Katie sat on her blanket, blinking in the ray of sun pouring in through the window. A small frown creased her face as she stared around, pressing her chubby little fingers into the soft silver fuzz.
‘Hello, baby bird,’ Harry whispered, slipping through the door and pulling it shut. ‘You were so quiet we thought you were still sleeping.’
She curled her fingers into the blanket and pulled it up to her mouth, pressing her tongue into the fluff.
‘That can’t be tasty,’ he murmured.
Katie dropped the blanket and pawed at her tongue with one hand, scrunching up her face.
Harry slid his wand from his sleeve and vanished the little pieces of fluff off her tongue. ‘There you go, I don’t think those are meant to be your first solid food either.’
She babbled and stuck her arms in the air.
‘Up?’ He tucked his wand away and lifted Katie into his arms, resting her small, warm body against his shoulder. ‘Is that better?’
‘Did you wake her up, mon Amour?’ Fleur’s eyes darkened a few hues. ‘She’s meant to be napping.’
‘She was already awake.’ Harry pressed a light kiss to Katie’s silver curls. ‘And trying to eat her blanket for reasons I suspect only make sense to her.’
‘Blankets are not cake, little chick.’ Fleur drifted across to tug Katie’s socks up. ‘There you go, no cold legs.’
Katie grabbed for Fleur’s silver hair.
‘Non.’ She swept her hair out of reach. ‘My hair is also not cake.’
‘It smells like cake.’ Harry dropped his chin to Katie’s ear as she wriggled in his arms, stretching after Fleur’s hair. ‘I can understand why you think it would taste nice,’ he whispered. ‘But it’s not really very appetising, it just smells nice. I would know, because I wake up with a faceful of it every morning.’
‘You’re not going to be able to reach, baby bird.’ Fleur fended Katie’s little hands off. ‘Where’s Henri the Raven?’
Katie scowled and lurched forward.
Harry caught her by the back of her clothes and settled her back into his arms. ‘Nice try, Katie, but even with all your cute new little fluffy feathers you’re still not going to fly very well.’
Katie glowered and a lock of Fleur’s hair rose from over her shoulder and floated into their daughter’s grasp.
‘Ow.’ Fleur winced as Katie tugged the lock of hair into her mouth with both small fists. ‘Ow.’ She teased one of Katie’s hands free. ‘Mon Coeur, your daughter is not a very smart little chick.’
‘I think it’s her maman’s fault,’ he said. ‘Bird-girls are attracted to shiny things. Like magpies.’
She laughed, easing Katie’s fingers off and scooping the lock hair out of her mouth. ‘Let’s find you some real food, Katrina.’
Katie’s eyes darkened and her little face scrunched itself into a scowl.
‘She already pouts when she doesn’t get her way.’ Harry laughed and bent to kiss his daughter on the cheek. ‘She is so very much like her maman.’
Fleur’s cheeks coloured as she turned her nose up. ‘Hush, mon Amour, if it works, then—’
A high-pitched wail cut through the room. Katie froze, burying her face in Fleur’s neck.
Les Inconnus. Harry’s heart sank.
He took a deep breath and fished Violette’s ring from his pocket. ‘It’s been a few days since Gabby and I spoke with Grise,’ he murmured. ‘Hopefully, I’ll be back soon.’
Fleur shifted Katie’s weight onto her hip and cupped the acorn pendant and his wedding ring against his chest. ‘Let me know when you’re thinking about us,’ she whispered. ‘And be careful, wherever you have to go this time.’
‘I’d imagine I’m going to Malta.’
‘Well be careful in Malta.’ Her hand slid up to his neck, pulling his forehead against hers, brushing noses; Fleur’s warm breath tickled his lips. ‘We have everything we dreamt of, mon Amour. Everything. Don’t die. Don’t let someone snatch our sunset away when we’re so close to our final victory.’
‘I’d come back.’ Harry slipped his ebony wand from his sleeve and balanced it on his palm. ‘Eventually. Like before.’
‘Do not die.’ Her blue eyes bored into him, darkening from summer blue like the dusk sky. ‘If you are gone, we cannot finish La Victoire Finale.’ Fleur kissed him hard, leaving his lips tingling. ‘It is meant to be us. You and me and Katrina and Gabby. Us.’
‘I’ll miss you,’ he whispered, bending to kiss Katie on the forehead. ‘Both of you.’
‘Just a little longer,’ Fleur breathed. ‘Then we can leave Les Inconnus and all of this behind. It’ll just be us, together, doing whatever we want, and nobody will ever be able to take it away.’
Harry stuck Violette’s ring on his finger, releasing a long sigh. ‘À bientôt, mon Trésor. Look after our little baby bird.’ He mustered a faint smile. ‘Don’t let her completely replace me with Henri the Raven.’
Katie babbled, wriggling in Fleur’s arms.
‘I know, little chick, I promised you food.’ Her eyes shifted back to blue as she glanced down. ‘I’ve not forgotten, don’t worry.’
Harry closed his eyes and clawed the world back past him into the Sunshine Room. ‘Where am I going?’
‘Sint-Maarten.’ Grise’s voice came from over his left shoulder.
‘Wonderful.’ He opened his eyes. ‘Why?’
Dark mist pooled on his palm, seeping from his wand and trickling through his fingers like blood. Harry slid it back into his sleeve and twisted on his heel.
Liliana stared back from beneath her hood. ‘Ginevra… Weasley… has declared… Sint-Maarten… and the other… small islands… under British… protection.’
‘It’s an act of war,’ Grise said. ‘Or it would be. Présidente Desrosiers decided the mayor there should officially accept to avoid war when we hope Britain will soon be forced back to talks. We are to unofficially ensure Sint-Maarten remains in French hands and it will be officially taken back in the resolution talks.’
‘I don’t care,’ Harry said. ‘Just tell me what I need to do and I’ll do it.’
‘Ginevra Weasley is coming to Sint-Maarten to ward it. Stop her. Drive her off.’ Grise’s faced hardened. ‘Inflict as many casualties as possible. We must force Britain into these talks as soon as we can.’
‘If they… had done… this to… the Ottomans… or the US… there would… be war.’ Liliana held out a slim piece of wood. ‘I am also… coming… to do… our own… wards.’
Grise glanced between them. ‘Vert, you know what needs to be done.’ He vanished with a loud crack.
Harry reached out, his fingertips hovering a hair’s breadth from the portkey. ‘Don’t get in my way, Liliana,’ he whispered. ‘I don’t want to be in the Caribbean. We’re not going to be staying long.’ A whisper of need coursed through his veins, biting deep with sharp, hot fangs. ‘I’m going to wipe them all away, like before. Don’t try to stop me.’
‘I am… Liliana—’ her fingers flashed to her neck and her breath hitched ‘—Lestrange… and I… swore I… would burn… and scry… and scream… for you.’
‘You only swore to keep a secret. And you’ve broken oaths before.’
‘Ones that… should not… have been… made.’ She swept back her hood and met his gaze with dark eyes. Black veins crawled across her throat and over her jaw. ‘I sac…rificed… it all… to stop… him. I… hated… what he… made us… for the… greater good… and he… was so… condes…cending… cursing… me… for… hate… as… if… he… was… bet…ter… than… us.’ Liliana jabbed the glowing tip of her wand into her throat and twisted it. ‘You ease… the curse… I can… hate him… again… be Liliana… again… feel again.’ She sucked in a hoarse breath. ‘I will not… be in your way.’
You’ll die if you are. A desperate yearning clawed its way up inside him and warmth flowed down his forearm. I’m so tired of this. It was meant to be done. I was dead. Voldemort was dead. I was me. It was us. We had the sunset. But it’s just the same thing, over and over. I want to leave. I want more.
He closed his eyes, sucking in a deep breath.
Privet Drive’s hedges and roses flashed through his thoughts; Hogwarts’ stone walls closed over them, silent as the square mark on the wall of Salazar’s study and cold as Katie’s stiff fingers.
I just want to leave. Why is it so hard to just leave?
‘Vio…lette?’ Liliana rasped.
Harry opened his eyes. Dark mist curled through his fingers as he clenched his fist. ‘Let’s leave.’ Harry grabbed the portkey, feeding the hot whisper of need down into the emptiness.
The black fog shrank back into his sleeve.
‘Pomme,’ Liliana whispered.
The world lurched.
She led him through the grottos, jerking from one to the next until they stumbled into the smothering heat of Sint-Maarten.
‘Vio…lette,’ Liliana rasped. ‘Are you… well?’
‘Are you?’ Harry retorted.
‘Fair… enough,’ she rasped. ‘I will… set up… wards.’
‘Leave the little island unprotected,’ he said. ‘It looks like a good place for a group of aurors to arrive.’
‘It’s also a good place for one wizard to fight a group of aurors.’
‘They are… infamous… in Britain,’ Liliana whispered, pulling out her wand. ‘Ginevra… Weasley… is not Noire… but she is… not to be… dismissed.’
Behind his eyes he saw her. A slim, red-haired girl lay sprawled on the floor of the chamber beyond the still coils of the basilisk, the fading figure of Tom’s ghost, and the torn ink-soaked pages of the diary.
I saved her. All the dreams Tom was going to take, I gave back. A fistful of thorns clenched around his heart. And now I just take them away again? For Les Inconnus?
‘Vio…lette?’ Liliana stared at him, her lips pursed into a thin, pale line.
‘Go do the wards.’ Harry slid his wand from his sleeve. ‘Leave the small island free of defences, but make sure we’ll know if someone arrives there.’
‘And when… they do?’
‘We kill all of them—’ he shoved the barbed knot away and took a deep breath ‘—except Ginevra Weasley.’
‘No martyrs?’ A small frown creased Liliana’s forehead as she swept her hood back up. ‘Or just… a message?’
Harry struggled for words, clawing through the thorns. ‘Not everyone needs to die.’
Her knuckles whitened around her wand. ‘I cannot… ask the… question… I should… want to,’ she whispered. ‘I bound… everything… I am… to a secret…’
‘I saved her once,’ Harry murmured. ‘What was the point in doing that if I kill her here for nothing?’
‘Not for… nothing… for the… Statute,’ Liliana replied. ‘It could be… her life or… our world.’
Her dreams or ours. A bitter little smile twisted his lips. Of course it is.