The silver acorn and his glowing wedding ring dangled from its fine chain, swinging back and forth before sparkling, white-crested, azure waves. The soft crash of their break upon the rocks floated up from below his feet carried on a cool, spray-flecked breeze.
‘That’s the last one!’ Isobel’s voice rang out from above. ‘It was my turn.’
Harry snorted and caught the acorn and his ring in his palm, pushing a little magic into the pendant as he hung them about his neck. It flashed warm, cooled, and flashed warm again as it slid down the front of his robes.
I love you too. He sighed. I’ll be back soon. And we’ll work on La Victoire Finale.
‘I didn’t take it,’ Celine replied. ‘It must have been our sister.’
‘It was not,’ Colette said. ‘And it wasn’t her turn.’
‘Maybe it was Henri?’ Isobel stuck her head over the wall. ‘Did you take the last coffee?’
Harry leant back and squinted up into the sky. ‘No. I don’t even drink coffee.’
‘You don’t have time to go swimming—’ Colette poked her head over the tower’s wall ‘—we’re leaving soon.’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘Off to Cosenza.’
They vanished back over the wall.
Isobel appeared next to him with a loud crack, sending ice flashing through his veins. He breathed out the shock as she dropped down beside him.
‘Nearly done, little brother,’ she said, patting him on the shoulder. ‘You’ll go back to see your baby girl and your pretty wife soon.’
‘Depends how much trouble those unspeakables are.’ Harry frowned down at the sea, poking his translation earpiece into his ear. ‘We could end up chasing them all over Southern Italy like Le Cancrelat.’
‘I doubt it.’ Isobel offered him a smile. ‘Britain is fighting in too many places for that. They’ll run back to Malta like they did after Carthage.’
Anxiety gnawed at him. ‘That eclipse is today.’
‘Don’t worry about prophecies, Henri. What did it say? Two to be burnt and one to eclipse Rome?’
He sighed. ‘Three firstborn sons of Ba’alat Tanit will stand before Ba’al Hamun in Kart Hadasht. Two of the Adirim for the flames and one to eclipse the legacy of Rome.’
‘Well, all of that’s already happened,’ Isobel murmured. ‘All that’s left is for you to eclipse the legacy of Rome.’ She rested her arm on his shoulder. ‘And that sounds like good news. It means that we’re going to win and maybe it means we’ll win today with the eclipse.’
‘That or it means something totally different. Prophecies are annoying like that.’
‘Like what?’ Isobel laughed. ‘Don’t be such a pessimist, Henri. Today we win. Tomorrow, you get to go back home. You’re nearly there.’
‘Where are you going after here?’ Harry asked.
‘Wherever La Belle France needs us most.’ She flicked one gold curl off her face. ‘Probably Belgium, just between us. The Dutch have not forgotten that little bit of nastiness earlier in the year and with Gui’s death in Hadrumentum and this trouble here, they might fancy their chances of taking over the magical communities there again.’
‘Does it ever end?’
‘Non,’ Isobel whispered. ‘It’s worse now than we’ve ever seen, but there’s always someone trying to take what’s not theirs or gain from the suffering of others.’
‘La Belle France demande.’
‘She loves us. She loves all her children.’ Isobel jumped to her feet and held out her hand. ‘And just as she is there for her children, we should be there for her.’
‘Ba’alat Tanit demands of her children, too.’ Harry shivered and buried the memory of the storm of screams. ‘Ba’alat Tanit demands sacrifice.’
‘Demanded.’ Isobel hauled him to his feet and caught his gaze with a serious gleam in her grey eyes. ‘Ca va bien, Henri? Did the magic at Carthage do something to you?’
‘I can still hear it sometimes,’ he murmured. ‘Not really hear it, I let Kart Hadasht die, but I can feel it, when I dream, like I’m the voice of the storm again.’
‘What does it say?’
‘Sophonissa’s words,’ Harry muttered. ‘But what was I meant to do? It was her dream or ours.’
‘She would have broken the Statute and plunged us all into war. She had to be stopped.’
‘Julien claimed it’s inevitable, that we were bleeding to stop something that cannot be stopped.’ He crushed down the bright light breaking over the world and the fading fury in Julien’s sole, blue eye. ‘I don’t know if he’s even really wrong.’
‘It’s lasted this long.’ Isobel glanced away over the sea. ‘He tried to recruit us, you know. Before Voldemort’s return and his acts of terror in France. For Les Inconnus, but really, it was for his followers.’
‘Why didn’t you say yes?’ Harry asked. ‘For France?’
‘We thought it was better to bleed for peace than for war,’ Isobel replied. ‘Because it might not be inevitable. And we’d rather fight for hope than despair.’
Hope. The light washed across the world behind Julien’s dying blue eye. I don’t like hoping.
‘It’s time!’ Colette stuck her head over the wall. ‘Come on!’
‘Let’s get this finished, Henri,’ Isobel said. ‘I don’t think we’ll meet much resistance apart from those unspeakables. Domenico Calabria has few aurors and most of his volunteers are dead.’
Harry let his wand slide down into his hand and took a deep breath. Time to eclipse the legacy of Rome. A faint smile pulled at his lips. And at least then it wasn’t all for nothing, Sophonissa.
‘Cosenza first.’ Isobel took his hand. ‘But the place looked deserted when we scouted it, so I think we’ll leave Team Paper to ward it and its surroundings and move onto Naples.’
‘That’s where they’ll all be.’
‘Maybe.’ She shrugged. ‘But it’s also where they expect us to think they’ll be. We’ll just have to be careful.’
‘They’re probably all at Cosenza lying in wait,’ Harry muttered. ‘Fantastic.’
Marettimo lurched sideways and they stumbled out before low, square stone walls. The muggle city of Cosenza sprawled along the winding river to the North, its hubbub rising up.
‘Start here,’ Celine ordered the closest group of aurors. ‘Ward the city and then work your way south from chosen points.’
‘Where is the magical community here?’
‘Scattered,’ Colette said. ‘Southern Italy has been host to a lot of wars, both muggle and magical, the magical communities are small villages. They’re tiny. I’m pretty sure that between the death toll at Marettimo and Rome there’s nobody here who can fend off Team Paper.’
‘Just the Unspeakables,’ Harry muttered.
Celine frowned. ‘I was expecting them—’
‘To be here where the retreat to Malta is easiest and their presence is not as obvious as it would be at Naples,’ Colette said.
‘They’re at Naples, then,’ Celine said.
Colette nodded. ‘Or Bari, but—’
‘It’s too far to apparate to Malta from Bari,’ Isobel said. ‘That’s risky.’
‘And unexpected?’ Harry suggested.
They smiled. ‘Perhaps.’
A shimmer of wards fell over the city.
‘There we go,’ Isobel said. ‘Onto Naples!’
The castle wall shimmered away to reveal a cluster of stone houses and shops.
A large woman edged out from a small huddle of people, holding her wand between two fingers over dark, curly hair. ‘We surrender,’ she called in accented French. ‘Cosenza will not fight.’
‘Let’s not waste time,’ Isobel said, turning to Team Paper. ‘Take their wands. Do all the wards as we planned. Return back here and make sure nobody causes trouble. Any sign of the Unspeakables and you all fall back to Marettimo.’
They strode forward.
‘Naples?’ Celine grabbed hold of Harry’s shoulder. ‘Ready?’
He nodded. ‘Let’s wipe Domenico away.’
Cosenza vanished with a loud crack and they stepped out into the faint shade of slim pines. Vesuvius rose above the shallow slope where the pines turned to yellow flowers and fields.
Isobel thrust her wand forward and twisted it like a knife. The air shivered and the field wavered into weathered, stone homes. Bright spells hissed from the windows of the nearest building, splashing on the raised shields of the aurors.
Harry levelled his wand at it. ‘Fulminis.’
A flash of white tore half the house away, scattering stones down the flagstone street and throwing up a cloud of dust.
Celine pressed the tip of her wand to her throat. ‘Surrender or face death.’
Yellow curses streaked through the dust. A single wizard stumbled out of the cloud, cradling his free arm to his stomach as he slashed his wand at them in wild swings, hurling hexes down the street.
‘He’s the only one left,’ Colette said. ‘They must have left a small group to watch here and moved elsewhere.’
‘Let me see what he knows.’ Harry caught his eye, letting their thoughts wash together and the wizard’s despair bleed into eleven empty years. He fed him hope, a slim warm ray of it wound around a single word.
The yellow hexes faded away and a flash of a low island dotted with small homes and ruined, marble temple flashed before Harry’s mind’s eye. The hope swelled, bursting like the sun through clouds, a tangle of faces and names and rooms and things whirled within it.
‘Avada kedavra,’ Harry murmured.
The green flash struck the wizard in the shoulder.
A low cry echoed from the dust and the wizard raised his wand. ‘Rome—’
Isobel’s lash of blue flame snapped about his neck, and seared his head from his shoulders.
It didn’t work? Harry stared at his wand. Why?
‘Violette!’ Celine called, waving Team Scissors past down the street into the town. ‘What did he know?’
‘They went to an island.’ He caught her grey eyes. ‘May I?’
‘You may,’ they chorused.
Harry wiped his mind blank and touched it to Celine’s, pushing the glimpse of the island into their thoughts. A double echo twisted it apart, tugging at his thoughts, spinning them over and over and into each other.
‘You three are weird.’ He broke the connection. ‘That was strange.’
‘We were playing nice,’ Isobel murmured in his ear. ‘We’re one. Always. But we can really be one if we must.’
‘All for one—’
‘And one for all.’
She laughed. ‘We’re not masters of the mind arts, but I’ve not met anyone who can keep a hold of themselves if the three of us let everything go together.’
‘That was the Isle of Bari. The magical community is hidden just offshore from the muggle city.’ Celine shared a glance with her sisters. ‘It’s probably a trap.’
‘So we spring it.’ Isobel pointed at the village. ‘If they’re not here, they’re probably all in Bari. Nowhere else has real wards—’
‘And they must know we would target the major communities,’ Colette said. ‘If they’re not in Bari to defend it, we have their homes and families hostage.’
‘The Unspeakables will attack us there,’ Harry said. ‘It’s where we thought it was least likely because of the risk.’
The light dimmed.
Harry glanced up.
A shadow bit at the sun, creeping across its face.
‘I think that means it’s time to go,’ he said. ‘It was foretold, after all.’
Maybe this will be the final end of Rome, just like I let Kart Hadasht die.
The Duforts exchanged a long look.
‘No point waiting,’ Isobel said. ‘Violette would like to go home.’
‘I’ll open the way so you can apparate straight in. Give me a few minutes.’ Harry disillusioned himself and pictured the low isle, wrenching the world back until he stepped onto the tip of a pier.
The clamour of the muggle city rose behind him; the open sea rippled before him.
Hidden. Of course. He thrust his magic into the air and wrapped it around himself, floating out over the waves until he passed through a faint shimmer. There you are.
The island sprang into view amidst the waves.
Harry hammered his magic into the apparition wards and ripped them down, drifting down onto the pebbled beach. Cries of alarm rang out through the low stone buildings and red-robed wizards dashed out into the street, drawing their wands.
Let’s draw them all out.
He abandoned his disillusionment and apparated up to the end of the road. Spells flashed past him, hissing into the sea and spattering against the walls. Harry swatted the others away into the sky or down into the ground.
‘Romans!’ A slim man stepped from the ruined temple, clutching a golden standard topped with an eagle. ‘Don’t fear!’
That’s Domenico. Harry narrowed his eyes. And that’s a Roman standard, like the broken one in my vault. A little knot of unease tightened in his stomach. A legacy of Rome.
White magic sparked about the eagle as Domenico thrust it aloft, throwing a soft glow over the red-robed witches and wizards. Their spells redoubled, scorching holes into the stone walls.
Harry deflected their curses back and strode forward as the sky dimmed. The curses tore ragged holes into the huddle of red-robes, spattering blood and gore across the cobbles. He fixed his eyes on the two golden numerals and black centaur on the fluttering red silk trailing from the eagle’s talons, advancing into the storm of spells.
Loud cracks rang out and a golden bubble flickered in the corner of his eye.
Here you go, Sophonissa. He swallowed a hot lump and forced his arm faster, slipping his curses into the hail of hexes. No more Kart Hadasht. And no more Rome.
The huddle of red-robes wilted away into a heap of bodies. His purple spells tore through the brief flicker of shields, spraying blood over the golden eagle.
Harry levelled his wand at the last. ‘Domenico?’
‘I have nothing to say to you.’ Domenico glared at him with cold, hard eyes and raised his wand. ‘You nameless fiend.’
A handful of loud pops rang over the village. Five dark-robed figures appeared on the roof of the ruined temple and vanished into the darkening gloom of the eclipse.
‘Names don’t matter,’ Harry replied. ‘All that matters is who we are. I am here. I am greater than you. And you have nowhere to run.’
An orange curse flashed from Domenico’s wand. Harry swatted it away and hurled piercing curses back, watching them splash off the white glow of the eagle standard.
‘Fine.’ He thrust his wand forward. ‘Fulminis.’
The white flash shattered the gold standard, spraying molten metal across the temple and tossing shreds of red silk into the sky. The crimson scraps floated down as the dark closed over the sun, plunging them into pitch black.
Harry flinched from the flashes of blue, batting the spells back at Domenico’s silhouette.
A cry of pain tore through the gloom.
‘Celine!’ Isobel shouted.
Merde. Harry smothered a stab of worry and glanced back over his shoulder. The Unspeakables.
Domenico’s shadow dived forward, hammering into Harry’s stomach and sending his wand flying. He sprawled across warm bodies and pushed himself to his feet in a sticky puddle.
A slim curve of the sun crept out from behind the dark circle of the moon.
Domenico snatched a wand from the street. ‘Vengeance, if nothing else.’ He levelled it at Harry’s heart. ‘Avada—’
Black mist tore his hand apart, spattering blood across his face, and the wand bounced across the cobbles. He clutched the tattered stump of his arm, raising his heel over Harry’s ebony wand and stamping.
No! Harry froze.
Domenico stamped twice more. ‘What the—’
Relief flooded through Harry as he thrust out his hand and summoned his wand back into his grasp. ‘It’s hard to destroy.’
Fiendfyre might do it. Or basilisk venom. But not you.
He clawed the hate up from the little ball of cold beneath his heart, letting all the distance back to his home swell into words. ‘Avada kedavra.’
Domenico toppled onto his face.
It still works. Harry whirled on his heel, peering into the gloom. I just have to really want to.
A bubble of white magic trembled beneath a hail of blue spells, shrinking in the grip of a fist of grey mist. The blue-robed aurors of Team Rock stood in a small ring, wands outstretched, their faces locked in grimaces. Within their circle, Isobel cradled Celine’s head in her lap and Colette held her hands.
They groaned and blood soaked across their shoulders.
While one of them lives, none of them can die.
Harry caught a flash of pink in the dark and hurled piercing hexes at it. The grey mist swept back from the shield, swallowing his spells. It wrapped around Strawberry Sundae’s waist as the world brightened, yanking them back to the side of the other unspeakables.
Five bright masks stared at Harry with fixed smiles and wide eyes.
‘You are a nuisance, Violette,’ Smooth Mint said in a twisted metallic rasp, their grey magic tightening around the waists of the other unspeakables. ‘We will see you again.’
Pistachio Surprise pulled out an ice cream stick and grabbed hold of Smooth Mint. ‘Fortescue.’
They vanished with a loud crack.
A portkey, hopefully back to Malta. Then I can go home.
The gloom of the eclipse lightened and the aurors lowered their shields, doubling over gasping for breath.
‘I’m fine.’ Celine stumbled to her feet. ‘We’re all fine, boys, let us out of this little circle, it’s getting warm in here. Go make sure that was it.’
The aurors dragged themselves up, spreading across the street, wands in hand.
Isobel caught his eye and glanced up at the sun. ‘As foretold.’
‘I hate prophecies.’ A small smile tugged at Harry’s lips. ‘But there’s nothing to fear now.’
Just the amber-masked figure and failing La Victoire Finale.
He squashed it all down as unease began to chew at him. ‘What now?’
Isobel pointed at the pile of bodies at his feet. ‘Team Rock cleans up—’
‘We catch a short breather and set up wards across Southern Italy to make sure that the unspeakables have really gone back to Malta,’ Colette said. ‘And then—’
‘Rome and home.’ Celine poked the toe of her boot through the bits of the standard. ‘Did you have to destroy this, Violette?’
‘It was probably priceless,’ Isobel said. ‘Not to mention quite powerfully enchanted.’
‘It was in the way,’ Harry replied. ‘And it was a legacy of Rome…’
A low murmur rose from the aurors, awe shining in their eyes like the red sparks of Kart Hadasht.
He turned away to stare over the sea, smothering the quiet thrill. ‘Let’s go, then.’ Harry touched his fingertips to the acorn and pushed a little magic into it. ‘I’m fine, Fleur,’ he whispered. ‘I’ll be back soon.’
The pendant pulsed hot against his skin twice.
A soft smile spread across his lips. Je t’aime, mon Amour. Je t’aime.
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