White and grey marble headstones rose from short grass into dawn’s half-light. Dew drops hung from wreaths of flowers lining the rusted tips of the graveyard’s wrought-iron fence.
‘Convenient for you,’ Harry said, studying the boarded up windows of the crumbling brick house over the fence.
‘But not for them, Violette.’ Grise studied the fresh mound of dirt covering a grave two rows away on their right. ‘That one will do.’
‘It’s going to really upset someone when they find their dearest relative’s disappeared,’ Harry muttered. ‘I think I preferred the spider.’
I wonder if I could lure Gabby into her pensieve with the memory of it jumping at me. He smothered a snort of laughter. Maybe that’s a bit mean.
‘It’s just flesh. And nobody will know.’ Grise swept the mound of dirt away with his wand and levitated the coffin, dropping it onto its side upon the grass. The lid thudded open and the corpse of a young man rolled out.
‘Am I doing the wards?’ Harry asked.
‘Put them up before we go in.’ Grise restored the grave, jabbing his wand at the corpse.
Harry layered his magic into the air over the derelict house and fixed the wands in place. He pushed his magic into the air, saturating it, wrapping it around the iron fence railings and bending them aside.
The corpse jerked and spasmed, leaping to its feet. Bones slid through its thick, hardened skin, sticking out like thorns from the stem of Petunia’s roses.
‘This one can go in first,’ Grise said. ‘Through the front door. I’ll go after it.’
‘I guess I’ll go in through the window,’ Harry replied, flicking his wand at the iron fence.
The poles twisted, folding into a series of steps floating up before the boarded window.
Grise’s inferius shambled through the gap in the fence and hurled its shoulder into the boarded door, smashing the thin plywood and dragging itself through the gap. Harry darted up his steps and blasted the window away in a spray of glass and splinters, leaping inside.
Two wizards staggered back, clutching their faces and stumbling over cheap wooden furniture.
‘Fuck,’ the furthest groaned, rolling on the floor. ‘The fuck was that?’
British. Harry transfigured the furniture into a serpent, coiling it around the torso of the other wizard.
‘Who are you?’ he asked the British wizard.
A bright orange curse flashed up from the wizard’s sleeve. Harry flicked it away into the lamp, shattering the glass. The wooden snake tightened its grasp and red fountained out through the coils, spraying Harry’s cheek with hot drops.
The British wizard jumped up, mopping blood off his face with his sleeve.
Harry took in familiar blue eyes and pimpled skin, hunting for a name. ‘Stan Shunpike.’
‘Ey.’ Stan squinted. ‘How the fuck d’ya know me?’
‘We’ve met before.’ Harry unleashed a trio of spells.
Stan threw up a shining white shield, but the three spells punched through, striking him in the thigh and hip in a spray of blood. ‘Fucking hell.’
He burst Stan’s wand arm with a bone-splintering curse, spattering the wall with red gore and white flecks of bone. Harry pulled their thoughts together and a desperate clamour of desire for the portkey in his pocket flooded over him, his fingers flashing to his pocket before he smothered it. Let’s see what you know about Le Cancrelat.
Voldemort’s cold crimson eyes stared down at him as he snatched a small ivory portkey from the floor beneath a glass oculus. A sharp smile and bright blue eyes greeted him as he staggered forward onto the deck of a small fishing boat.
Not much. Harry eased a flash of Pansy amongst Stan’s thoughts.
A pocket watch hung from Pansy’s fingers in his mind’s eye, the simple, battered bronze gleaming in flickering candlelight. If Julien turns against us, use this to contact me. Only use it if it’s an emergency, or I’ll kill you myself.
Stan dragged the pocket watch from his robes. ‘Endurance,’ he spluttered. ‘Endurance.’ The colour drained from his face. ‘Wards,’ he whispered.
‘I’m afraid so,’ Harry replied.
He curled the air around Stan’s neck and ripped. Stan’s head wrenched back and his spine tore free from his body, flopping out across the concrete floor. Blood poured out over the smooth grey, washing dust and splinters and shining specks of glass from its path.
Finally, a way to get to Pansy. He bent and pried the pocket watch from Stan’s cooling hands, tugging a handful of his hair out and dropping it all into a pocket. One threat soon to be wiped away. If she’s the one, the vision in the foe-glass should change once I’ve dealt with her.
‘Violette?’ Grise leapt up the stairs. Spots of blood dotted the thick, white sideburns covering his cheeks. ‘Is it clear up here?’
‘All clear.’ Harry wiped blood off his fingers and slid his wand back into his sleeve. ‘Find anything?’
‘There’s one more major cell in Hirson, close to the Belgian border.’ Grise studied the exposed spinal column and spreading pool of blood at Harry’s feet. ‘And three more subcells attached to this base across the border closer to Trier. Karsten Metternich will have to deal with those and I’ll leave a team here to ensure they don’t suspect anything.’
‘Done, for now.’ He grimaced and frustration flickered through his pink eyes. ‘Belgium is a delicate scenario, it may get more complex.’
‘Le Cancrelat chooses his locations fairly well,’ Harry said. ‘The Black Forest, the German border, the Belgian border…’
‘I’ve already half a mind to send you and Vert toward the border with Spain,’ Grise replied. ‘But Belgium first. I’ll contact you when we’re ready, Violette. I want to make sure this area is cleaned up thoroughly.’
Harry glanced down at the mess at his feet. ‘Fair enough.’ He apparated back home, stepping into the hall.
A pile of Gabby’s shoes spread across the floor from the wall. He picked his way through, sweeping a row of heels against the wall with one foot, and stuck his head into the kitchen.
‘You’re back.’ Fleur let the cupboard swing shut, her silver hair fluttering in its breeze. ‘Are you okay? You’re covered in blood.’
‘Not mine.’ He raised his wand and purged the blood from his robes. ‘There. Much cleaner.’
‘You should still wash them,’ she said.
‘I have to tiptoe through the minefield of Gabby’s shoe collection for that,’ Harry replied. ‘You know, if you want, you can sell the Meadow and we can buy our own place somewhere.’
Fleur pursed her lips. ‘Would you prefer that?’
He chuckled. ‘I fear it won’t save us from Gabby’s jokes or slowly accumulating a pile of shoes, but it’d be nice to have our own space. Your mother spends a lot of time working in Carcassonne because your father’s very busy, but when things calm down… ’
She hummed. ‘Oui. C’est vrai.’ Fleur nodded. ‘I guess we’re not really going back to the Meadow anyway.’
‘I don’t want to go back to Britain,’ Harry admitted, his eyes slipping to the heap of letters from Neville on the spare chair. ‘Not to some places.’
‘Diagon Alley and Hogwarts…’
‘Yes,’ he murmured. ‘Out here, that’s all far away, but when I go back there…’
Fleur drifted around the corner of the table and cupped his cheek. ‘I’ll sell the Meadow, then.’
‘Be careful when you do,’ Harry said. ‘I told the goblins not to inform you of the transfer when I gave you everything. You should probably play the part.’
Her eyes narrowed. ‘What did you tell them?’
Harry winced. ‘That a year was too long to wait for the girl I loved and she was about to get married to someone else, so I was going to be melodramatic and… not come back to life?’
Fleur’s irises darkened to midnight blue. ‘So, mon Amour, you told them I’d run off to marry another person?’
‘I thought it was best they also thought I was dead.’ Harry edged back toward the door, one eye on the little white tufts poking through her skin. ‘And I didn’t want there to be a link to you, because then they’d find out about me…’
She huffed. ‘Fine. I will pretend to be surprised that I have all your things and ask why. They will tell me something and I will pretend to believe it.’
‘And then you can sell the house,’ Harry said. ‘And then that’s everything we own here with us.’
Fleur’s eyes lightened and the feathers slid away. ‘Hopefully, we can find a place to buy before our baby comes.’ She patted the curve of her stomach and sighed. ‘I really do look chubby now.’
‘I warned you what would happen if you kept eating all that cake.’ Harry stepped across to her and kissed her on the cheek. ‘It’s a good thing you’ve got such a pretty face and are excellent at giving—’
‘At giving what?’ Gabby bounded in behind him.
‘Go away,’ Fleur muttered. ‘Just because you’re not going to look huge.’
‘I am finally prettier than you are,’ Gabby said, beaming. ‘I need to make the most of it while it lasts.’
Fleur stuck her chin in the air. ‘Harry does not think so.’
‘No, Fleur’s still prettiest.’ Harry shrugged at Gabby. ‘Sorry, but it’s true. And I know which sister will set fire to me and which one won’t.’
‘I could.’ Gabby raised a palmful of blue flames. ‘But Fleur would get cross.’
‘And you’re way too nice,’ he said. ‘I can’t imagine you ever trying to seriously hurt someone.’
‘I am not very good at duelling,’ she admitted. ‘I can feel the fear and the hate in the magic and it gets to me.’
Fleur’s brow creased. ‘Go away, Gabby,’ she murmured. ‘Stop distracting my husband from where his attention’s supposed to be.’
Gabby glanced at Fleur. ‘Sorry, Fleur!’ She padded out of the kitchen. ‘I need to test the pensieve again anyway.’
‘Do you think I’m not nice?’ Fleur demanded.
‘You said Gabby was too nice because you can’t see her cursing people.’ She wrapped her arms around her belly. ‘Does that mean because I will, I’m not nice?’
‘Well, then I’m not nice either,’ he replied. ‘Either way, you’re still a perfect match for me.’
‘As perfect as a nice person?’ Fleur tilted her head and slid closer across the kitchen tiles. A strange little gleam hovered in her blue eyes. ‘Now you’re free, are you wishing you had a nice girl with you? Like Gabby? Like Katie?’
A little pang knifed through Harry’s chest. ‘Of course I’m not,’ he whispered. ‘They’re not you.’ Anxiety curled tight, cold fingers into a fist beneath his ribs. ‘Are you upset with me? Am I not being a good husband somehow?’ His heart began to pound and his mind raced. ‘Am I not here enough? I have to find Pansy and Le Cancrelat, Fleur…’
The glint faded from her eyes. ‘Non.’ She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him in a wash of marzipan. ‘You’re everything I want. I promise.’
He let out a long sigh and buried his face in her hair. ‘You smell nice.’
Fleur laughed. ‘I’ve not changed my perfume in years because I know you like it.’ She held her wrist up, sending a strong whiff of a sweet, sharp scent to his nose. ‘See?’
‘I do like it. A lot.’ Harry held her tight, running his fingertips over the curve of her stomach. ‘It reminds me of the start.’
‘That tickles, mon Amour.’ She caught his hand and pressed it against her abdomen. ‘Much better.’
‘I wonder if it’s a boy or a girl,’ he whispered. ‘I picture a little Fleur, but I guess it could be a boy.’
Fleur smirked. ‘I think it’s a girl, but maybe I’m just remembering what you told me about the Mirror of Erised.’
‘I guess we’ll find out fairly soon, only about half a year…’
She hummed. ‘You have that long to get rid of Le Cancrelat and Pansy; I don’t want to have to worry about you or them when I’m about to have our child.’
‘Well—’ he cupped the bronze watch in his pocket ‘—Pansy’s not going to be an issue for much longer, so it’s just Le Cancrelat.’
Le Cancrelat is probably the one I saw. Harry’s mind strayed to the silver disc buried in the white pebbles. I’ll look again soon, once Pansy’s gone.
‘I don’t want to have to worry again,’ Fleur murmured. ‘I remember waiting for you to come back, I remember when you didn’t. I can’t do that again, mon Cœur.’
‘A final victory,’ Harry said.
‘La Victoire Finale,’ she whispered. ‘So you always come back. So I always come back. So our baby does. No more loneliness, no more fear, no more panic. A sunset that lasts forever.’
The amber-masked figure’s whisper rose from the well of Harry’s mind, soft as hot ashes. Sunsets don’t last forever. Nothing does.
‘Immortality.’ A prickle ran down his spine. ‘I know a wizard who ran from death. He tore away all these little pieces of himself and sacrificed everything he had until he was the very emptiness he’d wanted to escape. And he wasn’t even really immortal in the end.’
And I might have been him. Maybe. Before I was Harry. Anxiety tightened in his gut, the tension crushed the breath from his lungs. If I chase what he chased. If I dream what he dreamt. I might not be Harry anymore.
Fleur leant back and stared up at him with soft blue eyes. ‘We’re not running from death. We’re just stopping it from stealing from us.’ Her fingers crept to her stomach. ‘I do not want to leave our baby alone in the screaming horde of selfish little people, I cannot stand it.’
Harry’ stomach wrenched itself into knots, flashing hot and cold. ‘No. That can’t happen.’
‘Donc, La Victoire Finale.’ She rested her head on his chest. ‘We’ve time. We’ll find a way. We have the three Hallows, we have death. You managed it by accident, we can make it work for us.’
That’s true. He smothered the knot of feeling and breathed it out. We’ll find a way or make one.