Frosted grass stretched away beneath a bright winter sun to the leafless copse of trees. Crows swirled over the fields, swooping back and forth from the long grass to the bare branches.
Harry drew the curtain open and watched the light creep up over the bundle of silver blankets to where Fleur’s hair pooled on the pillow.
‘Non,’ she muttered, tugging the blanket over her head. ‘Too early.’
‘It is…’ Harry squinted at the floating swirling cogs on her desk. ‘Thirteen minutes past forty two? That doesn’t seem right.’
‘Why do you struggle with that clock so much?’ Fleur poked her head out from under the blanket. ‘Just look at it from the top and it’s obvious.’
Harry leant over it. ‘Forty two minutes past thirteen?’
‘Nearly two in the afternoon.’ She groaned, squirming free of her blanket and stumbling toward the bathroom. ‘I hate this. This is your fault, mon Amour.’
‘Nuh uh.’ He grinned. ‘Well, not totally. You were the one who seduced me into taking risks, it’s not my fault you don’t entirely like the consequences.’
Fleur retched. ‘Come and hold my hair.’
Harry sighed and drifted to the bathroom, sweeping her hair away from the basin and back over her shoulders. ‘The things I do for love.’
‘And rub my back.’
He massaged gentle circles between her shoulder blades. ‘Nearly half way, mon Ange.’
‘Nearly four months.’ Fleur moaned, hugging the sink. ‘Another five months to go where it’s worse.’
‘But getting closer.’
She retched into the sink and twisted the tap open with a low groan. ‘When Gabby and I finish that pensieve, it’s going to be your turn, mon Cœur.’
‘Guess I’d better sabotage that, then,’ Harry said. ‘Because you really don’t seem to be having much fun.’
‘Why can’t you carry the baby?’ Fleur washed her mouth out with water and spat it back into the sink. ‘Urgh.’
‘I have the wrong equipment.’
‘There must be some kind of magic.’
‘If there is, I don’t know it,’ Harry said.
‘You’d say that if you did know it,’ Fleur muttered,
‘I definitely would,’ he replied, helping her to her feet. ‘That looks awful.’ Harry pressed a kiss to her cheek. ‘Would you like me to find you an exciting legendary magical artefact toy?’
‘I would.’ Fleur padded back through and bundled herself into her blanket. ‘I would also like breakfast in bed.’
‘As you wish, mon Trésor.’ He pictured the Paris boulevard, trying to recall what his options were. ‘What sort of breakfast would you like? Well, it’s more like afternoon tea, really.’
‘Ah, back to sweet stuff.’ Harry grinned and gave the ball of blanket and Fleur a gentle hug. ‘I’ll be back soon, I’m just going to pop into Gringotts and then I’ll find you some cake on the way back.’
‘Wake me up if I’m sleeping,’ she murmured, nestling into her pillow. ‘I’m hungry.’
He slid his wand from his sleeve and transfigured his face, adding a little more of Salazar into his features and turning the threads of his irises a soft grey.
That’ll do. Harry’s eye fell on his ebony wand. But they might recognise the feel of my wand.
He placed it on the desk beside Fleur’s silver clock. ‘Au revoir, mon Rêve.’
Fleur’s soft, slow breathing filled the room and a small smile crept onto his lips. Harry apparated onto the cobbles with a soft snap, striding through the colonnade and into the cool, marble hall of the bank.
An old, gnarled goblin sat behind the nearest teller desk, stacking silver sickles into a small tray.
‘Bonjour—’ Harry stepped across, glancing at the badge on the desk ‘—Nagnok, I would like to visit a vault.’
‘Do you have a name?’ Nagnok asked.
‘Henri Delacour.’ A little thrill shivered down his spine.
‘Ah.’ Nagnok’s lips curled back into a grin. ‘I was wondering when you would come. Your wife was here, not so long ago.’
‘I would like to visit the vault we have recently been… left.’
‘Of course you do.’ Nagnok rose from his desk. ‘Follow me, wizard.’
Harry trailed the goblin down stairs to a stone arch covered in angular, square writing that branched off at odd angles. A faint shimmer hung upon it.
He let the Elder Wand slide down into his hand.
Nagnok stepped through and beckoned him with one hand. ‘Come, wizard.’
Harry held his breath and strode after him.
Cool air flooded past and he found himself standing before the thestral door of his family vault.
‘Interesting,’ he said. ‘Are all the bank branches joined to the same place?’
Nagnok’s jaw hardened. ‘Gringotts is Mura Dar Ukzgor, wizard; it is the roots of the Inverted Peak. All roots lead to the same mountain, Ukzgor, and the oldest vaults of your kind sit on its lowest peak.’
‘The Inverted Peak.’ Harry studied the stalagmites and stalactites beyond the terrace. ‘Curious….’
‘Ukzgor is no concern of yours, wizard,’ Nagnok said. ‘This is our land, Kar Dar Danag, and beholden to our laws.’ He thrust a long finger at the vault door and grinned, baring all its teeth. ‘Unfortunately, Mr Potter overlooked one crucial detail when he bequeathed this vault to your wife, it requires blood to open. Blood that only he had.’
‘Merde,’ Harry said. ‘So I guess I can’t get in?’
‘Gringotts will hold onto the vault,’ Nagnok said. ‘Should blood be acquired to open the vault, we will transfer things… for a price.’
Well, that’s a snag. Harry spun his wand in his hand. I’ll have to fabricate something.
‘What happens if I try and it doesn’t recognise me?’ he asked.
Nagnok’s grin widened. ‘It is a very old vault, wizard. Mr Potter’s ancestors dealt in blood magics and things your kind now considers… dark.’
‘So I’d regret it.’
‘Probably not for very long,’ Nagnok said.
‘In that case…’ Harry swivelled on his heel. ‘Stupefy.’
Nagnok crumpled to the floor.
He strode across, and pressed a finger to the small bronze spike at the centre of the vault door. A sting of pain lanced through his finger and the needle clicked back into the door. The vast bronze circle shivered and shimmered, melting away into grey mist.
Perfect. Harry strode to the very far end and plucked the two halves of the Caduceus from its plinth, tucking them under his robes. One present for Fleur.
He strode back out and took up his former position, spinning his wand in his fingers as the door solidified back to bronze. ‘Ennervate.’
Nagnok sprang to his feet with a growl. ‘Wizard!’
‘Obliviate,’ Harry murmured, wiping clean the last few minutes of the goblin’s memory and sliding his wand away.
Nagnok broke into a deep low chuckle. ‘A wasted trip for you, wizard.’ He bared its sharp teeth. ‘We do not take kindly to thieves, wizard. Even if what is stolen is not gold. Be warned, you are considered ar garuk, untrustworthy one, for taking what was not yours to take.’
Does he mean Fleur? Harry smothered a flash of humour. She’s going to like that. Actually, she’ll probably be annoyed with me for making the goblins hate her new husband.
‘Warning received.’ He glanced around. ‘I will leave.’
Nagnok escorted him back through the arch into the main bank. ‘Goodbye, wizard.’
‘Goodbye, goblin,’ Harry echoed.
Nagnok snarled and strode off.
Cake time. He apparated back out into the street and hurried toward the patisserie at the corner.
Towers of small, elegant cakes rose in the window beside little paper price cards.
‘Well…’ Harry scanned the cards. ‘Those sure aren’t cheap.’
He pushed the door open and smiled at the wizard behind the counter. ‘Bonjour, a slice of chocolate cake, please.’ Harry paused. ‘A big slice.’
‘How big?’ The wizard flashed him a grin. ‘It’s very rich.’
‘My pregnant wife is going to demolish it no matter how much I buy, but make it a double slice.’ Harry replied.
How strange to say that. A warm glow rose beneath his ribs. What a long way I’ve come from the nobody under the stairs.
‘Ah.’ The wizard bagged two slices and dropped a bag of truffles in with a wink. ‘A bonus. If she’s anything like my Matilde was, you’ll be back here again often enough.’
‘I suspect so,’ Harry said, stacking sickles on the counter. ‘What was Matilde like, if you don’t mind me asking?’
‘Grumpy, sad, angry, waspish, happy.’ The wizard spread his arms. ‘I just tried to keep her happy and comfortable. She went for seafood, though, not chocolate cake. If you think we’re expensive, and we are, you should try buying oysters in Paris every weekend.’
‘No seafood yet.’ Harry chuckled and swept the bag off the counter. ‘Merci beaucoup.’
‘Best of luck!’ The wizard called. ‘And congratulations!’
He apparated back, setting down the bag of cake on Fleur’s desk and picking his ebony wand back up. ‘Mon Amour?’ Harry pulled the Caduceus’ pieces out from under his robes and leant them against the chair. ‘Are you still sleeping?’
Fleur stirred, poking her head out from under her silver blankets. ‘Breakfast?’
‘Chocolate cake and some kind of truffles.’ He conjured a plain plate and tipped the cake out onto the plate. ‘Still hungry?’
She squirmed out from under the blanket and stuck out her arms. ‘Give.’
Harry laughed and handed over the plate, conjuring her a fork. ‘Try not to get crumbs in the bed, mon Rêve.’
‘I will not leave any crumbs.’ Fleur scooped a towering forkful of chocolate cake into her mouth with a low moan. ‘C’est bien.’
Harry skimmed the back of the pack of truffles. ‘Sicilian lemon? Sounds good. You enjoy the cake and I’ll—’
‘Mine.’ Fleur glanced up, licking smears of chocolate off her pale, rose lips with the pink tip of her tongue. ‘You wouldn’t like them, mon Cœur. They’re too sweet.’
‘That sounds like something my sugar-addicted bird-wife would only say to trick me out of eating any truffles,’ Harry replied, dangling the packet just out of her reach. ‘I bet they’re really nice.’
‘Bird-wife?’ She flashed him a smile, sending his heart flopping about in his chest. ‘No longer bird-girl?’
‘You are my bird-wife, not just my bird-girl or my bird-witch. Although, you’re those as well, of course.’
‘As long as I’m your something.’ She patted the bed next to her. ‘Come here, mon Amour.’
Harry sat down and slid an arm around her waist. ‘What about my little earwig?’
Fleur plucked the bag of truffles out of his hand and dropped them between her legs. ‘Non.’ She wrinkled her nose. ‘Never.’
Harry ran his eye up her smooth skin from her knees to where the bag of truffles rested between her thighs. ‘Putting them there won’t stop me stealing them back.’
‘It will.’ A little smirk spread across her lips. ‘If you stick your hand there, you’ll get distracted and forget all about the truffles.’
‘There’s a very good chance you’re right.’ A little heat traced through his veins and he kissed the chocolate from the corner of his mouth. ‘But you’d be distracted, too.’
‘Sounds terrible,’ Fleur slid her plate of chocolate cake away across the desk and crossed her legs over the bag of truffles. ‘But if you want them, you’ll have to come and get them.’
He slid his fingertips up her thigh, pressing little kisses down the side of her neck until she slipped her arms round his neck and dragged his mouth to hers.
‘Fleur!’ Gabby bounded in. ‘Oops!’
‘Out, little harpy,’ Fleur hissed.
Harry sighed, the heat fading from his veins. ‘Too late now, the moment’s ruined.’
Fleur pouted and pulled the truffles out, dropping them onto her pillow. ‘What do you want, Gabrielle?’
Gabby’s grey eyes flicked between them and the truffles. ‘To know what you were about to do?’
‘You know full well what we were about to do before you interrupted us,’ Fleur retorted. ‘Why did you come?’
‘I was bored.’ She bounced on the balls of her feet, eyeing the Caduceus. ‘What is that?!’
‘A present for Fleur, but you can listen to it as well.’
‘After me.’ Fleur rose from the bed and swept the pieces of the staff into her arms. ‘It is my present, not yours.’
Gabby giggled. ‘You’re so bad at sharing, Fleur. What will happen when your baby wants their daddy to spend time with them, will you go all birdy?’
‘Hush.’ Fleur ran a finger down the plain, smooth spine of the wooden snake from its head to where it ended in splinters. ‘Incroyable,’ she breathed. ‘What is this?’
‘The Caduceus.’ Harry picked up the other half and tossed it to Gabby. ‘Apparently, my family’s been hoarding it since it was broken in the fall of Rome, hoping they might be able to fix it.’ He shrugged. ‘I’m not holding out much hope, but it would be useful if we could fix it. Salazar said it was supposed to be able to heal almost anything.’
Gabby closed her eyes. ‘I don’t think we can fix this, Harry. It’d be like blindly reweaving countless threads of magic together into a pattern we don’t know when the threads are too small to even grasp.’
‘That’s a shame.’ He sighed. ‘What does it feel like?’
‘Like holding a bright warm ray of light,’ Fleur whispered. ‘I can feel it pulse with life.’
‘It’s soft,’ Gabby murmured. ‘It’s full of life, bursting with it.’
Harry chuckled. ‘It just feels like a lot of magic to me and sort of squirmy.’
‘It’s like holding a big handful of hot, bright frogspawn.’ Gabby giggled. ‘I can feel it wriggling, but it all comes apart at the end and slips through my fingers.’
Fleur brought the staff up to her nose, peering into the wood. ‘I think there are—’ she gasped ‘—there are runes in the grain of the wood, someone transfigured this while it was still alive, they grew the magic into the plant.’
‘Incroyable.’ Gabby held hers up to the light.
Harry leant back on the bed and watched with a small smile. ‘Having fun, mon Rêve?’
‘Yes,’ Gabby chirped. ‘And Fleur is, too.’
Fleur glowered at her little sister. ‘You are not Harry’s, I am.’
‘But — but our soul bond.’ Gabby batted her eyelashes. ‘Tell your jealous wife, mon Cœur. We’re destined to be together.’
‘Nope.’ Harry laughed. ‘If I do that, she won’t share the truffles with me.’
Gabby pouted. ‘At least you didn’t deny it.’
‘We could learn so much from this,’ Fleur said, tugging the other half of the Caduceus from Gabby’s hands and stashing them down the side of her desk. ‘If only it wasn’t broken.’
‘There’s always these.’ Harry slid the Elder Wand from his sleeve. ‘Which I assume you were studying before, while I was dead.’
‘I was.’ She hummed and lifted the Resurrection Stone up on the slim silver chain around her neck. ‘I still am. I chose to research death.’
‘Only that there’s no sign of any kind of design or structure,’ Fleur said. ‘I don’t think they’re even made of silk, or stone, or, in the case of the wand, wood.’
‘What is it made from, then?’ Harry asked.
‘They were silk, and stone, and wood once,’ Gabby said. ‘Or we think they were. They were imbued with the magic that turned them into aspects of death, and it stripped away anything… fleeting. Death is eternal.’
‘The aspects of death have to last forever as well,’ Fleur murmured. ‘Our theory is that they were made by many wizards and witches with the same idea of death, probably a very long time ago, in something a little like your rituals.’
‘They didn’t design the enchantments on them,’ Gabby said. ‘They just envisioned and wanted to create them.’
‘There would have been a price,’ Harry said. ‘There’s always a price.’
‘Death,’ Gabby whispered. ‘The price would have been death. It is their death the hallows were formed from.’
‘The last enemy.’ He shared a long look with Fleur.
‘La Victoire Finale,’ she murmured.
Gabby glanced between the two of them.
‘Be careful with the hallows,’ Harry said. ‘It’s not a wise time to take risks.’
Fleur’s eyes narrowed. ‘You worry about Le Cancrelat and whatever it is you saw in that little looking glass you’ve hidden away somewhere.’ The summer sky blue of her irises darkened to midnight. ‘It’s been months and he’s still out there. Every second that passes is one he could use to tell someone you’re alive and get you snatched away!’ White feathers bristled on her arms. ‘I’m starting to think you just like having someone to fight. You don’t feel comfortable without an enemy. Someone to prove yourself greater than.’
Harry flinched, stung. ‘He’s not been easy to find.’ He groped for words past the little twist of pain. ‘I don’t want to be great. I just want us.’
‘Well, when Le Cancrelat lets everyone know you’re alive and you get ripped away from us, don’t expect any sympathy from me,’ she hissed.
‘Fleur,’ Gabby murmured. ‘You’re not being very fair.’
Fleur threw a long, black glare at Gabby, heat haze shimmering around her hands. ‘Always off chasing Le Cancrelat and never here with us! Now I am all round, perhaps you’ve found someone else to spend time with!’ The shape of her chin shifted and sharpened. ‘You don’t trust me, maybe it’s me who shouldn’t trust you.’
Sharp panic seized him, crushing the air from his lungs. His heart pounded against his ribs. ‘I would never—’
‘Fleur!’ Gabby plucked the cushion from the desk chair and hurled it into her sister’s face. ‘Stop it.’
Fleur balled her fists, snuffing out blue flames, and took a deep breath, staring down at the cushion. ‘Pardon, mon Cœur.’ She leveled a look at Gabby.
Gabby’s lips twisted and she turned on her heel, striding out.
Fleur pulled him into her arms. ‘I am sorry,’ she whispered. ‘I did not mean that. I did not mean it at all.’
Relief flooded through him and he let out a trembling breath, holding her tight against him and breathing in the hot, sweet scent of marzipan. Fleur’s dark eyes and the amber-masked man swirled through his thoughts, dancing in a dizzying spiral of emotion.
‘I’ll find him,’ Harry promised. ‘I’ll find him and I’ll kill him. And I’ll kill anyone who follows him.’ He sucked in a deep breath. ‘Here is where I always want to be. There’s nobody else. Nothing else.’
Her fingers curled into his robes. ‘It’s okay, mon Amour,’ she murmured. ‘I didn’t mean it. Don’t worry. I know you want to be here with us.’
He shook his head. ‘You wouldn’t have said it if you didn’t mean it.’
Fleur stiffened in his arms. ‘Non,’ she whispered. ‘I was just… angry. I wanted to lash out, and, I’m sorry, but I know how to hurt you, mon Cœur.’
Harry crushed everything down into the dark place beneath his heart. ‘It’s okay.’ He pressed a gentle kiss to the tip of her nose. ‘I’ll kill them all. And then I’ll come back.’