The silver ring glinted in the palm of his hand, little threads of magic hummed, swirling into a spiral beneath the purple pattern.
‘Don’t mess with it, mon Amour.’ Fleur’s arm slipped over his shoulder. ‘Gabby and I will reweave it.’
‘How did you manage to do it?’ Harry dropped the ring onto the table. ‘Grise said it would destroy the ring.’
‘It took us three tries,’ Fleur said.
‘And Grise gave you new ones after they destroyed themselves?’
She slipped into his lap, pressing her lips to his cheek. ‘Not our rings, mon Cœur.’
Rouge and Blanc both died attempting to infiltrate Neo-Grindelwaldian groups in the last year. Grise’s words rose up from the well in his mind. Did they…?
‘Rouge et Blanc,’ he murmured.
‘There’s nothing I would not have done to get you back,’ Fleur whispered. ‘Nothing, mon Amour.’
He sighed. ‘Is she… okay?’
‘She knows.’ Fleur scooped up the ring and slid a white envelope across the table into its place. ‘I’ll wake her up and we’ll sort this ring out. You can read this lovely letter from your friend, Auror Captain Neville Longbottom. He is still not giving up.’
He is the only living person capable of connecting the dots. Harry slid the handle of a spoon through the envelope corner and tore it open. Let’s see what he says.
Fleur swung herself out of his lap. ‘We may have to do something about him, if he can prove you are alive…’
‘He will try to drag me back to Britain.’
‘To be a hero,’ she whispered.
‘I’m not going back.’ Harry tugged the letter out and held her gaze. ‘If he won’t give up, we’ll just have to convince him I’m dead.’
‘It won’t be easy.’ Fleur pointed a finger at the letter. ‘One a week. Since the week you died.’
‘Gringotts will declare me dead in a year, that might help.’
‘I guess we’ll see, Henri.’
‘Whatever you say, my darling wife.’ He blew her a kiss as she swept upstairs and unfolded the letter.
‘Dear Madame Delacour, congratulations on your wedding, I hope you and your husband are happy and my letters continue to find you well.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘Did Neville really write this?’
It’s all just waffle. Harry skimmed down the page.
‘It’s unfortunate that work keeps me busy, I would love to come and visit you and your husband. I haven’t seen either of you in over a year now.’ His blood ran cold.
He really thinks I’m alive. Merde.
Harry tossed the letter and envelope onto the stack on the side. ‘Well, he’s not invited to the christening. Do we even do christenings?’
‘Non.’ Fleur drifted back into the kitchen and held out the ring. ‘We do not, mon Amour.’
‘Well, Neville’s not invited to whatever we do instead.’
‘Mon Amour!’ Gabby skipped into the kitchen.
Fleur rolled her eyes. ‘Really, Gabrielle?’
‘Awww.’ Gabby pouted. ‘Not even a single feather.’
Fleur laughed. ‘I know you, little chick.’ She shot Harry a small smirk. ‘But later, I’m going to dress up in my Beauxbatons uniform and get Harry to call me Gabby.’
Harry’s eyebrows shot up. ‘You are?’
‘No you won’t.’ Gabby giggled. ‘You’d never.’
‘C’est vrai. No calling me Gabby.’ Fleur’s smirk broadened. ‘But everything else is going to happen. Over and over, and all you’re going to have are your fingers.’
Harry glanced at the clock. ‘As fascinating as this insight into Gabby’s alone time is, I have to go meet with Grise.’ He picked the ring up between his thumb and forefinger. ‘It’s safe?’
Gabby nodded. ‘Putting it on is a binding magical pledge, once it’s been put on, nobody else can wear or use it. We changed the pledge.’
‘Enchantment glue,’ Fleur teased.
‘There’s a ward on it to stop anyone tampering, if any of the threads of magic are pulled apart, then the ring will destroy itself,’ Gabby said. ‘Fleur and I had to slip in the enchantments we wanted piece by piece, then reweave the whole thing a bit at a time until the bits we didn’t want were exposed and easily removed.’
‘It was very fiddly and took a very long time the first few times,’ Fleur said. ‘We’ve got better with practice.’ She tossed her hair over her shoulder. ‘We added the extra enchantments to yours. We’re meant to take any measures we must to protect our identity, so there’s one on the ring that will project snatches of other faces and features every time someone looks at you.’
‘That sounds complicated.’
‘I stole it from the department,’ Gabby chirped. ‘There was some old stuff lying around that I had a look at and we recreated it.’
‘Any other useful gimmicks?’ Harry weighed it in his hand.
‘Non.’ Fleur shrugged her slim shoulders. ‘You’ll have to add to them yourself.’
He sighed. ‘I’m nowhere near good enough to do that.’
‘You’ll have to ask me very nicely then, mon Trésor,’ Fleur murmured. ‘Or… you’ll have to think of something to persuade me.’
Harry scrunched his face up in mock thought. ‘What if I dress up in your Beauxbatons uniform and let you call me Gabby?’
Fleur turned her nose up at him. ‘I will make up the guest bedroom for you, mon Amour.’
‘Ouch.’ Harry chuckled. ‘It’s okay, I can share with Gabby.’
Gabby snickered. ‘Veela harem time!’
‘Work time.’ Harry slipped the ring on his finger and held his breath. A soft, cold prickle rippled up his arm and settled down his spine. ‘I feel fine, so that’s a good start.’
‘Tell me your name,’ Fleur said. ‘That will test it.’
‘Henri Delacour,’ he quipped. ‘Harry Potter.’
She laughed. ‘It works.’
‘Au revoir.’ He snaked an arm ‘round her waist and pulled her in for a kiss. ‘I’m looking forward to sleeping in the guest bedroom away from the snoring, feathery furnace I usually have to share with.’
Fleur stuck her lower lip out. ‘I don’t snore.’
‘It’s like sleeping with a dragon, only feathery instead of scaley.’
‘Go away,’ she told him. ‘Go chase Le Cancrelat or whatever Grise wants you to do.’ Fleur caught his wrist, her voice dropping to a whisper. ‘Be careful, mon Amour. I lost you once and once was more than enough.’
‘I’ll be careful,’ he murmured. ‘I promise.’
Harry pictured the chairs beneath the floating glass lanterns and wrenched the world back past him until he stood before the bronze brazier.
‘Violette.’ Grise’s pink eyes studied him from the far side of the brazier. ‘I assume. Your face seems different each time I look away and back. Sarcelle and Cramoisi’s do the same thing.’
‘It’s me.’ Harry’s eyes roved over the chairs and fell upon the shadowed figure in the corner. ‘Vert, I presume.’
Grise nodded. ‘Vert doesn’t speak much. An old curse from the fight against Grindelwald.’
‘Wel… come.’ Vert’s shadow rose from the chair. ‘Vio… lette.’
‘Glad to be here,’ Harry murmured. ‘What are we doing?’
‘First and foremost, Le Cancrelat,’ Grise replied. ‘However, there is another matter we’d like to quickly speak about first.’
‘Time,’ Vert rasped.
‘This tension with Britain is hardly a new thing for France. They innovated the Unspeakables, we created Les Inconnus. They invented portkeys, we created our own. Over the last century, we have closed the small gap in power.’ Grise drew his wand, sketching an hourglass in green light. ‘However, Britain has always had one key advantage. One that no other nation has been able to recreate.’
Vert stepped forward, her dark robes whispering across the floor. The bright light of the lanterns seemed to sink into her ebony hair and eyes. ‘Time… turn… ers.’
Merde. Did I destroy the only ones that exist?
‘The originals were supposedly created during the Dark Ages, by Merlin.’ Grise shook his head and waved a hand through the glowing green hourglass. ‘But Britain uses Merlin as a smokescreen, likely to hide the mass atrocity that the creation of things like time-turners requires. No such person has ever existed. A wizard of such power would have been well-remembered beyond the borders of their island, yet all we have is vague rumours.’
‘So no Merlin.’ Harry shrugged. ‘That’s not a huge surprise, really.’
‘Certainly not as Britain would have us think.’ Grise folded his arms. ‘Something like a time-turner, magic of that kind, requires either many wizards with shared purpose, or a terrible price. Some have made temporary ones capable of reversing a few minutes or an hour or so. But Britain has ones that last forever and can seemingly turn back entire days.’
‘Un… match… able,’ Vert whispered.
‘Why?’ Harry asked. ‘If they could do it, you could.’
Grise shook his head. ‘Time is not a simple thing. It takes a lifetime of studying an area of magic to create something like that. I devoted myself to necromancy, to death.’
‘Time,’ Vert rasped.
‘Sarcelle chose death,’ Grise said. ‘Cramoisi chose love.’
‘Out… of… time,’ Vert whispered. ‘You… now.’
It doesn’t matter what I choose. Between the three of us, we’ll find what we need. A final victory. La Victoire Finale.
‘I can do time,’ Harry said.
A faint smile hitched the corner of Grise’s mouth. ‘Vert has made much progress in her work here, she will help you, then you will take her work forward.’
‘Le Can… crelat,’ Vert said.
‘The Cockroach.’ Grise’s pink eyes hardened. ‘Julien Aguillard.’
‘Stat… ute,’ Vert muttered.
‘I explained how it formed,’ Grise said. ‘I didn’t get any further, Vert. I know you wanted to be here for that.’
‘What don’t I know?’ Harry asked.
‘The Statute is about concealing the magical world from the muggles,’ Grise said. ‘It was a necessity at the time, and now we have been separated for too long to go back easily. It must be upheld. At any cost.’
‘An… y. Cost,’ Vert rasped.
‘Those like Le Cancrelat must be crushed before they risk us all.’ Grise balled his hand into a fist. ‘The magical world cannot afford discovery and nor is it our right to slaughter those we share this world with.’
‘But we can slaughter Le Cancrelat?’ Harry asked.
‘Made… his… choice.’
‘Hush, Vert.’ Grise raised his wand. ‘You will aggravate the curse if you keep talking.’
Vert nodded and slipped back into her chair.
‘She is right,’ he said. ‘Le Cancrelat chose his path. He knowingly puts everything at risk. The consequences are rightfully his to bear.’
‘Death,’ Vert rasped. ‘De—’ She broke into a rough, wet cough.
‘Vert.’ Grise crossed his arms. ‘Go.’
She disapparated with a loud crack.
‘Fifty years and she’s still so rash.’ Grise sighed. ‘Le Cancrelat has established a web of interconnected cells across France. We hunt them down, one by one, but Le Cancrelat is always ahead of us. There is a small isle, well placed to link Britain and France at easy apparition distance. Les Trois Lionnes, the Dufort triplets, will storm the cell of his followers there in four days at dawn and fortify it in case of British aggression. You will join them in the storming and ensure we find something to hunt down Le Cancrelat before his small acts of violence can grow into something more dangerous.’
Harry nodded. ‘I’ll be there.’ He apparated back home, drifting through silent rooms.
Just me. He pictured the willow tree, spinning the world back past him until he stepped onto the white pebbles. I might as well try and see what that mirror does.
Harry bent and unstacked a small mound of pebbles, tugging a dark silk cloth away from the slim silver disc beneath. ‘Tanit’s Looking Glass.’ He slid his wand from his sleeve and opened a small cut on the ball of his thumb. ‘The Herald of Foes.’
Foes. Harry turned the words over in his head as blood swelled from the wound. A blood-magic foe-glass?
Red drops spattered the silver, soaking into it like wine into white cotton. Small ripples of smoke-grey spread across the shining surface as Harry stared into it.
The world shivered. Darkness fell like a silk veil, fine as fog.
Smoke swirled around him, full of swarming shadows. They faded one by one, melting away like water beneath his feet, the smoke thinning around them.
No foes? He took a step back, all his hairs prickling upon the nape of his neck, heart pounding. There’s always someone. Always.
Orange light rose, burning away the failing veil of smoke. A crimson lake stretched on to the edge of the world beneath the bright glow. Harry sensed the smoke-like figures sinking beneath him in his mind’s eye, clawing for him with fingers of tattered shadow and desperate, gasping breaths, screaming their hate into hot smothering crimson.
His eyes slipped down.
A single shade stared up from beneath the red. Smooth amber burnt in place of a face, its light rippling like glass-caged flame. ‘Sunsets do not last forever,’ it whispered. ‘Nothing does.’
He felt the lips twist behind the bright amber, felt the bitter, searing fury and the sharp, cold claws of despair rip a raw, ruined smile into the face beneath the burning golden glow.
Harry stumbled back and fell into cool, damp grass, the silver disc clattering into the pebbles.