A pair of pale marble bulls reared from the swathe of pink-flowered cacti, gleaming in the morning sun. Behind the white-spined, sprawling green plants a bronze-plated door rose between dark, stone walls.
Harry ran his eyes over the interlocking patterns of runes, spiralling across the bronze and let out a low whistle. ‘That’s not just any barrow door,’ he murmured. ‘Trace’s going to need more than that little chisel to get in.’
A loud crack echoed across the cacti and back off the temple walls. Smith, Katie, and Dean Thomas and Michael Corner appeared half a dozen steps away.
‘Good morning chaps!’ Smith strode toward Harry, flapping the collar of his tight, dark jacket. ‘Where’s everyone?’
Harry shrugged. ‘Blaise went to look along the walls to see if there was a better way in. Tracey’s trying to convince Pina to eat breakfast quickly.’
‘Your daughter, Blaise said.’ Smith’s brow furrowed. ‘But I didn’t see a ring on Tracey’s hand?’
Blaise you’re such a dick. He smothered a flash of annoyance. He did that deliberately.
‘Complicated,’ Harry replied. ‘The important thing is that Pina’s happy. Things tend to go downhill fast when she’s not.’ He chuckled under his breath. ‘She bites.’
‘Ah.’ Smith flushed and looked around. ‘Well, we’re all ready and set. Auror Thomas and Auror Corner ought to be able to help if we run into anything, and Katie, well, she’s just great company!’
Katie grimaced and drifted across. ‘You wanted to talk to them before we went in,’ she said.
‘Ah, well remembered!’ Smith twirled on his heel and swept back over, drawing the two aurors into a quiet conversation.
‘So, how did you end up here, Harry?’ Katie asked. ‘Last I saw you, last anyone saw you, you’d just injured your shoulder again.’
‘For the last time,’ he said. ‘Even magic can only do so much. My quidditch days are done, but everyone knows that already without needing to see me.’
He studied the broken horn of the nearest marble bull. ‘Need to pay the bills. And the goblins. Mostly the goblins, really, they keep threatening to come and cut something off if I don’t finish paying them back for breaking into Gringotts during the war.’
‘But you saved everyone.’
‘Oh it was worth it,’ Harry said. ‘I’d do it again. But there are consequences. Would have been nice if the Ministry or anyone I’d saved had offered to help, but nobody did.’
Tracey appeared with Pina in a loud snap, her bag slung over her shoulder and her blonde hair in neat bangs.
Katie’s lips twisted. ‘You’re doing well, though. You’ve got a family and this all seems to be going fairly well.’
‘I’ve definitely been worse off.’ He met her soft brown eyes. ‘What about you? I thought you were an auror, but you’re not in red…’
‘Failed,’ she muttered. ‘I can do all the actual auror stuff, but the legal exams I just can’t pass. I got bumped down into the anti-smuggling department and sent out here to deal with that moron.’
‘He seems to like you.’
Katie turned green. ‘Don’t remind me. I’m just glad he’s not actually got the balls to try and pressure me into anything, not sure I’d have much choice if he did. My career’s hanging by a thread.’
A brief heat rose in Harry’s breast. ‘Well, if his gamble with this temple doesn’t pay off, the ICW will almost certainly kick him out.’ He offered her a smile. ‘And, if I’ve learnt anything, it’s that you can always start over.’
‘But it probably will go well.’ She sighed. ‘I just hope it goes well enough that I can go somewhere far away from him and get some actual real cases to chase. All these high-end break ins across Europe in the last few years and I’m here doing nothing but twiddle my thumbs.’
‘Well, fingers crossed.’ He glanced over his shoulder at Pina and met Tracey’s green eyes. ‘I think we’re about to get started.’
‘Can I watch?’ Katie asked. ‘Or do I need to be at a safe distance?’
‘Well…’ He stepped a little closer and lowered his voice. ‘You can be as close as you like, really. We just told Smith that to get him out of the way.’
She snorted. ‘Trying to get me to come all close, Harry? What would your wife over there say?’
Harry choked. ‘That’s not what I meant.’
Katie’s smile lit her face up as bright as the Cretan sun. ‘I know, but the look on your face was worth it.’
‘We’re not actually married, either.’
Her eyes flicked to his hand, then across to Tracey. ‘You do have a kid, though.’
‘My sweet little Pina,’ Harry said. ‘The light of my life. She takes after her mother, I swear.’
Pina’s orange eyes snapped up to him and she cocked her head. She danced across the ground on her bare feet to come and stand beside him. ‘Hi?’
Harry dug through his pockets for a pair of sunglasses.
‘Hi, Pina.’ Katie dropped to one knee. ‘I’m Katie Bell, I’m an old friend of your Dad.’
‘Here.’ He waved the sunglasses at Pina. ‘Don’t forget these, sweetheart.’
Pina stared at them, wrinkling her nose, then reached out and pulled them onto her face. ‘Hi, Katie. Are you tasty?’
Katie blinked. ‘Er…’
‘Don’t mind her,’ Harry said. ‘She says weird stuff all the time. As long as she’s happy, that’s what’s important.’
Pina hid a grin behind her hand. ‘Are we starting soon?’
‘Just waiting for Blaise to come back.’ Tracey swept across. ‘But he’s not going to find anything, those walls are warded up like nothing I’ve ever fucking seen.’
‘You want to start, then?’ Harry asked.
She glanced between Harry and Katie. ‘I’ll need you to come and help, Harry.’
‘Normally you just want me out of the way,’ he joked.
‘Sometimes, your hands can be put to good use.’ Tracey winked at him. ‘On balconies in the sun after a few drinks, for example.’
Which probably shouldn’t have happened. He sighed. But Trace may well be right, perhaps I’m just chasing something that’s not real.
Katie squirmed. ‘So, how did you get into this line of work, Tracey?’
‘Because I’m really fucking good at breaking into things.’ She swept her bangs aside and dropped her bag to the floor. ‘Not many things I can’t get into if I want to.’
‘But you need my help now…?’ Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘Really?’
A hint of pink coloured Tracey’s cheeks. ‘It’s not exactly the standard door, is it?’
‘I’ll give you that,’ he said. ‘Your little chisel…?’
‘Not a chance,’ Tracey said. ‘I’ve brought Daphne to get through these big doors.’
‘Maybe we should stand back a little bit,’ Harry muttered. ‘Daphne’s got a backlash.’
Katie eyed Tracey’s bag. ‘Daphne?’
‘Best way to get through wards is to punch a hole into them, then rip all the fucking magic out. Like pulling out loose threads.’ Tracey pulled her small silver chisel out. ‘Normally I use Astoria, this little one, but this temple has too much magic to pull through such a small conduit.’
‘Where does the magic go?’ Katie asked.
‘Out.’ She waved a hand around them.
‘Doesn’t that damage things?’
Tracey nodded. ‘It’s not something you use except in the right scenario. The backlash can do damage or even set off untriggered enchantments.’
‘Barrow wights,’ Harry said. ‘It’s usually barrow wights.’
‘Stupid barrow wights,’ Pina chirped. ‘Not at all tasty.’
‘Not even a little bit.’ Harry chuckled. ‘And almost as far past their best before date as you, Pina.’
‘Don’t tease our baby,’ Tracey said, heaving out a thigh-sized silver cylinder covered in runes. ‘You know what happens when she gets upset.’
Pina huffed and poked her cheeks with her fingers. ‘I’m not all boney, see!’
‘You’re much cuter than a barrow wight,’ Harry said. ‘But a lot more trouble.’
She grinned, flashing him a pair of sharp canines.
Harry bent and lifted her onto his shoulders. ‘Be good, Pina. You’ll be able to have fun soon.’
‘Fun?’ Pina bounced her feet on his chest and lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘Can I eat them?’
He stepped away. ‘Not Katie. Maybe the others, depends how it goes…’
‘I want to eat at least one of them.’ She sighed and took hold of two small fistfuls of Harry’s hair. ‘All that sweet, hot red.’ Pina snapped her teeth and giggled. ‘Want me to turn you, Harry? We could spend forever playing.’
‘Not right now, thanks.’ Harry set her down at the edge of the cacti. ‘Want to go fetch, Blaise?’
‘Okay,’ she chirped, dancing through the spiny plants along the wall. ‘Bye maybe-tasty Katie!’
‘Maybe-tasty Katie?’ Katie scrunched up her face. ‘I’m one hundred percent tasty.’
‘Bit of a bold thing to say,’ Harry quipped. ‘Don’t want Smith to hear that, do you?’
She snorted. ‘And now my skin is crawling. Thanks for that.’
‘Come here, Harry.’ Tracey pulled her wand out, levitating the silver cylinder out of the bag and up against the bronze doors. ‘Make sure Daphne stays exactly there.’
Harry slid his wand out and levitated it. ‘Should we step back?’
‘Don’t stand directly behind it.’ Tracey chewed her lip. ‘I think the area wards will reflect the magic back in, so we shouldn’t cause havoc. Given all the other wards were still working, I don’t think we’ll be setting anything off that’s not already awake anyway.’
‘Wait! Wait!’ Smith stumbled across the ground to stand beside Katie, his forehead beaded with sweat. ‘Are we starting? Where’s Blaise?’
‘He’s just coming back.’ Harry turned away from where Daphne hovered before the bronze-plated doors. ‘We’re going to punch through these. It may take a few attempts.’
‘Don’t think so,’ Tracey said. ‘All those wards are strongly connected, ripping out one part should take all the rest with it.’
‘Sure?’ Harry shot her a long look.
‘It’ll be fine. The outer wards will deflect it all back. Nothing will reach Heraklion.’ Tracey took hold of her wand like a quill, tracing over the runes engraved into Daphne. ‘Just need to get the balance right.’
‘What’s she doing?’ Katie whispered.
‘No idea,’ Harry said. ‘I’ve picked up a bit from watching her, but I don’t understand the detail. Tracey makes Daphne’s magic link with the wards, which kind of punches a hole, then the enchantments on Daphne will pull all the magic out, leaving us free to enter.’
‘Some of that was right,’ Tracey said, finishing her runes. ‘Grossly oversimplified, but along the right lines.’
Smith chortled. ‘And here I was thinking you’d be the specialist, Potter.’
‘I’m mostly here to deal with barrow wights,’ Harry said. ‘And occasionally to carry things for Tracey, too.’
Tracey laughed. ‘Not just carrying things for me.’ She hooked a bang away from her green eyes and motioned at Harry. ‘Sidestep, or all that magic’s going to go right through you…’
Harry took three steps to the left. Katie crossed the narrow path to stand beside him.
‘No more moving.’ Tracey scowled at Katie and touched her wand to the end of Daphne. ‘Here we go!’
A brilliant white flash seared at Harry’s eyes and a deafening crash hammered through him, leaving his ears ringing. He blinked green spots away, poking at his ears until the whining faded. The island shook beneath his feet, small stones and dust danced around his boots.
‘Fucking hell,’ Tracey breathed, blinking furiously. ‘That was a fucking big one.’
‘If only Harry had such sweet things said about him,’ Katie joked under her breath.
‘Oi.’ He nudged her with his elbow. ‘I’ve had plenty of sweet things said about me.’
‘Like what?’ she asked. ‘Sensitive? Kind?’
‘I think the best one was emotionally unavailable,’ Harry said. ‘All the others were bad.’
Katie snorted. ‘You don’t seem that emotionally unavailable.’
Tracey turned around and laughed. ‘Most girls would dash themselves to pieces on him, it would take Daphne to get through those fucking walls.’ She patted the glowing silver cylinder and winced. ‘Hot.’
‘Can I put Daphne down?’ Harry asked.
‘You may. In my bag, carefully, not in the dirt.’
‘I know, Trace.’ He caught Tracey’s green eyes and offered her a small smile. ‘I’ll be careful with her.’
‘You better.’ She watched the silver cylinder drift down into her bag, then ran the tip of her wand over the runes. ‘Yeah, we’re fucking in. Ripped every last drop of magic out.’
Pina darted back through the cacti, snatching pink flowers as she went. Blaise trailed her, skirting through the spiny plants with a sly smile on his lips. She scampered across to Harry and hurled the crumpled petals into his face.
‘Ouch,’ he said as they brushed his chin, fluttering to the ground. ‘What a violent and awful daughter you are.’
She pouted, shaking her head until her sunglasses threatened to fly off her nose. ‘I want these gone. They’re annoying.’
‘We’ll be out of the sun in a moment,’ Harry said. ‘Once we’re inside the temple, it’ll be okay to take them off.’
Pina huffed and stomped her foot. ‘Fine.’
‘In we go?’ Smith asked.
Blaise picked his way out of the cacti. ‘You breached?’
Tracey laughed. ‘Didn’t you notice?’
‘I nearly fell off a cliff,’ Blaise said. ‘You could’ve waited.’
‘I could’ve.’ Tracey gave him a sweet smile. ‘But our beautiful daughter was getting so impatient I just had to start.’
Harry smothered a laugh. Guess she’s not too happy about Blaise signing us up for Pina parenting either.
Smith dusted off his jacket and motioned Dean and Michael over. ‘We’re about to go in. Stay alert.’ He edged toward the door and reached out, his finger tips hovering a hair’s breadth from the bronze. ‘Can I?’
‘Go for it,’ Tracey said. ‘Should be safe.’
Smith closed his eyes and touched the bronze. A soft sigh escaped his lips and he braced himself, shoving hard.
The doors grated open a few inches. Dean and Michael hurried over and shoved the bronze-plated entrance open with a dull rumble. They stepped in, wands drawn, and Tracey and Katie headed in after them.
Harry dropped back to Blaise. ‘Do we have any snacks for Pina?’
‘I planned ahead.’ Blaise patted the bag on his shoulder. ‘And if we end up in there for more than a week without being able to buy more for her, there’s always those four.’
‘Sunglasses.’ Pina appeared in front of him, whipping open his jacket and stuffing her sunglasses at the inner right pocket.
Harry caught her hand before she ripped open the seam. ‘Other pocket.’
Pina poked the stitches with her finger. ‘That’s not very useful, what have you got hidden in there?’ She stuffed her glasses into the left pocket and beamed at him through her long, dark curls. ‘That’s much better.’
He mussed her hair. ‘Try not to let them see your eyes, Agrippina,’ Harry murmured. ‘We may need their help to get all the way in to the good stuff. And you want a nice present, right?’
‘A present?’ Pina bounced on her feet. ‘Maybe-tasty Katie?’
‘Not someone to eat.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘You have a very one-track mind.’
She scrunched up her face. ‘Then what?’
‘Something shiny and old?’ Harry pointed at the temple. ‘Supposed to be full of rubies, remember?’
‘Not my favourite red thing,’ Pina whispered. ‘If you want to give me a present…’ She bared her little fangs, her gaze focusing on his neck. ‘Give me something tasty.’
‘Nope.’ Harry shook his head. ‘I know what you’re like.’
‘Awwww.’ Pina stuck her lower lip out. ‘Pretty please?’
‘I had to physically shake you off when I let you bite my arm, if you get your teeth into my neck you’ll drain me dry,’ he replied. ‘I have things I want to do before I die.’
She giggled. ‘I would drink every drop.’ Her orange eyes burnt. ‘But then I’d give you my blood instead. And you’d be my friend forever.’
‘You just want someone to carry you around forever.’ Harry poked her in the back. ‘Come on, Pina, in we go.’