Harry drifted down the dark stone corridor past thick iron doors and the runes painted at their centre.
‘Cramoisi?’ He knocked on her door. ‘Are you done?’
‘Come in,’ Gabby chirped. ‘I am done.’
Harry opened the door and stepped in, striding past the benches to the edge of the pensive at the room’s centre. Gabby lay at the bottom on a pile of multi-coloured cushions, spinning herself around by pushing off the silver basin’s walls with her white-socked feet.
‘Well, you’re just slaving away down here, aren’t you?’ He laughed. ‘How’d it go?’
She giggled and patted the cushions. ‘Come join me, mon Amour-in-law.’
‘Have you bought your sister cake to make up for snuggling up to me yet?’
‘Non.’ A glint of mischief welled up in her eyes. ‘Has Fleur let you eat any courgettes?’
‘I think I’m on a courgette-free diet from now until the end of time,’ Harry said, pulling off his boots and sliding down into the pensieve.
‘Shame, I like them.’
He snorted and flopped onto the cushions next to her. ‘I think we’ve firmly established that.’
Gabby’s cheeks turned pink. ‘I meant to eat.’
‘Do you want me to test it?’ Harry patted the warm silver. ‘I’m happy to go back in.’
‘And relive another moment with Katie Bell,’ Gabby murmured.
‘Well…’ He tugged the cushions around underneath him, settling his head on the basin edge. ‘I won’t get any more moments with Katie. Not real ones.’
‘I wasn’t judging,’ she replied. ‘Just… saying.’
‘Well what do you use?’
Gabby grinned, a bright glimmer of mischief welling up in her eyes. ‘Didn’t you decide not to ask questions like that?’
He chuckled. ‘That was before I read all the steamy little stories you’ve got hidden away. There’s nothing that’s going to scar me more than some of those.’
She rolled over and buried her face in the cushions. ‘I knew I should’ve burnt them.’
‘Too late now.’ Harry patted her on the head. ‘There, there. It’s okay. Now you know how Fleur and I feel.’
‘I always know how you two feel.’ Gabby’s muffled voice came through the cushions. ‘Like a few days ago, after you came back from that lunch…’
‘There were courgettes in the moussaka Isobel recommended.’ He grinned, smothering a little heat at the memory of Fleur’s fingers curling into the silver blanket on the bed. ‘Fleur was very determined that I forget about them.’
Gabby giggled. ‘Typical Fleur.’
‘I didn’t mind at all.’
‘I know.’ She snickered. ‘How long do you reckon it will be before she decides to act out some of my stories? Just in case they make you think about me instead of her.’
‘I give it maybe a few jokes before she thinks of it.’
‘And then a few days for her to pout about it and plan it.’
‘Sounds about right.’ Harry laughed and rested his head back against the basin, a soft, warm glow swelling in his chest. ‘It’ll be fun for us to tease her a bit and fun for her to win afterwards.’
Gabby sighed. ‘Talk about something else or I’m going to get tempted.’
She flopped onto her back and huffed silver hair off her face. ‘Now I’ve done it once and Fleur’s not gone all birdy on me for it, it’s much harder not to do it.’
Gabby bit her lip. ‘This.’ She buried her face in his stomach and curled up into his side. ‘Would you…?’
Harry wrapped one arm around her. ‘There is a line, Gabby.’ He sighed. ‘I don’t know exactly where it is, if I’m honest, but I don’t think it’s too far away.’
‘It’s wherever you think Fleur stops understanding,’ she murmured. ‘I know. I’m not — I’m not pushing things. I just like to be touching when I feel it and now I don’t have to resist because you know me well enough not to panic and think I’m after something I’m not.’
‘It’s probably fine like this, but…’
Gabby’s laughter tickled his ribs. ‘I’m not going to apparate into your bedroom right after the two of you have been together and hurl myself in between you. Just every now and again, I like to be close. Fleur will kick me out after a few seconds anyway. She loves me, but she is a very jealous goose.’
‘Oh, well, in which case—’ Harry shoved her back into the cushions ‘—you’ve had your fix, magic addict. And now you owe Fleur twice as much cake.’
‘Awwww.’ Gabby pouted. ‘Fine. Cake’s a small price to pay and we do make good money working here.’
‘We do?’ He blinked. ‘I never thought about that.’
‘You should probably check they’re actually paying you. It gets held in a separate vault for Violette so the goblins don’t know who you are either.’
Harry shrugged. ‘I guess it doesn’t matter, we’re not dripping gold, but we’re not exactly needing to worry about it, either.’
‘Does that mean Fleur and I can use it as a cake fund?’ Gabby asked.
‘You’ve been using me as a cake fund since we first met.’
‘The second time.’ She squirmed about in the cushions and produced her wand. ‘The first time you romantically rescued me from a lake. That was when I knew I had to make Fleur stop being stupid.’
‘Yes, well, we’re very glad you did,’ Harry whispered. ‘If you’d not convinced her to write that letter…’ A chill prickled down his spine. ‘I don’t want to think about what would’ve happened. Not having her with me. Not having her to come back to…’ A cold, sick feeling churned in the pit of his stomach. ‘Not having anything.’
A cushion bounced off his face.
‘Stop that,’ Gabby muttered. ‘I hate that feeling and it’s silly because you do have her and she’s going nowhere.’
‘Not right now.’
‘Not ever.’ She propped herself up on her elbow. ‘I’ve finished everything on the pensieve except getting it to work for multiple people and reducing the mental strain. They’re not priorities, so I can focus on La Victoire—’
A dull knock rang through the room.
‘Violette?’ Grise called. ‘Are you with Cramoisi again?’
Harry apparated up to the edge of the pensive with a soft snap. ‘I am.’
Gabby appeared beside him. ‘It’s safe to enter.’ She vanished her cushions with a flick of her wand. ‘We were just testing my pensieve.’
‘Oh we were, were we?’ Harry whispered.
‘It doesn’t need testing, I already tested it,’ she murmured. ‘But if you’d rather answer annoying questions…’
‘I would not.’ He shot her a grin. ‘I was just… saying.’
Gabby snickered. ‘Touché.’
Grise pushed the door open and studied them with a sharp glint in his pink eyes. ‘How are you feeling, Violette?’
‘Is that your way of asking me to take another sudden holiday?’ Harry sighed. ‘I’m feeling fine. It better not be another nundu.’
‘It’s not.’ Grise produced a slim piece of wood and a small earpiece. ‘There’s an unofficial gathering of important Italian figures happening in Milan. We would like you to get as close as you can and see how things look. While Le Cancrelat is dead and his network gone, we don’t know how far he sunk his teeth into our Italian allies.’
‘Go on then.’ Harry stuck out his hand. ‘What’s the word?’
‘The earpiece is enchanted to translate Italian to French, some of Sarcelle’s best work.’ Grise handed it over with the portkey. ‘Chien.’
‘Have we changed portkey naming themes?’ Harry stuck the earpiece into his ear. ‘Where will I end up?’
‘The Italian States like to host their unofficial little gatherings under the cover of large muggle events and religious festivals. They think we don’t know about them, but we always do.’ Grise pointed a finger at the portkey. ‘This will take you into a private box at an event in Milan. They’ll be in another box nearby somewhere. Just listen in. If you can, find out what Giacomo Ceccaroni thinks. He is the Doge of Venice and the lynchpin of any co-ordinated attempt made by the Italian States to do anything. Don’t risk getting caught unless what they’re saying is of the utmost importance; being seen spying on our allies will continue to sour our relationship with them.’
‘Got it.’ Harry pulled his boots back on. ‘I’ll see you later, Cramoisi.’
‘I’ll be enjoying your old library, if that’s okay, Violette?’ Gabby said. ‘Come find me when you’re back.’
Harry caught the sharp glint in her grey eyes. The Chamber of Secrets. He turned her words over, bouncing the portkey in his hand.
‘You’re always invited,’ he murmured. ‘I trust you.’
‘Merci,’ Gabby chirped, holding his gaze with soft, grey eyes and a warm little smile.
‘Chien,’ Harry muttered.
The world lurched and he stumbled into the tang of smoke and a roaring crowd. Red flares glowed across a square of green grass, spewing white clouds over the bouncing supporters.
Football. He slipped his wand from his sleeve and ducked down under the balcony edge, disillusioning himself. He stood, scanning the boxes.
Well-dressed people chatted and watched the game below, sipping champagne from gleaming glass flutes.
Nobody is obviously out of place. He touched his thoughts to those who caught his eye, skimming through a swathe of emotions until he caught deep brown eyes and his thoughts washed back off a ward.
A soft glimmer came from the pearl studded tie on the man’s chest.
Found you. Harry studied the group.
A handful of people sat in the box around a small table. A dark-suited man held court at the centre of them speaking in swift Italian and gesturing with both hands. The wizard with the enchanted pearl tie-pin stood at his shoulder, his hand resting inside his jacket, a faint sheen of sweat gleaming on his tanned skin.
Raven time. Harry pushed the feathers through his skin, shrinking down and fluttering up into the ceiling.
Low voices rose from the box as he hopped along the bar and through a faint veil of magic.
Harry cocked his head. It’s a good thing I have this earpiece.
‘Nobody has come.’ The broad wizard at the centre ran a hand through his dark curls, brushing a stray hair from the front of his deep purple tie. ‘Not from Sardinia. Not from Sicily. Not from Naples, or Cosenza, or even Domenico Calabria from Bari.’
The dark-eyed man with the pearl tie-pin frowned from where he stood behind the rest. ‘What about Rome, Giacomo?’
That’s the one Grise told me to look for. Harry shuffled a little closer, fluffing his feathers up against the warm breeze. Giacomo Ceccaroni.
‘Rome is mine,’ Giacomo declared. ‘The few of our people who live in its lands are of Venice.’
‘For now.’ A witch in a sleek purple dress waved a hand. ‘Soon our days of squabbling amongst ourselves and bending to other nations will be done.’
‘Enough,’ Giacomo snapped. ‘If we want our independence we will have to earn it. I’d hoped to simply be able to ask for it, but with things as they are, France will never allow it.’
‘Do we wait?’ A wizard with a red cross on a white shield on his breast pocket stared down at the pitch. ‘It might be some time until things die down.’
‘We wait, Davide.’ Giacomo waved the brown-eyed wizard forward. ‘Mr Zabini here will keep us abreast of what occurs across the sea in Britain. At the right moment, we will make our move. The British territory of Malta will be a powerful bargaining chip with France if hostilities break out.’
Blaise Zabini. Harry tilted his head and peered down. One of the Last Scions.
‘We will need the South first,’ Davide said. ‘Perhaps Zoe could go to meet them, smooth over any doubts they have. She has the best relationship with them.’
‘I am going back to Florence,’ Zoe said. ‘If I were a gambling woman—’
‘You are,’ Davide said.
Zoe frowned at him. ‘If I were a gambling woman, I would suspect that French traitor caught their ear. Perhaps we ought to have listened as Mr Zabini suggested.’
Julien. Harry smothered a flash of Julien’s burning bright blue eye and the dawn-bright light washing across the dark world like a breaking wave. It’s what Grise suspects. They’re looking for some way to get out of French control. And the Last Scions are involved somehow, too. He mulled it over. Perhaps they’re looking for a new benefactor after Julien severed ties.
Giacomo straightened his tie. ‘Julien Aguillard has not responded after I agreed to a conversation a week ago and he did not strike me as the sort to miss an engagement without at least an apology or a reason.’ He glanced over his shoulder. ‘Mr Zabini?’
‘It’s not something I’ve heard about.’ Zabini’s hand slid out of his jacket and into his trouser pocket. ‘It is possible, though. We know the Duforts were in North Africa and then Corsica, they might have been able to defeat the Needle if it was him they were hunting there. And there is another. An auror captain or French unspeakable who goes by the name Violette. Ginevra Weasley noted they killed an entire squad of American aurors who were using French territory as a base in the Caribbean.’
‘How do you know this?’ Zoe demanded. ‘You are an exile. Your leader is in hiding after trying to vandalise a statue.’
‘Not all of us are exiles.’ A sly smile spread across Zabini’s face. ‘Some of us are very well-placed to learn interesting things. It’s from them that I pass on this.’
Giacomo stared down into his spread palms. ‘I am not convinced of Julien Aguillard. He is a spectre of Grindelwald. Our independence and union is nothing more than a stepping stone for him. I will refuse him.’
‘As will I, if we hear from him again,’ Davide said. ‘What he wants fills me with unease. Milan is a city of millions of muggles and some few thousand of us.’
‘Florence agrees.’ Zoe flicked her hair over her shoulder. ‘Genoa will, too.’
Giacomo chuckled. ‘Leonardo does whatever you ask, Zoe. Some have started to wonder why that might be.’
Zoe smiled. ‘We share common interests.’
‘I’m sure,’ Giacomo said. ‘Forget Julien Aguillard, then. Perhaps, in a few days, we will learn he is dead or fled, and the South will come to meet with us once more.’
I’ve heard enough. Harry hopped back along the beam and drifted down into the empty box, stretching back into his own form and apparating back into the Sunshine Room.
Grise stared into the white flames over his steepled fingers, listening to Vert murmur in his ear. ‘What did you learn?’
‘Julien spoke with them.’ Harry brushed a dark feather off his shoulder and vanished it with a flick of his wand. ‘From what I can tell the Northern states of Italy aren’t interested. The South, Sicily and Sardinia might be a different story, but with him dead, it sounded more like they’d resume talking with the rest of Italy.’
Grise’s pale brow wrinkled. ‘You mean Milan, Genoa, Florence and Venice? They are the dominant city-states as things stand.’
And one of the Last Scions was there. Unease chewed at his gut. Is the amber-masked figure one of them? Was it Pansy after all? He smothered it into the emptiness beneath his heart. If I must go hunting for them in Britain, it’s going to be after our baby is born.
‘The same… delicate… balance,’ Liliana rasped.
‘We have bigger problems than Italian city-states,’ Grise said. ‘Their wishes of independence will have to wait a little longer. We can’t give up control over the central Mediterranean, Britain will leap at the chance to bring Sicily, Sardinia and anywhere else into their sphere of influence.’
‘I’m going to go,’ Harry said. ‘I have plans.’
Plans for La Victoire Finale. So none of this matters anymore.
‘Merci, Violette,’ Grise said. ‘We will call if something arises.’
Harry wrenched the world back, stepping out amongst neat-trimmed privet hedges and rose bushes. He grimaced and whirled the world past him again, his footsteps echoing through the Chamber of Secrets and back off the serpent effigies.
‘I can’t read any of these,’ Gabby moaned. ‘Why are they in Latin?’
Harry snorted and strode over the bridge. ‘Because they’re old.’ He studied the stack on the table. ‘You seem to be doing okay without knowing any Latin.’
‘I can puzzle out enough of the titles to know if they might be useful,’ Gabby chirped. ‘Fleur can translate the rest.’
‘Tom might have translated some of them if you look inside.’ He tilted his head at the pile of tomes. ‘A Treatise on the Fundamentals of Transmutation?’
‘Creating a body.’ Gabby patted her stack. ‘Regardless of how we decide to do the rest, creating a body is alchemy and transmutation.’
‘You can’t possess something that’s dead,’ Harry said. ‘It’s soul magic, there has to be a soul for you to be able to possess it.’ He struggled for words. ‘It’s like two shadows falling over one another, whichever one is darker, stronger, is the one you see — the one that possesses the body. The homunculus Voldemort made and the horrible baby body he had before were almost certainly living things he possessed and changed.’
She shuddered. ‘I’m not creating a living sentient thing to possess.’ Gabby’s grey eyes swam with revulsion. ‘That’s almost like using your baby.’
A cold sick feeling settled in Harry’s stomach. ‘I can’t do that,’ he whispered. ‘I could never do that.’ His skin crawled, deep disquiet prickling down his spine. ‘Not our baby. Not ruining something so perfect.’
‘I’ll hunt for inspiration,’ Gabby said, resting a hand on his shoulder. ‘We’ll find another way, don’t think about that.’
‘But there’s always a price,’ Harry murmured, staring up at the blank square of wall above the door. ‘Always.’
‘Come on.’ She levitated her stack of books and held up the silver acorn necklace. ‘Grab hold. Fleur’s waiting by the willow. Seeing her will stop you fretting.’
‘As always.’ A small smile tugged at Harry’s lips and he wrapped an arm around Gabby’s shoulders, letting the gentle warmth he felt for her well up. ‘Let’s go then.’
She shivered and wriggled into his side. ‘Merci, mon cher frère.’
The study lurched and he stumbled onto white pebbles.
Fleur sat on a conjured seat by the river’s edge in the spring sunshine, bouncing a slim disc of silver on her knees. ‘I found your toy, mon Amour.’
‘I’m afraid you can’t play with it,’ he said, pulling away from Gabby and striding across. ‘Blood magic.’
‘I know. I tried.’ She pouted over her shoulder. ‘Where did you go?’
‘Italy.’ Harry shrugged and pressed a light kiss to her cheek. ‘Nothing particularly important. The Last Scions appeared again, but I’m not risking going back to Britain after them unless I really have to and certainly not until after our baby is born.’
‘Not long now!’ Gabby bounced across the pebbles and plopped down beside Fleur’s legs. ‘Egg-laying is nearly upon us.’
‘Did you find anything useful in the library, Gabby?’ Fleur asked.
‘Some books on alchemy and transmutation.’ She lowered the stack onto the pebbles. ‘I’m still working on how to create us a body if we die.’
‘We need an anchor,’ Fleur murmured.
‘We have one.’ Harry gestured to the three of them. ‘We’re all here, including our baby.’
‘I meant the physical object.’ She rested her hands on her stomach. ‘I know what will bring us back. Something important.’
He crouched in the white stones and watched the fish dart beneath the ripples. ‘It needs to be precious to us, symbolically important enough that our purpose and it are one.’ Harry slid his ebony wand from his sleeve and held it up, drawing little dark wisps of mist from its tip. ‘I’m lucky I had this on me when I did it accidentally; nothing else I had would’ve worked. My wand has always been the one thing that reminded me I belonged to a dream-like world of magic and light.’
And not the dark emptiness beneath the stairs.
Fleur’s fingers slid through his and Gabby patted him on the knee. The breeze rustled through the grass and daffodils, sending little ripples across the river.
‘We’ll think of something,’ Fleur murmured. ‘Something that’s us.’
‘Aimee’s novels,’ Gabby chirped.
Harry snorted. ‘How about a courgette?’
She giggled. ‘How about that story I wrote? I can write another one if you like?’
Fleur rolled her eyes. ‘Just because I am not cross with you for snuggling up to Harry as well as me, little harpy, doesn’t mean I won’t set fire to your shoes.’ She hummed and held up her hand. ‘What about my wedding ring?’
The slim swirl of crimson shone within the clear band, bright as the sun.
‘Maybe,’ Harry murmured, touching a finger to where his hung over his heart. ‘But you said it was a promise we’d already made, so it might not be enough.’ He frowned. ‘We can keep thinking, we have time while we figure out the rest.’