‘Violette!’ Three identical grey pairs of eyes watched him weave through the tables of the cafe to the empty fourth chair.
‘Isobel, Celine, Colette.’ Harry sat down and glanced over the map on the table, breathing in a wash of coffee and cigarette smoke. ‘Have you already made plans?’
The sister opposite him set down her espresso with a quiet clink and flicked her gold hair over her shoulder. ‘The magical community of Belgium is an ally of France, it’s important we are seen to be standing by our allies.’
‘I was told as much…’
She pulled the collar of her blue and gold robes down with a single finger to bare the purple scar running across her neck. ‘Isobel.’
‘Sorry.’ He flashed her a smile. ‘That must get annoying.’
‘We’re the same,’ they chorused. ‘We don’t mind.’
‘Just pick a name,’ Isobel said. ‘We don’t mind, Violette. It’s not as if we know your name.’
‘True.’ Harry studied the red dots running along the Belgian border. ‘So these are the cells?’
‘The small ones,’ Isobel replied. ‘Right, Celine?’
‘Yes.’ Celine finished her espresso. ‘As part of standing by our allies, we informed the Belgian government, if you can call it that, of their existence.’
‘They assumed they were Dutch, of course,’ Colette said.
‘Of course?’ Harry raised an eyebrow.
‘The Dutch are long-standing British allies,’ Colette replied. ‘They have been for two hundred years.’
‘They would like to have the magical communities of Belgium back under their control for various reasons,’ Celine said.
‘Mostly because they were once an empire and miss standing on the world stage,’ Isobel said. ‘It doesn’t matter right now. Some unofficial political nastiness happened, and, with things as they are, it’s important we don’t lose face.’
‘Things are about to get complicated, aren’t they?’ Harry groaned. ‘I was hoping we could be done by lunch.’
Isobel laughed. ‘We will not be done by lunch, Violette, but, if you are allowed, we will take you out to dinner if things go well?’
He chuckled. ‘I’ll—’ Fleur’s dark eyes flashed through his thoughts ‘—I’ll check with my wife.’
Colette smiled. ‘A good boy.’
‘No need for her to worry about us,’ Celine said.
‘You’re not our type,’ Isobel said. ‘You don’t have the right shape—’ she drew an hourglass with her fingertips ‘—for us.’
‘We prefer our own company,’ Colette said.
‘I’m sure my wife will be very relieved to hear that,’ Harry said. ‘I don’t think she really likes the idea of me spending much time with you three and we’ve only been married a few months.’
Celine rolled her eyes. ‘They never do.’
‘Which is funny,’ Colette said. ‘Because we’d much rather spend time with the wife than the husband.’
‘I think Violette has got the point,’ Isobel said. ‘But we’ll still take you out for food.’
‘Steak.’ Celine grinned. ‘Rare.’
‘Non,’ the other two replied. ‘No more steak.’
‘Fish,’ Colette said. ‘With white wine and mushrooms.’
‘Just the mushrooms and the wine, no meat.’ Isobel wrinkled her nose. ‘But we should focus, or it will be a late dinner.’
‘Violette can choose,’ Celine said. ‘That’s fair.’
Colette and Isobel exchanged a look. ‘It’s fair.’
Harry studied the map. ‘So, the complications?’
‘We can’t prove them to be Dutch,’ Isobel said. ‘That would cause trouble, because they’re not Dutch—’
‘But we can’t prove they’re not Dutch,’ Celine said. ‘Because the Belgians have already made accusations and we’ll lose face if they’re proved wrong.’
‘It’s been decided higher up that we don’t leave any usable evidence to prove or disprove anything,’ Colette replied. ‘The Belgians will be watching, they have a handful of aurors, so make sure you use overwhelming force—’
‘It will look good for La Belle France as well,’ Isobel said.
‘Destroy everything without it looking suspicious,’ Harry said. ‘I can do that.’
Fiendfyre’s probably not a good idea, everyone seems to worry about it spreading. He reached out and slid Celine’s espresso saucer aside to reveal the last red dot. I’m sure I can find a way. Improvisation usually works out for me.
The three sisters shared a look and stood up. ‘Ready, Violette?’
‘Ready.’ He glanced back at the map. ‘Or I would be, if I knew where we were going.’
They laughed and held out their hands.
‘Sisters…’ Colette swatted their hands away and grabbed Harry’s. ‘We can go together.’
The world lurched and Harry stumbled onto flat paving with a loud crack. A scatter of benches lined white-washed walls down the street.
‘The muggles are all gone.’ Colette released his hand. ‘The Belgians snuck them all out and kept them busy elsewhere.’
‘Collateral damage is encouraged,’ Celine said. ‘We’ll fix it by the time the muggles come back.’
Harry glanced along the neat row of houses. ‘So—’
‘The only one with a red door.’ Isobel pulled out her wand. ‘Wards?’
‘Wards,’ her sisters echoed, reaching out and touching their wands to Isobel’s.
A crackling white beam of light burst from their outstretched wands, throwing a glimmering bubble over the house.
‘Well, they know we’re coming.’ Harry slid his wand from his sleeve and strode toward the door. ‘And there’s no escape…’
An orange spell smashed through the window and hissed over his shoulder. He swatted away another pair and forced magic through his wand, compressing it into a silver spark at its tip. Harry flicked it in through the window and closed his eyes.
Silver light seared at his eyelids.
I said I’d kill them all. He pushed the amber-masked figure out of his mind’s eye. And if collateral damage is encouraged…
White lightning tore through the red door, spraying splinters across the street. Harry twisted his wrist, ripping the crackling beam through the lower floor, melting through white-washed brick like butter.
The house crumbled to the ground with a low groan and a dull crash.
A handful of loud cracks rang across the street and bright flashes whispered past him. Harry threw up his shield, peering through the coloured splashes of bursting spells at the handful of ragged wizards and witches surrounding the Dufort sisters.
‘Traitors!’ A wizard cried, hurling blue hexes as fast as his arm could move. ‘We are saving France!’
The three sisters glided apart. Isobel danced through the sapphire curses and put a piercing hex through the man’s chest, her sisters shielding her back with a wall of golden light. Isobel turned on her heel, apparating back across the street before another wizard, and Celine and Colette swivelled, sweeping the golden bubble around behind her once more.
Harry dropped his shield and wrenched the street back past him, stepping onto the far side of Isobel and conjuring a lash of flame.
The witch opposite him snarled and ripped the paving stones up into a wall. His whip of fire splashed against them and guttered out. She shattered them with a growl, sending stone shards hissing toward him. A line of searing fire burst across this side as he apparated behind her.
‘Confringo.’ She turned her wand on Isobel.
The spell grazed the edge of the golden bubble and struck Isobel in the hip, spraying blood across the street.
‘Isobel!’ Colette cried.
Celine slashed her wand, tearing through the thin shield of the remaining wizard and sending him flying back into the wall.
Isobel staggered to her knees, her hand pressed to her side, and crumpled onto the street.
Harry forced his magic into the air and wrapped it about the witch’s body like a fist, ripping her head back. Her skull and spine tore free in a red splatter, clattering across the cobbles.
‘Violette!’ Celine whirled on him. ‘Destroy everything, my sister and I must help Isobel.’
The last wizard dragged himself up on the wall and levelled his wand at Isobel. ‘You’re fucking coming with me, bitch!’
Harry thrust out his hand, summoning the man across the scorched, smashed stones until he flopped over the witch’s corpse. The wizard scrambled to his feet and turned toward Isobel. White sparks swirled around Harry’s wand’s tip as he drew his magic forth.
‘Fulminis,’ he murmured.
A white flash tore at his eyes.
He blinked away the bright green spots, surveying the empty, blood-stained stones and striding through the floating ashes. ‘Is Isobel….?
A galleon-sized hole leaked blood from Isobel’s side across the street, soaking her blue robes and her golden hair.
‘Merde,’ Harry muttered.
‘Shut up,’ Celine snapped.
Colette grabbed one of Isobel’s hands and ripped open her blue and gold robes. ‘While one of us lives, none of us will die.’ She gave Isobel a gentle shake when her eyes flickered closed. ‘We are inseverable.’
Celine seized Colette’s free hand and pulled Isobel’s fingers away from her wound. ‘While one of us lives, none of us will die.’ She squeezed Isobel’s fingers. ‘Say it, Isobel. Say it.’
Isobel blinked dazed grey eyes and dragged in a ragged, shallow breath. ‘While one of us lives, none of us will die.’ Her gaze sharpened and her chest heaved. ‘We will not allow it.’
Celine and Colette hissed and grit their teeth, red spreading across their robes. The hole in Isobel’s side crept closed to leave a purple scar the size of a sickle. Isobel shuddered and collapsed on the cobbles, resting her head back on the stone.
Colette pulled open her robes and tugged up her shirt, showing off an identical mark on her side. ‘Still the same.’
‘Almost.’ Isobel’s fingers crept to her neck.
‘Silly sister.’ Celine pulled Isobel to her feet and kissed her hard on the lips. ‘Don’t go forward so fast, how many times do we have to tell you?’
‘Celine,’ Colette hissed. ‘Violette is here with us.’
Three pairs of grey eyes fixed themselves on him.
Harry held up his hands. ‘I saw nothing. It’s none of my business if you prefer your own company, but—’ he held up a finger ‘—only so long as you keep your hands off my wife.’
Celine giggled. ‘Our hands are already full.’ The humour faded from her face. ‘I would ask you for a vow, but I suspect you can’t give one.’
I can. I could even if Fleur and Gabby hadn’t tweaked the ring, because keeping your secret is almost certainly for the good of France. He weighed things up. But I don’t want to. Oaths are tricky.
‘I can’t,’ he replied. ‘But all I’ve seen is a small magical miracle, so I can’t imagine what you’d want me to keep secret.’
Isobel offered him a small smile. ‘Merci, Violette.’
Colette pulled Isobel’s robes closed. ‘Stop showing Violette so much skin, sister. His lovely wife will get upset.’ She cleaned the blood from Isobel’s blonde curls and their robes with a murmured spell.
‘We’re just going to get messy again, Colette.’ Celine giggled. ‘One base down, five more to go.’
Isobel nodded. ‘On we go.’
‘Wait.’ Harry stifled a stab of amusement. ‘I can’t believe I’m saying this, but maybe a little more of a plan…?’
They shared a short glance and nodded.
‘We do the same thing, but more carefully,’ Isobel said. ‘If you can manage to repeat that spell, Violette?’
‘I can.’ His eyes slid down to the purple scar peeking through the hole in her robes. ‘How did you do that?’
Isobel smiled. ‘We are inseparable.’
Celine nodded. ‘While one of us lives—’
‘None of us dies,’ Colette whispered. ‘We learnt how years ago.’
Isobel’s fingers crept to the scar on her neck. ‘It’s not a spell, Violette, there’s no incantation or wand motion. You won’t be able to learn it.’
‘We are bound.’ Celine pursed her lips. ‘You have seen enough to know the truth—’
‘One heart in three bodies,’ Colette said.
‘Abstract magic.’ A small smile crept onto his lips. ‘The best kind of magic.’
Celine laughed. ‘We like you.’
‘Don’t tell my wife,’ Harry said. ‘She’s a very jealous girl.’
‘It’s okay, Violette,’ Colette teased. ‘We promise to share her with you.’
Harry laughed. ‘I don’t think that would go as well as you think. She’s quite pregnant and very likely to try and set fire to all three of you.’
‘She can’t kill us,’ Celine said. ‘Not while one of us lives.’
One heart in three bodies. A stab of desire pierced him. La Victoire Finale.
‘Fire…’ Isobel’s forehead wrinkled. ‘Laurent Delacour’s daughter got married a few months ago and is pregnant, non? And she would have a fiery temperament.’
Celine and Collete shared a frown. ‘Oui.’
‘Henri Delacour.’ Isobel smiled. ‘There, now we all know a secret to keep.’
Sort of. Harry smothered a grin.
‘You keep mine, I’ll keep yours,’ he promised.
‘We will,’ they chorused.
‘We’ll even pay for dinner,’ Celine said.
‘Let’s go,’ Isobel said. ‘Or poor Violette will be home late to his jealous wife and will have to explain why he spent so long with the three most beautiful women in France.’
‘Three second most beautiful,’ Harry replied. ‘My wife is perfect.’
‘Awww,’ Celine cooed. ‘He’s such a nice boy.’
‘Let’s keep him,’ Colette said. ‘Can we steal him from Les Inconnus?’
‘Non.’ Isobel shooed her sisters into line. ‘Work first, play later, girls.’
Five more bases. Harry suppressed a sigh. And then Spain, I suspect. France only has so many borders and I’ve toured most of them already.