A high-pitched wail cut through the quiet.
Harry jerked upright off the kitchen table, cold adrenaline coursing through his veins. ‘Didn’t we just feed her and get her to sleep again?’ he muttered. ‘Or has my sleep deprivation finally caught up with me?’
Gabby sniggered. ‘That’s your ring, Violette, not your daughter.’
‘Oh.’ Harry lifted the silver band out of his pocket and stuck it onto his finger. ‘That’ll be a yes about the sleep deprivation, then.’
‘Be careful,’ Gabby said. ‘Don’t do anything dangerous until you’ve rested, Katrina had you up all night.’
‘It’s my turn.’ He yawned, dragging himself out of the chair. A dull ache settled in his limbs and the gentle fog smothering his brain. ‘Fleur got the whole first nine months.’
‘True,’ Gabby murmured. ‘But we don’t want Fleur getting the next century because you took risks when you were tired and got eaten by a sphinx or something. I will tell her you had to go.’
‘I’d still come back, but it wouldn’t be ideal, no.’ Harry sighed and pictured the Sunshine Room, wrenching the world back past him. ‘Bonjour.’
‘Violette.’ Grise stood up from the chair behind the flickering white flames. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘The Caribbean?’ A little heat coiled in Harry’s breast. ‘Again?’
‘Don’t say I’m going back to Africa for another nundu.’
‘Africa, but no nundu.’ Grise sighed, deep furrows creasing his brow. ‘Gui and his aurors were ambushed and killed in Hadrumentum in Libya. The credit has been taken by a group called The Sons of Ba’alat Tanit.’
‘Tanit?’ A jolt of ice tore through him, settling into a cold sickness in his stomach, and the rasp of the amber-masked figure welled up from the base of his skull like blood from the prick of a rose-thorn. Is this them?
Grise’s pink eyes studied Harry. ‘Yes. It’s a new name for an old problem. The magical communities of Northern Africa are stubborn and old, they hid from Rome and from everyone who came after, including us. They want us gone, and, quite frankly, if it weren’t for the fact those communities refuse to abide by the ICW’s mandate we would already be gone, but we can’t risk them breaking the Statute.’
‘What am I doing?’
‘No bunch of amateur revolutionaries can wipe out an auror squad and vanish without a trace so quickly.’ He steepled his fingers. ‘This smells like someone meddling. British Unspeakables, if history is to be trusted. The Duforts are our official response and you are their shadow.’
‘How long?’ Harry murmured.
Grise handed him two slim, dark pieces of wood. ‘However long it takes the Duforts to do what must be done.’
It better not be long. A soft pain twisted in Harry’s breast. He took a deep breath and crushed it down. I’ll make sure it’s not long.
‘What’s the word?’
‘Poivre. You’re going through Bonifacio in Corsica and then straight to the Duforts in Hadrumentum.’ Grise raised his hand. ‘Hide in plain sight and stay close to the Duforts. They seem to like you, so that shouldn’t be an issue. If there are British Unspeakables at work here, they are limited to cloak and dagger work to avoid full war; don’t go chasing them if it’s not necessary, just keep them from doing much harm, squish this group of rebels and return.’
‘Sounds simple enough.’ Harry weighed the first portkey in his hand. ‘Poivre.’
The Sunshine Room world jerked right and he staggered into the cool hall in Bonifacio.
Harry juggled his portkeys. ‘Poivre.’
The hall lurched left and he stumbled to one knee on hot, sun-baked dirt. Sharp, bright light stabbed at his eyes.
He squinted across dirt past patches of limp, deep green grass and the scorched stubs of palm to a cluster of blue-robed aurors.
Isobel clapped her hands together and dragged her sisters across the sand by the back of their robes. ‘Look, it’s Violette.’
Harry chuckled, a little smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. ‘They can’t look if you don’t let them turn—’ he yawned ‘—around.’
‘Tired?’ Céline’s grey eyes swept over him as she pried Isobel’s hand off her blue robes. ‘Have you been busy?’
‘Having trouble sleeping, actually.’ He stifled another yawn and squinted into the brightness. ‘There’s a very small banshee in the house. She’s extremely loud, but absolutely adorable.’
‘Ah,’ Colette murmured, a soft little light entering her eyes. ‘Congratulations.’
Isobel beamed. ‘Well done, little brother.’
‘What’s she called?’ Céline smiled. ‘Is she doing well?’
‘Katrina,’ he whispered. ‘After my friend. She’s doing well, I think.’
Isobel put a hand on his shoulder. ‘We won’t keep you out here long then, Henri.’
Colette nodded. ‘Let’s—’
‘Sisters… let me.’ Céline sighed. ‘Gui was ambushed here with his squad. Nobody survived. Nothing was left.’
Harry studied the small dip beyond the scorched trees. ‘Down there.’
‘Yes.’ Isobel pointed her wand down into the hollow. ‘They tampered with the portkeys, Gui and his whole squad ended up here instead of back at our headquarters—’
‘They put up wards over the whole area,’ Colette said. ‘All the trees and the oasis are gone, but there’s no sign of any magic up here so something kept the whole fight down in that dip.’
Harry smothered a yawn into his arm. ‘This—’ he hunted for the name ‘—Tanit group, they’re the ones who did this?’
Céline shook her head. ‘The Sons of Ba’alat Tanit are part of a Punic revivalist group. The Punic people have been here since before Rome and they’ve clung to their traditional magics the entire time.’
Harry stared at the dirt and rubbed his eyes. ‘Was there something I was meant to read before coming here? And do I really have to read it?’
Isobel laughed. ‘See! See, sisters, nobody really likes the reading.’
Colette rolled her eyes. ‘If you read what you were meant to, we’d have shared fewer scars, Isobel.’
‘Punic magical arts are not traditionally strong on more modern inventions like portkeys, that’s why we’re fairly sure someone else helped out,’ Céline said. ‘They use unconventional wands. Long ones.’
‘Boring,’ Isobel muttered. ‘It’s just how we spot them.’
‘We use Roman wands,’ Colette said, holding hers out. ‘And Roman wands are a more refined version of Greek variations on the Egyptian originals. Phoenicians copied their wand design from the Hittite variations rather than the Greeks, they’re thicker and longer, and they’re made from two woods. The base is round like our wands but the tips are flat as a galleon, and the woods are usually different. There’s some reasoning to it, but we don’t know much.’
‘So odd wands mean it’s someone who wants to curse me.’ A little unease twisted in Harry’s gut and he shook the fog from his mind. ‘What are we actually doing here?’
Isobel grinned. ‘The Sons of Ba’alat Tanit have declared this whole region free of France and decried the Statute of Secrecy because they see it as unnecessary out in their little hidey holes where no muggles go.’
‘We can’t have a hostile or unwarded place here for British Unspeakables to slither in and out of if things continue to escalate,’ Céline said. ‘So they have to be dealt with. The ICW have instructed us to keep control of the situation but recent political troubles prevent them from getting too involved.’
‘Given we don’t really do much to interfere with the communities beyond keeping the Statute, we doubt that we’re facing anymore than a handful of zealots,’ Colette said. ‘So we’ll find the Sons of Ba’alat Tanit and deal with them harshly. That will keep everything quiet here for a little while.’
‘We don’t actually know where most of their magical communities are,’ Céline said, ‘but fortunately, they made their statement from the village in the old city of Carthage.’
‘So we go there and kill them?’ He sighed. ‘Now?’
Isobel perked up. ‘Now?’
‘No, sister.’ Colette shook her head. ‘Henri looks like he could use some sleep first.’
‘I’m fine—’ Harry stifled yawn ‘—ish.’
‘Today we’ll celebrate our little brother having his baby and clean up here,’ Céline said. ‘Tomorrow, we’ll pry the Sons of Ba’alat Tanit out of Carthage and chase off the British Unspeakables who came here to help them.’
‘Okay.’ Isobel wrapped an arm around Harry’s shoulders. ‘Come on, Henri. Let’s find you somewhere to take a celebratory nap.’
‘Anywhere will do,’ he muttered. ‘I could sleep right here on the ground.’
She laughed. ‘Sleep as long as you like. You’re safe here. We’ll look out.’
‘The worst thing that will happen is Isobel tries to peek at your real face,’ Céline said.
‘No peeking,’ Harry said. ‘I mean it. If you try and take the ring off, bad things will happen.’
Isobel wrinkled her nose. ‘Well that’s just no fun.’
‘I promise not to peek,’ Isobel said. ‘I lost rock paper scissors anyway, remember? We decided not to try and find out.’