A blank square of wall stared down at the spread of open tomes. Tom Riddle’s neat handwriting ran between the lines of long latin paragraphs, winding around faded illustrations.
‘Did you manage to copy anything from Les Inconnus?’ Harry asked, spinning his wand atop the cover of the The Secrets of the Darkest Arts.
Gabby’s head appeared over the far side of the desk. ‘Yes,’ she chirped. ‘But other than a whole bunch of reports on item seventeen and the experiment that led to it, there’s nothing on souls.’
‘What about anything else?’
‘I got loads of interesting stuff on transmutation,’ she said, waving a book above her head. ‘Only, it’s mostly about how magical creatures innately use it.’ Gabby pointed her book at the stack near the door. ‘And that’s all the alchemical stuff.’
‘Found anything interesting?’
‘Yes.’ She beamed. ‘But not useful interesting.’
‘It’s not going to be easy.’ She perched herself on the corner of the desk, swinging her feet. ‘It took Fleur and I a month or two to do the pensieve and we had lots to work with.’
‘That’s including the rune designs, though,’ he replied. ‘We’re just trying to come up with theories.’
‘What have you got?’ Gabby asked.
‘Lots of rambling about souls in every field of magic.’ Harry sighed. ‘I’m not even sure it’s helpful to us, really. We know the purpose, it’s — it’s our sunset. We just need an object that represents it to anchor ourselves too.’
‘And a ritual to do it,’ Gabby murmured. ‘Like the one you did.’
‘And that.’ He shot her a faint grin. ‘But we can do that with runes and blood and whatever actions and sacrifices we need.’ Harry patted the book. ‘I am hopeful, given all these different pieces of magic are rooted in the soul, particularly magical oaths like the Unbreakable Vow, that we don’t need to create a horcrux like I accidentally did. We can bind ourselves to the object, using our purpose.’
For whatever price. He swallowed a stab of fear. However high it is.
Gabby scrunched up her face. ‘Which means…?’
‘As long as we want the sunset and that anchor exists, we’ll return to each other.’
‘If I can do this bit,’ she muttered. ‘All I’ve found is a bunch of stuff on how Dementors use the fear they elicit as the intent driving the magic that sustains them.’
‘That is interesting,’ Harry murmured. ‘Explains a lot, really.’
‘Not useful, though.’
‘How do they suck out souls?’
Gabby shrugged and swiped her hair off her face. ‘It says—’ she scanned the page ‘—prolonged or focused attention from a dementor may cause such damage and trauma to the mind that the consciousness of the victim flees, reducing them to what appears a soulless husk.’
‘I guess losing your mind like that would kind of strip you of a lot of things the soul’s connected to…’ Harry frowned. ‘Not amazingly useful, though.’
‘Soul magic seems to be mostly guesswork and luck,’ she grumbled. ‘It is a miracle you’re back with us.’
Yes it is. He shuddered. The slightest change and I might’ve just died. No Fleur. No baby. Just nothingness.
‘You’re not doing the soul magic bit,’ he said. ‘You’ve just got to figure out a way of creating a living body for us.’
‘Which our souls can inhabit.’
‘It just needs a soul for that. We can meld with that soul and possess it, like the diary did to Ginny before it tried to create a new Tom to fulfil its purpose.’ Harry spun his wand in a slow circle. ‘I wonder if a dementor victim could be possessed. They’re still alive…’
‘Non.’ Gabby wrinkled her nose. ‘That is a very stupid idea. We’d not know if it worked until we ended up stuck in a comatose body.’
‘Good point.’ He leant back in the chair and rested his heels on the other desk corner. ‘Back to the drawing board.’
‘Some of these are in Latin,’ she said. ‘I can’t do Latin.’
‘I can only do a bit,’ Harry replied. ‘And not well enough I’d want to trust my translations.’
‘You trusted Voldemort’s translations.’
‘Admittedly not my smartest move, but I wasn’t exactly making rational choices,’ he said, spinning his wand in his fingers. ‘Plus, it did work for him, so I had some proof he knew what he was talking about.’
‘Fleur can translate them,’ Gabby chirped. ‘She’s probably just napping right now.’
Harry’s necklace flared hot.
His wand slid through his fingers and the study lurched backwards. He thudded to the ground and jumped to his feet, snatching his wand off the floor.
Gabby laughed. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Baby.’ Harry’s heart began to pound and his breath caught, a hot, tight twist tanged itself into a taut, tense knot in his chest. ‘Fleur’s having the baby.’ He snatched the acorn pendant and his glowing wedding band out from under his shirt.
‘Wait!’ Gabby scrambled across the desk and grabbed his wrist.
‘Argent,’ he whispered.
The study wrenched itself sideways and he stumbled onto white pebbles. Gabby’s hand tightened on his wrist as he ripped the world back past him and stumbled into their bedroom.
Fleur glowered at him from the bed with dark eyes, balling her fists into the pillow under her back. ‘Finalement!’
Emilie lingered at the side of the bed. ‘Breathe, Fleur. Remember your breathing.’
Harry sucked in a lungul of cool air and slid his wand back into his sleeve. ‘Are you okay? Is the baby okay? Is it all going fine?’ Harry turned to Emilie, wrestling with the thrashing tangle of heat beneath his ribs. ‘Is she okay? Is everything okay?’
‘Out.’ Fleur jabbed her finger at the door, little white feathers bristling from her skin. ‘Gabby, take him out and keep him from fretting too loudly or I will throw fire.’
‘You lasted less than a second.’ Gabby snickered and dragged him toward the door by the arm. ‘Come on, mon Amour-in-law, your fretting is annoying my sister.’
He dug his heels in. ‘But—’
‘Out,’ Fleur hissed, little shimmers of heat haze wavering around her palms. ‘Out, mon Cœur. Your worrying is not helping.’
Gabby hauled him into the corridor and closed the door. ‘Fret out here, but fret quietly.’
‘Did she take the potions?’ Harry whispered. ‘And everything she said she would?’
‘I don’t know.’
He reached for the door handle.
‘Non.’ Gabby batted his hand away. ‘I will check. You stay put.’ She crept back into the room.
Harry held his breath, resting his forehead against the wall and listening to the hammering of his heart in his ears. Please be okay. You and our baby. Cold stabs of fear tore through the knot of heat in his heart. Don’t take away our sunset. Not now.
Gabby slipped out. ‘She took them.’
‘Is it going okay?’ he whispered. ‘All the contractions and everything?’
‘Emilie is smiling,’ she said. ‘That’s a good sign.’
Harry grappled with a fierce twist of need, staring at the gleaming door handle.
‘Non…’ Gabby stepped in front of it and crossed her arms. ‘You’re just going to distract her and cause trouble.’
He turned his back on the door, measuring his steps along the corridor, counting the faded patches and the chocolate stains outside Gabby’s door. A tangle of hot thorns writhed under his ribs, his stomach swirled and the green-eyed girl danced behind cold glass, whirling through his thoughts. Cold jolts of fear tore into his gut beneath her bright, warm smile and soft green eyes.
Gabby giggled. ‘You’re really bad at this.’
Harry fixed Gabby with a sharp look. ‘I do not like waiting and hoping.’ The thorns clawed their way up his throat, snagging the words on his tongue. ‘It doesn’t usually go very well for me.’
Her grey eyes softened. ‘It will be fine,’ she murmured. ‘You’ll see. You just have to stick it out for a bit. Fleur’s got it much worse, she has to push a baby out of her.’
‘I’d rather it was me,’ he muttered. ‘That way it’s just me.’
Gabby sighed. ‘Mon cher frère, you need—’
The door handle rattled and it creaked ajar.
Emilie poked her head out. ‘Fleur has changed her mind,’ she whispered. ‘She would like Henri to come and hold her hand.’
He darted through the door, smacking his hip against the frame.
‘Come here,’ Fleur gasped. ‘So I can break all your fucking fingers.’
Harry grabbed her hot hand between his and crouched beside the bed. ‘Are you going to set fire to me if I ask?’
‘Yes.’ Her pitch-black eyes burnt into him and her grip tightened until his fingers throbbed with pain. ‘Just be really fucking quiet and hold my hand—’ a grimace twisted her face ‘—I need something to hold onto. I feel like I’m going to be sick. My toes are cramping. And it burns.’
Harry shot a glance at Emilie, clenching his jaw as Fleur’s grip tightened. It’s just pain. He let it wash through him. And it’s only fair we both hurt. It’s our wish.
‘You’re doing great, Fleur.’ Emilie smiled and gave Harry a thumbs up. ‘The baby’s crowning. Just breathe between each contraction and push when the next one comes. If you feel the urge to push, push.’
‘How much fucking longer is this going to take?’ Fleur hissed. ‘It fucking hurts.’
The white feathers flared from her skin and her chin shifted, sharpening. A searing wave of pain exploded through Harry’s hands, throbbing, pounding agony bursting across his fingers. The sting of burnt flesh caught his nose.
Emilie stared at their hands. ‘Fleur—’
‘It’s fine.’ Harry tightened his grip and grit his teeth, taking short, shallow breaths through his nose. ‘It’s just a little bit of pain.’
‘It is not just a little fucking bit of—’ Fleur’s breath hitched and she tensed.
Blue flames burst through Harry’s fingers, eating into his raw, red, weeping hands.
‘I meant me, mon Rêve.’ He forced a smile through the wash of burning agony. ‘You’ve got a very… strong grip.’
She closed her eyes, her nose and chin lengthening into a sharp, dark, serrated beak and hissed.
Emilie scrambled for her wand, pointing it at their hands.
‘No.’ Harry watched the blue flames dance on his arms and let the agony drift off into the distance, dwindling away into the yawning emptiness. ‘No, leave it. It will just happen again. And it’s just pain.’ He managed a wry smile through the searing pain curling into his hands. ‘It seems fair it hurts for us both.’
Things worth having are meant to hurt. He took a long, deep breath through the bright gush of pain, letting its sharp, cold clarity cut through him to the bone.
Fleur gasped and tensed, a shudder rippling through her.
Emilie turned away, murmuring spells under her breath. ‘Well done, Fleur. Well done. I’ve got the head. You’re almost there. Almost done.’ She offered a weak, pale-faced smile to Fleur as she tensed again. ‘I want you to breathe really nice and slowly and gently. Count to three hundred in your head.’
Fleur’s beak shifted, softening back into her chin and nose. The blue flames faded from Harry’s hands. Red raw flesh wept clear fluid and throbbed, sending washes of searing pain through his fingers.
‘That’s it,’ Emilie murmured. ‘That’s it. Just breathe and count. Choose one of the names you thought of for the baby and say it between each number. Try and resist the urge to push too hard until you’ve got all the way to three hundred—’
‘Why?’ Fleur hissed.
‘We want the baby to come out nice and gently,’ Emilie said, holding her wand out. ‘You’re nearly there.’
Harry clenched his jaw and stole a shuddering breath. The flesh crept back on his hands and the throbbing began to ease, skin spread across raw, weeping wounds, and the burning pain lessened.
A loud wail cut through the room and his heart lurched.
‘Well done,’ Emile cried. ‘I’ve got the baby, Fleur. One more push and — there’s the placenta, you can relax now. All done.’ She bent and scooped a small red armful up off the bed from between Fleur’s knees. ‘Here she is. Be careful of the umbilical cord.’
She. Harry held his breath as the room spun, the baby’s cries ringing in his ears. Our baby’s a she. We’ve got a daughter.
The dark drained from Fleur’s eyes and her white feathers slipped beneath her skin. She stared up at Emilie with wide, blue eyes. ‘Give her to me,’ she whispered, letting go of Harry’s hand and holding out her arms. ‘Give her to me.’
‘Here you go.’ Emilie lowered the squalling pink bundle into Fleur’s embrace, scooping a purple cord over Fleur’s left knee. ‘There she is. And born on the seventh day of the seventh month…’
A soft little smile spread across Fleur’s face and her lip trembled. ‘Katrina,’ she whispered. ‘Katrina Isobel Delacour.’
Harry’s heart lurched. Katrina. He rose to his feet, staring down at the tiny squirming baby. The green-eyed girl twirled and danced behind cold glass, beaming up at her mother, and a hot lump stuck in his throat. A perfect wish.
Gabby buried her face in his shoulder, trembling like a leaf, and a warm, damp soaked into his clothes from her cheeks.
‘I need you to drink this, Fleur.’ Emilie pulled a small vial of white potion out of her pocket and tugged out the stopper. ‘It will help your body recover from the strain.’
Fleur shifted Katrina onto her shoulder and grabbed the vial, swallowing it in a single gulp. ‘Mon Cœur,’ she whispered. ‘Come and see our daughter.’
He glanced down at the raw, red skin of his hands and tucked them behind his back, edging around the bed and crouching down beside Fleur.
Emilie retreated back to the corner of the room.
Fleur twisted her shoulder, cradling Katrina’s head in her hand. ‘Isn’t she perfect?’ she whispered. ‘Isn’t she beautiful?’
Harry swallowed a hot lump in his throat and blinked back tears. ‘You both are.’
‘Can you pull the blanket up, mon Amour,’ she murmured, her eyelids fluttering. ‘I’m really tired and as much as I want to just stare at her, I think I’m about to fall asleep.’
Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve, cleaning the streaks of blood from her fingers with a flick and tugged the silver blanket over her, tucking it around her shoulders.
‘Merci,’ Fleur whispered, letting her eyes droop closed.
Emilie stepped forward, raising her wand. ‘I’ve got a few spells to cast to make sure everything’s okay with your daughter, then I’ll tidy up and be off,’ she said, lowering her voice to a soft whisper. ‘When Fleur wakes up, make sure she takes it easy and pays attention to how she feels. I’ll come back if my spells detect anything wrong with the baby, but also in a week or so to check on Fleur and make sure she’s recovering okay after giving birth. I hope that’s okay?’
Harry stared down at the fragile, slim blue veins snaking across his daughter’s pale eyelids, the little dimple on her chin, and the wisps of silver hair crowning her head. His breath caught, snarled on the burning surge of the storm in his breast, stuck in the searing swirl of razors slicing through his chest.
She’s absolutely perfect.
He reached out, touching his fingertip to the centre of Katrina’s tiny hand. Her small, soft fingers curled closed around his finger and warmth flooded through his chest — a hot gush of pure joy bursting like fireworks in his heart.
‘I should look at your hands,’ Emilie said. ‘Fleur — Fleur burnt them pretty badly.’
‘They’re fine.’ Harry held out his free hand and turned it over, not taking his eyes off Katrina. ‘See. Don’t worry about me, just make sure our baby’s fine.’
Emilie blinked. ‘But—’ she shook her head and raised her wand ‘—okay.’
Gabby sidled around the bed and buried her face in his shoulder with a quiet murmur. ‘See,’ she whispered, clutching his arm. ‘See. Perfect wishes can come true, mon cher frère.’