Harry pressed a light kiss to Fleur’s cheek and rested his hand on the curve of her stomach. ‘Be back soon,’ he whispered. ‘I love you, both of you.’ He slid on Violette’s ring and whirled the world back past him, stepping in the Sunshine Room.
Grise twisted around beneath the floating lanterns. ‘De Mendoza said no. He’s not going to change his mind, either.’
Harry stifled a flash of annoyance. ‘It’s been a week. Le Cancrelat might’ve already moved on.’
And the longer I wait… The amber mask shone in his mind’s eye, rippling like glass-snared flame. The greater the risk he takes away something. Panic stirred beneath his ribs, squeezing the breath from his lungs.
‘I think we’ve waited long enough,’ he said. ‘I’m going to go.’
Grise’s pink irises bored into him. ‘You have the bearing of a man who’s not going to listen to any opinions but your own.’
Harry leant his head to one side. ‘I don’t really see any benefit to waiting. We have to act, and you said Carlos de Mendoza isn’t going to change his mind, so what would we be waiting for?’
‘Permission from those above me.’ Grise steepled his fingers. ‘We didn’t have this conversation, Violette, but if we had, I might’ve mentioned that Vert is in her room with all the information you might want.’ He took a seat before the brazier, staring into the flickering white flames. ‘Do what you think is best.’
Fleur’s sleeping smile and the swell of her stomach hovered in Harry’s throughs. Best for us.
‘I will.’ He strode through into the corridor and knocked on Vert’s door.
The sound echoed down the corridor.
‘Come in,’ Vert rasped, turning as he pushed the door open. ‘Violette?’
‘I’m off to the Spanish border,’ he said, drifting down through benches buried in stacks of books. ‘Where did you get all these?’
‘The other… Inconnus,’ Vert said. ‘I am… starting from… scratch with our… project, but… can’t find… a way to… bend time far… enough.’
Harry spied a stack of pictures on the central circular bench and skimmed through it. ‘These are the bases?’
‘Grise said… to wait.’
‘He said to do what I think is best,’ Harry replied. ‘And we both know he knows that isn’t waiting.’
‘Le Cancrelat… is likely… about to leave.’ Vert flicked her wand at the pictures, levitating them up into a line. ‘Three French subcells, all remote locations in the mountains. The main base is almost certainly on the other side of the mountains in Basque Spain.’
‘I’ll start with these three and find that main base.’
Vert let the pictures drop back onto the bench. ‘Do you want… me to help?’
Do I need her? Harry weighed it up. Probably not. And without her, I can act freely. I’m tired of sneaking and waiting, I just want to wipe them all away.
‘No, it’s fine.’ He studied the pictures, pinning the images in his head. ‘You’ll want to set someone up to make sure they don’t realise I’ve hit them.’
‘I’ll sort it,’ Vert rasped. ‘Be careful… Violette.’ She placed a hand on his forearm. ‘You are… powerful, but… if you see… Le Cancrelat… run. He is… the most skilled… I’ve seen since… Grindelwald.’
‘I’ll be careful,’ Harry promised.
But I’m not running. He smothered the flash of the amber-masked figure. If I don’t come for him, he’s going to come for me. The foe-glass was clear about that.
‘Go on then.’ Vert tucked her wand away and pointed at the books. ‘I will keep… trying… to find… a new… solution.’
You’re thinking too rigidly.
‘Good luck,’ Harry said, apparating away toward the first photo.
He stumbled onto a steep, sandy slope in the shade of gnarled pines and amidst low shrubs..
‘Marie!’ A blonde woman froze beside the nearest pine. ‘Sound the alarm.’
Harry caught her eye, slipping in Julien’s sharp smile. Her thoughts bubbled with awe, flicking from one newspaper headline to the next. He pulled his thoughts away and put a piercing hex through her ribs, apparating outside the window, and inside onto warm tiles.
‘Merde.’ A short, dark-haired woman threw herself back out of her chair, rolling across the floor.
Harry transfigured the floorboards, bending them around her into a wooden cage, and ripping her wand from her hand. ‘Have you ever been to Spain, Marie?’
She glowered at him, a defiant gleam in her brown eyes, and clutched the earring on her left ear. ‘Honour,’ she whispered.
The pearl glowed and Marie gasped, slumping down inside the wooden bars.
‘Merde,’ Harry muttered, smoothing the wood back into the floor and pressing two fingers to her warm neck. ‘Dead.’
On to the next. He pictured the next image and apparated.
A rough dust-strewn yard stretched between crumbling, roofless barns. Broken windows gaped like dead eyes in the sun-bleached stones.
A flash of blue struck his knee, spinning him around and slamming his back into the wall. Pain exploded through his left leg and blood splattered the dust, bone gleaming through his tattered robes. Harry batted two curses away and caught a flicker of movement in the barn opposite him.
A loud crack echoed behind him and agony lanced through his shoulder in a burst of orange. He whirled ‘round and flicked aside another blue spell, glimpsing a shadow through the broken windows of the other barn.
Apparating back and forth.
He thrust his wand at his knee cap. ‘Vulnera sanentur—’ he pressed his wand tip against his shoulder ‘—vulnera sanentur.’ The throbbing pain eased and he drew his magic out into a spiral of white sparks.
A deafening pop came from behind him.
‘Fulminis.’ Harry whipped around.
The bright white beam sliced through both barns and the farmhouse beyond, spraying molten stone across the yard. Sun-bleached walls crumpled into a heap of rubble. A twitching hand stuck from beneath the pale rocks.
‘Merde.’ He thrust his wand at them, sweeping them aside.
Red soaked into the dirt amidst a smear of splintered bone and battered flesh, the shattered shards of a skull adorned the grey-spattered stones like pieces of broken eggshell.
‘Homenum revelio,’ he murmured, glancing around.
Nothing. He sighed and fixed his robes. Third time lucky, I hope.
Harry apparated into lines of withered vines, staring up the slope at a pair of wizards sitting on a worn wooden bench. ‘Bonjour.’ He turned his arm around, tucking his wand behind it.
‘Did he send you?’ the leftmost asked.
‘Yes,’ Harry said, striding up the slope, flexing his fingers on his wand. ‘Nobody else knows where this place is.’
‘Weird.’ The rightmost stood up. ‘Why’s he sent someone here?’
Harry held his dark brown eyes and let their thoughts wash together. Julien’s sharp smile in the dim light of the cabin in the woods shifted into bright sunlight and wooden walls turned to a low, leaning church tower rising from smooth, shiny cobbles before a broad, shallow river and green trees. He slipped in the loose impression of a muggle town sign. Abire. The world welled up in Julien’s voice and Harry pulled their thoughts apart.
‘You’re not from Monsieur Aguillard,’ the rightmost said, levelling his wand at Harry’s chest. ‘Who are you? How did you find us?’
Harry pushed his magic into the air, wrapping it around them. ‘Violette.’
‘Your real name,’ the leftmost spat.
‘I’d rather not.’ Harry gave them a small smile. ‘I was quite hoping to meet with Monsieur Aguillard…’
‘He’s moved on, left Spain, I think,’ the rightmost said. ‘Now, who are you?’
Fury flashed through Harry’s veins and a cold fist clamped about his heart. He’s slipped away. He twisted his wand, wrenching at the air.
Crimson sprayed across the worn wooden bench, spurting in great gouts across the dirt, and the two wizards flopped to the ground. Gore-drenched ivory vertebrae stuck from torn flesh, gleaming in the pooling red.
Harry sucked in a deep breath of cool mountain air, wrestling with the panic curling tight fingers around his heart. I’m getting closer. He released a long sigh until the tight stress eased and his pulse settled. No more waiting. I’ll go to Abire and find Julien at the next set of bases. He must just be getting started there.
He apparated home, stepping over Gabby’s shoes into the hall.
Fleur waddled to the top of the stairs, cradling her stomach with one hand and glowering at him with pitch black eyes. ‘Where did you sneak off to?’ She thrust a finger at him, flapping the uncuffed sleeve of her long shirt.
‘I had to go to work for a bit.’ Harry’s eyes slipped down to where the hem of the shirt hung over the top of her thighs. ‘You look cute in just a shirt.’
She folded her arms. ‘I look like a ball.’
‘A very cute ball.’ He grinned and bounded up the stairs. ‘And wandering around in just that shirt’s going to give me ideas.’
‘Of other blonde girls who aren’t fat,’ Fleur muttered. Her fingers twisted into the fabric of her shirt, showing off the dark silk underwear beneath. ‘You won’t want me when I look like this, or after, not when you could sleep with someone else. Like Daphne Greengrass.’
‘Hey,’ Harry murmured, tugging her fingers free and wrapping her hands in his. ‘I can promise you now that looking at you in just your underwear and a shirt makes me forget about any other girl. Looking at you makes me forget about almost everything else even when you’re fully dressed.’
‘You’d say that even if it didn’t.’ She pulled her hands out of his. ‘If you really wanted me, you’d do something.’ Fleur held his eyes with dark irises and tugged open the first button of the shirt. ‘But you don’t, because you don’t want to.’
‘I very much do.’
‘No you don’t,’ she hissed. ‘When you came back you wanted me all the time and now you don’t.’
‘Well, you said no the last few times because you were tired,’ Harry said. ‘And you seemed quite happy just using me as a pillow. I thought I’d wait.’
Fleur balled her fists. ‘Well I wasn’t tired this morning.’
‘Did you wake up and want to have sex, then get mad because I wasn’t there?’ he asked.
‘Non.’ She tilted her chin in the air and folded her arms. ‘I’m angry because you didn’t want me.’
Footsteps creaked in the corridor. ‘Are you two arguing out here?’ Gabby drifted to the top of the stairs, pulling a thick green jumper over her pyjamas. ‘About sex?’
‘Fleur’s upset because I was absent at an inconvenient moment,’ Harry replied. ‘I had to leave while she was still sleeping.’
‘I am not,’ Fleur snapped. ‘I am angry because you didn’t want to; if you’d wanted to, you’d have stayed.’
‘How was he supposed to know if you were asleep?’ Gabby asked. ‘You’re being silly and unfair again, Fleur.’
‘Hush, Gabrielle.’ Fleur glanced between them. ‘You are always both against me.’ Her lip trembled. ‘That’s unfair.’
‘You accusing Harry of not wanting you because he’s not there isn’t fair, either,’ Gabby said.
Fleur’s eyes narrowed. ‘If he wanted me, he would be here. He doesn’t want me, probably because he’s found someone else who’s not all fat and tired.’ White feathers slid out of her skin. ‘And you, you’d jump at the chance to drown yourself in the feel of him loving you. Always sticking your stupid beak into our relationship.’
Gabby’s grey eyes flashed black. ‘I would not.’
‘Yes you would,’ Fleur hissed. ‘You’re so smug to be prettier than I am. You’d love to steal him. You’d crow about how you’re finally better and prettier than I am.’
‘I would not!’ Little white feathers burst out through the weave of Gabby’s jumper. ‘I would never! I get involved to stop you doing things you’d regret because your head isn’t screwed on straight!’
‘She wouldn’t, Fleur,’ Harry murmured, stepping between them. ‘And neither would I. You know that.’ He took her hands, grimacing as the heat burnt his. ‘I’ll swear it, if you like. An Unbreakable Vow. Just you. As always.’
Fleur stared at him, her eyes fading back to bright blue and the heat of her fingers waned. ‘You would?’
‘Of course,’ he whispered. ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t here, I had to go and chase the amber-masked man. I just try to do whatever I think will make you happy and stop anything being taken away from us.’
‘No Daphne Greengrass?’ A faint pout crept onto her lips. ‘No Dufort sisters? No Gabrielle.’
‘Definitely not.’ He smiled and tugged her into his arms. ‘You’re such a cute little ball of fire and wrath, nobody could ever tempt me away from you. Least of all some girl I’ve said about ten words to.’
‘Or one you’ve said more to,’ Gabby chirped over his shoulder. ‘Despite my best efforts.’
Fleur shot a dark look over Harry’s shoulder. ‘Go away, Gabby.’ Heat smouldered in her eyes as she turned back to Harry. ‘Someone’s going to make up for his unexpected absence, repeatedly.’
Gabby snickered. ‘I’ll go, but—’
‘If we need you, you’ll be just outside?’ Harry snorted. ‘We know.’
Fleur slipped out of his arms and padded back into their room, glancing back over her shoulder and lifting the shirt over her head as she closed the door.
‘Thanks, Gabby,’ Harry said.
Gabby wrinkled her nose. ‘I don’t think I helped much, but I guess now she’s all chubby and moody, she’s just going to get upset sometimes and either you or I are going to get pecked.’
‘Thanks for trying?’
‘I guess.’ She smirked. ‘Thanks for distracting Fleur so she forgets to ward her room?’
‘Nope.’ Harry shook his head at her. ‘You need help.’
Gabby shrugged. ‘If you make Fleur wait any longer to talk to me, you’re going to be the one needing help.’
‘Probably true.’ He grinned. ‘But if I make her wait just a little she’ll get slightly worked up again and that’s usually a lot of fun.’
Gabby giggled. ‘I know. I can hear.’
Harry chuckled and stepped past her. ‘You’re a strange girl, you know that?’
She caught his hand on the door handle. ‘I — er — I wouldn’t recommend doing the Daphne Greengrass thing again, I can only guess what was going through Fleur’s head when she decided to do that.’
He nodded. ‘All sorts of silly things, I’d imagine.’
‘Right,’ Gabby chirped. ‘Try and give me a couple of minutes. Maybe if I burst into the room halfway through, Fleur will finally realise our veela bond is inevitable and invite me in to join you.’
Harry laughed. ‘You will get set on fire.’ He slid into their bedroom and closed the door, stepping over Fleur’s discarded shirt and a slip of black silk.
‘What were the two of you talking about?’ Fleur demanded, clutching her blanket up to her chin. ‘You’ve already made me wait…’
‘How the Heiress Greengrass thing might not be a good idea for a little while,’ Harry said, bending to kiss her. ‘And I think she’s probably right.’
‘And you had to talk about that now instead of coming after me straight away?’ Fleur’s grip on the blanket tightened. ‘I thought you wanted me.’
‘Oh I do.’ He eased the blanket out of her hands and let it slide down to the floor, trailing kisses down the side of her neck, past her collarbone and flicking the stiff bud of her nipple with the tip of his tongue.
Fleur’s breath caught. ‘Careful,’ she whispered. ‘I’m sensitive.’
Harry sucked lightly until she moaned, tracing his fingertips up the inside of her thigh, drawing faint circles over her warm, smooth skin. She parted her legs and pushed herself forward, pressing the hot wet between her legs onto his fingertips with a soft gasp.
He raised his head and caught her lips with his. ‘How would you like me to make up for my absence, mon Rêve?’
Harry slipped two fingers into her and her breath hitched.
‘I want that,’ she murmured, rolling her hips forward into his hand and crushing her mouth against his. ‘Yessssss, I want more of that.’
He curled his fingers into her, rolling his thumb in small circles over her and smiled as Fleur arched her back, her legs shaking and breath quickening.
She slipped her arms around his neck and clung to him, burying her face in his shoulder as she peaked with a moan. ‘Parfait,’ she whispered, wrapping her legs around him and slipping a hand down to caress him, curling around his hardness until his heart raced. ‘How would you like to have me?’
Harry pressed a light kiss to her stomach and nudged her knees apart. ‘I thought I was making up for being away this morning…’ He trailed his kisses over the curve of her belly and down between her thighs, slipping his fingers deeper into her. ‘Non?’
‘Oui.’ A gasp burst through Fleur’s lips as the tip of his tongue flicked through her and her fingers curled into his hair. ‘Definitely, yes.’