The long grass and dark green leaves of the orange trees trembled in the breeze. A scatter of white-jacketed Chevaliers surveyed the small crowd, leaning on the gnarled trunks, wands in hands. Harry stood in their midst, bumping shoulders with Vert.
Julien smiled, sitting atop a stack of logs, his long, dark hair fluttering. André and Bernard loomed behind him, their arms folded across their chests.
‘Are you ready?’ Harry whispered.
‘I am… as ready… as we… can be.’ Vert pulled out her wand. ‘I will… cast the… wards and… leave you… they should… be split… into attacking… the wards… and you… They will… expect… rein…forcements.’
This is risky, even if I can probably break through any wards. Harry took a deep breath. I should really get her or Fleur or Gabby to show me how to make wards I can get through.
‘Wait.’ He caught her wrist as she reached for her wand. ‘Let’s listen for a bit first. We might learn something.’
Vert nodded. ‘Good… idea.’
Julien stretched and stood, balancing on the balls of his feet atop the stack of logs. ‘Welcome!’ He spread his arms. ‘Welcome my brothers and my sisters. My siblings not in blood but in gift. I thank you for coming, for being brave, for understanding what must be done.’
Vert made a quiet noise of disgust. ‘He has… been reading… Grindelwald’s… old words.’
‘We are the saviours of our world.’ Julien’s sharp smile flashed across his face. ‘I and my Chevaliers, and you and the brothers and sisters beside you.’ He raised his wand, casting a string of glowing white lights over the grove. ‘Centuries ago, in fear, we agreed to a statute of secrecy, and, as they signed it in the ruins of Rome, our ancestors plunged their heads into the sands and set us on course for a catastrophe.’
‘What is… the plan?’ Vert rasped, her dark eyes on the lights. ‘After… I leave?’
‘I can still apparate out, right?’ Harry asked.
‘Of course,’ she said.
‘I will wipe them away.’ A faint thrill trickled through his veins and he took a deep breath to still the pounding of his heart. ‘No more Le Cancrelat. No more Chevaliers.’
No more amber-masked figure.
Vert gave him a slow nod. ‘I will… do some… damage… before I leave.’
‘No.’ Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve. ‘I’ll only catch you in the middle. Just get out.’
‘Very… well,’ she whispered.
Julien’s blue eyes bored into Harry’s.
‘Do the wards now, Vert.’ He met the gaze, ignoring the sharp stabs of desire, picturing a slim, silver ring with a purple spiral adorning it. ‘Quickly.’
A sharp smile spread across Julien’s face. ‘Bienvenue, Violette.’
Magic fell in a shimmering curtain across the grove and Vert vanished with a loud crack.
The crowd melted away to the edge of the wards.
‘Bonsoir Noire.’ Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve, forcing magic through it, drawing white sparks into a tight spiral at its tip. ‘Fulminis.’
Lightning splashed off a bright wall of silver light. Ozone stung Harry’s nose. André and Bernard grunted and swayed, their outstretched wands trembling as the blinding white beam crackled against their Shield Charm. The other Chevaliers fanned out behind them, raising their wands.
Harry twisted his wrist and whipped the lightning back around himself in a circle. It seared through trees, leaving glowing, charred stumps and toppled branches above burnt, weeping corpses and drifting ash.
‘Not so average after all.’ Julien whipped his mahogany wand up before his face and dropped from the stack of logs onto the balls of his feet. ‘And no doubt others are coming.’ He thrust his army out, throwing up a gleaming shield of wards and weaving the stack of logs into a lattice of vines. ‘Bernard, bring these wards down, I will hold our defence.’
Bernard swivelled and gestured at the Chevaliers; they hurled spells into Vert’s wards. Colours burst over them, washing in ripples across the bright shimmer.
You’re not escaping.
‘Lacero.’ Harry watched his purple curse splash against the shield, drawing on the amber-masked figure as the cold ball of hate settled beneath his ribs. ‘Avada kedavra.’
The vines lunged, swallowing the curse.
Harry drew up every drop of magic. ‘Fulminis.’ He hammered the lightning into the shield and grit his teeth.
Julien’s bright blue eyes studied him over the flashing, crackling beam of power. ‘You are serving a short-term good, Violette.’ He glanced at his trembling shield. ‘Every drop of blood spilt to prevent our world colliding with the muggle one is a drop of blood wasted. The collision is inevitable.’
The shimmer of Vert’s wards faded and flickered.
‘Julien,’ Bernard cried. ‘We’re almost through.’
Harry dragged more magic up and forced it through his wand.
Julien grimaced, his shield wavering. ‘What do you think happens if we keep killing each other over this while the muggles grow stronger? When our worlds collide, who is left weak and who has grown strong?’
The shield burst. Julien deflected the lightning into the ground with a slash of his wand and a swirl of dense, dark fog.
‘Only if the collision is inevitable,’ Harry said, unleashing a hail of spells.
They burst upon André’s shield in showers of bright sparks.
‘André, assist Bernard!’ Julien raised his wand before his face and drew himself up. ‘I will guard your backs.’
‘Non.’ André stepped in front of Julien and levelled his wand at Harry’s chest. ‘I will stop him, Julien. You go back to the stronghold with the others.’
Julien’s jaw twitched. ‘If you insist, André.’
‘I do.’ André unleashed a storm of blue curses, whipping his wrist through wand motions and gritting his teeth.
Harry batted them away, striding closer and forcing his arm faster until it blurred and his muscles stung.
‘That’s not natural,’ André hissed, stumbling back and throwing up his shield.
Harry’s spells exploded on it, bursting the bubble of white magic in a flash of light.
Julien swivelled on his heel and sent a lance of orange into Vert’s wards, tearing a hole through. The shimmer frayed and fell. Les Chevaliers vanished with a loud crack.
Harry thrust his magic into the air, layering it over and over, ducking and bending through André’s spells.
Julien vanished with a quiet snap.
‘Merde.’ Harry closed his wards over André; cold fury raced through his veins and his heart hammered against his ribs. ‘Where has he gone?’
‘You won’t learn from me.’ André hurled more blue spells at Harry.
He swatted them aside. I almost had him. But almost is not enough.
Frost crept across the grass at his feet and his breath misted in the air.
André shivered. ‘Your magic is not natural.’ He set his jaw. ‘But I will kill you for Julien all the same.’
‘I will kill you,’ Harry said. ‘Then I will find Julien and I will kill him.’
He touched their thoughts together, catching a glimpse of a bright, orange fruit sitting on a wooden table.
‘Legilimency is useless,’ André spat. ‘Julien has taught me how to divert it. Even if I cannot separate our thoughts, you will see nothing.’
It doesn’t matter if he escapes. Harry dropped the wards. I just have to see where he’s apparating.
André’s eyes flicked to the waning shimmer and a star-filled skyline and low mountains flashed through their thoughts.
‘No.’ He clenched his fist tight around his wand and the orange reappeared among their thoughts. ‘I will not flee and lead you right to him.’
Harry smothered a flash of irritation and raised his wand. ‘I’ll just kill you, then.’
André thrust his wand at the burning branches and charred trees. They drew together, scraping through ash-veiled grass, bending and snapping into a tall wicker figure veiled in a bright, yellow glow.
You won’t steal our dream. Harry slashed his wand forward. I won’t let you.
The hazy basilisk shattered the wicker figure, spraying splinters across the grove. André flinched behind his arm. Harry sent a piercing hex through André’s ribs in a spray of red and held his breath as the splinters tore into him. Burning pain lanced through his elbow, calf and thigh.
‘You won’t… find him…’ André forced his wand arm up with his other hand, dropping to one knee as blood blossomed across his white jacket. ‘Avada—’
Harry put a piercing hex between his eyes. Grey fluid spattered the grass and flecks of gleaming bone scattered across the splinters and ash.
I let him get away. He clenched his jaw. I failed. I was meant to get rid of them. I should be going back to Fleur to tell her there’s nothing to worry about. He ripped the jagged pieces of wood from his leg and arm, gasping as a wave of pain crashed over him. You deserve it for failing.
He pressed his wand to the bleeding gash in his calf, letting the throbbing, searing pain wash through him. Small splinters spat from his flesh as his skin crept back.
The more it hurts to get…
‘Vulnera sanentur,’ Harry murmured, clawing up a few scraps of magic.
The bleeding slowed and the flesh knitted itself together, skin closing over the wounds.
He took a deep breath. I still have that image of the skyline. Maybe we can use that. Harry slid his wand back into his sleeve and wrenched the world back past him, collapsing into a chair in the Sunshine Room.
‘Are you injured?’ Grise’s pink eyes flicked from the bloodstained, torn robes over his legs to the hole above his elbow. ‘Violette?’
‘Not anymore.’ Harry sighed. ‘Julien got away.’
‘Too much legilimency,’ he said. ‘It’s strange to call him Le Cancrelat or anything like that having seen him as Julien so often.’
‘Be careful, legilimency is a dangerous magic.’
‘I know.’ Harry smeared blood and splinters off his hands onto his thighs. ‘I killed André and everyone who wasn’t wearing white, too.’
‘André?’ Vert rasped.
‘One of Les Chevaliers,’ he replied. ‘He was good. I only got a glimpse of the skyline from him. That’s all we have to find Julien’s stronghold.’
‘I can use the skyline to narrow the net,’ Grise said. ‘Vert said they apparated.’
‘They did,’ Harry said.
‘Then it must be within the apparition range of the average wizard.’ Grise steepled his fingers. ‘That narrows it down a lot, we should be able to find him.’
Somewhere within four hundred miles. Harry grimaced. It could take ages to find him.
‘There are a lot of places within four hundred miles of there.’
Grise’s pink eyes held Harry’s with a curious little gleam. ‘Most wizards can only apparate a couple hundred miles, Violette. We’ll call it three hundred to be safe, but only wizards like Le Cancrelat can manage four hundred or more. There won’t be too many possible locations, not given he will have to have his stronghold on French-controlled soil.’
Good. Harry swallowed the little ball of cold. The amber-masked figure needs to be gone before our baby is born.
‘Grindelwald… apparated… over six… hundred… miles back… during the… second war,’ Vert rasped. ‘It is the… longest known.’
‘It’s good they didn’t portkey,’ Grise muttered. ‘A well-made portkey can take you up to seven hundred miles. We would have much more trouble finding them.’
It must be nearly a thousand miles from Hogwarts to the willow tree. A small smile spread across Harry’s lips. Such a brilliant bird-wife.
He slid his wand from his sleeve and conjured a small glass bottle. ‘I’ll leave you the memory, Grise.’ Harry pictured the flash of the skyline and drew a short strand of silver mist from his temple, letting it pool into the bottle. ‘Here.’
Grise plucked the bottle from his fingers. ‘It shouldn’t take too long. There are not many mountains like this in French territory within apparating distance. Vert will be able to close the net from there.’ His pale forehead wrinkled. ‘You will not have to wait long to get your confrontation with Le Cancrelat.’
‘Good.’ Harry pushed himself to his feet and grimaced as a dull ache tugged at his bones. ‘I’m going to go home.’
‘Well done, Violette,’ Grise said. ‘Very well done.’
‘Merci.’ Harry wrenched the world back past him and stepped into the kitchen.
‘You have holes in your clothes, mon Amour.’ Fleur’s arms slid around his neck and the curve of her stomach pressed against his back. ‘Are you hurt?’
‘Just a couple of splinters.’ He turned, bending to press a kiss to her small smile. ‘Nothing to worry about. Le Cancrelat got away, but Grise thinks we’ll be able to find his stronghold. And I’m not going to let him escape me twice.’
‘Bon.’ She released a soft sigh, slipping around in front of him and burying her face in the crook of his neck. ‘I want the baby out.’
‘It’s not finished cooking yet,’ Harry said. ‘It’s not done.’
Fleur’s soft, warm lips curved against his collarbone. ‘Neither is my nest of meringue.’
‘I should really get on that.’ He wrapped his arms about her shoulders. ‘I just need to find a way to hide it from your sister.’
‘Clearly, warding her out won’t work.’
‘Not unless they’re blood wards,’ Harry said. ‘That’s really the only thing I can think of.’ He ran his fingers through her hair. ‘Although, at some point, it’d be handy if you could teach me how to create anti-apparition wards that I can still apparate through.’
‘You just make the magic permeable,’ Fleur said. ‘It’s really easy.’
‘That’s right, rub it in my face, mon Ange.’ He chuckled. ‘It’s okay, I know how brilliant and perfect you are. Grise was telling me about how the best portkeys can take you up to seven hundred miles and there you were at seventeen…’
‘It was hard to make that portkey to bring you here,’ she murmured. ‘I had to put every drop of magic into it.’
‘It must be a thousand miles.’ Harry kissed her on the top of the head. ‘What an amazing bird-wife you are.’
‘The most amazing.’
He laughed. ‘I am fairly sure I only have the one bird-wife. Despite Gabby’s best attempts.’
Fleur hummed. ‘Most amazing bird-girl, then.’
‘Also true.’ Harry leant back and tilted her chin up to meet her eyes. ‘You seem happy.’ He patted himself down. ‘I’m not on fire.’
‘I slept well. Gabby was telling me some more about how the two of you have improved the pensieve before Maman and Papa headed off to work.’
‘We were kind of expecting you to get pouty about us doing that together.’ He kissed the tip of her nose. ‘I know you’d rather I was making things with you.’
‘I am in a good mood.’ Fleur’s small smile sent a warm glow through his chest. ‘The baby was kicking.’
‘And that made you happy?’
‘Of course.’ Her lip shook. ‘You can help make a pensieve with that little harpy, but you made a baby with me.’
‘Ah, you realised you’re winning.’ Harry grinned. ‘You do like winning.’
‘I do not lose.’ Fleur’s mouth curved into a faint smirk. ‘Don’t say Triwizard Tournament, it doesn’t count if it was rigged.’
‘I beat you at cards a few days ago, too.’
‘I let you win because I was distracted,’ she said.
‘You lost because you were pouting about me going off to the Caribbean,’ Harry said, toying with the tips of her silver tresses. ‘You can’t win at cards if you throw all of them at your sister.’
‘She was being annoying.’ A slight pout crept onto her lips. ‘And it wasn’t the Caribbean I was upset about.’
‘I know.’ A little of the humour drained away. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘It’s okay, mon Cœur,’ Fleur whispered. ‘You made good memories with her, of course you’d want to keep them.’
Harry held her close, letting the heat of her skin soak into him. ‘And like you said, I made a baby with you, so you’re still winning.’
She hummed. ‘Yes.’ Her fingers curled around his wrist and drew his hand down onto her stomach. ‘See if you can feel it.’
‘Kicking?’ Harry spread his fingers over her belly. ‘Can I feel it like this?’
‘Of course you can.’ Fleur’s lips twitched. ‘I can definitely feel it.’
Worry gnawed at him. ‘Does it hurt?’ Harry held his breath.
‘No.’ She laughed. ‘It’s okay, mon Amour, it’s just like a twitch. It makes me jump.’
He let out a long sigh. ‘That’s good. Sometimes it seems like you got a bit of a raw deal with this.’
‘It’s fair,’ she whispered. ‘You have to put up with me being… less than perfect.’
‘Silly bird-wife.’ Harry kissed her on the cheek. ‘It’s not your fault.’
‘It still can’t be fun to put up with,’ Fleur murmured. ‘I don’t like it.’
‘You’re perfect for me,’ he promised. ‘It’s not like I don’t have the occasional moment of madness.’
‘You and your trust issues.’ She wrinkled her nose. ‘But you cannot panic and run away, I will chase you down.’
‘You mean you’ll waddle after me like a duck.’ Harry grinned at her pout. ‘You’re not running anywhere for a few months.’
‘I do waddle, don’t I?’ Fleur sighed. ‘I must be so unattractive. No wonder the little harpy is so smug.’
‘Gabby’s secretly really jealous,’ Harry said. ‘That’s why she keeps making jokes about giving our baby a half-sibling.’
Fleur laughed. ‘Only of what she can feel from us, she’s not keen on the pregnancy bit now she’s seen me do it. Gabby is shorter, too, so she would be even more of a ball than I am.’
Something twitched beneath his hand and a small smile spread across Harry’s face.
‘Was that it?’ he murmured. ‘I felt that.’
‘That’s it.’ She rested her hand over his. ‘It doesn’t happen very much yet.’
The green-eyed little girl beamed behind glass and a hot lump swelled up in Harry’s throat. ‘Je t’aime,’ he whispered in her ear, pulling her close. ‘Je t’aime.’
Fleur buried her face into his chest. ‘Let’s go back to our room. Before Gabby comes to bother us.’
‘You don’t really mind that much.’
‘I am very happy and I want to spend this time with you,’ she whispered. ‘So I’m going to waddle back to our room and you are coming with me.’
Harry drew her arms up around his neck and bent to slip an arm under her legs, lifting her into his embrace. ‘Or I can carry you.’
‘Or this.’ Fleur rested her head on his shoulder and clung to him, her fingers curling into his clothes. ‘This also works.’