Katie tottered across the kitchen floor, meandering around Laurent’s legs as he sipped coffee and watched his granddaughter babble to herself.
‘Poor Henri,’ Harry said as Katie waved her toy aloft by the throat, ignoring the frantic flapping of his wings. ‘I don’t think he can breathe if you hold that tight, baby bird.’
His daughter scampered around the table, brandishing her raven at Apolline.
‘Hello, Katrina,’ Apolline cooed. ‘You’re excited this morning.’
Laurent chuckled. ‘You should take her outside, Harry. Sebastien from internal affairs is dropping by this morning, for some reason he insisted on meeting away from the office, so I fear it may be important.’
‘What time?’ Harry asked as Apolline fussed over Katie’s silver curls. ‘We can wander out into the garden for a bit if you don’t want a small curious veela hatchling interrupting you.’
‘Soon.’ Laurent glanced at the clock. ‘I can’t take down Fleur’s wards, so I would expect he’ll come in off the lane. That’s about as close as he can apparate.’
‘I’ll take this little chick out to play hide and seek then.’ Harry held out his hand. ‘Come on, Katie, let’s go play outside.’
Katie poked her head out around the side of the table and stumbled forward to bury her face in his legs.
A warm glow settled in his chest as she clung to him. I love you too, baby bird. Harry bent down and hoisted her into his arms.
‘Her socks are coming off again.’ Apolline tugged Katie’s striped socks up. ‘I’ll get her shoes for you.’ She hurried into the corridor.
‘Gabba?’ Katie flailed Henri the raven around.
‘Gabby and maman are off doing exciting magical things,’ he murmured, leaning out of raven range. ‘You’re stuck with me. It’s my turn to keep watch over the mini-veela and make sure she doesn’t create too much havoc.’
Apolline reappeared, slipping on Katie’s small blue shoes and buckling them. ‘There.’ She held out Katie’s coat. ‘And just in case.’
Harry set his daughter down and helped her stick her arms into her coat. ‘Come on then, baby bird. Let’s go play hide and seek.’
She tottered off down the corridor and scrambled up the first step.
‘Not upstairs,’ he called. ‘Outside.’
Katie scrunched up her face.
‘Outside.’ Harry pointed at the door. ‘That way, silly chick.’
She clambered back down and scampered to the door, grabbing at the handle. He wrapped one arm around her and drew her back as he opened it.
‘Now, are you going to go hide?’
Katie stared at him with wide green eyes.
‘Go on.’ Harry covered his face with his hands. ‘One. Two. Three.’
His daughter’s footsteps pattered away over the lawn. He peeked through his fingers as she ran across the grass, stomping her feet in the dew-soaked grass and kicking water off her shoes.
The gate at the top of the garden creaked and a broad figure stepped through. Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve and disillusioned himself, striding across the lawn.
Katie watched the figure draw close, sticking out one handful of Henri and tottering forward.
The figure paused and swept its hood back.
Harry’s heart seized. Neville!
‘Hello there.’ Neville crouched down on the path with a small smile on his face as Katie stumbled to a stop. ‘I know those eyes. Where’re your parents?’
He can’t apparate or portkey. Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve and edged closer. If he tries anything. Ice tightened in his chest and cold mist trickled from his sleeve, swirling around his fingers. He won’t leave here alive.
Katie swayed, clutching Henri to her chest and staring around, her eyes darkening to pine green.
Neville held up his hands. ‘It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.’ He studied Katie with a glint of triumph in his brown eyes. ‘You’re only just walking, aren’t you? You can’t be more than a year or so old.’ A big smile spread across his face. ‘I knew it. I knew he wasn’t dead. And you’re indisputable proof.’ He straightened up and took a step toward Katie.
She staggered back, little white feathers prickling on her arms and tears glistening in her eyes.
Harry dropped his disillusionment. ‘I wouldn’t take another step if I were you, Neville.’
Katie darted across and wrapped her arms around Harry’s leg, clinging to him with a quiet wail.
‘It’s okay,’ he murmured, cradling her head in one hand until her tears faded and the feathers slid back beneath her skin. ‘I’m here. I’ll always be here. Nobody will ever hurt you, little chick. You go back inside now—’ Harry pointed toward the door ‘—go and find your grandparents.’ He watched her totter back to the door, opening it with a flick of his wand and closing it behind her. ‘Neville…’
Neville raised his hands. ‘I wasn’t—’
‘Don’t.’ Harry touched their thoughts together, letting Neville’s wash through him.
A twist of temptation tugged at him, coiled around Katie’s green eyes and a handful of blurred figures in his office. Fierce, desperate hope soared and vanished, shrinking back behind a stuffed vulture perched on a broad, green bonnet.
‘I wasn’t going to hurt her, Harry,’ Neville murmured, stepping backward. ‘I just needed proof.’
Cold, black mist curled through Harry’s fingers as he spun his wand in his hand. ‘If you try and touch her again, Neville, I will kill you and anyone I think might come looking for you.’
Neville gulped. ‘Harry—’
‘Why are you here? Did our replies to your letters give you some idea that you were welcome?’
He flinched. ‘Look—’
‘How did you even get here?’ Harry asked.
Neville twitched, twisting a gold ring around his finger. ‘I can’t tell you that.’
‘Then why are you here? To beg me to come save you all again?’
He sagged. ‘Yes. And I will beg if you want. I — we need you. There’s no other way to stop them.’
‘I don’t care.’ Harry levelled his wand at Neville’s chest. ‘You never deserved a hero. I’m not coming back to save you like one. You want your dreams, go fight for them yourself. Like I did.’
‘Will you at least listen?’ Neville asked. ‘Can you do that? You can say no afterward and I’ll go, but I’m not leaving until you listen.’
I suppose he might know something useful. The dark mist faded from around his sleeve as he lowered his wand. About the Last Scions, if nothing else.
‘Then you’d better talk fast,’ Harry replied. ‘Because if Fleur comes back and finds you here, there is nothing that will stop you being turned into a very small pile of ashes. Least of all me.’
‘Don’t. You didn’t come for that. All you wanted was to be saved. So tell me what it is I’d be saving you from and then leave.’
Neville shuffled his feet. ‘I’ll explain as fast as I can.’ He took a deep breath. ‘After Voldemort died and you vanished, Amelia Bones killed every Death Eater or supporter of Voldemort at Hogwarts. They were trapped and she showed no mercy. In the weeks afterward, she used her emergency powers to run the country, but we had no aurors left, half the Ministry died at Azkaban and most of the other half died fighting for Voldemort, so Amelia took on volunteers. Everyone signed up. Half the older years at school did.’
‘Yes.’ He shrugged. ‘Amelia Bones was right. Britain needed us. If we hadn’t been strong, it could have all fallen apart. The Ministry. Hogwarts. Britain. Even the Statute.’ Neville’s face turned grim. ‘But Amelia Bones had no intention of rebuilding Britain as it was. No. She wanted to make sure it would rise again as strong as it was before Grindelwald.’
‘I’ve heard rumours…’
‘She started with the laws. To make sure another Voldemort couldn’t rise. And it seemed like sense, but bit by bit, she took more and more power, and there were so many angry muggleborns and halfbloods and bitter people who’d lost family and friends that the country just cheered her on. Her strongest supporters on the new Wizengamot gave themselves a name. The Resplendent Sun.’
The Last Scions’ puppets.
‘Who are they?’ Harry asked.
‘The real Resplendent Sun is a small group of Amelia Bones’s proteges on the Wizengamot. Minister for Law Percy Weasley. Deputy Minister for Justice Dean Thomas. Minister for Finance Zacharias Smith. First Secretary Marietta Edgecombe. And now Minister for War Susan Bones, too.’ Neville grimaced. ‘They have their people in the auror department alongside Ginny and I, too. Tracey Davis is probably one. There are almost certainly others.’
A hint of guilt crept into his eyes. ‘I voted for them at first. Argued for them. Supported them. We all bled so much and we needed to fix things. To stop it from ever happening again. And it seemed like such a sweet and seemly thing to build Britain up from the ashes into a new, fair nation for us all, only…’
‘All the purebloods suddenly suffered a nasty mishap…’
He flinched. ‘After the first war, many Death Eaters got away on the presumption of innocence. Amelia Bones refused to let it happen twice. If they couldn’t prove their innocence, they were executed. At first it was just the ones we already knew had helped Voldemort or given up his enemies, but the people were so angry and soon it was all of them being accused. Any of them. Amelia Bones used her new laws to seize all their wealth from the goblins and poured it into the Department for War.’
‘And then you kicked her out.’
‘Not fast enough.’ Neville shuddered. ‘There are no werewolves in Britain now. Or vampires. Officially they were resettled in distant protectorates, but I watched them fill in the mass grave in Cornwall. Almost three hundred bodies. Some were just kids. Anyone that fought for Voldemort or connected to him was arrested and executed or is in hiding.’
‘I told you that you didn’t deserve saving, Neville.’
‘It’s not about saving us, Harry.’ He glanced down at his hands. ‘They won’t stop. I can’t stop them. None of us can. We only got rid of Amelia Bones because she went too far even for most of the Resplendent Sun when she massacred the werewolves and vampires. Susan had to stand up and claim the stress was affecting her aunt before the entire Wizengamot so Amelia Bones was forced to step down and take a comfortable, respectable position on the ICW. But the Resplendent Sun still exists. All the fear and the fury that feeds their narrative still exists. And when Amelia Bones was murdered by the Last Scions, Susan switched sides.’
‘The Order of the Gryphon.’ Neville snorted. ‘Like the Order of the Phoenix, only a lot less effective. Flitwick. McGonagall. Me. Cedric. Hannah. Ginny. Bill Weasley. Luna. And Amos, until recently. We called in every favour to oust Amelia. Ginny does a lot for us. Susan was our trump card.’ He pinched the bridge of nose. ‘With Amos, we thought we could play for time and let all the ill feeling fade, but now he’s dead and someone has to replace him. Someone has to decide whether we push for peace or… don’t.’
‘The Resplendent Sun, apparently,’ Harry murmured.
Neville held his gaze. ‘The Resplendent Sun convinced him to push through that new treaty that binds all our protectorates under Britain’s flag. It was meant to be a temporary thing, a bargaining chip, but now Amos has been murdered and the negotiations failed…’
‘So there will be war in America and the treaty still stay…’
‘When the Wizengamot votes to replace Amos with a new leader, it will be Minister for War Susan Bones who wins. She fought Voldemort at Hogwarts. She’s Amelia Bones’s niece. Her aunt was murdered. She’s young and promising, not someone like Fudge or any of the old purebloods everyone either hates or is sick of. It will take a miracle to stop her.’
‘Or a hero.’ Harry’s lip curled. ‘Right, Neville?’
Neville flinched. ‘If Susan Bones takes power, the Resplendent Sun will have a stranglehold on Britain. They have the Wizengamot, and they’re in every department and over half the auror force. They want war, Harry. And not just with America. With anyone they’re angry or afraid might come and take away what they nearly all lost to Voldemort. They will vote to restore emergency powers to Susan and then they’ll declare war. You know how many people died fighting Voldemort. This will be worse.’
‘And you think me coming back will stop them?’
Neville nodded. ‘Most of them are just afraid. Afraid of not having Dumbledore. That another Voldemort might rise. That another nation might come to tear us down after we only just survived him. With you back, there is nothing to fear. The support for the Resplendent Sun will melt away. You’re the one that stopped Voldemort. You’re the one that saved them. The Last Scions will flee the country to escape you. You will change everything.’
‘So I spend the rest of my life balancing a tug of war in British politics and probably on the ICW? Playing hero? I give up everything I want to save you all from yourselves again?’ Ice swelled in his breast. ‘I owe you nothing. If you all want to kill each other, you can all kill each other.’
‘Harry, you have to—’
‘No, I don’t. Harry Potter is dead. Your hero is dead. Dying is what heroes do. I’m going to stay here, with Fleur, with my little girl, and I’m going to enjoy the sunset.’ Harry offered him a small cold smile. ‘Do you remember what happened to all the people who tried to keep it from me?’
Neville shuddered. ‘If this war comes, you won’t have any of that anyway, Harry.’
‘I will.’ Harry raised his wand. ‘I know I will.’
‘If you kill me, others will come here.’
Freezing fury flashed through his veins. ‘Who have you told, Neville?’
‘Only Luna and nothing about you yet.’ He gulped. ‘If I don’t come back, then in a few days the safe I gave her will unlock itself and everything I know will go to her and the Quibbler. All of it. From Fourth Year to now. It might not be proof, but it will be enough for desperate hopeful people to ask questions. You’ll have to come back then.’
‘And what’s stopping me ripping everything I need from your head and going to destroy it?’
‘You won’t find it,’ Neville said. ‘There’s nothing that will stop you taking anything I know, so I told Luna to hide it somewhere I couldn’t think of. If I go back, Luna will give it back.’
‘And I’m supposed to believe you?’ Harry clenched his jaw. ‘No, the moment you think you need to do it, you’ll try and destroy everything I care about here. You’ll choose your dreams.’
‘I wouldn’t do that. We — we were friends.’
‘Friends?’ Harry tasted the bitterness of the word. ‘No. Katie was my friend. She stuck by me no matter what. And she died. You ran away the moment you had to make a hard choice.’
‘Not anymore,’ Neville said. ‘I’m here, aren’t I?’
‘Here trying to make me do it all for you again.’
But what he says proves Ba’alat Tanit’s Looking Glass right. The amber-masked figure is coming from this war. We can’t stop it. Harry weighed things up. And it doesn’t matter what Neville does so long as we finish La Victoire Finale first. The foe glass showed me that .
‘If I let you go, Neville, what will you do?’
‘Wait.’ Neville studied the back of his hand. ‘We’re not the children we were. We know what it meant to fight Voldemort. How it felt when nobody believed us that he was back. And we know how terrible it is to be left thinking we’d have to do it all alone.’
‘And when you get desperate?’ Harry asked.
‘I’m already desperate.’
‘That’s not a very good argument to make right now.’
‘I know,’ Neville muttered. ‘But I won’t force you. You did what you had to. You won. You saved all of us when you did. And you left. I don’t blame you, either. I wish Hannah and I could leave, but if we stand by and do nothing, there’s only going to be more mass graves.’ He released a long, deep sigh. ‘If you let me leave, I’ll do what I can, then wait and hope you change your mind.’
How long can La Victoire Finale take now? A few weeks? A couple of months? Harry slipped his wand back into his sleeve. They have to clear out their rivals. Declare war. Fight it. And then start to lose it badly enough they need me to save them. It’s been over a year of fighting in the shadows and they didn’t need saving. They were winning.
‘Go home. If I see you here again, Neville. I will kill you. And then I will go to Britain and I will kill everyone you named in your Order of the Gryphon just to make sure. I promised Fleur no more risks. And you remember how I feel about my promises to Fleur, don’t you?’
‘If you change your mind, come to Katie’s café,’ Neville said. ‘I have lunch there at about twelve every day. It seemed like the least I could do for her parents.’
‘Go away, Neville. You don’t belong here.’ Harry turned his back on him and strode back into the house, sweeping into the kitchen.
Apolline and Laurent turned away from the window, Katie pulled her face out from Apolline’s leg beneath the table and stumbled to Harry, clutching his hand tight in both of hers.
‘Who was that?’ Laurent asked. ‘It didn’t seem… friendly.’
‘That was Neville Longbottom.’ Harry narrowed his eyes. ‘Your friend. Have they arrived?’
‘No.’ A small frown creased Laurent’s face. ‘Which is unlike him. He hates being late.’
‘Floo him. I bet he has no idea what you’re talking about. Neville wanted to poke around here to see if he could find anything.’
‘I will.’ Laurent strode out and up the stairs toward his study.
Apolline glanced between them. ‘What’s happening?’
‘Somehow, Neville managed to get through the wards over France to come here, hoping he’d find me or proof of me.’ Harry pressed a soft kiss to the top of Katie’s head. ‘Unfortunately, this cute little chick is very good proof that I’m not dead.’
‘Is Katrina okay?’
‘He scared her a little, but nothing more.’ Harry leant his daughter back and brushed her silver hair off her face. ‘You’re okay, aren’t you, baby bird?’
Katie gazed up at him with wide green eyes, balling her fists in his robes. ‘Maman.’
‘Yes, maman is going to set fire to me when she hears Neville was here.’ Harry sighed. ‘Apolline, would you mind taking Katie somewhere to paint or something?’
She smiled. ‘Not at all. We have lots of fun painting, don’t we Katrina?’
If Neville turning up here has changed something, Ba’alat Tanit’s Looking Glass will show me.
He eased Katie’s fingers free of his clothes and handed her to Apolline. ‘Be good, little chick. I’ll be back very soon to help you paint yourself, the floor, the walls, and anything else you can manage to get messy.’
Harry apparated down onto the white pebbles and summoned Ba’alat Tanit’s Looking Glass out from under the Mirror of Erised. ‘Let’s see.’ He shoved his unease down and slipped his wand from his sleeve, cutting the ball of his thumb and dripping a few red drops onto the shining silver surface.
The world fell away.
A dark book lay in his lap; its thin golden letters spelt out a familiar name.
One of two. Harry clenched his fist around the fang. And I mustn’t dream his dreams. He drove the basilisk tooth deep into the book and threw it away.
Crimson light bled from the pierced pages in place of black ink, blazing through the gloom of the chamber, burning its stone walls away into a scorching red sky. The book crumbled into dust; its dark motes rose like mist and uncurled into tattered shadow.
‘Nothing lasts forever,’ the shadow whispered, plucking the fang from the floor. ‘Not wishes. Not dreams.’ It dragged the tooth’s tip down its face, ripping back the dark mist to reveal golden flame. ‘Not sunsets—’ a raw, ruined smile spread somewhere beneath the burning amber ‘—not even hope.’
Harry blinked into the sunlight beneath the willow. The amber-masked figure again. He took a deep breath and turned the foe glass over, smearing blood across it. As always.
Thick, cold dark flooded over him like a great wave.
A single red spark rose in the distance, flickering like a candle flame as it bled purple and spread into the symbol that’d burnt upon the dome of Kart Hadasht.
‘Last son of Kart Hadasht,’ Sophonissa whispered in his ear as the purple symbol twisted and changed.
The Peverell crest flickered in violet flame in the gloom.
‘The last enemy to be defeated is death.’ Harry’s own voice echoed from the dark. ‘One last victory.’
Dawn-bright light burst from the symbol, spilling over white pebbles and the gentle ripples of the river as the world snapped back around him.
‘La Victoire Finale,’ Harry murmured into the whisper of the willow leaves. ‘The sunset.’