The bronze hands crawled around the small clock, gleaming in the soft white light of the floating lantern. His shadow wavered on the stone bench beside it.
A quiet knock echoed through the room.
Vert slipped in and pushed the door shut. ‘Violette.’
‘Vert…’ A soft thrill stirred. ‘Have you…?’
She tugged back her hood and stared at him with her dark eyes. ‘When it is… just us… Violette… you should… call me… Liliana.’
Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘Should I?’
Her lips twitched. ‘It helps… Liliana… feel something… more than… hate.’
‘Would you like me to try and end the curse?’ he asked. ‘I think it is tied to the wand.’
‘It is… bound to… his wand… fed by… my hate—’ she took a deep breath as the scars squirmed and darkened upon her cheek ‘—fed by… Liliana’s… hate.’
‘And?’ Harry glanced back down at the clock. ‘That wasn’t a yes or a no… Liliana?’
‘Please stop,’ Liliana whispered. ‘Hope is… poison… for us… when we fail… the hate comes… back stronger… and we might… not survive.’
He nodded. ‘Okay. Has Grise come back with anything, then?’
‘Non.’ Liliana drifted down the steps. ‘I was… going to… scry, but… I would… prefer to… do it… when you… are here… just in… case.’
‘Do you need anything?’
She shook her head. ‘Just… if the curse… gets worse… force it… back. Any… healing… spell will… help me… as long… as I… stop… hating.’
Liliana closed her eyes. Her breathing slowed and deepened, the room quieting until Harry could hear the thrum of his heart in his ears.
He watched the longer of the clock’s bronze hands drift around its ring beneath his flickering shadow, unease and excitement tangled together in his gut like a knot of warm wire.
Liliana opened her eyes.
‘And?’ He held his breath. ‘Did you find him?’
‘I did not… scry for him… I scried for… how to… catch him,’ she rasped. ‘Of all the… places we… marked a… grey dock… and stone houses… stood out… to me… before the… sunset.’
The sunset. Harry smothered the searing whisper of the amber-masked man and a stab of panic.
‘Grise suspects… Le Cancrelat… wants to use… our unhappy… allies in… Italy… Sicily and… North Africa.’ Liliana watched the hands of the clock slid ’round its rim. ‘We will… sweep the… island.’ She grimaced and pressed a hand to her throat. ‘I will… start near… where I… scried to… save time.’ She put a hand on his wrist. ‘Grise is an… old friend… but not a… friend to… Liliana. He… must not… know that… she lives a… little still.’
‘I’ll say nothing.’ He took a deep breath. ‘So do you think his stronghold is there?’
She shook her head. ‘I do… not believe… so.’
Liliana nodded and released his arm. ‘Were you… trying… something?’
Harry grimaced. ‘I was trying to bend time backwards with different rune patterns, but it didn’t work.’
‘It is… too strong,’ she said. ‘I also… tried to.’
‘It’s like trying to reverse the flow of a river,’ he muttered. ‘Which is impossible.’
Inspiration struck, a flash of lightning across the night sky.
‘I need to make it not a river,’ Harry said, grabbing the clock and sliding his wand from his sleeve.’
‘How?’ Liliana rasped.
He sighed and slipped his wand away. ‘I have no idea. I just had it on the tip of my tongue for a moment.’ Harry struggled for words. ‘It was like, if you see something a certain way, that defines what you think is possible. If I see time as a river, I can divert the flow, delay it, but not reverse it…’
‘You need to… see it as… something else.’ She pursed her lips and nodded. ‘You are… good at this… Violette… I think… you are right.’
‘Let me know if you have any non-river ideas.’
‘I will—’ Liliana burst into a raw, hoarse cough and the scars on her face and throat darkened. She fumbled her wand out and pressed its glowing tip into her neck until they faded. ‘Pardon.’
‘What is that? He studied her scars. ‘The curse again?’
‘It eats… at me… so long… as I feel… hate for him,’ she whispered. ‘He did not… mind if… I disagreed… with his… principles… or ideas… but he said… hate was… something he… could not… forgive… A ruinous… poison.’
‘And your spell?’ Harry asked. ‘To stop it?’
‘I can force… it back… a little… if I don’t… let myself… feel hate… but hate is… all that… Liliana… has left.’
‘But if you’re not Liliana, there’s no hate and that keeps it in check.’
‘Just about.’ She tugged her hood back up. ‘I will… go and… think about… rivers. It… is good… you have… come to… surpass me… When the… curse takes… Liliana… she will… leave you… in her stead.’
He watched her trudge out, the door thudding shut behind her. ‘I guess I’ll go back home.’ Harry took a long, deep breath and let the bright thrill fade, pulling the world back past him until he stepped into the kitchen with a soft snap.
‘Bienvenue, mon Amour.’ Fleur’s soft blue eyes met his. ‘Ça va?’
‘Getting closer to Le Cancrelat,’ he replied. ‘Hopefully no more than a week or so away.’
‘Bon.’ She rested her belly on the table and released a quiet sigh. ‘I wish this was a week or so away.’
‘Giving birth?’ Harry rested his hand on the curve of her bump, feeling the twitch of the baby kicking within. Anxiety gnawed at him. ‘What are we doing about that? Are there things we need to do?’
‘I will notice when it starts and then someone, probably Gabby because you will be a useless worrying mess, will contact the hospital in Paris and one of their specialists will come out here to help.’
‘And they’ll bring all those potions?’
‘Which you promised to take?’
Fleur rolled her eyes. ‘Yes, mon Amour. I will take them.’
‘And what then?’
‘I have the baby,’ she said. ‘The healer will check if our baby is okay, cast a bunch of enchantments to monitor the baby’s health, and leave.’
‘And you?’ Harry slipped his arm around her waist. ‘What about you?’
‘Well, I will probably want to sleep.’ Fleur covered his hand with hers, lining her fingers up over his. ‘Giving birth is supposed to be exhausting. That means you will be watching our baby.’
‘Right.’ His stomach twisted into a cold, sharp tangle. ‘What am I watching for? How do I know if something’s wrong with the baby?’
She squeezed his fingers. ‘The healer will come back if their magic warns them anything is wrong. Don’t panic, mon Cœur, it will be fine.’
Harry mustered a smile. ‘I’ll try.’
‘You’ll pretend, you mean.’ Fleur rested her head on his shoulder. ‘You are an idiot. It will be perfect. You will see.’
A green-eyed little girl smiled behind silver glass in Harry’s mind.
‘I guess I’d better get rid of Julien,’ he murmured.
‘Before I am close to due,’ Fleur said. ‘If you are off fighting someone like that while I am having our baby, I will set fire to you when you get back.’
‘He’ll be gone by then. I promise.’
‘Bon.’ She tugged at his hand. ‘Hold me closer,’ Fleur whispered. ‘I missed you.’
‘I’m here.’ Harry tightened his hold, pulling her against him. ‘I’m not going anywhere for a few days.’
‘We can think about names.’ A small, soft smile curved Fleur’s lips. ‘I think it would be best to wait a year or so before we buy that house as well, mon Amour. This is a nice place for a little girl to grow up and Maman and Papa will just come and visit us all the time if we move.’
‘That’s okay.’ Harry pressed a kiss to the top of her head. ‘There’s no rush.’
‘We need to pick a middle name to go with Katrina,’ Fleur murmured. ‘A nice one.’
‘Isobel?’ Harry suggested.
‘That’s my middle name,’ she replied.
‘I know, and I know you want her to have her own beautiful name, but I like Isobel and I like her sharing part of her name with you.’ He leant back to catch her eye. ‘It’s not like Katrina isn’t a name she partially shares… I would like her to share some of that name with you, as well.’
Fleur’s blue eyes softened. ‘Katrina Isobel Delacour,’ she whispered. ‘Katrina Isobel Delacour.’ A smile spread across her face. ‘Parfait.’
‘I don’t know what you want to do for boy’s names,’ Harry said. ‘I don’t like some, though. Like Pierre or Augustin.’
She wrinkled her nose. ‘I will veto a lot of boys’ names. I do not want our son to have the name of someone who pestered me once. Just like I do not want our daughter to be a Caroline or an Emilie.’
‘Probably fair. It’s an awful name.’
Harry frowned. ‘Those are all the French boys’ names I know.’
‘Two?’ Fleur’s eyebrows rose. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Well, Henri’s out, and so is Pierre, and Laurent, and I don’t really like Sebastien, it just makes me think of crabs.’
She blinked. ‘Crabs?’
‘Crabs.’ He grinned. ‘It would take a lot of explanation, but I don’t really like it all that much to begin with anyway.’
‘Louis?’ Fleur suggested.
Harry shrugged. ‘What about Talon?’
She nudged him with her elbow. ‘No bird puns.’
‘It’s a real name…’
‘It’s also a bird pun.’
‘Fine.’ Harry chuckled. ‘What about Gabriel?’
‘The male form of Gabrielle?’ Fleur scowled. ‘Non.’
‘I do not like the meaning,’ she replied. ‘Gilbert?’
‘Abelino?’ Harry hid a grin.
Fleur’s eyes darkened a few hues. ‘Are there any other bird-related names you want to get in now, mon Amour?’
‘Non. To both.’
‘I actually quite like Abelino,’ Harry muttered. ‘But I guess it’s been vetoed.’
‘It has.’ She pursed her lips. ‘Luc? Or Lamar?’
‘I don’t mind Luc or Lamar.’ He turned the sound over in his head. ‘They work okay with Delacour.’
‘Lamar means born near the sea, though,’ Fleur said.
‘We’re not that near to the sea.’ Harry pictured France in his head. ‘What about Victor, it means the winner.’
‘Makes me think of Viktor Krum.’
‘Maybe we should just hope it’s a girl,’ Harry said. ‘We don’t seem to be getting anywhere.’
‘We have Luc and Lamar.’
‘A start.’ He chuckled. ‘I’ll have a think about some others — oh. One more. Valentin?’
‘Valentin is nice…’
‘Is that a yes?’ Harry asked.
‘It’s not a non,’ Fleur replied. ‘Valentin Luc?’
He grinned at her. ‘It’s not a non.’
She stuck her lower lip out. ‘You are teasing me, mon Cœur.’
‘And you are pouting with intent, mon Rêve.’ Harry drew her into a gentle kiss.
Fleur smiled against his lips. ‘As always.’
He ran his fingers through her hair, letting the warmth of her skin soak into him. ‘I am happy with Valentin Luc if you are.’
Silver flickered in the corner of his eye.
Gabby held a finger to her lips at the door, a soft gleam in her grey eyes and gentle smile on her lips. She wrapped her arms around herself and beamed at him, pressing a hand over her heart.
Listening. He rolled his eyes at her.
She grinned and tiptoed away down the hall.
‘What is it?’ Fleur asked.
‘Tell her to shoo,’ Fleur murmured. ‘I do not want to be teased by her, I am very happy like this.’
‘She’s already gone,’ Harry said. ‘You’re all safe.’
‘Bon.’ Fleur buried her face in his neck and let out a soft sigh. ‘Can we go somewhere, just the two of us?’
‘Of course.’ Harry slipped his fingers through her long, silver hair. ‘Where would you like to waddle to, mon Amour?’
A peal of laughter burst from her lips. ‘I was hoping you would want to carry me again.’
‘I could do that,’ He patted her bump. ‘Not for very long, but for a bit.’
‘I am very heavy now.’ Fleur sighed. ‘Maybe let’s just go upstairs so I can nap on you.’
‘Soon you’ll be able to lay your egg, mon Rêve.’ Harry smiled into her hair, pressing kisses to her cheek. ‘Gabby assures me that, once we’ve performed all the magical veela rites over it, it will hatch into a cute veela baby.’
‘This is why you’re not allowed to name our baby anything related to birds, mon Cœur,’ Fleur murmured, sliding her arms around his neck. ‘You and Gabby would tease them incessantly about it.’
‘We definitely would.’ He chuckled and slipped an arm under her legs, heaving her into his arms. ‘Good thing it’s not twins, or I wouldn’t be able to carry you.’ His heart leapt into his mouth. ‘Wait, do we know it’s not twins?’
‘Would that be bad?’ Fleur asked.
‘No, but we’d need more names,’ Harry replied, leaning back to squeeze through the door into the hall. ‘And I think we vetoed all of them already.’
‘It is just the one baby,’ she said. ‘The healer checked last time they came out, but I can tell from the magic, too.’
‘The healer comes out?’ Harry trudged up the stairs, ignoring the ache in his arm. ‘When?’
‘Bien sûr.’ Fleur shifted in his arms. ‘Not very often, I cast a few charms that monitor me and the baby, it will alert them if there’s a need, but they come every now and again just to check on things more thoroughly.’
‘I’ve not seen them.’
‘They only came out once a couple months ago.’ She leant into his chest as he side-stepped into their room. ‘Before that, I could still apparate, so I went to them.’
‘When are they next coming?’
‘In a few days.’ Fleur’s fingers curled into his robes, her knuckles brushing his back. ‘You focus on Le Cancrelat. If anything isn’t right with the baby, I will tell you, I promise.’
‘It’s all been fine so far?’ he asked.
‘Well,’ she said. ‘As fine as expected. I am still huge.’
‘That’s okay then.’ Harry sat down on the bed and shuffled back from the edge.
Fleur squirmed her feet under the pillows and wriggled into his lap with a quiet sigh. ‘This is very nice. Stay still, mon Cœur.’