‘That didn’t go particularly well,’ Grise said, watching firecrabs scuttle across the sands.
Harry shot him a flat look. ‘No, it didn’t.’
‘Présidente Desrosiers insists we seize Malta all the same.’
‘She can come and do it herself, then,’ he replied. ‘I’m not trying that again. I’m fighting so I can keep the things I’m fond of, not so I can die and never see them again. Présidente Desrosiers will be much more upset if we all die here and she needs Les Inconnus in a few weeks for something more important.’
‘The wards over the door are down, thanks to Cramoisi,’ Grise mused, steepling his fingers. ‘But I’m inclined to trap them in there until they’re forced to come out and attack rather than risk losing one of us. There can only be so much food in that tower and the pressure on Britain is rising. Despite their allies leaving the ICW, they’ve yet to actually join the conflict…’
Harry smothered a flutter of hope. ‘Excellent idea.’
‘It would be ideal, if we could put up some formidable wards. Could Sarcelle—’
‘I’ll put up blood wards,’ he said. ‘Blood wards are esoteric and not well understood by most; I can leave them chasing a loophole or lure them into a direct conflict of strength with Giacomo’s entire auror force.’
Grise gave him a slow nod. ‘What do you need to do this?’
‘Someone willing to give me a drop of blood and anchor the wards.’ Harry weighed up his options. ‘Zoe de Medici.’
‘She’s important to the Italians and I trust her more than Giacomo.’ He shrugged. ‘Can you get her here?’
‘I will ask Doge Ceccaroni. It is in his best interest to agree.’ Grise’s brow creased. ‘One of Vert and I will remain here with them, in case we need to call you to back us up and to make sure our Italian allies do as they have promised.’
‘I’ll get started on the ward,’ Harry said. ‘If you’d be so kind as to get me Zoe…’
‘Of course.’ Grise vanished with a loud crack.
‘How to do this?’ Harry murmured. ‘Strong wards bound to Zoe’s blood should make a good basis, trying to overpower those will exhaust them enough to make them vulnerable, but a clever loophole might be an even better idea. Like the Meadow and Voldemort’s cave by the sea.’
I guess the first thing to do is to figure out how to trap them in. He disillusioned himself and wandered up the slope, picking his way around the pools and firecrabs. The arch is probably the best place.
Harry prowled up the hill on the balls of his feet until he reached the faint shimmer of magic spanning the arch. Dragon and Werewolf sat at the base of the steps within the tower, wands in their hands and their eyes on the arch.
Just a simple you can’t get through the arch without Zoe’s blood unless you agree to do this will work. He slipped his wand from his sleeve and crouched down behind the arch, etching runes of purple flame onto the dark stone. And if you want to go through it without her blood… let’s see… Harry spun his wand in his hand. It’ll be better if it works both ways, that’s even, and then I can make the pledge more costly. The silver lockhart hung in his thoughts, suspended in the basin of potion. I doubt I can create that, but I don’t really need to make it some awful potion.
A soft crack echoed over the crumbling roman walls.
Harry smiled and apparated down into the ruins, dropping his concealment.
‘Violette.’ Zoe rested one hand on her hip, her purple dress rippling in the breeze. ‘You requested my blood?’
‘Just the one drop.’ He glanced back over his shoulder at the tower. ‘For blood wards. Nobody can pass through the arch without your blood. Not us. Not them. Not unless they want to bind themselves into performing a particularly unpleasant task.’
‘So if I don’t give my blood, nobody can cross?’ Zoe’s dark eyes sharpened. ‘Then I accept.’
Grise nodded. ‘And the task?’
‘Drinking a very large bowl of seawater.’ Harry shrugged. ‘No need to complicate it. And this way it’s easy to top up after someone tries to drink it.’
‘That’s it.’ He twirled his wand in his fingers. ‘Well, they can try and brute force their way past, but it’s going to be a powerful ward and by the time they break out, we will be waiting. Once this is complete, I’ll return to France, Grise.’
‘Of course.’ Grise glanced between Zoe and Harry. ‘I shall inform Doge Ceccaroni while you finish them.’ He vanished with a loud crack.
Harry offered Zoe a smile. ‘I’ll make sure the wards require your blood to be given willingly, Zoe. That way you can have a nice stalemate here and nobody needs to die for nothing.’
‘Grazie mille,’ Zoe murmured. ‘People should not die for nothing.’
‘I can’t think of a worse fate.’ He conjured a slim, steel knife and passed it over. ‘Just one drop. No need for anything more.’
Zoe pushed the tip into her finger with a wince, watching the red swell up on her skin. ‘What can happen with these blood wards? It’s not magic I or anyone I know truly understands.’
‘It’s esoteric magic, banned by most governments because you can do very dangerous things with it.’ Harry levitated the drop of blood into the air over his hand. ‘There are three ways anyone can cross that arch. They can willingly have your blood and step through as if nothing had ever been done, they can overpower my magic and then step through once the wards are gone, or they can take up the pledge and try and drink several gallons of warm seawater. Each.’
‘What about me?’ A small frown wrinkled her brow. ‘I always have my blood…’
‘You can walk across whenever you want,’ he replied. ‘I wouldn’t advise it, though.’
‘So I am the gatekeeper.’
A small smile crooked Zoe’s lips. ‘You don’t really want to be fighting here, do you, Violette?’
‘People shouldn’t die for nothing.’ Harry shot her a grin. ‘I’d best go finish those wards.’
‘Should you find yourself with time to spend, Firenze will be pleased to host you, Violette.’ Zoe dipped her head and pulled a small coin from her pocket. ‘Domani.’ She disappeared with a pop.
He disillusioned himself and drifted back up the slope, dabbing the drop of blood against the top of the arch and finishing the last of the runes. ‘There we go.’ He transfigured a stone basin on the path before the arch and swept a stream of seawater up from the beach to fill it.
The unspeakables leapt to their feet.
Harry abandoned his disillusionment, drawing every drop of magic forth. ‘No need to panic. I’m not coming in.’
‘What are you doing?’ Dragon demanded, striding to the edge of the ward. ‘Risking your life to make a fountain?’
Harry laughed and poured his power into the wards.
A brilliant purple flash tore at his eyes.
‘Fuck.’ Dragon staggered back. ‘What the—’
‘Wards?’ Werewolf tilted their head to read the glowing purple runes welling up on the other side of the arch. ‘We need… someone’s blood?’
‘Willingly given.’ Harry patted the huge basin of seawater. ‘Or you can use your own and drink one of these dry of seawater, if you prefer?’
Dragon growled. ‘Blood magic. Fuck.’
‘Esoteric, but very handy if you know how to use it.’
‘And if you’re powerful enough.’ Dragon snorted. ‘I’ve seen a fair bit of old blood magic in tombs, this is nothing compared to those wards.’
‘I’m just one person.’ Harry slipped his wand back into his sleeve. ‘But I think this will do to keep you nice and safe in there, don’t you?’
Dragon’s glare burnt into him from behind the mask. ‘We’ll see about that.’
‘Au revoir.’ Harry wrenched the world back past him and stepped out upon the dome of Mal Hadasht. He plucked half a brick from the ground and tapped it with his wand, picturing Bonifacio. ‘Portus.’ A faint smile crept onto his face. ‘Hatchling.’
The blue sky and azure ocean lurched right and he staggered into Bonifacio.
Harry vanished the brick. ‘Argent,’ he whispered, stepping out under the swaying green fronds of the willow and breathing in the smell of the wildflowers and little river. ‘Finally back.’
Which means Fleur’s going to come and be angry with me about Malta. A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he tugged off Violette’s ring and dropped it into his pocket. I’m going to get scolded for improvising.
He apparated into the kitchen.
‘Harry!’ Gabby leapt from her chair and threw her arms around him.
‘Hi?’ Harry frowned at her. ‘Are you trying to get me immolated even more than I’m already going to be?’ He chuckled. ‘I’m pretty sure it’s too late to make it worse. Fleur’s going to be very cross.’
‘She is,’ Gabby chirped. ‘But no, I was worried. I came back right here and waited… but you never came.’
‘I had to—’
A soft step came from the hall.
‘You were about to say improvise, weren’t you, mon Amour?’ Fleur’s soft voice sent all the hairs prickling down Harry’s spine.
He turned on his heel, easing Gabby loose. ‘In my defence—’
‘You have no defence!’ Heat haze shimmered around her hands and her eyes flashed black as pitch. ‘You never—’
A soft wail echoed from upstairs.
‘Oh dear,’ Gabby murmured. ‘Your hatchling has woken up and realised she’s by herself.’
Fleur’s expression softened and the heat haze faded. ‘I will go make sure our little chick is okay. Gabby, tell him what we found, then I will come back and finish yelling at him.’
‘Seems reasonable,’ Harry muttered.
Fleur shot him a sharp look and flickered away.
The wailing faded.
‘She was scared,’ Gabby murmured. ‘She thought you weren’t coming back again.’
‘I made it out.’ He sighed. ‘I didn’t mean to scare her. It was the only way after that trap. I’ve sealed them all in with blood wards now. And I gave the key to Zoe de Medici, so that should keep things very quiet down there unless the unspeakables try and force their way out at a big disadvantage.’
‘Fleur wants to leave Les Inconnus,’ she said. ‘She will tell you once she’s finished being birdy with you.’
‘We’ve got most of what we need, mon cher frère.’ Gabby glanced down the hall and into the sitting room. ‘Maman is still in the garden, I think. Bon. I think we’ve got what we need for La Victoire Finale or at least enough to get started. And the risk of fighting is not worth being a part of Les Inconnus anymore.’
Harry smothered a flood of relief. ‘Then we leave.’ He frowned. ‘Actually, maybe we should stay for now—’ he shook his head at Gabby’s grimace ‘—just until the next time they ask us to take a risk. There’s no point in leaving until then.’
‘That makes sense. Fleur will probably be okay with that.’
‘What did you find?’ A soft hot yearning bubbled up in his breast. ‘For La Victoire Finale?’
‘We found Salazar’s writings on phoenixes tucked into a lot more writing about basilisks. They were quite extensive, actually. He had a whole stack hidden on top of the bookshelf opposite the entrance.’
‘Most of it is about basilisks, like the fact that anything that gives a strong suggestion of the unnatural will work in place of keeping a chicken’s egg under a toad.’ Gabby closed her eyes and hummed. ‘However, he spent a lot of time studying the magic displayed by Helga Hufflepuff’s phoenix and believes that it is a response to various emotional triggers.’
‘That makes sense,’ Harry murmured. ‘Do you think we could—’
‘Hush.’ She flapped a hand at him. ‘It gets better. He said that the name phoenix likely means Phoenician bird and as early tales tell of only a few phoenixes of varying natures, Salazar believed they were, like dementors, not a natural creation. Les Inconnus also mentioned that theory, remember?’
‘Phoenician is like Punic,’ he replied. ‘And they’re the same people that built Kart Hadasht…’
‘He thought that the phoenixes probably escaped after the collapse of Phoenicia or were set free and somehow interbred to become the single rare species found today.’
Harry shook his head. ‘I can’t believe after all that time searching, the answer was buried in Salazar’s library. I should have known. I bet he’d be laughing at me from the afterlife if there was one.’
Gabby snickered. ‘Most of the rest of his notes are all about the blood magic he hypotheses was used to create them, but he mentions only seeing Helga’s phoenix lay a single unfertilised egg in his entire time observing it and that phoenixes demonstrate social behaviours with people similar to ravens and other intelligent birds, which implies it’s a social bond and not a magical one.’
Harry snorted. ‘Did he note that down as something a basilisk was better for?’
She laughed. ‘He did. In the margin. And he underlined it.’
‘Of course.’ He chuckled. ‘Do you think we can use this for la Victoire Finale? I don’t see how…’
‘If phoenixes were created, with blood magic or otherwise, we can create what we need for La Victoire Finale. This is the second time we have seen that theory now. And Salazar’s hypotheses are detailed enough for us to start from.’ Gabby rested a hand on his shoulder. ‘Does that help you breathe, mon cher frère?’
Harry released a long sigh, letting the weight slip from his shoulders. ‘Yes.’ He gave her a small smile. ‘And that means we’re almost there, doesn’t it?’
‘One very complicated piece of magic away from one last very complicated piece of magic.’ She cocked her head. ‘I can’t hear Katie?’
‘She stopped crying ages ago.’ Fleur strode down the stairs with an armful of wriggling daughter. ‘Harpy, this baby bird is yours for a bit. I want to yell at my idiot husband.’ She stepped past Harry, the hem of her sapphire dress tickling his leg.
Gabby giggled and scooped Katie out of Fleur’s arms, stepping back as Katie clutched for Harry. ‘It’s okay little chick, once your papa has been toasted for upsetting your maman, then you can come and cling to him.’
She missed me. A warm glow rose beneath his ribs. I missed you too, baby bird. So much.
Fleur’s fingers curled around his wrist. ‘Come on, mon Coeur. I don’t want to upset our daughter by getting angry with you near her.’
Harry sidled one step toward Katie.
‘Non.’ She apparated them up into the bedroom and shoved him down onto the bed. ‘You reckless idiot.’ The blue of Fleur’s eyes darkened. ‘I thought you were dead!’ Her lip trembled and her voice dropped to a murmur. ‘Like before…’
‘Only for a few minutes,’ he said.
White feathers thrust through her skin and her chin sharpened.
‘I’m sorry,’ Harry whispered. ‘I got Gabby out, but they got the wards back up before I could escape too.’
She glared at him. ‘Never again.’
‘I blood-warded the tower.’ He raised his hands. ‘We won’t be fighting on Malta unless they come out to fight already exhausted. And we can leave Les Inconnus the next time they ask us to do anything risky.’
‘You promise?’ The dark drained from her eyes and the feathers vanished beneath her skin. ‘Tu me promets?’
Fleur stepped over his knees and lowered herself into his lap. ‘Bon.’ She turned her nose up. ‘Now, mon Amour. You have some making up to do while Gabby watches over our baby.’
‘Oh?’ Harry’s hands slipped to her waist. ‘And how should I be making this up to you?’
‘By making me feel very very good.’ Fleur’s dark eyes smouldered as she stole a kiss from his lips. ‘With your tongue.’
He grinned. ‘I feel like I’m getting off lightly.’
‘You won’t be getting off at all.’ A little smirk curved her lips. ‘Seulement moi.’
‘I’ll still enjoy it.’ He brushed her silver hair back from her face and pressed a light kiss to the tip of her nose. ‘Making you happy is what I’m meant to do. I’m yours, non?’
‘All mine.’ She pushed him down onto the bed with one finger and slid her underwear off, tossing the slip of dark lace over her shoulder. ‘But talking is not what I want you to do with that tongue, mon Amour.’