Harry ran his fingers over the lines of neat writing, tracing down through Tom’s rambling notes. ‘Nothing Salazar and I hadn’t already deduced.’ He swept the sheets of parchment into a stack and tucked them into the back cover of the tome, turning through its pages. ‘And we read all of this a hundred times between us, too.’
A low knock echoed through the room.
‘Come in,’ Harry called.
Liliana pulled the door open and drifted down the steps. ‘That is… not one… of ours.’ She pushed her hood back and stared at the dark cover with a deep frown. ‘The Secrets of the Darkest Arts.’
‘For our project,’ he replied. ‘I was wondering if it was possible to project a soul back through time.’
‘Soul magic,’ Liliana whispered. ‘Very… dangerous… Violette.’ She held up her hand. ‘Let me get… you something.’ She vanished with a loud crack.
Harry tucked The Secrets of the Darkest Arts out of sight.
Liliana reappeared with a deafening pop. ‘Item seventeen,’ she rasped, holding out a slim journal. ‘Incident report.’
He took it, unclasping the metal lock. ‘What’s it about, Liliana?’
‘Old research… attempt.’ She flicked through the pages. ‘During the.. revolution… many were killed… and to avoid… losing knowledge… they tried to…store the sentience… of some wizards… and witches… creating a… conscious library.’
Harry turned past old sketches beneath thick, black ink crosses. ‘I get the feeling it didn’t go well.’
‘Most died… just trying.’ Liliana peered at the book and turned over another two pages. ‘All except number seventeen.’
A wrinkled, gap-toothed witch grinned off the page at Harry.
‘Marie—’ he squinted at the writing ‘—not sure what that says.’
‘Irrelevant… she used… her daughter’s… funeral urn.’ Liliana grimaced and touched her fingers to her throat. ‘It did… nothing… but could not… be destroyed—’
‘Item seventeen.’ Harry skimmed through the next pages. ‘Wait… this is dated almost eighty years laters?’
‘Item seventeen… was left stored here… someone found… it after Marie… died,’ she replied. ‘It influenced the… witch who found… it to do things… took over her… until it was… destroyed in a… strange ritual.’
‘Well, good riddance,’ Harry said.
Horcruxes are dangerous things.
Liliana shook her head and prodded the picture of the urn. ‘Part of Marie’s soul… tried to create… more items like… it and continue… the project… it did not… retain any of… Marie’s nature.’
‘Ah, you think sending a fragment back in time might end up with something very bad happening.’
I’m not sure horcruxes are truly soul fragments. Tom didn’t think so.
She nodded. ‘Item seventeen… only cared about… its purpose… the witch it… possessed and… killed was… Marie’s other… daughter.’
Ice trickled down Harry’s spine and his wand turned hot in his sleeve. ‘That’s not ideal. I guess the longer it’s left, the worse it gets.’
All souls have is magic and purpose. I was just a soul for a year and things slipped away from me. After eighty…
‘Do not mess… with magic like… that,’ Liliana rasped. ‘You will do… more damage… than you might… realise.’
He nodded. ‘We’ll shelve that idea then. Unfortunately, that’s my only non-river idea.’
‘That would… be wise,’ she whispered. ‘France needs… Violette… more than… time-turners… right now.’
Harry tucked The Secrets of the Darkest Arts under his arm. ‘Back to the library, then. Au revoir.’ He apparated into the empty kitchen with a soft snap and dropped into a chair. ‘How could item seventeen even influence those around it?’
Voldemort’s horcruxes hung before his mind’s eye, Hermione’s hate-filled eyes, the whispers of the diadem, the vision of the locket, the shade of Tom and the words of the diary.
They could all influence those around them, especially the diary. Fear stabbed at him. And my wand has done things already.
‘You’ve reacted at least twice.’ He pulled his ebony wand out of his sleeve and put it down on the table, staring into the grain of the dark wood. Unease chewed away at him. ‘Are you the amber-masked figure?’
No, that’s stupid. He crushed his unease down. It reacts because as a horcrux my wand is bonded to me very strongly and strongly bonded wands can draw on the owner’s magic. It’s not been left alone long enough to be like item seventeen. Harry turned it all over in his head, spinning his wand on the table. Nagini never went against Voldemort and that snake was a horcrux for longer than my wand has been.
‘What are you swirling about?’ Gabby poked her head into the kitchen from the sitting room. ‘Are you fretting about the baby?’
‘Horcruxes, actually.’ Harry frowned. ‘I was very focused on destroying them, I never thought about how or why they could influence those around them. Voldmort’s could all influence people with legilimency and the diary…’
‘What did the diary do?’ Gabby slid into the seat beside him. ‘Should I wake Fleur? Is this something she needs to know?’
He smiled. ‘No, let Fleur rest. We can tell her later.’
‘Mmhmm.’ Gabby rested her chin on her hands. ‘What did the diary do?’
‘It tried to possess a girl,’ he muttered. ‘It tried to get a body…’ Harry frowned. ‘But that makes no sense, how did it know to get a body?’
‘Maybe they’re separate,’ Gabby suggested. ‘And it learnt about it somehow. From Ginny Weasley, perhaps.’
‘But Voldemort didn’t know we’d destroyed them until I told him,’ Harry replied. ‘It doesn’t make sense. Tom wrote that they weren’t fragments and if it was a piece of his soul, he’d know if it was destroyed, you couldn’t not know. A piece of you. Something that precious…’
She bounced her legs against the chair. ‘Then maybe it’s not a piece.’
Harry frowned down at his wand. ‘I think it’s just connected.’
‘Connected to your body and the anchor, but still one thing,’ Gabby said. ‘That would explain how it knew to get a body.’
‘But then how could they perform magic?’ He drew a wisp of dark mist from his wand. ‘If it’s not separate, it’s not an independent sentience, the most it could be is a shadow, like Katie’s ghost.’
‘Did you think about any of this before?’ Gabby whispered. ‘When you…?’
Harry shuddered, stomach churning. ‘No. I really really should have. I’m very lucky, I could have done so much damage to myself.’ He squashed his unease. ‘I’m going to work on the basis that the soul is one thing, I think, like Tom suggests. So all the horcruxes shared the same purpose as Voldemort.’ He spun his wand in his fingers. ‘But when the diary possessed Ginny, it used her to make a body, it didn’t just possess her like Voldemort’s wraith did Quirrell.’
Gabby’s head snapped up. ‘It created a body?’
‘Sacrificial magic,’ Harry murmured. ‘But killing Ginny wouldn’t be enough…’
‘What would be?’ Gabby asked. ‘Killing you?’
‘No.’ Inspiration struck. ‘Their dreams. It wasn’t Tom, it was both of them together. He convinced her to dream his dreams. They were going to sacrifice all Ginny’s hopes and dreams, and the horcrux was going to sacrifice itself. That would be enough. It wasn’t taking over Ginny, it was creating a new Tom from that sacrifice, one that could complete the purpose of the horcrux, but might not, which is why it was feasible.’
‘I saved Ginny,’ he muttered. ‘And maybe that stopped the part of them that was her from sacrificing all her dreams, or maybe it was just me stabbing the diary before the horcrux could sacrifice itself.’
‘We can’t use that to create a body,’ Gabby muttered. ‘I thought you might have found me some inspiration.’
‘Non, pardon.’ He flashed her a grin. ‘I’m just thinking about anchors. If we’re right, and I can’t really think of anything better at the moment, then the soul is one thing and the horcrux is so devoted to its purpose as to sacrifice itself. And that means my wand probably won’t do anything like item seventeen and murder people I would be very upset to lose.’
‘A horcrux Les Inconnus accidentally made in the pursuit of something else. It was made using the funeral urn of the woman’s daughter, so her daughters were clearly precious to her, but eighty years later, the horcrux murdered the other daughter pursuing its purpose.’
Gabby hummed and chewed on the end of a lock of her silver hair. ‘You keep that wand close, then.’ She reached out a hand. ‘May I?’
‘Listen?’ Harry frowned. ‘I’d rather you didn’t, just in case…’
‘Okay, then I’ll go off what I remember,’ she said. ‘Your wand felt similar to what I sensed when we found that body. I think as your purpose changes, so does that of the horcrux, like how that diary came to pursue a Tom having a body. Maybe I’m looking at this strangely, because I deal mostly with enchanting, but couldn’t it just be a very strong enchantment?’
‘Salazar said everything was enchanting really,’ Harry murmured. ‘Maybe you’re right. It’s complicated and powerful, but the casting has a lot in common with how you thought the Deathly Hallows were made.’
‘What are you two doing?’ Fleur waddled into the kitchen. ‘Whispering away together.’
Harry met her pitch-black irises with a little wince. ‘Bonjour, mon Rêve. Ça va?’
‘Come sit down, Fleur.’ Gabby vacated her chair.
‘What are you doing?’Fleur asked.
‘Brainstorming horcruxes,’ he said. ‘We thought you were happily napping?’
She turned her nose up and slumped into her chair with a sigh. ‘I needed to pee again, so I had to get up. And then I came looking for you, because you were meant to be back with me.’
‘I learnt something really interesting about horcruxes which changed what I thought I knew about them,’ Harry said. ‘We think they’re enchanted with the intent of the ritual, the purpose of the soul, rather than anything actually being torn out and bound to it. Right, Gabby?’
Gabby nodded. ‘Although, I’m not sure that actually changes anything for La Victoire Finale.’
Fleur huffed and crossed her arms. ‘Did you take the Resurrection Stone, Harry?’ Her eyes narrowed and little white feathers slid through her skin. ‘Have you been talking to her ghost behind my back as well as in that pensieve?’
Harry smothered the sting, holding his breath until the little twist of pain eased. How many times have you panicked and assumed something silly? He cupped the gentle weight of his wedding band against his heart. Don’t overreact.
I wouldn’t.’ He frowned. ‘Can’t you find it?’
Fear clamped its fist around his throat. ‘Then—’
‘I have it.’ Gabby pulled it out of her pocket and held it out on her palm. ‘I was trying to look at it again to see how it creates the ghosts, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.’
Fleur twitched. ‘Oh,’ she whispered, the feathers vanishing beneath her skin.
Gabby set the stone down next to her hand and slipped out.
‘Désolée, mon Amour,’ Fleur murmured, bright tears shining on her lashes. She buried her face in his lap and wrapped her arms around his waist. ‘I don’t know where that came from. I was just… angry.’
‘I do,’ Harry said. ‘You—’
‘Don’t leave,’ she whispered. ‘I’m sorry I’m not perfect anymore, but don’t leave. S’il te plait, mon Amour.’
‘What?!’ He slid a finger under her chin and tilted her tear-stained face up until he could see her blue eyes. ‘I’m not going anywhere, Fleur. Not now. Not ever.’ Harry gave her a small smile and kissed her on the tip of her nose. ‘You sound like me, always panicking about you vanishing because you feel too good to be true.’
‘You don’t lash out,’ she muttered, ooching her chair closer and burying her face in his neck. ‘Not like I do. I’m not as perfect as I was, I’m all fat, you might think I’m not worth it anymore.’
‘It’s okay, mon Rêve.’ He ran his fingers through her hair until her shoulders relaxed. ‘You’re always going to be perfect for me. Nobody else understands and loves me like you do.’
‘Gabby does,’ Fleur whispered. ‘Gabby is so much nicer than I am. You’d be happier with Gabby.’
‘Gabby probably does understand and she probably loves me, too, but not how you do.’ Harry wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. ‘It’s not Gabby I love, anyway. It’s you. You’re the one that’s perfect for me. And I’m more than happy, mon Amour.’
‘Bon.’ She sighed and smeared her tears away on the back of her hand. ‘I just worry. You and Gabby are close, like you and Katie were, and now I’m not as pretty and we’re not having sex a lot…’
‘Well, I’m really not going to complain if you get your list of fantasies back out.’ Harry chuckled. ‘But you’re as beautiful as you’ve always been to me. It’s not your face or your waistline that takes my breath away, mon Trésor, it’s you. Nothing’s going to change that.’
Fleur let out a soft sigh and tucked her head under his chin. ‘Not even me being all round?’
‘No, that just makes it easier to steal your cake and run away without being caught.’ He grinned and kissed the top of her head. ‘In a couple of weeks you’ll have our baby and then you’re not going to be round anymore. You’ll be right back to knowing for certain that you’re the prettiest girl you’ve ever seen and have nothing to worry about anymore.’
She hummed, curling her fingers into his shirt. ‘That sounds nice.’
‘We’ll just have to deal with a tiny screaming ball of feathers and Gabby’s clinginess.’
Fleur’s quiet laugh tickled his neck. ‘We give the little harpy the baby to hold, that will solve both things. The baby will be happy and Gabby will stop trying to snuggle up to us.’
‘Two birds with one stone.’ Harry chuckled under his breath.
‘That was terrible, mon Amour.’
‘At least I didn’t write a book on snake-puns,’ he replied. ‘I really should read A Thousand and One Snake Puns at some point.’ Harry laughed. ‘No. Wait. I have a better idea. Gabby and I can write—’
‘A Thousand and One Bird Puns.’ Fleur sighed. ‘You’re very silly sometimes, mon Cœur.’
‘You love me really, I hope.’ He shot her a grin. ‘Maybe you’ll even still love me after a thousand and one tit jokes.’
‘If I did not love you and want to keep you, I would not be a ball,’ she said. ‘And I am very much a ball, mon Amour.’ Fleur pressed a finger to his lips. ‘But I would still prefer fewer tit jokes than a thousand.’
‘I’d probably just end up parroting the same ones.’ He stifled a laugh as she groaned.
‘At least I know this means you’re ready to be a father.’
‘I’m as ready as I feel I’ll ever be,’ he murmured.
‘Which means you’re going to be a useless panicking mess in a couple of weeks.’ Fleur’s warm sigh washed across his throat. ‘I will keep Gabby with us as well, I cannot have a baby and look after your fretting at the same time.’
‘I could be fine.’ Harry smothered a stab of anxiety. ‘Everyone keeps saying nothing’s going to go wrong.’
‘You will fret.’ Her hand slipped up his chest to cup his cheek. ‘It is okay. It is what you do.’