Laurent swept into the kitchen and swiped his coffee mug off the side. ‘I contacted Sebastien. He never wrote to me. There was no meeting.’
‘Neville.’ Harry slipped an arm around Fleur’s waist and drew her close. ‘I’ve no idea how he managed to get here through the wards that are shielding France, but once he was, it’d be easy just to slip a letter into the post here and wait to try and catch you or Apolline alone.’
Fleur’s eyes darkened. ‘That he would even dare.’
‘Neville will not come back, mon Rêve,’ he murmured. ‘He knows what I will do if he does.’
‘He tried to take our daughter,’ she hissed. ‘To steal her away. You should have killed him.’
‘Fleur,’ Laurent whispered. ‘That is not—’
‘I’m not sure he was going to take her,’ Harry said. ‘He only wanted proof I was alive. A memory. Or a photo.’
‘He was going to take Katie away from us.’ Fleur tugged him around and glared at him with pitch black eyes. ‘Our daughter.’ Her chin shifted, sharpening, and little white feathers slid from her skin. ‘And even if he wasn’t, he would have taken you from us.’
‘He is waiting and hoping in Britain,’ Harry said, taking her hands in his. ‘Waiting and hoping and wishing.’
The dark drained from Fleur’s eyes. ‘You are certain?’
‘We have more important things to worry about. And when we don’t have to worry about them, Neville won’t matter anymore.’ He gave her fingers a gentle squeeze. ‘No more risks, mon Ange.’
But once La Victoire Finale is done, maybe then I should go back to help Neville and find the amber-masked figure. A small smile crept onto his lips. When nobody can take anything away from me, it doesn’t matter if Harry Potter turns out to be alive after all.
The white feathers slipped back beneath her skin and Laurent released a quiet sigh.
Harry gave her a grin and drew her back to his side. ‘Don’t fret, my beautiful bird-wife, nobody will steal our little chick away.’ He snorted. ‘Except Gabby, of course. In fact, I think Gabby has stolen her already today, there hasn’t been any loud wailing for attention and everyone else is here.’
‘Gabrielle is reading to her,’ Apolline said. ‘Not Aimée, of course.’
Harry laughed. ‘I fear it’s only a matter of time. I’d hoped to burn them, but apparently they’re bestsellers and Gabby will just buy more.’
‘We need to strengthen the wards on the chateau,’ Fleur murmured. ‘The Unyielding Shield. Everything.’
Laurent exchanged a glance with Apolline. ‘If you think it’s wise, ma petite Fleur.’
‘It is,’ Harry said. ‘Let’s go find, Gabby. We’ll come up with something.’
The kitchen lurched forwards and Harry sprawled into warm, soft blankets.
‘That’s by far the best thing I’ve been apparated into by you.’
‘Get out of there, mon Amour.’ Fleur tugged him to his feet. ‘Before you give Gabby ideas.’
Harry glanced over the bed at the huge grin on Gabby’s face. ‘I think it might be too late. We’re going to have to hide all the courgettes.’
Katie scampered around the side of the bed and grabbed hold of his leg, clinging to his knee. ‘Papa,’ she babbled, tugging at his clothes. ‘Papa.’
A hot lump welled up in his throat. ‘Hello my little veela hatchling.’ He pried his daughter’s arms loose and crouched, sweeping her into a hug. ‘You look like you’ve been having lots of fun listening to Gabby read.’
Katie snuggled into his chest with a content murmur.
‘She is such a daddy’s girl.’ Gabby snickered. ‘Poor maman didn’t even get a wave as her little chick shot for her papa.’
Fleur’s lips curved into a pout. ‘When she is older, she will come back to her maman. Her papa is going to be useless with clothes and hair and veela things.’
Harry nodded. ‘It is inevitable.’ A wry chuckle escaped him. ‘I’m going to end up like my father-in-law, outnumbered by bird-girls and very confused.’
‘As if there is anything that would make you happier.’ Fleur turned her nose up. ‘But we have to talk about wards and you are getting distracted.’
‘Wards?’ Gabby’s grey eyes darkened. ‘Because of Neville Longbottom?’
‘Just in case,’ Harry said. ‘We’ll put the usual wards over the chateau, but they can be broken. All three of us have seen it or done it.’
‘The willow,’ Fleur murmured. ‘The wards I set a year or so ago are faded, but we could put blood wards around it. Or you could, mon Trésor. That way we have somewhere safe if need be.’
‘I will.’ He frowned. ‘And if we’re doing that, we may as well put anything valuable there instead of keeping it in the cellar. The Mirror of Erised is there. And Ba’alat Tanit’s Looking Glass. There’s space for anything else, like the Caduceus pieces that are still stashed under our bed.’
I could put things in the Mirror of Erised if need be. I’m sure I could figure it out. Curiosity tugged at him. And it would be interesting to discover how Dumbledore did it.
‘How long will it take you to come up with them?’ Gabby asked. ‘The blood wards.’
‘A few days, maybe a week.’ Harry brushed Katie’s curls back off her face and booped his daughter on the nose until she scrunched up her face and giggled. ‘I’ll want to try and build in some clever stuff, just in case.’
‘Then you’d better go object hunting now, then,’ Fleur said. ‘Your objects for La Victoire Finale, that is.’
‘Already?’ Harry’s head snapped around, his heart leaping into his mouth.
‘Non,’ Fleur murmured. ‘But we would rather be ready, just in case.’
‘We still have to figure out phoenixes.’ Gabby gave him a small smile. ‘Soon, mon cher frère. Soon.’
He released a soft sigh. ‘I had my hopes up for a moment there.’
‘We need to get the objects that are personal to us,’ Fleur said. ‘And then there is a list of objects that will represent the feelings associated with death, to make sure Katie is always protected, even before she really understands what death is.’
‘And then there’s just phoenixes,’ Gabby said. ‘And your spiral of runes.’
And the sacrifice. As always.
Harry rose to his feet, scooping Katie up with him. ‘Now?’
‘We can keep reading for a bit,’ Gabby said. ‘This baby bird was enjoying herself listening to me read about tiny dragons.’
‘Ah.’ Harry grinned. ‘You must have been telling her about her maman’s first task in the Triwizard Tournament.’
Fleur rolled her eyes. ‘At least I did not cheat.’
‘Oh no—’ he waved his hands around ‘—ze grindylows, oh ‘Arry, please save my baby sister, I cannot, ze grindylows are just too ‘orrible, zey are touching my ‘air.’
A peal of laughter burst from Fleur. ‘I think they really just wanted to keep Gabby. She looks a lot like one of them.’
‘Fleur didn’t even run into any grindylows.’ Gabby pouted. ‘And I do not look like one of them. I’m really pretty, right, Harry?’
‘Hmmm.’ Harry bounced Katie. ‘That seems like a trap to me. What about you, mini-Fleur?’
Katie burbled something and smushed her hand into his mouth.
‘I’ll take that as tacit agreement.’
‘So I’m not pretty.’ Gabby huffed. ‘But I look a lot like my sister…’
‘She’s taller.’ Harry chuckled. ‘And has blue eyes.’
‘And she enjoys it when you—’
Fleur clapped a hand over Gabby’s mouth. ‘Hush, harpy. If our little chick picks up words like that from you, I’m going to charm your beak shut.’
Gabby pushed Fleur’s hand away. ‘Feather-face. I was going to phrase it nicely.’
Harry snorted. ‘I’m sure.’ He sat Katie down on the end of the bed, easing her small fists out of his robes. ‘I’ll be back soon. I’ve only got two things to grab and neither are anywhere all that risky.’
‘Two?’ Fleur’s forehead creased.
‘A rose.’ He closed his eyes and let the red rose blossom into a single bright crimson spark. ‘And a piece of a heart lost beneath the sea.’
‘Kart Hadasht.’ Harry nodded. ‘Have you…?’
‘We have ours.’ Gabby pointed across the bed to where a cluster of purple flowers hung within a sphere of ice. ‘Wisteria.’
A familiar shard of crystal sat next to it.
He turned to Fleur.
‘From your tomb,’ she murmured. ‘I kept a piece. To remind me that even when I thought you hadn’t, you still came back to me.’
Gabby beamed and jumped onto the bed, bouncing Katie across the mattress. Harry’s daughter giggled and rolled over, tangling herself into a ball of laughing blankets.
A small smile crept onto Harry’s face. Worth any price.
‘A bientot,’ he murmured, dipping a hand into his robes for the acorn pendant. ‘Argent.’
Gabby’s bedroom whirled and blurred into serpentine effigies and cool, dark stone.
Harry took a deep breath and slipped his wand from his sleeve, disillusioning himself. I wonder if there’re even any roses left? He wrenched the world back past him, stepping onto the grey concrete drive with a soft snap.
Privet Drive’s boarded windows and burnt husk loomed over knee-high grass, weeds and a tangle of red roses.
‘I guess Marge didn’t want to move in.’ Harry drifted through the grass and cut a single red rose free with a flick of his wand, staring into the crimson petals. ‘What’s so special about flowers?’
He touched a hand to the acorn pendant. ‘Argent.’
Harry stumbled onto the white pebbles, grimacing at the prick of pain as the rose thorns bit into his hand. He levelled a wry glare at the flower as he stuck it to the Mirror of Erised with a swish of his wand. The more it hurts to get…
The breeze rippled through the meadows across the river, sending leaves swirling through the air into the water. They floated downstream, bumped by the noses of curious fish, and vanished around the bend.
He bent and picked a pair of small pebbles from the ground, picturing Bonifacio’s plain stone walls and arches as he pushed his magic into the first. ‘Sophonissa,’ he murmured.
The willow lurched right and he staggered across the smooth stone floor into a cold, grey column.
Harry tucked the first pebble into his pocket and pictured the domed Hall of Kart Hadasht. ‘Portus.’ He bounced it on his palm. ‘Tanit.’
He stumbled to his knees on the smooth mosaic beneath Ba’al Hamun’s towering figure. A burning queen stood upon her pyre between his palms, driving a bronze dagger into her heart.
Harry tucked the second pebble into his pocket and pried the queen’s bleeding breast from the other tesserae, holding the crimson square up before Ba’al Hamun’s spread hands.
‘Ba’alat Tanit demands sacrifice,’ he murmured.
His whisper echoed back from the dome and Ba’al Hamun stared down at him with stern stone eyes.
‘I destroyed Rome for you,’ Harry said, listening to his voice bounce off the dome and fade. ‘You didn’t die for nothing, Sophonissa. Neither did your son. And nor did Kart Hadasht.’
The silence hung beneath Ba’al Hamun, cold and heavy as the ocean above. A quiet unease prickled down his spine, raising all the hairs on the nape of his neck.
It’s dead. Harry knelt and touched his wand to the floor, closing his eyes. I let it die.
A soft thrum rippled up from deep below; its slow throb came with every seventh beat of Harry’s heart, the faintest whisper of the storm of screams, swirling down in the deepest part of the Tophet.
The words seeped up through the stone; they hung on the tip of his tongue, sharp as the endless swirl of screams.
‘Ba’alat Tanit demands sacrifice,’ he murmured.
Eclipse them all, last son of Kart Hadasht. Sophonissa’s whisper echoed from the well of his mind and the thrum swelled, rising like drums in the deep until Kart Hadasht’s heartbeat hammered in time with Harry’s.
A single red spark flickered to life above his hand and the tesserae crept across his skin toward the gap in the mosaic.
‘No.’ He clenched his fist around the small stone square. ‘I’m sorry, Sophonissa.’
The mote of crimson magic guttered out and the thud of Kart Hadasht’s heart faded back to a faint, slow thrum.
It can’t die. Not while my bloodline survives. Harry stood up and reached for his pebble portkey. But it can stay beneath the sea.