A crumbling stone tower rose before a green-veiled cliff. Dark windows loomed through the trailing ivy and short, gnarled shrubs clinging to the sheer precipice.
Somewhere in there is Julien. A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth; its paper-thin satisfaction spread over a swirling storm of shivering anticipation. We’re almost there, Fleur. We’re almost there.
‘Violette.’ Three warm smiles spread beneath identical grey eyes. ‘Welcome back to the fight.’
‘I never left it,’ Harry said.
Isobel laughed, flicking her golden curls over her shoulder. ‘Welcome back to the official fight.’ Her gaze swept over him. ‘You’re looking a little more tanned.’
‘I got sunburnt a few days ago while catching a large cat.’
‘Ah…’ Isobel’s grey eyes gleamed with laughter. ‘Yes, we heard about that. Well done.’
‘Come with us, Violette.’ Colette grabbed his wrist and led him across beneath a white pavilion topped with a gleaming gold fleur-de-lis. ‘We have a plan.’
A knee-high model of the area hovered at the centre of the tent.
Isobel and Céline crowded around him, bumping shoulders with Harry.
Colette released his arm and pulled out her wand. ‘The tower is the foremost bastion,’ she said. ‘At least five of Le Cancrelat’s foremost followers are inside it at any given time.’
‘It’s a bubble of wards in front of the rest,’ Isobel said. ‘It prevents us from being able to look at the wards on the necropolis within the cliff.’
‘The wards on the tower have to come down first.’ Céline flicked her wand at the tower and it split into sections. ‘We’ve tested those wards. They are to stop apparition and portkeys, protect the tower from damage and infiltration, as well as the Unyielding Shield Charm, which is what’s preventing us from seeing what lies beyond with magical means.’
‘So we take down the tower.’ Harry studied the three floors. ‘You have your squad with you, right?’
‘We will not need them,’ Isobel murmured. ‘They can die. We can not.’
Unless one of you dies. Harry bit his tongue. Then you all die.
‘We’ll still need to go through all twelve that escaped me in Palma and defeat Le Cancrelat,’ he said. ‘That will be a lot easier with help…’
‘They will work in two teams, Violette,’ Colette replied. ‘One will keep the wards in place, so none can escape. The other will take down the wards on the tower and probe the wards on the necropolis.’
‘That leaves us to fight the five in the tower,’ Céline said. ‘We can then take a moment while they study the wards on the necropolis, and go after the remaining seven and le Cancrelat himself.’
Isobel pointed her wand at the model cliff. ‘There’s only one entrance that leads back into the necropolis. It’s likely there are other exits elsewhere, but we’ve warded the entire area to make sure.’
Céline sighed. ‘Sisters, one at a time.’ She pointed a finger at the small, dark window beside a short cypress at the base of the cliff. ‘That’s the way in. We will go in with you, Violette, and hunt them down. Each time we clear an area, we will collapse it, and fence all our rats in bit by bit.’
‘The Chevaliers are good, but we are better,’ Colette said. ‘Le Cancrelat…’
Isobel slipped a hand around her sister’s waist, resting her head on her shoulder. ‘Le Cancrelat is a legend among professional duellists. We have faced him before, when we were younger.’
‘He beat us,’ Colette murmured.
Céline’s brow wrinkled. ‘We lost.’
‘Not this time.’ Harry slid the Elder Wand from his sleeve. ‘This time, you have backup.’
‘Then let’s begin.’ Isobel strode out.
Céline and Colette shared a long look and sighed. ‘So impatient.’
He laughed and followed Isobel across the broken ground to the foot of the tower. ‘I’m not very patient either, I’m afraid.’
A dozen blue-robed aurors drew together into a line facing the tower and raised their wands. Harry spun the Elder Wand in his hand and held his breath. Spells hissed up at the tower, splashing off an iridescent shimmer in showers of sparks.
‘How long?’ Harry asked Isobel.
‘Not long. Gui kept weakening the wards while he trapped them here.’ She tapped her wand in her palm. ‘Your lightning spell, could you use that to bring the tower down?’
‘Once the wards are gone, yes.’ He watched the shimmer fade, little by little, until the spells scored dark craters into the crumbling stone, showering the ground in little smoking chips of rock.
Céline pointed her wand at the left side of the tower. ‘About a third of the way across, that’s where the staircase is. If you punch through that, you’ll bring the whole thing down.’
‘That seems like a good way to start.’ Harry poured magic into his wand, drawing a tight crackling spiral of white sparks in at its tip. The hairs on his right arm prickled and his skin tingled. ‘Now?’
Colette held out her hand and the aurors’ spells faded. ‘Now.’
He pointed his wand at the tower and let his magic free.
A white flash tore at Harry’s eyes with a deafening boom, setting his ears ringing. The tower shuddered and leant to its left; stones poured down from its crumbling wall. A dull groan rose from somewhere within and the whole building slumped over. A scream ripped through the air and the stones burst into water, washing across the ground.
Three white-robed figures flailed in the torrent as it swept across the rough ground.
The aurors unleashed a ragged volley of spells, tearing the nearest chevalier into bloody chunks. The other two staggered upright and hurled up shields, weathering the flashes of magic.
‘Stop,’ Isobel ordered. ‘Save your energy for the wards.’
The aurors lowered their wands.
The pair of shields faded.
Bernard swiped bits of stone and mud off his front. ‘You.’ He thrust his wand at Harry. ‘Violette. You killed André.’
‘I’ve more or less been working my way through your whole little group.’ Harry took a step forward. ‘Just nine to go, and Julien, of course.’
Bernard glowered. ‘Marie, hold the Dufort whores off. I will kill Violette and come to help you.’
Isobel’s red lips thinned. ‘Whores?’
‘Rude,’ Colette and Céline murmured. ‘Very rude.’
Marie threw up a shield as Isobel buried her in a barrage of pink curses.
Harry took a step forward. Bernard’s wand snapped up, sending a bright yellow spell slicing toward him. Striding across the damp ground, Harry batted it aside and unleashed a piercing hex.
Bernard ducked and thrust his wand at the ground. Sharp stone spikes jutted from the floor, rippling toward Harry’s feet. He poured his magic into the ground, smothering Bernard’s hot, furious intent beneath the wash of sunset.
The spikes rippled back toward Bernard.
‘Merde.’ He stumbled back. ‘Reducto. Reducto! Reducto!’
Fragments of stone sprayed across the ground.
A violet flash punched through the shining white wall of Marie’s shield. She jerked back in a spray of blood and crumpled to her knees. Red soaked across the front of her coat as she slumped onto her face.
Isobel twirled on the spot, conjuring a lash of blue fire from her wand.
Bernard growled and slashed his wand at them. Crimson flames boiled from it in a wave of hungry, whispering tongues. Searing heat snapped at Harry’s face as he shielded his eyes from the roaring fury of the Fiendfyre.
‘Merde.’ Isobel’s lash of flame snapped about Bernard’s neck, searing through his throat to the bone. ‘Violette!’
Harry hurled the sunset into the Fiendfyre. Screaming hate clamoured at him, clawing at the orange pink sky. No. He fixed Fleur’s warm little smile before the eye of his mind and crushed Bernard’s hate beneath it. No more having things taken away from me.
The red flames guttered out before his toes. Bernard’s smoking body sprawled on the ground beside the ashes of Marie.
‘Close one.’ He slid his wand back into his sleeve. ‘At least that got rid of all the mud.’
Isobel laughed. ‘Come on, sisters. Let’s keep going!’
‘No, Isobel,’ Céline chided.
‘We’ll rest for a moment.’ Colette folded her arms. ‘Don’t be reckless. You’ll get yourself hurt again.’
‘We have shared enough scars, sister,’ Céline murmured.
‘Fine…’ Isobel huffed and brushed ash off the golden lion on her chest, flicking bits of grey off the white fleur-de-lis crowning its head. ‘Violette understands, don’t you, Violette?’
Céline rolled her eyes and turned to the auror squad. ‘Take the wards down. Don’t worry about conserving strength to fight. We are here. Nobody else needs to fight.’
They hurled spells into the cliff face. Magic burst in ripples of colour across a faint shimmer before the ivy-shrouded stone.
‘I can’t pretend that dashing in recklessly hasn’t got me hurt a lot of times.’ Harry tallied them in his head. ‘Quite a lot of times, really, especially when I was younger.’
‘I’ve been outvoted anyway.’ Isobel tossed her wand from one hand to the other. ‘How’s your wife? Is the baby due soon?’
‘She’s very round.’ A small smile tugged at the corners of his lips. ‘It’s a little more than a month until she’s due now.’
‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ Céline asked.
‘We don’t know. We haven’t looked.’ Harry chuckled. ‘My wife likes perfect surprises.’
Colette bounced on her heels. ‘Isobel…?’
Céline sighed. ‘We would have to adopt, Colette.’
‘Well…’ Harry glanced between them. ‘Unless one of you fancies having the baby the old-fashioned way with a man involved at some point in the process.’
Isobel wrinkled her nose. ‘Urgh. Non.’
He laughed. ‘They could probably just donate the most useful bit and you could go from there.’
Colette pursed her red lips. ‘Who would we ask? We don’t know very many suitable boys.’
Three pairs of grey eyes came to rest on Harry.
‘No.’ Harry shook his head. ‘My wife would kill me. And you. And anyone remotely involved. Or even just in the nearby vicinity.’
‘Such a good boy,’ Isobel cooed.
Colette hummed. ‘Which one of—’
‘Non.’ Céline shook her head. ‘Not me.’
‘Or me,’ Isobel said.
Colette folded her arms over her chest. ‘Well, I’m not doing it.’
Céline rested her hands on her hips, shaking her hair out, and Colette studied the scorch marks on her sleeves.
Isobel clapped her hands together. ‘Rock, paper, scissors for it?’
Harry snorted. ‘What a way to decide.’
A flash of blue burst against the cliff, setting the ivy ablaze.
‘Voila!’ Isobel bounded forward.
Céline and Colette scrambled after her pouring their magic out into a broad golden bubble. Harry strode after them, keeping one eye on the dark windows above.
Cold, musty air hung between dark, cobweb draped walls.
‘Homenum revelio,’ Isobel murmured..
‘Anything?’ Céline asked.
Isobel nodded. ‘They’re further back and all together.’
Harry stuck his head into the first side-chamber. ‘Should I close some doors?’
‘Yes,’ Colette said. ‘We’ll go first with our shield. You seal up all the rooms after us.’
‘D’accord.’ He flicked his wand at the walls, forcing his magic into the stone and drawing the doorways closed.
The rough, low entrances flowed shut one by one like pairs of curtains.
‘Don’t waste energy, Violette,’ Céline chided as they advanced behind the shining wall of gold light. ‘Transfiguration is a demanding style of magic.’
‘It’s okay, there’s plenty left,’ he replied.
They stepped from the dark into bright sunlight. Spells burst against the golden shield in showers of white sparks.
Isobel danced through the shield and hurled spells back at the seven white-coated figures spreading across the weathered marble seats of a small odeon. They bored smoking holes into the pale stone.
Isobel pinned one chevalier down beneath a hail of curses as hexes splashed against the golden light shielding her back and sides. The other white-coated figures leapt up the seats and edged around the curve on both sides, their spells glancing off the edge of the shield with bell-like shimmers. Harry disillusioned himself and strode out around the right hand side of the ancient theatre, pouring magic into the air.
A spell streaked past the left edge of the gold shield and grazed Céline’s shoulder.
She hissed. ‘Isobel, they’re getting around behind us.’
Isobel’s head snapped around and she whirled on the furthest, hammering blue curses into her gleaming white shield until it burst like a bubble and the witch’s ribs caved in like she’d been hit by a giant.
Harry twisted his wand, crushing the nearest two wizards into a red smear on the marble and smashing the other four back across the rows of stone seats. They bounced off like rag dolls and rolled across the ground.
Isobel twirled through them, conjuring her lash of blue fire and wrapping it around the neck of each dazed chevalier like a ribbon. The azure flame flared bright, searing through their necks. Headless corpses flopped to the ground.
A violet flash caught Isobel in the back and she screamed, dropping to one knee. Céline and Colette swung their golden shield around, catching a half-dozen more curses.
‘Isobel, Céline and Colette.’ Julien dropped down from the cliff above the passage, a thin, dark wand in his hand. ‘You are going to die here.’
Isobel thrashed on the ground; blood-soaked the back of her blue robes, gushing from a fist-sized hole above her hip.
Julien’s sharp blue eyes dipped to the red pooling on the marble. ‘Your sister is already dead.’ He raised his wand before his face and stabbed it forward. ‘One down. Two to go.’
A swirl of grey magic curled around it.
‘While one of them lives, none of them can die.’ Harry abandoned his disillusionment and buried Julien in a storm of spells.
Grey magic tore through it like a swirling cloud of razor sharp claws, whirling across the stone, shredding marble and ripping through the golden shield with a grating screech like nails down a chalkboard.
Harry tightened his grip on the air and closed it around the ball of darkness, catching it inches from Céline’s face and hurling it back.
It shivered and melted back into a slim wisp of grey wrapped around Julien’s wrist. ‘Violette.’ A sharp smile flashed across his face. ‘I should have known you would be here.’
Harry forced his magic into the stone, sweeping it over the top of Isobel and her sisters, layering his magic through it. ‘Are you going to run?’ He offered Julien a thin smile. ‘I’ll count to ten before I chase you if you like, but here I come, ready or not.’
Julien’s jaw twitched and he caught Harry’s eye.
White flames flickered in a bronze brazier beneath floating glass lanterns. A scatter of bloodstained silver rings rested on the chair before it and soft despair rose like a wave within him.
Despair? Harry let the wave wash over him.
Its impotent frustration soaked away into eleven years of emptiness. A desperate, wordless yearning clawed its way up through it, a tangle of bitter wishes with razor-edged, white-hot talons. The emptiness bared sharp, cold teeth beneath, a thousand icy fangs sinking deep into a tired, torn heart.
Taste its hunger. Feed it. He smiled at the horror rising in Julien’s blue eyes. Feed it like I fed it. Every wish. Every dream. Every hope. Until there’s nothing left.
‘Mon dieu,’ Julien hissed, ripping their thoughts apart and stumbling back. ‘Quel esprit mutilé!’ He snatched a dark, iron mask from inside his jacket and pressed it over his face. ‘I will not drown in your madness, Violette.’
Gold light flickered from the runes on the iron mask, shining bright as candle flames.
Amber. The emptiness shrank beneath the tight, dense cold closing about Harry’s heart. The amber-masked man.
‘Avada kedavra,’ he whispered.
Julien’s grey magic exploded from his sleeve, swallowing the flash of green and tearing through the stone toward Harry. He unleashed a torrent of crimson Fiendfyre, pouring every drop of furious hate into its heat.
The red flames screamed, eating deep into the swirling ball of sharp grey. The ground beneath their feet crumbled and melted away. The corpses of the chevaliers slid into molten stone bubbling in the pit, bursting into flames and sending thick, reeking smoke billowing between them.
There is nothing but the sunset. Harry tore more magic from inside and forced it into the fire. And there will be nothing but ash left of anything that might take it from us.
Julien hurled himself away, rolling through the pool of Isobel’s blood. He swore, hurling violet flashes at Harry.
He ducked and dragged the Fiendfyre back, letting it swell into a slim, white-hot serpent, bending it around the orb of stone shielding Isobel and into a wall of silver magic.
Julien grit his teeth. ‘You’re spilling magical blood for nothing!’
The Fiendfyre serpent coiled around his shield and forced it inwards, crushing the trembling silver light like a rose in Harry’s fist.
‘When our worlds collide, we must be strongest,’ Julien howled. ‘We must be united. And look at us! Look at us!’ He wrapped both hands around his wand and thrust it out.
The Fiendfyre ate into his shield like boiling water into snow and his robes smoked.
‘You are feeding the madness of the world,’ Julien cried. ‘We scramble and struggle and slaughter each other over scraps of glory. A million people too busy stabbing each other to look up and think of what could be!’
The silver light exploded, spattering Fiendfyre back across the stone in a wash of crimson sparks.
Harry dragged it back together, watching the little pools of red flame creep into one another and rise into a shivering serpent the height of Salazar’s basilisk.
‘You think there’s not a price for progress!’ Julien’s silver shield scattered like mist. ‘You think there don’t have to be sacrifices!’
Grey magic struck out like a viper, a thousand furious blades lancing for Harry’s heart. The Fiendfyre shattered them and ground the grey away beneath its endless heat.
‘Pay it yourself,’ Harry hissed. ‘I’ve sacrificed plenty. You won’t take my dream from me.’
The Fiendfyre serpent lunged, tearing through the tattered wisps of grey magic.
Julien’s thin, dark wand crumbled to ash and his robes burst into flame. The iron mask glowed bright orange and the golden light of the runes flickered out as it melted, streaming down his neck. Julien’s screams rang back off the empty marble seats as he thrashed on the ground.
Harry flicked the molten metal away and stamped the Fiendfyre out beneath Fleur’s soft, warm smile.
Raw flesh clung to blackened cheekbones, weeping blood-streaked, clear liquid. Melted, twisted skin smoked around the gleaming ring of Julien’s teeth and a puckered empty eye socket.
‘You are just another… screaming selfish… little shadow,’ Julien rasped through thin, high wheezes. ‘You kill me for… some fleeting… meaningless dream.’ One blue eye bored through Harry and dawn-bright light broke through their thoughts, spilling over a quiet, gentle world. ‘I would have… killed you… for something… so much… greater.’