The Wind in the Willows

Gabby circled the brazier, meandering around the flickering white flames. ‘I know Grise said we were going to sit and wait and see, but I didn’t think he meant for him.’

Harry dropped into one of the chairs and leant his head back. ‘Présidente Desrosiers might have been delaying to protect the identity of her unofficial contact again.’

Who is Neville? Harry frowned into the fire. And who has some contingency plan that is almost certainly getting put into place now the talks have ended badly?

‘It cannot reach us,’ Fleur said, resting a hand on his shoulder. ‘We are well enough warded that it would take an entire squad of aurors to break through and we are within the wards of France, too.’

Gabby stilled. ‘Fleur is right. We still have time.’

‘Don’t fret, mon Amour,’ Fleur murmured. ‘We’ll have that list of objects to add to the Hallows to create our touch of death and then with Salazar’s theories and our expertise we will recreate the magic of the phoenixes.’

‘It sounds so close, but…’

‘A few weeks,’ Gabby said. ‘Maybe even sooner if we’re lucky.’

‘But the price.’

Fleur’s fingers drifted up to cup his cheek. ‘We’ve sacrificed everything, mon Cœur. The Hallows, your horcrux, all the little dreams and people we gave up to get here—’ a flicker of sadness passed through her blue eyes ‘—any future perfect surprises. It hurt so much to get here, how can we not deserve it?’

‘It will be enough,’ Gabby said. ‘You said you redid the Chamber of Secrets with the painting of Salazar. You’ve given that and more to get here.’

‘I know.’ He crushed the gnawing doubts down. ‘I just—’

‘Don’t like waiting and hoping for it to come true.’ Fleur bent and kissed his cheek. ‘Je sais.’

And because it’s so perfect. One last doubt chewed at him. If I had to choose, I would trade everything I gave already in an instant. Can that sacrifice really be enough?

A loud crack echoed past the floating glass lanterns and the flickering white flames.

‘I am… here.’ Liliana tugged her hood further across her face. ‘No Grise?’

‘Not yet,’ Harry said. ‘We’re waiting.’

‘And hoping,’ Fleur murmured. ‘Just a little.’

‘There have… been no… official… declarations… so far,’ Liliana rasped. ‘Only accusations made at that small group of British terrorists.’

The Last Scions. Realisation hit Harry like a hammer.

‘They’re securing their hold,’ he said. ‘They manipulated Amos Diggory as far as they could toward war under the guise of ensuring peace and now they’re using his death to get rid of any rivals.’

And they almost certainly murdered Amos Diggory too.

‘Perhaps,’ Liliana said. ‘If they… truly… desire war… and to turn their… protectorates… into… an empire again… then it would… make sense… to ensure… full control… of Britain.’

‘And once they have it—’

Grise appeared with a pop. ‘Pardon. The meeting took longer than expected.’ 

‘And?’

‘Présidente Desrosiers has the backing to declare partial martial law, though that was never really in doubt. In the event Britain attacks, we will be able to respond swiftly.’ He steepled his fingers. ‘Our wards are extensive and strong; the Duforts will maintain them and ensure France and Belgium are not invaded. The Italians, Sardinia, Sicily and North Africa are either looking after themselves or irrelevant.’

‘What about… wand laws?’ Liliana asked.

‘Anyone not trusted will be ousted from the country or have their wand confiscated by the end of the week. This is also the Duforts’ responsibility.’

‘And us?’ Harry exchanged a quick look with Fleur and Gabby. 

‘We are to stay ready to respond to a sudden assault.’ Grise tapped his ring. ‘This is no effort for us, but avoid any tiring magic or dangerous research for the time being.’

‘If Britain attacks, it will surely come against America,’ Fleur said. ‘Non?’

‘Likely, yes.’ Grise’s pink eyes hardened. ‘We will not involve ourselves unless attacked. For now, Présidente Desrosiers’s contact claims no rash moves have been made and they are focusing on rooting out this group of dissidents.’

‘They blamed… us for… supporting… that group.’

His pale forehead creased. ‘Le Cancrelat…’

The Last Scions are almost ready to plunge us into war to get their pound of flesh. Harry forced the rising fear down. But we will have La Victoire Finale, like Tanit’s Looking Glass showed. And they will not be able to touch us.

Grise sighed. ‘I must return to Présidente Desrosiers. She still refuses to name this contact of hers, but our strategy is being built on their words.’

Neville isn’t a liar. Or he wasn’t.

‘You know how to get hold of us,’ Fleur said, pulling the ring from her finger. ‘But we have done more than enough to help France. We won’t die for it.’

Grise sucked in his breath. ‘Without us—’

She shook her head, her eyes darkening.’We help here because it protects our dreams; if we die fighting in this senseless war, we lose everything for people who won’t even remember our names.’

‘You would… die heroes,’ Liliana whispered.

Harry winced.

‘Heroes?’ Fleur’s irises flashed black as pitch. ‘None of us will play hero for you. We will live.’

‘Do you all feel this way?’ Grise demanded. ‘Cramoisi? Violette?’

Gabby pulled her ring off and nodded. ‘Yes. Fleur and I came to research. I can’t duel. I—’

‘She nearly died on Malta. For nothing. Nothing.’ Revulsion churned in the pit of Harry’s stomach. ‘We have our own lives and families. That shouldn’t be sacrificed for nothing.’

‘What about your sisters, Violette?’ Grise asked. ‘They will fight.’

Harry hid a smile. ‘I would fight for them, but not at such a high price.’

‘So it’s true.’ 

Liliana frowned beneath her hood, her lips twisting into a grimace.

‘Présidente Desrosiers mentioned it?’ Harry asked.

‘She did.’ Grise stared at the grey swirl on his ring. ‘I cannot force you to fight. I am quite sure that if I tried, Violette would turn me into a smear on the ground. Our role is to maintain the Statute. I hope you will fight for that.’

‘Yes,’ Harry said. ‘If the Statute were destroyed, our family would be at risk.’

‘But we will not fight against Britain, not over a small hill in the Caribbean.’ Fleur stuck her ring back on. ‘Au revoir, Grise.’ She apparated out.

Gabby slid her ring back on and vanished.

‘Violette,’ Grise said. ‘We may need you.’

‘You can ask.’ Harry rose from his chair. ‘But I might not say yes. They are more important to me than France, I won’t give them up.’

‘I suppose I just can’t understand,’ Grise muttered. ‘I have no family, Violette. I gave my life to these catacombs.’

‘Family is… dearer… than any… greater good,’ Liliana rasped. ‘I would… know best.’

‘That you would, old friend,’ he murmured. ‘I will be frank, Violette, I think Britain and Spain are likely to fight against America, so it’s more likely you will not be sent to war. There is no reason for them to attack France. Le Cancrelat is dead at your own hands.’

‘The only… reasons… they might have… are dead.’ Liliana’s dark eyes fixed themselves on Harry. ‘That doesn’t… seem like it… will change.’

‘It won’t,’ Harry said. ‘It can’t.’ He glanced between them. ‘Au revoir.’

He apparated back into the kitchen and tugged Violette’s ring off, dropping it into his pocket.

‘I don’t like it,’ Fleur said, clenching her fist around her ring until her knuckles turned white.

‘It’s—’

‘You are not Henri Dufort.’

Harry snorted. ‘That’s what you don’t like?’

‘You are mine.’ Fleur turned her nose up. ‘Not theirs.’

‘You’re such a possessive bird-wife,’ he murmured, pulling her into his arms. ‘Je t’aime, mon Rêve.’

‘Je t’aime,’ she whispered, lacing her fingers through his.

‘Are you going to pout if they come here?’ Harry asked. ‘I maybe might have let them be godmother to Katie?’

Fleur’s fingers curled into his robes. ‘Without asking me?’

‘In my defence, we were only joking to begin with, they’re just taking it more seriously than I expected and if it means something to them…’

‘Why?’

‘Why…?’

‘Why are they taking it seriously?’ She frowned. ‘Do you think they know? About you.’

‘No.’ Harry pressed a light kiss to the tip of her nose. ‘They don’t know. They guessed a little. About Henri Delacour. And they know about Katie.’

Her eyes narrowed. ‘Our Katie?’

‘Well, yes. They’re godmothers. But also no, I mean my Katie.’ Harry winced. ‘By which I mean—’

Fleur pressed a finger to his lips. ‘I know what you mean. She was your Katie. But you were never hers. Only a little.’ She pulled her finger back. ‘What have you told them, mon Amour? Do you trust them?’

‘They aren’t shallow little girls. They are… they are what I once thought people I left behind were.’

‘Would you trust them with my life, with our Katie’s life, with our sunset?’

Harry grimaced. ‘You know how I am with trusting, mon Ange. Maybe. After La Victoire Finale.’

‘After?’ Fleur traced her fingertips down the side of his neck with a small warm smile. ‘Yes. After. If you trust them, mon Coeur, then anyone can trust them.’

‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered.

‘Sorry?’

‘For saying my Katie.’

Her blue eyes softened. ‘Mon Amour, she was your Katie. I meant it. She loved you. But you were mine.’ Fleur’s lips quirked. ‘No more Henri Dufort, though.’

‘No?’ Harry chuckled. ‘Will that make my pretty bird-wife pout?’

Her lower lip crept out. ‘If I say yes, you will do it more to tease me.’

‘I will.’ He drew her into a soft kiss. ‘But you’re already pouting, so it’s too late to say no.’

Fleur tilted her chin and stuck her lip out further until he caved and kissed her again. ‘Mon Coeur…?’

‘Yes?’

‘How do they know about Katie Bell?’

‘Ah.’ A little flutter of nervousness trembled in his stomach. ‘Well, I got hurt. In Sicily. And Isobel was holding my head and sometimes she is a little like Katie, so I think I said something.’

‘Hurt.’

‘It was just a small hole?’

‘Hurt.’ Fleur’s eyes flashed black.

‘I survived?’ Harry sidled a step back, but her grip tightened like iron. ‘It wasn’t as bad as Malta when Gabby came with me and we got stuck.’

‘That makes it worse,’ she hissed, little white feathers prickling along her arms. ‘How many times have you risked our sunset?’

‘I said no more risks after Malta. There haven’t been.’ He took her hands, wincing at the heat blazing off her skin. ‘Je promets.’

The heat eased and the feathers slipped back beneath Fleur’s skin. ‘Bon.’ The dark drained from her eyes. ‘Sometimes I feel like Katie is not my only child, mon Amour.’

Harry snorted. ‘Well, I was a bit underage when you robbed me from the cradle. And it’s even worse because I was dead for a bit, so…’

She huffed. ‘I did not rob you. And you were not dead.’

‘Cradle-snatcher.’ He grinned into her kiss. 

‘Hush, mon Coeur.’ Fleur’s tongue traced his upper lip. ‘You are being silly and I would prefer you do something else with your mouth before—’

‘Before?’ Gabby chirped.

Harry sighed. ‘Have you been here the entire time?’

‘I got here just after Fleur, it’s not my fault you didn’t notice.’

‘I got distracted.’

She snickered. ‘So I see.’

‘Don’t you have some cheap erotica to read?’ Harry muttered. ‘Or write.’

‘I was getting inspiration.’ Gabby giggled. ‘I was waiting for you two to finish whispering to each other so we could talk about La Victoire Finale, because I can feel the panic lurking beneath Harry’s smile.’

‘The list?’ Fleur stepped back from Harry. 

‘Yes.’

Harry frowned. ‘The list?’
‘We made a list of items,’ Gabby said. ‘Things to use to create an impression of death.’

‘For us, it’s easy. We all have little things we can get,’ Fleur replied. ‘But Katie…’

‘Katie won’t even know what death is,’ Harry murmured, wrestling with a surge of panic. ‘Which means we can’t include her. And if we can’t include her…’ The breath stuck in his throat and the room swam. 

‘Breathe,’ Fleur whispered in his ear. ‘We’ve found a way.’

‘She will learn what death is,’ Gabby said. ‘So we just have to cover our bases. She’ll learn from us, and most of our reactions to death are not uncommon…’

‘So we have things on the list?’ He took a deep breath. ‘And we’re sure it will work?’

‘It will work as well as it will for us,’ Fleur replied. ‘As long as she loves us and wants to return to us, she will.’

Gabby held up her hand. ‘Your item. Fleur said something about roses? Fleur’s item, a piece of crystal from your tomb. And my item.’

‘Yours?’

‘A flower,’ she muttered. ‘Fleur made it for me at Beauxbatons. It’s in enchanted ice. Frozen. Forever.’

‘And for Katie?’ Harry asked.

‘She won’t understand death,’ Gabby said. ‘She’s much too young. So we thought we’d get things to represent the feelings she might feel. Ones we all might feel. So that even if she doesn’t understand she’s dying and can’t trigger the magic like that, she can understand those feelings and trigger it that way.’

‘And then when she’s older, she will understand.’

‘Exactement,’ Fleur murmured. ‘It only has to mean death to us, nothing more.’

‘So we’re there?’ Bright, warm hope lifted his heart to giddy heights like sunshine pouring through the branches of the willow tree. ‘We’re finally there?’

‘We need the magic of the phoenix.’

Harry’s heart sank. ‘But soon?’

‘Very soon.’ Gabby beamed. ‘Fleur and I are putting together Salazar’s notes to figure out how the enchantment that created phoenixes might have been done. We’ll figure the alchemy out; I’ve become something of a specialist in it.’

‘Then it’s just the sacrifice.’

‘It will happen,’ Fleur cupped his cheek. ‘You can hope. Just like me. Like Katie. Like coming here. It won’t disappear just because you wish for it.’

‘I hope not,’ Harry whispered. ‘It just seems so perfect.’

‘It is.’

It doesn’t matter. The amber-masked figure loomed in Tanit’s Looking Glass, their whisper full of roaring flames. We have to do it. And if there’s more that needs to be sacrificed, then I’ll pay it alone. He took a deep breath and pushed it all down inside. One parent isn’t good. But Katie mustn’t lose both of us.

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