A bright sun beamed down onto Analipsis beach and its sparkling sapphire waves. The warm, salt-scented sea breeze carried a faint tang of seaweed up the sand to Harry’s nose.
‘It’s too hot,’ Tracey moaned. ‘I can feel myself starting to sweat.’
‘Take off that fancy fur-lined coat, then,’ Harry said. ‘You get so grumpy when you’re all hot and sweaty.’
She snickered. ‘Not always. Remember?’
A faint pang twisted in his breast. ‘Don’t have time for that, Blaise’ll be back with Smith any moment.’
‘Don’t have time for what?’ Pina bounded across the sand, her orange eyes glowing in the sun. ‘What are we doing?’
‘Yeah, Harry, what did we used to do?’ Tracey asked. ‘And why don’t we do it anymore?’
‘You’ll find out when you’re older, Pina,’ he said, pulling a pair of sunglasses from his pocket. ‘Put these on. Just in case.’
She grabbed them and stuck them on the top of her head. ‘Done!’
‘On your face, Agrippina.’ Harry shook his head as Pina danced away across the beach. ‘Tracey, come and help me parent the tiny vampire, she’s gone rogue again.’
‘You’re doing fine,’ Tracey said. ‘And I thought you didn’t fancy parenting any time soon. I’m fucking sure I remember you saying something about that.’
‘This is different. Pina’s not exactly a normal child.’
‘So?’ Tracey demanded, tugging her coat off and balling it up beneath her arm. ‘It’s not like it has to happen right away.’
Harry sighed. ‘Let’s not do this again now, please.’
She glared, smoothing out the front of her white blouse. ‘You said once all the goblin stuff was sorted we’d talk. You promised.’
‘It’s not sorted. I still owe them about four hundred galleons of reparations.’
‘Fine.’ Tracey thrust a finger at him. ‘But don’t expect me to just sit around and pine, if some hot Greek wizard turns up I’m going to ride him raw.’
A twist of ugly heat rose up around Harry’s heart. ‘Not my place to tell you what you can and can’t do.’
‘Fucking idiot,’ Tracey muttered. ‘Fine, you can sulk in the hotel with Pina. I’m going to find a bar and some hot Greek wizards who’ll buy me drinks and pull my hair.’
He smothered a bitter knot of jealousy. ‘Well I hope you have fun.’
A loud crack tore through the soft crash of the surf and a handful of figures appeared a short distance away. Pina blurred back between them, spraying sand across their boots.
‘Sunglasses,’ Harry said. ‘And don’t say anything when we’re talking, we’re playing the pretend Pina’s actually a child game again.’
Pina huffed and tugged the mirrored lenses down to cover her orange eyes. ‘I’m in the sun. Nobody will expect anything.’
‘I don’t know how rare vampires your age are,’ he said. ‘But it’s always better to be safe.’
‘They’re pretty fucking rare,’ Tracey said. ‘I read up. One in about a thousand makes it to half a millennia and gets strong enough to resist sunlight. Pina’s not even phased…’
‘Half a millennia… They’re baby vampires,’ Pina crowed. ‘Little hatchlings.’
‘Yeah, yeah, you’re a really old powerful tiny vampire girl,’ Harry said. ‘We know.’
‘Want to arm wrestle?’ Pina grinned at him through her dark curls. ‘I’ll only use one finger.’
‘No. You broke my hand last time we did it with one finger,’ Harry said, tracking the approach of Blaise and the group surrounding him. ‘How about we play a nice game of chess instead?’
‘I hate chess!’ Pina scuffed at the sand and crossed her arms. ‘It makes me hungry.’
‘You just don’t like losing,’ Tracey said. ‘But if it makes you feel better, Pina, I always beat Harry at chess. We used to play with extra rules. Lose a piece, lose a piece of clothing, and he always ended up wearing very little very fast.’
‘So did you,’ Harry replied. ‘At least as fast.’
‘Good times.’ Tracey swept her blonde bangs aside with her finger and shot him a pointed look. ‘Want to play later, Harry? My room’s just next door to yours.’
‘Can I watch?’ Pina asked. ‘I want to see Harry lose!’
‘You’re not watching that,’ Tracey said. ‘Harry will lock you in your coffin.’
‘I don’t have a coffin,’ Pina whined. ‘That’s anti-vampiric racism.’
‘Very culturally insensitive, Tracey,’ Harry chided. ‘You know Pina’s very proud of her vampiric culture.’
‘The biting?’ Tracey arched an eyebrow. ‘Or the immortality?’
‘Both!’ Pina chirped. ‘I like both.’
Tracey snorted. ‘I don’t mind a bit of biting either, right Harry?’
‘I remember,’ Harry murmured, stifling a stab of regret and motioning toward Blaise. ‘Here we go, let’s see if we’re in or not.’
‘Good memories. Very good memories.’ A small smile crossed Tracey’s lips. ‘You know, once we’re all set for life after this, Harry, you’re not going to have a single one of your stupid fucking reasons left.’
I know. He sighed, smothering the tight, hot knot of feeling. But it just doesn’t quite feel right, Trace. Harry glanced up past Blaise’s shoulder and met soft, familiar brown eyes. Katie Bell?
Blaise led Zacharias Smith, Katie, and a pair of wizards in red, auror’s robes and designer sunglasses across to join them.
‘Harry, Tracey, I’m sure you remember Zacharias,’ Blaise said. ‘He’s got a very neat little set up here.’
‘Tunnelled right through the old wards, chaps,’ Smith said. ‘Fixed the ancient ward stone afterward, too, just to make sure the muggles can’t see anything. No raiders or smugglers are getting in or out of my site.’
‘He’s been teasing me with vague details,’ Blaise said, a bright smile on his face. ‘Apparently, it’s a big deal.’
Smith tapped the side of his nose. ‘Just between us, it’s going to be the biggest find of its kind since the Punic Necropolis in Sardinia. Maybe bigger.’ He waved the rest of the group back. ‘Give us a little space to chat, Auror Thomas and Auror Corner. Katie, you can stay.’ He winked at her. ‘You know I trust you.’
Katie turned a little green and grimaced. Tracey caught Harry’s eye, smothering a laugh.
‘So…?’ Blaise lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘What’s the truth? We’ve heard exciting rumours, something about a white bull… But it seems you run a tight ship.’
‘All my boys keep their lips closed,’ Smith said. ‘And Katie, of course. She keeps all my secrets.’
Smith twitched. ‘Potter?’
‘Sorry,’ he said, forcing his face to stay straight. ‘Had a bit of a tickle in my throat, think it’s the heat.’
Katie’s brown eyes bored into him from over Smith’s shoulder.
‘Takes some getting used to,’ Smith said. ‘But you’ll toughen up in a week or so!’ He spun around on his heel and pointed up at the slope off the beach. ‘The far side of this island reappeared after the earthquake, like I said, we sorted it all out and left a way back in, but the ICW said they didn’t like the look of the wards and want us to seal the whole place off.’
‘Really?’ Blaise’s jaw dropped. ‘What about all the things we could discover? If it’s as big as I’ve heard, the wizard responsible for it would be remembered forever.’
Smith preened. ‘That is why I’ve decided, at no small personal risk to myself, to enlist outside help. Your team was mentioned to me, in fact, by a notable friend of mine. He said you were as good as it gets in your field.’
‘We’re the best,’ Tracey said, edging closer to Harry.
He frowned, throwing a quick look down at where Pina drew circles in the sand with her bare feet. Katie’s eye caught his as he glanced up and the weight of her gaze remained even when he turned back toward Smith.
‘Of course, we’re not cheap,’ Blaise said. ‘But we can haggle over little details later, what’s a bit of gold compared to eternal glory?’
‘Can you get in?’ Smith asked.
‘Oh, we can get into anything. It’s not the getting in that’s hard.’
‘It’s not?’ Smith blinked. ‘My teams tell me getting in through the wards is the hardest part.’
Blaise nodded and rested a hand on Smith’s shoulder. ‘Well, that’s a common mistake among even experienced professionals. Wards can be hard to break, but they can always be broken. The most difficult part comes after you’re in.’
‘And what’s that?’ Smith shuffled his feet, glancing between them.
‘Trade secret, I’m afraid.’ Blaise winked. ‘If we gave that away, we wouldn’t be the best anymore. You know how it is when you get to the top, you have to keep hold of what gives you that little edge over the competition.’
‘Very true. Very true indeed. Still, I may get to find out!’
A fraction of the cheer faded from Blaise’s face. ‘Oh?’
‘Well, I’m coming with you, of course.’ Smith waved a hand behind him. ‘And Auror Corner and Auror Thomas will have to come to make sure I’m safe.’ A big smug smile spread over his face. ‘And I’m sure Katie would love to see as well. This is the sort of expedition that can make a career.’
Katie’s forehead creased, still staring at Harry.
‘Or break it,’ Tracey whispered.
Harry smothered a laugh, catching Blaise’s eye. ‘Well, I’m sure we’ll all be lucky to have your guidance and expertise leading the expedition.’
Tracey nodded. ‘Just don’t get too close to where we’re working, it can get dangerous.’
Smith scoffed. ‘I’m not scared of old temple ruins.’ He took a short breath and studied his sleeve. ‘However, I wouldn’t want to get in the way and impede your work, of course.’
‘Of course,’ Blaise said, extending his hand. ‘There are still a few details to be worked out, but I think we have the spirit of a deal.’
Smith studied Blaise’s hand. ‘How soon can you start?’
A sly gleam appeared in Blaise’s eyes. ‘How long does it take to walk there from here?’
‘We have a deal!’ Smith seized Blaise’s hand between his and shook it. ‘Your team can have ten percent of the finding fee, that’s the same deal as any ICW team would get and this will be the find of the millennium.’
‘Done.’ Blaise squeezed until Smith tugged his hand free. ‘We’ll gather up our things and set up camp outside the entrance. Unless there’re any issues preventing us from getting started…?’
Tracey threw a small smirk at Harry.
Smith stared down at the sand between his feet for a moment. ‘Katie, you and Aurors Corner and Thomas can head back, I’ll join you in a moment.’
Katie turned on her heel and strode away toward the pair of aurors, pointing back across the waves toward the distant outline of Heraklion. ‘We’re off!’
A loud crack rang out over the sand and the three vanished.
Smith sighed. ‘One last detail that I omitted from my meeting with my protection. The ICW has been strict about not entering the temple. Fortunately, Katie is not well thought of at the Department of Anti-Smuggling and High End Artefact Theft Prevention, so word hasn’t filtered through to her.’
‘Does that mean we can’t go in?’ Blaise asked.
Smith rubbed at his chin. ‘It means the venture is not, strictly speaking, legal. Of course, it is our duty to ensure a find of this magnitude isn’t wasted, and the ICW will doubtless come to agree. However, it means we have to wait until tomorrow morning. This evening, the last of the wards to seal the place off will be finished and the ICW ward team will leave, expecting me to activate the wards tomorrow morning and seal the place off again.’
‘That’s quite a risk for us,’ Blaise said, licking his lips. ‘We’re still interested, but that sort of risk needs balancing out with a little extra reward…’
‘I’m hungry,’ Pina whined, stomping her circles into the sand.
Harry swept her up onto his shoulder. ‘Let’s go find you a snack, shall we? Coming, Tracey? I’m sure Blaise has everything in hand.’
Tracey swept her bangs out of the way. ‘Blaise?’
‘I’ll sort out the details,’ Blaise said. ‘You two look after Pina.’
‘They’re together?’ Smith asked. ‘And have a child?’
Blaise threw an arm around Smith’s shoulders. ‘Plenty of time to get to know us all later once we’ve hammered out these last couple of niggles.’
‘Of course, of course.’ Smith laughed. ‘Let’s call it fifteen percent, shall we, and maybe a nice little bonus in there off the books…?’
Harry plopped a wriggling Pina back down on the sand. ‘All right, all right, you can take them off.’
Pina hurled her sunglasses away into the distant sea. ‘That’s better.’ She clapped her hands together. ‘I like to see properly, not with all that scratchy, blurry glass in the way.’
Tracey smirked. ‘You know, Harry, the only real way to explain why Pina is with us is that she’s ours.’ A strange little glint hovered in her green eyes. ‘Hear that, Pina, we’re going to pretend you’re our real daughter for a while.’
Harry grimaced and buried a twist of unease. ‘If anyone asks, she got the biting from you, Trace.’
‘Does that mean I have to do what you say all the time?’ Pina demanded. ‘Because if so, I’m not coming.’
‘Only where necessary,’ Harry promised. ‘And we might not even have to pretend. I’m sure there’s another reason we can come up with.’
Tracey bit at her lip. ‘Are you hungry, Pina?’ she asked. ‘Or do you want to head back to the hotel?’
‘Hotel.’ Pina cocked her head. ‘Unless you’re going to finally let me see if you’re tasty.’
‘No.’ Tracey shook her head. ‘You go ahead, we’ll catch up.’
‘Okay!’ Pina blurred away across the sand.
‘You called me Trace,’ Tracey murmured. ‘Haven’t heard you call me that in a while.’
‘Yeah…’ He studied the grains of sand trapped under his thumbnail. ‘Sorry. It just slipped out.’
‘I don’t mind.’ She let out a long sigh. ‘I’m not really mad anymore, you know. I get it. You told me at the start we’d have fun and we’d be close, but you weren’t sure you could give me everything.’
‘I said it was fine.’ Tracey’s shoulder brushed against his arm, her fingers tangling with his as they drifted back down the beach. ‘And it was for a while, but I… I wanted more.’
‘It didn’t feel right,’ he said. ‘Which sounds stupid, but I just—’
‘You needed some time,’ she said. ‘But you’ve had time now. All the other things that were eating away at you, they’re pretty much gone. You’ve gotten over your shoulder injury, over Ginevra, over — over Voldemort, and now you’ve nearly paid those fucking goblins off. And I’m still here.’
‘You are definitely still here. Can’t argue with that.’
‘And I’m not really going to go looking for hot Greek wizards, either,’ Tracey said. ‘But I do have that chessboard and we could order some food and some drinks and sit in the sun…’ She chewed her lip. ‘And I was thinking, you know, maybe there’s not some special fucking feeling, maybe this is it. I thought that’d make me sad, but it didn’t, it made me smile.’
Harry stared out across the waves. ‘But what if there is?’
She shrugged. ‘Well, if you find it, you can just say. We’ll stay friends. We’ve done too much together not to.’
‘Like parenting that tiny terror.’ Harry grinned. ‘We probably shouldn’t leave her unattended at the hotel for long, I saw her eyeing up the Bloody Mary section of the cocktail menu.’
‘Fuck that,’ Tracey said. ‘She’s trouble enough sober, I don’t even want to imagine Pina drunk, she’d eat half the hotel just to see if they were tasty.’
‘Pina would probably try and have a nibble of you first,’ he said. ‘I think she’s genuinely curious about how you taste.’
‘I don’t like the idea of her stealing my blood.’ Tracey shuddered. ‘It makes my skin crawl.’
‘I mean, she will eventually take a bite,’ Harry promised. ‘She did it to me. And to Blaise. And, well, everyone else she’s eaten in the last eighteen hundred years, I guess.’
‘I guess I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.’ She reached out and slid her fingers through his. ‘Let’s go back to my balcony.’