The sun sparkled on the azure waves, little flashes and ripples of light shimmering on their crests until they rolled up over the toppled, worn, pale columns. Blue-jacketed aurors stood on a barnacle encrusted, faded, blue and green mosaic, gripping their wands in fists.
‘This is just some of the old ruins.’ Céline pointed out at the waves. ‘We’re going out there.’
‘Out to what?’ Harry asked. ‘It seems pretty quiet…’
‘Under there, really,’ Colette said.
‘Beneath the waves,’ Céline murmured. ‘There were incredibly rare pearls here, magical ones. Giant dark pearls formed after the magical parts of the Carthage sank when Rome sacked the city, but now there’s just little magical normal ones.’
‘I don’t want to duel in a bubble-head charm,’ he muttered. ‘Or have to do any experimental transfiguration.’
‘Carthage’s magic still lingers,’ Céline said. ‘While the bloodlines of its people last, the magic will seemingly never fade. Even below the waves, some of it still endures. The old pearl diving outpost was built down there.’
‘Portkeys?’ Harry asked. ‘Or apparition?’
‘Portkeys into the outpost.’ Isobel strode across, the gold and white on the front of her blue robes gleaming in the sun. ‘They’ve warded everything else. Warded it well.’
‘The Unspeakables?’ Harry watched the tide wash over the fallen marble. ‘Are they here?’
‘No sign of them other than the strength of these wards.’ Isobel exchanged a glance with her sisters. ‘We will go first, Violette.’
They nodded. ‘While one of—’
‘I know.’ Harry shook his head. ‘You say it every time.’
They laughed, humour shining in their grey eyes. ‘It helps us believe it.’
‘Our squad will set up our wards and tear through their wards with brute force,’ Isobel said. ‘Then they’ll stay up here to ensure nobody gets out. We’ll go down.’
‘Just us…’ Anxiety gnawed at him. ‘Even if there’s a whole bunch of Unspeakables down there as well?’
Céline patted him on the cheek. ‘You will be back to see your little girl, Henri. We will not allow you to die.’
‘It’s hard to duel multiple people down there where I probably can’t use my more powerful pieces of magic,’ Harry replied. ‘But if you’re sure…’
‘La Belle France demande,’ Colette said. ‘If we must take risks, we must.’
‘Sacrifices must be made,’ he murmured, picturing little Katrina’s balled fists and bright blue eyes with a soft pang.
‘Liberté et égalité, little brother,’ Céline replied.
‘Ce n’est jamais gratuit,’ Colette said. ‘There’s always a price to be shared.’
‘I can probably apparate us out through any wards, anyway.’ Harry slid the Elder Wand from his sleeve. ‘Now?’
Isobel bent and picked up a small piece of mosaic, tossing it across into the sea beside the aurors. ‘Now,’ she called, pointing her wand at the sea.
Half raised their wands into the sky and a shimmer of wards fell like rain. The rest closed their eyes and thrust them at the waves.
Isobel pulled a bone-white piece of driftwood out of her pocket and held it out. ‘For La Belle France,’ she whispered. ‘Who loves all her children fairly.’
Céline and Colette grabbed a hold of it, drawing their wands.
‘Come on, little brother,’ Isobel said. ‘Don’t dawdle. Your lovely wife and baby girl are waiting.’
Harry took hold of one end, flexing his fingers on the Elder Wand. ‘I’m ready.’
‘Égalité,’ Céline murmured.
‘The other one,’ Isobel said.
Colette took a deep breath. ‘Liberté.’
Isobel rolled her eyes. ‘Sororité.’
The sea jerked sideways and Harry stumbled through cool, damp air into wet, cold stone.
Worn patches of mosaic stretched down toward a faint, flickering orange glow beneath weathered marble arches and a swift, shallow stream rushed down the far wall, bubbling over the feet of leaning columns.
‘Homenum revelio,’ Céline murmured.
‘Let’s go,’ Isobel said. ‘How many, sister?’
‘More than we thought.’
Unease tangled in Harry’s gut, twisting into a tight, hot knot. ‘Too many?’
‘Not if we’re careful.’ Céline shot a long look at Isobel. ‘And we go slowly.’
Isobel laughed. ‘I’ll go slow.’
The three drew together, striding down over the faded mosaics toward the glow. Céline and Colette extended their wands either side of Isobel’s slim shoulders and gold curls.
Harry paced after them, picking his way around the gushing stream of seawater and spinning his wand in his fingers.
A score of figures stood amongst the small fires scattered between ruined, shattered huts in a grand, domed hall three times as large as Hogwarts’s, their flat-tipped wands levelled at the entrance.
‘France aurors.’ A tall man with a short, grey beard stepped forward, wand outstretched. ‘Be not here.’ He scowled and motioned at the dark-haired woman at his side, muttering in his harsh tongue.
‘I am Sophonissa.’ The dark-haired woman stepped into the light of the fires. ‘And this is Kart Hadasht. You can leave, or you can stay and watch our city ascend back above the waves.’
‘Even if you used every drop of magic, you couldn’t lift this much stone out of the sea,’ Colette said. ‘Are you mad?’
‘It’s not magic we must spill.’ Sophonissa rested a hand upon her abdomen. ‘The firstborn sons of Kart Hadasht belong to Ba’alat Tanit.’
‘Blood magic,’ Harry murmured.
How many children? Katrina’s big blue eyes and small fingers hovered before his mind’s eye and his blood ran cold. How much power can that kind of sacrifice muster?
He bent and touched his wand to the floor, closing his eyes. Magic hung in the stone, a slow, dull pulse echoing up from deep below their feet.
‘They’re not mad.’ Harry straightened up. ‘The whole city’s enchanted.’
‘City?’ Sophonissa grinned. ‘Kart Hadasht is the jewel on the crown. Our whole land is enchanted, outsider. Without sacrifice, it withered, but French wizards came here to steal the dark pearls formed from our forebears’ despair and found the Tophet for us.’
‘You can’t raise an entire city,’ Céline said. ‘The Statute—’
‘For a thousand years our people lived together, magical and non-magical, it will be so again. Ba’alat Tanit will receive our sacrifice and bless our country once more.’
‘You need the right blood,’ Harry said. ‘If—’
‘We are descended from the Adirim,’ Sophonissa said, motioning the circle forward with one gold-braceleted arm. ‘Our firstborn sons are a gift to Ba’alat Tanit and Ba’al Hamun. This cannot be stopped. It was foretold.’
They’d kill their own children. An ugly heat twisted in Harry’s breast. The green-eyed girl danced behind shining glass, sinking deep down into a cold darkness beneath the swirling silver. For what, something great? He smothered a flash of a single blue eye and dawn-bright light bursting through long shadows, words tangling in his tongue, snarling on the thicket of hot thorns clenching about his heart.
Sophonissa glanced either side of her and snapped something in a harsh tongue, turning on her heel and striding back through the fires, the bearded man at her heels.
White curses flashed from the ring of wands.
Céline and Colette threw a gold bubble of magic out over them. Spells burst on it in ripples of light and showers of bright sparks.
‘What are they doing, Henri?’ Isobel asked.
‘There’s some blood magic on the city and whatever country was here. It’s—’ he squashed the tangle of feeling down ‘—they kill their firstborn sons and it feeds the enchantment.’
‘Can it raise the city?’ Colette asked.
A mirthless chuckle burst through Harry’s lips. ‘It depends how many firstborn sons they have, but imagine giving up every moment with your child, imagine killing them with your own hands, that’s the resolve, the desire, that this magic is powered by.’
‘Quelle horreur,’ Céline whispered.
‘Even a handful of children and they may well restore the city.’ A fist of ice clamped about his spine. ‘And sacrifice is a complicated thing, every firstborn son that has died for this over the last two thousand years might count the moment they give it the right blood.’
The blood drained from Colette’s face. ‘That kind of magic could reshape the entire coastline… The Statute…’
‘We need to catch that woman,’ Céline said. ‘Isobel… be swift, we will cover you as best we can.’
Isobel grinned, spinning on her heel and darting out of the shield. Bright blue spells arced from the tip of the wand, punching through the figures at the right end of the ring. Céline and Colette twisted the bubble around behind her.
Harry thrust his magic into the stone. It snapped back, sending him reeling.
‘Merde.’ He shook his head and poured magic into the huts, dragging the wreckage together into a towering golem of splintered wood, lacing it with all the feeling bubbling up from the tangle in his gut.
Its wooden fists slammed down into the pair of figures in the ring’s centre, spattering gore across the stone and into the fires. The ring of assailants scattered with shouts and cries, scrambling out of the golem’s shadow and sending gouts of flame roaring at it. Flames caught in its limbs as it lumbered forward, smacking a witch away into the wall with a crunch.
Curses sprayed in all directions from the flat-ended wands as they fled the golem’s reach. A bright white flash struck its leg and bits of burning wood showered across the stone. Isobel danced through hexes behind the blazing golem as it crumpled to its knees, white curses splashing against the gold bubble.
Harry unleashed a storm of piercing hexes, batting away anything too close to him and tearing through the Sons of Ba’alat Tanit one by one, stepping over the bleeding bodies as he advanced under the dome. His golem dragged itself forward with its arm, sweeping a trio of wizards into the wall with its burning right arm. They splattered on the stone. Red ran down the marble to colour the stream along the wall.
Harry thrust magic into the blood-stained water, pulling it up into the shape of a basilisk with a grunt and closing its coils around half a dozen figures, crushing the water in until crimson exploded through it.
The last figure hurled pale curses at him, screaming in their harsh tongue at him as he strode forward, swatting the spells back. A desperate shield flickered and burst in a shower of white sparks. Two hexes ripped through the ribs of the wizard tossing him back into the burning wreckage of the golem.
‘Done.’ He turned on his heel.
Isobel knelt on the floor, both hands clapped to the spurting wound in her thigh. ‘Keep going, Henri,’ she hissed. ‘We will share the pain and come after you in a moment.’
He took a step forward.
‘Go,’ Céline said. ‘While one of us lives—’
‘You can’t die.’ Harry spun his wand in his hand, casting bright, white light from its tip. ‘Be careful.’
He hurried through the bodies, weaving around fires and puddles of blood, and ran over the broken mosaics down a steep, subsided slope. The stream rushed past him, splashing off the misshapen, buckled columns he sprinted past.
Harry hurtled out into another domed hall, throwing his wand-light all around at the leaning marble columns and faded wall-paintings.
‘You made it through.’ Sophonissa’s voice rang out. ‘I thought you would.’
Two spots of gold light swelled at the hall’s far end, bathing them in its glow. A marble behemoth sat upon a throne of stone clouds; its extended palms held two pools of golden fire.
Red flames sprang to life in its hollow belly.
The old, bearded wizard leant forward, cradling a bundle against his chest and hissed something in Sophonissa’s ear, but she shook her head and pressed a thin blade into his hand.
‘The non-magical give their firstborn sons to serve Kart Hadasht in the Sacred Band,’ Sophonissa said, as the elder man drew the blade across his palm and hurled blood into the red flames. ‘We pass our firstborn sons through the fire of Ba’al Hamun.’
Harry splashed down the hall, letting the light fade from his wand, dragging words up from the hot, tight twist of feeling in his heart. ‘You’re ruining something perfect, for a long dead dream.’
A thin, red triangle topped with a bar and circle glowed upon the dome.
‘Gisco is descended from the Magonid family of the Adirim. His father’s eldest son.’ Sophonissa snatched the knife from her companion and slashed her palm, scattering blood into the flames. ‘I am not an eldest son, but I am a descendant of the greatest of the Adirim, the Barcid house.’ She plucked the bundle from Gisco’s arms and cradled it against her chest. ‘And I have brought my eldest son here.’
A green symbol flickered into life upon the dome.
She pointed the dripping blade at him. ‘It was foretold. Three firstborn sons of Ba’alat Tanit will stand before Ba’al Hamun in Kart Hadasht. Two of the Adirim for the flames and one to eclipse the legacy of Rome.’
‘You seem to be one son short,’ Harry said, raising his wand.
Gisco threw up a bubble of white light over them.
Sophonissa laughed and tossed the knife into the water at his feet. ‘If you are right, your blood will not open the door.’
‘If it fails, will you surrender?’ Harry asked, summoning the bronze blade into his left hand.
‘Yes,’ she said, pressing a kiss to the bundle in her arms. ‘Gisco, too.’
‘Okay.’ He dabbed the ball of his thumb upon the knife and flicked the drop of blood across into the flames with a swish of his wand. ‘Because I’m more or less certain that—’
A purple symbol flashed upon the dome.
‘It was foretold,’ Sophonissa said.
‘I hate prophecies,’ Harry muttered, hurling the knife into the water. ‘I really do.’
The great statue of Ba’al Hamun dragged itself to its feet with a dull rumble, rising up until its head brushed the top of the dome. The hall shook and the water pooling across it rippled and danced. Ba’al Hamun’s belly of fire sagged to the ground, the red flames dancing upon the threshold of a dark passage.
Pass through fire.
‘How did you know?’ he asked. ‘I didn’t know.’
Sophonissa passed her child to Gisco and ushered them through the flames. ‘One hundred and four houses of the Adirim. Ninety-five ended here as Kart Hadasht’s heart sank beneath the waves. Eight survived in the ruins, hiding in the furthest reaches of what was once our lands, building the secret villages we’ve been waiting in, dwindling just to two as time marched on. One betrayed us as the city sank. They stole Tanit’s Looking Glass and all the riches they could plunder from their kin, and fled to Rome.’
‘The Herald of Foes,’ Harry murmured.
‘You still have it,’ Sophonissa breathed, her eyes lighting up. ‘You still have it.’
‘What is it?’ he demanded, catching the sound of footsteps behind him. ‘What does it do?’
‘Sight.’ She put one foot through the red flames. ‘In one side, it ensures the Sons of Ba’alat Tanit and Kart Hadasht might always see their foes coming. In the other, it shows us the means of victory over them.’
I just had to turn it over? A little ice tightened about his heart. All this time fearing the amber-masked figure and I could have seen how to defeat him just by flipping it over?
‘Is it always right?’ Harry asked.
‘It foretold Kart Hadasht’s fall and this very day over two thousand years ago.‘ Sophonissa smiled as gold light rose from beyond the red flames, bright as dawn. ‘You will burn, firstborn son of Ba’alat Tanit, and we will rise from beneath the waves.’ She dashed down into the depths of the temple.
Cold fear clenched its fist in his belly. Is it certain?
‘Henri!’ Isobel splashed to his side, her sisters on her heels.
‘We have to go down,’ Harry whispered, his heart beginning to pound. ‘Apparently, this was all foretold.’
Céline put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Prophecies are tricky things, little brother. What was foretold?’
‘Three firstborn sons of Ba’alat Tanit will stand before Ba’al Hamun in Kart Hadasht.’ He pointed two fingers through the fire. ‘Two are down there.’
‘I am here,’ he murmured, wrestling with the vice-tight grip of fear. ‘As foretold.’
The purple symbol flickered upon the dome above, bright as flame.
‘Is that it?’ Colette asked. ‘That’s nothing to fear. You’ve already done it.’
‘Two sons for the flames and one to eclipse the legacy of Rome.’ Harry swallowed. ‘I don’t think they intend me to do the eclipsing part and given my ancestors apparently went to Rome, I think I might even count as part of the legacy being eclipsed.’
‘The old man isn’t going to be doing it,’ Isobel said. ‘Where’s the second?’
‘Sophonissa’s baby son.’ He took a deep breath and let everything sink down into the emptiness. ‘I suppose we’ll find out who ends up burning.’
‘Not yet.’ Céline’s warm hand squeezed his shoulder. ‘If two of you have to burn, they will wait for you. Go home, Henri. See your lovely wife, your baby girl, and then come back.’
‘Just in case,’ Colette whispered.
‘We will not let him die,’ Isobel snapped. ‘We will not allow it.’
‘Not too long,’ Céline replied. ‘Return by the morning.’
‘Merci,’ he murmured, portkeying back to the cold stone hall of Bonifacio. Harry pressed the acorn pendant against his ribs. ‘Argent.’ He stepped out onto the white pebbles in the warm breeze beneath the green willow fronds.
Harry reached out his hand, summoning the shining silver disc from under the pebbles. It slapped into his palm, the rune-marked surface gleaming in the sun.
‘Well, let’s see.’ He flipped it over and pressed his blood-stained thumb onto the unmarked silver.
The world fell away.
Purple light flickered in the dark, curving into the rune that had shone in Kart Hadasht; its bar and circle bled down from the tip of its triangle into its heart and a familiar sigil burst from violet fire into dawn-bright flame, shining like a beacon in the black.
‘The last enemy to be destroyed is death,’ a girl’s voice whispered in his ear. ‘The last victory, papa. La Victoire Finale.’