The Grass is Always Greener…

‘Are you having fun, mes soeurs?’ Harry stole one of the small fruit snacks from Isobel’s plate, plucking it up by the cocktail stick.

‘Henri, you thief.’ She jabbed him in the hand with her own stick until he laughed and put it back. ‘Get your own.’

‘It isn’t meant to be fun,’ Colette said. 

Celine nodded. ‘And it hasn’t been fun.’

Harry cast his eye over the small groups of delegates standing apart from one another in the fading evening light. ‘At least there haven’t been any fights.’

‘I think Alfonso Osuna came pretty close to trying to string Joseph Lee up by his entrails,’ Colette murmured, throwing a careful glance across at the Spanish auror captain and his small entourage. 

Isobel grinned. ‘On several occasions. And who would have stopped him?’

‘Still, I feel like the squabbling is getting somewhere,’ he said.

‘Slowly but surely.’ Celine waved a cocktail stick at where Amos Diggory, Neville and Ginny talked in low voices beside their desk. ‘With Britain willing to allow Egyptian independence if they get a few small islands in the Aegean back and Suleiman happy to trade Kyiv for Egypt, the situation in Europe is settling.’

Colette grimaced. ‘The Americans are making the rest difficult, but in another four days they’ll realise it’s either accept the terms here or fight Britain and Spain by themselves.’

‘Can they?’ Harry asked, watching Joseph Lee fiddling with his watch chain past Isobel’s golden curls.

‘If they invoke clause three of their federal union of magical states, they have as many aurors as Britain and Spain combined,’ Celine replied. 

‘But… that clause isn’t triggered unless the member states are attacked or a full vote is passed,’ Colette said.

‘They don’t have access to the old magicks and artefacts we do,’ Isobel said. ‘America refuses to teach or allow forbidden magicks even in extreme circumstances and that leaves them at a big disadvantage when fighting against those who do.’

‘Well, I guess we can watch them squabbling for a few more days.’ Harry chuckled. ‘Ginevra Weasley hasn’t tried to kill me yet, either, so we should give her a bit more time to plan something.’

‘She really hates you,’ Celine said. ‘What did you do, Henri?’

‘We had a little disagreement on Sint Maarten.’

‘Ah,’ Isobel murmured. ‘La Belle France demande.’

‘Something like that,’ Harry muttered. ‘More like Présidente Desrosiers demande.’

Isobel stiffened. ‘Where is Présidente Desrosiers?’

Harry scanned the conference hall and caught a flash of iron-grey hair slipping out the door. ‘Heading off somewhere.’

‘Without telling us?’ Colette frowned.

Perhaps her unofficial contact is here. He glanced back at the British desk and his blood ran cold. The Greengrass sisters are gone.

‘I’ll follow her,’ Harry whispered. ‘The Greengrasses are missing.’

The Duforts tensed and exchanged a quick look. ‘One of us should go,’ they murmured. ‘We cannot die.’

‘All of you need to go, or none of you.’ He shook his head. ‘Everyone’s going to notice if all of you leave.’

Three identical frowns crept onto their faces.

‘Be careful, petit frère,’ Isobel murmured.

‘I’ll be careful.’ Harry smiled and cupped the acorn pendant against his chest, feeding a little magic in until it flashed warm against his chest. ‘I’m not allowed to die.’ 

And if I can learn a little more about the Last Scions, that would be very helpful. He slipped out, glancing up and down the corridor and disillusioning himself.

Harry prowled past the floating trees and tapestries, following the echo of Présidente Desrosiers’s heels on the stone floor.

Her footsteps ceased.

He poked his head around the corner. 

Présidente Desrosiers stood between two floating trees, tucked beneath the shadow of a sea serpent skull.

Nobody’s here. Harry tiptoed past and into a small alcove. I guess I’ll wait then.

The seconds slipped by between Desrosiers’s quiet breaths and the flash of the shifting torchlight on her gold ring.

Neville stepped around the corner. ‘Présidente Desrosiers.’

Her contact is Neville? A chill prickled down Harry’s spine. What has he told her about Harry Potter?

‘Monsieur Longbottom.’ She threw a sharp glance over his shoulder. ‘You weren’t followed or seen leaving?’

‘I was seen leaving to find Amos’s assistants who are taking a while to find some files.’ Neville smiled. ‘We’re safe to speak.’

Présidente Desrosiers raised her wand and cast a faint shimmer of wards over the corridor. Harry held his breath as it washed over him with a gentle tingle.

‘Excellent.’ Neville’s shoulders sagged. ‘Nothing has changed on my side. Amos is holding things together; if these talks come to a favourable resolution we’ll have peace while he remains in office.’

‘And afterward?’ She tucked her wand back into her black robes. ‘Amos has only a year or so left before the next election.’

‘He has little opposition. Most of the old political class simply can’t run because of their perceived failures to stop Voldemort and the few that fought hard enough to stand don’t want to. The rest are close to my age. Susan Bones is well liked by those who supported Amelia and has the sympathy of the nation for her murder, but she is far too inexperienced to beat Amos.’

‘Amos will almost certainly win at least one more term then,’ Présidente Desrosiers said. ‘That’s good. The outrage will fade by the time that term ends.’

‘We hope so. Our predictions give him two more terms just because there’s nobody else who can run against him but my old school friends.’ Neville cast a furtive glance over his shoulder. ‘I do have a contingency plan, but it’s not going to be easy. I will need help.’

What contingency plan? A nasty thought bubbled up from the back of his mind and anxiety clamped its cold fist in the pit of his stomach. Is it Harry Potter?

‘What do you need?’ She pursed her lips. ‘If it is within reason…’

Harry held his breath, straining his ears over the hammering of his heart.

Neville pulled out a battered quill and a small notebook. ‘I would rather not say it.’ He scribbled something down as Harry clenched his jaw and bit back a curse. ‘That’s all I ask for.’

Présidente Desrosiers studied the page. ‘That is no small thing in this climate.’

‘I will not swear any vows, but I assure you, my contingency plan grows more necessary every day. It is fear that drives my country’s belligerence as much as anger. This will stop it. And after another term or two of Amos, I think things will calm.’

‘Very well. Consider it done.’ She leant back between the trees, fiddling with something as the torches floated over their heads. ‘Liliana…’

‘Thank you.’ Neville let out a long sigh. ‘If this works, I can change everything.’

Présidente Desrosiers dropped her ward, stepping around him and heading back toward the conference hall. Neville tore the page from his notebook and set it alight. He held it up until the flames caught and placed it in the floating pot, leaving it to burn.

Harry darted across the corridor and scowled at the crumbling ashes. Merde. He stuck his head out into the main corridor, taking deep breaths to steady himself. Still, Neville has no proof. He can’t get another memory from Amelia Bones. And the rest of what he had proves nothing.

‘Don’t be so dull, Daph.’ Astoria’s voice floated along the corridor. ‘We’ve found something very useful.’

Harry stepped back into the side-corridor as the Greengrass sisters appeared at the far end, glancing after Neville.

Présidente Desrosiers and the Duforts stepped out of the conference hall.

Here we go. He slipped his wand from his sleeve and took a long breath in through his nose. This might be it.

‘Madame la présidente.’ Astoria and Daphne paused. ‘Good evening.’

‘Bonsoir,’ Présidente Desrosiers replied. ‘I believe one of your auror captains is looking for you, something about a file…’

Astoria held up her hands. ‘We couldn’t find it, could we, Daph?’ 

‘It must have been mislaid.’ Daphne’s cool blue eyes lingered on Isobel. ‘I’m sure it will turn up.’

Présidente Desrosiers pursed her lips. ‘Bonsoir.’ She swept down the corridor. 

The Duforts watched over their shoulders, their hands close to their wands.

‘They don’t trust us at all.’ Daphne murmured.

‘Violette.’ Astoria beamed. ‘It is because of Violette.’

Harry tucked his wand away and abandoned his disillusionment. ‘Quite possibly.’

They whirled. 

‘Bonsoir!’ Astoria gave him a wave. 

‘Your friends went that way,’ Daphne said, her hand creeping toward her wand.

‘I saw.’ He stepped around them. ‘Good luck finding that file. It must be important to search for it for so long.’

‘It is.’ Astoria beamed. ‘Enjoy your evening. But be careful about wandering the corridors after dark; the torches helpfully light the way. It’s very hard not to wake people.’

‘Thanks for the warning.’ Harry gestured back toward the conference hall. ‘I hope you have a good evening too. The view of the sunset over the lake is quite… resplendent.’

Astoria’s blue eyes shone with laughter as she waved him goodbye. ‘Say goodbye, Daph.’

‘Goodnight, Violette.’

Harry grinned and drifted away down the corridor. What an odd pair. He knocked on the Duforts’ door. But definitely up to no good.

Isobel pulled it open. ‘Hello petit frère—’ she dragged him in ‘—we’re glad you’ve finally realised your sisters will love you best.’

He blinked. ‘What?’ 

She laughed.

‘Sister…’ Celine rolled her eyes from her seat on the corner of the large bed. ‘You’re going to get Henri in trouble with his beautiful wife.’

‘Where’s Colette?’

‘In the bathroom…’ Isobel banged on the bathroom door. ‘Taking forever.’

‘So impatient.’ Celine shook her head. ‘What do you need, Henri?’

‘The Greengrass sisters need keeping an eye on. They’re up to something.’ Harry poked the door shut with his foot. ‘And whatever it is I strongly doubt it’s going to help the peace talks come to a successful resolution.’

‘We can watch them, taking turns,’ Isobel said. ‘Half the time we’re all in the same room.’

‘That just leaves breaks and nights.’ Colette stuck her head through the door. ‘Henri, how upset will your wife be if I come out in just a towel?’

‘Probably not that upset.’ Harry imagined Fleur pouting with a small smile. ‘And she tends to get very determined to make me forget any other girls I see in just a towel, so I’d say it’s worth it.’

Colette laughed and skipped out, holding a white towel around her with one hand and drying her hair with her wand.

‘What a lucky boy you are,’ Isobel cooed, patting his cheek. ‘To have such a fun wife.’

A soft pang knifed through his chest and his hand slipped to the acorn pendant and wedding band beneath his robes. ‘I know. Not everyone gets their dream.’

Isobel’s smile faltered. ‘Pardon, Henri,’ she murmured. ‘Your friend? Katie?’

Harry tensed.

‘You said her name in Sardinia when you were injured,’ Celine said. ‘You were staring at Isobel like she was a ghost. Did she look like us?’

‘No. She looked nothing like you.’

‘But we remind you of her.’ Colette lowered her wand. ‘Don’t we?’

Isobel’s brow creased, a little gleam of worry hovering in her grey eyes. ‘Especially me.’

‘She stayed by my side. No matter what. Like you did in Kart Hadasht.’ Harry swallowed a writhing tangle of bitter guilt. ‘Until it got her killed.’

‘Don’t suffer for it alone.’ Colette rested a hand on his shoulder. ‘Pain shared is pain lessened.’

‘And we cannot die,’ Isobel declared. ‘There is nothing to fear.’

‘While one of us lives…’ Harry snorted. ‘It’s fine. I just miss her sometimes.’

Something warm and damp brushed his hand and hit the floor with a soft thump.

Isobel laughed. ‘Colette… you have lost your towel…’

Colette squeaked and snatched her towel back up as Harry chuckled at the ceiling.

Isobel pouted. ‘I like you more without your towel, sister.’ 

‘Sister…’ Celine sighed as she glanced between them. ‘Henri, you might want to take first watch over the Greengrass sisters. We are about to get distracted.’

He laughed. ‘Right, in that case I’ll leave you to it. My wife would definitely be very angry if she heard I was involved in that. Or even nearby. There would be fire.’ A gentle longing tugged at his heart and he touched a finger to his wedding band. ‘So I’ll leave you to your fun and go keep an eye on them.’

Isobel shooed him out with a little heat in her eyes. ‘You go work, Henri. Your sisters want to play.‘ 

The door slammed behind him.

Harry laughed. I suppose I can go tamper with these torches to make sure they don’t give me away later. He drifted to the nearest and summoned it to his hand, ignoring the soft swell of the melancholy beneath his breast. Nearly there. Only a few more days.

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