Gentle rain fell in a cool veil over the low silhouette of Tungrorum, soaking through Harry’s robes. Gleaming drops trickled down the fence posts into the drenched, green grass.
‘Anything?’ Isobel stepped away from her sisters and the three neat sections of blue-robed aurors.
‘I can’t see anything but rain and shadows.’ Harry twirled his wand in his fingers. ‘Nothing good ever happens in the rain…’
‘It’s more drizzle than rain.’ Isobel flashed him a smile. ‘How’s your beautiful wife and baby girl?’
‘Little Katie is probably causing trouble.’ He grimaced. ‘My wife is going to set fire to me when she next sees me.’
She laughed. ‘Why?’
Because I came out here to help you instead of leaving. And I didn’t tell her, either. Harry smothered a twist of guilt. But it’s only fair. They stayed for me. I should stay for them.
‘She doesn’t like it when I go do dangerous things,’ he said.
But I still should’ve told her. She’ll probably be even more angry that I vanished and made her worry. His stomach churned at the thought, snarling up on a tangle of cold, fluttering fear. I hope she’s not too angry.
‘Well, there’s not too much danger here.’ Isobel pointed her wand out through the rain. ‘They’ll come from the North. Estimates and our boys’ scouting suggests they’ve thrown everything they have into this to try and snatch it quickly before the peace talks in Copenhagen.’
‘Forty.’ Celine drifted to join them, Colette on her heels.
The aurors vanished with a series of loud cracks.
‘That’s a lot of aurors,’ Harry muttered. ‘I thought—’
‘Only ten are aurors,’ Colette said. ‘The rest are part-trained volunteers. Like the British hit-wizards Amelia Bones called on to help defeat Voldemort.’
‘We’ve sent our boys in to get ready. They’ll pin the Dutch with wards, then we’ll go in and do the damage,’ Isobel said. ‘You stay here, so your wife doesn’t get upset.’
‘And the unspeakables?’
‘If they’re here, they’ll probably try and ambush us,’ Celine replied. ‘They nearly got us twice in Italy, so this time you stay in reserve and when they ambush us, you ambush their ambush.’
‘If they don’t appear, you can help deliver the coup de grace,’ Colette said.
‘D’accord.’ Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve. ‘How will we know?’
‘We’ve set up a web of perimeter wards across the city. We’ll know when they appear and where.’ Celine shook her damp hair out. ‘Our boys know what to do.’
‘So we wait.’ He sighed. ‘In the rain.’
‘It would be nicer if it was sunny.’ Isobel dried her hair with a swish of her wand, turning it on her sisters one after the other. ‘There, that’s better.’
‘I don’t like waiting for things.’
‘Patience is a virtue,’ Colette said.
‘No it’s not.’ Isobel scowled. ‘Why wait when you can go now?’
‘Sister…’ Celine smiled. ‘So rash.’
‘You’re slow,’ Isobel replied
Colette laughed. ‘Not as slow as you in the bathroom.’
‘I’m still quicker than you in the bedroom,’ Isobel retorted.
They flushed and glanced at Harry.
‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear,’ he said.
‘Such a good boy,’ Isobel cooed, patting him on the cheek. ‘We’re definitely going to keep you if you decide to stop being a colour.’
‘It’s my wife you’ll have to persuade,’ Harry said. ‘Or my baby girl. Probably my daughter. She’s somehow even worse at sharing things than my wife is.’
They laughed, their grey eyes sparkling.
Isobel froze. ‘Sisters…’
Celine and Colette nodded. ‘We felt it.’
‘Four prongs,’ Isobel murmured.
‘Rock,’ Colette said.
Celine drew her wand. ‘Paper.’
‘Scissors,’ Isobel said with a grin.
Harry sighed. ‘Translation…?’
‘We’ll find our teams and have them pin down three of the prongs. The fourth group, whichever is strongest, we will face ourselves,’ Colette replied.
‘Stay close, Violette,’ Celine said.
‘I’ll be close.’
‘La Belle France demande,’ they whispered, vanishing with a loud crack.
‘Ba’alat Tanit demands sacrifice,’ Harry murmured into the rain, drawing himself down into the form of the raven and launching himself into the sky.
Wards shimmered between the low buildings of Tungrorum. Blue-robed aurors exchanged flashes of spell-fire with white-robed aurors around street corners. Harry spied the Duforts golden shield before a cluster of tight-jacketed wizards and witches with orange tulips emblazoned on their robes.
Those are the real aurors. He angled his wings into the rain, drifting down into the shadows of a crumbling wall and stretching back into his body. Now we see if there are unspeakables lurking. Harry disillusioned himself and apparated atop the building, squinting out through the veil of rain. No sign of them so far. I guess they’re waiting until we’re tired, like before.
Spells burst against the bubble of golden light in clusters of multi-coloured sparks. Isobel danced through the shield, bending around a pink curse. Azure flame lashed from the tip of her wand; it seared through a raised forearm and the top half of one auror’s head. Celine and Colette darted forward, pushing their shield past Isobel and deflecting a trio of red spells.
The auror slumped to the cobbles, little wisps of smoke rising from the top of his skull as it rolled away into the gutter.
Isobel stepped through the golden shield, unleashing a series of violet curses. The first burst against another red spell, but the second punched a hole through the ribs of the nearest auror, obliterating the orange tulip on her chest.
The aurors flinched behind their shields.
A shimmer of wards fell over the fight and three dark-robed figures appeared around the fight with a loud crack.
Harry glanced between their coloured masks. Wild Cherry. Vanilla Delight. Strawberry Sundae. He span his wand in his fingers. Smooth Mint and Pistachio Surprise are still lurking somewhere.
‘Legilimens.’ Strawberry Sundae thrust their wand at Celine as the unspeakables closed in on the small bubble of spells and shields within their ward.
‘Now, Wild Cherry,’ Vanilla snapped.
Strawberry Sundae shook their head and stumbled, pressing their fingers into their temple. ‘You three are loonier than I am.’
Wild Cherry hurled a series of vials at the shield.
Harry stuck out his hand, summoning them across into his palm.
‘Fuck.’ Strawberry Sundae’s head snapped around. ‘Violette.’
He apparated down onto the street hurling the potions against the wall and watching the yellow smoke rise and fade in the rain. ‘Me.’
Wild Cherry whirled, unleashing a trio of blue spells.
Harry batted them back, slipping his own curses in amongst them. The cutting curse ripped the lower half of Wild Cherry’s maroon mask away, revealing a young, clean-shaven face and a scatter of angry acne marks.
‘Lacero,’ he murmured as the unspeakable reeled back.
‘Pull back.’ Vanilla Delight threw his shield over Wild Cherry.
The purple curse burst against the wall of white magic in a ripple of violet light and the unspeakables vanished with a loud crack.
No Smooth Mint or Pistachio Surprise. They must be tied down elsewhere.
He poured his magic into the air around the Dutch aurors and flicked his wand, smashing their legs out from under him. Isobel’s lash of blue flame sliced one witch’s head in half down the middle as she leapt out from behind the shield, twirling to sweep the azure fire through the rest one by one as they scrambled to their feet.
Harry tightened his grip upon the air, curling it around the neck of the last and ripping his skull and spine from his back. The blood-spattered bone sprawled across the cobbles, gleaming in the soft rain.
‘Rock,’ Colette murmured, disapparating with a crack.
‘Paper.’ Celine vanished.
Isobel apparated with a grin.
‘I guess I’ll just wait here.’ Harry drifted over to the pieces of Wild Cherry’s mask and plucked them from the cobbles. ‘Just enchanted iron.’ He inspected the battered runes, turning it over in his hand and tossing it away. ‘Nothing helpful there.’
A Dutch auror crawled from beneath the smoking corpse of the dead witch, shoving her bisected face away with a horrified gasp.
Harry ripped the wand from his hand.
The auror froze on his knees, raising his trembling hands over his head. ‘J’abandonne!’ He pushed his hands higher and rose on shaking legs. ‘J’abandonne. Je suis désolé.’ His voice dropped to a whisper as he stared across the smoking still bodies at the skull and spinal column lying on the stones. ‘Je suis désolé.’
‘Are you? Or are you just sorry this happened to you?’ Harry balanced the short, thick wand on his hand and sighed. ‘You thought you’d just sweep in and take everyone else’s dreams away, didn’t you? That your dreams were worth more than theirs.’
The auror stared at him with wide brown eyes. ‘I was just ordered to come. I had no choice.’
‘I think that’s worse. If you’d done it for something that meant everything to you, I could understand that. But just because you were told to? You’d have ruined all their dreams. For nothing.’ A cold sick feeling churned in Harry’s stomach. ‘I hate that.’ He levelled his wand between the auror’s eyes. ‘I really hate it.’
‘S’il vous plaît,’ the auror whispered. ‘I’ll go back. I won’t come here again.’
‘You would if they told you to, wouldn’t you?’ Harry let their thoughts wash together and found the truth echoed back at him through a flood of fear. ‘That’s what I thought.’ He put a piercing hex through the auror’s heart and watched him slump over the dead witch.
Isobel appeared with a pop. ‘Team Scissors is all set. A few of our boys are injured, but nothing serious.’
‘Good.’ He slipped his wand back into his sleeve and tossed the auror’s away into the blood. ‘What now?’
‘The last few of them surrendered,’ Isobel murmured. ‘But we want to push Britain toward peace, so the more total the victory…’
‘Those who run away get to fight another day. Better to wipe them all away instead.’
‘La Belle France demande.’ A sad glint hovered in her grey eyes. ‘Château d’Acier it is. They nearly put Grindelwald in Château d’Acier, these Dutch volunteers won’t be breaking out.’
‘I know nothing about it,’ Harry said. ‘The only wizarding prisons I know are Nurmengard and Azkaban.’
‘Château d’Acier is the third and oldest of the three strongest wizarding prisons in Europe. It was built by goblins in the Southwestern Alps before Rome’s harrowing of them. They are not happy that it is in wizarding hands, lots of goblin rebellions have been centred on it.’ Isobel smiled as her sisters appeared in loud cracks. ‘We will put our prisoners in there and they will not trouble us again for a long time.’
Celine exchanged a glance with Colette and Isobel. ‘I think we have done enough damage to dent Dutch ambition and British hopes. This flash point of war is extinguished.
‘We will restore the wards and wait for Presidente Desrosiers,’ Isobel said. ‘And then onto wherever la Belle France needs us next.’
‘Don’t the Belgians get a say?’
Colette pursed her lips. ‘Not really. Their accusations against the Dutch back when Le Cancrelat was causing trouble are part of the reason for this.’
Harry shrugged. ‘So we do something with the Dutch and that’s that.’
‘Unless Britain objects,’ Celine said.
‘How can they?’ Isobel demanded. ‘The Dutch started this.’
‘If France looks greedy, they will object,’ Colette replied. ‘Présidente Desrosiers will probably let someone neutral look after the Dutch magical communities to keep the British from rash actions. And our aurors may be needed elsewhere.’
‘Présidente Desrosiers seems to have a remarkably accurate knowledge of British actions,’ Harry muttered.
The Duforts exchanged a quick look.
‘When she spoke to us of bringing Britain into peace talks soon, she did so with great confidence,’ Celine said. ‘There are rumours of unofficial contacts across the sea within the more sensible facets of the British Ministry.’
‘We thought you would know more than us,’ Isobel murmured. ‘Strange, that Les Inconnus do not know either.’
Or it’s the Last Scions pulling strings to fan the flames. Harry grimaced. It doesn’t matter. One final victory. Let them fight each other if they want.
‘Were the unspeakables here?’ Isobel asked.
‘Yes,’ Celine and Colette said. ‘Briefly.’
‘Only three of the five we met before,’ Harry replied. ‘The other two are probably still in Greece.’
Isobel grinned. ‘If they’re splitting up their teams—’
‘Then they’re spread very thin,’ Colette said.
‘This might have been their last throw of the dice before accepting the offer of mediated peace talks by the Volsung Confederation,’ Celine murmured. ‘Sides are forming now between the nations involved, the danger of real war is very close.’
Colette folded her arms. ‘And this time we are not fighting Grindelwald.’
‘Isn’t that good?’ Harry asked. ‘I’d rather not duel Grindelwald…’
Isobel wrinkled her nose. ‘Grindelwald did his utmost to maintain the Statute while fighting, wanting to unify and strengthen the magical world before revealing it—’
‘While sowing conflict and war amongst muggle nations to weaken them,’ Celine said.
Colette nodded. ‘But nations are more concerned with their own ambitions, if they are pushed, they might take risks…’
Harry sighed. ‘Fantastic.’
‘It never ends,’ Celine said. ‘There’re always those who try to take what they can from those who might not be able to keep hold of it.’
He stared up into the rain, letting its cool drops burst on his skin. ‘Do you need me?’
‘Non.’ Isobel glanced at her sisters and shook her head. ‘You go home, Henri. The Dutch have nobody left to fight against us and the British unspeakables cannot face us and our boys alone.’
‘Merci,’ Harry whispered.
‘Say hello to my little goddaughter.’ Isobel grinned. ‘I want to come meet her soon. So I can rub how cute my goddaughter is in Celine and Colette’s faces.’
He snorted. ‘Soon.’
After La Victoire Finale.
‘Au revoir.’ Celine swept him into a gentle embrace.
Colette and Isobel piled in, smothering him in sodden blue robes and soaked golden hair.
A little smile crept onto Harry’s lips. ‘You’re very damp.’
They laughed and drew back.
Isobel lingered. ‘Come find us, Henri. If you can and are in need of company.’
‘Bien sûr.’ He dipped his hand under his robes and fished out the acorn pendant. ‘Argent.’ He stumbled out onto wet, white pebbles.
Rain spotted the rippling river surface and pattered on the leaves; its cool damp smell rose from the meadows on the faint, cold breeze.
Harry breathed it in with a small smile. Fleur will be cross. But I did the right thing. He apparated back into the kitchen.
Gabby glanced up from the table. ‘You’re going to get set on fire.’
Her eyes darkened. ‘By me.’
Harry grimaced. ‘That’s less expected. Normally it’s my bird-wife who throws the flames around.’
‘You lied to us, mon cher frère.’
‘I didn’t lie. It’s just the Duforts were fighting.’ Harry heard the soft step behind him and winced. ‘I am sorry, mon Trésor.’
‘I want to hear you explain why,’ Fleur hissed, heat washing across his back. ‘You said you were going to tell Grise we were done and instead you vanished off to who knows where to play hero!’
‘Belgium. Tungrorum.’ He caught her pitch black irises in the window and raised his hands. ‘I didn’t do it to be a hero, Fleur. Je promets.’
‘Why?’ Gabby demanded.
‘The Duforts were fighting. In Kart Hadasht, they stayed to fight. For me. Against — against Ba’alat Tanit and all the power of the Tophet.’ Harry offered them a rueful smile. ‘I couldn’t just leave them after that. They stuck by me. For me. Like—’
‘Like Katie.’ The dark drained from Fleur’s eyes and the heat on his back faded. ‘Mon Coeur…’
‘I’m sorry,’ he murmured. ‘It didn’t seem right to abandon them. They didn’t deserve it. And there was next to no danger in the end.’
She wrapped her arms around him from behind and rested her head on his shoulder. ‘Perhaps the Duforts deserve it. For now.’ Fleur kissed him on the neck, sending a little shiver through him. ‘But you should have told me where you were going. I am not going to forgive that so easily.’
‘I should have. I know. I didn’t want you to be angry.’ He twisted around and held her close. ‘We can trust the Duforts. With Henri Delacour, at least. I think Isobel really considers herself Katie’s godmother now, even though we were just joking around, and they treat me like a petit frère. I… I quite like having older sisters. After La Victoire Finale, I was thinking of inviting them to meet us all.’
‘You should.’ Gabby stood up, a spark of mischief in her grey eyes. ‘An auror captain foursome and—’
‘Gabrielle.’ Fleur shot her sister a sharp look. ‘Just because we aren’t going to set fire to him doesn’t mean he’s off the hook for not telling us.’
‘Right.’ Gabby snickered. ‘Harry, your veela harem is still slightly angry with you. And that means we must be appeased with cake.’
He rolled his eyes. ‘Where is our little chick, mon Ange?’
‘Sleeping,’ Fleur said. ‘Maman is watching over her while Gabby and I try to work on La Victoire Finale.’
‘Then I suppose we have time for me to buy you cake, it’s been a while since we went out to Paris.’ Harry chuckled. ‘Although, I still have no money, since everything is locked in the Potter vault and I’ve not been to Violette’s.’
‘We can go to Violette’s vault on the way.’ Gabby beamed. ‘The goblins don’t know anything about who it’s for. Just go in, use the ring, and come out again.’
‘Yes.’ Fleur leant her head to one side. ‘Take all the gold out. In case we end up giving the ring back soon.’
‘Good idea,’ he said.
‘Give me one moment.’ Gabby vanished.
‘I am sorry,’ Harry whispered. ‘For not telling you. I’d be really upset if you’d done that to me. I just — I didn’t want to make you angry.’
‘I was more angry.’
‘I know.’ He released a long sigh. ‘I just… I was more worried about you being angry than thinking about how much more angry I would make you later.’
‘You’re an idiot.’ Fleur turned her nose up at him. ‘This is why our little chick tries to climb up the stairs backwards and eat paint. She has inherited it from you.’
A chuckle burst from his lips. ‘Hopefully Katie learns some sense from her maman.’
She wrapped her arms around his head and drew him close. ‘I wouldn’t have been that angry if you’d told me, mon Amour,’ she murmured. ‘I would’ve understood. I do understand. As always.’
Harry breathed in the sharp, sweet scent of marzipan with a small smile. ‘As always.’