A grey dock weathered the thunder of the heaving, swirling sea. White spray spattered across its salt-stained cobbles and the wind swept flecks of foam over the rusting railing and against the stout, stone houses lining the seafront. Gulls screamed from the nooks and crannies of the rooftops and walls, drifting on the wind before a patchwork of grim clouds.
Harry dusted cool foam off his shoulder and peered out from under the bus stop shelter. ‘Which house is it?’
Grise’s pink eyes flicked from door to door beneath the peak of his blue raincoat’s hood. ‘The third one from the right end of the line.’
So close now. Harry strode forward, side-stepping the gurgling drain. If Liliana’s scrying worked, then Julien could be here.
‘Vert said there were strong wards, but that they were focused on staying undetected. Once you know the house is here, they’re useless.’ Grise matched his stride along the pavement. ‘However, we will have to layer our own wards over the top before we break in.’
‘I can do that.’ Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve, concealing it behind his forearm. ‘I can’t promise you’ll be able to apparate inside them.’
‘I will not need to.’
Harry paused beside the weathered blue door, studying the foam clinging to the seashells ringing the small window. ‘Ready?’
‘I am.’ Grise pulled his wand out from under his raincoat. ‘Try to keep them alive, or pry out everything you can before killing them.’
No. They die. They all die. He took a deep breath as his pulse began to race and a soft thrill swelled within him. Once they’re all gone, once Julien’s gone, we’re free.
Harry thrust his magic into the air, twisting threads of it over and over until a tight, thick mesh covered the house. ‘We’re ready.’
Grise pulled a small glass jar from his pocket and unscrewed the lid. ‘A scorpion. It’s been dead for a while, but it will suffice.’
‘Don’t take too long, they’ll notice the wards or us on the doorstep soon.’
‘Engorgio.’ Grise balanced the small, dead body on his palm, watching as it swelled up. His wand’s tip shone a fierce yellow and the scorpion writhed, flailing its legs and tail.
‘Is it venomous?’ Harry asked.
‘No.’ Grise tucked his wand under his chin and opened the letterbox, tipping the scorpion through and back-stepping to the street. ‘I would give it some space, Violette.’
Harry retreated back to the pavement.
The door exploded into splinters. Fragments of blue paint, seashells and glass shards scattered across the path and the bronze handle rang against the step, rolling down into the overflowing gutters.
Harry strode over the mess, crunching glass under his heels and stepped inside.
Dust lined the cold radiator in the hall and clung to the walls.
‘It’s quiet,’ Grise murmured. ‘Too quiet.’
Harry followed the corridor into the kitchen, peering through dust-coated windows into a thicket of brambles between a collapsed shed and sagging, rotten fence panels. ‘Nothing here,’ he whispered. ‘Check upstairs.’
Grise tiptoed up the stone stairs, creaking across the landing.
The wind rattled the windows, bending the collapsing fence further into the brambles.
Was Liliana wrong? His gut knotted, flashing cold. I don’t have long to deal with this, I promised Fleur.
Grise strode down the stairs, deep creases wrinkling his pale forehead. ‘Nothing. It’s about eight centimetres deep in dust up there.’
Harry shook his head. ‘Then why the wards?’
‘I’m not sure.’
‘They’re here,’ he replied, tugging open cupboards and drawers. ‘They must be.’
‘The house is empty,’ Grise said. ‘We should—’
A loud crack echoed from somewhere under the garden.
‘That was apparition,’ Harry said, raising his wand and dragging his wards across to cover the entire street. ‘Is there a cellar?’
Grise shook his head. ‘Not as far as Vert knew, and she slipped into one of the other identical houses to make sure we knew about the inside.’
‘Then they made one.’ He eyed the floor. ‘And I’m not all that fussed about looking for the proper door, if there is one.’
Grise tugged at one bushy white sideburn. ‘Do it. They’ll know we’re coming soon anyway.’
Harry let the amber-masked man well up before his mind’s eye, let himself see Fleur and his family torn away. A sharp shard of ice settled beneath his ribs and he thrust his wand at the floor.
Screaming tongues of crimson Fiendfyre ate through the ground, billowing through into a dark space beneath.
He took a deep breath and squashed the magic. ‘Down we go.’
Grise nodded. ‘Don’t let anyone escape to warn Le Cancrelat.’
‘Oh, I won’t.’ Harry dropped into the dark, thudding onto a rough stone and stumbling to one knee. The stink of burnt hair and flesh stung his nose. ‘Lumos.’
Soft, white light lit up a small cave. Smoke rose from the blackened figure lying on the ground beside him.
Grise floated down next to him and rolled the corpse over with his hands. Flecks of soot and ash trickled off white leather. ‘One of Le Cancrelat’s seventeen Chevaliers.’
‘Fifteen, now.’ Harry straightened up and peered down the tunnel. ‘And fewer soon enough.’
Grise murmured under his breath, holding his glowing wand over the charred body. The burnt, weeping patches swelled and bubbled into huge, dark buboes and the inferius’s limbs jerked and twitched.
‘Do I want to stay a safe distance away from that?’
‘It is almost always smart to keep a safe distance away from an inferius,’ Grise replied, dusting off his hands. ‘But in this case, it would be especially wise.’
The inferius clawed its way to its feet and stumbled down the tunnel.
Harry strode after it, dimming the light of his wand.
The tunnel opened into another cave. Three white-coated figures stood at the far end of it, wands drawn.
The inferius hissed and broke into a run.
A flash of blue struck it in the chest and one of the buboes burst, spraying thick, dark liquid across the ground. It hissed and smoked, eating into the stone.
‘Don’t let it reach us,’ the tallest wizard snapped.
The inferius sprinted through a hail of spells, spattering acid, its skin writhing as new buboes swelled up. The stones beneath the inferius’s feet burst open and wrapped about its legs, yanking it to a halt. The blonde witch in the middle set it on fire with a flick of her wand.
Harry sent piercing hexes hissing past it at the trio.
The tallest wizard stepped away from the group, deflecting the hexes away and returning fire. Orange curses streaked from his wand, bursting against the stone walls in showers of sparks and puffs of acrid smoke.
Harry swatted the last spell into the inferius’s shoulder, spraying acid through the air between them. The wizard flinched behind his arm.
Harry disillusioned himself and leapt to the side of the cave.
Grise shattered the stone wrapped about the inferius’s legs and it hurled itself forward, sinking its teeth into the leg of the leftmost wizard. He staggered back with a low cry and kicked the inferius away.
The witch banished the inferius back at Grise, hurling hexes after it.
Harry conjured a whip of flame and snared the inferius’s arm, wrenching it across the cave and into the tall wizard, abandoning his disillusionment. Grise threw up his shield, flinching as the three curses punched through it and bored into the stone beside his ear, jabbing his wand at the inferius.
It burst in a spray of red gore and dark fluid.
The tall wizard screamed, clawing at his face as the acid ate through his skin, thrashing on the ground.
Harry batted away a handful of blue curses as the bitten wizard staggered to his feet and put a piercing hex through the tall wizard’s skull. The remaining wizard snarled and thrust his wand at the walls.
The stone shivered into spikes, the sharp rock thorns stretching in toward them.
Harry poured his magic into the spines, drowning the wizard’s fury beneath his will and flattening the walls. Grise exchanged bright flashes of magic with the witch, hammering curses into her shield and ducking behind his own.
The wizard gasped and stabbed his wand at Harry. A flicker of crimson curled at the end of his wand and died away. Harry caught a glimpse of dark veins spreading over the wizard’s neck and cheek as his lips turned blue.
The bite was cursed. He watched the wizard sink down the wall, clawing for breath. Grise’s duelling might not be terrifying, but if you give him ten minutes to prepare he’s got a long list of nasty surprises.
‘Legilimens,’ he murmured, catching the wizard’s eye.
Desperate need tore at him, full lungs straining for sweet relief. Harry forced Julien into their thoughts, weaving his sharp smile around a thread of hope and the steady rhythm of his own breathing. The wizard’s thoughts clutched for it like a lifeline and a crumbling stone tower before a green-veiled cliff full of dark windows fluttered through their thoughts.
Sweet, hot triumph coarsed through him, drowning a guttering despair as the wizard fell still against the wall.
Harry tore his thoughts free from the flicker of his fading impressions and thrust magic through his wand, drawing a tight spiral of white sparks around the tip of his wand. ‘Fulminis.’
A white flash seared his eyes.
Grise growled. ‘We needed one alive.’
‘No, we didn’t.’ Harry smiled as the green spots faded from his eyes. ‘I know where to find Julien.’
‘Legilimency.’ Grise stuck his wand back under his raincoat and crouched over the cursed corpse. ‘See if the other one’s got anything else on him that might be useful.’
Harry rolled the body over with his foot into the puddle of crimson. A mass of slimy, gleaming grey flopped from the shattered top of his skull onto the ground.
‘Lovely,’ he muttered, tugging the coat open and rummaging through the pockets.
His fingers closed around warm coins and a square of paper. He dropped the galleons into his pocket and turned the white square of paper over.
A dark-haired boy and his mother waved back from a sunlit beach.
A faint pang knifed through Harry’s breast. Valentin Luc Delacour. He let the photo slide through his fingers into the red. You should’ve stayed with them.
Crimson soaked into the photo, curling its edges.
Why come here? Why risk this? The little twist of feeling tightened. You gambled something perfect. And now I’ve taken your dream away.
‘Violette.’ Grise jumped to his feet, tossing a handful of paper notes away and unfolding a sheet of parchment. ‘What did you find?’
‘Nothing.’ The sharpness caught in his heart ebbed and Harry let it drown in the dark numbness below. ‘What now? Julien?’
‘Le Cancrelat can wait a few days,’ Grise said, studying his parchment. ‘Neither Vert nor I are adequate reinforcements to face him and what we must assume to be at least twelve of his best followers.’
‘Wait?!’ Frustration clenched in Harry’s gut. ‘Again?!’
‘The Dufort sisters and their auror squad will aid you with Le Cancrelat, but they need a little time to finish dealing with some unrest in North Africa.’ Grise rubbed his neat, white beard and folded the parchment up, tucking it into his pocket. ‘The government wanted to make a point, given all the unrest in nearby Egypt, so they sent the Dufort sisters.’
‘Maybe a week.’
‘That’s too long.’ Harry clenched his jaw. ‘He will notice if this place goes quiet for that long.’
Grise’s frown deepened. ‘Perhaps.’
‘I can go. Now. Alone.’ Harry pictured the crumbling stone tower and the cliff. ‘I’ll wipe them all away.’
‘Non.’ Grise shook his head. ‘That is suicide.’
‘If we don’t go in the next day or so, he will run again,’ Harry snapped. ‘You know he will.’
‘He has nowhere to run, though he doesn’t know that,’ Grise said. ‘And I fear his next move will take him to Sicily, Southern Italy, and North Africa. The south of Italy and Sicily are not happy to be beneath French protection; they’ll hide Le Cancrelat just to spite us.’
Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve. ‘Seems like there’s just one solution, then.’
‘I think, given we’re going to trap him in there and kill him, we can move now.’ Grise patted his pocket. ‘I know where the other bases are in Corsica. Gui Auclair might be able to come and throw up wards over Le Cancrelat’s base. That will give us time to pick off these outposts while we wait.’
‘Can’t we attack with Gui Auclair?’ Harry demanded.
‘Gui is not the wizard he once was,’ Grise replied. ‘He lost his right hand a few years ago to a cursed artefact. He is not as skilled with his left.’
Harry stifled a flash of heat. ‘If Le Cancrelat escapes…’
‘Gui can prevent that. He just can’t provide us with the best chance when we attack.’ Grise smoothed his sideburns down. ‘I think this is the best way, Violette. You rest, we let Gui tire out Le Cancrelat by besieging him, then you and the Dufort sisters will attack them after a few days.’
‘Fine.’ Harry tucked his wand back into his sleeve and took a deep breath. ‘Do we need to clear up here?’
Grise nodded. ‘But I will do it. I may have a use for this body.’
‘Au revoir.’ Harry wrenched the world back past him and stepped into their bathroom, peeling off his coat and jeans and dropping them into the basket.
A few drops of red dotted his jaw in the mirror. He wiped them off and tugged on clean clothes, easing the door to the bedroom open.
Fleur’s silver blanket lay over folded-back covers.
Harry closed his eyes and cocked his head, pulling off Violette’s ring and dropping it into his pocket.
Muffled voices rose from downstairs.
He apparated into the hall.
‘Nothing,’ Fleur said. ‘Just the normal things.’
‘That’s good.’ A cheerful woman’s voice rang from the kitchen. ‘And you’re nearly there, now.’
Harry slid his wand into his hand and crept toward the kitchen. Chairs scraped and the table rattled as he approached the door.
‘The charms all seem fine,’ the woman said.
The healer. He transfigured his face and eyes and tucked his wand away, stepping into the kitchen.
A brown-haired woman in white robes fussed with the clasp of a small book, her wand and quill on the table.
Fleur sat on a chair in the middle of the kitchen, her hands folded over her belly. ‘Bonjour, Henri.’
Harry chuckled. ‘Bonjour, mon Amour.’
‘Henri Delacour,’ Harry said. ‘It’s nice to meet you.’
‘Emilie.’ She smiled. ‘Hopefully you won’t see much of me! Everything seems to be absolutely fine with the baby, I’ll come and check in again in a couple of weeks.’ She fumbled with the clasp on her book and placed it on the table. ‘It’s best to be a little more careful at this stage, I hope that’s okay?’
‘I’m not going anywhere,’ Fleur said. ‘It’s fine.’
‘Nowhere very fast, anyway.’ Harry grinned. ‘Not unless you start rolling.’
She offered him a delicate pout.
Emilie sighed and pressed her hand to her heart. ‘You are going to have a very pretty baby; I’m so envious. My babies all came out looking a lot like mandrakes.’
A faint smile hovered at Fleur’s lips. ‘I don’t think our baby will look like a mandrake.’
‘It might sound like one, though,’ Harry muttered. ‘Especially if it’s as volatile about food as its mother is about cake.’
Emilie laughed, brushing a stray lock of hair off her face. ‘Where are you from, Henri? I can’t place the accent?’
‘From abroad,’ Fleur replied. ‘I have tried to teach him French, but he still can’t quite pretend to be completely civilised.’
‘Ah.’ Emilie smiled, gathering up her things. ‘Well, best of luck, Fleur. You’ve managed to make him take your name, so I’m sure you’ll succeed in the end.’
‘Merci beaucoup.’ Fleur heaved herself out of the chair and pulled her wand from her waist.
Emilie flashed them a smile, waved and vanished with a loud pop.
‘All okay?’ Harry asked, touching his fingertips to the curve of Fleur’s stomach.
Fleur’s wand glowed a soft white.
‘The wards are back up,’ she said. ‘And yes, everything’s fine. Emilie reckons the baby may come slightly early.’
‘You’d like that.’ Harry pressed a kiss to the tip of her nose. ‘No more waddling.’
‘And no more needing to get up twenty times in the night.’
‘Non.’ Fleur turned her nose up. ‘I am not, it is your turn.’
He chuckled. ‘Fair enough, mon Rêve. I will stay awake.’
‘It probably won’t work if it’s you, though.’
A jolt of cold bit at him. ‘It won’t?’
Fleur’s soft, warm smile eased the chill. ‘Babies like their mothers, mon Amour. Our baby will probably still want me a lot, especially while we’re still breastfeeding.’
‘We?’ Harry patted his chest. ‘I don’t think I’m going to be doing much breastfeeding, as unfair as it may seem to you.’
‘We as in me, which includes you, because you are mine.’
‘Ah, bird-witch logic.’ He grinned. ‘Am I just another shiny rock to line your nest with, mon Trésor?’
‘You are warmer than a rock.’ Fleur snuggled into his arms. ‘But also noisier.’ She glanced up at him from beneath his chin. ‘We need to get rid of the last bits of your accent, mon Cœur.’
‘I’m surprised Grise hasn’t noticed it.’
‘The magic we added to the ring conceals it along with anything recognisably you, like your voice,’ Fleur said. ‘If he noticed anything the first time you met, all the conversations you’ve had since would have erased it. Grise probably doesn’t care, either, since the ring is supposed to guarantee your loyalty to Les Inconnus.’
‘I’ll add French lessons back to my list of things to do,’ Harry said. ‘I did very much enjoy our French lessons back in that summer.’
‘You were a terrible student.’ She smiled into his neck. ‘I had to bribe you with kisses to get you to remember anything.’
‘I thought I picked it up quite fast.’ He sighed. ‘Not like you, it’s been years and you still haven’t even tried to learn Parseltongue.’
Fleur made a soft hissing noise. ‘How was that?’
‘No, it was just a hissing noise.’ Harry chuckled. ‘It’s probably not really a language, it’s blood magic and legilimency, or something along those lines. Salazar recreated it from scratch using what he was best at.’ A broad grin spread across his face. ‘Our baby’s going to be able to speak it, though, so we can whisper to each other in Parseltongue about where we’ve hidden the cake.’
A pout crept onto Fleur’s lips. ‘I will find a way to learn it to stop your scheming.’
‘I don’t know if you can.’ Harry shrugged. ‘It’s not actually that useful, not unless you fancy making a basilisk or getting a pet snake.’
‘I prefer birds.’
‘Of course you do.’ He hid a grin. ‘But what if we get a cute pet bird and that means you’re no longer my favourite feathered companion?’
She arched an eyebrow at him. ‘I’m much more fun than a budgie, mon Cœur. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have this bump.’
Harry rested his palm on the swell of her stomach. ‘Did Emilie give us a date?’
Fleur cupped his hand with hers. ‘Emilie said anywhere from six to eight weeks now.’
A little knot drew tight in the pit of his stomach. ‘Is she good?’
‘She is very qualified.’ She gave his hand a squeeze. ‘You are not doing a very good job of pretending not to fret.’
Harry gave her a rueful grin. ‘I don’t like hoping. I prefer fretting until I can’t anymore.’
Fleur’s blue eyes softened. ‘No witch has died or been seriously hurt in childbirth for about a hundred years in France, mon Cœur. I will be fine and so will our baby.’
‘Little Corbin Abelino Potter.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘Non.’
‘How big is the baby now?’ Harry ran his fingertips across her stomach. ‘Head-sized?’
She shivered and grabbed his hands. ‘That tickles.’ Fleur held their hands up until they were a third of a metre apart. ‘About that big, but the baby’s all curled up inside me.’
Harry’s breath caught on a hot lump at the back of his throat. ‘That’s so big and so small all at the same time,’ he whispered. ‘I — I still can’t believe we’re having a baby together.’
‘I can,’ Fleur groused. ‘It’s hard to forget.’
He drew her close and held her tight. ‘Not long now, my beautiful bird-wife, then the baby can help me annoy you from outside instead.’