Harry swept the black silk back off the mirror and held out his hand. ‘I need to borrow that for a moment, baby bird. While your maman is busy fixing wards.’
Katie babbled beneath the glass as the Elder Wand appeared in his grasp. He cast the ball of purple runes at its tip into the sky. Fawkes trilled as they rose past him, poking his head through the copper wires of his cage to study the glowing glyphs with one dark beady eye.
Just the last two parts. Harry watched the spiral of runes swirl above him with a fierce surge of yearning. Fleur’s phoenix bit and the sacrifice.
Harry dug the orb out of his pocket and vanished the glass, sweeping the runes up into the design.
His thumb flashed hot.
Fleur appeared on the pebbles, her eyes black as pitch. ‘What are you doing, mon Amour?’
Whatever it takes.
Harry shrank the runes back down and pressed the Elder Wand back into the mirror. ‘Just making sure it would work, mon Trésor.’
Fleur drifted closer, the white stones grating under her feet. ‘I still need a little more time, mon Coeur. To finish the phoenix part now we have him.’ A faint shimmer of heat haze hovered around her hands. ‘So you still have time to do what you think I don’t know you are doing.’
Harry sighed. ‘Of course you know.’
‘As always,’ she whispered, the dark draining from her irises. ‘I understand. What else could the boy with just one perfect wish left sacrifice to save his daughter?’
‘We only get one chance,’ Harry said. ‘We have to be sure. No risks.’
‘I know.’ Fleur cupped his cheek. ‘But you promised me no more secrets. You promised Gabby.’
‘I have a way,’ he muttered. ‘Your trap idea for Fawkes. If I’m inside the trap, I’m paying the price, and I can only leave the trap if…’
‘If I give it all up,’ Harry murmured. ‘Loving you. Katie. Our sunset. All of it. Completely. Forever.’
‘So you are inside and you give up on us—’ Fleur’s brow wrinkled and her slim eyebrows curved down into a vee ‘—and then it lets you out?’
‘Yes. And the price is paid without it taking literally forever before the ritual is completed. So long as I can get the inside bit to work.’ He rested his hand on the glass as Fawkes let out a soft trill, rustling his crimson plumage. ‘The giving up is a loophole. So there’s a way out. Like before when I died. I’d just have to find a way back.’
But there is no way back. If there was, it wouldn’t let me out to begin with.
Fleur hummed, her eyes darkening a few hues. ‘And the inside?’
‘I don’t know how to make it forever when I’m inside,’ Harry said. ‘I thought maybe some kind of soul magic, because disembodied souls don’t really experience time the same way. But I don’t know if it will work.’
Fleur conjured a glass vial. ‘I have an idea you could try. After I have adjusted the last part of my piece.’ She held out the vial. ‘For your memories. From the moment you came back to me and woke up here.’
Harry pressed the tip of his wand to his forehead and drew them out, coaxing the thick wisp of silver fog into the vial. ‘I can’t sustain using the pensieve for that long, though…’
‘Merde,’ she murmured. ‘Then perhaps we had better find a way to loop things. Like those warning stories about time-turners. You could do that, non?’
‘Like the bird in the bell jar in the Department of Mysteries,’ Harry said. ‘Reborn over and over in its glass bubble.’
‘It would be like reliving a memory over and over,’ Fleur said, her gaze straying to the pensieve as she tucked the vial into her pocket. ‘Only instead of getting in and out of the pensieve, it would loop you back in time whenever you reached the present moment.’ Bright triumph flashed through her blue eyes. ‘And because it loops you back, you would be able to sustain the pensieve loop forever, because you are actually only sustaining it for a short time over and over again in the same moment.’
‘It sounds tricky.’ Harry frowned. ‘But there must be a way. Time-turners exist. People have managed to get themselves stuck forever in them. I was creating a filter to do it and more for the pensieve…’
‘I kept it vague, mostly.’ He shrugged, offering Fleur a small smile as his heart sank into a cold, numb, dark pit. ‘It doesn’t really matter how the magic fulfils my intent so long as it uses the pensieve in accordance with the few specific rules I’m writing. They make sure the price is paid.’
She cupped his cheek with warm fingers. ‘It will work. I am sure.’
How? How are you sure? Harry stared into her soft blue eyes. Because it hurt so much it now has to happen?
Fleur dipped her hand inside her blue summer dress and pulled out a slim letter. ‘Your sisters wrote. To me.’
‘Violette is dead.’ Guilt gnawed at the pit of his stomach with cold blunt teeth. ‘Did you read it?’
‘I did. They are very upset you are gone. They want to come visit. To make sure we are okay. To help look after our baby bird, their goddaughter.’
A little warmth touched Harry’s heart and a small smile crept onto his face. ‘That’s very kind of them, but—’
‘But they cannot come,’ Fleur whispered. ‘Not now. Now when we are so close.’
‘Reply,’ he said. ‘They’re busy with Grindelwald, but they’re impulsive. If they think they have to, they might just come dashing in on a whim in the next few days. If you reply you can buy us a little time and—’ he offered her a rueful smile ‘—if you’re not dead against it and going to set fire to me for suggesting it, let them know I might not be dead? I would rather they didn’t mourn too much when I might come back after La Victoire Finale.’
‘I will tell them.’ She tucked the letter back away. ‘I am the last of Les Inconnus now, but Présidente Desrosiers has just told me to keep the wards protecting France strong, so I have no less time than before.’
‘How long until…?’
‘The last part?’ Fleur glanced over her shoulder at where Fawkes watched them from within his cage. ‘I nearly have it sorted. There is just one last bit to do, really. The trigger.’ Her slim eyebrows drew down into a shallow vee. ‘You will need one too, for the loop. You can be as abstract as you like about how it loops time, but the trigger to reset the loop has to be perfect.’
‘Or it might not trigger before I run out of magic to sustain the pensieve,’ Harry murmured. ‘That’s going to be difficult given I have no idea what I’ll experience inside.’
‘Memories,’ Fleur suggested. ‘It is still a pensieve, even with your filter to change everything, it still works with memories. In fact… I have an idea…’ She glanced at the pensieve and pulled her wand out. ‘Mon Amour, could you get me the stack of parchment on my desk that is for the phoenix trigger. It should be under a red book.’
‘Of course.’ Harry pressed a kiss to the tip of her nose and apparated into their bedroom, ignoring the flash of heat across his thumb.
The smooth red petals of the rose he’d gifted her shone in the sunlight streaming through the window, hanging over a swathe of blue and green books resting on stacks of parchment.
There’s no red book. He frowned, lifting the tomes up one by one. At all.
Harry glanced around the room.
A flash of red caught the corner of his eye, but he found only the crimson rose in its slim clear vase.
Death. Grindelwald’s words welled up from the back of his mind. It’s in our nature to fade to dust.
‘Nothing lasts forever,’ he murmured.
Inspiration struck like a thunderbolt. Every memory has to end at some point. I can reset the loop then. Patch them together where they’re similar or use any break in continuous perception.
Harry grabbed a spare piece of parchment and scribbled runes down in the pattern of the Peverell crest. That should work.
He frowned at the glowing purple glyphs. ‘It can’t be possible for me to experience a memory that’s completely different to any others that’s also more than six hours long.’
But no risks. Better to be safe.
Harry adjusted a couple of the glyphs in the triangle surrounding the circle. ‘There, now any mental association should trigger the new memory and the reset.’ He squeezed one more rune onto the line. ‘And now any kind of break in perception should trigger it.’
The price is paid, baby bird. A bittersweet tangle of triumph and despair twisted in his breast, sharp as a blade between his ribs, but soft and hot and sweet as Fleur’s sugar-glazed kisses after breakfast. You’re going to be just fine. I promise. He reached for the acorn pendant, but brushed flat, smooth silk instead with a pang of grief. Right. I lost it.
Harry apparated back down beside the mirror. Heat flared beneath his thumbnail and the dark willow tree appeared and faded there.
Fleur glanced up from within the pensieve. ‘Pardon, mon Amour. I had them here.’
‘It’s okay,’ he said, sweeping the black veil away from the Mirror of Erised. ‘I thought of a solution to my trigger. When you’re finished. We’re ready.’
‘It will be a few days still,’ she murmured. ‘I need to test a couple of things while keeping an eye on France’s wards.’
Katie sat beneath the shining silver surface, lifting Roxie’s slim gold ring up from around her neck and poking her tongue through it with a deep frown on her small face and a gleam of intense concentration in her bright green eyes.
Harry stared down at the glowing purple symbol for the halls on the parchment in his hand and let his heart sink down into the dark with a small sad smile. ‘This will be the last time I look, baby bird,’ he whispered as the Elder Wand and the ball of runes appeared in his hand. ‘Au revoir.’ A hot lump swelled in the back of his throat and tears stung his eyes. ‘If I’m not the same when you wake up or if I’m not here, then I’m sorry. And I hope you don’t hate me for it. It’s the only way.’
And if I do come back through the loophole, I will destroy Grindelwald for you. Harry flicked the runes up into the sky and watched the thousands of glowing glyphs swirl over the willow leaves, lifting his last piece up into the filter above. There will be no amber-masked man to steal your sunset. No crucible. No more secrets. And no more hurting. You and your maman will be perfectly happy together. He brushed his tears away and returned the Elder Wand and the rune design to the mirror, sweeping the black silk back over it. Even though it has to be without me.