Tracey ran her wand across the great bronze door, tugging at one blonde bang with her free hand, her forehead creased with little wrinkles. The morning sunlight gleamed on the bull worked into the metal, reflecting little lines and bars of light back into the dust at their feet.
‘What’s wrong?’ Blaise fingered his wand, leaning in the shadow of the olive trees. ‘Can’t you get through?’
Smith shuffled his feet in the shade of the ring of columns, dabbing at his face with a yellowed handkerchief and waving his other hand at Michael and Dean as they loitered in the early sun.
‘I’m going to need Daphne again,’ she said, levitating the large, silver chisel out of her bag and up before the door. ‘They really didn’t want anyone getting into their temple.’
‘That’s a good sign.’ Blaise gave them a thin smile. ‘That means whatever’s inside is valuable…’
Harry stepped past Blaise. ‘Be careful,’ he murmured. ‘After yesterday, I’m not sure what all that magic might do to everything around us.’
Tracey reached out and caught his fingers, giving them a squeeze. ‘I think we’ll be okay, these temples usually have the dangerous stuff inside if they have anything.’
‘Pina.’ Harry waved her over and stepped back beside Katie. ‘Come stand out the way of the backlash.’
She skipped across and leant back against his legs, leaning her head on his stomach. ‘Yes, Daddy.’
Harry nudged her in the butt with his knee and passed her a pair of sunglasses.
Pina giggled and clapped them onto her nose upside down. ‘What’s wrong, Daddy?’
He sighed and mussed her dark curls. ‘Nothing, my sweet little angel.’
Tracey snorted as she drew glowing runes upon the side of Daphne. ‘I’m not sure how well this will work,’ she said. ‘There’s a sort of circle built into the pattern and I can’t figure out what it does.’
‘Best guess?’ Blaise eyed the door with a small sneer. ‘There’s no way we’re letting this door keep us out.’
‘I don’t know,’ she replied. ‘It’s too built into the rest of the pattern to pick anything specific out about it, all I can deduce is whatever it does, it affects everything else.’
Smith bumbled across, Dean and Michael striding on his heels in their tight, high-collared red robes. ‘How are we all doing this morning?’ His eyes swept over Katie from head to toe. ‘Some of us are looking good.’
‘Oh just fuck off,’ Katie muttered under her breath.
‘Thanks,’ Harry said, straightening his dragon-leather jacket. ‘I’m not at my best, but it’s nice to know you still think I look good.’
Smith sputtered. ‘I — I’m not into guys.’
Katie giggled behind her hand. ‘I don’t think Harry is either, he’s got a mini-him as evidence of that.’
‘I can confirm with absolute certainty that Harry’s very much into girls,’ Tracey said, shooting a long look at Katie. ‘Blondes, though.’
‘I’m not mini,’ Pina chirped. ‘I’m—’
‘Fun-sized?’ Harry chuckled as she stomped on his foot. ‘Optimised for tight spaces?’
Her heel ground in a little harder and he winced. ‘Ow,’ he murmured. ‘We’re just teasing, Agrippina.’
She huffed. ‘I’m stronger than all of you combined.’
‘Don’t tease our baby,’ Tracy chided. ‘If she bites you, nobody’s going to stop her.’
‘I’d rather she didn’t bite me again,’ Harry said. ‘She has sharp teeth.’
Pina giggled and snapped her jaw. ‘Very sharp teeth.’
‘Be good, Pina.’ He nudged her with his knee. ‘Are you going to breach, Trace?’
‘I’m breaching now, so be ready.’ She touched the tip of her wand to the top of Daphne.
‘Follow my lead.’ Harry pulled his wand out of the inside of his jacket. ‘I’ve got some experience in clearing up after Trace’s mess.’
The island shuddered and a shimmer of magic rippled down the walls of the main temple.
‘Was that it?’ Harry asked.
The breeze stirred the dust, sending little flutters of brown around their feet.
Katie sidled across. ‘Did it go wrong?’ she whispered.
Harry shook his head. ‘I don’t think so.’ He glanced back at the dry fountains and ponds. ‘If it goes wrong, you usually notice right away.’
‘Seems like it is.’ Tracey frowned and wrapped her bag back around Daphne, swinging it over her shoulder. ‘Odd, I was expecting something more like that barrow near the Black Sea.’
‘Not such tough wards after all.’ Smith chortled, leaping up the steps and pushing his shoulder into the door.
He bounced back and sprawled into the dust.
Blaise smirked. Harry shared a grin with Katie as Michael and Dean helped Smith to his feet, and Pina giggled into her hand.
‘That didn’t go too well,’ Smith said, brushing himself down. ‘Must be a heavy door.’
Tracy reached out and took hold of one of the horns of the bull, pulling the door open. ‘It’s not too heavy, actually.’
Smith’s ears turned red and he buried his face in his handkerchief. ‘In we go, then,’ he mumbled, stumbling up the steps.
Michael and Dean strode in after him, their red jackets vanishing into the shadows of the temple. Blaise slid his wand from his back pocket and stepped in after them.
Harry touched a hand to Katie’s arm. ‘Stay close to me,’ he said. ‘These places can be very dangerous and if what we found yesterday is any indication, the magic might be completely different to what we’re used to.’
She nodded, cupping his hand against her arm. ‘Thank you, for before with Smith.’
He shrugged. ‘I’ll make fun of him every time he acts up. It might convince him to be a bit less of a prick.’ Harry laughed. ‘It’s also pretty funny, so I see it as a win on all fronts.’
Katie flashed him a broad grin and released his hand. ‘My own hero.’
Tracey twisted on her heel in the entrance and rested her hands on her hips. ‘Oh yes, he just can’t resist a damsel in distress, right, Pina?’
Pina glanced between them, beaming. ‘Harry must like girls. He spends all his time with us.’
He sighed. ‘I mean, you’re not wrong, but that’s not quite where Tracey was going with that, Pina.’
Tracey snorted and stepped into the dark. ‘You look out for Katie, Harry. I’ll be just fine looking out for myself, I’m a big girl.’
Oh I know. Harry hurried in after her.
Cool, musty air washed over his skin and he blinked in the sudden gloom. At the far end of a long, dark hall, bright sunlight spilt in through the oculus of a dome onto smooth white stone.
A little pink rose onto Katie’s cheeks as she paused in the sunlight between the doors. ‘I’m better than Dean or Michael,’ she muttered. ‘Just can’t do exam stuff.’
‘She’s just messing with you,’ Harry said, peering into the shadows of the hall. ‘I have to look out for Trace all the time.’
‘Smelly barrow wights,’ Pina chirped, her voice echoing back off the walls. ‘Not at all tasty.’
‘And they’re the least troublesome things,’ he said. ‘Remember that time we had a poltergeist in there with us?’
Pina scowled and waved a small fist in the air. ‘Annoying ghostie.’
‘Like… Peeves?’ Katie whispered. ‘From Hogwarts?’
‘Kind of,’ Harry said. ‘Only Peeves just likes a bit of mischief and the one we encountered tried to bury us alive and throw Blaise off a mountain.’
Katie shuddered. ‘That sounds awful.’
‘Well, Blaise was being very annoying that week, so Trace and I were half-tempted to let him go. I do hope there’s not another one of those in here, though,’ he replied. ‘It was a real pain to trap and get rid of.’
He followed the edge of the wall round to a low, arched doorway and strained his eyes into the dark beyond it. Pina shoved the pair of sunglasses back into his hand and skipped down the middle of the hall, staring up at the ceiling.
Katie darted to his side. ‘Lum—’
Harry pressed a hand over her mouth. ‘Sudden light can set off some nasty things.’
‘Sorry.’ Her lips brushed his palm, her warm breath washing through his fingers. ‘Why do you smell like blood?’
He pulled his fingers away from her mouth. ‘Sorry.’
‘It’s okay. I much prefer you grabbing me than someone like Smith and I do look very grabbable in this tight jacket and trousers.’ Katie winked. ‘Next time make sure you get a proper handful of something good, though. Don’t waste your chance.’
Harry’s eyes slid down to the zip of her jacket to her hips.
Tracey’s blonde hair flashed in a beam of light ahead of them.
He tugged his gaze back toward the dark. ‘If something grabs you, make sure to scream,’ he said. ‘If it’s Pina, she’ll find it hilarious, and if it’s a barrow wight, we need to know about it.’
‘And if it’s Smith?’ Katie asked.
He grinned. ‘I’ll curse him and pretend I thought he was a barrow wight.’
‘And what about if it’s you?’ A wicked glint appeared in Katie’s eyes.
‘I guess scream?’
She flashed him a broad grin. ‘Oh no, you’ve got to make me scream, Harry.’ Katie’s eyes slid down his chest to his waist and flicked back up. ‘But I’m sure you can manage it.’
Heat rushed to his cheeks and his breath hitched. Flashes of his hands tangled in Tracey’s blonde hair stoked a soft heat in the pit of his stomach, sending little flutters through his veins.
‘Got you.’ Katie giggled. ‘I heard that little gasp.’
‘You aren’t the same quiet girl I played quidditch with,’ he said, edging into the gloom.
‘It’s the quiet ones you need to watch out for,’ Katie murmured in his ear. ‘Who knows how much fun they are once they stop being shy.’
Harry’s heart leapt into his mouth, hammering against his ribs and sending cold adrenaline flooding through his blood. Katie squeaked and thrust out her wand.
‘Got you!’ Pina’s orange eyes appeared in the dark and she bounced out of another arch on their right. ‘There are loads of little empty rooms back here.’
‘You’re a horrible daughter,’ Harry said. ‘I nearly died of shock.’
She giggled. ‘What about maybe-tasty Katie? Did I scare you, too?’
‘Nope.’ Katie crossed her arms. ‘You’re going to have to try harder, squirt.’
‘Squirt?’ Pina prowled across the stones on bare toes, pouting. ‘I’m not a squirt!’
Katie squirmed. ‘Sorry. I meant it in a good way.’
‘Okay!’ Pina chirped. ‘I forgive you!’
‘Stay close to me or — or Mummy,’ Harry said. ‘We don’t want anything to happen to our little girl.’
‘Okay.’ She scampered into the shadows, humming under her breath. ‘Bye, Daddy.’
Katie let out a long sigh. ‘You know, don’t take this the wrong way, Harry, but something about your daughter really makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Like, why are her eyes orange? Accidental magic? Or something like that famous auror, Tonks?’ She wiped her palms on her thighs. ‘Maybe it’s just the idea of having a kid that’s putting me on edge.’
‘She’s a very weird girl, but we do love her.’ Harry directed his wand in the direction Pina had left. ‘Lumos.’
Brightly painted plaster walls stretched between columns half-embedded in the wall, rising up to a smooth stone ceiling and a narrow passage led down into another room. He pointed his wand down. Large, smooth, white pebbles formed a rough bull’s head amidst grey ones.
‘Wow, they really liked their cows,’ Katie said.
‘Bulls,’ he said. ‘But yes. It’s a good sign, all things considered.’ He poked his head down the passage. ‘These look like living quarters, or something like that. We won’t find anything exciting or dangerous here, let’s head back to the main room.’
‘Wait… You and Tracey, what’s the deal there?’ Katie chewed her lip. ‘I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes when I’m joking around…’
Harry stared into the grain of his wand. ‘It’s complicated.’ He shrugged. ‘Don’t worry about it. Joke away.’
It’s not like Trace doesn’t talk to other guys. He smothered a knot of ugly heat. Or more.
‘If you say so,’ she whispered. ‘I don’t think Tracey likes me, though.’
He managed a chuckle. ‘Tracey doesn’t like anyone much to begin with. She used to really dislike me.’
‘Well, she clearly doesn’t still dislike you.’ Katie waved a hand down the passage. ‘You had a daughter with her.’ A faint frown creased her brow. ‘Actually, Pina’s quite old, she must be about seven.’
‘Eight.’ Harry stepped back out into the main hall, chuckling under his breath. ‘She’s very proud of how old she is now.’
Tracey’s blonde hair glowed in the light of the oculus at the far end between the shining red jackets of Michael and Dean. Beyond her, a bright-painted alcove surrounded an ornate marble altar and throne.
‘Eight?!’ Katie counted on her fingers. ‘You had her just before you started playing quidditch in the top league?’
‘Er… Yes,’ Harry said. ‘Obviously, we tried to keep it private. You remember what it was like, everything I did ended up somewhere between pages one and ten of the Daily Prophet, and everything I didn’t do was on the front page.’
‘Weren’t you dating Ginny, then?’ She glowered. ‘Is that why you two split, you cheated on her with Tracey?!’
‘No, Ginny and I just fell apart.’ He groped for an explanation. ‘We pretended to still be dating for a while, but it was already over for a bit before we broke up and the papers got hold of it.’
‘Come on, enough asking me questions, let’s catch up.’ Harry strode down the hall and into the bright light of the oculus.
‘Where did you two go?’ Tracey arched an eyebrow. ‘Sneaking off together like a pair of seventh years on a school trip…’
Katie mustered a weak smile. ‘Just into the rooms off the side. Nothing exciting happened.’
‘You weren’t away long enough for anything exciting,’ Tracey replied, waving Michael and Dean to one side. ‘And all the excitement is here, anyway.’
A small circle of runes surrounded a hole in the floor where the light of the oculus pooled. Around it, seven painted figures in armour followed a man bearing a gold staff and adorned in sparkling white gems toward a crimson bull.
‘That’s a ruby,’ Blaise said, staring down at the bull. ‘That’s a huge ruby. It’s the size of my hand.’
‘You have small hands,’ Tracey jibed.
Smith chortled. ‘I believe it is a ruby. Hopefully, we’ll find a few more.’
Michael pulled out his wand. ‘I can remove it if you want, boss.’
‘No, no.’ Smith shook his head. ‘Unless… it’s safe?’
Tracey shook her head. ‘Don’t fucking tamper or touch anything unless you can’t avoid it.’ She pointed her wand at the ring of runes. ‘Especially when there are a bunch of strange fucking runes nearby.’
‘Any ideas?’ Harry brushed through Michael and Dean and squinted at the design. ‘I’ve not seen any runes like that before.’
‘Yeah…’ Tracey crouched, wrapping an arm around his leg as she wobbled. ‘They’re not completely dissimilar to the designs on the Mycenaean stuff we saw a few years back, same shapes and patterns, but I’ve never seen these runes before.’
‘What do you think goes in the hole?’ Katie asked, pointing her wand at the slot in the ground.
‘A smashing idea,’ Smith said, clapping his hands together. ‘I knew bringing you along was a good idea… and not just because you’re very easy on the eyes.’
Harry rolled his eyes. ‘A few minutes back you were complimenting me, now you’ve already moved on. I’m heartbroken, Smith.’
Katies fingers brushed his and she flashed him a small smile. ‘Thanks,’ she mouthed.
Pina darted into the light. ‘Look what I found!’ She swung a long wood staff above her head. ‘It was on the altar!’
Harry ducked the end and tugged it out of her hands. ‘Don’t grab things, Pina. You don’t know what they might do.’
‘Awwww,’ Pina moaned. ‘It has a pretty top, it’s all shiny and red.’
He shot her a long look. ‘You can probably have it back in a moment, but ask us to check it first. All sorts of nasty things might happen if you grab something recklessly.’ Harry studied the staff.
A foot of bronze capped its lower end, little bumps and bars sticking from its length. A strange sense of familiarity welled up and he frowned at the array of metal.
‘You’re looking at the wrong end,’ Blaise said. ‘The top’s much more interesting.’
Harry glanced up. A ring of sparkling white stones studded a beaten gold web, surrounding a gleaming, fist-sized ruby.
‘I don’t think it is the interesting end.’ He slid the bronze butt into the hole and twisted it about until something caught and the staff shuddered. ‘The bottom bit looks like those goblin keys for the older Gringotts vaults.’
Soft, red light rose from the circle of runes around the hole. Pina stared at it with wide eyes, running the tip of her pink tongue across her upper lip. A dull clank echoed through the hall and the floor jerked, sending them stumbling to their knees
‘Get back!’ Blaise snapped, jumping to his feet and snatching his wand out of his pocket.
Harry stepped back, thudding into something warm and soft.
‘Ow,’ Katie murmured into his shoulder blade. ‘That’s my foot, Harry. I said you could grab a handful of me, not jump on me. You’ve got to buy me a drink before that.’
‘Sorry.’ He side-stepped, pulling his wand from his pocket and holding his breath.
A loud clunk reverberated beneath their feet and a segment of the floor in the light of the oculus sank down in a cloud of dust. The next sunk twice as far with dull rumble.
‘Good effort, Potter.’ Smith rubbed his hands together, staring down the spiralling steps into the dark. ‘That staff’s going to be my souvenir, I reckon. Look at the size of that ruby, and those white stones, whatever they are.’
‘Opals,’ Katie whispered, staring at the sparkling white stones. ‘They’re opals.’