Fleur’s silver hair fluttered over her lips with each soft, steady breath. Her fingers pulled her silver blanket up around her neck, clutching it tight to her chin. ‘Non,’ she murmured. ‘Mon Amour, non.’
‘It’s the morning, mon Rêve.’ Harry sat on the edge of the bed and kissed her cheek.
Her eyes fluttered open and she nestled into his side, tucking her head into his lap. ‘I was having a very weird dream.’
‘Oui.’ Fleur scowled, her eyes dark as midnight. ‘You said I had gotten too fat and ate all the cake in the house to stop me getting any fatter.’
‘Sounds like a terrible nightmare,’ Harry murmured. ‘But Gabby would never let me.’
‘She helped.’ Fleur dragged herself up, leaning on his shoulder and wrapping a white-feathered arm around her belly. ‘The little harpy. I should eat all her éclairs.’
‘It was just a dream, mon Ange.’ He slid an arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. ‘Gabby and I could never eat all the cake before you managed to eat at least some. I’ve seen how much cake is stashed in the cupboards of the kitchen; it would take us days.’
‘What time is it?’ Fleur muttered, pulling her wand out from beneath her pillow.
Harry squinted at the floating silver cogs. ‘Two hours past fifty seconds and the year appears to be seventeen fifty three.’
A flash of white light shattered the silver clock.
Harry winced. ‘You really didn’t enjoy that dream, huh?’
Fleur stared at the pieces of the clock and at her wand, her hand trembling. ‘I broke it.’ Tears clustered on her lashes. ‘Why did I break it? What is wrong with me?’
‘It’s okay.’ He held her close and rocked her back and forth against him. ‘We can fix it.’
‘Non.’ She dropped her wand and buried her face in his chest, smearing hot tears into his collarbone. ‘It is broken. It is too late.’
Harry slipped his wand out of his sleeve and pulled the pieces of the clock back together, watching the silver cogs spin around one another on the corner of her desk. ‘Well, I’ve fixed it.’
‘I said non!’ Fleur hissed, shoving his arm away. ‘You don’t even like it!’
‘You did say no.’ He held her tight until she stopped pushing and pressed a kiss to the tip of her nose. ‘But you were being silly, so I ignored you.’
‘You don’t like it,’ she muttered, stiff-shouldered.
‘It’s very pretty.’ Harry sighed and ran his fingers through her hair until she relaxed. ‘I’m only teasing, silly bird-wife.’
The door creaked open and Gabby poked her head in. ‘Ça va?’
‘Bien,’ he said, tugging the silver blanket up around Fleur’s shoulders.
‘Go away, Gabrielle,’ she muttered. ‘Cake thief.’
Gabby blinked and shot Harry a long look. ‘Cake thief?’
‘Fleur dreamt you helped me eat all the cake in the house because I thought she looked too fat.’ Harry hid a smile. ‘She’s holding a grudge.’
‘Grumpy birdy Fleur.’ Gabby snickered. ‘Everyone is angry this morning. Papa is still ranting downstairs; Maman abandoned him and went to work.’
‘What’s happened?’ Harry asked. ‘Work, or something here?’
‘Amelia Bones, I think.’ Gabby padded in and shut the door. ‘She said some more fairly inflammatory stuff. Papa was annoyed with how arrogant Britain is being.’
‘I think most of the ICW are pretty sick of that,’ Harry quipped. ‘How’s Ginny Weasley’s holiday in the Caribbean going?’
Gabby giggled, skipping across the room to drop onto the bed beside Harry and crossing her legs. ‘They keep putting more serious wards up over the magical communities they promised to protect. I don’t think any British aurors have been seen actually fighting.’
‘Well, that’s good.’
Fleur stuck her head past Harry’s shoulder and glared at her sister. ‘Don’t even think about getting any closer, harpy.’
Gabby grinned. ‘Not even a little bit closer, Fleur? Harry looks very warm. I could just snuggle right into his lap…’
Harry caught Fleur’s hand halfway to her wand. ‘Probably not the best moment to wind your sister up, Gabby. We already nearly lost a clock and I can’t fix you as easily as I could fix the clock.’
‘She’s having a really birdy day today, is she?’ Gabby sighed. ‘I’ll be good, mon Cœur.’
Fleur’s hand twitched toward her wand. ‘Stop calling Harry that, Gabrielle.’
‘Very birdy,’ Harry said, pulling Fleur a little closer and kissing her on the temple. ‘But still very cute.’ He shot Gabby a pointed look. ‘You were saying something about the Caribbean?’
‘I spoke to Grise yesterday,’ she replied. ‘French protectorates are asking for wards like the British ones have, but someone got Sarcelle pregnant, so we’ve nobody unofficial to send and sending a bunch of aurors is probably a bad idea.’
‘I am much better at getting into wards than I am at putting them up,’ Gabby said. ‘For example, I can get through any and all of Fleur’s wards really easily.’
‘We’d noticed,’ Harry quipped.
‘No you haven’t,’ Gabby retorted. ‘You’re always very preoccupied.’
A little heat crept onto his face. ‘I really wish I didn’t know you did that.’
‘There there.’ Gabby patted him on the cheek. ‘It’s a compliment really.’
Fleur growled into Harry’s shoulder. ‘Get your own husband, harpy.’
‘I have.’ Gabby beamed. ‘I have yours.’
‘The Caribbean?’ Harry poked her in the side with one finger. ‘Was that it?’
‘Non.’ Gabby flopped back onto the bed. ‘Every time the British aurors ward another community, more of the fighting ends up happening on the home soil of the little nations the U.S. is supporting. By all accounts, a lot of damage is happening to very old and precious sites.’
‘All the more reason not to go out there,’ he said. ‘No sense in taking risks you don’t need to.’
‘You are telling me not to take risks,’ Fleur whispered. ‘When you are always so reckless…’
‘Not anymore,’ he murmured in her ear. ‘I don’t take any risks. I might come back again, but if it takes another year, I’ll miss our baby.’
Fleur’s fingers tightened. ‘You’re not allowed to be away for more than a day.’
‘Awww,’ Gabby cooed. ‘Clingy birdy Fleur.’
‘Shoo, troublemaker,’ Harry swatted her with Fleur’s pillow. ‘You’re not helping.’
Gabby giggled and bounced to her feet. ‘I will go tinker with the pensieve. Au revoir!’ She wavered away.
‘I am not birdy,’ Fleur muttered.
‘You did destroy the clock,’ Harry said. ‘Because dream Gabby ate your cake.’
‘And dream you.’ She huffed. ‘You owe me cake.’
‘I can buy you something tasty later, if you like?’ He glanced at the floating silver cogs. ‘I do have to go in and talk with Vert in a moment, but I can find some cake from that place in Paris again before I come back?’
‘Oui.’ Fleur grabbed her wand. ‘Leave your wand?’
‘Which one? I thought you were done looking at the Elder Wand?’
‘Your wand. The ebony one.’ She stuck two fingers in his sleeve and pulled it out. ‘This one.’
Dark mist curled around Fleur’s fingers, clutching at her pale skin as she drew her hand back.
‘It likes you,’ Harry said, feeling the warmth rush up his arm from the wand.
‘It is you.’ Fleur cupped it in her palms and watched the dark vapour pool in her hands. ‘I’m holding a piece of your soul, non? Of course it likes me. It is mine.’
‘So possessive.’ Harry kissed her with a smile, slipping out of her grasp and standing up. ‘I’ll be back with cake in a little bit. Hopefully, not too long. I don’t think the time-turner stuff Vert’s trying is going to work, so I’d rather not waste too much time on it that I could spend with my beautiful bird-wife instead.’
She hummed. ‘Bon. Don’t bring me eclairs, when you bring cake.’
Fleur shook her head. ‘I am going to eat Gabby’s éclairs for breakfast, so I’d prefer a different cake for later.’
‘You do remember that it was dream Gabby that ate all your cake, right?’ Harry asked.
‘But it was real Gabrielle that came in here and called you hers.’ A pout formed on her lips. ‘Donc, vengeance.’
‘Vengeance tastes sweet.’ Harry laughed and slid Violette’s ring onto his finger. ‘Okay, au bientôt, mon Trésor.’
‘Au bientôt.’ Fleur clung to his arm, then let him slip through her fingers.
He spun the world back past him and stepped into Room Seven. ‘Vert!’
Vert appeared in the centre of the room with a loud crack. ‘I am… ready,’ she rasped, dropping two clocks upon the bare desk. ‘You try… and make it… as strong as… possible.’
Harry slid the Elder Wand from his sleeve, etching a ring of runes into the desk in purple flame and sliding the nearest clock into them. He poured magic into the runes, forcing in every drop he could muster, and a faint shimmering bubble of magic swelled up over the clock.
‘Let’s see how… big a… disparity… we can create.’ Vert held the second clock up.
The seconds crawled by. The bronze hands of the clocks drifted ‘round, the ones within the glimmering cocoon dragging as if the hands were moving through water.
Harry watched them turn full circle, then watched them turn full circle again.
‘Thirteen… seconds,’ Vert said. ‘Not… enough.’
‘Not even close.’ He banished the magic with a flick of his wand. ‘It would take hours of waiting to get to the point where it’s useful and a simple Finite Incantatem will probably break it.’
Vert placed her clock down. ‘It is… frustrating… to have… managed… so little.’ A darkness spread through the veins on her throat and she grabbed for her wand. ‘Very… frustrating.’
‘We’ll find a way.’
It’d probably be more likely to work if we took a more abstract approach. He slid his wand away. But I destroyed all the British time-turners, so maybe it’s better we don’t succeed anyway.
A sharp knock echoed through the room. ‘Violette?’ Grise called through the door. ‘Is this a good moment?’
Harry glanced up. ‘As good as any.’
Grise pulled the door open and swept in, tugging at his bushy white sideburns. ‘We have a problem.’
‘Don’t say I need to go to the Caribbean,’ Harry replied. ‘I don’t have my sun cream or my flip flops.’
Grise’s pink eyes swept over the pair of clocks. ‘Spain is not co-operating.’ His jaw set and his expression hardened. ‘National politics have once again crept back in to outweigh reason and logic.’
‘Carlos… de… Mendoza?’ Vert rasped.
‘The least of our troubles.’ Grise released a long sigh. ‘Spain did not say it, but they clearly consider Britain the enemy of their enemy and have one eye on the conflict across the Atlantic. The official response I received from Madrid was a polite request to not to overstep our mandate regardless of good intentions. I tried to speak with de Mendoza to sort something out unofficially, but for all his polite conversation, he had absolutely no interest in helping.’
‘Is he… involved?’ Vert asked. ‘He is… Basque.’
‘I don’t know.’ Grise steepled his fingers. ‘Le Cancrelat was attempting to build a web of cells around the borders of France and its nearby allies. While he has had contacts with the Last Scions and likely other such small groups, I see no suggestion of anything more sinister.’
‘What was he going to do, then?’ Harry asked. ‘Watch and wait?’
‘Stir up the sort of trouble he was trying in the weeks before Voldemort was defeated,’ Grise replied. ‘Cause conflict between Belgium and the Netherlands, likely the Basques and the Spanish and ourselves, Britain and France, of course, and then there’s the Black Forest…’
‘To what… end?’ Vert folded her arms. ‘Trouble… for the sake… of trouble… is not… like him. There would… have been—’
‘I’m not sure,’ Grise said. ‘He likely has allies and supporters across Europe. I fear if things continue to escalate with Britain and the US, it will give Le Cancrelat a chance to draw together an alliance in the same way Grindelwald did.’
Vert let out a low hiss. ‘He needs… to be… dealt with.’
Harry shrugged. ‘I can just go into Spain…’
‘That may cause the very escalation we’re trying to avoid.’ Grise’s lips thinned and a deep frown creased his brow. ‘I have organised another meeting with de Mendoza in a week. If he budges, things will open up, otherwise…’
Harry stifled a flare of frustration and smothered a flash of the amber-masked figure. ‘Le Cancrelat will slip away.’
Grise nodded. ‘It is better he slips away and we catch him a little later than we stir up the sort of trouble Le Cancrelat needs to bring together those still enamoured with Grindelwald’s narrative.’
‘One week,’ Harry said. ‘If de Mendoza hasn’t agreed to anything in a week, then I’ll just do it myself.’
Grise held his gaze. ‘Just the ones we’ve located in France first. We may learn something from them that will at least let us reduce the risk of acting in Spanish territory.’
The longer we wait, the greater the risk. Harry clamped down on a hot rush of frustration and fury. I promised no more risks. I promised.
‘Violette,’ Vert rasped. ‘The statute… is more… important… than Le… Cancrelat.’ She pressed her glowing wand tip to her throat. ‘The more… conflict… the greater… the risk.’
‘We must be patient,’ Grise said. ‘Le Cancrelat can cause us a lot of trouble, but if Spain throw their lot in with Britain and start a full war with the US, then the entire magical world is at risk.’
Is that worse than the amber-masked figure? The green-eyed girl hovered behind ancient glass, dancing through his thoughts. I don’t want our baby to be born into a war. The world’s bad enough as it is.
‘I can be patient,’ Harry said. ‘I’ll head off, I owe my wife something tasty, and Vert and I need to rethink.’
‘Yes…’ Vert’s head dropped. ‘I have… not done… very well.’
Grise put a hand on her shoulder. ‘France has been trying for almost a thousand years, old friend. We don’t expect you to manage in just twenty.’