‘Where in Sardinia are we?’ Harry squinted into the sun, peering at the rocky hillside and its patchwork of green.
‘Right in the middle.’ Isobel pointed her wand down the valley. ‘Nurrensis is that way—’
‘It’s a muggle town,’ Celine said.
Colette nodded. ‘But we are not going there, we’re going to the Nuraghe.’
‘The tower.’ Isobel drew an outline in the air with her hands. ‘They all live in towers.’
Celine sighed. ‘Read the files, sister…’
Colette laughed. ‘Sardinia’s magical Nuragic communities have been here for a long long time. They didn’t like being part of Rome and they liked everything that happened afterward even less. I’m not sure why they’re helping this new Rome.’
‘Why does nobody ever give me these files?’ Harry asked. ‘I know nothing about any of this.’
‘Les Inconnus can just go find them, I think,’ Isobel replied. ‘Not that you’d want to. They’re a very dry read.’
‘Is there anything I should know?’
‘The Italian from Milan, he said Nuragics had been spotted beyond the wards at Rome.’ Celine pointed down the valley. ‘The magical communities here live in Nuraghe, but as our boys found out when they went sweeping through here for the last few days, they’re all empty except this one.’
‘So we left the auror squad behind?’ Harry frowned. ‘That seems rash. And this is me saying that.’
‘We are not going to pick a fight,’ Colette said. ‘Only talk.’
Isobel rolled her eyes. ‘It has been decided that Sardinia is a big island with a lot of hidey-holes, and with things escalating everywhere, we’d rather they kept quiet.’
‘We will talk.’ Celine studied the top of the hill. ‘If they let us in.’
The peak of the hill shimmered and a cluster of tall towers composed of large stones wavered into view upon its summit. Large rocks and trees stretched away from a narrow path to the weathered, stone door at the Nuraghe’s foot.
‘Seems promising,’ Harry muttered.
‘They are not going to like what we demand,’ Colette said. ‘There will be a price for this in the future, but—’
‘The needs of the future are outweighed by the concerns of the present,’ Isobel said.
‘What are we demanding?’
‘Ah,’ Harry murmured. ‘Soul magic.’
‘Are they?’ Isobel asked, a curious gleam in her grey eyes. ‘Really?’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It’s an enchantment of your own soul. That’s how they’re powerful enough to warp everything you are to keep the oath, which is what everyone fears.’
‘The Nuragics really aren’t going to like this,’ Celine whispered as a single, dark-robed figure appeared on the path and beckoned.
‘Us first, little brother,’ Isobel said. ‘Remember, while—’
‘I know.’ He sighed. ‘You can go first.’
They laughed and swept up the path.
‘Such a good boy.’ Isobel patted him on the cheek as she passed, following the Nuragic up the hill. ‘How is your wife and baby?’
‘Probably quite angry that I am in Sardinia,’ Harry said. ‘I didn’t really have time to say goodbye when we left Paris.’
‘But otherwise happy?’
‘As long as little Katrina has something exciting to chomp on, she is usually happy,’ he replied. ‘My wife will take a little more appeasing.’
‘But that might be fun, too.’ Isobel winked at him. ‘I’ve seen a few photos of Fleur on her father’s desk, she’s a very attractive girl.’
‘You keep your imagination away from my wife,’ Harry muttered. ‘Go play with your sisters.’
Isobel burst into laughter. ‘Are you a jealous husband, Henri?’
‘Yes.’ He grinned. ‘If you imagine my wife, I’m going to imagine one of your sisters in petty vengeance. That ought to show you now I’ve been dubbed little brother.’
‘We won’t mind,’ she replied, beaming. ‘We’re all very pretty. And it’s not like the three of us are going to be flustered by the sibling thing…’
Harry wrinkled his nose. ‘How about if you imagine my wife I’ll make one of your sisters godmother instead of you.’
‘But it was me that won rock, paper, scissors,’ Isobel protested. ‘You can’t choose them.’
He snorted. ‘Watch me.’
Isobel folded her arms as they stepped into the shadow of the Nuraghe. ‘Rock, paper, scissors is sacred, you can’t break that.’
‘Don’t imagine my wife, then.’
She tutted. ‘Fine, fine, it’s not like we really were.’
The Nuragic raised one hand, sliding his other inside his robe and pulling out a rune-carved bull horn.
Interesting. Harry studied it as the Nuragic conjured a small wooden chair. That’s a weird wand. Not Roman or Punic.
‘Aurors of France, allies, welcome to our Nuraghe.’ The Nuragic took a seat and tucked his wand away, sweeping back his hood to reveal long, dark hair and a tanned, lined face. ‘How can I, Iolaus of the Balari, assist you?’
Harry conjured a long, wooden bench with lion’s feet and dropped down onto one end.
‘Nice,’ Celine murmured as she and her sisters sat down.
‘We’re here to talk about Rome,’ Isobel declared.
‘Roma has no sway here,’ Iolaus said, a proud glint in his brown eyes. ‘It never has. Our forefathers died for our freedom.’
‘Then why are you helping Sicily and Naples and Cosenza wage war to raise it again?’ Colette asked. ‘Has France offended you?’
‘We are not fighting France,’ Iolaus replied. ‘We of the Balari fight against Genoa and Venice and our old enemies.’
‘They are allies of France,’ Celine said.
‘But not France.’
‘If you fight against them, you fight against us.’ Isobel indicated the four of them. ‘And France.’
‘We have been offered promises of great value to us,’ Iolaus said. ‘Things lost to our people returned. We fight for that.’
‘What things?’ Colette asked. ‘We will return them.’
‘Relics of our forefathers plundered by Genoa and Venice and Spain.’ Iolaus glanced back at the Nuraghe. ‘These are our lands. We have been here since our magics toppled pharaohs. We endured Kart Hadasht. We endured Roma. We will endure all who come after. And one day, we will be free to ignore those powers entirely.’
Isobel leant forward. ‘Give us an oath, from each and every one of you, and we will return what was stolen and leave you to your own devices.’
‘An oath…?’ Iolaus scowled and his brown eyes darkened. ‘A bond?’
‘Yes,’ Celine said. ‘If we are certain you will not help our enemies or allow them to cause trouble for us by using Sardinia, we will have no need to interfere.’
‘Provided the Statute of Secrecy is not broken,’ Harry said.
Iolaus laughed, baring yellow teeth. ‘We have been secret for longer than you. Always.’ He shook his head. ‘If you return what was stolen, we will leave Roma in peace.’
‘We need the oath,’ Colette said. ‘Rome is a puppet of Britain. They will continue to try and use you to stir up trouble against us.’
Iolaus ground his teeth. ‘Our people will not be thrall to your bond.’
‘It will be a simple oath,’ Celine murmured. ‘Unnoticeable unless Britain or another comes to turn you against us.’
‘Give Iolaus the words and he will take them to the Balari.’
‘You don’t decide?’ Harry asked.
‘Iolaus cannot decide for all.’
‘You will swear not to fight against France or its allies, or allow those you know might fight against France and its allies to shelter in your lands,’ Celine said. ‘That is the oath.’
‘Just that?’ Iolaus’s brow creased. ‘No more?’
‘The Balari will not like this,’ Iolaus said. ‘It is a noose to tighten on our necks at a later hour. Who knows how steep the price might become?’
‘If you do not swear, we will be forced to consider other means of ensuring you’re not a threat,’ Colette replied.
‘Threat?’ Iolaus stood and turned the seat to a small stone with a tap of his bull-horn wand. ‘The Balari have been here for longer than France has been, when have we brought trouble to you?’
‘Now.’ Isobel said. ‘In Rome.’
Iolaus scowled. ‘Iolaus will take your words to the Balari.’ He touched his wand to the stone door, stepping through it as if it were water and vanishing.
‘Weird people,’ Isobel said.
‘Did you see his wand?’ Harry asked. ‘It was very different.’
‘Read the files, sister,’ Celine said, rolling her eyes. ‘And you, Henri.’
‘Nobody gives me any files to read. I’m just sent off with a portkey and a goal.’
‘They’ve been here for a long time,’ Colette said. ‘This Nuraghe is probably older than Carthage.’
‘Can we pretend Kart Hadasht isn’t real?’ Harry asked. ‘I’m trying to forget about it.’
‘Pardon,’ Celine murmured, resting a hand on his shoulder. ‘At least it cannot cause you any more trouble.’
‘All those children burnt, though,’ he whispered. ‘And Sophonissa…’
All those dreams…
‘Not your doing, little brother,’ Isobel said. ‘She did that.’
‘But all those dreams, all that sacrifice, and I just let it go, let it die.’ He shivered, a cold, sick feeling settling in his stomach. ‘I don’t like it.’
‘Not necessarily for nothing,’ Colette said. ‘One to eclipse the legacy of Rome…’
Isobel nodded. ‘If you fulfil that—’
‘Their sacrifice is not wasted,’ Celine said. ‘Rome is trying to rise. Carthage failed to rise from the sea. Perhaps, when this eclipse comes, you will ensure they both stay dead.’
Is that what Ba’alat Tanit demands? The screams of a thousand firstborn sons howled somewhere in the depths of his mind, a furious storm of whirling red lights. All that sacrifice so I can do this?
Iolaus stepped back through the stone and poured a small sack out at their feet. Several dozen rune-engraved bull horns piled in the dust.
‘The wands of the Balari,’ he said, dropping the sack to the ground. ‘The Balari will swear your oath. Each of us. Before you. We will give you no doubt. And in return, you will leave us be.’
‘Do we need to come in?’ Isobel asked.
Iolaus scowled. ‘Only the Balari enter Thus Nurashi. You wait here. Iolaus will bring them to you.’
‘All of them?’
‘And the ones already near Naples?’
‘Iolaus has summoned them. They will return and swear.’ He raised his rune-marked bull horn. ‘Iolaus will bind them with his magic. All who are old enough.’
Celine nodded. ‘If we think there are too few of you, or discover you have misled us, we will return.’
Iolaus ground his teeth. ‘The Balari will swear. On our honour. It is decided.’
‘You should go back to your wife and baby,’ Colette whispered, pressing a pair of brown pebbles into his hand. ‘Our best estimates show these communities are small and there are enough wands here that we should be fine even with the others returning.’
Especially if they have all sworn. He slid the Elder Wand from his sleeve. They’ll be forced to prevent the ones that return fighting if they try anything.
‘Be careful,’ Harry murmured, sweeping the wands into the bag with a flick of his own and dropping it into Celine’s lap. ‘Where should I come back to? And when?’
‘Caralis,’ she said. ‘In a few days to give us time to ward Sardinia. From Caralis, we will try to secure a foothold in Sicily. If we can ward each magical community in Sicily, we will drive them up against our allies in Rome and the only places left open to Britain will be their own territories in Malta, Gibraltar, Greece and Egypt. The word for the portkey pebbles is macaron thief, Henri.’
‘Au revoir.’ He stood with a chuckle, slipping his wand away. ‘Macaron thief.’
The Nurghe lurched left and he staggered into the cool stone hall of Bonifacio.
‘Argent,’ he murmured, cupping the acorn pendant against his heart and stepping out beneath the willow tree. Harry wrenched the world back until he stepped onto the kitchen tiles and stubbed his toe on a chair.
Pain flared through his foot.
‘Ow,’ he muttered, slipping off Violette’s ring and dropping it into his pocket.
‘Oh?’ Apolline stuck her head in from the hall, bouncing a snoozing Katrina on her shoulder. ‘Fleur and Gabrielle have gone somewhere to do some magic.’
‘I know where they’ve gone.’ Harry stepped across and kissed Katrina on the cheek, pulling the acorn out from under his robes. ‘I’ll go see what they’re up to. Argent.’
He staggered into the shadows of the chamber between the staring serpent effigies.
Fleur and Gabby inspected a web of white runes floating in the shape of a familiar silhouette before Salazar’s huge bust.
‘What are you doing?’ Harry asked, drifting closer.
‘Trying to create a living body from a drop of blood,’ Fleur said.
‘One that we can possess or and swap to instead of using another person,’ Gabby murmured. ‘I think it’s finished.’
Fleur hummed. ‘Whose blood shall we use?’
‘Harry’s,’ Gabby said. ‘It is the furthest from our magic, so it’s the best test.’
‘Fair enough.’ He slipped his wand out and cut the ball of his left thumb, sending a drop of crimson floating across. ‘Will that do?’
‘That’s perfect.’ Fleur sent it sailing into the middle, drawing thin threads of white magic from it to the runes.
A bright glow lit up the chamber, gleaming on the surface of the pool.
‘And now we just wait?’ Harry asked.
‘Until there are two of you.’ Gabby giggled. ‘I wonder what Fleur would want to do with two of you…’
Fleur rolled her eyes. ‘I wonder what you would be tempted to do if I suddenly had a spare husband.’
Gabby froze, a huge grin spreading across her face. ‘I get my own?’
‘Non, harpy.’ Fleur turned her nose up. ‘They would both be mine, they are still not spare.’
‘When you say two of me…?’ A little unease knotted in Harry’s stomach and he bounced his ebony wand on his palm, watching little wisps of dark mist ripple from its tip. ‘What exactly do you mean?’
‘Just a living body,’ Gabby said, eyeing his wand. ‘No soul.’
‘So just a body, it can’t think or cast magic like Item Seventeen?’
‘It shouldn’t,’ Fleur replied. ‘Not without us doing something. We don’t even know if this will work, mon Amour.’ She slipped around the glowing runes and cupped his cheek. ‘You look good in these new robes? A present from the Duforts? They look… familiar.’
‘They like us all to be matching, I think.’
A little pout crept onto Fleur’s lips. ‘You are not theirs to dress up, you are mine.’
Gabby’s cheeks turned a little pink. ‘Aren’t you at least going to go back somewhere more comfortable, Fleur.’
The pout curved into a smirk. ‘Non. It will be more fun here.’
Harry chuckled, a little heat tracing through his veins. ‘Go away, Gabby.’
‘I’ll go steal Katrina.’ Gabby stuck her tongue out and vanished.
The heat eased, fading beneath Katrina’s bright blue eyes and small smile into a gentle, warm glow.
‘Maybe a little later, mon Tresor,’ Harry said, drawing her close. ‘I might be away for a while, and I think I’d like to see our baby bird for a bit.’
Fleur’s smirk shifted into a pout. ‘Fine, mon Amour—’ she shot him a sultry look through her silver hair ‘—but once our little chick is put to bed…’
‘I’m sure I can think of something for us to do after she’s asleep,’ Harry murmured, pulling her lips up to his. ‘Maybe some hair-pulling, or some teasing.’
Fleur’s kisses turned hungry and hot. ‘I’ll make it worth it,’ she whispered between them. ‘It’s been quite a while…’
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