Bright gold light burst through the dangling green willow fronds, dappling across Harry’s palm. Warmth soaked into his skin. He cupped a handful of emerald leaves, raising them up into the light.
Darkness flickered in the corner of his eye.
Harry twisted around, holding his breath.
A wisp of shadow coiled over a mound of white pebbles half a dozen steps from the rippling river. He could see the silver disc of the foe-glass gleaming beneath them, bright and wide and cold as the full moon in a winter sky.
The leaves in his hand withered brown, crumbling through his fingers. The willow shuddered; its veil of green fronds fell in a rain of brown dust, baring a summer sky.
Harsh light burnt through the warm blue like Fiendfyre through stone, flooding in like molten gold; its touch set the world alight with dawn-bright flame. And through the swirling, streaming smoke Harry watched the fire coalesce, pooling like blood on ice into a featureless amber face.
‘Sunsets don’t last forever.’ A whisper loud as thunder came upon howling winds.
Flames flickered in his dark robes and the Elder Wand turned to ash, slipping through his fingers. Golden light bled through his hands as the burning wind seared them to dust.
The amber-masked figure stood before smoke-veiled stars in robes of shadow. ‘Nothing does.’
Harry jerked awake in Fleur’s tight, hot embrace, his heart pounding.
‘Mon Amour?’ she murmured, snuggling closer. ‘You twitched.’
‘Just dreaming.’ He sucked in a deep breath and let it out until his pulse eased, cupping the gentle silver glow of his wedding band in his hands ‘Go back to sleep, mon Rêve.’
‘Are you going to sneak off?’ Fleur whispered.
A fierce yearning rose beneath Harry’s ribs, hot as flame and sharp as razors. In his mind’s eye, the masked figure smiled a raw, bitter smile beneath burning, featureless amber.
‘I have to,’ he said, stifling a stab of fear. ‘I can feel it coming, closing in on us like a noose around my neck.’
‘Le Cancrelat.’ Fleur’s blue eyes slid open through the cascade of silver hair pooling beneath Harry’s chin. ‘You are going to Spain.’
Am I? He crushed everything down into the dark. Yes. I have to.
‘I can’t sit here and hope,’ Harry whispered. ‘I’m done waiting for things to be taken away from me, done letting wishes get snatched away. I’ll strike first. If it’s their dreams or ours, I’ll burn theirs to dust before they even know to come for ours.’
She tightened her grip on him. ‘Nobody can go with you, mon Cœur. Be careful. No risks. Promets-moi, mon Cœur.’
‘I promise,’ he murmured, easing his way out of her embrace. ‘Nothing unnecessarily reckless.’
Fleur sighed. ‘Tomorrow, when I wake up, you will spend the morning holding me instead of leaving. And then we will spend some time thinking about La Victoire Finale.’
Harry pulled on his robes, slipping on Violette’s ring. ‘I can think of a lot of worse ways to spend a morning,’ he whispered, pressing a kiss to her cheek.
She balled herself into the silver blanket and puffed her hair off her face. ‘Je t’aime, mon Cœur,’ she murmured into the pillows. ‘Je t’aime.’
‘I love you too.’ He pictured the low, leaning church tower of Abire and wrenched the world back past him.
Morning sun spilt over warm, worn cobbles and trees fluttered beyond the orange-tiles of the church roof.
Where are you? His eyes fell on the café and a sudden desire to look at the church seized him. Wards. He squashed the urge beneath the memory of the amber-masked man’s whisper and strode past the shuttered café to the battered, peeling wooden door beyond. Got you.
‘Alohomora,’ he murmured, tapping the lock with the tip of his wand and twisting the handle.
The door stuck fast.
Harry frowned and twisted the handle all the way. The worn, bronze knob came free in his hand with a crunch, revealing a neat pentagon of glowing white runes.
Clever. He skimmed them, reading both ways around the shape. There’s no way through without letting them know I’m coming in. Harry stepped back and forced his magic out into a bubble over the building, layering it into a thick tapestry of wards and watching it settle in a faint shimmer. But it doesn’t matter if they can’t get out.
He touched the tip of his wand to the door, turning it to dust, and a shout of alarm rang out on the floor above.
Dull lights lit a short corridor leading past narrow stairs into a small kitchen. A half-dressed wizard stumbled past the stove and sent a stream of white hexes hissing down the corridor. Harry deflected them into the walls and sent a trio of piercing curses back.
The wizard hurled up a bright shield.
Harry tore the wall out, ripping the old stones down in a cloud of plaster and banishing it all into the kitchen.
The half-dressed wizard dropped his shield, a shimmering bubble of magic covering his mouth and nose. ‘Lacero.’
Footsteps thudded above Harry’s head.
He swatted the curse away and unleashed a hail of hexes, watching them hammer into the shield of white magic in washes of bright colour, and transfigured the stones into snakes. The serpents swarmed about the wizard, dragging him down into the dust and pinning him to the floor.
An orange spell flashed past his shoulder.
No risks. Harry ducked two more hexes and flicked his wand at the stone snakes.
One of them lunged, ripping the wand from the trapped wizard’s fingers and swallowing it.
‘We can’t get out,’ a witch shouted. ‘The wards are like iron!’
‘Then we kill him and go out the front door.’ A wizard at the top of the stairs turned his wand on the bannisters, twisting them into a tangle of thrashing vines.
Finger-length thorns sprouted from the wood as it flailed down the steps toward Harry, gouging the walls. He forced his magic into the air and smashed it down into the floor. Splinters sprayed past him and pain lanced through his legs and hip.
Yellow curses hissed down the stairs, ripping through the wooden steps as Harry batted them back, and the splinters shook, rising up into the air into a spinning ball of spikes. He buried it in a gout of flame, searing it away in a wash of heat and smoke.
Blue light flashed in the corner of his eye.
Harry threw his shield over himself and glanced up. A small hole smoked in the ceiling above his head.
He watched purple spells burst on his shield in bright violet sparks and let it drop, slashing his wand forward. The hazy basilisk ripped the top three steps away and smashed the wizard back into the wall. He spluttered blood onto the carpet, dribbling red down his dust-coated beard and chest.
Harry wrapped the air around his body and lifted himself up onto the landing. Blue spells tore through the floor behind him, leaving smoking craters in the ground.
‘You’re not bad.’ The wizard groped for his wand in the rubble and came up clutching a shattered stub. ‘Fuck.’ He drew in a deep breath. ‘Jeanne! Destroy everything!’
Harry stunned him, blasting the doors off their frames one after the other.
A dark-haired witch froze over the hole-riddled tiles of the bathroom. ‘For La Belle France!’ She thrust her wand out, spewing cherry-red flames all about her.
The crimson fire ate through the tiles like boiling water through frost, catching in the witch’s robes and hair as she plunged through the floor. She landed with a loud crack of bone and rolled across the ground, flailing and screaming.
Fiendfyre. Harry forced his magic into the flames, smothering a raw desperate hate beneath the hot, sharp yearning and the bright light of his sunset. I won’t be stopped.
He twisted his wand and the fire guttered out.
The witch’s smoking, blackened body twitched on the floor. Harry grabbed the wizard by the ankle and heaved him down the ruined stairs, picking his way down through the splintered steps.
The wizard in the kitchen hung from the stone snakes, glass-eyed, with white foam trickling from his mouth.
Harry awakened the surviving wizard. ‘Do you have a name?’
The wizard’s eyes drifted from the smoking corpse beside him to the body in the kitchen. ‘Do you? Or are you just another colour?’
‘Violette,’ Harry said, crouching down beside him. ‘But it’s just a name. What’s important is the soul, the purpose. It doesn’t matter what I’m called so long as that’s the same.’
‘I’m Henri,’ the wizard said, dragging himself up on the wall. ‘You’re Julien’s replacement. You don’t duel like he does, but you’re not bad.’
Harry studied the dust-coated lines on his face. ‘You don’t seem afraid.’
‘I’m not.’ Henri brushed dust from his front and out of his grey beard. ‘I fought against Grindelwald. Twice.’
‘And yet here you are, carrying on his work.’ Harry shrugged. ‘Strange choice, that.’
‘Not really.’ Henri winced, pressing his fingers to his ribs. ‘I was young, I saw the horror of what he was doing and opposed it, as anyone would want to. I didn’t understand the necessity.’
‘But now you do…’
‘Now I do,’ he said. ‘Julien and I, we’ve fought together for a long time, before he was Noire and the Man in the Iron Mask. He trusts me as much as he trusts anyone, and he left me here to set up our network so he could speed things up.’
‘I’m going to find him.’
Henri laughed and groaned, spitting blood onto the floor beside him. ‘Oh I know. The only ones capable of defeating you are Julien and those with him. If I were thirty years younger or a bit luckier I might’ve managed, but I’m not.’
‘Will you tell me where he is?’ Harry asked.
Henri smeared blood off his lips onto his sleeve. ‘I am not a fool. You will kill me either way.’
‘I will.’ Harry spun his wand in his palm, showering silver sparks to the ground. ‘It’s more a choice between you telling me or me ripping it out of your head.’
‘You won’t get anything out of my head.’ Henri gave him a grim smile. ‘Julien can’t either.’
Harry touched their thoughts together and found Julien’s sharp smile cast in smooth iron hovering among them. He pulled their minds apart. ‘I’ll just slaughter my way through you all the hard way, then. It will take longer, but I’ll still find him.’
Henri studied his expression. ‘I believe you.’
‘Then tell me,’ he said. ‘It’s only Julien I want.’
‘He’s in the Balearic Isles, setting up our next network.’ Henri pointed the stub of his broken wand at Harry. ‘If you don’t go soon, he will be gone again, and we’re getting close to ready, now.’
‘Show me.’ Harry touched his thoughts to Henri’s.
A gnarled orange tree grew from a worn, weathered stone fountain, its leaves spreading before the ruined pale stone of a crumbling manse. A flash of triumph coursed through Harry and a small smile crooked Henri’s lips.
‘You think you’re sending me to die,’ Harry said, standing back up. ‘You’re wrong.’
Henri shrugged. ‘If you don’t go alone, Julien will not stay and fight. If you don’t go soon, he will not be there.’ He let his broken wand drop. ‘You will catch him sooner or later, and whoever wins, wins. I’d rather it happened earlier. If we must fail, then the fewer who die for it the better. If Julien wins, it makes no difference.’
‘Fair enough.’ Harry put a piercing hex through Henri’s skull and watched him slide down the wall.
Do I go now? He pulled splinters from his legs and hip, tossing them away and waiting for the stinging to ease as the skin crept back. If I go now, I can catch Julien, but I’ll leave this huge mess. Harry sighed. I need to tidy up here and go through the other subcells or I’ll set off a war when our baby’s born. Julien can wait just a few days.
He clambered back up the stairs and stuck his head into the other rooms. Two orange pins fixed a pair of photos to a map of Spain. Harry tugged them off the wall and studied them, burning the two buildings into his mind.
The other two bases. It’ll be their morning check-in time soon.
He threw a glance back at the map.
A slim, silver needle stuck from a green speck off the coast of Palma.
The amber-masked man. A bright little thrill coursed through his veins. Nearly there.
Harry pulled down his wards and strode downstairs, vanishing his stone serpents and summoning the wizard from the kitchen. He dragged the bodies into a pile and buried them in a wash of Fiendfyre, searing everything to ash, then flicked his wand at the stove.
Gas flooded the kitchen with a quiet hiss and a sharp scent drifted to his nose. Harry smothered his Fiendfyre and stuck a splinter into a gap between floorboards. He set it on fire with his wand and scratched a ring of runes into the wood surrounding it, watching the shimmering bubble of magic spring up over the makeshift candle and the tiny flame’s dance slow.
Useful after all. Harry pictured the first small base and its red shutters, wrenching the world back past him.
Gentle green slopes rose before the distant outline of the mountains. The red-shuttered house perched atop the hill, roofless and fire-scarred.
Harry strode up the weed-choked path, spinning his wand between his fingers. Probably best not to do anything flashy. He disillusioned himself and severed the metal lock with a soft click, slipping inside.
A pair of witches sipped coffee at a small table. Harry pushed his magic into the air, drawing it around them until their hair fluttered and they shivered. He twisted his wand like a knife, snapping both their necks.
He transfigured the bodies into a pair of chairs and vanished the coffee mugs, pulling open cupboards and vanishing anything within, ransacking the small kitchen.
A map hung on the wall in the next room. Harry transfigured it into dust and turned to the conjured furniture, vanishing items one after the other with a low grimace as the dull ache of fatigue settled into him. He surveyed the room and poked his head into the others, vanishing a stack of fresh cut wood and the soot from the fireplace.
That’ll do. It looks like nobody’s been here for a few years now.
Harry closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. ‘Nearly there. Just one more and then Le Cancrelat. Then no more amber-masked man. And nobody coming to steal our sunset.’
He pictured a stone-walled barn and apparated, crunching across a gravel path. Merde. He winced and held his breath.
The breeze whispered past him, bringing the scent of dry heat and sweet wildflowers.
A red spell exploded at his feet, spraying him with hot gravel. Harry threw up his shield and scanned the windows, catching a flicker of movement in the nearest.
A dark blue spell flashed from the nearest gap.
He deflected it back, scoring a fist-sized hole through the wall, and strode forward, batting a stream of hexes and curses back into the window. The stone frame shattered and a low hiss cut through the dust.
Harry threw wards up over the barn, weaving his magic into a tight, thick net. ‘Reducto,’ he murmured, smashing away the wall beside the window. ‘Reducto.’
The barn shuddered and creaked.
‘Reducto,’ Harry said, punching a third hole through the wall.
The building collapsed with a groan, sending dust billowing up into the air.
He swept it away with a flick of his wand.
A witch in a bright orange jumper hobbled away into the long grass and flowers, throwing spells over her shoulder.
I need to learn how to make wards that let me apparate and not other people. He sighed and broke into a run, scrambling over the heap of rubble, ducking and weaving through the spells.
The witch reached the stone wall and hurled herself onto it, rolling over the top and thudding to the ground with a grunt.
‘Reducto,’ Harry knocked a hole out off the top and vaulted over on one hand, conjuring a ribbon of purple flame.
He lashed out, catching the witch around the ankles and whipping her feet out from under her as she neared the shimmer of the wards.
A stream of furious Spanish tore from the witch’s lips as she staggered to her feet and twisted around, scrabbling for her wand in the grass. Harry swiped sweat from his forehead and took a couple of deep breaths as she straightened up.
‘Capullo!’ The witch swivelled around and thrust her wand at Harry, blades of grass sticking from between her knuckles.
He deflected a barrage of pink curses, sending piercing hexes hissing back across the grass. She swatted two aside, ducking a third as it flashed past her ear. The fourth ripped through her wrist and her wand sailed into the grass. Blood spurted from the gaping wound and she let out a low groan.
‘Is it just you here?’ Harry asked.
She sneered, tugging a slim knife from her pocket with her other hand. ‘Yes, it’s just me. And I will tell you nothing.’
Harry picked through the grass until he found her wand and summoned it into his hand. ‘That’s fine.’ He snapped it and tossed the two halves away.
She lunged forward with the knife.
‘Lacero.’ Harry sliced her throat open and watched her crumple at his feet through the hot spray of red.
The light faded from her eyes.
He transfigured her body into dead leaves and vanished the worst of the blood. ‘Aguamenti,’ he muttered, dousing the blood-spattered grass in a torrent of water. ‘Two down.’
He slipped his wand into his sleeve and apparated into the Sunshine Room. Two figures sat beneath the lanterns, their hushed whispers drifting through the room.
‘We must… do—’ Vert glanced up. ‘Violette.’
Grise turned. ‘You have blood on your face, Violette. Where have you been?’
Harry measured the gleam in his pink eyes. ‘Spain.’
Grise’s jaw tightened. ‘What did you do?’
‘There are no bases in Spain anymore,’ Harry replied. ‘Le Cancrelat is on a small island off the coast of Palma.’
‘What did… you leave… behind?’ Vert rasped.
He took a seat before the white flames of the brazier. ‘Just ashes.’
‘A foolish risk,’ Grise muttered. ‘Are you certain you left nothing? No trace of magic, no hint of what you did?’
‘There’s no reason for anyone to look twice and very little to see if they do,’ Harry said. ‘The bases were hidden in muggle or remote areas, I doubt anyone will even notice they or I were there at all.’
‘I told… you we… should act,’ Vert said. ‘It was… successful.’
‘It might have been,’ Grise said, steepling his fingers before the brazier. ‘You are used to acting alone, Violette, aren’t you?’
Not anymore. A faint smile curved his lips as he glanced down at the soft flicker of silver light against his heart. Not since Fleur.
‘Do not do so again.’ Grise folded his hands in his lap and leant back. ‘I intended to tell you much about Le Cancrelat before you went to Spain, in case you encountered him, not least being what he actually looks like.’
‘The Man in the Iron Mask,’ Harry murmured. ‘Noire. I know what he looks like.’
‘Yes.’ Vert’s brow furrowed. ‘You are… skilled with… mind magic… Not many… know that name… and none of… his followers… would have… described his… appearance… to you.’
‘You hide your talents.’ Grise’s pink eyes sharpened. ‘You act alone. Ruthlessly. And I suspect Violette is not the first false name you have been wearing—’
‘Does it… matter?’ Vert whispered. ‘I was not… brought here by… invitation… I doubted… Grindelwald… betrayed him… left my… strange name… behind.’
‘I know you, Vert. I knew you then.’ Grise clenched his jaw. ‘I don’t know Violette.’
Harry held up his finger, Violette’s ring gleaming in the light of the fire. ‘Does it matter if you know me? I don’t know you.’
Grise stared at the grey spiral on his own finger, twisting it ‘round and ‘round. ‘It does not matter. I’ve grown too used to knowing who is really behind the name. When I first joined, I knew only colours.’
Vert nodded. ‘Sometimes it… is better… to die… you can be… born again… like the… phoenix…. If I could… Violette can.’
‘I’m going to go to Palma soon,’ Harry said. ‘To find Le Cancrelat.’
‘He is a very skilled duellist,’ Grise said. ‘In the second war against Grindelwald, he survived facing him twice alone. He likes to use obscure spells, ones that look similar to more common curses.’
‘Do not… try and… shield against him,’ Vert said. ‘Even if… it seems like… the best move.’
Grise nodded. ‘He can punch through shields with ease, I’ve seen him pretend not to be able to and lure an opponent into shielding, only to immediately break through.’
‘I will kill him,’ Harry said. ‘I don’t think there will be another possible outcome.’
‘Non,’ Vert whispered. ‘He has made… up his mind.’
‘Do not go to Palma for at least a week,’ Grise said. ‘We need to be sure Spain haven’t been upset by your actions today.’
‘He might slip away.’ Harry smothered a flare of frustration. ‘He can’t be allowed to slip away. From what I’ve learnt, he’s nearly ready to move onto what’s next.’
Grise’s gaze sharpened. ‘Do you know what it is?’
‘No.’ Harry shrugged. ‘But the sooner I’m in Palma, the sooner it doesn’t matter.’
‘One week,’ Grise said.
Harry held his gaze.
‘He cannot have been gone from Spain for long.’ Grise pulled his wand out and drew a rough outline of France in the air with white light. ‘He has covered nearly all France’s borders, or he thinks he has. I would imagine he will be in Palma for at least a fortnight before moving on to somewhere on the Italian Peninsula. The South or Sicily, I expect, they are not keen on being under France’s protection.’
I could just go and not tell them. Harry bounced his wand in his sleeve. But we’ll need Les Inconnus for La Victoire Finale and if I cause trouble here, Fleur will be upset. She’s always wanted to work here.
‘One week. No longer.’ He stood. ‘And I will go alone, to make sure Le Cancrelat isn’t tempted to flee.’
‘That is… reckless,’ Vert rasped, darkness spreading through the veins on her throat. ‘Le Cancrelat… is a match… for any… wizard… or witch.’ She grimaced and pressed the tip of her wand to them until the black faded. ‘At least… one of us… must come.’
‘He will run,’ Harry said. ‘If it’s just me, he will try to kill me while he has the advantage.’
‘He may well succeed,’ Grise said. ‘He will not be alone.’
‘He will try.’ Harry smiled. ‘But I’ve killed everyone who’s tried so far.’
Vert shook her head. ‘It is… too much risk.’
Grise drummed his fingers on his knee, staring into the flickering flames of the brazier. ‘I am inclined to agree with Violette,’ he said. ‘Le Cancrelat will not be able to resist trying to remove a dangerous opponent like Violette in a situation where he has all the advantages. It is a gamble, but it might well be a successful one.’
‘You scold me… for being… too rash,’ Vert rasped. ‘Yet when… I baulk… you agree?’
Grise’s pink eyes lingered on Harry. ‘I thought, when I first met him, that Violette was either arrogant or confident. If it were misplaced arrogance, we would’ve seen so by now. I trust him to judge his own capability, he has demonstrated today and on many previous occasions that if he says he can do something, he can do it.’
‘Not against… Le Cancrelat,’ Vert replied. ‘His followers… are not… the same level.’
‘Have you duelled or seen anyone duel on par with Le Cancrelat before?’ Grise asked. ‘An international duelling champion, war veteran, and formerly one of our own? This is a man who faced Grindelwald alone twice and escaped mostly unscathed both times. Do you know what you’re facing?’
Could he be more powerful than Voldemort? A faint chill crawled down Harry’s spine and unsease twisted in his gut. He smothered it beneath blazing crimson eyes and the shivering shroud of magic he’d faced in Hogwarts’s courtyard. No. I pushed Voldemort to the brink. Voldemort who was as powerful as Dumbledore, who defeated Grindelwald. Le Cancrelat cannot compare.
‘There is… nobody in… France that… can match him,’ Vert rasped. ‘He should… not be faced… alone. It is… a great risk.’
If it comes to the worst, I will kill us both. Fleur will be furious, but safe, and I, I’ll return.
‘I know.’ Before Harry’s mind’s eye, the amber-masked figure smiled his twisted smile beneath the burning mask. ‘But I’m going all the same.’