into the ground, both of his palms rested upon its top. "It hides in plain sight," he explained. "People see it every day, but they will never know it."
"But you do," Fleur said, quietly.
"Better than anyone alive," Harry said. "The trees run down the hill for miles. Long enough that time starts to slow whenever you try and pass through. If you're not careful, you'll lose the days before you realise."
Even in that darkness, in the canopy of the trees, Harry's eyes were as clear as ever. They appeared ancient, in that deep gloom.
"We're amongst the silver birch now," Harry continued to say. "They're the youngest ones of the forest. The oaks begin in five miles, and finally, the yews begin in ten miles after that. They're the oldest of this wood; they've been here longer than humans have. Whatever brought you here, you will find there."
Fleur sighed, relieved. Ten miles of impenetrable forest, and she would be done. "And it is only trees that live in this forest?" Harry shook his head, sending her nose flaring with irritation. "Why is that I feel like I'm getting nowhere here?" she asked. "Every question I ask in this village only brings forth more questions."
"Because you're asking the wrong questions," Harry told her and set off before she spoke again.
And, it was not long before Harry was no longer forced to brush away the sprawling undergrowth, for a true path had begun to emerge, where generations and generations of footfalls had fallen upon the soil until the ground had compacted. The world was still dark though, and without his large form to follow, Fleur would be entirely lost.
"I'll try and speak plainly then," she began, her voice chasing Harry. "Are we going to find something in this forest that will try to kill me?"
"That's up to you," Harry said, his voice carrying over his shoulder. "Any being that passes within the birch will know not to make themselves known to us." His boots landed harshly as he brought himself still. "By sight. Or by magic."
Fleur gasped, her breath visible in the cold air. She did not give even a second to pretend that the secret of magic was one that she would be forced to keep from Harry, for in this strange place, there was no doubt in her mind that his words were a guess. "You know?"
"Your presence isn't subtle," Harry replied. "That passive magic of yours throws itself around at every opportunity." His green eyes flashed around the forest. "Even now, it still tries to latch onto me, even to the trees."
Her right hand fidgeted. "And why would you make this known now, of all times?"
"Because we're some distance away from your house and its protective enchantments, so I'm not quite so likely to die," Harry told her. "And because it's truly necessary now. If you bring out your wand and try to cast a spell here, you will call forth everything you would wish to avoid. This forest is a peaceful place, but your magic will change that."
Fleur was speechless. "Pardon?"
"Many things sleep here, and if you know where to stand and where to walk, you'll not wake them."
"What sorts of creatures?" Fleur asked.
Harry was silent then, in the morning murk, and when he spoke again, his voice seemed to echo.
"Spirits, long since dead and yet still lingering. Shades of dark and darkness. Creatures born of flame and creatures born of ice," he said. "They don't stand by any one name, and they're not harmed by any spell."
"So how are they vanquished?"
He shook his head. "They're not," Harry told her. "This is their home. We are trespassing. Always remember that."
To her shock, Fleur found no words to speak then. Her mind buzzed with thoughts too tenuous and too formless to speak truly. She desperately wished for a cigarette then, anything to calm her frayed edges. She had suspected something odd of Harry; she had not suspected that such thoughts were mutual, or that he had allowed her to lie to his face for days on end.
Arielle swooped high overhead, far beyond what Fleur could see, though her hiding was unnecessary and so Fleur commanded Arielle to return to her side once more. The tiny robin was nothing more than a dot amongst the darkness above until, quite suddenly, its tiny weight rested upon her shoulder again.
Harry, to her surprise, smiled at the sight. "Your familiar?" he asked. Fleur nodded, brushing Arielle's wings with the very lightest of touches. "She has a gentle soul; one ill-suited to here."
"So, what are you?" she asked Harry, the direct edge to her voice bringing Harry's focus to her. She still trailed behind him then, unnecessarily, as the path was more than clear enough. "Beyond simply a farmer, what else are you?"
"Nothing of importance," he said. "Nothing that you need to know."
Fleur rushed to walk beside him. "I don't care that you think I don't need to know it," she said. "I have spent days in this ridiculous village completely in the dark, confused at every turn." Her hand ghosted over the handle of her wand; a motion that Harry caught immediately, even from the corner of his vision, the threat unmistakable. "Tell me."
Harry ran a hand through his messy hair; he worried his bottom lip between his teeth for a moment. "I was born a wizard, as far as I can tell, though I'm not one now," he began. "My father's family has protected this forest for as long as it has stood, and so that is what I've been raised to do, too."
"Protect it from what?" Fleur asked. "No witch or wizard knows of it."
"Magic is not the only force that threatens the forest," he said. "Normal folk try to cut into it every year. As more houses are built around it, and more land farmed beside it, the closer the threat becomes."
Fleur shook her head. "But why must it be protected?" she asked. "It is a forest; an ancient one, yet still just that. It contains no life except for vengeful spirits and whatever else lives amongst them." She threw her hands upward, her fingertips brushing against the leaves that hung overhead. "Why can't the trees be ripped away?"
His jaw tightened at her words. "It is not what it holds, but where it can take you," Harry said. "This forest is the gateway to the worlds beyond our own; worlds that even I have not ventured into." He paused. "Faeries. Elves. Gods."
Fleur's eyebrows raised upon her brow. "And which holds sway over you?"
"None of them," Harry told her quickly. "My duty is to protect the world outside from what lies within, and the world within from what lies outside. All else is irrelevant."
"And what of the rest of the village?" Fleur followed with. "Are they held by the fae?"
Harry shook his head. "They can't know."
"But the fae do not hide their presence," Fleur stated. "I have met one in the centre of Hartoft."
"No, you haven't," Harry returned immediately. "No fae can venture beyond these woods. There is ancient magic binding them here; older than any known human magic."
Fleur set her jaw firmly. "The magic has failed, then. I met one inside the church only days ago."
In an instant, Harry took his walking stick firmly in hand, spearing its tip into the soil beneath their feet.
As the polished wood broke the dirt, blue light shot from the earth, dim and directionless, until it took to swirling around Harry's body in a vortex of worldly energy, engulfing his full form. It spread through his body and emanated outward, reaching toward Fleur, yet such was its grandeur that she did not shirk away.
And, as it met her, she was taken by a sensation that she had truly never experienced a likeness of.
Older than the magic of even the eldest of her people. Older than the warding stones of Beauxbatons, or the walls of Hogwarts. Magic of an age that made her existence a blink in its eye. And, to her shock, magic that was entirely Harry's to call upon.
Though then it was only pushed against her like the wind of Spring, Fleur knew that it was only Harry's will that kept it in such a form.
"The magic stands," Harry said, in the eye of this tornado of his own formation. "These energies are tied to the forest, as the forest is tied to this magic. For as long as this forest stands, this magic stands too."
It was then, Fleur realised, that the forest was for the first time, illuminated to her view. Gone was the perpetual darkness, now the leaves glowed in ethereal light. The silver birch trees glowed then as if their life forces had taken to manifest, the light of dawn at last streaming through the small spaces between the branches to join Harry's own.
Gone was the murk of nature unaltered. Now was the light of Gods' will. Where once the stillness wrestled against her better nature, now was the timelessness of an immortal world.
Harry pulled the walking stick from the ground, and the world returned to darkness again. Yet, the darkness then was not as pervasive, as Fleur knew then what the gloom held back.
"This is your magic?" Fleur asked, slightly breathless. If such a skill was his alternative to Hogwarts, she knew which she would choose.
Harry shook his head. "I'm just its conduit," he said, tonelessly. "It existed before me and will exist after me; it's my duty to care for it while it passes through me." He startled then, like a spooked deer. "I shouldn't have called it forth now; it will just alert the others to our presence." His green eyes met Fleur sharply, arresting her as she stood, and offered his hand. "We need to go."
Such was the steel in his gaze that Fleur followed his command without hesitation. She took his hand in hers and allowed Harry to lead her through the forest once more. Not from whence they came, but deeper into the trees.
To her irritation too, there was still no sign of the oak trees, either.
"Why are we not leaving?" Fleur asked as they made their way. As they drove deeper into the forest, the ground began to soften again, her boots sinking into the soil with every step. "Would it not be better to come another day, if you are so intent on not disturbing this forest?"
"They're awake now," Harry said, his voice soft, just as his steps were over the hallowed turf. "If we travel beyond their resting places, they may yet leave us alone and return to their slumber."
"What if I were to apparate us away from here?" Fleur asked. "Back into the village?"
"Teleport," Fleur said.
Harry shook his head vigorously. "Absolutely not," he said. "That magic doesn't work here whatsoever. You'll cleave our bodies apart. The enchantments forbid it." Fleur's eyebrows knitted together at his words. "We've only two miles to go before we're free of their sight."
He took to running then, his footfalls still so light even from his large frame, and Fleur hastened to follow. The world was still silent save for the two of them. Fleur did not know whether the silence made it worse or better, for the emptiness of the air only gave a greater canvas for her mind to begin to play tricks on itself, and the tiny fractals of light that broke through the canopies large enough only to cast shadows.
Wordlessly, Fleur commanded Arielle to fly above, ahead, and if circumstances required it, fly away.
"What is following us?" Fleur asked, her mind incapable of stopping the words from forming.
"A shade," Harry said at once. "A spirit that hangs in still air. It fears and hates people in equal measure."
"And what could it do to us?"
"Take our bodies, as time has taken theirs. Force our flesh to shrivel and die," Harry explained, the words spoken in rote. "The forest has made them immune to magic, so you could not expel or banish it through magical means."
"So how do we expel it?" Fleur asked, before quickly adding, her words breathless. "Should we need to?"
"Natural fire," Harry said. "All else passes through it like it passes through the world."
Further and further they ventured into the woods, though to Fleur's eyes they did not seem to garner any progress. The trees blurred into one, the darkness never-ending, the gloom only deepening. Where once shadows sprawled, now they encompassed.
And, where her mind had before only tricked itself, now Fleur was sure that something like life flickered across the very edges of her vision, and faint whistling met the edges of her hearing. At first mistakable only for the wind, yet soon it broke the air with greater regularity than was at all natural.
Their boots met the earth. The whistling persisted. They ventured, and the whistling ventured along with them. As their pace grew, the whistling grew too. At first nought but wind upon the air. Then, a call.
A scream. A piercing scream.
Harry stood still, his long strides at once ended. "It will soon be upon us," he said, his touch leaving hers then. "Don't bring out your wand, or you'll get us both killed."
For Fleur though, the thought had not once crossed her mind.
In her nature, her hands were not made to hold wands. She did not need an instrument to call forth flame. She is flame.
And so, Fleur turned, back toward the direction that they had come from. And she held an inferno in her hands.
She knew that beside her, a soft gasp escaped Harry, though she paid it no mind, for her eyes searched the darkness for the edges of this shade.
"It is upon us now," Harry said, though Fleur did not see it. Nor did she sense it. He did not take any care to protect himself but rather stabbed his walking stick into the soil. "Be ready. Do not attack it; not yet. With your fires as they are, it will likely be too frightened to attack us."
Fleur doubted that greatly, though she did not find the chance to voice such thoughts as, finally, her senses prickled into awareness. She could not place it, but she knew it to be there.
She knew, and had known for all her life, what death was. The end of everything; life stopped. The strings of the marionette cut, forever. Fleur had seen death as it struck a person, for her vocation had offered her no choice in the matter. She had seen slow deaths and she had seen quick deaths; deaths painless and agonising.
Yet then, a contradiction appeared before her very eyes. Death given life. Not a form once alive reanimated, but death, walking along the underbrush, its form tiny, creeping, but death still walked. Each leaf it wandered over shrivelled, its death hastened by the contact.
It was not a corpse cloaked, not a dementor, but the thinnest shadow. It held no true form, nor did it float in the air, its only static feature an eye which flitted around in place, watching in front and behind, left and right. It watched all that it could.
And Harry was wrong, for it held no fear.
The very air of the forest shifted at its appearance. The serenity of the morning decayed in seconds, giving way to the stale air of a mausoleum, the open air a tomb.
"We are passing through," Harry said, to the shroud of death and decay, over the shade's whistling screams. "If you leave us alone, we'll leave you alone too."
The shroud did not hear his words, for it still crept toward them, entirely unslowed.
"I am the keeper of these woods," Harry tried again, his hands steepled atop his stave. "My duty is to protect you, not to bring harm to you. But if you attack us, we will be forced to remove you from this world."
The pitch of the shade's screams climbed high; a laugh, Fleur thought, though it was the last true thought she had as the shroud disappeared into the shadow again and not to leave, either, for that horrid, laughing scream still filled the air.
"Where is it?" Fleur asked, her voice sharp as it carried over the echoing cries. "Where has it gone?"
"It's to our left," Harry said, outstretching his staff to direct her vision. Fleur followed it and found nothing but darkness.
Harry shook his head. "I can't," he said. "If I bring light to here, I'll bring fifty more of them with me and fuck-knows what else, too."
"I'll kill them as well," Fleur replied, the fire in her palms growing brighter, hotter. "I'll burn this fucking forest to the ground."
Harry took a step toward her. "I'll kill you if you even try," he said, his large form looming over her.
Yet, before Fleur could reply, the mists amongst the darkness took form once more and shot a cloud of death and decay at the pair of them, and before Fleur could even think to move, Harry had pulled her away from its foul touch and into the roots of the trees, his own body bearing the weight of their fall.
Their fall brought their faces only inches apart; Fleur felt more than saw his wince at the impact, though neither had a single moment to dwell as yet another foul wave was sent their way. Though then, Fleur brought both flaming hands up, burning away the attack.
The shade disappeared into the murk once more, though it left silently, its mocking cries ended. Fleur knew that it still lurked though, for the air, in its dryness, still caught in her throat, the underbrush still crumbling under nothing.
Harry pulled her to her feet. "When the shade reappears, I'll trap it here," he said, gripping his staff with purpose. "Kill it when I do."
Fleur waited, the seconds endless, for this shade to return and try to turn her body to rot and to die trying. Her eyes refused to blink, lest she miss the instance that the shadows jumped toward her.
A growing portion of her mind willed her to grab her wand, to call forth fiendfyre and burn the forest to the ground. To ignore Harry's words, to allow the blood that ran through her ears to run ragged with her thoughts too, though she pushed that away at once. She had faced greater foes than this.
And so, then, she came to accept that all she could do was breathe, the fires in her hands growing and shrinking as her lungs grew and shrank.
In. Out. In. Out. In-
"It's here!" Harry called, his hands upon his staff, forcing it into the earth. "Your left!"
Without a thought, Fleur threw fire at her left, burning away the branches of the nearest birch. She caught the faint edges of the shade's cloak; she could feel the satisfaction of her fire as it managed to burn the spectre.
The muscles of Harry's arms tensed through his shirt as he called upon his magic once more, though then light did not shine through the trees, but warmth did grow through the earth. Harry gave out a wordless yell and in an instant, the air grew thick in her lungs.
"Healdan," Harry spoke, the words breathed rather than cast. Fleur did not notice a change, though the shade did.
The shade tried with all its might to pull itself away from this world, though the world pulled back far harder as Harry's magic took hold, binding it to the trees, to the leaves and to the soil.
With nothing else to do, the spirit turned its ire to Fleur, its eye pinching narrow as it glared balefully at her. Its essence, bound as it was, spread thinly through the trees, poisoning all that it touched. Fleur's hands burned brightly, searing all that dared to near her away.
She walked toward it slowly, purposefully. It could not disappear from her vision then, and so with each step, she could see the mounting worry in the shade. It threw an avalanche of decay to her and she marched through it, her fires immovable.
Fear was truly set in the shade then, its eye wide and hopeless, though Fleur paid it no mind nor mercy, for it surely showed her none. She brought her palms together, the fire swelling as she did until it stood as tall as she herself did, reaching the canopy of the treeline.
Fleur ran at the shade then as it lingered still, paralysed in fear, and threw her fist at the foul creature's eye, the contact immediate and sure, the shade having no place to hide. It did not implode, as she might have wished it to, but it melted under her will, disappearing into ash and nothing, never to be seen or heard again. It made no noise as it died, no cry. Nothing.
A relieved sigh escaped Fleur as it crumbled away. She did not slump under the duress of calling forth such flames, despite her body's call to do so. She had a job to do.
The air cleared slowly then, slowly but surely, the scent of death and fire merging together for a moment to bring the smell of a funeral pyre, Fleur's fire having made incidental firewood of the silver birch. From the edges of her awareness, she could hear Harry whisper words of power, cleansing the scorched and cursed earth.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, as his magic worked over the world. He held the point of his staff above his head, moving it in rhythm. "Did the shade touch you?"
Fleur shook her head. "It was burned away before it could get close," she said. And then, her heart stopped.
What had happened to Arielle?
Fleur reached out, searching for her familiar. But Arielle did not reach back.
Her heart pounded under her skin, blood pounding through her ears, her hands beginning to shake. Where was she?
"Arielle," Fleur called out in vain hope, hoping for her to respond. Her panicked eyes shot to Harry. "I cannot find her."
Harry's eyes closed then, his hands stilling. They shot open. "I can," he said, and took off running. Fleur followed immediately.
They were not searching long, though each second was stretched on its end by the panic that shot through Fleur, her chest burning with it. Harry's steps were not measured as the two of them made their way, and he threw the tree branches away from his path, his search desperate, though still not as desperate as Fleur.
Harry stopped suddenly at the foot of a tree, Fleur's dazed mind bringing her to a stop a moment later. "She's here," he said, and without warning, he gripped hold of the tree's trunk and pulled himself up its length, the tree swaying under his weight.
All Fleur could do was watch uselessly, hoping for hope's sake that Arielle was okay. Her gaze studied every grapple Harry made, willing for it to be the last one; to be the one that brought Arielle back to her.
He climbed and climbed, until he stopped.
"She's here!" Harry called. "She's alive!"
Fleur breathed for the first time in what felt like hours, her vision cloudy though her mind relieved. The world broadened once more, life beyond Arielle slowly returning to her thoughts.
And, by the time her bearings returned to her, Harry's feet met the ground once more, and in his hands, he held a tiny robin.
Her eyes were closed, and her red chest breathed so shallowly that, unless Fleur looked carefully, she would not see it move at all.
"The shade has touched her," Harry said, his large hands holding Arielle tenderly. They opened more still, inviting Fleur to hold her, which she did at once. Fleur brushed her wings with the edges of her fingertips. "She will need to be healed, or she will not live for much longer."
"If you stop me from casting the healing spell," Fleur said, her eyes not leaving Arielle, "I'll kill you."
"They will not work," Harry replied, his voice soft. "Just as the creatures here can't be touched by a wizard's magic, the pain they cause cannot be healed by your magic either."
Fleur fought the urge to scream, her hands still tracing her familiar's wings.
"What can we do?"
Harry swallowed deeply. "I know of a way," he said. "I don't know why, but I've always had the ability to heal." He placed his hand against the back of hers. "With your permission, I think I can heal her."
"You're a wizard," Fleur said, her eyes not leaving Arielle, her heart climbing in her throat as she looked on. "How can you be sure that this will work, if you claim that my magic will not?"
"Because I've done it before," Harry said. "I found my dog out here when I was ten, caught in the grip of a fire spirit. I healed him then, and I can heal Arielle now."
"And why would I trust you?"
"Because I've no reason to hurt her; it's my duty to protect this world, not harm it," Harry said, his thumb brushing against Fleur's knuckles. "Because I want to help her."
"And what if it goes wrong?"
"It never has before," Harry whispered.
Fleur was still for a moment, until she passed her thumb over Arielle's wings one final time, and opened her palms up, offering the robin for Harry to take. He took her slowly, his touch soft.
"This will only take a moment," he said.
Harry splayed his hands open wide, and without a word spoken, he pushed his thumbs softly against Arielle's head. They passed once, twice, thrice. No magic emanated from him into the world and to Arielle, no spells cast, no great push of power.
Doubt crept into Fleur's heart then, yet it was not there long. For, in seconds, Arielle's chest breathed deeper, air returning to her body, life returning to her body. Her eyes, once still and closed, blinked for a time, until suddenly they opened as bright as ever. Brighter even, to Fleur's shock.
And, as she opened her beak, as she often did, to sing soundlessly, she was soundless no longer, for a song filled the forest air.
It cleared away the burning embers and the final clouds of death and decay, the still serenity of the morning amplified infinitely. Her song was more than serenity; it was beauty.
With an easy beat of her wings, she floated above Fleur and Harry's heads, her voice unshakable as she did. Fleur could look nowhere else.
She smiled; an innocent and unburdened smile, larger and truer than she had in years.
There it is!
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Until next time!