‘You have caused trouble, mon Amour.’ Fleur waved the paper under his nose. ‘Britain is blaming the theft of the Mirror of Erised on its enemies.’
‘Any letters from Neville?’ he asked.
‘I burnt it,’ she muttered.
Harry chuckled. ‘That bad?’
Gabby snickered, sticking her head in from the corridor. ‘Fleur was very cross, I had to take Katrina for a little walk in the garden to stop her crying while this grumpy goose seethed by herself.’
‘He had the gall to imply it was your duty to give us up and return to Britain so they could parade you around like they did Dumbledore.’ Fleur’s eyes darkened and a little haze shimmered around her hands. ‘He is lucky it is the letter that got burnt.’
Katrina flailed in Gabby’s arms, screwing her face up.
‘Fleur,’ Gabby murmured. ‘Easy.’
‘I am calm.’ The black drained from Fleur’s eyes as she squeezed her hands into fist. ‘Now.’
Laurent stumped into the kitchen and grabbed his mug. ‘Seen the British papers?’
‘I stopped reading those some time ago,’ Harry said.
‘This Padma Patil wrote a lovely piece about the theft of the Mirror of Erised being the perfect demonstration of how envious nations would like to steal the British dream of liberty and equality.’ Laurent snorted. ‘Blatant propaganda at best and deliberately provocative at worst.’
‘No, little chick. Stop.’ Gabby winced as Katrina got a fistfull of her hair and tugged it toward her mouth. ‘Ow. Ow. No. Ow. Harry, your daughter is as bad as bird-you.’
Harry laughed. ‘It’s very shiny and grabbable, I can understand why she wants to get a hold of it.’
‘It’s not very tasty, though, Katrina.’ Gabby eased her hair out of Katrina’s tiny fist. ‘I know you want to see what it tastes like, but you’d regret putting all that hair in your mouth.’
Laurent watched with a faint smile as he poured coffee to the brim of his mug. ‘Babies just like to stick everything in their mouths. Make sure you keep anything she shouldn’t put in her mouth out of her reach.’ He took a long sip and sighed. ‘It’s pretty easy now, but gets a lot trickier when the accidental magic starts. You think things are safe on the top shelf and then they somehow all float down to within easy baby reach.’
Katrina grabbed Gabby’s nose, curling her fingers over the tip and yanking at it, staring with big, bright blue eyes up at her aunt.
Harry chuckled. ‘This is the price you pay for trying to steal our daughter all the time.’
‘But she’s so adorable.’ Gabby winced and fended Katrina’s hands off with a finger. ‘When she’s not trying to stick her fingers up my nose.’
‘Gabrielle,’ Fleur murmured. ‘Give her to me.’
Gabby pouted but drifted across to stand beside Fleur. Katrina wriggled, stretching for Fleur, clutching at the sleeve of her blue dress with a small frown on her face.
‘Hello, baby bird.’ Fleur scooped her from Gabby’s arms into her embrace. ‘Come to maman.’
Katrina grabbed two fists of Fleur’s hair and smushed them into her mouth with a huge smile, chomping on her knuckles.
‘She just wants someone who’ll let them eat their hair.’ Harry laughed. ‘Maybe it’s because it always smells like marzipan.’
Apolline hovered at the door, resting her head on Laurent’s shoulder as he sipped his coffee. ‘She’s such a happy baby,’ she murmured. ‘Like Gabrielle was.’
‘We must go, ma Chérie,’ Laurent said. ‘I have to be in meetings in an hour, so we’d best get going to Carcassonne now.’
They vanished with a loud crack.
Fleur swayed Katrina back and forth as she chewed on her knuckles with little pink gums. ‘I dug all the things I borrowed from Les Inconnus out of the cellar and copied them before I returned them. From what we know of the Hallows and all the failed experiments of Les Inconnus, it seems best to consider Death as an emotive concept, not just what happens when the clock stops.’
‘I agree,’ Harry said. ‘There’s a bird in a bell jar in the Department of Mysteries. It hatches, grows and dies, then the time reverses and it does it all again. The magic on it was beyond my ability to follow, but someone still created it.’
‘Less building blocks and more feeling,’ Gabby said. ‘I am still stuck, before you ask. I’ve learnt an awful lot of alchemy and transmutation, but nothing that will let me create a living body from nothing.’
Harry caught Fleur’s eyes over the top of Katrina’s head.
‘I know you two will settle for using another,’ Gabby whispered. ‘But I can’t do it.’
‘Only someone who deserves it,’ Harry said. ‘I don’t want to snatch away someone’s dream when there are wizards and witches out there like Peter Pettigrew.’
‘I’m going to have a look at creating a living body from something,’ Gabby said. ‘I’m not too sure how, yet, but now I’ve moved the pensieve we built into the cellar, there’s nothing for me to do but this and make sure Katrina doesn’t feel lonely.’
A shrill wail cut through the kitchen.
Katrina flinched, burying her face in Fleur’s shoulder.
Harry dipped a hand into his pocket and pulled out Violette’s ring, sliding it onto his finger. ‘Hopefully, I’ll be back soon.’ He pressed a kiss to Katrina’s cheek and wrapped Fleur in a one-armed embrace. ‘Je t’aime, mon Trésor.’
‘Je t’aime, mon Amour.’
Picturing the Sunshine Room, he wrenched the world back past him and stepped before the white flames of the brazier.
Grise stared up at the floating lanterns, resting his chin on his steepled fingers. ‘Violette.’ His pink eyes flicked down and back up. ‘Vert will be just a moment, I think.’
Liliana appeared with a loud pop. ‘What has… happened?’
‘Someone stole the Mirror of Erised,’ Grise replied. ‘But that’s hardly important. Britain has inevitably used it as propaganda and if they find it, I suspect any narrative that doesn’t fit the national agenda will never be heard.’ He dropped his hands to his sides. ‘Another meeting of the Italian City States took place in Verona’s old Roman amphitheatre.’
‘Good news… or bad?’ Liliana rasped.
‘Both,’ Grise said. ‘The same parties were present as last time, but they seemed… concerned that none of the Southern Italian City States had come again.’
‘Julien?’ Harry suggested.
Grise’s pale forehead creased. ‘I suspect Britain. I have no doubt the Italians were somehow involved with what Julien was planning to some extent, even if they were likely unaware of his true goal. After his death, the Italians would’ve needed a new ally. And British allies and territories are very close at hand to help.’
‘Malta,’ Liliana murmured. ‘Malta is… the lynchpin… of British… strategy.’
‘Let me speak, old friend. Don’t strain your voice,’ Grise said. ‘Greece is looking East at the Ottoman Caliphate, but Malta is purely British and the hub from which Britain can get all across the Mediterranean. The best portkeys can take you from British islands in the Atlantic to Gibraltar and from there to Malta and all their other protectorates or enemies nearby.’
‘You think someone’s nipped from Malta into South Italy and stirred up trouble,’ Harry said.
‘It would not… have been… very hard,’ Liliana said. ‘Or the… first time.’
Grise’s frown deepened. ‘Grindelwald built the foundation of his support amongst the Germanic States and the disillusioned fragments left from the collapse of the Roman Empire. They desire independence from the power of Britain, France, Spain and the Ottomans, and their own voice on the world stage, particularly now the ICW provides such a stage. In Italy, it is a strong desire. Despite almost every drop of true Roman blood being long since spent, they feel a claim to the pride of Rome’s legacy.’
Harry’s blood ran cold. ‘What legacy?’
‘The magical world as we know it,’ Grise said. ‘Rome laid the foundations of everything. It learnt from and borrowed the magics of all the different cultures it encountered and conquered in a time when magic and faith was often considered one and the same. No other long-lasting empire outside Rome’s own borders incorporated things in quite the same way; they all stamped out faith and magicks that weren’t their own. Rome brought together a vast pool of magical knowledge for us all to build upon.’ He pursed his lips. ‘In fact, it’s very likely that even the magics Rome was so famous for employing, its blood magics, are truly Carthaginian or Hellenic in origin.’
‘Oh they definitely are,’ Harry muttered. ‘I’ve seen enough of Kart Hadasht for one lifetime.’
Grise’s pink eyes pierced through him. ‘The Duforts were unusually vague in the report about what occurred in the sunken parts of Carthage. Did something important happen?’
‘The whole land is caught in some two thousand year old piece of blood magic.’ Harry smothered a flash of Sophonissa’s red wings and the crimson motes swirling through his fingers. ‘Rome sank it into the sea and hid it, and frankly I think that was a very good idea.’
‘Is it a threat to the Statute of Secrecy?’ Grise asked.
‘I think Julien was planning on using it to destroy the Statute. It was his match to light the fire. The Sons of Ba’alat Tanit woke it up and nearly reshaped the entire coastline back to how it was two thousand years ago.’
‘That would rip the Statute to shreds.’ Grise scowled. ‘The Duforts said it was no longer a threat.’
‘It’s not. Three bloodlines of the Adirim are needed to wake Kart Hadasht and there’s only one left. It’s dead.’
‘Yes. I felt it die.’
‘Grindelwald… failed to… take Malta,’ Liliana whispered. ‘I do not… think that we… should try.’
Grise nodded. ‘Britain is not defending it as they did during the war with Grindelwald at the moment, but there are easier targets to retaliate for the trouble caused in Carthage.’
‘Do we have to retaliate?’ Harry asked. ‘I honestly didn’t see any sign of British Unspeakables beyond a few things that the Sons of Ba’alat Tanit probably couldn’t have done themselves.’
‘Nobody but… Britain or Spain… can have got… in and out… of there as… easily as… they did,’ Liliana rasped.
‘Malta,’ Grise said. ‘It gives Britain a lot of scope to cause trouble. We have been commanded to prevent it as best we can. Our présidente hopes that if we stretch Britain thin and make them bleed they will be less keen on fighting and reopen diplomatic channels via the ICW. We are working with the Germanic States and the much more sensible, peaceful magical communities in Africa and the Nordic states of the Volsung Confederation to try and keep Spain, the Ottomans, or the Russkayan Tsardom from jumping in anywhere.’
‘Don’t say the Caribbean,’ Harry said. ‘Or Russia, which I assume is where the Russkayan Tsardom is, as that sounds unpleasantly cold.’
‘Vert and I are going to either Greece or Egypt,’ Grise said. ‘Stirring up trouble is mostly patient subterfuge; we’ll reserve your skills for the next time British Unspeakables appear somewhere we’d rather they weren’t.’
‘Sounds like you’re saying the Caribbean, but just not now.’
A faint smile passed across Grise’s face. ‘British Unspeakables won’t turn up there, Violette. They’ve got proxy states and allies and Ginevra Weasley to do their fighting out there. The United States is a curious nation, more loose confederation than country. The magical communities and their states aren’t actually obligated to send their aurors to fight as a whole save under specific circumstances, and the internal divisions between the various magical communities make them very reluctant to do so. Britain is probably quite happy having seized the rest of the Caribbean in this unofficial war and will likely remain on the defensive to avoid fighting the full strength of America.’
‘Makes sense,’ Harry said. ‘Why waste your shadow hand anywhere you can use an open one? And why pick a fight with another enemy when you can keep adding parts of the Caribbean to your collection.’
‘Exactly.’ Grise polished his palms together. ‘Take this time to relax and make sure you’re certain that whatever magic you encountered in Carthage cannot prove a threat to the Statute of Secrecy.’
I’d rather just forget that. Celine is right. Chasing prophecies is stupid. It got Voldemort killed.
He apparated back to the bedroom with a soft snap.
Katrina wriggled on Fleur’s silver blanket beneath a dancing whirl of colour-changing mist, grabbing her left foot and straining to stick her toes into her mouth.
‘You really just want to eat everything, don’t you?’ He tugged off Violette’s ring and settled down on the carpet. ‘Would you like some help?’
Katrina’s determined frown grew deeper as her little toes waved just before her small, pink gums.
Harry slipped his hand under her head and lifted it. She jammed her toes in her mouth and screwed her face up.
He chuckled. ‘Now that’s a face of regret. Were your toes not as tasty as they looked?’
Katrina let go of her foot and groped for the whirl of colour above her head. Her fingers slipped through, sending the mist swirling in little eddies around her small hands and flashing between colours. A bright gleam of joy sprang up in her eyes as she flailed her chubby fists through the mist.
Warmth flooded Harry’s heart and a small smile crept to his lips. ‘Look at you, having so much fun with your new toy.’ He studied the flickering fog as it swirled through every colour of the rainbow. ‘It looks like a Fleur one. Did maman make you that so your favourite toy was something she made and not one created by your Auntie Gabby?’
Katrina scooped mist toward her mouth, sticking her tongue out.
‘Nope.’ Harry slid his wand from his sleeve and poked the mist out of eating reach. ‘I’m not sure that’s safe for you to chomp on, baby bird.’
She screwed up her face and grabbed at the mist with her little fingers, waving it toward her mouth.
‘Ah, I see you’ve already learnt how your maman gets me to do things.’ He chuckled. ‘Not even two months old and you’ve already mastered pouting. Maybe it’s a veela thing.’
Katrina let out a quiet wail as he nudged the mist away from her mouth again.
‘Okay, okay.’ Harry scooped her up into his arms and kissed her on the tip of the nose. ‘Let’s distract you from the apparently very tasty looking mist, shall we?’
She stared up with big blue eyes and a toothless smile, grabbing at his clothes and fumbling at the silver acorn and glowing wedding ring dangling on his front. Katrina seized the acord in one small fist and lifted it toward her mouth.
‘Fine,’ Harry murmured, casting quick several cleaning charms. ‘That you can chomp on.’
Katrina’s little forehead wrinkled as she mashed her gums on the silver acorn.
‘Not too hard, Katie.’ He cast a gentle cushioning charm on the pendant. ‘We don’t want to hurt your gums.’
She spat the acorn out and grabbed for his clothes.
Harry conjured a ball of warm water vapour and charmed it blue. ‘Fine, fine, there you go.’ He chuckled as she grabbed at it, scooping handfuls of mist into her mouth. ‘I am going to end up spoiling you rotten, aren’t I? Not like Dudley, of course.’ A soft pang twisted beneath his ribs and he cradled her into the crook of his neck. ‘But you will never be lonely, baby bird. No nightmares. No emptiness. Nothing like that. I promise.’