Just a Step Away

The sun-soaked black silk whispered in the breeze, fluttering upon the warm white pebbles as it pooled at Harry’s feet.

A huge grin spread across Katie’s face as she sat behind the cold glass, poking at the dark pearls with one small finger.

‘Hello, baby bird.’ A hot lump caught the words in the back of Harry’s throat and they bubbled beneath it, caught in a searing surge of yearning. ‘Don’t play with this. It’s got a lot of sharp edges.’

Just the phoenix now.

He drew the runes on the mirror one line at a time, watching Katie babble and smile within the shining silver. The happiness in her bright green eyes twisted in his heart, a sharp sweet little pain; it tore the breath from his lips and left a dull hollow ache in its place.

Harry pressed the jagged bone spear into the Mirror of Erised and watched it shimmer into being in front of Katie.

She grabbed it in both hands, tugging it across in front of her bare toes, a small frown on her face. The thin runes cut into the shards of bone cast a poisonous green glow across her pale fingers as she ran her little hands over the jagged edges and runes. Katie pushed it away with her foot and stuck one of the dark pearls in her mouth, puffing out her cheeks.

A soft laugh slipped from Harry’s lips. ‘No respect for magical artefacts.’ He rested his hand on the cold glass, pressing his fingertips into the shining silver. ‘I hope you’re happy in there. Or sleeping well.’ The hot lump swelled in his throat and tears prickled in his eyes. ‘It won’t be long now. I promise.’

Katie spat the black pearl out and held out her arms, scrunching up her face.

‘I know,’ he whispered, squeezing his eyes shut as heat flashed across this thumb. ‘I know. Je t’aime. Je t’aime, Katie.’

Warm gentle arms slid around his shoulders. ‘We’ll have her with us again soon, mon Amour,’ Fleur murmured in his ear. ‘I see the damaz-kar.’

‘Just the phoenix and whatever you want to do with it left.’

And the price. Whatever it takes. Unease churned in the pit of his stomach, tugging his heart down in short sharp little jolts of fear. I can endure anything as long as I have them. Without them, there’s nothing.

‘What now?’ Harry asked, watching Katie grab for him from behind the cold glass with a fierce stab of yearning. ‘Did Egypt…?’

Fleur’s knuckles whitened against his chest. ‘It was propaganda. Phoenixes are rumoured to be drawn to great displays of emotion by magicals. They made it up to make their independence celebrations sound better.’

‘So we don’t know what’s next…’ Harry tore his eyes away from their daughter’s darkening irises and huge scowl, sweeping the black silk back over the mirror. ‘And time is running out…’

‘We could try to recreate it,’ she whispered. ‘But it was Gabby who spent the last few years learning alchemy for things like this…’

His heart sank. ‘I don’t think we have any more years, Fleur.’

‘Je sais.’

Harry clawed up some small spark of hope and sucked in a deep breath. ‘I will ask Liliana. She can scry. She can find one. Like with Julien and the Lotus.’

‘What will you tell her?’ Fleur asked.

‘I’ll tell her I can’t tell her.’ He brushed the black silk with his fingertips and twisted around, the white pebbles grating beneath his heel. ‘Liliana is mine. She swore.’

‘She swore not to allow your name to be revealed.’

A small smile tugged at the corner of Harry’s mouth. ‘She burns and screams and scries for me. She told me so. And I don’t think Liliana is much of a liar.’

Fleur’s blue eyes darkened a few hues. ‘For you, mon Amour?’

‘Liliana fights for hope,’ he murmured. ‘I’m just its most recent face. She’s had others.’ Harry snorted. ‘One’s not great company for me to be in though.’

‘Grindelwald…’ She cupped his cheek with soft warm fingers. ‘She knows you’re great.’

Harry shivered. ‘I don’t care about being great. I want…’ 

The Mirror of Erised loomed behind him; its shadow stretched up into the sky above, he felt it swirl, faint as summer shadows beneath the willow and silent as winter snow falling in the orchard. Desperate yearning tore its way up through him, bubbling into a burning lump in the back of his throat; its fierce heat stung his eyes.

Fleur pressed a light kiss to his cheek. ‘Breathe, mon Coeur.’

‘We’re running out of time,’ he whispered. ‘Gabby’s magic could fade any second. We just have to do whatever it takes. I have to ask Liliana. She has to scry for me. And we have to find a way to trap a phoenix once she’s found one.’

‘Go.’ Fleur drew back, her fingers falling from his face. ‘Go find Liliana at Les Inconnus. That’s the next step. I will keep trying to come up with a ward that might trap phoenixes.’

‘Has anyone ever done it before?’ Harry asked.

‘Not that I know of,’ she whispered. ‘But we have to try.’

‘Liliana has a necklace, one Grindelwald made; it was something similar, I think. I’ll ask about it, it might help.’ Harry cupped his wedding band and the acorn, feeding a little magic into the pendant; it flared hot. ‘Je t’aime.’

Fleur’s blue eyes softened. ‘Je t’aime.’

‘Au revoir,’ he whispered, slipping Violette’s ring onto his finger and spinning the world back past him.

The floating glass lanterns drifted overhead, sending soft shifting shadows swirling beyond the brazier’s bright flames.

‘Are you looking for me?’ Grise sat in one of the chairs, staring into the flickering white fire with a sombre gleam in his pink eyes.

‘Vert,’ Harry said.

‘She is not here.’ Grise glanced up. ‘Nor will she be for a few days unless absolutely necessary. This week is the week her family died.’

That she killed. He bit back a flare of frustration, swallowing its heat. But I suppose she regrets it now.

‘Fürst-Elect Weber has surfaced briefly in Alemannia,’ Grise said. ‘Or we believe it to be him and his aurors that are involved in the conflict with Fürst-Elect Fürstenburg that we are doing our best to track. They are too far from our wards to risk aiding, but if they get a bit closer…’

‘What’s Grindelwald doing?’ Harry asked.

‘He is mustering his non-human allies in the Germanic States while Fürst-Elects Renner and Metternich assault Tsarina Bugrov and Fürst-Elect Lange in Polans, pushing them back to its Eastern border.’ Grise steepled his pale fingers. ‘Before he sought to control the Ministries that make up the ICW and use them as his means of controlling the magical world. This time he is ignoring them completely. Requests for dialogue and diplomacy from Chinese Hidden Cities, India’s Secret Kingdoms and Africa’s Veiled Kingdoms have all been brushed aside.’ 

‘So he means to fight.’

‘He means to conquer Europe completely, human or not, and then likely use that power to force the ICW to do as he wishes.’ Grise shook his head. ‘If he wins in Europe, he will turn the ICW into his puppet simply by virtue of ruling over its strongest members. From there he will exert his will over the other magical peoples and states. He must be stopped here before he gathers too much momentum or too many supporters in the Asian and African magical nations struggling to cope with rising muggleborn birth rates.’

‘But he’s only fighting in Germany?’ Harry frowned. ‘Why?’

‘He was always reluctant to spill blood without good cause. He has to wait for the Hraddrakan Mysteries to end before the vampire princes will act. He has likely made his move now so he can consolidate his grip on the Germanic Confederation and wait for the vampires simultaneously.’ Grise leant forward, dropping his hands into his lap. ‘Vert thinks we should attack now, she fears waiting for him is too much of a risk. That he will have planned something.’

‘He has planned an awful lot of things so far.’

From the moment Voldemort popped back up again if Julien was truly following his direction the entire time. 

Harry shrugged. ‘At least he’s older now.’

‘I doubt it will make too much difference,’ Grise muttered. ‘You did not see him fight at his peak. He was unstoppable. His supporters had to go back almost two thousand years to find someone to compare him to.’


‘Alexander the Great,’ he replied. ‘And Grindelwald is not some hubristic young man to be tricked by a pretty face and a vial of poison.’

Harry snorted. ‘Probably not.’

‘He out-thought us, out-skilled us — those portkey messages he sent went through our wards as if they weren’t even there; like Vert’s necklace, they must be some kind of alchemy. And then there were the inferii… I copied most of what I can now do from him, but that gryphon he was supposed to have created…’ Grise sighed. ‘Nobody knows how Albus Dumbledore beat him in that duel, but I fear it cannot be done again. Grindelwald won’t repeat whatever mistake he made.’

He won’t forget his mistakes. He’ll learn from them. 

Harry weighed a question on the tip of his tongue. ‘What about phoenixes?’

‘I considered that too,’ Grise said. ‘That maybe it was Dumbledore’s companion and not Dumbledore himself, but we know very little about phoenixes and none of it will help us find one or get it to help us.’

‘I guess someone will have to stop him the normal way then.’ Harry shrugged. ‘If we cut his allies off, he can be overcome. Nobody can win against those odds.’

‘Speaking of allies.’ Grise glanced up, a gleam of worry in his pink eyes. ‘Desrosiers has decided the attempt on the Hraddrakan Mysteries will have to be made by Britain, despite my urging her that you are our best chance of success. We will focus on Fürst-Elect Weber and the British Unspeakables will attack the Sunset Princedoms from Greece in our stead.’

That means Team Ice Cream. Harry smothered a flash of irritation. And I’m pretty sure that means me.

‘Why the change?’ he asked.

‘Desrosiers didn’t want to risk the Duforts or us working alongside British Unspeakables until hostilities have eased, particularly where Sarcelle’s new wards are, in case hostilities resume later.’ Grise’s forehead creased. ‘It is a valid concern, but the importance of attacking the Hraddrakan Mysteries outweighs it in my opinion.’

‘I suppose it can’t be helped,’ Harry murmured.

‘I am afraid not.’

I think it’s a good moment for Lemon Sorbet to die. With all those vampires and fire everywhere, it’s the perfect chance. He allowed himself a small smile. And if Lemon Sorbet can help hinder Grindelwald before La Victoire Finale then that’s good too. There will be no crucible for Katie. Not like there was for me.

‘I am going to depart.’ Grise rose from his seat. ‘I will let you know when Fürst-Elect Weber appears and we can act to aid him.’

‘Au revoir.’ Harry dipped his head, bouncing his wand in his sleeve as the soft murmur of yearning swelled in his chest. ‘I should help Fleur. Every second counts.’

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