The tiny runes spiralled across the scales of the snakes upon the ceiling and the effigies, lit up in purple flame.
A masterpiece. Harry scanned the design, picking out the patterns within the shimmering spread of runes. The whole thing spirals around the set of runes I changed, it’s anchored and bound to whatever is within that pattern. Salazar set it up so it could be changed if necessary.
‘Staring at the ceiling?’ Gabby stuck her head through the door.
‘I’ve not really looked at these since I changed them,’ Harry murmured. ‘The centre pattern is hollow. The spiral is all bound to whatever sits within it, in this case, those of my blood.’
‘An anchor?’ She drifted across the bridge, glancing up at the ceiling. ‘Like we want to create?’
‘An anchor for the piece of magic, not an anchor for us like the willow tree will be.’ He smiled. ‘I’ll need to change the design, the spiral Salazar used is much better than what I did, but once I have…’
‘The arms of the spiral are all interwoven,’ Gabby murmured. ‘And it’s three dimensional because the patterns upon the effigies connect with each other and the ones above them.’
‘It will take me a little while to redesign,’ Harry replied. ‘But if it worked here, it will work for us, so long as we can come up with all the individual pieces to combine.’
Gabby pursed her lips. ‘I’m getting there, I’ve been pulling everything together to try and figure out what the emotive trigger for a phoenix’s rebirth is.’ She swept her hair over her shoulder. ‘It’s more complicated than something like dragon’s fire. That’s just exhaled air being transmuted into fire by their rage-driven magic.’
‘Any ideas?’ A little unease twisted in the pit of his stomach. ‘We’re so close.’
‘I think we need to create what Salazar refers to as the touch of death and use it as the trigger for the piece of magic.’ She wrinkled her nose and grabbed his wrist. ‘Let’s go back and find Fleur, she might have an idea of how to do it.’
Harry nodded and pulled the acorn pendant out from under his robes, extinguishing the purple flames on the ceiling with a flick of his wand. ‘Argent.’
They stepped out beneath the willow.
He spun the world past him and stepped into the hall. ‘Mon Amour?’ His voice echoed through the quiet house.
‘You were gone for a while.’ Fleur stepped through the kitchen door, head cocked to the side and one hand on her hip, her silver hair cascading over her shoulder. ‘Our daughter is just finishing her lunch and maman has gone to Carcassonne.’
Harry drifted through. Katie babbled from upon her perch over the kitchen table, smearing mashed vegetables over anything within reach.
He laughed. ‘How messy.’
Katie turned and stuck one sticky hand out at him. Chunks of mashed carrot stuck to her small fingernails and clung to her hair, but she gave him a gap-toothed grin and chattered cheerfully.
‘Hmmmm.’ Harry bent and kissed her on the top of her head, letting her grab a hold of his forefinger and tug at it. ‘You are very sticky, little chick. Are you enjoying your food?’
Gabby squirmed past him. ‘Fleur, I need your brain.’
Fleur’s lips quirked. ‘For…?’
‘If we create a piece of magic to reform like a phoenix triggered by the touch of death, we could use our purpose as an anchor for it, non?’
‘Like a phoenix,’ she murmured, watching Katie tug at Harry’s finger with a small carrot-smeared hand. ‘But the touch of death Salazar describes will be different for us than for a phoenix, we’d have to create our own emotive representation as part of the magic.’
Gabby frowned. ‘But the rest?’
‘If we design a trigger, we only need a powerful representation of rebirth,’ Fleur replied. ‘I’ve watched Harry do enough rituals. We have the Hallows for the representation of death in the trigger, if we can get our hands on a phoenix or recreate the magic…’
‘That could work.’ Harry pictured the spiralling design of runes upon the ceiling of the Chamber of Secrets. ‘Upon death, we’d reform at the willow so long as the anchoring magic remains.’
‘As a baby,’ Gabby said. ‘Phoenixes are reborn as hatchlings for some reason.’
He nodded. ‘Probably a way to keep the price of the magic to something affordable, but not an option for us.’
‘I know enough alchemy to change that if you can add it to the runes,’ Gabby said. ‘But…’
The price. Harry smothered a stab of panic. It doesn’t matter how much it costs. It has to be paid. Or we lose everything.
‘We’ve sacrificed everything else for this already,’ Fleur said. ‘Every dream for one dream. All the things we’ve done to keep it. It will be enough.’
‘Still,’ he whispered. ‘It’s so perfect.’
‘It feels so valuable because it hurt so much to have it,’ she murmured. ‘It’s only fair we get it after paying the price, mon Amour.’
Katie yanked on his finger and babbled.
‘What is it, baby bird?’ Harry slid his wand from his sleeve and cleaned the mashed vegetables off her face, hands, legs, the table, pulling it out of her silver curls and the threads of her clothes. ‘Are you trying to say something?’
‘Maman.’ A small smirk curved the corner of Fleur’s lips. ‘Say maman, little chick.’
‘Or Gabby.’ Gabby snickered. ‘That will make your maman really birdy.’
Or Papa. Harry chuckled. But I think Fleur would quite like to win this one.
Katie grabbed hold of the edge of the table and tried to pull herself toward it.
‘Ah, you want to be free.’ He unstuck her from the wooden surface and floated her down onto the floor. ‘Now what?’
She wrapped her hands around the table leg and dragged herself up onto her feet, sticking her tongue out. A deep frown wrinkled her forehead as Katie stuck out one foot and wobbled.
‘Go on,’ Fleur whispered, crouching down with a soft smile. ‘You can do it, Katrina.’
Katie’s foot hovered in the air as she clung to the table leg, her tiny toes curling and uncurling as she scowled at the floor.
‘Ah, a dilemma.’ Harry grinned. ‘We need the table leg to hold onto, but we want to step away from it.’
Gabby giggled. ‘She’ll figure it out. She’s got the hanging of standing as long as there’s something to grab onto, walking isn’t far away.’
He sat down and held out an arm. ‘How about something else to cling onto, Katie?’
His daughter abandoned the table and stepped forward onto her foot, but plopped onto her bottom on the floor. A huge scowl appeared on her face and she glowered at Harry with dark green eyes.
‘Oh dear.’ Harry chuckled. ‘Did that not quite go as planned?’
Katie squirmed onto her hands and knees and crawled into his lap, flopping over his leg and grabbing a fistful of his robes as she curled up on him.
His heart melted into a little puddle and a small smile crept onto his face. I love you too, baby bird.
‘She’s such a daddy’s girl,’ Gabby teased. ‘Her first word isn’t going to be maman.’
Fleur huffed. ‘It will be. You will see.’
Harry scooped his daughter up and stood. ‘What would you like to do, little chick?’
Katie’s green eyes fluttered closed and she yawned.
‘Nap. Of course.’ He laughed and cradled her close. ‘Is all her stuff in our room, mon Trésor?’
‘She can have our bed.’ Fleur rose to her feet and pressed a light kiss to Katie’s cheek. ‘Make sure she can’t fall off, though, mon Coeur. And find Henri the Raven so she doesn’t immediately burst into tears if she wakes up by herself.’
‘I will.’ He wandered up the stairs and along the corridor, glancing into rooms.
Henri the Raven lay on his side beside Gabby’s bed, his dark eyes shining in the sun bursting in through the bedroom window.
‘There you are.’ Harry summoned it into his spare hand and strode back into their room, lifting Katie off his shoulder and setting her down in the middle of the bed. ‘And here’s your raven, little chick.’ He set Henri the Raven down beside his snoozing daughter, easing her fingers out of his robes. ‘There, all settled.’ Harry transfigured the mattress into a steep curve with a flick of his wand and stroked her soft, fine silver hair off her face. ‘And all safe.’
Nothing will ever happen to you. He watched her chest rise and fall to the quiet sound of her breathing. Not while I’m here. And I’ll be here the whole time. As always.
Harry apparated back downstairs.
‘…more bad news.’ Laurent said to Fleur and Gabby. ‘As we feared might happen, Tsarina Bugrov has invaded the Magical Khanate of Crimea under the pretext of liberating them from Ottoman oppression and allowing them to rejoin the Russkayan Tsardom.’
‘Rejoining?’ Harry asked.
‘The original Russkayan Tsardom included Crimea before the Ikhanate conquest and there’s still a sizeable Slavic magical community there,’ Laurent replied. ‘That’s how they’re getting away with framing this as liberation. Tsarina Bugrov and her aurors have been the ones protecting the region from the dangerous magical creatures native to the wilderness there, so their claim is not entirely fictitious and the region has only ever been very loosely Ottoman to begin with.’
‘Has anyone else joined in?’ Fleur asked.
‘Not yet.’ Laurent grimaced. ‘But once the first nation does, it’s likely others will follow.’
Harry exchanged a look with Gabby and Fleur. ‘How’s the attempt to host peace talks going?’
Laurent’s grimace lightened. ‘Better than expected, actually. The Volsung Confederation has agreed to host things in Copenhagen. Most countries have agreed to attend or are abstaining as they’re not involved.’
‘Britain, America, the Ottoman Caliphate, Spain, and Russkaya all refused to attend.’ He studied the grain of the table. ‘But I think that’s mostly posturing to try and get a good deal when they agree later. Only Britain and America seemed seriously reluctant.’
The Last Scions at work. Anxiety knotted in his gut. And the amber-masked figure.
‘I need to get a few things sorted out, then I’m off to Carcassonne,’ Laurent said. ‘Hopefully we’ll be back in time to see our granddaughter when she’s awake.’ He vanished with a loud crack.
‘If these talks work out, we might not have to leave Les Inconnus,’ Gabby said, skimming through the stack of letters on the kitchen side. ‘There won’t be much risk if everything quietens down.’
‘They’re not going to.’ Harry released a long sigh. ‘The Last Scions are driving Britain to war as fast as they can, they’re not going to come to these talks unless forced.’
‘They’re not exactly winning,’ Fleur replied. ‘Only in the Caribbean.’
‘Grise suspects Spain is going to join in the fight over there to get back what the US liberated a few decades ago,’ Harry said. ‘Russkaya has joined in over here. They probably think the worst is over. And If they start winning, they won’t want to go to Copenhagen.’
‘Well, it doesn’t matter. Not to us.’ She turned her nose up. ‘We have more important things to think about.’
‘Neville Longbottom is still writing to us.’ Gabby waved a letter in the air. ‘May I?’
‘Go ahead,’ Harry replied. ‘It’ll be more of the same.’
Fleur’s eyes darkened. ‘Come sacrifice your entire life and all your dreams for us. At best you will be stuck doing what Albus Dumbledore was doing, keeping balance in the endless political struggle of nations and ensuring British supremacy all for the sake of global stability.’
‘He sounds quite desperate,’ Gabby murmured. ‘He’s practically begging. There’s quite a few from him in this pile.’
‘It’s what he did before,’ Fleur snapped. ‘Beg Harry to come and save him because he wasn’t prepared to save himself. Leave the letter be, Gabrielle.’
Gabby slipped it back into the envelope. ‘Still, I’m not sure if Neville wants Harry for Britain’s side or for his side in Britain.’
‘Both,’ Harry muttered. ‘He wants me to scare off the Last Scions, Pansy mentioned they might fall apart if I resurfaced, and then once I’ve stopped them pushing Britain toward war, he’ll want me to be Dumbledore.’
Fleur’s eyes flashed black. ‘You are not—’
‘Of course I’m not.’ He stepped over and slid an arm around her waist, drawing her in close. ‘You think I’ll give up a single minute with you or Katie or any of our dream for a lifetime of politics?’ Harry scoffed. ‘Never. They claw at each other, ceaselessly squabbling as they all selfishly chase what they want without a care for anything else. Why should I give up what I want so they can have what they’re after? Why are my dreams worth less than theirs? They don’t deserve a hero. And they’re not going to get one.’
‘Bon, mon Coeur,’ Fleur whispered, relaxing into his embrace and resting her head on his shoulder. ‘And once we have La Victoire Finale, they can never take what we have away. No matter how hard they will try. It will finally be perfect.’
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