Katie sank into a sea of silver mist, a sad smile on her marble face and tears gleaming in her eyes. ‘It’s better like this,’ she whispered up to him. ‘It’s better like this…’
Harry’s fingers slipped through her arm as she burst into grey fog and he found himself floating alone amidst gleaming silver vapour.
‘Dreams are dust.’ A black-robed figure threaded itself together from the wisps of grey mist; its amber mask stared through the swirling fog with wide, blank eyes and a broad smile. ‘Fleeting, selfish shadows. Dandelion seeds sailing into the sea on a cold wind.’
Harry sank down through the pale clouds toward dark waves. Dead things wrestled there in a tangle of pale limbs and glassy eyes, clawing over one another to reach for the sky.
‘Two for the flames,’ Sophonissa murmured in his ear. ‘Two for the flames, last son of Kart Hadasht. Two for the flames. Ba’alat Tanit demands sacrifice.’
I let Kart Hadasht die.
He hit the water in a flash of black, sinking down into a cold abyss. Icy fingers dragged him down toward the ruins looming below the waves.
Like I let Katie die. Guilt chewed at him, resting like a great weight on his heart, pulling him down deeper. I’m sorry, Katie. I was so focused on our dream, I let them take away yours.
A single mote of red magic burst into life; it sank beside him through the endless dark, flickering like a candle flame as pale limbs writhed all around. Countless bright-eyed shadows stared up from the sunken ruins, their echoing screams swirled into words, ringing in his ears like a thunderclap.
‘Ba’alat Tanit demands.’ Sophonissa whispered the words from somewhere among the tattered shades. ‘Eclipse them all, last son of Kart Hadasht. Ba’alat Tanit demands. Eclipse. Them. All.’
The crimson spark swelled with dawn-bright light; it scattered the endless darkness back into the distance and scorched the wrestling dead things to dust.
‘La Victoire Finale,’ a girl’s voice murmured from far away. ‘La Victoire Finale.’
The red light brightened, burning his eyes, spreading like wings of vermillion flame.
A firm shake jolted him awake into a beam of bright sunlight.
Harry shielded his face with his arm, squinting past his hand.
‘Henri.’ Isobel’s face hovered before plain, stone walls and a plaster ceiling. ‘How are you feeling?’
Harry took a deep breath and closed his eyes. ‘I feel fine.’
‘Good.’ She stepped back. ‘We need to try again.’
Yes. The quicker we’re done here, the quicker I can get back to La Victoire Finale. He sat up, touching his fingers to his stomach. It seems okay.
‘You healed up well with a little help here and there,’ Isobel said. ‘There’s still a mark, but it’s fading.’
‘Just a day.’ She extended a hand. ‘Come on. My sisters and our boys are waiting for you.’
Harry stumbled to his feet and straightened his crumpled robes, pressing his fingers to the slim bulge of his wand up his sleeve. ‘I’m ready.’ He cupped his hand against the acorn necklace, pushing a little magic into it.
Je t’aime, Fleur.
The pendant flashed hot, burning his skin.
Pardon. I didn’t mean to make you worry.
‘We need a plan.’ Isobel led him from the room into a crowded hall. ‘If we go back again, they’ll only try harder to pin us down and kill us.’
‘They were after you three,’ Harry said. ‘The green-masked unspeakable said so.’
‘We were lucky you were there,’ Celine murmured. ‘That was a trap set for us. They set it knowing we would likely try to go in first alone.’
Isobel nodded. ‘If you’d not come, they would have trapped us.’
‘They’ll try it again,’ Colette said. ‘It nearly worked.’
‘We should try and turn it on them if we know what they’re going to do.’ Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve, wracking his brain. ‘They come in waves to wear us down, so we trap them in with us to stop them escaping, resting, and coming back later, and we whittle them down.’
‘The first group will try and apparate away from danger like before,’ Colette said. ‘If we get them by surprise, we could do enough damage to even the odds, especially with the whole squad there.’
‘And the Unspeakables?’ Celine asked. ‘The pair we duelled were good. As good as us.’
‘Without any distractions, we should be able to handle them.’ Harry spun his wand in his fingers. ‘Watch out for Strawberry Sundae, they can use legilimency, and Wild Cherry tried to throw some potion at me.’
‘We’ll have a rematch with our pair,’ Isobel said. ‘A fair fight. And we’ll see who wins this time.’
‘I’ll go after the same three as before, then,’ Harry said. ‘When are we going?’
Three pairs of grey eyes met his. ‘The sooner the better.’
‘La Belle France demande,’ Colette murmured.
Ba’alat Tanit demands. Harry stifled a shudder as Celine turned to the blue-robed aurors, splitting them into three groups and issuing instructions. If this new Rome is Rome’s legacy, I’ll crush it for you, Sophonissa. It won’t all have been for nothing.
Isobel stuck out her hand. ‘Ready, Violette?’
He clasped it in his. ‘Second time lucky.’
The room lurched and they staggered onto the smooth stone slope. The square tower rose over the steep, rugged headline and the azure sea beyond.
‘Team Rock, throw up the wards,’ Celine said. ‘Team Paper, watch the north slope, and Team Scissors watch the south.’
‘Did you really name your teams after that game?’ Harry asked.
‘Of course.’ Isobel grinned. ‘It makes perfect sense and it makes our little war games much more fun.’
A series of loud cracks rang across the island. Red-robed figures spread across the slope, hexes hissed from their wands to burst against the aurors’ shields.
‘Here we go,’ the Duforts murmured. ‘Remember, boys. While one of us lives…’
‘None of us will die,’ the aurors thundered.
‘We will not allow it,’ Colette cried. ‘La Belle France demande!’
The aurors stamped their feet. ‘La Belle France demande!’
‘We will go up the hill,’ Isobel declared. ‘Violette, you go down it.’
The Duforts touched the tips of their wands together, pouring magic into a shining golden lance. Harry coiled a swirl of white sparks about the tip of his wand.
‘Two seconds,’ Celine whispered.
Harry counted the beats of his heart, listening to the thud in his ears. ‘Fulminis!’
The white flash seared through three red-robed assailants, scattering thin clouds of ash across the rocks. He whipped the crackling beam of magic across the slope, slicing through enemies as they tried to apparate away. Two dived to safety.
Loud pops echoed over the island.
Harry stepped forward, batting aside spells, slipping his own in as the storm clashed between them, spraying curses out across the island to scorch stones and splash upon the aurors shields.
His piercing hexes tore through the chest of one wizard and a deflected blue one set another aflame. The red-robed figures threw up shields and huddled together.
Harry compressed magic into a silver spark at the tip of his wand and hurled into the shield.
A bright flash seared his eyes. Green spots swirled and the cries rang in his ears. He clawed up the amber-masked man’s whisper and Sophonissa’s wasted sacrifice, sending a wave of Fiendfyre down the slope.
The green specks faded.
Crimson flames raged over smooth stone, consuming a cluster of still bodies in a swirl of thick, dark smoke.
He turned on his heel.
Blue-robed aurors gaped down at him, awe shining in their eyes. A soft little thrill trickled through Harry’s veins and the corners of his mouth twitched into a faint smile.
Spells flashed behind the aurors, bursting on the golden shield as Isobel’s whip of blue flame lashed through red-robed figures in front of the square tower.
‘Go help them,’ Harry ordered, pointing up the slope. ‘Get hold of that tower and get rid of anyone in red robes.’
They dropped their shield and advanced in a loose scatter, picking off assailants in volleys of hexes as the Duforts’ gold shield and Isobel’s violet spells forced red-robed figures from cover.
Loud cracks sounded across the slope.
Five figures in tight, dark robes and colourful masks stood behind the Fiendfyre.
‘Fuck.’ Vanilla Delight surveyed the burning corpses. ‘They’ve warded us all in too, that’s pretty cunning.’
‘What do we do, Pistachio Surprise?’ Wild Cherry asked the centremost figure with the dark green mask.
‘Smooth Mint and I will go after the Duforts. You and Strawberry Sundae deal with Violette.’ Pistachio Surprise pointed a short, dark wand up the slope. ‘Don’t risk anything not worth risking, there will be other chances after this. Vanilla Delight, get these wards down so we have a way back out.’
Harry threw a trio of piercing hexes down the slope.
A wisp of grey mist lunged from Smooth Mint’s sleeve and swallowed them.
‘A pleasure to meet you.’ Pistachio Surprise poured dark fog from the tip of their wand, drawing a loose circle around them in the air. ‘Don’t be rude, Smooth Mint.’
‘Charmed,’ Smooth Mint replied.
‘We heard you were good,’ Pistachio Surprise said. ‘But we’ll have to find out how good later. Wild Cherry!’
Something shattered against his chest and he breathed in a rush of sour fumes. The island swam before his eyes as he choked and gasped, clawing for breath.
Grey mist lanced forward.
Fear clamped tight in his gust and he swept the Fiendfyre into its path, smashing it aside and splashing red flames across the stone to flicker in little crimson puddles.
Wild Cherry’s maroon mask stared up at him. ‘That poison would have killed a hippogriff by now.’
I’m immune to poisons. Harry shook his head and took a few gulps of fresh air. I’m so glad we did that ritual.
‘I’m not a hippogriff.’ He clawed for the little cold ball of hate below the amber-masked figure and spent hopes, flicking his wand at the Fiendfyre and drawing it up into a great, white-hot serpent. ‘Let’s see if you can put this in a bottle—’
Strawberry Sundae darted forward.
Smooth, soft curves flashed before the eye of his mind, veiled by translucent silk; full, red lips whispered soft promises in his ears and fingertips traced their way down his chest. A little heat pooled in Harry’s belly as Fleur’s blue eyes rose from the back of his mind.
No. He fed it all into the emptiness, let its cold teeth tear deep into his heart until Strawberry Sundae shuddered and ripped their thoughts apart.
The Fiendfyre guttered out.
‘Typical man.’ Strawberry Sundae wafted the smoke away with a flourish of their wand. ‘All it takes is sex and suddenly they can’t think about anything else.’
Harry shot them a flat look. ‘You were the one imagining weird things. Not me.’
‘Imagining weird things is what I do best!’ Strawberry Sundae threw pink curses at him, dancing around to the left as he swatted them back.
Harry back-stepped, keeping one eye on Wild Cherry and where Vanilla Delight thrust their wand into the sky, deflecting spells down the slope to keep Strawberry Sundae from getting past.
Vanilla Delight lowered their wand. ‘Pistachio!’
Pistachio Surprise appeared between the other unspeakables with a loud crack, holding Smooth Mint by the arm. ‘Time for us to flake!’
They vanished with a deafening pop.
Harry scanned the slope, spinning his wand in his fingers.
Beneath the walls of the square tower blue and red robed figures sprawled across the ground. Blood trickled through the stones, running in little streams down to spread through the azure waves in red clouds.
‘Well done boys!’ Isobel thrust her fist in the air. ‘The worst is behind us now!’
Is it? He slid his wand back into his sleeve. They’ll be back.
Celine strode across and looked him up and down from head to toe. ‘Any injuries, Violette?’
Harry shook his head. ‘I’m fine.’
‘Those two are good duellists.’ She patted a damp stain on her hip. ‘Got us a couple of times with that mist magic.’
‘What is that?’
‘Kind of like the Fiendfyre you favour.’ Colette drifted across; an identical wet patch marked her side. ‘More versatile because it’s not fire and contains a thick cloud of dust to block curses that can’t be blocked by magic, but less damaging as it’s not meant purely to destroy.’
‘Julien used it.’
‘Le Cancrelat made it famous,’ Celine replied. ‘It’s how he escaped his duels with Grindelwald. Those two, whoever they are, have both learnt to use it in the same way he did.’
‘Perhaps I should face them next time?’ Harry watched Isobel ordering the aurors into throwing up wards over the island. ‘I overpowered Julien with Fiendfyre, I can do the same to them.’
‘We can handle them,’ Colette said. ‘The one with the maroon mask—’
‘Wild Cherry,’ he said.
Celine laughed. ‘Why do they have silly names, Henri?’
‘No idea.’ Harry shrugged. ‘Last I heard, Britain didn’t actually have any real unspeakables, Amelia Bones must have restarted them after Voldemort was defeated.’
‘They’re probably the best of those who fought against Voldemort,’ Colette said. ‘What did the maroon one throw at you?’
‘Some poison—’ Harry frowned ‘—actually, let me face those three. I’m better suited to dealing with Wild Cherry and Strawberry Sundae.’
Colette and Celine shared a swift look. ‘We’d prefer to avoid Strawberry Sundae.’
‘In case they find out something you’d rather everyone didn’t know,’ Harry murmured. ‘I’m not sure what they’re doing, some kind of divination, I think. It’s not scrying, not like the Lestranges, but it’s kind of similar.’
‘They couldn’t get anything out of you.’ Isobel swept over, poking a finger at her bloodstained hip. ‘They seemed surprised.’
‘My ring.’ He waggled his hand at them. ‘I’m protected, same thing with Wild Cherry’s poisons.’
‘What about potions?’ Celine asked.
Harry studied his fingers, flicking bits of ash off his skin. ‘I’m fairly sure that if it’s brewed with intent to harm, I will be protected from most of the effects. Something else might be trouble, but then again, if it’s not meant to harm, I can probably deal with it.’
‘And the third one?’ Colette glanced up as the shimmer of wards fell over them. ‘What could they do? They seem like a team of specialists. The two duellists we faced—’
‘Smooth Mint and Pistachio Surprise,’ Isobel said.
‘And Wild Cherry for potions, Strawberry Sundae for legilimency and whatever magic they used first,’ Celine said. ‘Vanilla Delight took down the wards.’
‘We should go for Vanilla Delight first,’ Isobel said. ‘So they can’t get away next time.’
Harry met the three pairs of serious grey eyes. ‘Do we have any real goals beyond squishing Rome?’
‘Making sure we all come back,’ Celine whispered. ‘Or as many of us as possible. We lost some of our boys today.’
‘But we’re not meant to specifically go after the Unspeakables.’
‘It’s not a priority,’ Colette said. ‘But it will help.’
Harry nodded. ‘I don’t think they’re all that keen to fight us in a fair fight, is all.’ He pointed at the square tower. ‘They’re not going to try and retake here, but they’ll probably pop up elsewhere later when they think they’ve got an advantage. We might be able to just drive them off if we can destroy Domenico’s new Rome quickly enough.’
‘They’re after us,’ Isobel said. ‘We are the best of France’s defenders, killing us would be a big victory for them.’
‘But while one of—’
‘I know.’ Harry rolled his eyes. ‘You’re even making me say it now.’
‘Of course!’ Colette laughed. ‘You’re one of us, little brother.’
‘As long as I don’t have to play rock, paper, scissors with you,’ Harry said. ‘I’m absolutely sure you all cheat.’
‘Of course!’ Isobel grinned. ‘But we all know how we’re going to cheat, so it’s not really cheating.’
Celine leant on Isobel’s shoulder. ‘Henri, will you watch over things for us until it’s time to speak with Giacomo Ceccaroni? Our boys will do what you say, they’re a little wowed by you after Kart Hadasht and this, but they should already know what to do.’
‘Where are you three going?’ Harry demanded. ‘If you’re sneaking back to France, you better bring me something tasty back.’
Colette winked. ‘We’re going to go swimming on the far side of the island—’
‘You can come join us,’ Celine said, ‘but we like to swim naked and—’
‘Your lovely wife will not be happy about you watching us swimming,’ Isobel said, covering her grin with her hand. ‘Not happy at all.’
‘I regret asking,’ Harry replied. ‘You go have fun, I’ll make sure nobody strays to the far side of the island for you.’
‘Merci, little brother,’ Colette said.
‘Try not to miss your wife too much while we’re having fun,’ Isobel teased.
They vanished with a crack.