Snowflakes drifted down into the cavern through a bar of bright sunlight, tumbling on top of the ice-crusted standing stone and spilling down its side to the ground. Harry poked a toe through the thin, white film and sighed.
‘Why did we stop?’ Tracey stuck her head through the weathered stone arch to his left, shivering beneath her thick, fur-lined coat, squinting her green eyes at the light. ‘It’s cold as all fuck.’
‘Because our little girl wanted to make a snowman,’ Harry said, pointing to the door on his right. ‘And also because there’s a big fuck-off door behind that standing stone.’
‘Snow queen!’ A cheerful cry came from the side-chamber. ‘She’s going to be a snow queen.’
‘I stand corrected. A snow queen.’
Tracey snickered. ‘Typical. Where’s Blaise?’
‘Slithering about somewhere, no doubt,’ he said. ‘Probably saw something shiny in one of the alcoves back there and is trying to stuff it somewhere the rest of us wouldn’t go looking for any amount of galleons.’
She cackled. ‘Be surprised if he found anything, I checked the alcoves already.’ Tracey groaned and hunched her shoulders as the breeze swirled through the crevice in the cavern roof, sending her long, honey-blonde hair flying about her face. ‘Nothing but ice and rocks.’
‘I very much get the feeling we’re not the first people down here,’ Harry said. ‘Want to take a look at the door?’
She pulled her wand out and crunched across the ice, leaving crisp boot-prints behind. A snowball smacked her in the back of the head. Tracey growled and flicked her wand at the snow, sending a wave of white into the side-chamber. A squeal echoed back out.
‘Pina!’ Harry called. ‘I said no more snowballs.’
A little giggle drifted out from the side room and another snowball whacked into Harry’s chest. Tracey swept around the standing stone and crouched down, murmuring under her breath.
‘Pina…’ He sighed and brushed the cold damp away before it soaked through. ‘Could you try and be good for just a little longer?’
She pranced out through the worn, stone arch, dancing barefoot across the snow. Ice crystals hung in her ebony curls like tiny diamonds and coated her grey dress.
‘I’m getting hungry,’ she moaned, kicking snow into the air. ‘And there’s nothing in here to play with.’
‘Is that an I just want to whine about something hungry, or should we all start running?’ Harry asked.
‘I’m hungry.’ Burning orange eyes peeked through her dark hair as she beamed, baring long, sharp canines. ‘And you know you can’t outrun me, Harry.’
‘Well, we’re nearly there.’ He pointed at the door. ‘That’s covered in seals to imprison the dead, which means the central chamber of the barrow is just on the other side.’
‘But I’m huuungry,’ Pina whined, flapping her arms. ‘Just a little…?’
‘Last time you said that, I was on blood-replenishers for a week,’ Harry said. ‘Remember what we agreed?’
‘If I’m going to try and eat my friends I should eat Blaise first.’ Pina crossed her arms and huffed. ‘But he’s the least tasty of you.’
‘Fine.’ She pouted. ‘I’ll wait or eat Blaise.’
He laughed and mussed her hair, dusting ice crystals from her curls. ‘That’s my little girl.’
‘I’m at least seventy five times older than you.’ Pina’s orange irises tracked his wrist as he dusted snow off her dress and the tip of her pink little tongue traced across her lips.
‘You mean you’ve been twelve for seventy five times longer than I’ve been alive.’
She snatched at his arm.
Harry jumped back. ‘Oh no you don’t.’
Pina giggled and snapped her teeth at him. ‘Just teasing. I’m not that hungry yet.’ Her stomach gurgled. ‘Yet.’
‘Tracey?’ Harry called.
‘How’s the door coming?’ he asked.
‘I’m getting there.’ Some muffled cursing came from behind the standing stone. ‘Most of it’s just pretty standard nordic barrow protection, but there’s a weird inner bit I’m not sure about.’
‘Well, no rush,’ he said, striding around the stone. ‘Pina’s starting to get peckish is all.’
Tracey froze before the ice-veiled runes carven into the stone door. ‘Peckish?’
‘Playfully peckish,’ Harry said, studying the concentric circles of runes. ‘But you know how she is, it starts playful and then suddenly I’ve got her teeth in my forearm and have to drink blood-replenishers for a week.’
‘You said she could drink from you if it was an emergency,’ Tracey told him, running the tip of her wand over the inner ring. ‘It’s your own fault.’
‘It wasn’t an emergency, she could’ve eaten someone else.’
‘I wanted to see if you were tasty!’ Pina chirped in his ear.
Cold shock flashed through his veins. ‘If you give me a heart attack, you won’t be able to eat me, Pina.’
‘Awwww.’ Pina leapt to the top of the standing stone and crouched, peering down through the swirling snowflakes. ‘I still need to see if Tracey is tasty, too.’
‘Nope.’ Tracey pulled a thin, silver chisel out from under her beige and brown scarf and rested the tip against the innermost ring of runes. ‘You promised us you’d eat Blaise first.’
Footsteps echoed down the passage behind them.
‘Here he comes.’
‘My snack is coming!’ Pina swivelled on the balls of her feet and grinned, her small sharp fangs glinting in the beam of sunlight. ‘But he tastes really sour…’
‘Would you two be quiet,’ Tracey said, brushing her blonde hair off her face. ‘When I punch through these wards there may be a backlash of some kind. Depends if this inner bit is the keep the dead inside sort of ward or the keep everyone else outside kind.’
‘Hush, Pina,’ Harry murmured.
‘Fine.’ She cocked her head and stared at the passage, her nostrils flaring. ‘Hurry up, though, Harry. I’m bored.’
Tracey drew a deep breath and tapped the chisel with her wand. A clear, sharp sound rang through the cavern and the ground shook, dust and snow poured down from above.
Harry exchanged a look with Tracey.
‘Done?’ Pina dropped to the ground. ‘My snack’s nearly here.’
A stone screech ripped through the cave. A rough-hewn figure, covered in glowing runes tore itself from the standing stone and batted Pina away into the wall with a crunch.
Harry snatched his wand out and banished the thing into the side chamber. ‘Tracey!’
‘Just fucking destroy it!’ She stuffed the silver chisel back into her coat and emptied the contents of her bag out in the snow. ‘I’ll open this door, if you can’t get rid of it, we’ll throw it in there to give us some time.’
‘Shit.’ Harry summoned a lash of flame and snared the thing’s legs as it thundered out of the side-chamber.
It crashed to the floor, thrashing and flailing. Sparks flew from the iron manacles upon its wrists. Harry abandoned his whip of fire and hurled blasting curses into the glowing stone, knocking it back across the floor into the wall.
Chips of rock flew across the cavern and the stone crumbled away from withered flesh and bare bone. Circles of bright, blue runes glowed all along the corpse’s limbs and ribs.
‘Barrow wight,’ Harry muttered. ‘I hate barrow wights.’
He buried it in a gout of flame, forcing magic through his wand until the fire seared the runes from the bones and the corpse crumpled to the floor.
Pina jumped to her feet, her arm crunching back into place. ‘Stupid non-tasty barrow wights.’ She stomped on the still burning skull with one bare foot and kicked the body away into the side-chamber.
‘It’s already dead.’ Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Where the fuck is Blaise?’
‘Your friend is here.’ A deep, Swedish accent rang through the cavern. ‘He’s had a bit of a tough time, so don’t be too hard on him.’
Harry twisted around. Blaise dangled from the arms of two tall, broad red-haired men. Dried blood crusted in his dark hair and stained his long coat.
‘My snack!’ Pina cried.
‘Move, you two giant idiots.’ A blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman pushed through the two wizards and shoved Blaise onto the floor. ‘Hello sweetheart, my name’s Helga.’ She crouched down and spread her arms. ‘Why don’t you come here? It’s about to get a bit messy in here.’
‘Messy?’ Pina stared up at Harry with big, orange eyes. ‘Can I?’
He sighed. ‘Go on then.’
She giggled. ‘Yay!’
A dark blur flashed across the cave. Red splattered the arch and the two red-haired wizards crumpled into the snow. Pina tossed a bearded head away into the snow, licking blood from her fingers with the tip of her little tongue and letting out a quiet moan.
Helga froze, her eyes on the drops of blood marring the snow. She dragged her eyes up to stare at Harry in mute appeal.
‘She’s behind you,’ Harry said. ‘And she almost never listens to me, so…’
Helga shuddered and twisted around, raising her hands. ‘Okay, sweetheart, let’s call it even, shall we?’
Pina cocked her head. ‘Snack time!’
Helga’s hand snapped toward her wand. A black blur ripped the limb off at the shoulder with a little giggle and screams tore through the barrow. Pina closed her eyes and spread her arms in the crimson spray, sticking her tongue out to catch the drops.
‘It really never gets any less disturbing,’ Harry murmured, patting down his pockets. ‘And I don’t have any tissues left to clean her up, either.’
Tracey stuck her head back out from behind the standing stone. ‘Blaise is right in the puddle.’ She sniggered. ‘And it looks like those two wizards tenderised his face.’
Pina grabbed Helga’s blonde hair and sank her teeth into the witch’s throat, ripping away a mouthful of flesh and slurping the spurting blood. The red spread across the ground, soaking through the snow from the pair of corpses behind Blaise’s sprawled figure.
‘Urgh.’ Tracey wrinkled her nose. ‘That’s so messy.’
‘We really need to teach our little girl some table manners,’ Harry said.
Tracey bit her lip. ‘We really should.’
Pina dropped Helga to the floor and sucked in a huge breath, licking the blood off her fingers.
‘And maybe buy her a bib,’ he added. ‘Or something. I don’t know if a bib would cut it. She’s a really messy eater.’
‘Let’s just get rid of this door,’ Tracey replied. ‘Wake Blaise before he drowns in all the blood and sort out Pina. We’re going to get a lot of odd looks wandering around in the muggle town with a blood-drenched twelve-year old.’
‘Right.’ Harry waved a hand. ‘Come here, Pina. Let’s get you cleaned up.’
‘No!’ She stomped her foot, her burning orange eyes focused on the pool of blood. ‘I’m not done.’
‘That’s all dirty, it’s been on the ground,’ Harry told her. ‘It’s not good for you, so don’t drink it.’
‘But there’s so much,’ Pina whined. ‘I want to—’ she flapped her arms and shivered ‘— I want to just splash about in it for a bit.’
‘Agrippina,’ Harry said. ‘Come here.’
She huffed and stomped over, sticking her blood-smeared nose in the air. ‘Fine, those two tasted icky anyway.’
‘Good girl.’ Harry conjured a thick, white towel and handed it to her. ‘Use that to wipe your face.’
‘Fluffy.’ Pina smeared the worst off her face and hands, patting at her damp, dark curls. ‘What about my hair and my dress?’
Harry conjured a stream of water and blasted Blaise in the face. ‘I can do that, if you like?’
Blaise spluttered and rolled over onto his back, his blue eyes flickering open.
‘No!’ Pina threw the towel at him. ‘I don’t like being wet.’
He vanished it. ‘Well then it’s cleaning charms.’
She balled her little fists. ‘That’s nearly just as bad, it makes my hair and skin feel all weird!’
‘Well you shouldn’t have got so messy then, should you?’ Harry scourged the rest of the blood away with a quick charm while Pina screwed up her face and huffed. ‘There, all clean.’
‘What happened?’ Blaise asked. ‘Tracey? Harry?’
‘Some woman and two of her friends.’ Harry shrugged. ‘Pina ate her and killed the other two.’
Blaise groaned and dragged himself up on the wall. ‘There’s another couple of them,’ he said. ‘The rest are in the muggle town.’
‘We’ll deal with that later,’ Harry replied. ‘Once Tracey’s gotten rid of this door, we should be in the main chamber of the barrow.’
‘There’s nothing in there,’ Blaise said.
‘What?!’ Tracey stormed out from behind the standing stone. ‘The fuck do you mean there’s nothing in there? I only just broke the door, nobody else has got through it since it was made.’
‘The group that ambushed me got in through the light shaft a few days back.’ Blaise nursed his swelling, darkening eye, stifling a wince. ‘Wasn’t much in there, just a bunch of barrow wight thralls protecting the body of their king in his ship and all the usual small stuff.’
‘Not the big haul we were promised,’ Harry said. ‘Bollocks.’
Pina yawned and plopped down in a clean patch of snow, curling up into a ball. Tracey stuffed her wand back into her coat and muttered a string of swear words, gathering up her things from the snow beside the door.
‘Nope, no treasure. This was a complete and total trap.’ Blaise glanced at Tracey. ‘We beat them to the Westphalian burial mound last year and they didn’t take it well.’
‘Shit,’ Harry said. ‘I thought this was going to be the big one.’
Blaise spat a mouthful of blood into the red-stained snow and poked his teeth with a fingertip, grimacing. ‘We got a decent amount from the Westphalian trove and that Taifali ghostblade we found a couple years back is basically sold for what will work out to be around two hundred galleons each.’
‘Great,’ Harry muttered. ‘Still, at least that pays my medical bills and some of what I owe Gringotts for stuff that happened back in the war.’
‘Last bit of my mother’s debts, too.’ Blaise glanced between them. ‘We might as well head back into town so I can fix my face. The rest of their gang is waiting there, too, and I’d rather jump them now then get jumped by them again later.’
‘Fuck’s fucking sake.’ Tracey glowered at Helga’s pale corpse. ‘I got my kitchen redone expecting this trip to pay off.’
Harry laughed. ‘Two hundred galleons ought to cover your kitchen, surely?’
‘Just.’ Tracey smirked. ‘It’s a big kitchen. I’ve upgraded since you were last visiting, Harry. You should come and see.’
‘Let’s head back.’ Harry bent and scooped Pina up, settling her over his shoulder. ‘It’s a four hour hike after we seal the barrow back up to hide it from the muggles. This little monster will be awake by the time we’re back.’
‘And hungry again.’ Blaise smiled down at the bodies around them. ‘Perfect timing to visit the rest of them. And that saves us money on feeding her.’
‘Or from getting eaten by her.’ Harry chuckled. ‘Do we have another trip lined up or am I going to have to hide out somewhere the goblins can’t get me for a bit?’
A sly gleam entered Blaise’s eyes. ‘The Turkish wizard who bought the Taifali ghostblade said there was an earthquake in Heraklion, on Crete. Apparently, it caused a landslide and unearthed something big. There’s an ICW protection set-up there, so I pulled a few strings to see what was going on.’
‘ICW?’ Tracey’s eyebrows shot up. ‘They only do that if it’s very big.’
‘Right?’ Blaise’s smile spread to show off all his teeth. ‘And who’s in charge, that glory hunting idiot Zacharias Smith. I bet he’d love to claim the credit for a massive discovery, and if we gave him the chance to boss around the great Harry Potter, saviour of Britain and former Quidditch legend…’
‘Brief legend,’ Harry said. ‘Ruined my shoulder in three years with that stupid trick.’
‘Smith’d definitely do it,’ Tracey breathed. ‘He’s a fucking idiot. He got that warning a year back for hiring private teams to investigate the sites he was meant to be protecting.’
‘I reckon he’ll do it again if we can tempt him,’ Blaise said. ‘It’s a big site…’
‘Any idea what it is they’ve actually unearthed?’ Harry asked. ‘Could just be another bronze age tomb or settlement with nothing in it but broken pottery.’
‘No. No, it’s big. It’s really big.’ Blaise licked his lips. ‘Apparently, the earthquake ruined a wardstone on the island of Aia just north of Heraklion. Half the damn island just reappeared out of nowhere after four thousand years, and it’s covered by some huge old temple complex.’
‘Promising,’ Harry admitted. ‘Depends on the temple, though.’
‘It’s got a pair of great big white bulls outside the doors,’ Blaise whispered. ‘The ICW people are hoping it’s the Great Temple of Minos.’
Tracey stumbled to a halt. ‘Isn’t that meant to be full of rubies?’
‘Drowning in ruby riches and floored in endless ivory, to quote the legend,’ Blaise said. ‘Treasure seekers have scoured Crete for a thousand years and not found it, but now…’
‘It’s probably not Minos’ temple,’ Harry said. ‘Let’s not go buying any kitchens before they’ve hatched.’
‘How many fucking temple complexes would have wardstones like that?’ Tracey demanded. ‘It’s worth a fucking look.’
Harry covered Pina’s ears. ‘Language, Tracey. You don’t want our little girl picking up your foul mouth, do you?’
‘She’s heard plenty worse than that.’ A touch of pink coloured Tracey’s cheeks and she rolled her eyes. ‘I vote we go check it out, it’s at least warm there.’
‘I vote we go, too,’ Blaise said. ‘I can wrangle us a meeting with Smith, put a word in his ear from the right people and have us recommended to him so he reaches out.’
Tracey bit at her lower lip. ‘If it pays off, we could be set, Harry. Even if we just pinch a handful of things, it’d be enough to sort us all out for life.’
‘Oh, I’m in,’ Harry said. ‘I really need to pay those damn goblins before they take a pound of flesh or two. Let’s do it.’