Katie danced under shining silver, twirling and laughing beneath cold glass. Her bright smile and the happiness flashing in her green eyes twisted like a knife in Harry’s heart.
‘Sweet dreams, baby bird,’ he whispered, his breath fogging the mirror. ‘We will find a way.’
His daughter reached out toward him with a little frown, grabbing at the air with her small fingers.
‘I know.’ A fierce yearning clawed its way up inside and his heart seized beneath his ribs. ‘I know. I miss you too, little chick.’ Hot tears stung his eyes.
A soft, warm hand rested on his shoulder. ‘You’ve been here a while, mon Amour.’ Fleur’s fingers cupped his cheek. ‘Don’t stare too long. It is not just some distant dream in that mirror, mon Cœur. Our little angel was perfect and real. She is waiting for us to save her.’
Harry tore his eyes away. ‘I know.’ He fought the temptation to look, shoving the desperate need down into the dark beneath his heart and sweeping through black silk back over the mirror. ‘I would give anything to reach through that glass and touch her again.’
‘We have given everything,’ Fleur whispered. ‘All that’s left is to prove it.’
‘We will only get one chance. We must be certain.’ Harry pulled her into his arms and held her close, breathing in the sharp sweet scent of her hair. ‘I will make sure the price is high enough.’
He pressed a soft kiss to her lips. ‘I will leave it open somehow. If it’s not needed then it’s not paid.’
‘What price?’ Fleur’s eyes darkened. ‘What more is there for us to give? It cannot hurt any more than it does.’
‘La Victoire Finale is never having you or our baby bird taken away,’ Harry murmured. ‘I’m not sure anything is worth as much as that is. Other than giving it up, of course.’
Fleur’s fingers curled into his robes. ‘You can’t pay that price and still see our sunset.’
‘No.’ He mulled it over, his eyes straying to the dark silk hanging over the mirror. ‘I’d have to find a loophole. Somehow. Like before…’
‘If you know there might be one…’
Harry frowned. ‘It won’t work if I know, but I could pay the price and hope. It would save our Katie.’
Fleur rested her forehead on his collarbone. ‘It isn’t possible,’ she breathed. ‘There is no loophole. It will not work. And we have paid all the price we need.’
You don’t know that. Not for certain. He smothered a stab of guilt beneath the twist of desperate longing and his daughter dancing beneath shining silver glass. Je suis désole, Gabby. There will have to be one more secret.
‘You need to go back to Britain, mon Amour,’ Fleur murmured. ‘To Greece.’
‘I know.’ Harry sucked in a deep breath and kissed her on the tip of her nose. ‘The more it hurts to have…’
‘If it hurts this much, it must be perfect.’ She clung to him. ‘Perfect wishes can come true, mon Cœur. We made one together. The best of both of us. A green-eyed little girl with silver hair, just like you once saw…’
‘And now we have to make sure she’s not taken away too.’ Harry stepped back and lifted the acorn pendant up from under his robes. ‘À bientôt, mon Rêve. Argent.’ He stumbled onto the bridge of the Chamber of Secrets and stared down into his reflection as he changed his face.
Perfect wishes can come true. I saw it. In Ba’alat Tanit’s Looking Glass. Icy dread pooled in the pit of his stomach and his heart sank down into the cold empty dark below it. They just cost perfect things to keep hold of.
‘But if that’s the price, then that’s the price,’ Harry whispered. ‘There’re no dreams left without them. And if there’re no dreams left, then what’s the point?’ He tucked his wand away and apparated onto the cobbles of Diagon Alley.
Neville sat beneath a red umbrella, fiddling with the handle of his coffee cup.
Harry strode through the tables. ‘I’m here.’
‘We have forged the paperwork. Susan and the Resplendent Sun either believe it or are willing to take the risk.’
‘I don’t care which.’ He held out his arm. ‘Let’s not waste time.’
Neville grabbed Harry’s elbow. ‘I hope you’re ready, things are not how you remember.’
Diagon Alley blurred and lurched sideways, the red umbrellas and cobbles swirling into smooth mahogany desks and floating green lampshades.
‘Neville.’ Susan Bones folded her arms on the far side of the desk, a hard gleam in her brown eyes. ‘And this is… Tom Gaunt.’
Harry ran his eye over the stacks of paperwork and the intricate carvings on the desk.
Something poked him in the side. ‘Don’t be rude, Tom Gaunt,’ a metallic voice rasped in his ear.
He glanced over his shoulder into the vacant eyes and wide smile of Pistachio Surprise’s mask. ‘Pleased to meet you, Minister Bones.’
‘Gaunt is a pureblood name.’ Susan tapped her long nails on a yellow metal unspeakables mask. ‘One that even other purebloods reviled.’
‘It’s just a name,’ Harry replied. ‘I’m no pureblood.’
‘Not some last scion of a great bloodline?’ Smooth Mint stepped forward on his right.
Not a Last Scion. No. Faint humour tugged at his lips. Are you?
‘Half-blooded,’ he said. ‘My mother was little more than a squib, likely because of her family’s… marriage practices, but my father was a muggle.’
‘You were meant to come to Hogwarts.’ Susan picked up the mask and weighed it on her hand. ‘But you contracted a rare magical disease as a child that you still occasionally suffer bouts of and were out of the country with your muggle father when Voldemort attacked.’
‘He killed my mother.’ The corner of Harry’s mouth twitched. ‘I came back to fight him, but he was already dead.’
‘And then you got roped into Neville’s wild ghost chase.’ Susan held out the mask. ‘Your claims are impressive. Let’s see if you can back them up.’ She glanced at Neville. ‘I’m afraid this is now a conversation for just myself and those in masks.’
‘Very well, minister,’ Neville said. ‘Good luck… Tom.’ He vanished with a loud crack.
Harry took the mask, pulling the strap over his head. The yellow metal warmed against his skin and melted away.
‘Interesting.’ He touched his fingers to the mask.
‘It’s still there,’ Smooth Mint said.
‘Welcome to Team Ice Cream.’ Pistachio Surprise patted him on the shoulder. ‘You can pick any name you like as long as it’s an ice cream and is yellow.’
Harry snorted. ‘Lemon Sorbet.’
‘An excellent choice.’ They laughed. ‘We wouldn’t want you left feeling sour about your name.’
Smooth Mint sighed. ‘Unfortunately, Pistachio was allowed to choose the team dynamic. They’re a little…’
‘Nuts?’ he suggested.
Pistachio Surprise giggled. ‘You’re going to fit right in.’
Susan cleared her throat. ‘Tom Gaunt no longer exists. It seems easier that way as you have no connections to anyone important other than Neville. Your muggle father, where is he?’
‘Canada,’ Harry said. ‘He travels a lot. He’s not going to be an issue, he has no interest in the magical world after my mother was killed.’
‘Today is your audition.’ Susan pointed at Smooth Mint and Pistachio Surprise. ‘Your captains are here and you’ll meet the rest of the squad shortly.’
‘The other flavours,’ he murmured under his breath.
I wonder who’s under those masks. A little ice tightened in his breast. Was it them who attacked us?
Susan plucked a thin file from her desk and passed it to Smooth Mint. ‘While Neville has suggested that we use you to counter the danger of Violette and claims you have the skill and power to do so, it would be imprudent of us to send you to slaughter unprepared. You will be part of Team Ice Cream. They have just returned from securing the Caribbean for our Tainos allies and will soon be heading for Thessaloniki, hopefully to coordinate a two-pronged assault into Ottoman territory and force Suleiman to back down and abandon any claim upon Egypt or at least Greece.’
Greece. Harry swallowed a flash of triumph. Perfect.
‘First, however…’ Susan pointed a long nail at the file in Smooth Mint’s hands. ‘We need to ensure those responsible for the murder of my aunt and starting this war are hunted down and taken care of.’
Smooth Mint opened the file. ‘The group styling themselves as the Last Scions are to be arrested. Their known members include: Pansy Parkinson, Gemma Farley, Blaise Zabini, Daphne and Astoria Greengrass, Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle.’
‘Unofficially…’ Susan glanced between Smooth Mint and Pistachio Surprise. ‘This is a chance to finish cleaning house and ensure there are no lingering remnants of Voldemort’s dissidents to spread terror and hold our nation back. This group has outlived its usefulness.’
Usefulness? Unease prickled in the pit of his stomach.
‘All of them?’ Pistachio Surprise asked.
Susan’s gaze drifted to rest on Harry. ‘Daphne and Astoria Greengrass are not to be harmed under any circumstances if they are discovered on site.’
The Last Scions are not the ones pulling the strings. A little chill trickled down Harry’s spine. The Resplendent Sun are.
‘All other members are to be killed and confirmed as such.’ Susan took a seat behind her desk. ‘No loose ends.’
Smooth Mint replaced the file on the desk. ‘Let’s go then.’
‘I’ll bring Lemon Sorbet,’ Pistachio Surprise said, grabbing Harry’s arm.
The floating green lampshades and mahogany whirled into a cramped wooden shed. Harry cast a quick eye over the dangling tools and other unspeakables, breathing in the damp must of wet sawdust.
‘Who’s this?’ Wild Cherry pulled their wand from their waist.
‘Lemon Sorbet.’ Pistachio Surprise waved a hand at Harry. ‘We’re now a six scoops team!’
Smooth Mint sighed. ‘Vanilla Delight…’
‘They’re all there. Blaise Zabini was confirmed dead on Malta by Team Hedgehog a few days ago. Likely eliminated by Violette or Vert for his connections to Julien Aguillard.’ Vanilla Delight’s pale mask turned to the small, grime-stained window. ‘Once the wards go up, they will attempt to run. We have sealed off three tunnels and covered the disillusioned ladder leading up above the usual ward height from the roof with nasty surprises, so we need only cut off the conventional exits.’
I wonder if Pansy will try anything. Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve. This time, no risks. No survivors.
‘Smooth Mint and I will take the main door,’ Pistachio Surprise said. ‘Wild Cherry and Vanilla Delight, you watch the windows for anyone attempting an escape by broom or on foot.’
‘I get Lemon Sorbet.’ Strawberry Sundae sidled around Wild Cherry and a little anxiety coiled in the pit of Harry’s stomach.
‘And the back door.’ Smooth Mint drew their wand. ‘Minister Bones has declared we are to spare nobody and confirm every death. Clean kills.’
Harry frowned. ‘What about Daphne and Astoria Greengrass?’
Pistachio Surprise laughed. ‘Oh, we won’t find them here. You take your door, Lemon Sorbet. We’ll worry about the Greengrass sisters.’
A quiet chuckle filled the shed.
Harry rolled his eyes. So the Greengrasses are definitely involved in something sneaky. Double agents for the Resplendent Sun. Or something like it. A fist of ice tightened beneath his ribs as Astoria’s little sunset joke welled from the back of his mind. Maybe it was them.
Pistachio Surprise drew their wand, letting grey mist curl around their arm. ‘Vanilla Delight…’
Strawberry Sundae twisted the latch and pushed it open, striding across the grass. Harry followed, scanning the dark windows as a shimmer of wards fell over the house.
I mustn’t use anything they’ll know. Harry spun his wand in his hand. Nothing Harry Potter used. Nothing Violette used. He grimaced. I need more spells.
A cry of alarm tore through the quiet and spells flashed on the far side of the small, brick farmhouse.
Strawberry Sundae’s mask snapped up and they levelled their wand at the back door. ‘Someone is coming.’
Merde. Harry side-stepped across the lawn. What magic can I use?
Little wisps of dark mist bled through his fingers, curling about his hand.
One of two. He let the cold fury swell in his breast and felt his wand hum in his hand. Yes. This will work nicely.
The black vapour poured across the grass. Frost crept up the thin green blades, spiralling up the bricks onto the windows.
Pansy Parkinson burst through the back door, skidding to a halt on the frosted grass and slipping to one knee. ‘Fuck,’ she spat, hurling curses at them. ‘Fucking unspeakables.’
Her spells burst in the dark fog in small showers of sparks.
Pansy. Harry gave her name to the icy fury tightening in his heart and his wand shivered in his hand.
A little trickle of cool magic crept up his arm and the mist shuddered and swirled. He felt its raw rage rear its head, cold as the gleam of slit, serpentine eyes and sharp as the countless needle-like teeth, coiling about his heart and clenching tight.
Harry flicked his wand.
The black mist lashed forward, scattering blades of frozen grass into the air; it split into a dozen sharp threads and pinned Pansy to the wall.
‘Pansy Parkinson,’ Strawberry Sundae said.
Tendrils of black fog curled back from Pansy’s limbs, stomach and chest, leaving bleeding, fist-sized holes; the last faded from the dark of her ruined eye socket. Red spilt down her cheek, pouring over her jaw and soaking into her robes.
Strawberry Sundae lowered their wand. ‘Confirmed dead.’
Pansy’s body slumped into the frosted grass as the mist slipped back into Harry’s sleeve.
‘Very dead,’ he said.
Spells flashed on the far side of the house in flickers of red and blue and a cry tore through the trees, scattering birds from their branches.
‘I didn’t realise Julien Aguillard had taught anyone else his prized duelling magic.’ Strawberry Sundae’s mask’s blank, pink stare bored into him. ‘I wonder…’
Harry’s blood ran cold and he flexed his fingers on his wand. If they see anything, I’ll just have to kill them and blame Pansy.
‘It’s so bright,’ Strawberry Sundae whispered. ‘So bright. And so warm… And everything else was so cold and so dark.’ A little shudder rippled through them and a gasp tore from their lips as they balled their fists. ‘Whatever it takes for the sunset that eclipses the world.’
He tucked his wand into his sleeve with a faint, bitter smile. ‘I heard the sun never sets…’
‘Nothing lasts forever…’ Strawberry Sundae ripped their gaze away and stumbled across to lean on the low garden wall.
‘Are you done?’ Harry asked. ‘Or would you like to try and glean a little more?’
‘Sorry… I got curious.’ A low metallic rasp of a chuckle escaped them. ‘Don’t worry, we all know who we are beneath the masks. If you last long enough amongst the ice creams without melting, you’ll be one of us too.’
‘Your gift, how did you come by it?’
‘See, you’re just as curious.’ Strawberry Sundae straightened up. ‘I was given it. Like a toy. My mother created it using experimental magic based on stories of old purebloods.’
Like Salazar’s Parseltongue.
‘Will you pass it on?’ Harry watched the light of spells flash inside the house. ‘To your children.’
‘I don’t know.’ Strawberry Sundae shrugged their shoulders. ‘Sometimes I hope so. Sometimes I hope not. And sometimes I don’t think anyone will want to have children with me so it doesn’t matter.’
Smooth Mint and Pistachio Surprise prowled through the back door, grey mist swirling around them in thin rings.
‘Pansy.’ Smooth Mint bent and turned Pansy’s head over, covering her ruined eye and brushing her eyelid shut with her thumb. ‘That’s all of them. A clean sweep.’
‘Cone-plete success,’ Pistachio Surprise declared. ‘We should do the celebratory cheer for Lemon Sorbet.’
Smooth Mint sighed. ‘If you must.’
‘I scream. They scream. Everyone screams when it’s Team Ice Cream!’ Pistachio Surprise folded their arms. ‘Why does nobody ever do it with me? This is why we keep having to do all those team-bonding exercises, you know.’
‘Let’s wrap things up here and go back to London,’ Smooth Mint said. ‘Full protocol. That means no sign of them, of us, or of magic, Lemon Sorbet.’
‘And then we’re going on holiday to Greece again!’ Pistachio Surprise waved their hands in the air. ‘Isn’t that exciting? Greece has excellent ice cream weather, you know.’
‘Not Lemon Sorbet.’ Smooth Mint touched the tip of their wand to Pansy and transfigured her corpse into a brick. ‘Minister Bones will have to decide if they’re staying with us or not. If they are, they will have to come join us.’
Oh I am. Harry glanced at Strawberry Sundae out of the corner of his eye. Whatever it takes for the sunset.