Ba’al Hamun’s great statue loomed over them among countless swirling motes of red magic, his gaping, flame-wreathed belly yawning open before the huddle of blue-jacketed aurors.
‘How do we close it?’ Harry mused, slipping the Elder Wand from his sleeve. ‘Can someone else throw their blood onto those red flames? Maybe the wrong blood will shut it.’
A crimson flash rippled through the dome.
Sophonissa hovered on wings of red flame before the face of Ba’al Hamun, nude save for the gold at her wrists, ankles and neck. ‘I will not let you.’
The aurors scattered back to the edges of the dome, snatching their wands out and hurling spells up at her. Their hexes burst against the sparks of red light in curls of dark smoke.
‘I should be upset that she’s appeared to get in the way,’ Colette said. ‘But for some reason I’m not.’
‘Me neither.’ Isobel leant her head to one side. ‘She’s really very attractive.’
Céline sighed. ‘Sisters… focus. Work first, play later.’
Sophonissa laughed at the aurors efforts, drawing the red motes into a single, shining crimson point upon her finger. ‘I am Ba’alat Tanit; your power is nothing to the heart of Kart Hadasht.’
A blinding red flash struck the mosaics amidst the aurors. The city trembled, shaking Harry to his knees on the cold tesserae. Blue-jacketed bodies sprawled across the floor and the remaining aurors staggered, shielding their eyes and holding their ears.
Sophonissa turned her gaze upon him. ‘I will not spare them a third time if they remain.’
‘Get them out,’ Harry said. ‘There’s no point in dying for nothing.’
Isobel exchanged a look with her sisters. ‘Fall back,’ she commanded. ‘All of you.’
A series of loud cracks rang out.
‘If you stay, you will die,’ Sophonissa declared. ‘He must burn. It was foretold.’
Harry held his breath. Will they leave me?
‘While one of us lives, none of us will die,’ the Duforts murmured, raising their wands up together.
The gold lance sprang forward, piercing through the crimson motes and striking Sophonissa’s right wing, bursting apart in a flash of sunbright light and hurling her into the roof of the dome.
They stayed. For me. A little warmth rose in Harry’s breast. Like Katie.
Sophonissa dropped to the ground, white-faced and shaking. Broken bones crunched back into place and her red magic coalesced into a flickering wand of flame.
‘You cannot win,’ she said. ‘I am Ba’alat Tanit, now.’
‘Fulminis,’ Harry murmured, forcing his magic forth.
A crackling white beam flashed from the tip of his wand. Sophonissa thrust her wand of flame at it, baring her teeth as the white magic ate into the red, wrenching it aside. The lightning scored a deep scorch through Ba’al Hamun’s face and severed his right arm. The stone crashed to the ground, spilling gold flame across the mosaics.
Sophonissa winced and her red wand flickered. ‘Ba’alat Tanit demands sacrifice.’ Red motes of magic swirled around her left arm into a broad, round shield covered in dancing red flames.
Ba’al Hamun’s arm lurched back into the air and the statue reformed.
‘See.’ She slashed her wand, releasing a wave of red flame.
It splashed back off a shimmering gold wall of light.
‘Keep forcing her to heal and keep breaking things,’ Harry said. ‘If we can wear her down, we might be able to cut her off from the Tophet.’
The golden shield dropped and a sun-bright lance flashed at Sophonissa. It burst on her shield like a thunderclap and she reeled back, clutching the spurting stump of her left arm. Harry hurled spells at her, but they splashed against a wall of shimmering red magic.
‘Ba’alat Tanit demands sacrifice,’ Sophonissa whispered. Red fire sprouted from the stump of her arm, clenching into a fist of flame. A storm of crimson sparks swirled in her eyes and Kart Hadasht shuddered beneath their feet. ‘One of my children must burn.’
The wall of shivering red motes swept back into a bright spear, bleeding power into the air like starlight fading into the dark.
‘Ba’alat Tanit demands,’ Sophonissa murmured, red flames dancing in her eyes and beneath her skin. ‘One to burn. One to eclipse Rome.’ She hurled the spear. ‘So burn.’
Gold light sprang up in front of him. The crimson lance punched through it like a piercing hex through flesh.
‘Merde.’ Harry hurled up his shield.
Red flames ate into the bright wall, rippling across it, curling around it and crushing it in around him. A touch of despair rose from some dark place beneath his heart.
No. Not this time. He crushed it, dragging Katrina’s toothless smile and bright blue eyes up before the eye of his mind. Perfect wishes can come true.
Harry clawed every drop of magic up and forced it through his wand.
The crimson fire burst into faint smoke.
‘But I am Ba’alat Tanit.’ Sophonissa stared, red flame whirling in both her eyes. ‘The power of Kart Hadasht…’
‘Let it go,’ Colette said. ‘Let it go, Sophonissa. It’s not worth it.’
Sophonissa held up her arm of flame. ‘How can a single son of Ba’alat Tanit resist his mother? How can….’ Her burning fingers clenched into a fist and red fire trickled from the corner of her eye down her cheek. ‘Ba’alat Tanit demands sacrifice,’ she whispered. ‘Eclipse them all, last son of Kart Hadasht.’
Last— His heart stopped.
‘No,’ Harry shouted. ‘Sophonissa!’
A flash of red rippled through the dome.
‘No…’ he whispered, balling his fists and blinking back hot tears. ‘Don’t ruin something perfect for dead dreams.’
The pulse of Kart Hadasht throbbed beneath his feet, rippling through him like thunder, tolling in his ears in time with the hammering of his heart.
A red mote of magic sprang up over his palm, floating through his fingers.
Blue-jacketed aurors appeared with loud cracks, wands outstretched. Awe and fear shone in their eyes, bright as lanterns, bright as the breaking light behind Julien’s blue eye.
Something so much greater. A soft little thrill coursed through his veins. Something important.
Isobel waved a hand before his face. ‘Henri…?’
Crimson magic bled up from the heartbeat below, pouring through his veins like a river of whirling, swirling red flames, and bright sparks welled up all around him, hovering like floating candles.
Kart Hadasht shivered.
I could lift it all up. In his mind’s eye the city rose above the waves, the coastline reshaping itself as if sculpted by countless invisible hands. A thousand thousand firstborn sons howled in the back of his mind, a storm of screams swirling into a single word.
‘Tanit.’ It slipped through Harry’s lips. ‘Ba’alat Tanit demands—’
‘Henri.’ Isobel shook his shoulder. ‘Let it go.’
Wings of red flame spread behind his shadow in the reflection of Isobel’s grey eyes, and crimson fire whirled through his eyes. Kart Hadasht lurched. He saw it shine in the eye of his mind, a red jewel upon the verdant crown of the African coast. Greater than the shadow of the crumbling ruins across the sea had ever been.
That’s not my dream. He clung to Katrina’s grin and Fleur’s soft warm smile. I want a sunset, not a storm.
Harry fed the storm into the emptiness, let cold, sharp teeth rip it apart and scatter its screams into the distance. Kart Hadasht’s heartbeat stuttered and faded, the red magic bleeding away, and Ba’al Hamun’s statue sank back into the floor, sealing the entrance to the Tophet.
‘Where is she?’ Isobel asked. ‘Where’s Sophonissa gone?’
Exhaustion crashed down on Harry like a wave and he slumped to one knee. ‘She’s dead.’
Celine rested a hand on his shoulder. ‘And her son?’
‘She burnt him,’ he whispered. ‘Because it was foretold.’
‘Two for the flames,’ Colette murmured.
‘One to eclipse the legacy of Rome.’ Isobel’s sharp grey eyes studied him. ‘But how?’
‘It could mean anything, any legacy. Chasing prophecies is foolish,’ Celine said. ‘Forget it you heard it, sister. We all should.’
‘Especially you, little brother,’ Colette slid an arm under his shoulders and heaved him up. ‘Go back to your lovely wife and your daughter. Forget Carthage.’
Silence echoed up beneath Harry’s feet, an awful, yawning abyss. But now Sophonissa’s sacrificed something perfect for nothing. Hot, sharp thorns tangled in his heart, catching the breath in his lungs. Her baby burnt. For nothing.
‘I — I need—’ Fleur’s face hung before his mind’s eye, Katrina squirming in her arms, their soft smiles tugging at his heart beneath the gentle sway of green willow fronds. He clutched at the ring hanging against his chest. ‘I—’
Harry clawed the portkey from his pocket. ‘Poivre,’ he gasped, stumbling to his knees on the cold stone floor in Bonifacio. Harry cast the portkey aside and clutched for his wedding band. ‘Argent.’
White pebbles dug into his knees and a warm breeze fluttered through the meadows over the gentle ripple of the river. Fleur jumped to her feet, tucking the silver disc behind her back.
‘I saw that,’ he whispered, tugging off Violette’s ring and dropping it into his pocket. ‘Be careful with it, it’s… it’s important.’
‘You look tired, mon Amour.’
‘I feel tired,’ Harry murmured, letting the weariness seep through him like a thick, cold fog. ‘One last little red spark floating in a sea of darkness down beneath the waves.’
Fleur caught his face in her hands. ‘What happened at Carthage?’
‘I killed Kart Hadasht,’ he whispered. ‘I stopped its heart. A thousand children burnt, all those perfect dreams, and I just stopped it all. Forever.’
‘But it was those dreams or ours,’ she murmured. ‘And they are all long dead.’
‘I know.’ He pulled her close and held her tight, breathing in the sweet, sharp scent of her silver hair. ‘But I don’t want it to be for nothing. It’s so wrong. Can you imagine it being all for nothing.’
‘Yes,’ Fleur whispered, burying her face in his neck. ‘Yes I can. It nearly was.’
‘They revered me for it,’ Harry murmured. ‘I took away all those dreams and the aurors looked at me like I was — like I was great.’ The echo of the thrill whispered through his veins. ‘And for a moment…’
‘You are.’ She leant back and cupped his cheek. ‘You are greater than all of them.’
‘I don’t want something great,’ he muttered. ‘I mustn’t.’
Fleur rolled her eyes. ‘You’re fretting about something silly again, aren’t you? Come on, mon Amour. Gabby has run off with our baby, but if we can pry Katrina out of the little harpy’s claws, I’m sure she’d like to see you.’
My perfect dream. The green-eyed girl danced behind silver glass between Fleur and Gabby’s gentle smiles. One of two. Ice trickled down his spine. I mustn’t dream his dreams.
‘Mon Cœur?’ Fleur tucked the silver disc back beneath the white pebbles. ‘Are you coming?’
‘Of course.’ Harry squashed everything down deep inside and imagined Katrina’s chubby little fists and bright blue eyes. ‘I should make the most of while I’m here.’