Glass jars lined the stone shelves of Room Six in a ring, glinting in the bright light of four floating glass lanterns. Acorns floated behind the rune-marked glass, each in a different state of sprouting, from the brown seed above the door to the sapling on its immediate left.
‘Just dec…oration.’ Vert sat on a hovering chair within a circular stone bench at the room’s centre. She pointed at the cupboards beneath the ring of jars. ‘I took… all my… things out… of Room… Seven.’
‘Thanks,’ Harry replied, stepping across to inspect the small pile of bronze pieces on the bench in front of her. ‘How’s your voice?’
‘Better today….’ Vert said. ‘It comes and… goes a little.’
‘Can’t it be healed?’
‘I spoke up when… Grindelwald challenged… us to prove him… wrong. My words changed… some minds.’ A faint smile crooked her thin lips. ‘He lashed out… took my voice… the magic is… strong and full… of hate and fury… it eats at me… always.’
‘The intent’s too strong to be countered.’
Vert nodded. ‘I do not… regret it… Saved lives.’
I would regret it. Unless it was Fleur I saved. Harry touched his fingertips to his Adam’s apple. Or our child.
‘I showed you… a small example,’ Vert said, her dark eyes boring into him. ‘Did you… understand?’
‘Good.’ Her expression softened a fraction. ‘Grise sees the… magical world… as one patchwork… people, but… some nations do… not share this… kinship.’
‘Arrogant country… happy to be… supreme still.’ Vert drifted closer on her floating chair. ‘But, Britain still… values the statute… more than domination.’
‘Not Britain.’ He drummed his fingers on the bench. ‘Who, then?’
‘America.’ Vert’s lips thinned. ‘Many muggleborns… they can’t understand… America not… the strongest. Too much… ambition, not… enough history to… respect the real risk… of breaking the… statute.’
‘Maybe Grindelwald should’ve started there.’
‘He tried,’ she replied. ‘They did not want… a greater good… just stars… and stripes. We… were glad, then… but not… anymore.’
Harry shrugged. ‘They’re causing trouble at the moment, aren’t they?’
‘Testing British… patience, yes.’ Vert scowled. ‘Unnecessary… aggression… Ottoman… Caliphate too, poking the dragon… smelling blood, but… need to remember… wounded beasts… more dangerous.’
‘I can’t imagine they’re going to do much.’
‘Can’t be sure, we… said the same thing… before Grindelwald,’ she said.
‘Makes this—’ Vert gestured at the room around them ‘—all the more… important. Time-turners to… prevent breaches… of the statute… and to help France.’
‘I understand how the magic you showed me works and how you might be able to use it, but it’s not exactly the most elegant solution.’ Harry weighed his words on the tip of his tongue. ‘I don’t think that’s how Britain did it.’
‘Better than nothing… will still help.’
Vert pulled her wand out from under the bench and levitated the small pieces of bronze. White runes glimmered on each small metal fragment, flickering with magic as they slotted together into a gleaming torc.
‘I can create a… bubble for… a person.’ She picked it up and slid it over her neck.
Harry glimpsed a mottled, black web of scar tissue on her throat as an iridescent shimmer settled over Vert. That looks nasty. He studied her movements as they slowed. But the magic seems to be working.
Vert pulled the torc off. ‘A well-placed person… with one of these… can observe the… future, then send… messages in their… present, but into… the past compared to… what they observed.’
‘It is flawed,’ she said. ‘The person is… vulnerable.’
That’s true. Harry ran his eyes over the runes on the torc as Vert disassembled it. I wonder if it’s something to do with souls. They’ve no sense of time, maybe that’s the root of it. Harry mulled it over, trying to picture the time-turner from the chamber. You could send your soul back, maybe? Temporarily possess your past self? But that’s not how it worked before either.
‘I’ve failed to… find a better… way, though.’ Vert tucked her wand away. ‘Maybe you… will succeed… where I failed.’ She scooped the pieces of the torc off the bench and swept them into a drawer. ‘Grise said to… say that… the Dufort sisters… have found the base… in Calais.’
‘When am I meant to go?’
‘Not now,’ Vert rasped. ‘They need… three days… to prepare.’
‘I’ll have a think about this,’ Harry promised. ‘I’ve a few ideas I’d like to try.’
‘Be care…ful.’ She stifled a raw, wet cough. ‘Too few… of us… to lose… anyone—’ Vert broke down into a fit of coughing, scrambling for her wand. She pressed the tip to her throat, layering a soft, blue glow over the twisted, dark scar tissue. ‘Sor… ry… must… rest.’
‘Au revoir.’ Harry apparated back to the kitchen with a soft snap.
‘Unbelievable,’ Laurent muttered, pacing the floor before the sink, toting a newspaper in one hand. ‘What a stupid woman.’
Gabby poked her head in from the hall. ‘Mon Amour!’
‘No I’m not,’ Harry replied. ‘I’m your Mon Amour-in-law.’
‘Harry.’ Laurent whirled ‘round. ‘This Amelia Bones? What’s she actually like? Do you know anything about her?’
He frowned. ‘Not much. I got the impression she was a very direct lady.’
‘Blunt to the point of rudeness. Beyond that point.’ Laurent dropped the paper into the bin. ‘Someone not very smart tried to stir up anti-British sentiment and a movement in their Caribbean protectorates.’
‘Probably,’ Laurent muttered. ‘They don’t like having magical communities closely tied to other major magical powers so close to them. It worked against Spain, because they outright conquered the magical peoples of South America and their colonies were happy to be liberated. Britain was more interested in expanding influence and making money; they absorbed most of their remaining magical colonies in the area without overt aggression or by protecting them from Spanish conquest.’ He snatched a mug out of a cupboard. ‘Anyway, that’s not the point. Amelia Bones stood up in the ICW today and declared that envious lesser nations’ nefarious attempts to subvert British superiority would be met with equal hostility.’
‘I take it nobody liked that.’
Laurent snorted and poured himself a coffee. ‘Britain stuck Albus Dumbledore on the ICW to remind the rest of the world just who it was that really calls the shots most of the time. Albus Dumbledore was nice about it, he didn’t really push British agendas unless it was genuinely the best option for us all, and he was powerful enough to get away with it when he did. Amelia Bones isn’t powerful enough and she looked like a spoilt toddler throwing her toys across the world stage when nobody would do what she wanted.’
‘They’re still stronger, though?’ Harry asked. ‘Strong enough nobody will really do anything?’
‘They’re as strong as any other large magical nation, with a few key advantages and a lot of their aurors are experienced having fought against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or are the very young, naive, patriotic volunteers Amelia Bones recruited.’ Laurent raised his coffee to his lips. ‘Actually, Harry, it’s a very good thing you died, or it’d’ve been you they stuck on the ICW in place of Dumbledore.’
‘I intend to stay dead.’
‘I think we would all agree that’s the right choice for now,’ Laurent said. ‘Britain would do everything they could to make sure you had no attachments to any other country, learning you were married to a French witch…’
‘Or two French witches,’ Gabby chimed in from out in the hall.
‘Your sister’s probably not going to appreciate those jokes quite how she usually would at the moment, Gabrielle,’ Laurent said. ‘I made one joke and your Maman set fire to my clothes. Fleur is… less patient than your Maman.’
‘That’s definitely true,’ Harry said. ‘You probably should ease up a little bit.’
‘Even if it’s just for the sake of my sanity.’ Laurent drifted out into the hall, sipping his coffee.
Gabby padded into the kitchen, huffing icing sugar off the front of her grey dress. ‘She’ll be okay. It stops her from doing anything more drastic.’
‘Like?’ He raised an eyebrow.
‘Like this morning. After you left, she threw up, then somehow got it into her head that you might’ve gone off to see Vert because you preferred her company to Fleur’s now that Fleur’s pregnant.’ Gabby giggled. ‘She started making a list of every girl who might be a threat.’
Harry chuckled. ‘Who was on it?’
‘Pretty much every single female person you’ve ever met or spoken about.’ Gabby crooked a finger at him. ‘She’s napping at the moment, so we can sneak in and read it.’
‘I bet your name was right at the top.’
‘Nope,’ Gabby chirped, bouncing along the hall in her bare feet. ‘I was second.’
‘Who was first?’ he asked.
‘Daphne Greengrass, whoever that is.’
Heiress Greengrass. A snatch of Fleur’s fantasy passed through his thoughts and heat crept to his cheeks. I guess that’s why Fleur chose her, then.
Gabby cocked her head and lowered her voice to a whisper as they started up the stairs. ‘Who is she?’
‘A girl I went to school with,’ Harry murmured. ‘I barely ever spoke to her, so her being number one doesn’t really make any sense, but something tells me Fleur wasn’t at her most logical.’
‘Not even a little bit.’ Gabby snickered. ‘She listed anyone who was blonde and pretty to begin with, then decided that because she was going to be huge and pregnant, pretty much every other girl would be more attractive and carried on. I got thrown out for giggling before she finished.’
Harry paused outside Fleur’s door and eased the handle down, pressing a finger to his lips. Fleur’s breathing came and went in a soft, slow rhythm from the other side. He opened it a crack, glimpsing Fleur balled up in her silver blanket on the bed. A gentle warm glow suffused him at the sight of her smile.
‘In we go,’ Gabby whispered, wriggling past him to her desk. ‘Here it is.’
Harry skimmed his eyes down it. ‘Wow, it’s pretty comprehensive. I’m not sure I’d even have time to sleep with all these women before Fleur’s due.’
‘Well, if you’re worried about running out of time, you should start with number two on the list,’ Gabby said. ‘Fleur’s baby should have a half-sibling, mon Cœur.’ A mischievous little gleam welled up in her eyes as she tossed a glance at Fleur. ‘We can make our baby right here, while Fleur’s—’
‘Listening,’ Fleur hissed, sitting up.
Gabby squeaked. ‘Uh oh! We’re discovered, Harry. Our illicit love affair has finally been revealed.’
‘Oh no.’ Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Because I’m sure you didn’t know she was really awake the entire time.’
‘Get out,’ Fleur muttered, rubbing her eyes. ‘I’m tired and my nipples are all tingly. It’s keeping me awake.’
Gabby scampered toward the door.
Harry plucked the list out of her hands before she made it to the door and dropped it back on Fleur’s desk. ‘Sleep well, mon Amour. If there’s anything you want, I’m just downstairs.’
‘Non.’ Fleur shook the blanket off. ‘You’re staying.’
He chuckled and dropped himself down beside her on the bed, pulling her into his arms. ‘Wanted your pillow back, did you?’
‘Sort of.’ Fleur arched her back, pushing herself against him and letting out a little moan. ‘I was waiting for you to get back…’
Harry’s eyes dropped to where her nipples stood out beneath the thin, white cotton of her pyjamas. ‘And what were you hoping I’d do…?’
‘Touch me,’ she whispered, pressing kisses to his jaw. ‘Gently. I’m really sensitive, the feel of my shirt has been driving me mad all morning, but I wanted to wait until you came back.’ Her lips lingered at the corner of his mouth. ‘I’m very wet right now.’
He slid a hand beneath her pyjamas up over her soft, warm skin to cup her breast, letting her nipple trace back and forth across his palm.
Fleur’s breath hitched. ‘Keep doing that,’ she murmured, taking his other hand and sliding it beneath the hem of her underwear. ‘But also…’
Harry hooked a finger around the hem and dragged it down a little. ‘I want to see you.’
She lifted her legs to let him slide the dark blue silk down, kicking it off her ankles and away across the carpet. ‘You can see me however you like,’ she breathed, parting her legs and lifting herself up against his hand. ‘Just touch me.’
He ran a fingertip down over the silk smooth heat between her thighs, tracing it through her wetness as he circled the side of his thumb around her nipple.
‘More.’ A shiver swept through Fleur and she pressed her lips to his neck. ‘Just a bit more.’
Harry slipped a finger into her, brushing his thumb across her until Fleur’s legs trembled and she bucked, curling her toes into the carpet. Her kisses turned to soft bites, her teeth and lips lingering on his shoulder and collarbone, and she came undone with a gasp and a low moan.
‘Good?’ he murmured as she clung to him.
‘More,’ she begged, tugging his clothes away. ‘Again.’
‘More of the same?’ Harry bent and drew a slow circle around her other nipple with the tip of his tongue.
‘Non. More of that.’ Fleur’s fingers tightened in his hair as he flicked her nipple with his tongue and slid two fingers into her. ‘More of your tongue. And not just there, mon Amour. I want you to taste me.’ She gasped as he curled his fingers inside. ‘More.’
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