Lyrical’s most recent commission! Making this rare pair less rare each time the six month recurring commission rolls around!
A low hum of conversation filled the room, punctuated by the gentle clatter of cutlery and clink of glasses. A scatter of families and couples chatted in low voices over their food, knives and forks flashing in the light of the chandeliers.
‘This way, sir.’ The waiter led him through the tables to an empty one beside the window.
Harry glanced at the faint lipstick mark on the water glass. ‘It appears I’ve already been ditched.’
‘I think the lady is just in the bathroom,’ the waiter ventured.
‘Or was that an elaborate ruse to get away?’ Harry took his seat with a laugh and accepted the menu. ‘I’ll stick with water for now, just in case she really has climbed out the bathroom window and escaped.’
‘Of course, sir.’ The waiter straightened the white tablecloth and bustled off between the tables.
A small blue and white fishing boat sat within a clear glass bottle at the centre of the table, sailing through painted waves.
Harry studied the faint smudge of red lipstick on the glass. ‘Gryffindor red…’
‘Hey Harry,’ a soft voice mumbled.
He glanced up.
Katie hovered at the edge of the table, fiddling with the silver dolphin-shaped ring on her thumb.
‘Hey Katie.’ Harry flashed her a smile. ‘Sorry I’m a little late, but better safe than sorry. Rita Skeeter is a terrible third wheel.’
A snort of laughter burst from Katie and she dropped into her seat, smoothing the front of her black dress. ‘Is it really that bad?’
‘Worse, actually.’ Harry stifled a grimace. ‘I’ve had to dip into some pretty advanced magic just to slip out of my own house. It’s like I’m the only thing that sells their stupid papers.’
But it is pretty fun being an animagus, even if it’s a fairly useless form half the time.
‘Ouch.’ She lifted her glass with shaking fingers, watching the water tremble and caught his eye. ‘Sorry. Can’t help it.’ A faint flush climbed her cheeks. ‘As soon as I get nervous, I get all wobbly. Can’t even catch a quaffle anymore.’
Malfoy’s bloody necklace. Anger flashed through him. At least he got what he deserved.
He caught a flicker of shame in her brown eyes. ‘Things leave their mark on us. I think I’ve just completely burnt out my sense of stress. Yesterday Hermione told me she was considering having a baby in a year or so and I waited to get excited or nervous for her and just… nothing.’ He took a sip of water. ‘Yeah. Still nothing. Can’t tell if it just doesn’t sink in or if it just passes right through me.’
Katie blinked. ‘A baby with you?’
Harry choked on his water, smothering his coughs into his arm. ‘Not unless—’ he spluttered ‘—I really misread the conversation and hallucinated Ron buying that engagement ring.’
‘Oh.’ She coloured. ‘Sorry. I don’t know where that thought came from. Of course she’s still with Ron.’
Harry laughed and dried his face on his serviette. ‘I’m not perfect, but I probably wouldn’t have asked you out on a date if that was happening.’
‘Alicia made me come,’ Katie murmured.
A little pang knifed through him. ‘I was that attractive a prospect?’
‘No!’ She twisted the dolphin ring around her thumb. ‘It’s just… I didn’t really feel like dating anyone yet—’ a nervous laugh escaped her ‘—who wants to date a girl who’s scared of flying or apparating and can’t even hold a quill half the time? But Alicia said if I was going to start again you were a good person to start with and maybe it could work out.’
Harry chuckled. ‘Well at least Alicia thinks I could be a decent boyfriend.’
Katie tugged her ring up and down, fiddling with the edge of her serviette and glancing at her menu. ‘She said you’d probably be nice and supportive. Good boyfriend material.’
‘So long as I can hide you from Rita Skeeter and that weird new cameraman she has.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I guess it means I get to enjoy sneaking out to interesting muggle places, so it’s not all bad.’
‘I like this place.’ Katie poked the bottle decoration. ‘I like these. How do they get the boat in without magic?’
‘I have no idea,’ he admitted. ‘We can ask the waiter? He might know.’
She smiled. ‘Maybe.’
‘So what have you been up to?’ Harry asked. ‘Other than being made to go on dates with Alicia?’
‘Not much,’ Katie mumbled. ‘Took me a while to get the shaking down to anything I felt I could go outside with. You?’
‘Mostly I hide from Rita Skeeter and visit friends,’ he said. ‘Turns out my special ambassador role for the ministry actually doesn’t have any function whatsoever. I just get paid to randomly turn up to things and smile. Hermione tells me it’s because the Ministry has no credibility so they want to try and borrow mine.’
‘At least you get paid.’
‘I mean, I wouldn’t turn up otherwise. And I definitely wouldn’t smile. They’re never fun things.’ Harry shrugged, offering her a small grin. ‘Weird how things turn out. I always thought I’d be an auror, but I just could not bring myself to keep fighting anymore.’
‘Huh.’ She took a drink of water. ‘I thought your fancy job would come with some perks.’
‘I have a diplomatic pass, so I can get into other magical countries really easily.’ A wistful little feeling tugged at his grin. ‘Sometimes I wonder if I should just go tour all the interesting magical places in the world, but then I remember I have nobody to go with.’
‘It’s not really a first date thing.’ Katie glanced over her shoulder.
Harry followed her gaze to the lone brown-haired woman on the far side of the restaurant and met familiar hazel eyes. Alicia started and looked away out the window.
He laughed. ‘Oops.’
‘Alicia just realised I might have recognised her.’
Katie flushed. ‘She came as back up. In case it went bad and I fell apart into a shaking mess.’
‘She’s a good friend,’ Harry murmured.
‘I was the confident one,’ Katie mumbled. ‘I used to push her to do things she was shy about all the time. And now look at me.’
‘You look very good,’ he said. ‘I like the dolphin ring.’
She flashed him a small smile. ‘It’s Alicia’s. She loves fish. I borrowed it for tonight.’
‘Steal it. It suits you.’ Harry grinned at Alicia over Katie’s shoulder. ‘Is she going to come over?’
‘Maybe.’ Katie poked at her serviette. ‘She’s still pretty shy and she gets nervous around you, but sometimes when it’s about me she’ll just blow her top.’
‘Well, don’t tell her this, but I always kind of had a crush on her at school.’ Harry laughed as Alicia gave him a small wave and turned pink, rising from her seat. ‘Here she comes.’
‘Sorry, Harry,’ Alicia said. ‘I’m not trying to intrude, it’s just…’
‘It’s fine.’ Harry waved her apology away. ‘You’re a good friend. Katie’s lucky to have you.’
Alicia turned bright red.
‘And you let her steal all your jewellery apparently, so that’s bonus points,’ he said. ‘I guess you might as well come join us, you are not the worst third wheel I’ve had on a date recently.’
‘Rita Skeeter,’ Harry replied. ‘At this point I’m considering just asking her on a date to cut out the middleman. When she publishes a horrible article about me, I’ll go to Teen Witch Weekly and tell them she tried to shag me halfway through the first date so I backed out.’
A snort of laughter burst from Alicia and Katie smiled.
‘I promise not to ask you any questions for the Daily Prophet,’ Alicia said, pulling a chair across from the next table. ‘Have you ordered?’
‘No.’ Harry glanced at the menu. ‘I thought my date had run away, and then I got caught up talking to her. Horrible of me, I know.’
She laughed. ‘Well, you’re not doing too badly,’ Alicia said. ‘Katie’s not looking like she’s about to run off.’
Katie mumbled something under her breath.
‘Did you tell him about your baking yet?’ Alicia asked. ‘Katie?’
‘No,’ Katie murmured. ‘We were talking about… you know.’
‘Ah, well, I tried to get Katie to play piano with me,’ Alicia said. ‘I love piano, I just play and it’s like floating away from all the stress into the sun, but Katie wasn’t keen.’
Katie squirmed. ‘I was terrible.’ She held up her trembling fingers. ‘I was just wasting Alicia’s time with the piano so I started baking instead. Doesn’t matter if you’re a shaky mess when baking.’
‘Just means more sprinkles on top,’ Harry said.
‘She’s really good now.’ Alicia beamed. ‘It’s great. Whenever I come back to our flat there’s always cake. I keep telling her she should start like a cake shop or something before I get really fat.’
Harry’s eyes dipped to her waist. ‘I think you’re doing okay for now.’
‘It’s only a matter of time.’ Alicia snickered. ‘But you can help, Harry. A third person will make a big difference keeping up with Katie’s baking.’
‘Third?’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘No Angelina?’
‘She’s in Ireland,’ Katie murmured.
‘Pro-quidditch. Irish league is a good league to start out if you’re chaser.’ Alicia peered over Harry’s arm at the menu. ‘There’s a lot of fish here.’
‘It’s a seafood place,’ Harry said, pointing at the ship in the bottle. ‘There’s a whole restaurant theme, see?’
‘That’s cool,’ Alicia poked the bottle with a finger. ‘How do they get the boat in without magic?’
‘I have no idea,’ he replied.
‘I wonder if anyone makes magical versions,’ she said. ‘I quite like this, but with magic you could have real water and fish—’
‘Fish.’ Katie smiled.
‘Hush, I like fish,’ Alicia said. ‘I could probably make one of these.’
Harry studied the bottle. ‘It would be a fair bit of charms work and research.’
Her face fell. ‘Yeah, you’re right. I don’t really have time with legal exams coming up.’ Alicia nudged him in the ribs. ‘Want to make me one? Katie will be really impressed.’
‘I mean… I could.’ Harry laughed. ‘It’s not like I have a real job.’ He pulled the bottle a bit closer. ‘Maybe I’ll actually give it a try, I do need to find something to talk about at the Burrow this weekend or Hermione will ask me about dating disasters and keep trying to set me up with Ginny.’
‘You can come bring it to our flat,’ Alicia said. ‘We can trade it for cake, Katie’s cake, not mine. My baking is terrible, you might actually die.’
‘It cannot be worse than Hagrid’s,’ Harry replied. ‘It’s just not possible.’
Alicia laughed, flashing him a wide smile. ‘Yeah, he doesn’t strike me as a baker.’ She caught Katie’s eye and her forehead creased. ‘What are you baking next, Katie?’
‘I hadn’t really got that far,’ Katie murmured. ‘Maybe cinnamon buns. You liked those.’
‘Those were amazing. Sticky, but amazing.’
The waiter drifted by, shooting Harry an odd look as he passed.
‘I think the waiter may be confused about my lifestyle choices now.’ Harry grinned. ‘Oh well. I’m sure Rita Skeeter will write about them in a positive light.’
Katie twisted about to glance after him, fiddling with the silver ring on her shaking fingers.
Alicia poked him in the side. ‘Do come to our flat,’ she whispered. ‘Katie will like it. And I’m kind of ruining this date.’
No harm in going, I guess.
‘It’s a deal,’ Harry said. ‘Whatever horror I make with a bottle in return for some of Katie’s baking.’ He laughed. ‘This is a terrible deal for you.’
‘Not for me,’ Alicia said, smiling across the table at a pink-faced Katie. ‘I’m starting to get chubby from all Katie’s baking.’
‘We should order,’ Katie said, staring down at the menu, the colour rising on her cheeks. ‘Before the waiter comes back again.’
Harry pushed his wand around in small circles on the outside table, yawning into the warm bright sunshine and resting his elbow on the stack of Charms books.
The little blue and white boat bobbed in the half full bottle, bumping against the glass.
‘Success?’ Hermione dropped onto the bench beside him, peering at the ship. ‘The ship is now inside.’
‘That’s less tricky with magic, you can just shrink it and unshrink it.’ Harry pushed the stack of Charms books at her. ‘I was trying to make it a live scene, but even after all morning reading through these for the tenth time, I can’t seem to make it work.’
‘It’s fairly complex charmwork,’ Hermione said, flicking through the swathe of colourful tabs sticking from the pages. ‘This is the sort of thing they did to the ceiling of the Great Hall at Hogwarts but on a smaller scale.’
‘I may have bitten off more than I can chew,’ he admitted, pulling the bottle toward him. ‘I read through all the technical stuff a few times and it makes sense, but it doesn’t actually tell me how to do the spell.’
‘Oh.’ Hermione glanced up from the pages. ‘Oh those aren’t meant to really tell you how to do it. They’re more like analysis of the result. It’s like when we studied Shakespeare and they talk about iambic pentameter being really effective and colloquial word choice. It’s analysis of the result, not instructions for the creative process.’
‘It’s a boat in a bottle, Hermione.’
‘It’s magic,’ she chided. ‘You have to feel it. It’s not chemistry. This is actually the sort of magic you’re good at, Harry. Like the Patronus Charm.’
‘Tell that to the bottle.’ Harry fixed it with a mock glare. ‘It’s resisting my genius.’
Hermione laughed. ‘You’re treating it like a science project. You have to mean it.’
He sighed. ‘But it’s not really important enough to mean it.’
‘Make it important?’ she suggested, glancing over her shoulder. ‘And don’t go back into the kitchen. Molly is holding Ginny hostage in the hope you’ll go back in.’
‘Not again.’ Harry groaned. ‘What does she think will happen? She’s going to lock us in the kitchen together for ten minutes and suddenly we’ll be married with a baby on the way?’
‘You could manage the baby part in ten minutes,’ Hermione said. ‘I did tell you that you should date more people or everyone would think you and Ginny might happen again.’
‘I don’t think that would’ve stopped Molly. Or Rita Skeeter for that matter.’ He picked his wand back up. ‘You know what I need? A really long holiday. Somewhere really far away. Where nobody can bother me about things I don’t care about.’
Hermione’s expression softened. ‘You could just go, you know. We’d all understand. Even Ron noticed you’ve been out of sorts.’
‘I’d have to go by myself.’ He shrugged. ‘I’d get bored by myself.’
‘Still, it might help to get away.’ She rested her hand on his, her engagement ring shining in the sunlight. ‘It is a bit weird to go from fighting for our lives to normal life.’
‘I said what I said.’ He pulled his hand away. ‘I am bored, Hermione. And nothing really matters. I just don’t feel it. It’s like I burnt all the inside out of myself when I walked into the forest to die and it still hasn’t come back.’
‘It takes time,’ Hermione whispered. ‘We all just had to fight for what we wanted and now we can enjoy it. You chose to die. You gave it all up. It’ll come back, Harry. I promise.’
‘How would you know? I don’t think it will. Not here.’ Harry shook his head and pointed a thumb over his shoulder. ‘Ginny was right, you know. I did stop really loving her. I stopped when I went off to die. Because I knew it didn’t matter anymore.’
Hermione’s lips pursed, twisting into a thin line. ‘Well, if nothing else we can use that to finish this bottle.’
Harry snorted. ‘How?’
‘You know the magic, you just have to feel it.’ She set the bottle upright before him, balancing it on the gap in the tabletop, and pushed the books aside. ‘There. Give it a go.’
He pointed his wand at the boat bobbing in the bottle. ‘Shippus sailus.’
Hermione giggled. ‘That is not the incantation. Magic like this usually doesn’t have a simple incantation at all.’
‘I know,’ Harry replied. ‘It does the same thing anyway, just not quite what I want.’
‘What do you want?’
‘Just a nice boat sailing through the waves in the sun,’ he said, wobbling the bottle until little ripples bounced back off the glass. ‘I was going to put live fish in there, because Alicia likes fish, but the enchantments for that are a lot more complicated than these ones. I’d need to make sure it can’t break, isolate the inside, shrink the fish…’
‘Give it a go,’ Hermione said. ‘But you have to feel it.’ A small smile spread across her face. ‘Do you remember Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Just before it. When everyone else was fretting about the wedding and the three of us were sitting on the butter beer barrels in the sun just enjoying the moment.’
Like floating in the sun. Harry closed his eyes in the warm morning light and let the lightness lift his heart up, a small smile creeping across his face as he pictured the little boat floating across the sparkling azure waves.
‘Shippus sailus,’ he murmured, tapping the bottle with the tip of his wand.
Hermione laughed. ‘Harry—’ a quiet gasp slipped from her lips ‘—oh my god, that’s amazing.’
He opened his eyes.
The little blue and white boat soared over the small waves, breaking through their foaming crests with tiny puffs of white spray.
‘That came out quite well.’ A small swell of satisfaction tugged the corner of his mouth up. ‘I need to make another one though.’
Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Yes, mother.’
‘Who you’re giving gifts to because…?’
‘She suggested making one while third wheeling my date with Katie, so this one is for Katie and I’ll make another for her. I’m going to see them in a few days.’
‘Katie Bell. Dating. Okay. Didn’t want to mention that when I asked what you’d been up to earlier, did you?’ Hermione rolled her eyes. ‘How is she? I heard rumours after the court case with Malfoy but nothing I’d trust.’
‘I think she’s doing pretty well, really, all things considered,’ Harry said. ‘We only had one date and it seems like she’s better than she was, mostly because Alicia has been a very good friend, I think.
‘How did the date go?’ she asked.
‘It went okay. Fairly sure Alicia twisted her arm into saying yes.’ He shrugged and dropped his wand on the table. ‘I bumped into Katie at the Diagon Alley and only asked because you keep twisting my arm into asking people and Katie was always nice.’
‘It’s that or let Molly lock you in the kitchen with Ginny.’
‘Please no. Not again.’
‘She accidentally trapped us both in there on Ron’s birthday while rearranging the living room table and chairs. It was so awkward I nearly died.’
‘Not even a baby,’ Harry said. ‘Although that would’ve been even more awkward, I’m pretty sure Molly was listening from outside.’
‘She wants you to be part of her family,’ Hermione said. ‘Her heart’s in the right place.’
He picked the bottle up and turned it upside, watching the ship sail upside down through gravity-defying waves. ‘Are Bill and Fleur coming? I’d quite like to ask them about this.’
‘I don’t think you need much help anymore.’ She glanced between the sparkling sunlit waves breaking against the boat and his face. ‘Did you enjoy making it?’
‘I did.’ Harry smiled and set the bottle back down. ‘But I want to see if I can do something a bit more with the second one.’
Pigeons strutted along the curb, bobbling their grey heads and hopping up and down into the gutter between the parked white vans. They scattered as Harry crossed the road toward the gate in the beech hedge, flapping off into the shaded branches of the lyme trees and cooing above his head.
Twelve. He pushed open the small metal gate and followed the concrete slabs through the neat lawn to a wooden door.
‘Twelve…’ Harry tucked the two wrapped boxes under his arm, scanning the label beside the buttons and jabbing one.
Something chimed beyond the door.
‘Harry?’ Alicia’s voice emanated from the little speaker.
‘Afraid so. And worse, I come bearing gifts.’
Her laughter crackled through. ‘I’ll let you in then, just come on up. Door’s open.’
The door clicked.
Harry pushed it open, following the small brass plaque up the stairs to the ajar second door. He poked it with a finger and it swung open.
Alicia leant over a narrow kitchen unit piled with spring onions, peering across the small table and low sofas down the corridor. ‘Heya Harry!’ She smiled and waved a small knife at him. ‘Katie is staring at all her dresses in a mild panic, but she’ll appear soon.’
‘Don’t tell him that!’ Katie yelled. ‘Just chop the spring onions.’
Alicia snickered and tugged the waist of her jeans up, flicking her cream blouse off the handle of the cupboard in front of her. ‘Katie is also not allowed to use sharp things like knives. Otherwise we spend a lot of time in the bathroom trying to get blood out of her clothes and sticking her fingers back together at St Mungo’s.’
‘Probably wise,’ Harry said. ‘My aunt used to use lemon juice and cold water to get blood out of things. Never actually tried it myself though.’
‘Did you bring us a bottle?’ she asked, lining spring onions up in a neat row. ‘How’d it go?’
‘I have brought you two bottles.’
‘Two?’ Alicia tutted and wagged the knife at him. ‘This better not be an attempt to date both of us, Harry.’
‘Fine…’ He grinned. ‘I’ll go and get a third bottle and wait for Angelina. I guess it’s not fair to start without her.’
A snort of laughter burst from Alicia. ‘I have a nice bottle for you that you can use.’ She pointed the knife at a gold and black labelled bottle of red wine. ‘But we have to drink it first.’
‘A terrible hardship,’ Harry quipped. ‘Is there something you want a hand with?’
‘Dragging Katie out of the bathroom?’ Alicia suggested. ‘Or you can do me a favour and grab the marinade out of the fridge.’
‘Assistant chef, reporting for work.’ Harry set his presents down on the table and tugged open the fridge. ‘Dragging girls out of bathrooms sounds like hard work.’ He lifted the bowl of dark liquid out, breathing in a soft whiff of soy sauce and chilli as he set it on the side by the sink. ‘This smells great, by the way.’
‘Katie doesn’t let me cook with magic,’ Alicia replied. ‘It’s part of the deal.’
‘I’m about to come out, Alicia!’ Katie yelled. ‘I’m just having trouble with eyeshadow.’
‘Ah…’ Alicia glanced at her hands. ‘Katie, do you need any help with that? Because my fingers are all covered in onion, but Harry…’
‘No, it’s okay, I’m nearly done.’
‘You can almost hear her blushing as she hides in there,’ Alicia murmured, a small frown creasing her forehead. ‘And she used to be so bold.’
‘Is Katie okay?’ Harry asked, lowering his voice to a whisper.
‘Yeah.’ A small smile flitted across her lips. ‘She gets a bit shaky when she’s nervous and eyeshadow can be tricky with trembling hands. It’s fine. Just makes me a little sad when I think about how she used to shove me at boys a couple years back and flirt her way around the common room with a huge grin on her face.’
‘I don’t remember much flirting.’
Alicia laughed. ‘That’s because you used to be really bad at it. You don’t remember Katie offering to help you polish your broom? Or asking about your preferred bludger handling technique?’
‘And suddenly her manic giggling makes sense.’ Harry laughed. ‘I was pretty wrapped up in other stuff back then, though. That would’ve all flown right over my head.’
The bathroom door squeaked and Katie edged out, untwisting the shoulder strap of her tight dark red dress with trembling fingers.
‘I told you that one would look really nice,’ Alicia said. ‘Come over here and watch me chop things using the knives you’re not allowed to touch.’
A little smile crept onto Katie’s face. ‘Is there anything that needs doing with a spoon or a fork?’
‘Or a spork?’ Harry suggested.
‘What the hell is a spork?’ Alicia demanded.
He blinked. ‘You have missed out. It’s like a fork and a spoon combined—’ Harry dug his wand out of his pocket and conjured a small wooden spork ‘—see?’
‘Weird,’ Katie said. ‘Spoon-fork. Spork.’
‘The alternative is fpoon.’ Alicia snickered and pointed the small knife at the coffee table. ‘Want to open our presents, Katie? I’ve got onion on me.’
‘Oh did you actually try and make them, Harry?’
‘I did.’ Harry wrinkled his nose. ‘I think they came out okay. Alicia’s one was tricky. I had to get a bit of help from Ron’s older brother, Bill, and Fleur.’
‘Mostly Fleur, no doubt.’ Alicia rolled her eyes. ‘Boys…’
‘She is rather attractive, but unfortunately very happily married.’ Harry grinned. ‘Also expecting another baby in about seven months and I’m not ready to be a stepdad.’
A snort of laughter escaped Alicia. Katie glanced between the two boxes.
He pointed at the nearest box. ‘That one’s yours, Katie.’
She lifted it up and poked a finger under the paper, peeling the sellotape off with a curious look.
‘Magical wrapping paper distresses me,’ Harry said. ‘I don’t know how to use it and it tries to wrap me up in itself sometimes.’
Katie stuck the sellotape on the edge of the table and pulled out the slim wooden box, lifting the lid off.
The small boat soared across the sunlit waves, breaking through their foaming white crests in puffs of white spray; its sails and rigging fluttered in the charmed breeze.
‘Wow…’ Katie lifted it up. ‘This is really good. How the hell did you do this?’
‘I read many charms books,’ Harry replied. ‘And then, because it turned out none of them were actually about how to do the magic, I realised I just had to mean it and kept trying until I found a way that worked for me.’
Katie glanced around the flat. ‘I don’t know where to put it.’
‘They are pretty useless,’ Harry admitted. ‘I considered making one for myself, but I also had no idea what I’d actually do with it.’
A small smile crossed Katie’s face. ‘Let’s see what Alicia’s one is like.’
‘This one I got a bit carried away with.’ A little heat crept to Harry’s cheeks. ‘I remembered you mentioning Alicia liked fish, though.’
Katie slid the box out of the paper and pried the lid off with shaking hands, lifting the bottle up into the light of the window.
A pair of dark koi fish circled a small dinghy, their long fins rippling behind them like streaming black ribbons.
Alicia rinsed her hands under the tap and patted them dry on a small towel, drifting around to peer into the bottle. ‘Those are incredible, they look so real.’
Harry scratched his nose. ‘They are.’
Her brown eyes widened. ‘The fish are real?!’
‘Yeah…’ He watched them dive down, shrinking smaller as they reached the bottom of the bottle. ‘You should actually be careful with that bottle, it’s quite a bit bigger on the inside than it seems. I learnt a lot of protective charms from Bill, so you’d have to try hard to break it, but better to be safe.’
Alicia stared at the koi fish as they bumped their noses along the bottom of the bottle, a delighted grin on her face.
Katie hid a smile behind her hand. ‘Look how much the weirdo likes fish, Harry,’ she whispered. ‘She’ll be watching them all day now.’
‘Hush Miss Shake and Bake,’ Alicia murmured, taking the bottle and peering into its depths.
Katie laughed, flushing pink. ‘Does she have to look after them?’
‘They are real fish,’ Harry said. ‘They do need feeding. You can just pour fish food into the bottle though, should be affected by the charms the same way as the fish are.’
‘Why do they get bigger when they come up?’ Alicia asked, watching one of the koi fish grow as it swam up to nuzzle the dinghy.
‘Technically they actually get smaller as they go down,’ he replied. ‘There’re a lot of charms involved, but most are to do with the space. It’s quite interesting, but if I talk about it I start to sound like Hermione…’
‘Lecture away,’ Katie said. ‘They’re really cool.’
‘Okay, but feel free to tell me to shut up when you get bored,’ Harry said. ‘So there are two layers on top of one another. The first is the dinghy, which is also a real dinghy, because I wanted to try and make sure I wouldn’t kill the fish when I put them in—’
‘Wait it’s a real full size boat?’ Alicia blinked. ‘How big are those fish?!’
He snorted. ‘Not that big. That’s the layer thing. The dinghy and the water I did together, so they’re the same layer of magic. They’re just a lot smaller in there than out here.’ Harry chuckled. ‘Don’t break the bottle.’
‘The fish will die.’
He laughed. ‘The fish will be fine, they’ll have plenty of water to swim around in if that bottle breaks. Your flat might get very damp though.’
Katie smiled behind her hand.
‘Don’t drop the bottle,’ Alicia murmured. ‘Got it.’
‘The fish are a separate layer because Fleur helped me rework some of the charms after I showed her the bottle with just the dinghy, so anything you try and put in the bottle appears in a specific spot. I didn’t want to accidentally drop the fish in the boat and kill them. Anyway, they shrink a bit to go in and shrink more toward the bottom of the bottle.’
Katie hummed. ‘You said that’s a real dinghy…’
‘Could you put a real boat in one of them?’
‘You mean a big one?’ Harry grinned. ‘I could if I had one. I don’t though.’
‘Making bakery plans?’ Alicia asked.
Katie beamed. ‘These are really good. And when Malfoy’s next couple of payments come in I’ll be able to afford that tiny corner place just off Diagon.’
A soft gleam shone in Alicia’s as she turned to Harry. ‘Katie is planning to open a bakery, since pro quidditch isn’t going to work out and Malfoy has to regularly pay her a stipend to make up for what he did.’ She glanced at Katie.
Katie nodded and studied the bottle on the coffee table, colour creeping up her cheeks.
‘I’m qualifying as a lawyer specialising in underage and accidental magic incidents,’ Alicia said, placing her bottle down on the table next to Katie’s. ‘So I can’t help too much with the bakery. That’s why we have the deal.‘
Katie nodded, tucking her trembling fingers behind her back.
‘Katie is going to go for her bakery and I’ll cover the debt payments on my salary for a bit until she can pay me back.’ Alicia grinned and walked back over to the kitchen, lining three wine glasses up beside her bowl of marinade. ‘In return, I also get free cake for life at the bakery and Katie isn’t allowed to use sharp objects unsupervised.’
‘Well I’m happy to make you table bottles,’ Harry joked. ‘I’m getting a bit of a taste for it and I don’t want to keep them, I don’t know what I’d do with them all.’
‘You give Katie table bottles and she’ll give you free cake.’ Alicia pulled her wand from her pocket and opened the wine with a tap. ‘Right, Katie?’
‘Seems fair,’ Katie mumbled.
‘Can I also come hide from Rita Skeeter there?’ Harry asked. ‘She’s stalking me again. I think she knows I was meant to go to the reopening of St Mungo’s new ward and is upset she couldn’t bombard me with weird questions about my sex life.’
‘Can we bombard you with weird questions about your sex life?’ Alicia asked, pouring the first glass. ‘Better to know first, right Katie?’
Katie flushed bright red.
‘You can, but I’m not going to answer them in anything but the most ridiculous way possible.’ Harry took the wine glass and passed it to Katie with a smile. ‘I think I might go on holiday for a bit soon. Just to get away from her and do something fun and exciting again.’
‘Go find some real ships to put in Katie’s bakery bottles,’ Alicia suggested, filling the last two glasses and holding one out over the counter.
‘People might get upset if I start stealing their ships.’ Harry took the glass and sipped his wine. ‘And you’d want nice ones, too, not some random fishing boat.’
‘Old muggle ones,’ Katie said. ‘Or cool shipwrecks.’
‘Shipwrecks would be fun.’ Alicia tossed marinated meat into the pan; hot sesame oil sizzled and spat in the pan. ‘You could have a full bottle and have loads of fish with the shipwreck.’
‘Fish,’ Katie murmured.
‘Fish are cute!’
‘I also don’t have any shipwrecks lying around at home though,’ Harry said.
‘Go find one?’ Alicia suggested. ‘You said you wanted a holiday. Katie can help you, she loves a project.’
Katie beamed and bounced forward to the edge of the counter. ‘We can use this wine bottle as the first one and find a shipwreck all together somewhere warm and sunny.’
‘I suppose Rita Skeeter can’t possibly chase me all the way out there.’ A little grin crept onto Harry’s face. ‘And it would be nice to go do something exciting with some other people.’
‘Then it’s settled.’ Alicia poked sizzling beef around the pan with the tip of a flat wooden spatula. ‘Harry will apparate back here on Monday at eleven. We can hunt down a shipwreck Katie likes the look of, then we can go on holiday to find it and Harry can put it in a bottle for Katie’s bakery tables.’
Harry chuckled. ‘I may need to do some more experimental charm work for the bottle part, but I’m sure I can figure it out.’
‘Aren’t you working on Monday?’ Katie mumbled, staring down into her wine glass.
‘I am, unfortunately.’ Alicia grinned and tossed spring onions and beansprouts into the pan. ‘It’ll be just the two of you here together.’
Oh. Sneaky. Harry snorted.
Katie turned a little pink and took a gulp of her wine. ‘I guess if Harry doesn’t mind it just being me.’
‘I don’t,’ he promised. ‘I did ask you on a date, after all.’
‘And Katie looks very good in that red dress,’ Alicia said. ‘No wonder he’s keen to come over when I’m away.’
Harry rolled his eyes. ‘You’re as bad as Rita Skeeter, I like to get to know a girl before I try to get her out of her dress.’
‘Sometimes I do need help with zips, though,’ Katie murmured, glancing up from her wine with pink cheeks. ‘Maybe your fingers will be better…’
Alicia cheered. ‘Innuendo Katie is back!’ She dabbed her sleeve at her eyes as Katie squirmed, a soft smile on her face. ‘Sorry, onions.’
A familiar bright blue beetle crawled along the windowsill of Harry’s bedroom, its little legs pattering along the wood.
‘Hello, Rita.’ Harry scooped up his mug and lifted the window, clapping it down over the top of her. ‘Got you.’
Now, what shall I do with her…?
He grinned and picked up the empty water bottle from the side of his bed. ‘I know just the way to keep you out of trouble for a bit.’
Rita buzzed inside the mug.
‘Don’t be like that.’ Harry grabbed his wand, lacing the bottle with magic. ‘You know the laws about sneaking into peoples’ homes, if you happen to suffer a magical mishap it’s on you.’
He tucked the open neck of the bottle under the edge of the sill and pushed the lip of the mug over it. Rita appeared at the far side of the bottle with a small pop.
‘It’s quite a long walk back to the end,’ Harry said, leaving the bottle on the sill and pulling the window down. ‘I’m going out to a secret rendezvous now, but it’ll all be over by the time you get out, I’m afraid.’
Rita’s little black legs scuttled furiously forward on the spot.
He laughed. ‘Oops, I might have put a bit much into the charms. I’ll let you out if you’re still in there when I get back.’
She stopped running and buzzed her wings, waving her small black legs at him.
‘It’s your own fault.’ Harry waved his wand. ‘Accio.’
His boots flew up the stairs and bounced off the closed bedroom door with a thud. He rugged the door open and stuffed his feet into his boots, running a hand through his hair as he jogged down the stairs.
Her bloody cameraman is probably waiting outside somewhere though.
Harry diverted left down into the cellar and pressed the button on the tap above the old beer drain.
Water gushed down the small stone hole, gurgling into the dark past the wire of charmed Christmas lights.
‘I really need to connect this house to the Floo,’ he muttered, tucking his wand into his pocket and turning on the little string of lights. ‘But then Rita would probably just come through that instead somehow. And it’s more fun this way.’
A dead leaf rose up the drain, floating on the surface of the water as it crept up. The tap’s timer clicked and the gush died to a trickle.
Time to go. Harry put a foot either of the drain and changed, drawing himself into bright maroon and turquoise scales and fins and dropping into the water. Most useless animagus form ever.
He flapped his bright fins, powering himself down past the small glowing lights, along the smooth terracotta pipe past little piles of sand and grit and out into the rushing cold water of the brook.
Harry let it sweep him downstream past small stones and beneath hanging brambles to the bend and leapt from the water over the flat sand, changing back.
He staggered forward over the bank, dripping water. ‘Escape successful.’ Harry swept his damp hair off his face and dried his clothes with a flick of his wand. ‘And with a little time to spare.’
He pictured Katie and Alicia’s apartment and disapparated, stumbling into the back of the sofa with a deafening pop.
‘Harry?’ Katie called from the bathroom.
‘Afraid so!’ Harry caught sight of the two bottles on the mantle of the fireplace and smiled. ‘Are you eyeshadowing?’
The bathroom door creaked open. ‘No.’ Katie held up her shaking hands over the swirl of pink and teal colour on t-shirt. ‘It wasn’t worth even trying this morning.’
He winced. ‘I can… I want to say help, but I will probably still be worse at it than you.’
A small smile crossed her lips. ‘I don’t think we’re quite at the you do my eyeshadow stage of dating yet.’
‘We’re barely at the dating stage of dating,’ Harry said.
Katie glanced down at her white socks. ‘Why is your hair wet?’
‘I had to take extreme measures to evade Rita Skeeter who was outside my bedroom window again this morning.’ He grinned. ‘I think she’s jealous about me seeing other girls. Good thing she hasn’t seen any of our dates, she’d write a whole column on how I’m embracing polygamy and debauchery.’
Katie laughed. ‘She’d probably think you were dating Alicia and I was tagging along…’ She stared at her trembling fingers. ‘Anyway! I did some research, by the way, for the ship thing.’
‘I do like a project,’ she mumbled. ‘And I like treasure hunts, so I had this idea and Alicia never says no to anything I suggest, so…’
Harry flashed her a smile. ‘It sounds a lot less boring than what I’ve been doing recently.’
Katie beamed, bouncing forward and grabbing his hand. ‘Come with me.’ She pulled him down the corridor into her bedroom.
Old books and pieces of parchment lay across the white duvet on the bed, Katie’s wand stuck from the top of a multi-coloured stack of cushions heaped against the headboard, and jeans and dresses and t-shirts sprawled over the wooden floor and hung over the open wardrobe.
Katie coughed and poked a pair of red lacy underwear under the bed with her toe.
‘Too late.’ Harry laughed. ‘You have good taste. Gryffindor red.’
The tips of her ears turned pink and colour rushed to her cheeks. ‘Thanks?’ Katie squirmed. ‘They do look better on the floor than on me.’
He snorted. ‘I think that line works better when you’re wearing them.’
‘Yeah,’ she mumbled. ‘I – er – I wasn’t intending to give you a show, I just don’t sleep well so all the stuff is in here…’
‘Don’t panic.’ Harry chuckled. ‘I didn’t misunderstand. You don’t strike me as a we’re not at the you doing my eyeshadow but coming back to my bedroom and watching me put on lingerie is fine sort of girl.’
A small smile spread across Katie’s face. ‘I don’t think there are many girls like that really.’ She kicked discarded clothes away into the corner and grabbed a piece of parchment from the bed. ‘After the weekend, I went and did some research about old ships in Ministry records, but it turns out there actually aren’t many old ships lying around where we can get to them because if the muggles know about them we can’t exactly grab it.’
‘They might notice,’ Harry said. ‘And we’d get into trouble.’
‘Right.’ She waved her piece of paper. ‘So I made a list of the ones we know about that were lost due to magical incidents we covered up. And most of them end up with the ships being destroyed, which is no good. But there are few where the ships were abandoned.’
‘And they’re probably still there because we’d have obliviated everyone and just left it.’
‘Right.’ Katie grabbed a notebook wrapped in red and gold stripes. ‘So I copied down all the translates bits from the journal about there they left the ship and I figured we could figure out where it is and go get it?’
‘Why not.’ Harry took the book and skimmed her neat handwriting. ‘It was full of gold?’
‘Plunder from the New World,’ she replied. ‘The Spanish wizard was pretending to be a sailor because he was interested in the magical parts of the continent they discovered.’
‘And there was a big storm that damaged the ship too much to repair, so they scuppered it and intended to come back for it.’
‘Yeah. Only, apparently they couldn’t afford another ship because nobody believed them about the gold being there, so the wizard gave up.’
‘Where is it?’
‘Caribbean.’ Katie patted another piece of paper. ‘I have a rough map for where to start, but someone has to get us international portkeys to get us there.’
‘That someone’s me.’ Harry nodded. ‘I can do that.’
A loud crack tore through the flat and Katie flinched.
‘Katie? Harry?’ Alicia’s voice echoed down the corridor. ‘Are you in the bedroom together?’
Pink rose in Katie’s cheeks and she groaned. ‘I didn’t think she’d be back for lunch so early.’
Harry smiled. ‘You can join us if you want, Alicia.’
Alicia pushed the door further open with one finger and snickered. ‘How disappointing, you both have all your clothes on.’
‘My hands were shaking too much,’ Katie retorted. ‘We tried really hard but I couldn’t manage to take my clothes off.’
‘And Harry didn’t help? Not very heroic of him.’
‘Chivalry is dead,’ Harry replied. ‘I was actually hoping you’d come back so I could ask you to help Katie and lure you into a sordid threesome. Rita Skeeter promised me it’d make the front page and said if I didn’t do it she’d write another piece about my tearful childhood as an orphan.’
‘Well, when you say it like that, I can’t say no.’ Alicia laughed and reached for the top button of her blouse. ‘No… I’m just dropping by to grab something for work and to make sure you two make it to the third date before you end up in bed without the books.’
Harry wrinkled his nose. ‘It’s a harrowing glimpse into what I assume Ron and Hermione’s sex life is like. Only these books are probably smaller than Hermione’s bed time reading.’
‘Size isn’t everything,’ Katie said under her breath.
Alicia cheered. ‘It’s what you do with the book that matters.’
‘I have no idea what you would actually use it for,’ Harry admitted. ‘I guess if the girl’s really bored she can read…’
‘Spanking,’ Alicia suggested, tugging the red and gold notebook from Harry’s hands and giving it a swish. ‘What do you reckon, has Katie been a bad girl?’
Katie squirmed. ‘Could you not?’
Alicia’s smile faded. ‘Sorry, Katie. Only teasing. You two seem to be getting on pretty well though…’ She passed the notebook back to Katie.
‘She hasn’t thrown me out yet,’ Harry said. ‘Actually, Katie seems to have done all the hard work herself already, I just have to get some portkeys—’
‘And a boat,’ Katie said.
‘Also probably a fair few spare bottles and a couple of tents and a few other bits and pieces.’ He shrugged. ‘I can probably figure that out.’
‘Get one of the magical tents with rooms and a bathroom bit,’ Alicia said. ‘I went muggle camping once and never again.’
‘A magical tent it is.’
‘Right.’ Alicia glanced between them. ‘I feel a bit like I ruined your happy planning session so I’m going to head back to work. See you later, Katie.’ She vanished with a loud crack.
‘Sorry,’ Katie murmured.
‘Nothing for you to be sorry for,’ Harry promised, offering her a soft smile. ‘Rita Skeeter once spent at least two hundred words speculating I liked redheads because of my tragic orphaning and unresolved mummy issues. I was dating Susan at the time and it did not go down well…’
A snort of laughter escaped Katie. ‘Oh my god, she is genuinely your arch-enemy.’
‘Worse than Voldemort.’ He shook his head. ‘I like redheads and now I’ll never be able to date one again. She’s ruined like a tenth of the dating pool for me in a paragraph.’
‘I have brown hair so I’m safe, if not as pretty,’ Katie murmured.
‘That’s what you think. There’ll be an article about how you have brown hair and play quidditch just like my dad the next morning and it’ll all be over.’
She laughed, the notebook trembling in her hands. ‘Alicia is up to no good though.’ The bright gleam in her brown eyes faded a fraction. ‘She’s trying to nudge us.’
‘I noticed.’ Harry studied his thumbnail.
‘I… I don’t want to be mean or rude, but…’ Katie stared at her notebook, chewing her lip. ‘I don’t really feel like there’s anything—’ she waved a hand between them ‘—here. I mean, I like you, you’re a nice guy, and you’re funny, but nothing, like, more…’
Harry shrugged and offered her a rueful grin. ‘Story of my life, all the girls that know me think I’m a great friend and the ones that don’t want to date Harry Potter.’
‘Sorry?’ Katie mumbled.
‘Still nothing to be sorry for,’ he said. ‘If I’m being honest, I think I might have burnt out my ability to really feel things. I really loved Ginny and then I walked off to die and that part of me just didn’t come back. So you probably dodged a bullet.’
‘You’ll find someone,’ Katie promised. ‘Alicia keeps promising me that while not dating or even seeing anyone, so it must be true.’
‘It’ll be Gabrielle Delacour.’ Harry sighed. ‘Somehow she’ll wear me down.’
‘Fleur’s younger sister has a very strong crush on me. Apparently it’s been a thing for a while. Every time I meet her, I get the feeling she’s just waiting for me to give in and date her.’
‘Isn’t she like… fifteen?’
‘Nearly seventeen, now, I think. Not that that’s much better.’
‘I mean, it’s definitely a bit better.’
Harry laughed. ‘Well, yeah, but still. She’s always staring at me and there’s just this look in her eye that makes me feel like she’s already named all our children.’
‘At least she’s probably very pretty.’
‘She is rather pretty. If she was three years older I might have just resigned myself to my fate and let her have what she wants. I guess in five years time if she hasn’t given up that gap won’t seem so big and she’ll just kind of wear me down until I say yes.’
‘Well, that sounds really depressing, but it’s okay, because I know just the girl for you,’ Katie said, a strange little smile on her lips.
‘Don’t pick a redhead,’ Harry said.
She laughed. ‘Worse. It’s Rita Skeeter.’
‘I have no idea what her natural hair colour is, but if it’s red that’s just the last nail in the coffin.’
‘Well, there’s one way you find out what her natural hair colour is…’ Katie sniggered. ‘She might finally get some answers about your sex life too.’
‘Oh now innuendo Katie wants to come back,’ Harry muttered. ‘It’s fine when it’s me and Rita Skeeter, but when it’s us, it’s too horrible to imagine.’
She snickered. ‘Fleur’s sister will cheer you up, and when you get out of Azkaban for sleeping with her, you’ll find you’re a father and get to marry her.’
‘I think I’d rather walk back into that forest,’ Harry said. ‘The way she adores me is so… so childlike, it actually really makes my skin crawl when I think about it. I’d be such a horrible disappointment compared to whatever she’s imagined.’
Katie’s smile wavered. ‘Sorry.’
‘It’s fine. I’m used to the jokes. I get them all the time. I’ve even started making them myself now.’ He tapped the notebook. ‘We have a ship to find…’
‘And put in a bottle.’ Katie’s lips twisted. ‘I am officially adding you to the deal now.’
‘Doesn’t Alicia get a say?’
‘She can veto you later if she wants.’ Katie thrust the notebook into his chest. ‘I am going to bake and talk, so let’s leave my tip of a bedroom and go to the kitchen. And you are now obligated to make me bakery bottles, get the portkeys and things, and come to the bakery so Rita Skeeter finds it and writes about it and gets me famous.’
‘What devious marketing strategy.’
‘In return you get free cake and I’ll hide you from Rita Skeeter, redheads and precocious French schoolgirls.’
Harry laughed, following her back through the flat to the kitchen. ‘I’ll take that deal.’ His smile softened. ‘Be warned though, nobody has dared to tell Gabrielle about me dating anyone since Ginny, she might go psycho.’
‘Not really, she’s pretty sweet, just a bit too quick to clumsily try and sit in my lap or follow me around with the sort of dreamy expression that makes me feel kind of guilty I’m not still seventeen and what she thinks I am.’
Katie rummaged through cupboards, lining up little glass jars on the counter. ‘Sounds like escaping to the Caribbean is a good idea.’
‘Absolutely.’ Harry grinned. ‘Which bit are we all escaping to?’
‘Havana,’ she replied. ‘That’s the port they set out from a few days before the storm hit them, we can follow the same route and then go from there.’
‘I can definitely get us portkeys there,’ he replied. ‘Amos Diggory’s Spanish diplomat friend has a house there, he goes out to visit so often you can just ask and they assume you’re a guest.’
‘Not this weekend. Next one.’ Katie lifted a large glass bowl out of the cupboard and set it down beside the jars. ‘Alicia can take a long weekend over that one so we can go out on the Friday and hunt until Monday.’
‘You know it might take longer than four days?’
‘The journal is pretty detailed,’ she said. ‘The writer was really fascinated by muggle sailing. Headings. Speeds. Everything is here. I have a map to draw a line on when I’ve figured out how to use them. The only tricky thing is finding the right island where the storm hit them.’
Harry grinned. ‘I’ve never been on a treasure hunt before. I think it’ll be quite exciting.’
‘If we find loads of gold, that’ll be handy too,’ Katie said. ‘Even if it’s muggle stuff and worth way less than the goblins’ alchemy made sort.’
‘You can have all the gold for your bakery,’ he said. ‘I don’t really care about that sort of stuff.’
‘I think we have to give it to the Ministry and only get a finding fee.’ Katie frowned. ‘I don’t have any eggs…’
‘I have some at home,’ Harry suggested. ‘If you want?’
‘I think I have like nine left,’ he said. ‘They’re large ones too.’
Katie beamed and poured flour into her mixing bowl. ‘Thanks, Harry!’
‘I’ll be back in a moment, then.’
Harry tapped the snarling wooden lion baton against his thigh, watching a scatter of wizards and witches appear in the flickering green flames in the atrium and drift toward the elevators.
‘Why is it so fancy?’ Alicia asked, poking the lion’s flowing mane with one finger. ‘Or are they all like this one?’
He sighed. ‘No, they just insisted on giving me the official one for our ambassador. I told them I was only going on holiday, but they didn’t seem to care.’
Alicia snickered and swept her brown hair off the shoulders of her light, white t-shirt, twisting into a smooth ponytail with the dark green band on her wrist. ‘You really don’t enjoy yourself much in your job do you?’
‘It’s completely pointless and terribly shallow,’ Harry said. ‘And the idiots I have to talk to… this one lady, something like Greenarse, I forget her real name, would not shut up about how muggleborns were eroding the customs of the magical world and now they can’t celebrate things like they used to.’
‘Well that’s the thing, they absolutely can, it’s just the muggleborns don’t really care about their fancy party and they feel very insecure about that.’ Harry grinned. ‘She kept coming onto me as well, but that was before Rita Skeeter’s mummy issues article broke Susan and I up, so I had to say no.’
Alicia blinked. ‘I really want to revisit that at some point, but I’m vibrating.’
‘If we’re revisiting that article we’re also revisiting why you’re vibrating.’
She snorted. ‘Because our conspicuously absent Miss Shake and Bake has just sent me a message.’ Alicia pulled a small folding mirror from her jeans pocket and unclasped it. ‘Katie is ill. Something she ate at her parents. She’ll come join us when she’s feeling better if she can.’
‘Oh…’ Harry frowned. ‘Should we wait? Is she okay?’
‘She says she’s fine and we should go on without her.’ Alicia chewed her lip. ‘She won’t lie to me about when she gets shakey, that’s part of the deal, so we go like she says.’
‘I have all the stuff.’ Harry patted the rucksack at his feet. ‘So I guess…’
‘Just the two of us.’ She grabbed one end of the baton. ‘Oh wow it’s really heavy, this is proper posh wood.’
He sighed. ‘Yes. It’s probably some hand-carved piece of magical mahogany gifted from the Prince of Magical Mahogany-land to Britain for literally no real reason other than patting themselves on the back. I don’t know, I don’t actually listen when they ramble on about stuff like that.’
‘Well, go on then,’ Alicia said. ‘What’s the word.’
Harry groaned. ‘Can you cover your ears or something?’
She laughed. ‘That bad?’
‘Indefatigable,’ he muttered.
Alicia snickered and the green fires and dark marble walls of the atrium lurched sideways.
Heat washed over Harry, wrapping him up like a blanket as he blinked into the bright sun. Azure waves rippled as far as the eye could see beyond the white stone balcony balustrade, sparkling between a scatter of tiny islands and splashing back off the cliff below.
Alicia’s elbow brushed his shoulder as she shaded her eyes. ‘Damn, it feels like I’m being stabbed in the brain.’ She dug through the top pocket of her rucksack and clapped a pair of mirrored sunglasses on. ‘Oh my god, that’s so much better.’
Harry turned around.
‘Welcome.’ A tall wizard with pale red coral war studs poking through his dark hair smoothed out flowing light pink robes. ‘Mr Potter?’
‘Oh no…’ He groaned. ‘Someone from London called ahead.’
The wizard nodded. ‘We have a small team of aurors on overtime to provide security for you and… your company.’
‘Shut up,’ Harry muttered, heat rising in his face. ‘I told them not to do this. I said to Kingsley, literally stood in front of his face and said word for word, don’t do anything like this.’
‘Maybe he thought you needed protection from Rita Skeeter,’ Alicia said.
‘I do.’ Harry handed the fancy wooden portkey to the wizard and shook his head. ‘But not here.’ He sighed. ‘Just… whatever has been organised, please un-organise it. I don’t think there’s room in the boat for us and ten aurors. There’s definitely not room in the tent for them.’
The wizard frowned. ‘No aurors?’
‘No aurors,’ Harry said. ‘No anyone, in fact.’
‘What about the boat, Mr Potter?’
‘We probably will need that, it’s a long way to swim,’ he replied. ‘But that’s it. Just the boat. No aurors, no security, nothing fancy or special.’
The wizard held out the portkey. ‘Then, if you would, I will side-long apparate you to your boat and sort out the rest for you myself.’ He straightened his pink collar. ‘I am properly qualified, I assure you.’
‘Alright then.’ Harry grabbed the end.
Alicia wrapped her hand around the middle.
A deafening crack rang out across the ocean and they appeared on a cobbled quay. The gentle slap of waves against stone rang across the small bay.
Harry breathed in the smell of the sea and let the warmth of the sun soak into his skin. This is nice.
The wizard gestured at the small white yacht bobbing against the quayside. ‘This is you.’
‘Do you know how to sail?’ Alicia whispered.
‘It’s enchanted,’ he said. ‘Keeps it simple for us. The magic is clever enough to sail about in good weather.’
‘If we sink…’
‘You’ll get to see loads of fish,’ Harry replied. ‘Win win.’
She laughed. ‘You’ll have to save me, I can’t swim all that well.’
‘Yeah.’ Alicia turned a little pink. ‘I like going in the water but I never learnt as a kid so I mostly just kick and flap my arms and go very slowly. And then sink.’
‘Well, I am a great swimmer, so if there are sharks I should be able to get away while they eat you.’
Alicia snorted. ‘Katie will poison your cake if you leave me for the sharks.’
The wizard coughed into his hand. ‘I have sailed one of these before a few times working as a security escort for guests. It’s very simple, you just pick a place to go and it will take you there. Just don’t get caught in high winds or a storm.’
‘I guess we should just do that then,’ Harry said, jumping over the small gap onto the boat. ‘Except I don’t actually know where we’re going…’
‘I have all the stuff.’ Alicia clambered over the side, one eye on the water. ‘Katie gave it all to me before she went to see her parents because she said she didn’t want to take twice as much stuff.’ A small frown wrinkled her forehead. ‘Which, now that I think about it…’
Harry swung his bag off his shoulder onto a seat and studied the web of runes scrawler across the wheel. ‘I have no idea what any of this means.’
Alicia staggered up beside him as the boat rose and fell. ‘Turn it.’
‘If we sink, it’s your fault.’ He spun the wheel.
The yacht shuddered.
‘And down we go…’ Harry laughed. ‘At least it’s a short swim back to shore.’
‘Tell it where you want to go,’ the wizard called. ‘Use the proper coordinates.’
Harry glanced at Alicia.
She stared back, colour rising in her cheeks.
‘You have the journal,’ he whispered.
‘Oh!’ Alicia flushed bright red and dug through her bag. ‘Give me a moment to figure out where we’re going from Katie’s illegible owl scratching.’
Harry chuckled and pointed a finger at the blue sky. ‘I’ll ask the guy about the weather while you find them. Just in case.’
‘Probably a good idea.’ Alicia frowned, wrinkling her nose. ‘I only packed for sun, though.’
‘So far so good, then.’ He drifted halfway back along the yacht rail. ‘How is the weather looking for this weekend?’
The wizard glanced up at the sky. ‘Good for the next few days. You might get a patch of rain, but at this time of year, there won’t be much.’
The yacht shuddered and the sail came down, sweeping past Harry’s head.
‘Sorry!’ Alicia called. ‘I didn’t realise it would do that!’
‘I may not make it back alive,’ Harry said.
The wizard laughed. ‘Watch out for the jib, the magic means the boat just does it all, so there’s not always much warning if it has to change suddenly. That’s one reason we don’t suggest taking them out into any real weather.’
‘I’m going to stand somewhere safe then,’ Harry replied as the yacht drifted away from the dock. ‘Thanks for your help!’
The wizard gave him a lazy wave and disapparated.
‘Okay…’ Harry kept one eye on the jib as he returned to the stern. ‘Assassination attempts aside, how’re we looking?’
Alicia laughed and watched the wheel twitch as the yacht glided through the small inlet toward the sea. ‘I think we’re going. I put in the coordinates from Katie’s list, so that’s where we should be heading.’ She lifted the bottom of her white t-shirt and pulled it over her head.
Heat rushed to Harry’s cheeks. ‘Are—’
Alice shoved her top into her rucksack and adjusted the bottom of her black bikini down a fraction. ‘That’s better.’ She kicked off her shoes and tugged open the button of her jeans, wriggling out of them and taking off her socks. ‘Otherwise I’m going to get some very bad tan lines.’
‘I should probably put some suncream on,’ Harry said.
‘Some what?’ Alicia frowned as she stuffed her clothes into her bag, a small silver octopus wiggled its tentacles, swaying from the slim silver chain about her neck. ‘Why are you all red in the face?’
‘Because you started taking your clothes off out of literally nowhere and I wasn’t sure what to expect.’ He flashed her a grin. ‘I even had this flash of fear that somehow you’d turn out to be Rita Skeeter in disguise and I’d be trapped.’
A snort of laughter burst from Alicia. ‘And you sent away your team of security aurors, too. You’d be helpless before your arch-enemy.’
‘Fortunately, my fears were misplaced.’
‘Unfortunately, I was wearing a bikini underneath.’ A mischievous smile flitted across Alicia’s lips as she bent and pulled her wand from her jeans’ pocket. ‘I bet you’re just gutted that Katie couldn’t make it too. You could have spent an entire long weekend with us in nothing but bikinis on this boat.’
Harry laughed. ‘Well, I hadn’t actually thought of that, but now you mention it, it does seem like a missed opportunity.’ The humour dwindled. ‘But—’ he waved a hand at the scatter of small white clouds on the horizon ‘—I don’t think Katie’s really all that interested in me, to be honest. I’m absolutely on board with the bakery plan, but I don’t think the dating part is going to work out.’
Alicia studied her wand. ‘I know. She was pretty mad with me about turning up at lunch and…’
‘Nudging?’ Harry shrugged. ‘I’m not mad. Hermione does it to me all the time.’
‘That’s good.’ She stuck her wand through the side of her black bikini bottoms. ‘So what is suncream?’
‘It’s like a cream—’ he dug through his bag and grabbed the tube ‘—you spread it over your skin and it stops you getting burnt.’
‘Huh.’ Alicia gave the tube a small squeeze and swept a little of the cream off, lifting it to her nose. ‘It smells.’
‘Sun cream always does.’
‘Well, I have a sunlight charm,’ she said, spreading her arms in the sun; the silver octopus in her cleavage spread its tentacles out. ‘Which means I am protected from sunlight, so it won’t hurt me, but I’ll still go a bit brown.’
‘Sounds like something a vampire would need.’ Harry’s gaze dipped past the black bikini top to the pale skin of her smooth tummy. ‘You do look like you don’t go out in the sun much.’
‘That’s just the side effect of legal exams.’ Alicia laughed. ‘I promise I don’t bite though.’
He chuckled and stuffed the suncream back into his bag. ‘Can you sun charm me?’
‘Sure!’ She slipped her wand out of the bikini at her hip and tapped him on the nose. ‘There!’
A little tingle rippled across Harry’s skin from his head to his toes. ‘Thanks.’ He watched the white spray burst beneath the prow as the yacht poked its nose out of the inlet into the open sea.
The deck shifted beneath his feet and he staggered sideways, grabbing the rail.
Alicia stumbled into his side, catching him in the ribs with her elbow. ‘Sorry.‘ She regained her balance. ‘Wasn’t expecting that.’
Harry rubbed the sore spot. ‘I’ve been hurt worse.’
The yacht picked up speed, racing across the waves; the deck rolled beneath them with each swell and dip as little specks of land grew into islands, and the warm wind rippled the white sail and tugged at Alicia’s ponytail.
‘So, where are we starting?’ he asked.
‘Katie made a list.’ Alicia bent and pulled out the red notebook.
The little silver octopus hanging in her cleavage latched its tentacles onto the bag zip.
‘What?’ Alicia sighed. ‘No. Don’t do this again. Come on. Let go.’
Harry snorted. ‘Are you stuck?’
‘It’s actually really fragile,’ she said, tapping it with her finger. ‘I can’t pull it off because then he might lose a tentacle and that would be very sad.’ Alicia wiggled the tip of her little finger into the octopus’s grasp. ‘There we go.’ She stood up. ‘So, Katie made a list of islands based on what this wizard wrote. He apparently was obsessed with muggle sailing? So she had the coordinates and heading of the galleon for a bit — let me just show you.’ Alicia flicked through the pages and pulled out a folded piece of parchment. ‘Here.’
Harry took it and opened it, flattening it against the wheel out of the wind. A straight red line stretched across the map of the sea from Havana to a cluster of small islands circled in more crimson ink. ‘So we’re following the line?’
‘No.’ Alicia shook her head and tapped the red circles. ‘Katie looked at these on other maps and compared the shape to the journal description. She listed them in order of likelihood with their coordinates. We’re going to number one on the list.’
‘Does it have a name?’
‘No.’ She laughed and waved Katie’s notebook at him. ‘None of these do. We’re all out in uncharted waters here. It’s a big piece of ocean full of magical creatures, so no muggles came and named every island or anything. Actually, these days, they can’t even get in. The whole area is warded off.’
‘As long as we don’t run into some kind of giant sea-snake.’ Harry glanced at the silver octopus wiggling in the cleavage of Alicia’s bikini. ‘Or any giant squid.’
‘He’s an octopus. He has fewer tentacles.’ Alica shot him a mischievous smile. ‘You are looking at the octopus, right, Harry?’
‘Absolutely.’ He dragged his gaze up to her mirror-ed sunglasses. ‘I’d rather not meet any giant octopuses either. Or huge grindylows.’
‘I think you’ll be safe.’ She pointed at the approaching islands. ‘Somewhere in those, is where we’re going. One with a lagoon, which is where the ship is meant to be.’
Harry studied the swathes of green rising from the sparkling blue sea and smiled into the warmth of the sun. ‘You know, it’s really rather nice out here.’
‘Nice to get away?’ Alicia asked. ‘From the job you hate.’ She sniggered. ‘And Rita Skeeter and lovesick French schoolgirls.’
Harry frowned. ‘Katie told you about Gabrielle…’
Alicia twitched. ‘We don’t really have any secrets from each other, so yeah, you should probably just assume that anything you tell one of us, the other will know.’ She shot him a rueful smile. ‘Sorry?’
‘It’s okay, it’s not really a secret among friends.’ He spared her a sharp look. ‘But Rita Skeeter does not find you. I will not have her messing with Gabrielle over this just to sell her stupid articles and if you tell anyone else…’
Alicia raised her hands. ‘Not telling anyone. I swear.’
‘Good.’ Harry relaxed. ‘I don’t want to even think how awful that will be for her. She’s just a girl with a silly crush, she doesn’t need all the drama and hate Skeeter will stir up.’
The corner of Alicia’s mouth curved up. ‘You got all protective and angry on me.’
‘I feel vaguely responsible,’ he muttered. ‘Since I haven’t managed to muster up the will to break her heart and remind her that she’s about five years too young for me.’
‘Katie has competition?’
Harry snorted. ‘You know, I honestly don’t think anyone tells Gabrielle about my girlfriends at all. Fleur definitely doesn’t. She thinks it’s all very sweet and I’m not sure she actually even disapproves.’ He let out a long sigh. ‘I’m not sure any of them disapprove, not even Hermione or Molly and Arthur. It’s like they don’t think I’m capable of hurting Gabrielle even by accident.’ A faint smile tugged at his lips. ‘Actually, in Molly’s case, it’s probably because she expects me and Ginny to get back together.’
‘Oh no.’ Harry laughed. ‘That ship has sailed. I walked into that forest and whatever I felt for Ginny didn’t come back with me. Not much did, actually. I don’t think there’ll ever be a spark like we had again for me.’
Alicia inspected her fingers. ‘Katie used to say a lot of stuff like that. I made her go talk to someone professional about it and she says it helped a lot. I can dig out their address if you want, but I guess if Rita Skeeter notices…’ She grimaced. ‘Also, I know about your talk with Katie, in case you hadn’t realised. That you’ve already decided the dating thing isn’t really going to work.’
Harry shrugged. ‘Sorry. She didn’t feel like there was much of a spark and I don’t think she’s wrong.’
‘It’s fine.’ Alicia patted him on the shoulder. ‘You still get to give us cool ships in bottles and free cake from the bakery as her friend.’
‘That’s pretty much just what I was in it for,’ he replied. ‘The cake was really good.’
‘It is, isn’t it?’ She beamed. ‘I’m so proud of her. She’s doing really well.’ Alicia’s smile softened. ‘And you helped a bit, you know. She’s started trying to push me at guys and making little inappropriate jokes again. I didn’t realise how much I missed it, so thank you.’
‘I don’t think I really did anything.’
‘You were good enough to get her thinking about dating and guys again,’ she said. ‘Opened all the doors she closed in her head.’
‘Well, I’m glad, I guess,’ Harry murmured. ‘I hope she does well. She’s a really nice girl.’ He watched the island swell up to fill the sky, a tangle of forest covering the tall hill rising over the shallow lagoon and beaches. ‘Is this…?’
The sail swept about and the yacht arced through the waves toward the entrance to the lagoon.
‘I think that means yes,’ Alicia replied. ‘The ship should be in scuppered in the lagoon, though…’
Harry peered through the clear waters. ‘I feel like we would be able to see it. It’s fairly shallow.’
‘The masts and stuff should definitely stick up.’ She frowned. ‘I guess it’s not here.’
‘It looks nice,’ he said. ‘We can set up camp here and use it as a base?’
‘You can teach me to swim in the lagoon.’ Alicia snickered as she flicked through Katie’s notebook. ‘Okay, so other than the giant ship in the lagoon, they buried a muggle sailor who fell from the rigging and carved a big cross onto the boulder they buried him next to.
‘Let’s set up the tent and everything.’ Harry waved a hand at the beach. ‘Anywhere above the tide line is probably fine.’ He grinned. ‘And then we can make a beach fire!’
Alicia beamed. ‘Did you bring any food?’
‘I…’ Harry winced. ‘I did not.’
‘We can go fishing!’ She pointed at the trees. ‘And eat coconuts. It’s like being marooned on a desert island!’
He laughed. ‘I thought you liked fish?’
Alicia chewed her lip. ‘We can’t eat the cute ones.’
‘No eating cute fish, okay.’ Harry bent and pulled off his boots and socks, wiggling his toes on the warm wooden deck. ‘There is a yacht cabin, actually.’
‘We should hunt through it and see what we have.’ She pointed at the beach. ‘But tent first. Magical tents are a pain in the butt if they don’t go up as intended, you have to mess with the charms and that can take a while. Better to get it out the way.’
‘Yes Captain Spinnet.’
‘Ha.’ Alicia drew herself up. ‘Now I’m the captain.’
‘I think yacht captain is probably better than quidditch captain. We don’t have a first-mate Maclaggen.’
A snort of laughter burst through her lips. ‘You can be first-mate Potter.’ Alicia reached up and patted the top of her head. ‘I need a fancy hat.’
‘And a parrot.’
‘A parrotfish,’ she said.
‘Katie’s right, you are weird with your fish.’
‘Insubordination aboard!’ Alicia swatted him on the shoulder with the notebook. ‘No talking back to your captain.’
Harry laughed and saluted. ‘Yes, Captain Spinnet Sir Ma’am Captain Ma’am. I’ll set up the tent for you and then we can make a beach fire and find out what food we have.’ A little flutter of excitement swept through him.
I felt that. He took a deep breath of warm ocean breeze and flashed Alicia a grin. I felt it.
Dark pines towered up all around him, stretching away into endless shadow; the faint wisps of grey mist hovered about him, clinging to the shapes of friends and family as they lingered alongside him.
‘I am not afraid to die.’ The words spilt from his lips, smooth and soft and sure, but so very bitter on his tongue. ‘I open at the—’
A gentle hand shook him awake and he blinked into the soft light of the tent.
‘I made you tea,’ Alicia murmured, patting him on the shoulder. ‘You said last night to wake you if you weren’t up as early as me…’
‘Give me one second.’ Harry squinted up at blurred tent walls and fumbled for his glasses.
‘Oh!’ Alicia’s hand vanished and the smooth cool of his glasses frames slipped onto his face. Her hazel eyes and brown ponytail came into focus, the silver octopus clinging to the side of her black bikini top. ‘Better?’
‘A much better view,’ he replied.
Faint pink rose on Alicia’s cheeks. ‘I bet you say that to all the girls.’
‘Well, not all of them. Just the ones that Rita Skeeter tells me look like my mum.’ Harry pushed himself up on the small bed and stretched. ‘What time is it?’
‘Morning. About eight.’ Her eyes wandered down his chest, sending small butterflies flitting about in his stomach. ‘I reckon Rita Skeeter’s just jealous, you’re not looking too bad there.’
‘My animagus form is actually really good for fitness,’ Harry said. ‘Not the sort of thing you think about when you learn, but genuinely a pretty nice upside.’
‘I’ll say.’ Alicia winked at him and offered him the cup of tea. ‘Bit less skinny now.’
Harry flushed and took the mug. ‘Not exactly winning any awards for biggest guy around, though.’
‘Lean’s not too bad, I like it more.’ She smiled and lifted up her own mug, taking a sip. ‘I raided the yacht, by the way. There was tea and a few snacks, but we’re going to have to get better at fishing.’
‘A lot better.’ Harry laughed. ‘At least we’re good at beach bonfire making.’
‘I’m going to go for a walk along the beach while you get up,’ Alicia said. ‘See you in a bit!’ She brushed back out through the tent flap into the main section.
Harry took a gulp of hot tea and let the warmth suffuse him. ‘Alright. Time to get up.’ He set the mug down and threw back the sheet, grabbing a pair of swimming shorts and a t-shirt.
I should bring the bottle. Harry dragged his shorts on and stuck a hand in his bag, wiggling it around until he felt smooth cold glass. There it is.
He lifted out the green glass wine bottle. ‘You are going to need some seawater in you. No point having a ship if there’s no water.’ Tossing his t-shirt over his shoulder, he juggled his wand, mug of tea and the bottle, picking his way out of the tent and onto the warm sand, weaving around the ashes of the beachfire to the soft wash of the lagoon shore.
The bright morning sun flashed on the waves past the lagoon edge as they rolled onto the low rocks, breaking in low crashes of white foam. Alicia’s footsteps stretched across the white sand to where the forest reached the beach at the small headland beyond the still waters of the lagoon.
A galleon is probably a lot bigger than a rowing boat. Harry breathed in the warm ocean breeze with a soft smile as he strode down to the lagoon edge and set the green wine bottle down in the sand. But it shouldn’t be a problem.
He sipped his tea, savouring the smooth heat and milky flavour and watching the handful of gulls soaring above the lagoon. ‘Right then…’
Harry stuck his wand in his back pocket and poked the bottle into the water with his toe.
Water poured in, creeping up the lower third; the lagoon ebbed, its glass-like surface flooding forward and spiralling into the mouth of the bottle.
‘Oops,’ he murmured, squinting at the fresh foot of damp rock protruding from beneath the lagoon. ‘Should’ve done it from the actual sea. I guess when the tide comes up it will refill…’
‘Harry!’ Alicia yelled.
He twisted on his heel, spilling his mug of tea over his foot in a flash of hot pain.
Harry sighed and set the mug down, hooking the bottle out of water with his scalded foot. ‘Ow. Ow.’ The pain ebbed as the cool water washed over the skin, fading away. ‘It was quite a nice cup of tea, too.’
Alicia sprinted across the sand, her dark hair flying behind her.
‘There better be a dragon or something,’ he muttered, grimacing at the red mark on his foot. ‘Ah well, it doesn’t matter really. You’ve been hurt way worse than a little hot tea.’
She slid to a stop beside him, scattering sand across his toes. ‘I found the rock!’ Alicia bounced on her feet and wrapped him up in a tight warm hug, sending a light flutter through Harry’s stomach. ‘I found it!’ She let go and pointed back at the headland. ‘It’s up there.’
‘You found a big rock?’ Harry grinned and gave her a small round of applause. ‘That’s why you’re the captain, Captain Spinnet. Nobody else would manage such a feat of genius.’
‘No.’ Alicia rolled her eyes, fighting her smile. ‘I found the one from the journal. The one that’s in Katie’s list as a grave marker for the muggle sailor.’
‘Oh, the boulder with the cross?’
‘Yes!’ She beamed, excitement sparkling in her hazel eyes. ‘That means this is the right island.’
‘So… there’s another lagoon on the other side?’ Harry glanced at the thick forest covering the steep hill. ‘It’s going to get sweaty hiking over that to find it, but there’s probably nothing dangerous in it, it’s a pretty small island.’
‘No, this is the only lagoon.’
Harry frowned. ‘There’s no giant ship here, though.’ He snorted. ‘I would know, I accidentally lowered the water level by a half a metre filling the bottle up.’
Alicia blinked and stared at the bottle. ‘It has that much water in it.’ She spread her arms. ‘But the—’
Harry laughed. ‘Are you measuring the lagoon by spreading your arms?’
‘Shut up.’ A snort of laughter burst from her lips. ‘I was just… estimating.’ Alicia tilted her head to the side. ‘It’s got to be a hundred metres across. And it’s what, ten metres deep?’
He chuckled. ‘It’s about double that. It looks more shallow than it is. And it’s definitely more than a hundred metres across.’
‘That’s a lot of water in that bottle…’
‘It’s not going to break unless you really try to break it,’ Harry replied. ‘You could hit it with most spells and it’d still be fine. I figured Katie wouldn’t want some kid from Hogwarts tossing a corridor jinx into one of the bottles and then her entire bakery gets drowned in gallons of seawater and crushed under a huge ship.’
‘Wouldn’t everyone die?’
‘Probably.’ Harry picked the bottle up. ‘That’s why there are so many charms on it, though. Nobody wants to die in a freak sailing accident in a bakery in the centre of London. Rita Skeeter would make fun of them.’
‘Your great nemesis would probably find a way to make it about your mum.’
‘My mum was supposed to be very good at charms, actually.’ He snorted. ‘So there’s her angle of attack. I can see it now. Tearful orphan, Harry Potter, kills an entire bakery of people attempting to reconnect with the ghost of his mum.’
‘Reconnect with the ghosts of his past, you mean.’ A broad grin spread across Alicia’s face. ‘She uses that line in almost every article.’
‘Why have you been reading them?’
‘I wanted to see the Susan one after you mentioned it being very funny.’ She patted her pocket. ‘So I got Katie to find it and send me the best bits.’
‘Very funny for you.’ Harry sighed. ‘Susan did not find it funny. At all. I think she genuinely believed Rita Skeeter was right.’
‘Shouldn’t have called her mummy in the bedroom.’
Harry shook his head and laughed. ‘Does that mean Katie’s feeling better? Is she going to come out to join us? We can sail back to Havana and grab her if need be, it’s just a few hours and we’ve got three more days out here.’
Alicia chewed her lip. ‘Katie said it’s fine. We should have fun without her. I offered like five times and she just kept saying no.’
‘Is she getting her own back?’
‘Probably.’ She studied her hands. ‘You know, if the ship was in really bad shape, it might just be right down at the bottom of the lagoon…’
‘You want to swim in and look?’ Harry asked.
‘Well, my swimming is terrible, but yes.’
‘I don’t think there are any sharks,’ he said. ‘Just yell if you need help and don’t go anywhere too deep.’
Alicia nodded. ‘Don’t go too far, please?’ She shivered. ‘I don’t like the idea of all that water underneath me.’
‘I can stay close.’ Harry pointed at the rocks on the far side. ‘Or, if you don’t want to swim, you can bring the bottle and my wand and stuff around the shore and I’ll meet you there?’
‘You don’t mind swimming down by yourself?’
‘I’m very good at swimming.’ He grinned. ‘Very good. Can hold my breath for ages.’
‘Okay, then.’ She tucked the bottle under her arm and held out her hand. ‘Wand?’
Harry pulled it out of the back pocket of his shorts and tossed his t-shirt over her shoulder. ‘See you in a moment.’
Might as well fish it. He leapt into the air, drawing himself into bright maroon and turquoise scales and fins and splashing down into the sea. Alicia will probably not put me in a bowl and keep me. Probably.
Grains of sand drifted in the gentle current as he flapped his fins, swimming down over the shallow slope into the lagoon depths past small smooth pebbles and the small schools of bright little fish darting around in the waters.
A long, straight shape caught his eye among the silhouettes of rocks.
That’s not natural. Harry swam closer, bumping his nose along the low mound in the sand, and brushing sand away with his fins.
Metal glinted beneath the sand.
That’s a cannon. He swam the length of the bump in the sand and back. Must be. Right length. Right shape. Definitely isn’t natural. Harry flapped his fins, powering across the lagoon floor over more small mounds toward the rocks of the lagoon edge.
A long metal cannon barrel sat wedged vertically between two rocks.
So there was definitely a ship here at some point. It’s just not here now.
He swam up toward the sun and changed back, stepping from the water and up onto the shore, sweeping the water from his face with the side of his hand.
Alicia sat on the rocks, the bottle in her lap and a huge grin on her face. ‘You’re a fish!’
‘You are not putting me in a bowl to state at, weirdo.’ Harry laughed and picked his way across beside her. ‘There are bits of ship down there. A few cannons.’
‘The whole ship in bits? Or just bits?’
He frowned. ‘Just bits. Galleons are big, right? There’s no way the entire ship is there. Maybe someone beat us to it.’
Alicia shook her head. ‘No way. Muggles can’t come out here, remember. And if we’d found it, it’d be in the record Katie hunted through.’
‘Maybe it didn’t get recorded.’ Harry sat down next to her and watched the gulls hop about nearby. ‘There’s no ship in there now, so someone must have found it.’
She leant on his shoulder and stared up at the handful of white clouds drifting across the blue sky. ‘That sucks.’
‘Yeah.’ He flicked drops of water off his knee. ‘It’s definitely not down there, though. There’s just not enough actual ship down there.’
Alicia squirmed against his shoulder and grabbed at the slim silver chain hanging around her neck. ‘Oh shit. No. No. Get out of there.’
‘What are you doing?’ Harry asked.
She flushed bright red. ‘My octopus has gone exploring and his little tentacles tickle.’
His gaze dipped to where the chain vanished under the edge of her black bikini. ‘Ah.’
Alicia poked two fingers in and wiggled them around, tugging the silver octopus out and flattening him down over her sternum. ‘No more exploring for you.’ She adjusted her bikini. ‘My mum got him for me when I was seventeen. She… didn’t make it through the war and that was the last time I saw her. It’s a really annoying necklace sometimes, but… I don’t want to take it off.’
‘I get it.’ Harry nodded. ‘My parents didn’t leave me much, but I’m very attached to things they did.’
‘Yeah.’ The blush faded from Alicia’s cheeks as she studied a grain of sand stuck under her short nail. ‘You’re sure there’s no ship down there?’
‘Very sure.’ Harry glanced back across at the island. ‘But at least we don’t have to hike—’
A flash of white caught his eye, flickering amongst the green canopy.
‘Weird.’ He held out his hand, tapping Alicia on the knee. ‘Can I have my wand please, Captain Spinnet? I brought the omnioculars I bought for the quidditch world cup, thought they might come in handy’
She snickered and pressed his holly wand into his hand with warm fingers.
‘Accio,’ Harry murmured.
A small speck of dark burst from the tent and swept across the lagoon, smacking into Harry’s hand. He raised them to his eyes fiddled with the dial on the side.
The flicker of white came into focus.
A scrap of pale canvas flapping in the breeze, dangling on fraying ropes from a thick, tall mast. Harry followed the line of it down to the splintered crow’s nest hanging three metres above the floor and up to where the thick end of the mast jutted up through the trees.
‘That is incredibly strange,’ he muttered.
‘What is?’ Alicia stuck her hand out. ‘Let me see. What are you even looking at?’
‘The bit of white over there.’
‘The what?’ She set the bottle down behind her and leant over his lap; her weight pressed on his shoulder and her hair tickled his cheek as she peered through omnioculars. ‘Is that… a bit of ship?’
‘Yeah, that’s a mast. A really big mast.’ Harry swallowed the flutter of butterflies as her cheek brushed his. ‘But that’s about a mile up the hill and it’s hanging in the air…’
‘It’s upside down,’ Alicia whispered. ‘How the hell did it end up upside down?’
A loud squawk tore through the quiet wash of the waves and Harry flinched. Alicia’s arm slipped off his shoulder and her face smacked into his thigh.
‘Ow,’ she moaned, pressing a hand to the bridge of her nose. ‘What the hell was that?’
Harry helped her up to her feet and stood, glancing around across the bare rocks. ‘Sounded like a seagull, but—’ his gaze fell on the bottle and the tiny bird floating upon the water inside. ‘Oh shit.’
‘Oh shit?’ Alicia followed his gaze. ‘Oh my god, did it get inside?’
‘Yeah…’ Harry snorted. ‘I guess I’d better try and get him out. It’s already charmed, so he’ll just think he’s floating around in the sea beneath blue skies. I can try and reverse engineer the spell that puts things in. Might work. Hopefully he’ll be okay. Putting living things in while keeping them alive was tricky, not sure if my reverse engineering will bring him out alright.’
Slim blue and yellow and silver fish flitted about in the shallows of the lagoon. Alicia crouched at the edge of the water, staring as they swam back and forth.
A fond smile crept onto his lips and he shook his head. ‘Weirdo. They probably think you’re trying to eat them.’
‘I’m not!’ she cried. ‘They’re too cute to eat.’
‘I don’t know…’ Harry dug his wand out of his pocket and pointed the glass bottle at the lagoon. ‘I could go for another breakfast…’
‘Don’t you dare.’ Alicia glowered at him. ‘I’ll feed you to them.’
He laughed. ‘Alright, alright. I’ll leave the fish be. We’ve got a short hike to go on anyway.’
‘To see the mast that’s hanging upside down in the middle of the forest!’ She bounced to her feet. ‘Let’s go!.
‘In the bikini?’ Harry asked.
‘Oh…’ Alicia fiddled with the strap and beamed. ‘I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’s not far.’ A mischievous little glint hovered in her hazel eyes. ‘I don’t think you’ll be that upset if it gets torn or caught on something, right, Harry?’
‘I mean…’ He flashed her a grin as they started up the beach toward the trees. ‘I’d feel bad and try not to look more than once? Or maybe twice?’
‘Sure you would, you’d be peeking through your fingers the whole time, I know what guys are like.’ She rolled her eyes. ‘If Katie was here, she’d probably untie it while we were walking so I flashed you.’
‘I want to make a joke about shaky fingers and bikini string knots…?’
Alicia snorted. ‘Should’ve gone for it. Would’ve been hilarious.’
‘Yeah, but I wasn’t sure it was okay.’
‘It isn’t for anyone else,’ she said. ‘But you, you are part of the deal.’
‘Oh I didn’t get vetoed?’ Harry pulled his wand from the pocket of his shorts and lifted a branch over her head with the bottle. ‘That’s nice. That means I get to keep the free cake privileges, right?’
‘You do.’ A small smile curved Alicia’s lips. ‘You seem like a pretty good friend and like I said yesterday, you’ve helped Katie when I was struggling to get her thinking about dating again.’
‘Failed the dating test, though.’
She frowned. ‘I don’t think it’s entirely your fault. If it’d been a year or so from now, maybe some other guy would have got Katie thinking about things like this again and I wager I’d’ve come back and found you and her in the bedroom in a much more compromising position.’
‘My bad luck,’ Harry said. ‘Ah well, there’s always Rita.’
‘Enemies to lovers.’ Alicia sniggered. ‘Always—’ she stumbled forward with a sharp gasp.
Harry caught her on his right arm. ‘All good?’
She groaned and shook her head. ‘Stubbed my toe.’
‘Ouch.’ He swept the bushes aside.
The tip of a cannon poked from the ground, wedged deep into the dirt between split tree roots.
That wasn’t buried, it fell and broke the root. Harry let the bushes go and stared up through the dark green leaves at the sky. Which makes no sense at all.
‘Wasn’t expecting to find a cannon.’
‘Me neither.’ Alicia nursed her big toe, leaning on his arm. ‘I cracked a nail.’
He laughed as she stuck her foot back into her sand and straightened up. ‘Would you like to go back to the tent for first aid?’
‘No. We have more bits of ship to find.’ A little colour rose on her cheeks. ‘And you can probably let go of me now if you want, I’m not about to faceplant into a bush anymore.’
‘Oh. Sorry.’ Harry pulled his arm back. ‘I have no idea how they got up here.’
‘Storm, I think,’ Alicia said. ‘If it was a really big one, it might have ripped bits off and thrown them up here. And over all those years…’
‘Maybe,’ he said. ‘Better than my idea.’
‘Honestly, I didn’t even have one.’
He led her on, sweeping the bushes aside with the bottle and peering through the trees. ‘No cannons, your feet are safe.’
‘Good.’ Alicia followed him up the slope.
Branches snapped up ahead and a strong warm wind buffeted through the trees, flattening the bushes and grass to the ground and stinging Harry’s eyes.
Alicia ducked behind him. ‘What the—’
A shadow fell over them.
Harry stepped back against the trunk of the nearest tree under a large branch and watched the dark green scales and broad wings circle overhead. ‘That’s a dragon.’ He squinted up as its shadow drifted across the side of the hill, covering near half the slope. ‘A really big dragon. That thing’s got to be as big as Hogwart’s Great Hall not counting the wings, only—’ he chuckled under his breath ‘—you’d probably get in a lot of trouble if you packed all the children into it.’
‘Harry, shut up!’ Alicia clapped a hand over her mouth, trembling like a rabbit caught in sudden light; her knuckles white as bone around her wand.
Oops. He grabbed her arm and dragged her under the cover of the branch, pulling her against his side.
‘Come here,’ he murmured.
‘Has it gone away?’
Harry peered up through the canopy at the vast blue-scaled dragon and its pale cream wings as it circled the lagoon. ‘It has not, but it’s fine.’ He smiled at her. ‘It’s actually a good thing.’
A spark of incredulity welled up in Alicia’s eyes. ‘How is it a good thing?’ she whispered. ‘It’s a huge dragon.’
‘Well, firstly, it probably explains how the ship got out of the lagoon. And how all these pieces of ship ended up here. That was kind of bugging me.’
‘And secondly?’ Alicia demanded.
Harry mulled it over and glanced down at where the silver octopus balled itself up in her cleavage. ‘It got me a nice hug and a great view from a girl I used to have a huge crush on when I was younger?’
She rolled her eyes and some of the tension eased from Alicia’s shoulders. ‘Of course you take the chance to look down the front of my bikini. Wait… a huge crush?’
The dragon’s shadow drifted over the hill and out to sea.
‘I just wanted to cheer you up,’ he said, watching it soar off into the distance among the scatter of white clouds.
‘I’m not lying, that was why I told you,’ Harry replied. ‘The fact it’s also true is just a bonus.’
‘Hmmm.’ Alicia peeked around the branch up at the sky. ‘Is it gone now?’
She released him and stepped back. ‘Thank you.’
Harry’s stomach fluttered; a fistful of butterflies tickling around inside it. ‘What was the hmm, for?’
‘It was just a hmm,’ Alicia said.
‘Sounded ominous.’ The butterflies trembled, spiralling down through his gut into a tight ball. ‘Like an I don’t really approve kind of hmm.’
‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘I just never realised.’
‘I was pretty oblivious,’ Harry said. ‘Mostly I forgot about it between other things, but then I’d catch a glimpse of you in a quidditch jersey and remember really fast.’
Alicia laughed. ‘Katie’s going to be so smug.’
He blinked. ‘She is?’
‘She told me in our sixth year that she caught you staring at my butt and I didn’t believe her.’
‘I have no memory of that,’ Harry said.
‘Of course you deny it.’
‘In this case I think it might actually not be true, I was caught up in other stuff that year, I was probably paying no attention to whatever it looked like I was staring at.’
Harry grinned. ‘Of course…’ He let his eyes slide down to Alicia’s knees and glanced back up. ‘I’ve had a couple of days to make up for that now, since the most you’ve worn since we left Havana is that bikini.’
‘It’s too warm for clothes.’ Alicia shrugged. ‘If it was just Katie and I, I’d probably be wearing even less half the time.’
‘Now there’s an image.’ Harry picked his way over the tree roots and headed up the slope toward the top of the hill. ‘You and her skinny dipping together in the lagoon.’ He shook his head. ‘Only, you can’t swim, so you’d probably just watch the fish while Katie skinny-dipped. Still not a bad image, though.’
‘Hush you,’ Alicia darted after him, her wand in her fist. ‘Where are you going?’
‘That’s where the dragon came from,’ she hissed. ‘Are you insane?’
He paused. ‘You know, I might be. I just don’t feel afraid of the dragon at all. I burnt it all out of me.’ Harry frowned. ‘You don’t have to come with me. You can go back. I don’t mind.’
‘And what if you get eaten?’
‘Don’t let Rita Skeeter write my obituary.’
A snort of laughter burst from Alicia. ‘Oh my god.’ She stared at him, a strange gleam in her hazel eyes. ‘You’re really not scared, are you?’
‘I told you, I just… don’t feel it.’ Harry poked himself in the chest and took Alicia’s hand, pressing it over his heart. ‘Still just thud… thud… thud… nothing there, see?’
‘You—’ Alicia chewed her lip, a little pink rising on her cheeks ‘—you should probably talk to someone about that. That doesn’t seem right.’
‘I’m sure it’s probably fine.’ He took another couple of steps. ‘I’m going to jog the rest, just to take as little time as possible in case the dragon comes back soon.’
‘Okay.’ Alicia stalked up the slope. ‘Let’s go.’
She broke into a run, stumbling over a root.
‘I’ll take that as yes,’ Harry said, chasing after her through the trees.
They climbed up the steepening slope in the shade of the forest through the rustling leaves and past the thick mast wedge into the trunk of a great tree.
‘Did the dragon drop it?’ Alicia asked as they ducked under the tattered white canvas sail.
‘I think so,’ Harry replied. ‘I reckon it grabbed the whole ship out of the lagoon and flew it up here, dropping bits the whole time. It’s sure big enough to do it. Its wings would cover a whole damn quidditch pitch.’
They stepped out onto the muddy bank of a small pool; its waters stretched back around a scatter of rocks and clawed footprints into a vast dark cave. Deep scores marred the stone at the mouth.
‘It’s huge…’ Alicia swallowed and spread her arms alongside one of the footprints. ‘These are longer than I am.’
‘Big feet.’ Harry stepped around her, following the edge of the water to the cave wall. ‘Big claws—’ he ran his hand through one of the slashes in the stone ‘—very big.’
‘Let’s hurry up before it comes back.’ Alicia darted toward him, pointing her wand into the cave. ‘Lumos.’
A bright ray of light shone down a steep, rough slope and fell upon the silhouette of a huge, battered ship perched on a mound of stones at one side of the huge hollow cavern. Alicia’s light swept across the gouged scarred stones and over the remaining toppled mast and its tangle of rigging and pale sail.
‘There it is,’ Harry said, pulling his wand from his pocket and picking his way down over the rocks into the cool air. ‘Let’s take a look.’ He cast a ray of light back up the slope. ‘We can pop it in the bottle and carry it back.’
Alicia clambered down after him, following his beam of light down. ‘Can we?’
‘Can we what?’
‘Yes.’ Harry laughed as she reached the bottom and brushed the dirt off her hands. ‘It doesn’t weigh as much in the bottle as it does out here.’ He turned back to the ship. ‘Let’s find a way up, we can probably just climb.’
‘After you.’ Alicia swept her light along the side of the ship. ‘Oh, wait, there’s a ladder here. Or most of one.’
‘Probably best you go first,’ he replied, studying the battered hull and the cannon ports. ‘Just in case you slip, I can catch you.’
‘I’m mostly hoping you get the bikini caught on something,’ Harry said.
She snorted. ‘No you aren’t, it’s dark in here.’
‘But if it comes off now, we might accidentally lose it in the dark and then it’ll be gone until we get back to the tent…’ Harry gave her a wink. ‘Which, you know, from where I’m standing, seems like quite a good thing.’
‘Let’s hurry up, it’s cold in here.’ She laughed. ‘But with all the attention you’re paying to the bikini, you can probably tell that.’ Alicia stuck her wand through the front of her bikini and grabbed the ladder, scrambling up; her ponytail swaying back and forth with each stretch of her arm. ‘There better not be a baby dragon up here about to yell for its terrifying mum.’
Harry chuckled. ‘Don’t touch anything yet.’
She vanished over the top. ‘There’s nothing to touch.’
He stuck his wand in his pocket and tucked the cool bottle through the waistband of his shorts, grabbing the dust-veiled edges of the wooden ladder and scaling the hull of the ship.
Alicia stood at the edge beside the toppled mast. ‘Just deck and the other mast has fallen down.’
The chipped, scratched decking stretched from Alicia’s sandals under the mast and its tangle or rigging to the worn, weather doors of the cabin. Two arcs of four large holes gaped before the broken stub of the prow.
That’ll be where the dragon grabbed it.
Harry tested the deck, pushing at each plank as he edged toward the holes.
‘All safe?’ Alicia asked.
‘If I suddenly crash through, don’t stand where I was,’ he said, peering down into the gloom. ‘Lumos.’
Gold gleamed through the gaps in the deck of the floor below.
‘We’re rich, Alicia.’ Harry pointed his wand at the inner deck. ‘Reducto.’
The flash of red smashed through, showering toppled stacks of gold bars in splinters.
‘Of course there’s treasure,’ Alicia said, tiptoeing across beside him and staring down. ‘Otherwise the dragon wouldn’t have wanted it.’
He paused. ‘Well, we should probably leave the gold behind. That’s a very big dragon and I don’t think storing several tonnes of gold in Katie’s café is very smart.’
‘Someone will break in and steal it.’
‘Exactly.’ Harry pointed his wand down at the gold. ‘I’m going to get all gold out of there and put it on the floor, then we can stick the ship in the bottle and get out of here before that dragon comes back.’
‘Do you want a hand?’
‘It’s okay, I’m just going to jump down to the ground and summon all the gold out.’ Harry grinned. ‘I don’t think slowly carrying it out a bar at a time is a good idea. We might get eaten.’
Alicia shivered. ‘It’d probably swallow us whole, it’s so big.’ She tucked her wand through the centre of her bikini. ‘I’ll climb back down and grab the bottle… You did get the seagull out, right?’
‘I did. Came out completely unharmed. Eventually.’ Harry scowled. ‘I had to wait for him to fly into where I set the reversed magic up to work, the silly bird.’
She laughed and swung a leg over the side of the ship, descending down the ladder. ‘Don’t take ages.’
‘I won’t.’ Harry apparated down onto the rough rocks, stumbling on a scale the size of a dinner plate. ‘Accio.’
A dull rumble echoed from the galleon and the ship shuddered. Gold bars streamed up from over the prow and thudded down around Harry’s feet as he winced, snatching his toes back out of the way of the swelling stack.
‘I have the bottle,’ Alicia said. ‘What do I do?’
‘Find a bit of the ship to poke into the top of the bottle. An attached bit.’ Harry took a sharp step back as the gold stack tumbled down toward his feet, the last few bars thudding down beside him. ‘Once it goes into the ring of magic on the neck, it’ll get shrunk and placed in the middle of the bottle.’
‘Okay…’ Alicia jabbed her wand at the rigging, summoning the tangle down and poking the frayed end of a piece of rope into the green glass bottle.
The galleon vanished with a loud pop and rush of wind.
A shadow passed across the entrance and Alicia froze.
‘Go…’ Harry swallowed. ‘Apparate,’ he hissed. ‘Back to the beach.’
‘I can’t,’ she mouthed. ‘I—’
The ground shook, throwing them to their knees on the ground.
‘Thieves.’ A voice of searing wind and crackling flame thundered in Harry’s ears. ‘I smell your flesh. I feel the heat of your blood.’
Harry darted a forward and grabbed Alicia’s arm, wrenching at his magic and picturing the lagoon beach.
His magic snapped back off a boiling fog of magic like a ball hurled into a brick wall and the cave hung still as stone.
‘Petty, fleeting magics are nothing before me, little thieves.’ The vast blue-scaled side of the dragon blotted out the light. ‘I burn through them like the flame through mist.’
Harry took a deep breath. ‘Get into the bottle.’
‘What?’ Alicia squeaked.
‘The seagull survived, so we’ll be fine. We just have to hide in there until it gives up looking for us and goes off again.’ Harry fumbled in the dark for her arm and grabbed the bottle. ‘Then we can apparate out and get the hell out of here.’
She shook her head. ‘I can’t go in there.’
‘Yes you can,’ he murmured, taking her hand between his. ‘It’ll be fine. Just poke a finger into the bottle. I’ll be right in there after you.’
Alicia held her breath and stuck her finger in, vanishing with a quiet pop.
The dragon’s head snaked in, its burning yellow eyes sweeping across the cave to the gold. Harry jammed his finger into the bottle.
He thudded onto the centre of the deck and staggered sideways against the toppled mast. Alicia huddled against the cabin doors, her head in her hands.
‘Where is the ship I claimed, thieves? You come to steal worthless wood and iron and steel but leave gold?’ The hot whisper of the dragon’s voice rushed through Harry’s head like a storm through the trees, tearing at his thoughts and ripping them away like leaves from the branches. ‘I smell you still. You lurk here. Hidden from my gaze. Waiting to take what is not yours to touch. I will burn your bones. Melt the flesh from you and scatter your ashes into the winds.’
Alicia clutched her temples.
‘Don’t listen to the dragon,’ Harry said, patting her on the shoulder. ‘We’re pretty safe in here.’
‘Are we?’ she demanded. ‘What if it breaks the bottle?’
He shrugged. ‘It’s very well charmed, even if the dragon steps on us by accident, it’ll be fine.’
‘And if it finds the bottle and tries to smash it?’ she whispered.
‘Well… in that case I’m not sure what will happen.’ Harry grinned. ‘Either we die instantly because we didn’t go out the same way as the seagull, which, you know, not ideal, but painless, so really not that bad, or…’
‘Or?’ Alicia grabbed his hand. ‘Or what?’
He squeezed her fingers and sat down next to her. ‘Well, we might survive and come out right next to a very big angry dragon along with an awful lot of water.’
‘Sounds great,’ she muttered, leaning on his shoulder. ‘So we just wait and hope it leaves?’
‘Yes.’ Harry glanced up at the sky. ‘I’m going to enchant the window at the back of the ship or something reflective to look outside. It might take me a few hours to figure it out, but then we can watch for it to go.’ He drew his legs back and shifted his weight onto his arms.
‘No,’ Alicia clutched his hand. ‘I’m coming with you.’ She glanced down at her feet. ‘I’m sorry, I’m just… scared.’
A small smile curved his lips. ‘Any sane person would be.’
‘All burnt out,’ Harry said. ‘There’s nothing to fear when you’ve given everything up.’ He helped her up and kicked the cabin doors open with his foot. ‘It’s the getting anything back afterward that’s hard, but…’
‘But…?’ Alicia stared up at him with wide hazel eyes, chewing her soft pink lip.
A few butterflies trembled in the pit of Harry’s stomach. ‘Sometimes I feel things. Since we’ve been out here.’
‘Being away helped?’
‘It feels different out here. All the stuff that was hanging over me in Britain is gone here,’ he said, leading her through to the captain’s chair before the broken windows. ‘Here you go, Captain Spinnet. Your seat.’ Harry wrinkled his nose at the dust. ‘I’d give it a clean before you sit on it.’
Alicia swished her wand at it with a faint smile and the dust vanished. ‘You sit.’ She shoved him back into it.
‘Did I get promoted from first mate?’
‘No.’ She dropped back into his lap. ‘But there’s only one chair and you’d squish me.’
Harry swallowed a sudden rush of tickling fluttering wings down into a quivering anxious ball. ‘Seems—’ he breathed in the faint must of Alicia’s musk from her hair and heat rushed to his cheeks ‘—acceptable.’
‘Oh? Acceptable?’ Alicia snorted. ‘You’ve got me in your lap in a bikini and it’s acceptable?’
‘Maybe if you take the bikini off it’ll be better?’
She twisted her head around and rolled her eyes. ‘Nice try. I’m starting to get cold as it is, though, so nothing else is coming off.’
‘You want a t-shirt?’ Harry leant back and pulled off his. ‘Here. Wear this.’
He pulled it over her head and slipped her ponytail through. ‘I’m sure. I run hot.’
Alicia wiggled her arms through, squirming in his lap.
‘Try not to do that too much,’ Harry murmured in her ear. ‘It’s going to cause me a problem.’
She sniggered and wriggled again. ‘Not for me, it won’t. And a bit of activity will keep us warm…’
‘I can’t focus on enchanting the window with you doing that.’ Harry gave her ponytail a light tug. ‘And I know it probably seems like a lot of fun with all the adrenaline and the tension, or just better than thinking about the giant dragon waiting out there, but it probably isn’t a very good idea.’
Alicia’s shoulders tensed and the tips of her ears turned bright pink. ‘Sorry,’ she whispered. ‘You’re right. I’m being really stupid. Let’s just forget that happened.’
‘Want to learn about enchanting reflecting things?’ he asked, pointing his wand at the dust-smothered pane of glass in the top right of the window.
‘Yes please,’ Alicia murmured.
Harry smiled and vanished the dust with a flick of his wand. ‘Well, first we have to find something to show on the window. I’m thinking the view through the bottle top would work, that should show us if the dragon is gone.’ He waved his wand at the glass pane and laughed. ‘And then we enchant the space in the bottle top to be mirrored on this. Which is trickier, but, well, we probably have enough time for me to explain it, since we’re not going anywhere in a hurry.’
Alicia’s cheek pressed against his collarbone, her warm weight resting against him, her warm breath tickling the hairs on his chest. Harry smoothed a stray hair back over her ear and admired the little freckles dusting her small straight nose and cheeks with a small fond smile.
She’s very pretty when she’s asleep. Not like Ginny and her snoring.
He sighed and glanced up at the window pane.
Sunlight poured into the cave, gleaming on the sprawling heap of gold.
It’s gone. A cold flash of adrenaline coursed through Harry’s veins.
He sucked in a deep breath.
Be careful. It’s obviously smart.
Harry stared at the pane, studying every shadow one by one for some hint of the dragon. ‘Alicia.’ He cradled her head and gave her a gentle shake. ‘Wake up. Quick.’
Her dark eyelashes fluttered and she blinked away. ‘Harry?’
‘Morning sleepyhead.’ He chuckled as she turned pink. ‘The dragon’s gone. Time for us to… abandon ship.’
She leapt from his lap and Harry grimaced as a fierce tingling swept through his legs. ‘How do we get out?’ Alicia snatched her wand from under the front of her bikini. ‘How did you get that silly seagull out?’
‘I had to wait for the damn seagull to fly into the bottle neck.’ Harry stood up and stretched, groaning as his back clicked. ‘Fortunately, while you were having a nice nap, I was enchanting the iron ring on that barrel in the corner.’
She twisted around. ‘What does it do?’
‘Opposite of the bottle neck. Stick your hand in, and you’ll be out there. Hopefully, it’s going to be just the two of us and not a big angry dragon.’ Harry stepped past her. ‘Watch the window pane. If you see a dragon or me getting burnt and eaten, don’t come out.’
Alicia’s lip trembled.
‘Don’t worry, I’ve nearly been burnt and or eaten by dragons twice before, I’m good at avoiding it now.’ Harry held his hand out over the barrel. ‘See you on the other side, fish weirdo.’ He stuck his fingers in.
Sunlight stabbed at his eyes as he thudded onto the stone and a cool air of the cave hunt and heavy and still around him.
Time to leave. Harry snatched the bottle from the ground and pictured the beach, apparating back onto the white sand into the heat. Alicia must be able to see we’re here in the enchanted pane. He scanned the skies.
A few tattered white clouds floated amongst the blue and a bright yellow sun blazed down.
‘No dragon yet.’ Harry ducked into the tent and grabbed his bag, stuffing everything back into it and swinging it over his shoulder. ‘But best to leave quickly, just in case.’ He poked his head into Alicia’s side of the tent.
Her bag sat beside the bed.
Harry grabbed it and swept back out, tapping his wand on the tent frame. It collapsed behind him as Alicia appeared on the sand with a quiet pop.
‘I’m out.’ She patted herself down.
‘You’re all there.’ He passed her their bags and gathered the tent up in his arms. ‘Back to the boat and back to Havana. We have our ship in a bottle and I don’t want to meet that dragon again.’
‘I’ll get the boat going.’ Alicia paled. ‘But we can’t sail out of the lagoon unless it’s high tide…’
‘I’ll deal with that,’ Harry promised. ‘Get on the boat and get it ready to go.’
She vanished with a loud crack.
He apparated up onto the lagoon edge and tucked the tent under his arm. ‘Wingardium leviosa.’
The yacht shuddered and rose a few feet from the water.
Harry grimaced as the strain ate at him, the magic draining away like water through his fingers, but swept his wand right, dragging the boat over the lagoon edge and dropping it into the waves.
‘Harry!’ Alicia yelled. ‘Hurry up.’
He snorted and pictured the stern of the yacht, apparating up with a deafening pop. ‘I’m here, so let’s go.’
She gave him a shaky grin. ‘Way ahead of you.’
The yacht lurched forward, breaking through the rolling waves in bursts of white spray and leaning right as it curved through the sparkling sea.
Harry grinned into the sun. ‘That was exciting.’
‘Too exciting.’ Alicia beamed and held out her shaking hands. ‘Look at that. I’m trembling like a leaf.’
‘It’s a good thing.’ He touched the tip of his finger to her quivering thumb. ‘You nearly got eaten by a dragon, that’s pretty exciting.’ Harry chuckled. ‘And, even more exciting, you spent about twelve hours sitting in my lap, mostly asleep, but still, there’s a lot of very shallow posh girls like Lady Greensomething or other who would be very jealous. And if that’s not enough, I’m sure Rita Skeeter will pay you handsomely to tell her all about it.’
A snort of laughter escaped Alicia. ‘She’d be disappointed. Katie’s going to be so disappointed.’
‘She is?’ Harry shot her wry look. ‘That she couldn’t make it?’
‘That I spent all that time in your lap and didn’t even get to do anything fun.’ Alicia blinked hard and dabbed the back of her hand against her eyes. ‘And she’ll make jokes. Her and her stupid awful innuendos.’
‘Nice to have her back?’ Harry murmured.
She nodded, tears gleaming in her hazel eyes. ‘You have no idea how happy I am to see her back. I’d say thank you, but it just doesn’t seem like anywhere near enough.’
‘Don’t say it, then.’ He leant against the rail. ‘I’m glad I helped, even if I really didn’t do very much.’
‘You’re part of the deal now.’ Alicia took a deep shuddering breath. ‘Sorry. Angelina kind of bailed on us to go play quidditch; it felt like it was just going to be me and her, and I couldn’t get her out of her own head. And then you come along and barely talk to her for more than a few hours, but suddenly she’s got that little spark back.’
‘Give me my t-shirt back and we’ll call it even.’
Alicia laughed and rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, I get it, last chance to see me in the bikini, right?’
‘Guilty as charged.’
She grabbed the bottom of the t-shirt and pulled it up inch by inch, a glimmer of mischief in her eyes. ‘Like this?’
‘I’m not objecting at all, in fact—’
A shadow fell over the boat.
Alicia froze, squeezing her eyes shut.
‘It’s the dragon, isn’t it?’ Harry sighed. ‘Unbelievable. We didn’t even take any gold.’ He squinted at the low blur on the horizon. And there’s no way we can apparate to Havana from here, so…’
‘Thieves. Trespassers.’ The dragon swept over ahead, the wind of its wings spinning the yacht around in dizzying circles.
Harry clung to the railing and Alicia smacked into his chest, grabbing him around the waist.
A huge splash echoed across the ocean and cold seawater drenched Harry. The yacht pitched and yawed; he clutched the rail and closed his eyes, Alicia’s arms crushing his ribs.
‘I see you now. Tremble before the Lord of the Skies.’
The snout of the dragon bumped the boat, turning it around as the waves rippled away, fading back into the shining blue sea, and the tip of its tail coiled around the yacht’s prow, holding it in place as the wheel twitched back and forth at the stern.
Harry stared up into a vast pair of burning yellow eyes, the dark slit as slim and tall as a spear, fixed on Harry. ‘Er… good morning?’
Heat haze shivered above the dragon’s nostrils; its breath buffeted Harry in hot, reeking air. ‘You came to my trove, but stole only the crumbling wooden toy I plucked from the ocean. The touch of my gold is not on you.’
‘We just wanted a nice boat,’ Harry replied. ‘That’s why we took the gold out and left it with you.’
‘Trespassers but not thieves.’ The vast blue wings rose from the ocean, seawater cascading off the sapphire scales. ‘Do not return to my trove. I have eaten a hundred mewling little wyrms in my time and more of your kind than I ever cared to count.’
‘Fair enough,’ Harry replied. ‘We’ll just carry on sailing back home then, happy, er, flying around in the sky doing whatever it is you do?’
‘Where is your fear, little wizard?’ The dragon sniffed him, its nostrils flaring. ‘Your mate reeks of it, her heart hammers as fast as the little seabirds, but yours beats slow and steady even staring into the jaws of death.’
‘She’s not my mate, she’s a friend.’ A bubble of laughter slipped out. ‘Which is such a ridiculous thing to say to a dragon, but whatever.’ Harry’s humour faded. ‘I chose to die once already. I’m not scared to do it again.’
‘You’re a bold little wizard.’ The nose of the dragon bumped the boat. ‘Take your stolen ship and remember the mercy of the Lord of the Skies, but be sure that should you return or lay a hand upon my trove itself, I will devour you.’
‘Message received,’ Harry said.
The dragon’s head twisted away and it snaked through the waters toward the island and leaping from the sea, powering aloft; its wings buffeted the yacht.
‘We’re not going to die!’ Harry gave Alicia a little cheer. ‘Isn’t that good?’
She slid down the rail and curled up into a ball, her breath coming fast as the wind and wrapping her arms around her chest.
‘Woah.’ He stepped across and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. ‘Deep breaths, Alicia.’
‘I can’t,’ she gasped. ‘I can’t stop it.’
‘Breath in,’ Harry murmured.
She took a gulp of air.
‘Now count to five—’ he rubbed small circles on her back ‘—one… two… three… four… five…’ Harry smoothed her ponytail down. ‘And let it out.’
Alicia released a long shuddering breath.
‘And again,’ he whispered, holding her close as her breathing slowed. ‘Better?’
‘Thank you.’ She grabbed his hand in hers. ‘I thought we were dead.’
‘So did I for a bit.’ Harry helped her up. ‘Let’s head back to Havana and on to London. We’ve got a bottle to show Katie and a fun story to tell.’
‘She isn’t going to believe what happened,’ Alicia murmured.
‘We can show her the dragon claw holes in the ship.’ He chuckled and flopped down on the warm deck, letting the sunshine soak into and soothe the dull ache of fatigue. ‘Now, I’m going to take a nice long nap, because levitating that boat was tiring and I haven’t slept since yesterday.’
She pulled his t-shirt over her head.
‘I’m not getting back up from here even if you take off all the rest, I’m sorry, but this is just that comfortable.’
A snort of laughter escaped her and she bent down, tucking the ball of t-shirt under his head. ‘There you go.’ Little creases wrinkled her forehead and she swallowed, leaning down to press her lips to his cheek. ‘Thank you, Harry.’
The battered galleon floated on calm blue waters beneath the dark green glass.
Harry spun his wand around on the coffee table beside it, frowning into the grain of the wooden top.
‘Hi Harry.’ Katie padded down the corridor. ‘Alicia is hiding in her bedroom panicking about what to wear.’
‘Don’t tell him that!’ Alicia yelled. ‘I’m trying to finish this stupid essay.’
Katie snickered. ‘I told her just to wear the bikini again.’
‘Sounds good to me,’ Harry said. ‘Do you have one?’
She flushed and glanced away. ‘I don’t think I do, actually.’
He stifled a grimace. ‘Me neither.’ Harry flashed her a grin, coaxing a faint smile out of Katie. ‘But you probably look a lot better in a bikini than I do.’
‘I hope so.’
Alicia stuck her head out of her room. ‘What are you two talking about?’
‘Bikinis.’ Katie beamed. ‘And how much of a fan of them Harry is.’
‘Hush, Shake and Bake,’ Alicia said. ‘Go make those muffins or something, leave poor Harry alone.’
‘You’re distracting me from imagining people in bikinis,’ he replied. ‘Bad Katie.’
Alicia rolled her eyes and stepped out of her room, tugging the door shut with a soft thud. ‘Okay, obviously I’m going to get any essay writing done with you two gossiping out here.’
‘Like you don’t talk about everything with Katie,’ Harry said. ‘I bet you’ve already told her everything about what happened on the island, including that night we spent in a chair.’
Alicia flushed. ‘I actually hadn’t got to that bit yet,’ she whispered.
‘Ah.’ Butterflies swarmed in his stomach, swirling about in a ball of tickling trembling wings and legs.
Katie grinned over the kitchen counter. ‘We have now.’
‘No.’ Alicia shook her head.
‘Yes.’ Katie nodded. ‘Absolutely yes.’
‘Not while poor Harry is right here,’ Alicia said.
‘I… actually have a few things to mess with, so I’ll just…’ Harry grabbed his wand. ‘Let you two talk and hide inside the bottle.’ He stuck his finger in and appeared in the centre of the deck in the shadow of the tall mast and its proud rigging.
Probably messed that up.
Harry sighed and stamped the butterflies out. ‘But at least I felt something, so, you know, that’s a good thing.’ He drifted to the edge of the ship and stared across the crescent of white sand into the blue skies and warm breeze. ‘And this has come out really nicely.’
Still missing something though.
A little grin crept onto his face and he thrust his wand up at the sky.
The faint shadow of a dragon soared across the sparkling blue waves and away into the distance.
‘Perfect.’ Harry ran his eyes over the smooth deck and the gleaming glass windows either side of the main cabin doors. ‘I just need to replace the barrel exit with something a bit more fun…’
A soft thud came from behind him.
‘Hey.’ Alicia edged forward across the desk studying her fingers. ‘So, after having a really short talk with Katie, we decided I should come in here and try something.’
‘Swimming?’ Harry glanced over the side and swallowed a trembling ball of butterflies; they swirled around in his stomach, a small storm of tickling, tingling little wings and legs. ‘That’s actually not a bad idea.’
She rolled her eyes and took a step forward. ‘No, Harry. Not swimming. Although…’ A hint of pink coloured her cheeks. ‘I would not be upset if you wanted me to get the bikini back out for some swimming lessons in here.’
‘I will happily teach you to swim,’ he promised. ‘Still got a few bits to fix up on the ship, though before it’s ready. Mostly the exit.’
Alicia scrunched her face up. ‘Oh my god, is this what it’s like for guys? They just listen to someone babble and nonsense until they just go for it?’
Harry blinked. ‘What?’
‘Okay, I’m going for it, so…’ She stepped forward and took his face in her hands, drawing him down into a soft kiss.
A huge smile spread across Harry’s face and the butterflies burst like fireworks into a wave of warmth. ‘That wasn’t a swimming lesson.’
‘Hush.’ Alicia squirmed. ‘Did you like it? Are we… good?’ Bright red rose in her cheeks and the tips of her ears. ‘I hate this so much. Please just tell me I’m not making a complete idiot of myself and Katie wasn’t horribly wrong.’
‘Is this some clever plan to trap me in a fish bowl in my animagus form?’ he asked.
‘No! Just—’ she flapped a hand at him and stomped her foot ‘—answer the question. Are we good? Because I was hyperventilating on that boat after the dragon went and you were just there holding me close and tight and safe and it was very nice having you there, plus, you know, the incident in the chair, which I would definitely have let go a lot further if you’d not stopped me doing something silly, so stuff was already in my head, and so I kissed you on the cheek to let you know and then you just never did anything for the whole boat journey except nap.’
‘I thought it was a thank you for helping you calm down.’
‘Shut up!’ Alicia’s glower shook as she wrestled with her smile. ‘It was a thank you that you were meant to take as a hint and after you’d had a small nap, you were meant to come and kiss me properly.’
‘I’m actually quite bad at hints like that. I’m too used to Lady Whatevergrass straight up propositioning me.’
‘Well too bad for her, because we’re dating.’
‘Oh we are, are we?’
‘You had your chance to answer my question sensibly and helpfully, and instead you made annoying comments, so now I have decided for you.’ Alicia chewed her lip. ‘Unless, you know, you really don’t feel the same… spark?’ Something soft and fragile hovered in her hazel eyes. ‘Which, you know, that’s fine, that’s fair, it’s just, I felt it, and I was hoping…’
‘You know, it’s been a long time since I felt anything like that.’
Alicia’s face fell and she stepped back.
‘No,’ Harry whispered, pulling her back into his arms. ‘I mean, it’s been a long time since I felt anything like that until now.’
‘Don’t phrase it like that, then!’ Alicia’s forehead thudded into his collarbone. ‘I thought you were about to tell me no.’
Katie appeared behind them, her eyes squeezed shut and her hands balled into fists. ‘Am I alive?’
‘Oh my god, you came in.’ Alicia dropped Harry’s arms and grabbed Katie’s trembling hands. ‘You actually came in. But you never—’
‘You were taking too long and it’s not like sticking your finger in a bottle is really flying or floating or anything.’ Katie cracked one eye open and her jaw dropped. ‘This is amazing.’ Her fingers stilled. ‘Harry how the hell did you do this?’
‘Charms.’ He shrugged.
She squinted at him and burst into a huge smile. ‘You have Alicia’s lipstick on your mouth!’ Katie stared around her. ‘And I’m definitely going to come back to that and the whole in his lap in a chair in just a bikini thing, but first… we could have like a whole café in these!’ She darted along the deck, peering down into the waves, the warm wind sending the hem of her red t-shirt rippling over her jeans. ‘Seriously, we could make every one of these bottles a room with a table and people could come to the bakery and eat in them if they wanted.’
‘Is that safe?’ Alicia asked.
Harry frowned. ‘Safe-ish. There’s probably a lot of legal paperwork that will need doing though. And permits. I don’t know, you’re the lawyer.’
‘No!’ Katie folded her arms. ‘This is not being stopped by something silly red tape. You—’ she pointed at Alicia ‘—you find a way to make it okay. And you—’ Katie turned to Harry ‘—you and us are going to go on some holidays to find more ships.’
Alicia coughed into her hand and dabbed her eyes on her sleeve.
Katie froze. ‘Are you crying?’
‘She’s just happy,’ Harry murmured. ‘Watching you get all excited. Your hands…’
‘My hands…?’ Katie stared at her fingers. ‘They’re fine. What do—’ Her brown eyes widened. ‘I’m not shaking!’ She waved them at Alicia. ‘No more Miss Shake and Bake. Just Miss Make and Bake!’
‘That means we’re about to start sprinkle rationing,’ Harry said.
A snort of laughter burst from Alicia. ‘Katie, I am very very happy for you and I will read every legal book in the library at my work to find a way to make this happen for you, but you were interrupting something, so get off my ship.’
Katie sniggered and saluted. ‘Yes, Captain Spinnet.’ She screwed up her face. ‘There’s a she’s going down joke in here somewhere.’
‘Katie,’ Alicia growled. ‘Out.’
‘I don’t actually know how…?’
‘In the cabin by the chair, there’s a barrel,’ Harry said. ‘Just stick a hand in it and you’ll appear in front of the bottle’s top.
‘Thanks, Harry!’ Katie skipped toward the cabin doors and yanked them open. ‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, Alicia.’
Alicia pulled her wand out of her pocket.
Katie cackled and pulled the doors shut.
‘Thank you,’ Alicia whispered, pressing kisses all over Harry’s cheeks. ‘Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.’
‘She seemed pretty cheerful,’ Harry murmured. ‘Although I now have to risk getting eaten by dragons while ship-hunting for more bottle decorations.’
‘She’s not been like this since before.’ Alicia wrapped him up in a tight hug and buried her face in the crook of his neck. ‘I’m going to cry on you now, so don’t go anywhere.’
‘I’m not going anywhere, it’s nice in here, like being back there.’ He drew her small circles across her back as a soft damp warmth soaked into his shoulder. ‘Only without the dragon.’
A shadow drifted over the deck.
‘Was that what I think it was?’ Alicia demanded.
‘Maybe.’ Harry grinned.
‘Get rid of it.’ She leant back, smearing tears off her face with her fingers and smiling up at him. ‘Or you’ll have to calm me down again.’
‘And get another kiss?’ He laughed. ‘I’ll take my chances, but maybe if you do well with your swimming lessons, I’ll think about it.’
Alicia rolled her eyes. ‘I’ll go get my bikini.’
‘Oh are we starting now?’
A mischievous gleam sprang up in her hazel eyes. ‘Well, we could start right now. Without the bikini…’
Harry glanced over the side at the shining sea, grappling with the swirling storm of butterflies in his belly. ‘No reasons to object spring to mind for me. Other than the fact I’m suddenly incredibly nervous.’
‘I’m sure they don’t.’ Alicia took a deep breath and smiled. ‘My fingers are trembling.’ She lifted them up to the neck of her green t-shirt. ‘See?’