‘How are the wards?’ Harry asked, leaning back into the shade of the cacti growing over the rocks. ‘No signs of being tampered with or anything?’
‘Non.’ Liliana paced the sand, weaving through bits of splintered wood and seaweed. ‘Ginevra… Weasley… has not… tried anything… I’ve… detected.’
‘Strange,’ he murmured. ‘You’d think they’d want to take Sint Maarten as fast as possible if Grise is right about them risking Greece.’
‘They need… a new plan… for you… Violette,’ she replied, drifting over the white sand. ‘You are… powerful—’ she tugged her hood back, grimacing ‘—I should… want to… ask you… why but—’
‘Why you’re fighting alongside Violette instead of having to fight an even deadlier ice cream flavour than Smooth Mint or Pistachio Surprise?’ he asked.
Liliana nodded. ‘Yes. That.’ Her dark eyes dropped to his chest. ‘I think… I know.’
‘It is very simple.’ Harry glanced up and down the beach and hooked the slim silver chain hanging around his neck up with one finger. ‘This is why.’
The soft, silver glow of his wedding band gleamed beside the acorn pendant.
‘I think… Britain… would give… anything… for a new… Dumbledore,’ Liliana whispered.
‘Probably.’ He tucked the necklace away. ‘But they have nothing to offer I really want. I have everything in France.’
‘And you… fight to… keep it.’ She nodded. ‘I think… I see.’
‘Does it matter?’
‘It does… to me,’ Liliana rasped. ‘I think… my oath… to you… changed… something—’ she frowned, brushing her fingers over her scarred face ‘—I could… not be… Liliana… before I… swore it.’
‘Soul magic is tricky,’ Harry said. ‘And dangerous.’
‘Oaths like… that are… very… risky,’ she said. ‘I want… to keep… your secret… and the… more I… learn of… you, the… more it… seems like… what is… best for… France, too.’
‘You did make the oath wearing your ring,’ he replied.
‘Vert was… a hollow… shell that… only… served and… never felt,’ Liliana whispered. ‘But I… I feel… again. I hate… him again. And it… does not… hurt me… for some… reason. Not… like it… did before.’
‘If I had to guess, I would say that Vert shielded you from the curse, but your oath has changed Liliana from the soul who swore not to hate Grindelwald.’ Harry bounced his wand in his sleeve. ‘Was it an Unbreakable Vow?’
‘Of a sort,’ she said. ‘It was… the same… but our… magic bound… us to… his wand… rather…. than another… binding us.’
‘Are you the same Liliana who swore that oath?’ he asked.
‘No.’ Liliana shook her head. ‘I am… very… different… I think… When I was… Vert I… just did… not feel… now I… am Liliana… again I… can tell… how much… I’ve changed.’
‘You no longer perceiving yourself to be exactly the same soul weakens the magic tying the oath to you,’ Harry said. ‘You know you’re not completely different, so you’re still bound, but not as tightly as before.’
‘You are good… at this… sort of… magic,’ she rasped. ‘If I… was sure… it could… not reveal… a secret… I would… want to… ask if… this magic… is how.’
Harry caught her eye. ‘How I didn’t die?’ He shook his head. ‘I knew a lot less about this then, I was just lucky that what I believed would happen wasn’t what would happen.’
‘I do not… understand.’
‘I sacrificed my life and because I thought I was, my magic worked.’ He sighed. ‘But I had a way back I wasn’t aware of. It wasn’t something I created deliberately, I was just lucky.’
‘You couldn’t… do it… again?’ Liliana asked.
‘No.’ Harry shrugged. ‘That kind of magic is not something I can do anymore. I’m just not capable of it. The act required to cast it is impossible for me to replicate.’
‘Could I… do it?’
An entirely selfish act? He weighed it up. Not wearing that ring. Not if you care about the Statute. Not with the oath you swore to me.
‘No,’ Harry said. ‘It’s impossible for you, too. I’m almost certain of it.’
A loud crack rang over the beach.
The mayor appeared, holding the shoulder of a tall, dark-robed figure.
Grise’s pink eyes stared out from behind a plain, white mask. ‘We must return to France. Now.’
‘Why the rush?’ Harry asked.
‘The Unspeakables were not fighting the Americans, they were combing the Atlantic. A few minutes ago they found one of the seventy-five islands we use as part of our portkey chain to Sint Maarten and our abandoned territories in Africa.’ Grise held out his hand, letting the sun shine on his grey-spiralled ring. ‘It’s me. We must leave now. If we are cut off, the only defence France has are the Duforts, Sarcelle and Cramoisi.’
Harry wrenched the world past him, stumbling across the white stone and snatching a portkey from the rack. Grise and Vert appeared with a loud pop.
They sprinted through empty grottos, leaping the fountains in a dizzying lurch of portkeys until they staggered out onto a smooth marble floor. A handful of blue-robed aurors in plain white masks paused.
Grise held up his hand with the ring on it. ‘No cause for alarm.’
‘Where are we?’ Harry asked.
‘The other… Inconnus,’ Liliana whispered. ‘You have… seen the… archives… far beneath… us. This is… the main… hall.’
‘Let’s return to the Sunshine Room,’ Grise said. ‘We won’t have long before Présidente Desrosiers calls for me.’
Harry apparated out in front of the flickering white flames with a soft snap. Grise and Vert appeared, sending a double-crack echoing beneath the floating glass lanterns.
‘Britain… has won,’ Liliana rasped.
‘All of the Free Magical States of the Caribbean north of the coast of South America are under British control and wards,’ Grise replied. ‘Within a day they will have severed our portkey access. Sint Maarten and the islands south of it are lost.’
What a shame. Harry concealed a flash of triumph. I guess I’ll have to go home instead.
‘What now?’ Liliana asked.
‘Présidente Desrosiers will hope to get them back in the talks,’ Grise said. ‘Until then, they’re out of our reach.’
‘So we just let Britain, the US and Spain fight over there by themselves,’ Harry said. ‘That seems like an excellent idea.’
‘They are… evenly… matched,’ Vert said. ‘Until… Britain… or Spain… attacks… a state in… the Union… they will… not agree… to a full… war.’
‘Probably.’ Grise’s pale forehead creased. ‘The federal auror forces are strong enough to continue this fight, but if Spain attacks quickly, and I would expect Britain to bring them across to Sint Maarten using our porkety network within days, then they’ll lose most of the rest of Free Magical States of the Caribbean before Grant Hardsworth can get down to stop them. That might upset the former colonial states enough to get the motion for war through their house of representatives.’
‘What does that mean?’
Grise’s frown deepened. ‘A stalemate is better. Full war could result in anything.’
‘The US… has a… lot of… aurors it… could send to… war,’ Liliana whispered. ‘More than… France… and Britain… combined.’
‘The colonial states pushing for US expansion are mostly muggleborns and their descendants,’ Grise replied. ‘The original magical colonies were very small. When the muggleborn population rose after the muggle colonies won independence, they cut ties with the established powers in Europe and lost any access to the obscure magic and artefacts prized and hoarded here.’ He steepled his fingers and stared into the flames. ‘They have no time-turners and none of the darker or more dangerous magic you would expect from us or the Unspeakables. The native peoples’ magic is certainly powerful, but there are far fewer of them and wands usually win wars against those without. I think it will be an even fight between those two sides.’
‘Which is… very good,’ Liliana rasped. ‘It means… our tactics… don’t change.’
‘We will press ahead with Malta,’ Grise said. ‘Hopefully, we will beat the Spanish to the punch and at the very least we ought to be able to take Malta before the magical states in the US manage the consensus required to declare war. That should force Britain to talk peace.’
‘How long?’ Harry asked.
‘Another week or so,’ Grise replied. ‘We have to be stealthy to have any chance of success.’
Harry cupped the acorn pendant and his wedding band, a little yearning bubbled up. ‘Then you know how to get hold of me when you need me.’
‘Thank you… Violette,’ Liliana whispered.
Grise nodded. ‘From Vert’s account, you have done well to cripple Ginevra Weasley’s power. Her allies are decimated.’
‘It’s the trolls I’m particularly pleased to see the back of. They were quite unfriendly. And they smelt.’
I wonder if Ginny took inspiration from the troll in first year.
‘No mean feat, to face an entire auror squad, even with the clever use of wards to fight on your own terms.’ A strange little gleam hovered in Grise’s pink eyes. ‘There are not many I can think of that would be capable of it and France has not had such an asset since Noire.’
‘Violette… is the… reason… we are… winning,’ Liliana said. ‘Without… him it… would be… very… different.’
Harry shrugged. ‘Don’t the Duforts count?’
‘They are not an asset,‘ Grise replied. ‘Vert is right. Voldemort may have been a blessing in disguise for Britain. Like France, they were declining in the peace after Grindelwald. Amelia Bones may have paid a high price both politically and personally by drafting so many children into the auror forces and rebuilding the Unspeakables, but it appears to be paying off for Britain. If not for you, we would still be chasing Noire and the spats in Carthage, Italy, and the Caribbean would have gone much differently.’ He pursed his lips. ‘I will make a mention of it to Présidente Desrosiers. Les Inconnus do not get medals, Violette, but in the event of injury to myself or my death, it might be best if Présidente Desrosiers is aware of your value before you speak with her.’
‘She is… prickly,’ Liliana muttered. ‘She always… has been… even when… we were… at school.’
Grise nodded. ‘You cannot meet with her, old friend. She will not understand that the person she sees standing before her is Vert and not a ghost of the past. If I die or am injured, Violette is the one who must go.’
‘I do not… disagree,’ she rasped. ‘Violette… is the… best choice.’
‘Good.’ He rested a hand on Liliana’s shoulder. ‘It was never intended as a slight.’
‘You pulled… a ghost… from the dead,’ Liliana replied. ‘I know.’
Harry glanced between them. ‘Au revoir.’ He wrenched the world back past him and stepped onto the warm kitchen tiles. ‘Mon Amour?’
Delighted giggling drifted from above his head.
A small smile crept onto his lips. I’m home. He tugged Violette’s ring from his finger and dropped it into his pocket. At last.
Harry tiptoed up the stairs, following the sound of Katie’s laughter to Gabby’s bedroom. Henri the Raven lay on the floor in the doorway, the fluff stuck to his fuzz fluttering in the faint breeze from the window. He summoned the toy into his hand and poked the door open with one finger.
Katie clutched at the rippling blue duvet with her small fists, a huge, toothless grin on her face. Gabby giggled behind her, conducting the duvet’s movements with her wand.
‘You’ve stolen our little chick again,’ Harry murmured.
‘Harry.’ Gabby beamed, coaxing the duvet into wilder waves. ‘We’re having great fun.’
Peals of laughter burst from Katie as wriggled on the bed, her green eyes bright with happiness.
His heart melted. Look how beautiful you are, baby bird.
‘Where’s Katie’s maman?’ he asked. ‘Or has she distracted you with the cute veela hatchling and gone to raid the cake cupboards.’
‘Fleur is down at the willow tree,’ Gabby murmured. ‘She was cross with you for not being here, so she went down there to yell at your reflection in the Mirror of Erised.’
Harry snorted. ‘I didn’t have all that much choice.’
‘She’s not that birdy.’ Gabby motioned her head at the bed. ‘Your hatchling is coming to say hello, Harry.’
Katie dragged herself along the waving duvet, her face scrunched into a frown. Harry wiped his thoughts clear and touched his daughter’s mind.
An excited cheer burbled through flashes of Gabby’s laughter and Henri the Raven’s flapping wings, tangled with his own smiling face, the warmth of a gentle embrace, and a growing insistent yearning.
‘Hello, Katie.’ Harry scooped her off the bed and cradled her to his chest, bouncing her in his arms. ‘Were you having fun with Auntie Harpy?’
Gabby laughed. ‘If you call me that too much, it’ll be her first word.’
‘Fleur will be very cross.’ Harry smiled down at his daughter as she curled her fingers into the silver fleur-de-lis with wide, curious green eyes. ‘I think she’s quite set on the first word being maman.’
Gabby snickered. ‘Fleur will eat all my cake if Katie says my name before hers.’
‘You don’t have any cake, Harry.’
‘True, but she would if I did.’ He leant back and watched Katie press her tongue against the fleur-de-lis with a soft smile. ‘That’s probably not very clean, baby bird…’ Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve and cast a handful of quick charms, holding Katie’s chin back with one finger. ‘There, that’s better. Now you can chomp on it, little chick.’
She sank her gums into the silver flower, spreading a warm damp patch across his chest. Harry laughed, a warm glow rising in his heart.
‘She’s like a tiny vampire.’ Gabby sidled a few steps toward them, curling her bare toes into the carpet. ‘A really really adorable one you just want to hold and never let go of.’
‘Come here, then,’ he said. ‘You’re making your clingy face and I think this is probably an okay-to-hug-Gabby moment.’
‘Merci, mon cher frère.’ Gabby buried her face in his shoulder and wrapped her arms around them both. ‘That’s so nice,’ she whispered. ‘It’s so beautiful.’
‘You’ve got five seconds,’ Harry said. ‘Because if Fleur comes back from yelling at my reflection and finds me hugging you here instead of apparating down there to get yelled at in person, I will get set on fire.’
She sniggered. ‘Especially with me stealing her spot in this hug.’
Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Yes—’ he nudged Gabby off with his elbow ‘—there you go, you’ve had your weird veela magic fix.’
‘Time for cake,’ she chirped, holding out her arms. ‘You go see the much more jealous and not quite as cute bird-witch, Harry. I’ll look after the hatchling for a bit while you let her know you’re back and do whatever it is Fleur decides you should be doing to make up your absence to her.’
‘Sounds like I’ll probably enjoy it,’ he replied. ‘Does this mean we’ve finally found a way to stop your voyeurism.’
‘Katie’s cute enough to be worth missing it.’ Gabby giggled. ‘She also screams her head off and goes all feathery if she’s left alone for more than about a second.’
‘Just like her maman,’ Harry joked, lifting Katie into Gabby’s arms and easing his robes out of her fists. ‘Only with less fire so far.’ He admired the broad damp patch on his chest. ‘You did a good job dribbling on me, little chick. Well done.’ Harry pressed a kiss to her short, silver curls. ‘Have fun with your Auntie Harpy.’
Katie babbled and flailed her arms, batting Gabby in the face with a small fist.
‘Ow.’ Gabby cooed, plastering Katie with little kisses. ‘Aren’t you just the sweetest bird-baby?’
He chuckled and pictured the willow tree, spinning the world back past him with a soft snap into the soft sunshine. Fleur sat on their branch, swinging her feet back and forth.
‘Hello, mon Trésor,’ Harry called.
She swung around on the branch. ‘Mon Coeur.’
Fleur vanished and appeared on the pebbles in front of him. ‘Are you back for long?’
‘At least a week, I think,’ he murmured, pulling her into his arms. ‘Are you okay? Gabby said you were shouting at my reflection.’
‘I was missing you,’ she whispered, resting her head on his shoulder and closing her eyes. ‘It was longer this time.’
‘Sint Maarten.’ Harry swept a stray silver stand of hair over Fleur’s ear and held her tight. ‘I won’t be going back. The Unspeakables have found the portkey hubs across the Atlantic.’
‘Bon.’ Fleur’s blue eyes slid open and she cupped his cheek. ‘I was afraid you were going to miss things.’
She hummed. ‘Katrina’s first solid food. She’s starting to ooch herself about now, too, so proper crawling isn’t far away. I don’t want you to only have my memories of that.’
‘Well, I’m here.’ He took her hand and kissed her palm. ‘So hopefully I won’t miss anything.’ Harry let out a long sigh as the warmth beneath the willow soaked into him. ‘Where are your parents? Working?’
‘Papa is in Paris and very busy, of course. Maman is also very busy. A lot of potions are made with imported ingredients, and those might be scarce soon, so everyone’s ordering things now.’
‘Makes sense.’ He grinned. ‘Has she put all the prices up?’
Her soft laugh tickled his neck. ‘I don’t think so, but maybe she should. She keeps buying Katrina expensive baby clothes.’
‘More socks for her to kick off?’
‘And hats.’ Fleur smiled into his shoulder. ‘They’re very small and sweet, but they’re enchanted to change colours and protect babies from the sun, so they’re expensive.’
‘Can’t you do that?’
‘Of course. Maman just likes buying Katrina things.’
‘As long as it’s not a goldfish.’ Harry chuckled. ‘I heard Katie’s maman was a fish-murderer.’
Fleur turned her nose up, bumping his chin. ‘I did not murder the fish. They died.’
‘They should have been better at surviving.’
‘Well, as long as our baby bird doesn’t take after you, maybe she can have a fish one day,’ Harry mused. ‘Although… an exciting, colourful fish is probably something she will try and stick in her mouth.’
Fleur laughed. ‘Yes, I think it might be wise to wait a few years or the fish are going to get chomped to death or accidentally magicked somewhere they’re not supposed to be.’
‘Has she done anything exciting?’
‘She duplicated Henri the Raven into four extra ravens while we were bird watching down here, so we have some spares now. She just summons things so she can stick them in her mouth or sends things flying when she’s upset most of the time.’ Fleur smiled. ‘I had to tag all the real ravens with an anti-summoning ward.’
Harry snorted. ‘Did she manage to get her hands on one?’
‘Almost. The poor raven was quite upset, but I intercepted it before it got too close to Katrina.’
‘Didn’t it try and fly away?’
‘It did,’ Fleur murmured. ‘But your daughter has quite powerful magic for a baby, mon Coeur, so it just ended up flapping around as she tugged it closer and closer.’
Harry glanced over his shoulder at the slim, dark shapes darting beneath the rippling river surface. ‘You might have to ward those fish, too.’
She slipped back out of his embrace and pulled a small hat from her pocket. ‘I’m going to re-enchant these and a few other things to wrap her up in a bubble of wards instead. Once she gets crawling around, it’s the best way to stop her getting herself into too much trouble.’
‘Smart thinking,’ he murmured. ‘If she’s like me, she’ll find anything remotely dangerous straight away.’
‘We’ll find her in the wine cellar with a baby basilisk,’ Fleur teased. ‘Or an acromantula.’
‘At least that will protect her from being stolen by Gabby.’ Harry laughed. ‘There’s no way your sister gets very close to an acromantula.’
‘I would rather our little chick was also nowhere near one, mon Amour.’ She tutted. ‘Big spiders eat small babies.’
‘Basilisk it is, then.’ He chuckled. ‘You know, if we hunt through Salazar’s library, we can probably find out how he created his one.’
‘We are not hatching a basilisk, mon Coeur,’ Fleur murmured. ‘Do you know how much a snake like that will have to eat?’
‘Several large spiders or an awful lot of schoolchildren,’ he replied. ‘But maybe we should stick to soft toys for now.’
She flashed him a bright smile. ‘I think that might be better, non? Let’s go save our baby bird from the harpy, Katrina’s probably getting hungry again by now.’