A warm breeze tugged at his robes, whispering through the long grass and dark green leaves of the orange trees. The worn stone walls of the ruined estate loomed beyond the weathered fountain and the gnarled trunk rising from its pool of dead leaves and dust.
If they’re here, they’re well-hidden. He slipped his wand from his sleeve, disillusioning himself and creeping forward through the wild grove.
A crumbling stone wall ran beside a shallow ditch at the base of the slope, circling ’round to the cliffs and the sparkling waves.
Harry touched the tip of his wand to the wall. A thin film of magic rose from it like steam. Wards. He pulled out his cloak and swept it over his head. Good thing I have Death.
He stepped across the ditch and clambered over the wall.
A loose collection of large white tents stood within the shelter of the ruins. A dozen wizards and witches in high-collared, tight, white robes drifted back forth through them.
Aurors. Or dressed similarly. Harry scanned their faces for a sharp smile, fine, dark hair and blue eyes. But Julien isn’t here.
He prowled to the edge of the camp and took a seat on the wall of the fountain, spinning his wand in his fingers as he watched two white-robed witches drift toward him.
‘I heard this is the last one, Anna.’ The rightmost witch brushed crumbs off the gold fleur de lis on her chest. ‘We’re nearly ready.’
The other nodded. ‘You heard what Julien said, he has a match ready to light the fire we need, things just need to be in order first.’
Is that match me? Harry smothered a twist of unease and took a deep breath. It doesn’t matter. I’ll kill him. He can do nothing then.
He touched his thoughts to the closest witch’s.
Julien’s sharp smile hovered in her thoughts amidst a tangle of fierce ambition and desire. Harry eased in his question, slipping the faint urge to know what Julien was doing in among the witch’s thoughts. A small stone windmill flashed before his eyes.
Their thoughts tore apart.
‘Someone’s here,’ the witch hissed, ripping her wand from her pocket. ‘A legilimens.’
Harry held his breath.
Anna tugged her wand out. ‘Are you, sure, Clare?’
‘Homenum revelio,’ Clare spat, twisting around, wand raised.
‘Nothing,’ she muttered. ‘But I’m sure I felt it.’
‘Felt what?’ Anna asked, slipping her wand away.
‘Like when Julien taught us to detect a clever legilimens, a sudden impulse or thought coming from nowhere.’ Clare peered around. ‘I was just thinking of Julien and then suddenly I had this urge to know what he was doing?’
‘That doesn’t sound very unusual for you,’ Anna said. ‘You’re always thinking about him.’
Clare turned pink and stuffed her wand into her pocket. ‘He’s handsome. And we’ve been out here for a while. It’s not like any of the other men are worth looking at.’
Anna laughed. ‘True. If I weren’t married to my Charles…’
‘You would pine for Julien as you watch the two of us together.’
They turned away, drifting through the tents and into the ruins.
Close. Harry released a long sigh. Subtle legilimency isn’t going to work. Julien’s clearly careful with his closer followers. Still, I know where he is.
He pictured the windmill’s ivy-draped walls and held tight to his cloak, apparating with a soft snap.
Julien sat on a rock before the thicket of brambles beside the windmill, his fine, dark curls fluttering in the wind. Two white-robed wizards strode out of the windmill.
‘It’s prepared, Julien.’ A grey-bearded wizard crossed his arms and halted at the edge of the overgrown garden. ‘Nobody should come out here, but if someone does by chance, this place won’t catch the eye.’
‘Merci, Bernard.’ Julien’s voice carried across the bramble thicket. ‘André?’
‘They’ll be okay.’ A younger wizard strode to the edge of the thicket. ‘I’ve not seen anything to suggest the three of them will fall out beyond the usual squabbling of sharing a small space with the same people. I’ll check in here at the usual times until we have the main base here set up and running, I’ll let you know if anything seems amiss, of course.’
Merde. There are five others here. Harry smothered a flash of frustration. Let’s see if some of them leave. Fleur will kill me if I attack five of them and Julien by myself without some kind of a plan.
Julien flashed a razor sharp smile. ‘We are finally getting close.’
‘We lost the Belgian network and the one on the North Coast,’ Bernard said. ‘Are we going to replace them?’
‘Non.’ Julien rose to his feet and straightened dark, tight robes. ‘I set up more than were necessary while we had time to spend.’ He dusted off the shoulders of his robes and straightened the gold fleur de lis medal dangling at his breast. ‘Voldemort proved it only takes a handful of wizards to cause enough chaos for opportunities to arise. You, my Chevaliers, are seventeen in number, more than enough.’
‘What of Les Inconnus?’ André asked.
‘Researchers and record-keepers.’ Julien stared up at the sky. ‘Rouge and Blanc died under suspicious circumstances. I suspect Grise, Vert, and their new companion cleaned house. They did come close to leaving with me, after all.’ His blue eyes sharpened and his gaze snapped back down. ‘Grise and Vert are average duellists at best and their companion is likely no better, given nobody of note in the French duelling world has acquired any unusual habits of late. The Dufort sisters concern me far more.’
‘They do not die, by all accounts,’ Bernard muttered.
‘Reputation and rumours are a powerful thing.’ Julien slid his wand into the inner pocket of his robes. ‘They fight as one and are all strong in their own right. I will kill them myself in the chaos, if I can arrange it.’
‘What now?’ André asked.
‘Back to our little camp, to set up the main base. In, shall we say fifteen days, bring everyone from our little outposts into the old orchard there. Take their wands first, of course. Spain is keen to get involved in the hostilities occurring elsewhere, so we’ll start destabilising things here.’ Julien drew himself up. ‘The British auror captain Ginevra Weasley has proven herself adept at winning battles, but naive at strategy. Britain has spilt more magical blood in the last century than anyone save Grindelwald and all the world knows it.’
‘The ICW,’ Bernard murmured, pulling a slim baton out from under his robes and holding it out.
André grunted and grabbed it with both hands.
‘Yes, as part of one of our former delegations, you know exactly how they’ll react. They’ll turn a blind eye to the blood spilt and suffering caused, and condemn Britain only for risking the Statute.’ Julien’s sharp smile returned and took hold of the other end of the baton. ‘We’ll provoke a little more blood. A little more strife. On both sides. Just enough, mind you, there’s no need for distasteful massacres like the Death Eaters of Britain. The ICW will chide and argue and fall apart, and we will bring those dissatisfied with the price of keeping the Statute into our fold. When we are strong enough, we will take the next step.’
Grise was right. Harry watched them portkey away. They’re looking to build their strength off the conflict elsewhere.
He pulled off the cloak and wrenched the world back past himself, stepping into the Sunshine Room.
‘You weren’t… away long,’ Vert rasped.
‘There wasn’t an opportunity to confront him.’ Harry dropped into the seat next to her. ‘He’s calling a meeting in fifteen days, though, so I’ll set up a trap for that.’
I can wipe them all out in one go if he’s taking the wands away from everyone but his Chevaliers. Nice and tidy. I just need to be careful.
‘But he… is there?’
‘I saw him,’ he said. ‘He’s planning on starting in Spain, spilling just enough blood to get everyone upset and letting the ICW’s dithering stir up discontent.’
‘And then… he recruits.’ Vert nodded. ‘That sounds… like him.’
‘It’ll probably work.’
‘It will… work for… certain… We die… and the ICW… speaks only… of the… Statute… Many will not… understand.’ Vert grimaced and rubbed her throat. ‘What kind… of trap?’
‘He’s meeting with everyone from his network there and he’ll have his Chevaliers with him,’ Harry replied. ‘Whatever I do, I need to do a lot of damage or cause a lot of chaos.’
‘Chevaliers?’ Vert leant forward.
‘His close followers.’
‘I see.’ She coughed and winced. ‘I can… do the… wards to… trap them… and weaken.’
‘That would save my strength for the rest,’ he said. ‘You can apparate out after they’re cast.’
‘Yes.’ Vert relaxed back into her chair. ‘I will… tell Grise… when he… returns… Go home… Violette… Ready… yourself.’