Harry spun his ebony wand around on the table in slow circles, watching the black mist curl after his finger each time he nudged it.
‘Post,’ Laurent said, shuffling in with a stack of letters. ‘You have an extra letter from that auror captain this week.’ He dropped the pile onto the table, letting it slump over the wooden top. ‘Might be worth reading.’
‘I hope that doesn’t mean he’s going to start writing twice as much.’ Harry pulled the white envelope with Neville’s handwriting on the front out of the heap and opened it with his thumb. ‘Dear Madam Delacour… Amelia Bones is dead.’
‘What?’ An envelope slipped through Laurent’s fingers. ‘How?’
He cleared his throat. ‘Amelia Bones is dead. She did not die of natural causes. Factions of the British Ministry are very keen to place the blame upon the United States, the Ottoman Caliphate or France. They claim there is evidence they have been supporting the dissident group in Britain who are responsible for the murder.’
‘Merde,’ Laurent muttered, slumping into his chair. ‘Merde. Merde. Merde.’
Harry grimaced. ‘It gets better.’ He took a deep breath. ‘If there is even the faintest fondness for Britain in you or your husband, please reply to let me know if I can count on even the slightest token of support. I have taken a great risk in sharing this with you, but as hard as I fight what seems an inevitable descent into the same madness we only just ended, I am losing.’
‘I need to go to work.’ Laurent dragged himself out of his chair and reached out a hand. ‘Ah, merde.’ He let his hand drop. ‘I cannot take that, can I? Not without inviting too many questions.’
‘No.’ Harry folded it closed and picked up his wand, vanishing the thin slip of parchment. ‘I don’t—’
A high-pitched ringing burst from his pocket.
‘You also have to go to work,’ Laurent muttered. ‘To think we’re all so stupid that I might have to watch my grandchild grow up into another war.’ He shook his head. ‘There really are no words for it.’
Harry slid on Violette’s ring. ‘It will not reach them,’ he whispered. ‘I will not allow it.’
Laurent’s brow furrowed and he vanished with a loud crack.
‘Expecto patronum,’ Harry murmured, trapping his thoughts within the spell and releasing it.
The silver anzu soared down the corridor with a faint screech.
Harry wrenched the world back past him, stepping into the Sunshine Room. ‘You called?’
‘Bonjour.’ Gabby wavered in next to him, rubbing her eyes and yawning.
Grise stalked around the flickering white flames of the brazier and stared up at the floating glass lanterns. ‘I have bad news, but we will wait for Vert.’
Liliana appeared with a deafening pop, her wand tip pressed to her throat. ‘What is… it?’
‘A few hours ago, through unofficial channels, we learnt that Amelia Bones has been murdered,’ Grise said.
Gabby twitched and Liliana let out a low hiss.
‘There was a polite enquiry from the more rational parts of the British Ministry if this could be the work of Le Cancrelat somehow,’ Grise said. ‘More in hope, than logic, it sounded.’
‘It’s not,’ Harry said. ‘He cut ties with the Last Scions and any involvement in Britain. And he’s also very dead.’
‘Yes.’ Grise thrust his pale hands into his pockets. ‘With no proof or any desire for proof of domestic foul play, we were warned that Minister Diggory will almost certainly place the blame on Britain’s enemies and rivals.’
Liliana stiffened. ‘That is… a declar… ation of… war.’
‘Non, they are not that mad,’ Grise replied. ‘They will blame a group I suspect is the Last Scions, and they will accuse the United States, the Ottoman Caliphate, and France of supporting them.’
‘Not war?’ Harry asked.
‘Non.’ Grise shook his head. ‘Before the channel of discussion was closed, I am told that Minister Diggory’s intent is to demand action from the ICW to stop subversive attacks from other nations and gain reparations for those that have been carried out.’
‘But they… have no… remit,’ Liliana rasped. ‘What can… they do?’
‘Nothing.’ Grise yanked his hands from his pocket and crossed his arms. ‘And Britain knows this. They are merely trying to make it seem as if they are not the aggressor. When the ICW fails to act, they will likely leave it and claim it has failed its duty. This will set them free to retaliate without being tied up upholding its mandates.’
‘War,’ Gabby murmured.
‘I fear there are factions in the British Ministry deliberately paving a road to it,’ Grise said. ‘They will push a narrative of foreign aggression and pull us all closer to the brink until someone finally crosses a line that lets them openly declare hostilities and risk the Statute without appearing that they are to blame to their own citizens and allies.’
‘Perhaps… they feel… they are… already… at war,’ Liliana replied. ‘The United… States and.. the Ottomans… have been… stirring up… trouble for them.’
‘Why accuse France?’ Harry asked. ‘Surely two enemies are enough for them?’
‘History,’ Grise said. ‘It often has been us, despite our alliance against Grindelwald, and we are the only major power not aligned with Britain or against its enemies.’
Merde. Panic rose like the wave of hot, molten gold in Tanit’s Looking Glass. Harry clawed it down, shoving it deeper and deeper until it eased. It’s going to happen.
Gabby rested a warm hand on his arm. ‘What does that mean for us?’
‘You are young, you’ve not seen magical war on a full scale. Voldemort came closer to it than Le Cancrelat, but only one major engagement really occurred. At the British prison of Azkaban.’ Grise released a long sigh. ‘What will happen first is covert little wars, like the one in the Caribbean, and proxy wars, which Les Inconnus will play no small part in. If it escalates further, wards will go up across Europe and anyone of suspicious loyalty will be cast out or kept under very close surveillance, since one wizard or witch can do a lot of damage in the right place. Beyond that, I hesitate to predict anything, but the long skirmishes across Britain and the battle at Azkaban are a good indication of how these conflicts tend to go. Only the scale and suffering will be far greater.’
And we can’t leave Les Inconnus until we have La Victoire Finale. Harry glanced at Gabby out of the corner of his eye.
She chewed her lip, pale-faced, staring into the white flames.
She’s afraid. She hates fighting.
‘I will go whenever needed,’ he said. ‘Sarcelle and Cramoisi will not.’
Gabby’s grip on his arm tightened.
Grise’s pink eyes flashed. ‘We will need every wand—’
‘You will be three shorter if you try to send them anywhere they’re not ready to go,’ Harry replied. ‘Sarcelle cannot fight right now. Cramoisi is not a duellist. It’s the best choice. If you risk them, I won’t want to fight for France.’
I won’t leave our baby alone to hope for futile wishes. A cold, thick, sickness churned in his stomach. I’d rather I fought. I’d rather I died.
Grise balled his fists. ‘If you can suggest that while wearing your ring, I cannot argue with its reasoning,’ he muttered. ‘Very well. Violette will be our first choice, then myself, then Vert, until Sarcelle is ready to return, then Cramoisi.’
‘It is… more… likely… we will… be in… teams,’ Liliana rasped.
‘Is that everything?’ Gabby asked.
Grise nodded. ‘For now. I’ve spoken with those above me, we are to prepare for the worst and watch to see how the situation develops in the ICW.’ He sighed. ‘Violette, keep your ring on you at all times. If you intend to fight in place of Sarcelle and Cramoisi, you will be called on often should things escalate.’ Grise vanished with a loud crack.
Liliana brushed back her hood. ‘I will… be in… my room.’ She drifted out into the corridor, closing the door behind her.
‘Are you okay?’ Harry asked
‘I can’t duel well,’ Gabby whispered, her fingers digging into his biceps. ‘I can’t hurt people like that, I can only defend.’
‘I know.’ He gave her fingers a squeeze. ‘But I can. That’s why I’m going instead.’
‘Fleur’s going to be furious with you,’ she murmured. ‘She might have rather we left.’
‘I think we still need Les Inconnus for La Victoire Finale,’ he muttered. ‘But she will still be angry. I will tell her. It was my choice, the best choice, I think.’
Gabby nodded. ‘I’m going to start going through those books again.’
‘The quicker the better,’ he whispered. ‘If there’s a war, then we might need it. Otherwise—’
Terror clamped its fist around his throat. He fought for breath, battling the little black spots and the spinning world.
‘Breathe,’ Gabby said, cupping his face between her hands. ‘Nothing has gone wrong yet.’
He gulped air. A desperate yearning bubbled beneath his skin, hot as flame it clawed at his heart with claws as sharp as shattered glass.
‘I know,’ she said. ‘I know. We need it.’
Harry balled the feeling up and thrust it down into the dark. The amber-masked figure is coming out of all this. Grim certainty seized hold of him. We have to be ready.
‘Go talk to Fleur.’ Gabby gave him a light shake. ‘I’m going to move the pensieve and everything we might need back home, where it’s safe. The books are all enchanted to be uncopyable, but I’ll find a way around.’
He nodded, grabbing her hand as she let go of him. ‘If you need us, come find us, Gabby.’
A small little smile spread across her face. ‘Merci, mon cher frère, but best to make sure Fleur’s calmed down before I come back and get clingy.’
Harry let her fingers go and wrenched the world back past him, stepping into their bedroom.
Fleur’s blue eyes snapped open. ‘Mon Amour?’
‘Bad news,’ he muttered. ‘You are going to be angry with me.’
Her irises darkened to midnight blue and she bundled the blanket up around her chin. ‘Why?’
‘Well, to cut a long story short, Amelia Bones has been murdered, which Neville is really keen to talk to us about, probably in the hope I’ll appear and miraculously solve everyone’s problems for them.’ Harry grimaced. ‘More importantly, it means Britain’s likely leaving the ICW soon and all the fighting will continue or get worse. And that means Les Inconnus will end up getting involved a lot, so I—’
‘So you stupidly said you’d go and fight instead of Gabby and I.’ Fleur’s eyes flashed black as night. ‘What did we agree about taking risks?!’
‘Well, someone has to fight or we have to leave Les Inconnus,’ he replied, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. ‘We still need them for La Victoire Finale, and the quicker we manage that, the better. We don’t want to — we don’t want to lose each other, or Gabby, or…’
A little of the dark drained from her irises. ‘Let Grise fight, or Vert.’
‘They will.’ Harry patted her feet, working the ball of his thumb into the arch of her foot. ‘I’m just doing all the bits you and Gabby aren’t as well suited to — mostly Gabby, really. With you, I just don’t want both of us fighting. One parent is… one parent is not good, but no parents…’
‘Ah,’ Fleur murmured. ‘I see. You don’t want our baby left alone.’
‘I want to leave Les Inconnus,’ he whispered. ‘I want to walk away from all of it. But we can’t, not without La Victoire Finale.’
She ooched down the bed and wrapped her warm arms around him. ‘Once we have it, if things are still risky, we will leave, is that okay?’
Harry nodded. ‘I can’t stand the thought of you not being here. The idea of our baby growing up alone like I did…’ He shuddered, grappling with the thick, sticky cold bubbling in his stomach. ‘It mustn’t happen.’
‘It will not happen.’ Fleur’s arms tightened around his waist. ‘We won’t let it.’ She gave his ribs a soft squeeze. ‘Will you help me up, mon Amour? Emilie will be here soon to check on the baby. She thinks about a week now.’
‘A week?’ Harry’s voice cracked.
A week? His head span. That’s really soon. Really really soon.
‘A week.’ Fleur nudged him toward the edge of the bed. ‘Socks please, mon Cœur.’
He grabbed her thick, blue socks and flipped the edge of the blanket back, slipping them onto her feet. ‘Have you got everything—’
She pointed at the wardrobe. ‘Jumper.’
Harry opened the doors. ‘Er… which one?’
‘A warm, loose one. It’s got to cover the bump or the baby and I get cold.’
‘Right…’ He rummaged through the jumper end, plucking out several large, thick blue and green ones. ‘Are any of these okay?’
‘Hmmm.’ She cocked her head, huffing a lock of silver hair off her face. ‘The blue one will do. I like blue.’
‘You look beautiful in blue.’ Harry smiled. ‘Or any other colour.’
Fleur shot him a little smirk. ‘Or nothing.’
‘Particularly nothing.’ He smothered the flare of heat before it slipped south and handed her the jumper. ‘Anything else you need?’
‘I am all fine.’ She sat up and wriggled her way into the jumper, tugging it down over the curve of belly. ‘But it would be nice if you could carry me downstairs?’
Harry smiled and heaved her off the bed into his arms. ‘It’s a good thing the baby comes soon, I’m not sure I’d be able to do this in another couple of months.’
Fleur wrapped her arms around his neck and pouted as she side-stepped through the door. ‘I will be a lot easier to pick up very soon, mon Amour. And the picking up is going to be for a more fun reason, too.’
He laughed. ‘Promises, promises, mon Rêve.’ Harry bounced her legs as he carried her down the stairs. ‘Tuck your feet in, Fleur, there is another doorway coming.’
She pointed her toes down and he grimaced at the soft burn in his arms as he shuffled through the kitchen door.
‘Where is Gabby?’ Fleur asked. ‘Is she okay?’
‘She decided to stay busy rather than come back with me while I was getting set alight for fighting instead of the two of you.’
‘Is she okay?’ she murmured. ‘Gabby doesn’t like duelling properly. Or fighting.’
‘I think she’ll be clingy when she comes back,’ Harry said. ‘I was going to run away before she could snuggle up to me and you got angry.’
‘I will run away, too.’
‘I’m pretty sure she’ll catch you, mon Trésor.’
Fleur’s lips curved into a delicate pout. ‘I do not waddle very fast.’
He pressed a kiss to her pout and set her down in a chair. ‘Voilà!’
She grabbed her rosewood wand and closed her eyes, twisting it like a key. A soft, white glow shone from the tip.
‘All done?’ Harry asked.
‘She’ll be here in a few minutes.’ Fleur leant back in the chair and sighed, patting her tummy. ‘Nearly there, baby. Nearly there.’
He dropped into the chair beside her. ‘Do you want anything else? A drink? Food?’
‘I want the baby out.’
‘Soon.’ A cold jolt swept through him. ‘Really really soon.’
Fleur rolled her eyes. ‘Get me something sweet and tasty, mon Amour.’ A little smirk curved her lips. ‘Give me Gabby’s éclairs.’
‘When she asks, I’m going to pretend I know nothing.’ He opened the cupboard and pulled out the box, sliding the éclairs onto a clean plate and setting it down in front of her.
‘She owes me still, for getting all clingy with you.’
‘She doesn’t mean to do anything bad,’ Harry said.
‘Je sais.’ Fleur sliced the end off an éclair and slipped it into her mouth. ‘C’est bon.’
‘Gabby’s going to sulk.’
‘She owes me.’ Fleur waved her cream covered fork at him. ‘She owes me forever, for letting her get all cuddly with someone who is mine.’
He raised an eyebrow. ‘Forever?’
‘Gabby is not going to go away.’
‘So you don’t mind.’
She licked the cream off the fork and shook her head. ‘Not really. Not as long as she is just snuggling up to you how she does to me.’ Fleur’s lips thinned and faint wrinkles creased her brow. ‘I’m still not sure if that is all she wants, though.’
Harry frowned. ‘I can just say no.’
‘Non,’ she murmured. ‘I do not mind you hugging Gabby, not for a little bit. Just not for long periods and not somewhere like her bed. She is not an innocent little chick. You will give her ideas and I will be cross.’
‘It’ll be James and Amélie,’ Harry muttered.
‘Yes.’ Fleur devoured the rest of the éclair in small bites. ‘So, clingy Gabby is fine to hug. Cheeky Gabby who’s thinking about what it would be like to be me is not fine to hug.’
‘But they’re the same person.’ He sighed. ‘Why did I pick such a complicated bird-girl to fall in love with?’
‘She picked you.’ Fleur stole a second éclair. ‘And it’s very simple. If Gabby is being clingy and wants to be close, she’s just reacting to what she can feel and wants some affection or attention. If she’s making stupid veela jokes or suggestive comments, don’t encourage her or I will be angry and there will be fire.’
‘I’ll do my best, mon Rêve.’
A loud crack echoed down the hall.
‘Ah, Emilie.’ Fleur put down her cake fork. ‘You go help Gabby, mon Amour.’
‘Non. You will just fret.’ She pointed a finger out the window. ‘Go help Gabby. Make sure she’s okay about the idea of fighting, but remember no hugging Gabby when she’s being too chirpy. I will tell you everything’s fine when you come back and you won’t be a grey cloud of panic over there while Emilie and I are trying to talk about having the baby.’