A single, soft shadow swirled in a disc of shining silver like a wisp of grey cloud in the bright blue summer sky. Darkness blossomed like a flower in the shimmering surface, spreading like smoke; it shrank deep beneath the gleaming glass, snapping tight like the clenching of a fist and ringing in Harry’s ears like the toll of some great, distant bell.
‘Ba’alat Tanit demands sacrifice,’ the shade whispered in Sophonissa’s voice. ‘Two for the flames. Two for the flames…’
A single crimson spark rose upon his palm, welling up like a bead of blood from the prick of a rose thorn, throbbing in time to the shadow’s swirl as it quickened, pulsing until his heart beat in time to it. Red motes split from the spark, spilling out into a swirling crimson veil; they shuddered with each beat, flickering bright and dim like countless dancing candles.
‘Ba’alat Tanit demands sacrifice,’ Sophonissa murmured through the hammering of Kart Hadasht’s heart. ‘One to eclipse the legacy of Rome…’
Golden light burst through, scattering the shadow like smoke before the wind, searing the blue summer sky into a haze of orange and red.
‘Two for the flames.’ Sophonissa’s whisper faded with the last wisps of dark.
The amber-masked figure coalesced in the burning sky, dawn-bright, shivering like a flame. ‘Nothing lasts forever. Not dreams. Not wishes. Not sunsets.’ Golden light streamed past its spread arms, growing bright and brighter, blotting out the world. ‘Nothing.’
Harry blinked awake into stabbing sunlight with a low groan. Today is the day I have to go back to Sardinia. A hollow weight hung upon his heart. I really wish I could just stay.
Fleur’s warm body pressed into his back, her breath tickling the back of his neck. Katrina lay on her back on the silver blanket in the cot at the centre of the room, wriggling her small toes and jamming her little fists into her mouth one after the other as if trying to decide which tasted better.
‘Hello, baby bird,’ he whispered, slipping out from under the duvet and crouching down beside her. ‘You’re awake early.’
Her blue eyes focused on him and a huge, toothless smile spread across Katrina’s face.
Harry’s heart melted into a hot little puddle. ‘How’s my tiny angel?’ He scooped her out of the cot and cradled her close.
Katrina grabbed a hold of one of his fingers and tugged it into her mouth, chomping on it with soft, warm gums.
‘Do I taste good?’ He chuckled as she mashed her pink gums on his finger. ‘I bet I don’t taste as good as maman’s hair.’
Fleur stirred beneath the duvet. ‘Is she hungry?’
‘Possibly.’ Harry sat on the bed, shuffling up next to her. ‘She seems quite happy chewing my finger at the moment, though.’ He grinned and sat Katrina down between them. ‘See?’
Katrina released his finger, curling her toes into the duvet cover and batting at its folds with her hands.
‘She’s so perfect,’ Fleur whispered. ‘So absolutely perfect.’
‘I know,’ Harry murmured. ‘I would never have ever dared to dream—’
‘She’s better than a dream. She’s really ours.’ Fleur’s eyes flicked to him and sharpened. ‘Are you leaving?’
He nodded. ‘Look after our little baby bird for me, mon Trésor.’ Harry pulled on his silver and black auror-style robes, and slid his ebony wand into his sleeves. ‘I’ll be back as soon as I can. I’ll leave the Elder Wand here, for La Victoire Finale.’
Fleur squirmed across the bed, slipping an arm around Katrina and pressing her cheek into his hand. ‘Be very very careful, mon Amour. You are not allowed to die. Or disappear. Or anything. You are mine. Ours. And you are coming back.’
‘All yours.’ He bent and kissed her. ‘Always.’
But I still have to go. A dull ache twisted in his heart. One day, there’ll be no more leaving. One day soon.
Katrina’s little forehead wrinkled and she scrunched up her face.
Harry waved her goodbye. ‘Be good, Mini-Fleur.’
‘And you will use the acorn pendant to let me know you’re fine,’ Fleur said. ‘Every day. Do it every time you think of me. I like to know you’re thinking about me.’
‘I’ll do my best.’ He picked up the brown pebbles from the corner of the desk beside the spinning silver clock. ‘Macaron thief.’
The bedroom jerked backwards and he staggered across the worn stone slabs beneath the roof of Bonifacio’s hall.
Harry juggled the pebbles. ‘Macaron thief.’
Grey stone paving blurred into old, damp cobbles into a cold wind. A grey sea washed and frothed beyond the short stretch of rocks at the headland’s end.
Three figures in tight, blue robes stood just beyond the range of the spray.
Harry apparated down beside them and tossed the portkey pebbles into the sea. ‘Bonjour.’
‘Sardinia is safe,’ Celine murmured.
Colette nodded. ‘But now—’
‘Sicily,’ Isobel said. ‘Across the sea.’
‘They have kept their defensive wards for their strongholds, but there are ones that will detect us when we arrive,’ Colette said. ‘We will not be able to establish a foothold until we’ve taken one of those strongholds. The closest is the Isle of Marettimo.’
‘It sounds like a trap,’ Harry said.
They nodded. ‘It is a trap.’
‘The wards are the same as the ones we encountered in Carthage,’ Celine murmured. ‘This is the work of British Unspeakables.’
Colette frowned. ‘When we get there—’
‘They will attack us hard,’ Isobel replied.
‘Are we going alone?’ he asked.
‘We cannot die,’ they whispered. ‘We should go first.’
Cold teeth chewed at Harry’s gut. ‘I’m not going to wait here and hope you make it back.’
‘You should come with us,’ Colette patted the silver fleur-de-lis on his chest. ‘You are one of us, but our boys, they will stay here.’
Isobel pointed her wand out across the waves. ‘Once we have Marettimo, we will bring the squad in after us to erect and hold the wards while we rest.’
‘If they are in the jaws of the trap, they will die,’ Celine said. ‘So we will clear the way.’
‘What do we know about Marettimo?’ Harry asked. ‘Anything upsetting there?’
‘It’s the only part of Sicily you can apparate to from Sardinia,’ Colette replied. ‘We must secure it first.’
‘They know that, too.’ He sighed. ‘So this is going to be apparating into the fire.’
‘You were not the one foretold to burn,’ Celine whispered. ‘And together, the four of us are a match for any British Unspeakables, no matter what they have prepared.’
Harry stared over the sea, anxiety bubbling up beneath his ribs. ‘I suppose there’s not much point waiting and worrying.’
‘Non,’ they said.
Isobel wrapped an arm around his shoulders. ‘We have seen the isle before, so we’ll take you there.’
‘Don’t drop me in the sea, please,’ Harry said, slipping his wand from his sleeve. ‘I don’t like cold water all that much.’
They laughed, brief humour flashing through three pairs of grey eyes.
‘You would deserve it, macaron thief,’ Colette said.
They exchanged a short look and Isobel’s grip tightened on his shoulders.
‘While one of us lives,’ Celine whispered.
‘None of us will die,’ Colette said.
Isobel took a deep breath. ‘We will not allow it.’
The sea lurched left and Harry’s face smacked into blue blur. Pain flashed through his cheek.
‘Pardon,’ Isobel murmured.
A square tower clung to the summit of a rocky headland, jutting up into a cloudless blue sky before azure waters. Small patches of green dotted the rough, stone rise and a slim, stone path wiggled up to the tower from their feet.
‘The sea actually looks really nice,’ Harry said, nursing his stinging cheek. ‘I take back what I said about not dropping me in it.’
‘That is Castello di Punta Troia,’ Celine said, indicating the tower. ‘It’s behind some serious wards.’
‘Let’s go,’ Isobel said, stepping forward. ‘Before—’
A series of loud cracks rang out and a handful of red-robed figures appeared on the rocks above them.’
‘Before a load of them turn up and we’re trapped down here in this open ground?’ Harry asked.
‘Yes,’ Colette said. ‘Before that.’
They threw the gold bubble of magic over them as spells streaked down from the slope, bursting in hisses and sparks against the stones, sending chips of rock pattering around their feet.
Loud pops echoed across the rocks behind them.
Harry threw up his shield, watching bright ripples of magic splash across it. ‘They can’t keep this up for long,’ he said, glancing over his shoulder..
Isobel cocked her head, peering through the golden magic. ‘When they falter, we counterattack, little brother.’
‘Your way, Henri,’ Collette said. ‘Get rid of the ones behind us, then push up the hill toward their stronghold.’
Loud cracks rang across the slope. Red-robed figures appeared behind those on the slope, stepping through them as the bombardment of spells faltered and unleashing their own. They burst in bright sparks and flashes on Harry’s shield as the first group disapparated.
‘They’ve put up permeable anti-apparition wards,’ Celine said. ‘They’re going to try and pin us and wear us down in waves.’
Harry tugged at the wards, but they held firm as stone as he tried to crush them. ‘They’re strong wards. I could get through them, but then we’re back to square one.’
‘Up the slope,’ they said together. ‘Henri…’
A hand wrapped about his left arm. ‘Stay with us and keep your shield up,’ Colette said. ‘We’ll fight back to back until we can tear down their stronghold and call in the rest of the squad.’
‘Alright.’ Harry backstepped with each tug on his arm, glancing over his shoulder. ‘I can keep this shield up for a while so long as none of them try any transfiguration or anything like that.’
Isobel pulled her magic from the golden shield as they advanced. ‘Give me a little gap, sisters. Just a small one.’
‘Don’t be reckless,’ Celine murmured.
They swept their golden shield to the right and Isobel unleashed a trio of violet hexes, shattering a large boulder.
A series of loud pops rang out and another group of red-robed figures appeared. The colours bursting against Harry’s shield shifted from yellows and reds to oranges and pinks. He clenched his jaw and ignored the slow sapping of his strength.
‘Merde,’ Celine muttered. ‘How many are there?’
‘Isobel,’ Harry said, taking another pace up as Colette tugged on his arm again. ‘Mark one of them, but don’t hurt them. So we know how many groups there are.’
‘D’accord.’ Isobel batted aside a yellow curse and conjured a whip of blue flame, lashing it up at the loose line of assailants.
Its tip scorched a dark line down the front of one of the figures and set a squat, pink-flowered cactus alight. A score of blue hexes flashed down the slope, exploding on the golden bubble as Colette and Celine closed the gap.
‘Keep going up the slope.’ Colette grimaced, clutching her wand with white-knuckles. ‘We need to get our backs against something.’
Cracks rang off the rocks. Red-robed figures appeared up the slope, raining down curses. The golden bubble trembled and a blue curse tore through, hissing past Harry’s ear.
‘Merde,’ Isobel said, thrusting her wand up beside her sisters.
‘Are we stuck?’ Harry winced at the ache settling into his limbs. ‘Want me to try something to scatter them?’
More pops echoed over the slope. The explosions of bursting spells quickened, flashing like a strobe light in the corner of his eye. The Duforts grit their teeth.
Dark-robed figures appeared in a loose ring down the slope from Harry. One waved their wand at the ground, flattening the stone down into a smooth surface.
Harry sucked in a sharp breath. ‘That’s not good.’
He poured his magic into the stone, sending stone lances thrusting out in all directions. One of the dark-robed figures shattered them with a flick of the wand. The red-robed aurors vanished with a deafening series of cracks and reappeared further up the slope.
‘Henri,’ Colette hissed, tugging on Harry’s arm as they advanced a few metres up the steep slope into the hail of spells. ‘Don’t waste magic.’
‘We need to attack.’ Isobel’s gold curls clung to her sweat-beaded forehead and a damp patch spread between her shoulder blades. ‘There are too many of them for us to win a war of attrition.’
Two of the dark-robed figures fired spells into Harry’s shield, spreading out to catch him between the prongs of their attack.
‘We’ll attack up the slope,’ Celine said.
‘Henri, watch our backs,’ Colette replied, releasing Harry’s arm. ‘Hold nothing back.’
They drew themselves up. ‘While one of us—’
Isobel elbowed him in the back. ‘Say it, Henri.’
He sighed. ‘Really?’
‘Yes,’ they murmured. ‘Say it. You’re one of us.’
‘While one of us lives, none of us will die,’ he whispered.
‘We will not allow it,’ they declared.
The golden bubble vanished.
Harry held his breath as spells streaked past him, bursting against the inside of his shield. A bright flash of green punched through his shield, lancing past his shoulder.
The Killing Curse.
He dropped the shield, dragging a thick wall of stone up between them and twisting on his heel. ‘Fulminis,’ he snapped, dragging all the magic he had up from within.
A white flash ripped through the red-robed figures, scattering ash across the slope. Harry leapt forward past the Duforts and twisted his wrist, wrenching the crackling beam of lightning across the slope.
The red-robed assailants disapparated.
Harry spun on his heel.
White spells punched holes through the stone wall, boring metre deep holes into the slope. He backstepped, glancing over his shoulder at the flickers of red robes upon the walls of the square tower.
The stone crumbled away before the ring of black-robed figures. Their colourful masks stared up the slope with fixed grins and wide eyes.
Anxiety coiled in Harry’s stomach as he scanned them. No amber mask. But maybe there’s more of them…
‘Unspeakables,’ Celine whispered. ‘Violette…’
‘Strawberry Sundae.’ The pale green mask of the centremost figure turned toward the pink-masked one, their voice distorted into a metallic rasp. ‘Now.’
‘One for all and all for one,’ the pink-masked unspeakable said, leaning their head to the side. ‘For the beautiful mother they wished they’d had, for La Belle France, for a shared heart—’
Isobel whirled and sent a violet hex down the hill. ‘Lestrange!’
‘There are no Lestranges left,’ the centremost figure rasped, deflecting it away with a flick of their wand. ‘Strawberry Sundae is no Lestrange.’
‘You’d say that if they were,’ Harry replied. ‘But that wasn’t scrying, it was something else.’
Strawberry Sundae’s mask turned to him.
Icy fear trickled down his spine.
‘You’re just… violet?’ the unspeakable said. ‘I can’t see anything.’
Relief flooded through him. Thank fuck for Violette’s ring.
‘Not violet, Violette,’ the other darker green-masked figure said. ‘We’re not here for him. Vanilla Delight, Strawberry Sundae, Wild Cherry, keep him out of our way.’
The middle two figures vanished with a loud crack as the beige-masked unspeakable thrust his wand out. Harry poured Fiendfyre down the slope, twisting it into a writhing serpent. The beige-masked unspeakable clasped his wand in both hands and threw up a familiar bubble of white magic over the Fiendfyre.
Spells flashed in the corner of his eye and gold light flickered up the slope.
Harry set it free within the Unyielding Shield and turned on Strawberry Sundae. The wide, smiling mask stared up the slope and a strange floating cheer filled him, lifting his heart like Fleur’s embrace.
He fed it into the void, let its hollow teeth tear it down into the dark and the cold. His heart sank after it, a little red mote of magic falling away beneath the sea.
Strawberry Sundae pulled her wand out and slashed it forward. Her magic tore a jagged line through the rocks.
I know that spell. In Harry’s mind’s eye, Sirius fell onto his face in Myrtle’s Bathroom and crimson spread across the white tiles. You were one of the DA. A grim suspicion rose from the depths of his mind. Is that you, Neville? Will there one day be an amber mask to replace that pink one?
He batted the next hexes aside, swatting away spells from the maroon-masked unspeakable and ignoring the flashes of feeling from Strawberry Sundae. ‘Legilimency is a double-edged sword.’
‘That’s why you don’t hold it by the blade,’ Strawberry Sundae replied. ‘Wild Cherry, I think this would be a great moment for something experimental and exciting.’
The maroon-masked unspeakable grabbed a glass vial from their pocket and hurled it at Harry’s feet. He volleyed it away into the sea and forced his arm faster, hailing hexes down the slope.
‘Vanilla Delight, this isn’t the moment to be such a melt,’ the darker green masked unspeakable shouted from up the slope. ‘Violette is a three scoops problem!’
Harry snorted, forcing his magic into the ground and pulling long threads of stone out to wrap around Strawberry Sundae. Wild Cherry leapt forward firing yellow curses at Harry, but he deflected them back as the stone ropes dragged Strawberry Sundae to their knees and lashed their arms to their sides.
‘Violette!’ Celine cried. ‘We need to get out!’
Harry glanced back up the slope. The two unspeakables stood back to back with the Duforts, surrounded by a pair of swirling rings of grey mist.
That’s the same magic Julien used. Harry batted away Wild Cherry’s curses, directing them at Vanilla Delight until the Unyielding Shield Charm vanished. Time to get out.
He took hold of the Fiendfyre, seizing it in the searing whisper of the amber-masked figure and sweeping the white-hot serpent up the slope. Pain exploded through his left thigh as the two unspeakables scattered away.
The Duforts darted back to his side as another lance of fire tore through his stomach, ripping the breath from his lungs. The world spun, the square tower swam in the blue sky, and crimson fire burst across the slope like a tidal wave.
It all slipped sideways.
Golden light shimmered over his head.
‘Violette,’ Isobel hissed, hauling him to his feet. ‘We need to get out.’
Red-robed figures appeared on the slope around them as the Fiendfyre guttered out beneath the wands of the unspeakables. Bright flashes burst against the golden shield.
‘Hold on tight.’ Harry breathed out the throbbing agony of the pain and pictured Sardinia, wrenching at the world, crushing the world between them and there closed, crumpling the wards like a piece of paper in his fist.
They stumbled onto worn, old cobbles and fire flashed through his thigh. He slumped to the ground. Pain pulsed in his gut, pounding like a drum, spinning his head with each beat.
Hands dragged his robes open. Grey eyes and gold curls flickered above the glowing silver ring resting over his heart.
‘Merde,’ someone said. ‘This is bleeding a lot.’
‘Henri.’ Fingers tightened on his shoulders and Isobel’s face appeared over him. ‘While one of us lives, none of us will die.’
I can’t die. A laugh burst from his lips. Fleur will kill me.
‘Say it,’ Isobel hissed. ‘Focus and say it.’
He shook his head free and took a deep breath, inhaling the sharp, cold clarity beneath the burning pain. ‘Stop the bleeding and I’ll heal.’ Harry let his breath out in a slow sigh. ‘I’m not allowed to die.’
Isobel glanced down. ‘How bad’s the bleeding?’
‘His stomach is hurt badly,’ one of her sisters said. ‘I’m pinching his intestines and the big veins shut with magic to stop it getting worse, but I can’t heal something like this. Colette?’
‘His thigh is healing itself,’ Colette replied. ‘The spell sliced the back of his leg open an inch deep, but it’s half-healed already.’
‘I’ll heal,’ Harry promised, clutching his wand tight and gritting his teeth against the throb in his stomach. ‘I just need to not die before then.’
‘You’re healing,’ Celine murmured. ‘I can see it healing. Incroyable.’
Isobel knelt beside his head and patted him on the cheek, catching his head in her hands. ‘Lie back on me, Henri,’ she said, resting his head on her thighs. ‘We’ll look after you.’
Katie’s face hovered with Isobel’s grey eyes and gold curls, part marble edifice, part ghost of grey mist beaming just beyond his reach. ‘While one of us lives, none of us will die,’ she murmured. ‘While one of us lives, none of us will die.’
‘But you’re already dead,’ he whispered. ‘You’re already dead, Katie.’