Banana squished out between Katie’s small fingers, dropping in little blobs from onto her legs and the table as she smushed her fist into her mouth.
Harry snorted. ‘There was definitely a smarter way of doing that, baby bird.’
She beamed up at him with bright green eyes, poking the tip of her tongue out at the lumps of banana on her left palm and dabbing her hand against it.
You’re so beautiful. His heart melted into a little pool. I hope I’m not stuck in Copenhagen for long..
‘Nice?’ he asked. ‘You like banana, Katie?’
‘Bababababa,’ she babbled.
‘Close enough.’ Harry watched her grab another piece and smush it into her mouth with a grin. ‘It looks like we found another thing you like.’
Fleur stepped away from the sink and pulled out her wand, cleaning off Katie’s lunch plate. ‘And mushrooms.’
‘She seemed very suspicious of those.’
‘But she liked them once she tried them.’ Fleur tucked the plate away. ‘When are you leaving for Copenhagen?’
‘Pretty much when our little chick finishes feeding her banana to the table,’ he said. ‘I was trying to get her to say it, but she seems to just like the ba part.’
‘Katie likes ba and ma and anything similar.’ She turned to their daughter and tucked her wand away. ‘Have you tried papa, Katie?’
Katie paused, one handful of banana half-raised to her mouth.
‘Can you say papa?’ Harry murmured. ‘Can you say papa, baby bird?’
She scrunched her face up into a small frown, dropping bits of banana down her front.
‘Pa… pa.’ Fleur tugged Katie’s striped socks back onto her feet. ‘Go on Katie.’
‘Pa.’ Their daughter crammed her piece of banana into her mouth and chomped on it.
Harry laughed. ‘I’ll take it.’
Fleur smiled and pressed a soft kiss to the top of Katie’s head. ‘She’ll have the hang of it by the time you get back, I’m sure.’
‘I think she’s mostly just very focused on her banana right now.’ A warm glow settled on his heart as their daughter munched on her fruit with a happy gleam in her eye. ‘I don’t mind.’
Katie let out a soft murmur and stuck a banana-smeared hand at him. ‘Pa.’
‘Hmmm.’ Harry studied the fruit-plastered fingers with a fond smile. ‘You look sticky, little chick.’ He tucked a finger into her grip.
She beamed and went back to stuffing bits of fruit into her mouth with her free hand, bouncing her hand on his arm.
‘Daddy’s little girl,’ Fleur murmured, watching with soft blue eyes. ‘She will be very cross when you’re not about to dote on her.’
‘You will have to appease the tiny feathery demon.’ Harry smiled. ‘Fruit seems to work.’
She laughed. ‘Anything sweet, probably.’
‘I wonder where she got that from…?’ He grinned. ‘Must be Gabby’s bad influence.’
‘She is a bad influence, she took our little angel raspberry thieving yesterday.’
Harry chuckled and shook his head. ‘I’m quite sure that our baby bird would have picked up her maman’s habit of cake theft of her own accord at some point.’
He checked the clock and his heart sank. Time for me to go. The smile crumbled from his face.
‘Leaving?’ Fleur murmured.
‘I’m afraid so.’ He eased his finger out of Katie’s grip and wiped it clean. ‘Hopefully I’ll be back soon.’
His daughter frowned at him with pine-green eyes, sticking her small hand out at him.
‘I’ve got to go, little chick.’ Harry bent and kissed her on the cheek. ‘Be good. I’ll miss you lots.’
‘We’ll all miss you,’ Fleur said, drawing him into a gentle hug. ‘Je t’aime, mon Coeur.’
‘Je t’aime.’ He patted the acorn pendant. ‘I’ll let you know when I’m thinking of you. Let me know when you’re thinking of me too.’
She kissed him and stepped back, a soft sadness in her blue eyes. ‘Always.’
Harry slipped Violette’s ring onto his finger; he pictured the iron railing and plain white columns of La Déesse, wrenching the world back past him and stepping out onto the second floor.
The Duforts and Présidente Desrosiers stood in the courtyard below. The stark black of the présidente’s formal robes hung like a void between the Duforts blue robes and golden curls.
He apparated down. ‘I’m here.’
The Duforts beamed at him and Isobel gave him a little wave.
‘Violette.’ Présidente Desrosiers studied his face. ‘It would be better for you to have just the one appearance for this if you can manage it. An overtly suspicious appearance such as your ever-changing face is only going to provoke animosity.’
Harry glanced down at the ring. ‘I’m afraid there’s little I can do about that.’
She pursed her lips. ‘Very well. Then I ask that you attempt to remain unobtrusive.’
‘I can probably manage that.’
Celine held out a long piece of wood. ‘We must first portkey to Tungrorum. From there we’ll be close enough to portkey straight to Copenhagen.’
Présidente Desrosiers took hold of one end and Colette grabbed the middle.
‘Let’s go,’ Isobel declared, seizing the middle.
Harry took the other end in a firm grip and took a deep breath.
‘Liberté,’ Celine murmured.
The white columns and black railings spun away and they stumbled out into a small stone hall bedecked with tapestries.
Celine swapped their wooden portkey for an ornate, stone disc set with gold-edged hand slots.
‘Fancy,’ Harry murmured.
‘The talks are being held at what is now currently the Volsung Confederation’s Official seat of government,’ Présidente Desrosiers said, taking hold of the portkey. ‘It is the hall of the Danish high king or queen at all times, but when their head of state is also the head of the Volsung Confederation it doubles as both.’
He took a firm grip on the disc, ignoring the cold seeping from the stone into his skin.
‘Ragnar,’ Celine said.
The tapestries lurched and blurred into smooth grey stone walls bedecked with preserved heads of magical beasts and enchanted weapons. Horns full of flickering red flame floated along the walls and just below the ceiling.
Présidente Desrosiers released the portkey. ‘The main hall is just through here from this portkey entrance.’ She swept on past the torches and heads.
The Duforts hurried after her.
Harry followed, bouncing his wand in his sleeve as he studied the dragon skull hanging above the door.
‘Présidente Desrosiers!’ A tall blonde-haired woman with brown eyes spread her arms beneath the full skeleton of a twenty metre sea serpent. ‘Welcome back to Copenhagen. We’re glad to see you arrive.’
The floating torches cast shifting shadows over her fur-lined boots and chequered blue trousers, but the silver-charms adorning her leather jacket gleamed like tiny coins in the light.
‘It’s a pleasure to be here.’ Présidente Desrosiers shook the woman’s hand. ‘Hopefully the talks progress swiftly and positively for all, Helka.’
Harry drifted to Isobel’s side. ‘Did you read the files?’
She hid a laugh behind her hand. ‘I did not.’
Celine and Colette threw amused glances over their shoulders at them.
‘That is Helka Aefirsdottr,’ Isobel whispered. ‘She is the high queen of the Magical Kingdoms of Denmark and currently the head of the Volsung Confederation.’
‘It rotates between the elected monarchs of the member states every few years.’
‘Let me show you to your rooms,’ Helka said, gesturing toward the side doors beneath the tip of the sea serpent’s tail. ‘They are not too far.’ She led them through past stone carvings and small, gnarled firs floating in glass pots. ‘You are able to portkey or apparate out of the palace whenever or from wherever you wish, but you cannot apparate or portkey within the palace and nor can anyone apparate or portkey in, save, of course, by using one of our official portkeys.’
‘I see,’ Présidente Desrosiers said. ‘Captain?’
Celine handed the portkey over.
‘Thank you,’ Helka replied, tucking it under her arm and producing a trio of elaborate wooden keys worked into the shape of sea-serpents. ‘These are the only keys that access these rooms, so you are as safe as you keep them.’
‘Thank you, Helka.’ Présidente Desrosiers took the middle room, slipping her key into the lock and giving it a twist. ‘We greatly appreciate the role you have played in bringing these talks to fruition.’
‘It was the right thing to do.’ Helka smoothed her blonde hair back over her shoulders and passed the remaining two keys to Isobel. ‘I will return to the entrance hall to greet our other guests as they arrive, but please do come find me should you need anything.’ She strode away down the corridor.
‘I will rest and go over the proposals for the coming conference,’ Présidente Desrosiers said. ‘The neutral countries on the ICW, particularly the kingdoms of Africa, China’s hidden city states, and India’s principalities are all keen to resolve this conflict so the ICW can return to addressing the strain the growing influx of muggleborns is placing on their nations. They have sent a long missive detailing their hopes for the outcome of these talks I must read, so please entertain yourselves.’ She fiddled with the gold ring on her finger. ‘I have an emergency portkey that will take me back to a safe location in the North of France, so my safety is assured.’
‘Very well, madame présidente,’ Colette replied. ‘We will explore and see what we can observe.’
Présidente Desrosiers frowned. ‘Violette… to ensure no misunderstandings occur, please remain with the Duforts at all times. A faceless man wondering about these halls may well cause strife.’
‘Perhaps you should pose as another auror captain, Violette,’ Isobel said, unlocking the door on the right. ‘We can fix you up with everything but a face.’
Harry frowned at Violette’s ring. As long as I’m disguised, it doesn’t matter how. And transfiguration can’t be snatched off my finger.
‘Alright.’ He pulled the key from the door. ‘I’ll sort out my face, you can find me some clothes.’
Isobel grinned. ‘Make sure you have blonde hair, you’re going to be our petit frère.’
Harry snorted. ‘Fine.’ A little warmth settled in his breast at the three smiles beaming back from the door. ‘Why not.’ He eased the door closed and locked it, slipping his wand from his sleeve.
A simple bed sat between wardrobes and opposite a plain mirror. Snow fell upon the mountain forests in the wall paintings, piling up endlessly just above the rug-draped stone floor.
Harry bent and etched runes across the floor in the doorway then strode to the full length window beyond the bed and repeated them there. No risks. He sliced open the ball of his thumb with a wince and let a drop of blood fall on the runes.
A bright purple flash filled the room.
‘Safe and sound.’ He tugged his ring off and turned to the mirror. ‘Time to be a Dufort.’ He chuckled to himself as he shifted his cheekbones and nose around to match Isobel’s. ‘I wonder if them wanting me to be their petit frère will make Fleur pout more or less now she knows about their own relationship.’
I should be careful, though. Harry darkened his skin to a southern european tan and curled his hair with a twist of his wrist, watching it turn golden. That ought to do. He threaded grey through the iris muscle in his eyes and grinned. I look just like them. A soft pang tugged at his heart. I would’ve killed for older sisters like them when I was younger.
A fist banged on the door. ‘Hurry up, petit frère.’
‘Isobel…’ Colette sighed. ‘It’s only been a minute or two. Give him some time.’
‘You’re so impatient,’ Celine said.
Harry laughed and tucked his wand back into his sleeve, unlocking the door. ‘What have you got?’
Three pairs of grey eyes widened.
‘Wow,’ Isobel whispered. ‘You look just like we do.’
‘Don’t get any weird ideas,’ Harry said. ‘You play with your sisters.’
They threw their heads back and laughed.
‘Here.’ Celine passed him a bundle of blue and gold robes. ‘The same as ours. They’re Isobel’s spare, because she always gets reckless and hit by some spell, but we tweaked them to fit you.’
‘Merci.’ He held them up. ‘They look like they’ll fit pretty well.’
‘Go change,’ Isobel said. ‘Hurry up.’
Harry chuckled and closed the door, slipping his wand from his sleeve and Violette’s ring from his pocket and switching robes. Best not to lose that ring. He dropped it into the pocket and reopened the door.
‘Dufort number four.’ Isobel beamed. ‘Let’s go explore, Henri.’
‘Nobody will make the connection between Henri Dufort and Henri anything else,’ Colette murmured.
‘Don’t fear,’ Celine said.
Isobel drifted along the corridor, glancing down the others. ‘I think the other delegations will be staying in these.’
‘The palace is shaped like a cross,’ Colette said as they arrived back beneath the sea serpent hanging in the entrance hall where Helka waited, her back to them. ‘We are in the rooms in the long part of the cross. The halls and functional rooms are in the branches back the other way.’
Isobel stopped. ‘You could have said, sister, now I’ve gone the wrong way.’
‘Are we lost?’ Harry asked.
A tall, grey-bearded man in a purple turban and sharp, grey robes lead a trio of red-garbed wizards into the hall from the far side. He lifted his hand from the bone hilt of a curved blade to shake Helka’s hand as she greeted him.
‘Suleiman,’ Celine murmured. ‘This must be the first time he’s left Constantinople in nearly forty years.’
‘The most powerful wizard alive,’ Isobel said. ‘He didn’t bring many janissaries with him, either, so clearly he doesn’t feel he’s aged.’
‘Grindelwald is still alive,’ Colette replied. ‘But he’ll be much weaker now after all these years in Nurmengard.’
A blonde-haired witch in scarred-leathers and white furs stepped out behind Suleiman’s group and the janissaries stiffened. A pair of wizards in pale fur cloaks stepped forward at the blonde witch’s shoulders, their hands slipping toward their wands.
Suleiman stepped back and dipped his head. ‘Tsarina Bugrov.’
‘Caliph Suleiman.’ Tsarina Bugrov’s sharp blue eyes roved over the janissaries and the Duforts, the silver lightning bolts dangling from her braided hair gleamed in the light of the torches. ‘I’m glad to find you here. We have much to discuss.’
‘That we do.’ Sulieman stepped back. ‘Our hostess, Helka.’
‘Valeska…’ Helka shook Tsarina Bugrov’s hand. ‘I had best remain here to greet the other delegations, she produced two sets of wooden keys and passed them to Suleiman and the Tsarina. ‘The third corridor on the right, Suleiman. The fifth corridor on the left, Valeska.’
‘The Tsarina is quite attractive,’ Isobel murmured, pulling Harry’s arm to lead him back from the door.
‘Not a good idea,’ he muttered. ‘She looks like she might get upset.’
‘She looks like she bites,’ Colette whispered.
The three Duforts broke out into quiet giggles.
‘Sisters…’ Harry grinned. ‘So immature.’
They laughed, flashing him three identical smiles.
Helka turned on her heel and cast them a quizzical glance. ‘There are refreshments at the far end of this corridor, if you wish. The view from the top of the conference hall is fantastic and it may be easier to admire it now than once talks have begun.’
‘Of course,’ Celine replied, leading them back into the corridor.
‘I think we just got told off,’ Harry muttered.
‘I think she was concerned about us being there when the British delegation arrives,’ Colette replied.
I wonder who’s on it. Amos Diggory, probably, but who will he bring? Ginny? Neville? A faint smile crept onto his lips. One of the Last Scions, perhaps?
‘Look, Danish pastries!’ Isobel darted forward into the main hall.
Her sisters rolled their eyes and hurried after her.
Harry drifted into the hall, glancing up at the glass dome that stretched up from the ground on the far side of the table to the roof. A circular table sat on the stone floor, lit by more floating horn torches, and beyond them through the glass a long lake spread away like a ribbon of silver into the dappled greens of the forest.
‘Henri, if you don’t come, Isobel will eat all of them.’
He snorted and stepped over. ‘I will steal them back. Theft is the only way I get to eat anything sweet these days. My wife simply can’t be trusted to share cake.’
They laughed. ‘When do we get to meet our goddaughter?’
‘Isobel’s goddaughter. She won rock, paper, scissors.’
Isobel smiled. ‘What’s mine is always my sisters. All for one and one for all.’
‘Maybe soon. It depends how these talks go and how busy we end up being.’ Harry chuckled. ‘Katie is also unlikely to share sweet things now she’s onto solid food.’
‘She has her mother’s sweet tooth.’
‘Also her temper and her desire to share,’ he replied, grinning. ‘She loves fruit. Her birthday’s the seventh of next month and we’re going to give her cake for the first time. I’m quite looking forward to her reaction.’
‘We should get her a present,’ Celine said.
Colette perked up. ‘How about—’
‘Sweets.’ Isobel piled Danish pastries onto a small plate. ‘Or toys.’
‘I’m sure Katie will love both of those,’ Harry said. ‘Although she will likely try to eat both sweets and toys. She’s very determined to put things in her mouth. Unless it’s food, then she prefers to smear it everywhere in reach.’
The Duforts laughed.
‘She sounds very sweet,’ Colette whispered. ‘We have—’
‘Colette may try to steal her,’ Isobel said. ‘Be wary, Henri.’
Celine sighed. ‘We are not going to steal a baby, although maybe we could adopt one.’
Harry stole a pastry from Isobel’s plate and bit into it, enjoying the sweet taste of sugar-dusted apricot. ‘I would be quite upset if someone stole my baby girl, even if it was you three.’ He finished his pastry. ‘You’d regret it, too. She’s a tiny feathery monster that screams very loudly when things aren’t exactly how she wants.’
‘Our sort of girl.’ Isobel grinned. ‘You sound like a very proud father, Henri. Congratulations.’
He cupped the acorn pendant against his heart, feeding a little magic into it. ‘They are everything I’ve ever wanted, really.’ A faint smile crept onto his lips as the necklace warmed beneath his robes. ‘More than I hoped for.’