Thick, white polyjuice potion bubbled in a clear, blue-wax-stoppered vial.
He put the last piece of croissant down and grimaced at it. ‘It always looks so unappetising,’ Harry muttered. ‘But thank you.’
‘Do I want to know what you’re using it for?’ Apolline set the vial down on the table and tapped it with one red-painted nail. ‘I asked Fleur, but she didn’t tell me. She never does.’
‘I’m impersonating a bus conductor,’ Harry said. ‘To make sure someone didn’t recognise me. If people find out I’m alive…’
‘That wouldn’t be good.’ She pursed her lips and nodded. ‘And Fleur?’ Apolline took a seat on the far side of the table from him. ‘She went out, but I know from Gabrielle she’s not going to work.’
‘We’re selling the Meadow,’ Harry said. ‘She’s gone back to Gringotts in Paris to sell it. We’ll buy somewhere in France.’
‘You’re more than welcome to stay here, you know, Harry,’ Apolline said. ‘This is a big house, and Laurent and I are used to having our daughters around.’ She pushed the Polyjuice across beside his plate. ‘We would like for you to live with us, it was horribly quiet when Fleur moved to England and Gabrielle was away, but if the two of you want some space of your own…’
‘We’re mostly trying to hide from Gabby,’ Harry said. ‘But I don’t think we’ll spend much time there to begin with, not with — not with the baby coming.’
‘Ah, the fear of impending fatherhood.’ Apolline smiled. ‘Laurent was just the same. He dealt with it by locking himself in his study and reading about history. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t help all that much. I still remember his face the first time Fleur started crying.’
‘What did he do?’
‘He panicked and gave her straight to me, then fretted over whether he’d done something wrong to upset her for the whole day.’ Apolline laughed. ‘Fleur cried a lot when she was a baby, she was always unhappy about something. She used to wake up in the night bawling when she realised there was nobody in the room with her.’
‘I take it you didn’t get much sleep,’ he said.
A small smile graced Apolline’s lips. ‘Neither will you, but you won’t mind too much. It’s hard to get upset with someone you love so much.’
Harry chewed on the last of his croissant and tucked his plate into the stack by the sink. ‘I should get going. Fleur’s going to be cross again when she gets back, so hopefully I’ll have good news to appease her.’
‘What did you do?’ Apolline asked. ‘More jokes with my youngest daughter?’
‘I told the goblins she was marrying another man, so they wouldn’t think we were connected any longer.’ He shrugged. ‘It was necessary, but she’s not happy about it.’
‘I’m not surprised,’ Apolline murmured. ‘Fleur is… complicated. As I’m sure you know.’
‘I like complicated.’ Harry grinned. ‘It keeps me on my toes.’
Her lips quirked. ‘As long as the two of you are happy.’ She sighed. ‘I shall head into Carcassonne. Au revoir, Harry.’ Apolline vanished with a soft snap.
He twisted open the vial of polyjuice and dropped one of Stan’s hairs into it. The potion bubbled a dull, pea-green.
‘I hate Polyjuice,’ Harry muttered, pinching his nose and gulping it down.
His bones boiled and shifted, his skin and muscles stretching and writhing. He held his breath and grimaced until the heat faded, glancing into the window. Stan Shunpike’s face stared back.
Harry pulled the bronze pocket watch out. ‘Endurance.’
A sharp jerk sent him staggering across a muddy track toward a run-down brick house. Elm trees lent over its moss-carpeted roof and a small bush rose from the chimney.
A loud crack rang out behind him.
‘Turn around slowly,’ Pansy ordered.
Harry twisted around, raising his hands. ‘Just me.’
Pansy stood on the dry rocks in the middle of the track, one hand on the hip of her dark brown dress and her wand pointed at his heart. ‘What’s the emergency? There better be one.’
‘Julien’s up to something,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what, but it’s something big. I thought I should say, in case you didn’t know.’
Pansy’s brown eyes narrowed. ‘Julien is always up to something. What makes this any different?’
Harry lowered his hands and let the Elder Wand slide down into his palm. ‘It’s about… Harry Potter.’
Her eyes widened. ‘What about him? He’s dead.’
‘Is he?’ he whispered. ‘Julien said—’
A flash of orange tore past his cheek.
‘You’re not Shunpike.’ Pansy levelled her wand at his chest. ‘Who are you?’
He grinned. ‘Hello, Pansy. How’ve you been?’
The colour drained from her face. ‘Fuck.’ Her wand snapped up.
Harry batted aside a barrage of yellow curses and unleashed a hail of Piercing Hexes. Pansy backpedalled behind a shimmering wall of white magic, splashing through the puddles. His spells punched through her shield and she shrieked, diving into the mud and rolling to her knees.
‘Avada kedavra,’ Pansy hissed.
He conjured a single black butterfly and watched it swallow the curse, bursting into dark mist.
‘It is you,’ she whispered. ‘Wait! Wait!’
‘Wait?’ Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘Wait for…?’
‘I only told Julien,’ she cried. ‘Nobody else. Julien and a couple of his lot who were there.’
‘I know. I killed them.’ He spun his wand in his hand, showering the mud with silver sparks. ‘It’s just you and Julien left.’
Pansy raised her wand on her palm, fingers shaking, and placed it on a rock, stepping back from it. ‘I know some stuff. I can tell you. Just… leave me be.’
‘I guess that depends on what you know,’ Harry said. ‘I was intending to just modify your memories…’
‘You can do that,’ she blurted. ‘Do it.’
‘I would quite like to hear what you know first,’ he replied. ‘And lying wouldn’t be wise, since I can just go through all your memories…’
‘I won’t lie.’ Pansy balled her fists. ‘But I have to know… Why Draco? He took the Mark, but that was it! He had no choice!’
‘He killed Katie.’ Harry smothered a raw pang of loss. ‘I told him I’d kill you as well as all his family, you know.’
She flinched. ‘Don’t…?’
‘Malfoy’s dead. There’d be no point.’ He shrugged. ‘I wouldn’t have killed his mother if she hadn’t gotten in my way, either.’
‘Narcissa was a nice woman,’ Pansy whispered. ‘She was always really kind to me. She loved Draco so much.’
‘It was their dream or mine,’ Harry replied. ‘And speaking of…’
‘I saw you in Diagon Alley, your face was different, but your eyes…’ Pansy’s lips thinned. ‘I knew it was you. I just knew. I told Julien, because if he found out I knew, he would’ve killed me for keeping it a secret.’
‘So none of the other Last Scions know anything?’
Pansy twitched. ‘No.’
‘I’m sure. If they knew you were still alive, half of them would give up and leave the country as soon as they could.’ She glanced down at her wand. ‘You can have a vow, if you want.’
‘I’ll see if you’re lying or not in a moment.’
Harry brushed her thoughts with his and found her fear. It coiled around a green-eyed figure, stretching out behind it like a vast shadow. The weight of the secret crushed down on her, the stress of it biting deep through half a hundred quiet conversations.
‘See, it’s the truth,’ Pansy said.
‘What do you know about Julien?’ Harry asked.
‘Not much.’ She licked her lips. ‘He’s a Neo-Grindelwaldian, but when the Dark Lord was looking like he would win the war, he reached out to offer support in the hope he would be able to gather support in France. The Dark Lord sent Stan Shunpike to him as an expendable envoy, and that’s all I know about what they agreed.’
‘So how do you know Julien?’
‘After the war, Amelia Bones rounded up anyone remotely associated with the Dark Lord and tried them under veritaserum and any other kind of magic they could manage. Most of them were executed for treason.’ Pansy shuddered. ‘My parents were executed. They never raised so much as a finger in support of the Dark Lord. And it just kept getting worse. Amelia Bones took our money, our homes, everything. Julien was our only choice.’
‘We weren’t fighting for him!’ Pansy cried. ‘Blaise’s mother hadn’t even been in the country, but Amelia Bones fed her to the dementors because she wasn’t provably innocent!’
‘So your Last Scions group is against the Ministry of Magic.’
‘We just want justice!’ Her lips trembled. ‘Daphne and Astoria’s parents, mine, Blaise’s, none of them were involved with the Dark Lord, and Amelia Bones just rounded them up and killed them all. When Amelia Bones is fed to the dementors along with Weasley and Davis and her whole squad of monsters, then I’ll be satisfied. Julien promised to help us, he gives us enough money to get by and asks us to keep him in the know about what’s happening in Britain in return.’
‘And what about me?’ he asked. ‘Where do I fit in?’
Pansy glared. ‘You killed Draco.’ Her gaze dropped to the ground. ‘But it was a war and he took the Dark Mark. At least you were fighting against people who chose to fight. Don’t get me wrong, I wish you were dead, but we want Amelia Bones and Weasley and Davis and that lot, not you. I told Julien about you because it was part of our deal. He told me not to tell anyone, so I haven’t. His lot are all fanatically loyal, so they won’t tell anyone either.’
Harry twirled his wand in his fingers. ‘I’m quite happy being dead. I’d like to stay that way.’
‘Modify my memories,’ Pansy blurted. ‘Julien isn’t going to tell me again. I doubt I’ll even see him for a while, he’s busy in France.’
‘Oh, you’re not going to see him again,’ he promised. ‘I’m going to kill him and everyone that follows him just in case.’
She gulped. ‘But not us?’
‘I don’t care about your little group, so long as you all believe I’m dead and you don’t come looking for me.’ Harry raised his wand and pointed it at her forehead. ‘What is Julien after?’
‘He wants to break the Statute of Secrecy and establish the magical world atop the muggle one. There’s a plan of some kind.’ Pansy chewed her cheek. ‘It’s where we belong, though. We’re better than they are! Everything they can do, we can do, and we have magic!’
‘I don’t care what you believe in,’ Harry said. ‘Pick up your wand, clean yourself up, and come stand where you were before.’ Harry waited as she picked her way back across mud, the brown streaks vanishing from her dress and face. ‘Obliviate.’
He tore back through her memories of him, following a thread of glimpses of green eyes to Diagon Alley. Harry smoothed a red-robed auror in where he’d been, ripped out her meeting with Julien and slipped in aurors’ faces wherever he appeared to inspire fear in her thoughts.
And now we go back to Stan. Harry wiped away the last part of their conversation.
Pansy’s brown eyes narrowed. ‘Julien is always up to something. What makes this any different?’
‘He’s abandoning us,’ Harry whispered. ‘He’s lost all his bases in Northern France and he thinks it’s our fault. I escaped because of the portkey you gave me, but we need to move.’
She rested her hands on her hips. ‘Julien doesn’t know where any of our hideouts are and we can survive without his support until I find another way.’ Pansy pursed her lips, a dark glint in her eye. ‘Go and find somewhere to lie low.’ She stuck out her hand. ‘Give me the watch.’
He tossed it across.
‘Go,’ Pansy snapped. ‘I’ll find you if I need to.’
She’s no intention of finding Stan Shunpike again. Harry wrenched the world back past him and stepped onto white pebbles. But that suits me just fine.
His gaze slipped to the small pile of stones beside the river bank and temptation coiled within his breast. ‘I wonder if the vision in the Herald of Foes has changed.’
Harry swept the white pebbles away from the rune-marked silver disc and cut the tip of his finger, sprinkling blood across the shining surface.
The red soaked into the gleaming silver.
Bright, white pebbles shifted to dark water and a thick gloom closed over his head. A rotting wooden dinghy rocked beneath his feet, sending small ripples across the magic-saturated lake. Shadows drifted in the depths, circling like sharks. Harry could sense their rotten, swollen fingers stretching up toward him, ragged nails clawing at the water. He felt the blank, dull eyes in familiar faces fix themselves upon him and saw, in his mind’s eye, how their bloated lips gaped in hunger.
A prickle crawled down his spine as the dinghy bumped into the small island at the lake’s centre.
Is the decoy locket here?
He dragged his feet to the edge of the basin and peered in.
A mask of burning amber stared back from its surface; its trapped light flickered like glowing embers, brightness swirled through it, glowing like molten gold. The brutal, bitter smile spread beneath the mask, raw and red and ruined, sharp as a razor and hot as flame.
‘Sunsets don’t last forever,’ the amber-masked figure whispered. ‘Dusk falls on every dream.’