‘How are you feeling?’ Isobel dropped herself into the seat beside Harry and rested her feet on the table.
‘Off.’ Celine picked Isobel’s ankles up and dropped them into Colette’s lap as she passed. ‘Coffee, sister?’
‘Merci beaucoup.’ Isobel nodded. ‘Henri? How are you feeling?’
‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘Why?’
‘Not missing your wife and little girl too much?’ Colette asked, conjuring a thin stream of water into a silver bowl.
A soft little ache settled in his breast. All the distance stretching back to Katrina’s toothless smile twisted in his ribs like a knife and the quiet absence of Fleur’s embrace dragged his heart down into the pit of his stomach.
‘Of course I am,’ he murmured, cupping his wedding band in his palm. ‘Thank you for reminding me.’
Isobel shot her sister a glare.
‘Pardon, Henri.’ Colette filled the silver bowl to the brim and tapped the edge with her wand. ‘Let’s see how the Italians are faring today.’
The water glowed a soft blue and rose up into the shape of a man, swirling into Giacomo Ceccaroni. Harry pushed his translating earpiece into his ear.
‘Bonjourno.’ He inclined his head. ‘Is Marettimo secured now? We could sorely use your aid here against Domenico.’
‘The isle is well-warded,’ Celine said, taking a sip from a mug of coffee and sliding it across to Isobel. ‘How goes the defence of Rome?’
‘Worse each day,’ Giacomo said. ‘The original wards were weak and have been broken multiple times. Several of my aurors are dead. We have pulled back and set up stronger wards, but even so I got some worrying reports this morning about a breach. So far it appears to be a false alarm, but without your help we can do no more than hold the line.’
‘Assume nothing.’ Colette leant forward. ‘There are British unspeakables involved here, we have faced them twice. In the days we’ve spent fortifying Marettimo they may have moved against you. One of them appears to be a ward specialist of sorts.’
Giacomo’s water figure stiffened. ‘I do not have the capability to face the Unspeakables and these cornuti. If they punch through the wards, our defence will shatter. Leonardo and Davide are out on the front line already, I’ve nothing left to throw into the fight but myself. Zoe is no duellist.’
The Duforts exchanged a long look.
‘From the numbers dead here on Marettimo and the ones you’ve sent from Rome, we believe we have dealt with most of Sicily’s defenders,’ Isobel said. ‘Our scouting sallies onto the mainland have met no resistance so far—’
‘Our intention is go from stronghold to stronghold and pacify Sicily as we did Sardinia.’ Colette tugged Isobel’s cup of coffee across the table and took a long sip. ‘It will take us another week to get to every magical community.’
‘Magical vows.’ Giacomo’s face twisted into a grimace. ‘Is there no other way? I wanted Italy united and free, not dangling from an inescapable French magical noose.’
‘We cannot allow Britain access to Sardinia, from it you can apparate or portkey all over Southern Europe,’ Celine replied. ‘But I don’t think vows will be necessary in Sicily, our aurors can keep watch on the wards as long as we’re here, and once this conflict is ended, your aurors can take over.’
‘It relieves me to—’ Giacomo twisted around, gesturing with both hands and speaking in swift Italian. ‘Go.’ He thrust his wand out. ‘Go. I will be with you in a moment.’
‘Trouble?’ Isobel asked.
‘Our wards are breached once more.’ Giacomo drew himself up. ‘In three places at once. If this is the Unspeakables, then I likely go to defeat and death. Do not let them drown our dream of a united, peaceful Italy in blood.’
Dreams are dust. Harry crushed the amber-masked figure’s whisper beneath the little patch of green in Katrina’s blue eyes.
‘How far is it?’ He pushed back his chair and stood. ‘Close enough for me to apparate?’
‘From Marettimo?’ Giacomo stared. ‘Not unless you are Grindelwald come again, it is five hundred kilometres.’
‘I will be there.’
Giacomo dipped his head. ‘I have heard rumours of you, Violette, I hope they were not unfounded. You will find me in the fight. Duelling. Or dead.’
The water splashed back into the bowl.
‘You can’t go,’ Isobel said. ‘It’s too far.’
‘I can apparate that far,’ he murmured. ‘And if they lose there, who knows how long we’ll be stuck out here chasing unspeakables all over Italy.’
Three small smiles curved their lips. ‘Henri misses his lovely wife and baby girl.’
‘I want to go home,’ Harry whispered. ‘And I want to be able to stay there unafraid of anyone coming to take it away.’ He slipped his wand from his sleeve. ‘This will at least let me go back for a little while again.’
Celine and Colette shared a look. ‘If you try to fight the Unspeakables alone…’
Isobel reached back and pulled a photo from the wall, scattering pins across the floor. ‘Remember, Henri—’ she slid it across in front of him ‘—while one of us lives, none of us will die. We will not allow it.’
Harry spun his wand in his fingers. ‘My wife will never forgive me if I die and leave her to do all the baby changing alone.’
The Duforts laughed. ‘Don’t die, then.’
‘I won’t.’ He studied the white houses and neat green trees. ‘This is a muggle area?’
‘Just south of a town called Frosinone,’ Isobel replied. ‘They set their new ward lines up there after the last breach.’
‘Alright. Bonne courage.’ Harry wrenched the world back past him, stepping onto damp grass.
A thick column of smoke rose in the distance.
That looks promising.
He disillusioned himself and apparated across the streets, stumbling against a low, stone wall. Harry sucked in a deep breath, searching for dark robes and colourful masks.
A towering inferno rose from the woods, and red-robed and green-robed figures exchanged flashes of light, apparating back and forth across a damp field.
They’re not here. Harry thrust his wand in the air, pouring magic into his ward.
A shimmer fell across the field.
The fight froze.
Bright curses flashed in all directions. Bodies crumpled into the long grass.
He jumped over the wall and strode into the midst of the fight, putting three piercing hexes through the back of the nearest red-robed wizard. A flash of blue hissed past his shoulder and he abandoned his disillusionment, flicking curses aside and returning his own, punching through the shields of the assailants until the last toppled into the mud.
The green-robed aurors retreated into a long, loose line on the far side of the field.
‘Who are you?’ one called in English. ‘You are not Italian.’
‘French.’ Harry raised his hands and took slow deliberate steps across the field. ‘Where are the other breaches in the wards?’
A low mutter rose from the line.
‘Terracina and Sulmona,’ the auror replied in rough French. ‘But Doge Albertazzi said Davide de Sforza was dead when Sulmona called for help, so Sulmona must have fallen.’
‘Where is Leonardo Albertazzi?’ Harry asked. ‘Did he go to Terracina or Sulmona to help?’
A ripple passed through them.
‘Dead.’ The auror pointed out at the field. ‘The black-robed aurors with bright masks opened the wards here after the attack at Sulmona and before anyone could go to Terracina. They killed him with some grey magic and vanished. Doge Ceccaroni is at Terracina…’
Harry caught his eye, letting their thoughts wash together. ‘Where is Terracina?’
A flat stretch of fields running to the sea flashed through his mind. He whirled the world back past him and stepped into waist-high grass.
A cluster of green-jacketed aurors held a wall of white magic against the spells of a scatter of red-robed attackers, hurling spells back around the edges. Five dark figures with bright masks stood behind them beneath the shimmer of wards.
There they are. Harry disillusioned himself and poured his magic into the air, wrapping it about himself and lifting him to float over the grass toward them. Vanilla Delight first.
Strawberry Sundae’s mask snapped around. ‘Pistachio!’
Grey mist tore through the grass, scattering shreds of green into the sky. Harry hammered the air into it, sweeping it away into the grass, and dropped to the ground, abandoning his disillusionment.
‘Violette.’ Pistachio Surprise drew their magic back into a swirling ring of dark grey fog around their shoulders. ‘It’s a long way from Sicily.’ They poked Smooth Mint in the chest. ‘Come on, Smooth Mint. Say hello. We know, Violette. We’re basically friends.’
‘It’s nice to see you again,’ Smooth Mint said as grey magic poured from their sleeves.
This again. Harry released the wind and compressed his magic into a silver spark at the tip of his wand. Let’s try not to fight you all at the same time.
‘And all by yourself…’ Pistachio Surprise gestured at the other unspeakables with their wand. ‘Time to see if what Ginevra Weasley said was really true.’
‘Giacomo Ceccaroni has escaped,’ Strawberry Sundae said, pacing out to Harry’s right. ‘Zoe de Medici may survive the injuries inflicted by Vanilla Delight’s curse.’
‘Their wards are back up.’ Vanilla Delight raised his wand. ‘And they know we’re here now.’
‘Two or three out of four isn’t bad for one attack,’ Wild Cherry replied, circling to Harry’s left. ‘And if we get Violette…’
Harry whipped the spark into the grass at Smooth Mint’s feet and clamped his eyes shut. Silver light seared through his eyelids.
‘Lacero,’ he whispered, snapping his eyes open.
The purple curse clipped Strawberry Sundae’s shoulder, sending them stumbling back. Harry ducked a flash of green from Vanilla Delight, transfiguring the grass into snakes and sending them slithering toward them.
A trio of potions vials sailed toward him.
He banished them back into Wild Cherry’s stomach and swatted aside a handful of hexes from Strawberry Sundae as Vanilla Delight disappeared beneath the swarm of snakes.
Harry drew deep on his magic. ‘Fulminis.’
A wall of grey fog deflected the lightning down into the ground.
Wild Cherry stole a trembling breath. ‘Thank you, Pistachio.’
‘Your life flashed before your eyes, there.’ Pistachio Surprise laughed, drawing their magic back into a loose swirl surrounding the five unspeakables. ‘I think it’s time for us to pop-sicle off.’
Smooth Mint sighed.
‘See you soon, Violette,’ Pistachio Surprise said. ‘Cone-gratulations on avoiding total defeat!’
They vanished with a loud crack.
Harry snorted and shook his head. ‘What a bunch of weird people.’ He chuckled under his breath as the tension bled away. ‘I guess I’d better find Giacomo and get back to Sicily as soon as popsicle.’
He strode across the grass, stepping through the shimmer of the wards.
A long, dark wand appeared in his face. Blaise Zabini frowned at Harry along the length of it, his pearl tie-pin gleaming in the sun.
‘Stand down.’ Giacomo stepped across, brushing ash and dirt from his purple tie. ‘This is Violette.’ He gestured toward the edge of the field. ‘Walk with me, Violette.’
Harry followed him across the grass. ‘You don’t trust your own aurors?’
‘The dream of Rome is a powerful one. Some defected to Domenico’s side, not realising that this Rome is not the united Italy we hope for.’ Giacomo drew to a halt in the shade of a small shed. ‘This is no victory for us. We lost three times their number and they were my best aurors. I cannot hold these wards against the Unspeakables, you must drive them out of Italy as soon as possible.’
‘Once we have secured Sicily over the next week, we will strike into Southern Italy,’ Harry said. ‘There is nowhere else for them to go.’
‘And the Unspeakables—’
‘Are here not to raise Rome back up, but to bleed France and weaken its allies.’ He pointed his wand east. ‘Davide de Sforza and Leonardo Albertazzi are dead. Have you seen Zoe de Medici?’
Giacomo’s face darkened. ‘She was out here for some reason. I have not seen her.’
‘She might be alive, one of them managed to curse her with something but didn’t see her die.’ Harry sighed. ‘The Unspeakables are after you and after the Duforts. Go to Rome, take all your aurors back there. I don’t think they’ll follow, they’ll try and set up a trap for us in Southern Italy instead. I will destroy this legacy of Rome myself.’
It was foretold.
Giacomo stiffened. ‘I am not accustomed to being commanded.’
Harry gave him a flat look. ‘Then stay here and do this all again if you like.’
Giacomo put his fist through the shed door and vanished with a loud crack.
‘Well, that went well…’ He shrugged and touched a finger to the acorn pendant, pushing a wisp of magic into it. ‘I miss you, mon Amour.’
The necklace grew warm against his skin.
I’ll be back soon, I hope.
A quiet sob came from within the shed.
Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve, touching its tip to the shed door and turning it to dust.
Zoe de Medici curled in the dirt, her fingers clenched into the folds of her bloodstained, crumpled, purple dress robes. ‘Is he really dead?’ she whispered, staring up with wide, sad dark eyes. ‘Leonardo?’
A soft pang twisted in his chest. ‘I think so. I didn’t see for sure.’
She sat up cradling her stomach with one arm. Red soaked her dress from the waist down and red tear stains marked her cheeks.
Harry’s blood ran cold. She was pregnant.
‘I told our children we would marry soon,’ Zoe murmured. ‘There would be no more lies. In a united Italy, our family would be together.’ She held up her crimson-stained fingers. ‘And now there is no family…’
His heart sank. ‘Dreams are fragile things,’ he said, crouching down next to her. ‘You have your children, maybe, one day, you’ll build a family in spite of this.’ The lie tasted like ash on his tongue and Tom’s words floated through his thoughts like dandelion seeds drifting on the wind. ‘There’s always hope.’
Zoe stared at him with lifeless eyes. ‘No there’s not. It’s gone. And it’s not coming back.’ She pulled her wand from her boot and pressed the tip against her wrist. ‘I don’t want to be here anymore, Violette.’
He ripped the wand from her hand. ‘You can’t—’
‘It’s my life,’ she hissed. ‘And it’s over.’
Harry reached out and wrapped his hand around hers. ‘Don’t leave your children alone, Zoe,’ he whispered. ‘Children shouldn’t be left alone. Their father is dead. They need someone. One parent is not great, but none…’
Zoe sagged. ‘You are right.’ She stuck her hand out. ‘Give me my wand, I will go back to Florence.
Harry frowned. ‘If I give this back, what will you do?’
‘Go home.’ She reached out and tugged the wand from his grasp. ‘You are right.’ Zoe staggered to her feet and vanished with a pop.
Another child for the flames. He sighed, burying his head in his hands. One more perfect dream snatched away by death. A hollow fist dragged his heart down into the cold dark place inside him. That was nearly us. I was nearly Leonardo. The breath caught in his throat. And I nearly left Fleur to be Zoe.
Fear bit through him to the bone.
And it will still be us. His heart began to pound and the world spun, little black spots swirling before his eyes. Without La Victoire Finale. It will still be us.
Black mist exploded from his wand, tearing the shed walls away. Splinters showered into the grass, pattering down around him.
Don’t forget. Wishes aren’t granted. They’re made. Harry clutched his wand tight in his fist and took a long, deep breath of the warm air, brushing the splinters from his shoulders and staring up at the sun. There’s nothing to fear. The dark mist curled back to his wand and faded away. We’ll make them happen. We did it before. We can do it again.