Katrina wailed, flailing her arms at the pages of runes on the kitchen table.
Harry winced as she hit top volume and pushed his chair back out of range of the table edge. ‘Why so suddenly grumpy, baby bird?’ He bounced her on his knee. ‘What’s wrong?’
Her cries rose louder, ringing back off the cupboards and echoing through the house.
‘Do you want your maman?’ Harry lifted her up and sat her on the table, sticking her to the wood with a strong charm. ‘Maman is off with Auntie Gabby, Katie, but she’ll be back soon.’
‘Okay, okay.’ He brushed at her thoughts, wiping his mind blank as a clean pane of glass. ‘What’s so upsetting, little chick? What’s wrong?’
Distress flooded his mind, pouring from a cold, dark void. Katie clutched for a warm, bright feeling, the soft, sweet scent of almonds, silver hair and warm blue eyes.
Harry tugged his thoughts away. ‘You want your maman, huh, baby bird.’ He sighed and swept her back into her arms, rocking her back and forth. ‘I’m sorry, Katie. Your maman’s still going to be away for a little bit, it’s just the two of us.’
Katie wailed, grabbing for his shirt.
‘Let’s find you something new and exciting shall we?’ Harry conjured a little spark of red magic from the end of his wand and caught it in a bubble of glass the size of Katie’s fist. ‘And so it stays interesting.’ He charmed the little spark of magic to change colours and waved it in front of her. ‘Your maman’s much better than I am at this, but I hope you like it.’
Katie’s cries faded and she grabbed the glass ball in both hands, staring at the flickering mote of magic with wide green eyes as it shifted through colours.
‘Wow, it feels really quiet now,’ Harry murmured, adding a few protective charms to the toy. ‘Does this mean I can look at runes? Or are you going to scream at me again?’
She pushed the orb against her mouth, pressing her tongue against the cool glass.
Harry laughed. ‘Does it taste nice?’
The orb slipped from her grip; it plummeted halfway to the ground and zipped back up into Katie’s little hands. A huge grin spread across his daughter’s face.
‘Oh dear,’ Harry murmured through a soft smile. ‘Now you’re going to be even more trouble, aren’t you?’
She licked the orb, squishing her nose against the glass to press as much of her small pink tongue against the ball as possible. Harry edged his chair back toward the table and spread his page of runes around either side of her swinging legs as Katie chomped on her new toy.
Now, how to do this? He stared at the swathe of runes, dividing them into two stacks. I could create an anchor, if I had something to use. But the rest… the anchor, how can I even put the feeling of it into words?
Harry sighed and tugged Katie’s little striped socks back up. ‘You’re going to get cold feet if you keep kicking those off.’
She slobbered on the glass orb, watching the colours change with wide eyes.
The little red spark hovered there, flickering, and Sophonissa spread wings of crimson flame before the eye of Harry’s mind.
Maybe it doesn’t have to be drawn out rune by rune. He slipped his wand from his sleeve, slicing the pieces of parchment apart and merging them back together. Perhaps I can just write a reference to the feeling as I will feel it at the time, like I’m writing a reference to the object we choose as an anchor by writing on it.
A high-pitched wail burst from his pocket. Katie froze, the orb pressed against her mouth..
He dug Violette’s ring from his pocket and stuck it on his finger. The shrieking stopped.
‘That’s better.’ Harry pulled it off and dropped it back into his pocket. ‘I can’t really go off and leave you here, though, can I, little chick?’
Katie stared at him with big green eyes and pushed the glass against her lips, turning the orb around against her tongue.
He laughed and tugged the acorn necklace out from under his robes. ‘Why do you think that’s so tasty?’ Harry pushed a little magic into the pendant. ‘You’re a silly baby bird.’
A soft heat washed across his skin as he tucked it back away.
Fleur appeared on the far side of the table. ‘Is she okay?’
‘Katie?’ Harry chuckled. ‘She’s trying to eat the new toy I made her.’
She flashed him a smile. ‘Why did you call for help, then? If she needs changing, you’re on your own.’
‘I already did that.’ Harry pulled Violette’s ring out. ‘I have to go, mon Ange.’
Fleur’s smile faded. ‘So soon?’
‘I’m sorry.’ He pushed his chair back and stood up, kissing Katie on the top of her head. ‘Hopefully it’s not for long.’
‘Give me a moment to let Gabby know I’m going to be here now.’ She vanished.
‘I will see you soon.’ Harry unstuck Katie from the table with a flick of his wand and swept her up into his arms. ‘I’ll miss you, baby bird. You and your maman.’ His heart sank. ‘I’ll miss you so much,’ he whispered. ‘Be safe. Be happy. I love you very very much.’
Katie squirmed, dropping the orb to crunch into the kitchen tiles and clutching for his face with a low cry.
‘Oops.’ Harry pointed his wand at the tiles. ‘Reparo.’
Fleur appeared, bending to pluck the orb from the floor. ‘This is quite heavy for a baby. No wonder she dropped it.’
‘She dropped it once already.’ Harry grinned. ‘But she magicked it right back up into her hands.’
Her blue eyes widened and turned soft. ‘Her first magic?’
‘Yes.’ Harry smiled. ‘And now she’s able to cause lots of trouble, I give her to you—’ he passed Katie into Fleur’s arms ‘—and go off to do something that’s probably quite horrible.’
‘Be careful,’ Fleur whispered, resting Katie on her hip and kissing Harry on the cheek. ‘Our little experiment in the Chamber of Secrets is almost done.’ Her eyes darkened a few hues. ‘We’re nearly there, mon Coeur. Your runes. This body. Soon there’ll be no more being afraid ever again for any of us.’
‘We don’t have long,’ he whispered. ‘I can – I can feel it coming. I’ve seen the world start to steal dreams, plucking them away, one by one, and every time I see one lost, I feel like I’m watching one more grain of sand falling through the hourglass.’ Harry smothered the stab of panic. ‘The amber-masked figure is coming. And we – we need this.’
Fleur cupped his cheek, cradling Katie close as she wriggled and scrunched up her face. ‘Breathe, mon Amour. Gabby is right. We still have time. This is something to get exactly right.’
Harry sucked in a deep breath and let it out until his heart steadied. ‘I have to go…’
‘À bientôt,’ she murmured, patting the necklace beneath her dress. ‘I love you. Don’t forget to let me know you’re thinking of us.’
‘I won’t,’ he promised, picturing the Sunshine Room and wrenching the world back past him. ‘I’m here.’
‘Good.’ Grise dabbed potion onto his sunburnt, peeling face on the far side of the flickering white flames. ‘Vert and I are back from Egypt.’
‘How’d it go?’ Harry mustered a little humour. ‘Manage to get a tan?’
A faint smile passed across Grise’s face. ‘The Unspeakables threw us out this morning. Five of them. We did a good amount of damage first, though.’
‘Ice creams?’ Harry asked.
‘Yes, they… were named… after… ice creams,’ Liliana said, slipping in through the door. ‘They were… very good.’
‘So Britain has won in Egypt?’ Harry studied the purple spiral on his ring. ‘The Duforts and I pushed those unspeakables out of Italy.’
‘We heard.’ Grise studied his fingers. ‘Britain has not won in Egypt. There’s too much desire for independence now and the Ottoman Caliphate can’t be rebuffed so easily as we were given the close border. They’ll have to abandon it or oppress the entire magical population, and they don’t have the means to do the latter while fighting all over the world.’
‘What about… Malta?’ Liliana rasped. ‘Présidente… Desrosiers… pressured the… Italians into… attacking it… but will they… be able to win?’
‘No.’ Harry shrugged. ‘Not without a lot of help from us. The Unspeakables will massacre them if they try. They should be able to keep the wards up across Southern Italy and Sicily to stop anyone getting out of Malta to cause much trouble, though.’
‘That’s good enough.’ Grise’s brow furrowed. ‘That group of unspeakables are probably in Greece now to fend off the Ottomans. Janissaries have been seen warding islands in the Aegean. It seems Suleiman has his eyes on reclaiming Greece as well as bringing Egypt back under his influence.’
‘Suleiman?’ Harry asked.
‘Caliph Suleiman is our most important ally if Britain chooses open war,’ Grise replied. ‘There are only a handful of wizards who faced Grindelwald alone and survived. Albus Dumbledore is dead. Julien Aguillard is dead. Suleiman is the third.’
‘He does… not leave… Constantin…ople,’ Liliana whispered. ‘Not since… the war.’
‘That doesn’t matter, it’s the reputation that counts, like the Duforts, and now, like Violette.’ Grise stared into the white flames. ‘The Ottomans will keep the pressure on Britain in Egypt and Greece, and even if the Russkayan Tsardom is tempted to try something on the North coast of the Black Sea, Suleiman will still likely be able to uphold that pressure. We will surround Malta, keep a watch across the Channel and on the Dutch, and defend our islands in the Caribbean where the Americans and British are fighting. This should be enough to force Britain into realising war is against all our interests.’
‘What about… Gibraltar?’ Liliana pressed her wand to the throat. ‘That is… the last… stronghold… in the chain.’
‘Too close to Spain.’ Grise’s frown darkened. ‘Spain has gone quiet on the ICW from what Présidente Desrosiers said. We’re worried they’re planning to join the fight across the Atlantic, in which case the last thing we need to do is upset them here in Europe.’
‘I don’t think Britain is as scared of war as Présidente Desrosiers hopes,’ Harry murmured.
Grise shot him a sharp look. ‘You don’t? Why not?’
‘I think they feel a lot of them died fighting Voldemort and now the rest of the world has come to try and tear them down instead of letting them rebuild and have their lives.’ Harry grimaced as he recalled Ginny’s words on Sint-Maarten. ‘They are… they’re angry. With the Americans and the Ottomans, and, if they believe what their papers are saying, with us.’
‘Other nations smelt blood after the second civil war and Dumbledore’s death,’ Grise said. ‘This is just how it works.’
‘Britain is… winning in… the Caribbean,’ Liliana rasped. ‘With Spanish… help they… might win… decisively… and reclaim all… the small states… not fully part of… the Union of… Magical… America.’
Grise sighed. ‘I’ve spent all morning discussing possibilities with Présidente Desrosiers and her ministers. They are endless. It has been decided we will stay our course for now and hope to pressure Britain back into more earnest discussions.’
Liliana nodded. ‘Malta.’
‘Yes, old friend.’ Grise nodded. ‘You and I will help keep an eye on Malta and Southern Italy.’
Harry bounced his wand against his palm, smothering the faint rays of hope. ‘And me?’
‘A brief break.’ Grise steepled his fingers. ‘We’ll wait for that unspeakable team to surface and see if we can’t pin it down and wipe it out. Losing them will seriously damage Britain’s capability to fight this covert war and may even drive them to talks.’
‘So I’m free to go home?’ Harry asked.
‘Yes,’ Grise said. ‘But I doubt it will be long before something happens somewhere.’
I wonder if Liliana encountered Strawberry Sundae.
‘Vert,’ Harry said. ‘Have you got a moment first?’
Liliana nodded. ‘Of course.’
Grise vanished with a loud crack.
‘Did you cross wands with Strawberry Sundae?’ Harry asked.
‘Yes.’ Liliana brushed back her hood and studied him with dark eyes. ‘They have a… gift.’
‘Is it like scrying?’
‘It is called… gleaning,’ Liliana rasped. ‘Roman… blood magic… passed on… like Voldemort’s… parseltongue. Did not know… anyone still… had it. Perhaps it was… recreated.’
‘How does it work? Do you know?’
She shook her head. ‘Only by… observation. They could… glimpse things like… via legilimency… but not.’ Liliana held up her hand with its green-spiralled ring. ‘It is no… threat to us.’
‘I was just curious. Do we know which family it comes from?’
Is it you, Neville? Harry frowned. No. Neville was never insightful enough.
‘No,’ Liliana whispered. ‘Only that… gifts like those… always come… with a price.’
But they were in the DA. They knew Hermione’s spell. I must’ve known them.
‘Merci, Liliana,’ Harry said. ‘Bonne courage.’
She stiffened. ‘Liliana—’ a soft gasp left her lips and she pulled her wand from her robes, pressing its glowing tip against her throat ‘—Liliana needs to rest, pardon.’ She vanished with a loud crack.
And I need to get back to those runes.