The bronze bells hung over his head beneath the small tower roof, gleaming in the bright sun. Liliana sat on the edge, letting the breeze play across her face.
‘Any movement?’ Harry sank down beside her.
‘Not that I… have seen.’ She swept her long, dark hair out from under her robes and pushed her hood back. ‘I don’t think… they are there.’
‘They really left?’ He shook his head. ‘I doubt it.’
‘Not for good… just to keep… the wards up… so we don’t… take their… foothold.’
‘So they’ll all portkey back in later when they want to attack.’ Harry threw a glance at the faint shimmer of the Unyielding Shield. ‘How long can you keep these wards up for?’
‘That depends… on how much… fighting… there is,’ Liliana rasped. ‘I can hold… against most… but like in… Palma I have… limits.’
‘I guess we just kill them quickly,’ he murmured, cupping the silver acorn under his robe and pushing a little magic into it.
I’ll be coming home soon. Whatever they try.
The pendant flared warm.
I love you too, Fleur.
He stared across at the small island and its faint bubble of wards, watching the white-crested waves break on the rocks and swirl past up the sand.
‘That girl… who was she?’
‘Just a silly, shallow little girl,’ Harry said.
‘You have not… spared a… second for… our enemies… before, but… you did not… wish to kill… her, did you?’
‘I don’t really want to kill anyone.’ He glanced at Liliana out of the corner of his eye. ‘I told you, I’m done hating. I’m… I’m actually really tired of it.’ Harry released a long sigh as the yearning bubbled up beneath his ribs. ‘You’ve no idea how much I would rather be somewhere else right now.’
‘But if we… don’t do what… we must do… there is no… somewhere else,’ she replied.
‘That’s why I’m here instead.’
‘Was she a…. friend once?’
‘Not a friend.’ He slipped his wand from his sleeve, spinning it on his palm. ‘She really was just a silly little girl, but she didn’t deserve to die for that.’
I took all her dreams away. Twice. A little shiver rippled through him. And if I’d not done it the first time, maybe she wouldn’t have died down there.
‘Innocence is… the first price… we pay for… greater goods,’ Liliana rasped. ‘I would… know.’
‘Why did you fight for him? I heard about your family.’
‘For the same… reason that… we all are… tempted to.’ She sighed. ‘It was such… a beautiful… idea that he… showed us and… we did not… realise the… price until… much later.’
Liliana’s forehead creased. ‘Sooner than… we did, but… now I think… not so much… as I thought… I hate him… for that more… than anything… for giving… us that dream… without a… fair warning.’
‘You said he wouldn’t accept your hatred.’
Her face twisted into a snarl. ‘He thought that… it was a… fair contest… and could not… abide us… hating… each other… There was no… betrayal… just changed minds… yet hate was… a poison he… detested… Something… intolerable… if he… wanted to… unite us all.’
‘Why? Didn’t he hate muggles?’
‘Not at… all.’ Liliana’s jaw tensed. ‘He lamented… their state and… what it forced… us into… in his mind… but he would… not let us… hate them.’
‘I’m not sure I understand,’ Harry muttered. ‘It was all just a necessary evil?’
‘Yes,’ she rasped. ‘Our worlds… could not… coexist… to him… it was our… world or… their world.’
Isn’t it always?
Harry sighed. ‘I never really paid much attention to wizarding history, in fact, I skipped almost every class since I was fourteen, has it always been like this?’
‘Grise is… right and… so was… he,’ Liliana whispered. ‘The moment… muggles lost… trust in… magic… being… divine… there was… too much fear… to stop… conflict. Gods smite us… for good… reason… but men with… great power… are to be… feared… regardless.’
‘So we hide.’
‘They can’t… hide from… us, so… we must… hide from… them and… we must… stay hidden.’ She pulled her hood up and drew her wand, pointing at the small island. ‘They are… coming.’
A cluster of figures in red appeared, the distant crack echoing over the waves.
‘So they are.’ Harry slid his wand from his sleeve. ‘Do you want to stay up here?’
‘Is that… wise, Vio…lette?’
‘I don’t want you in the way.’
She nodded. ‘Then I… will stay… up here… and keep… the wards… strong.’
‘Let them break the Unyielding Shield if they can,’ he said. ‘We can put that back up after they’re done and I’d rather fight them soon and get this over with.’
‘Understood,’ Liliana rasped.
A wooden bridge unfolded from the island and splashed down into the shallows before the beach. Loud pops echoed up to the bell tower as more figures appeared on the island and flickered down onto the bridge.
‘Interesting.’ Harry studied the mismatched coloured robes of the crowd on the crossing. ‘Those aren’t British aurors.’
‘They are… from the… Tainos… magical… commun…ities—’ Liliana pressed a hand to her throat ‘—Britain’s protect…torates.’
‘Anything I should expect to be different?’ he asked, watching them gather upon the bridge and hurl spells into the Unyielding Shield. ‘Are they like the Nuragic magicals on Sardinia?’
‘Once they… were very… different… but not… anymore,’ she said. ‘Not when it… comes to… fighting.’
‘It’s all wands like us?’
‘Wands are… very good… for magical… combat,’ Liliana said. ‘Another… reason… Rome has… such a… great legacy.’
‘I thought everyone else used wands before them?’
‘Before Rome… built an… empire… it was… hard to… find the… cores for wands… Most wands were… not that… good at… magic as… a result.’
‘Not very attuned to the wielder, either, I’d imagine.’ Harry frowned. ‘Maybe even quite dangerous.’
‘Yes.’ She pushed herself to her feet. ‘You should… go down… Violette.’
‘I will once the Unyielding Shield falls,’ he replied, studying the fading shimmer. ‘When they’re tired, I’ll apparate down and wipe them all away.’
‘There are no… aurors down… there yet.’ Liliana pointed her wand at the island. ‘They are… holding back.’
‘They want to wear me down. The Unspeakables tried it as well.’ Harry spun his wand in his fingers, letting dark mist swirl around his hand. ‘No doubt if I go down there, there will be some kind of trap.’
‘Stay here. I’ve been lured into traps before.’ He snorted. ‘It actually happens quite a lot. I’m still here.’
‘But event… ually—’
‘No. I refuse to die.’ The dark vapour shrank back into his wand as the Unyielding Shield flickered. ‘I sacrificed too many things to let it all be for nothing.’ Harry ripped the world back past him and stepped onto the sand, pouring magic into his wand. ‘Fulminis.’
The white flash tore through the crowd and struck the bridge. Splinters exploded across the waves. He twisted his wrist and spun on his heel, whipping the crackling beam of lightning back across the beach.
The Tainos burst into dust or vanished in loud cracks.
He whirled round, raising his wand.
Empty white sand stretched down to the where the waves pushed the wreckage of the bridge up the beach.
‘Definitely a trap,’ he murmured.
Four battered trunks thudded onto the sand just above the waves.
He apparated to the top of the beach, spinning his wand in his fingers.
The clasps snapped open and a thick, sewage-like reek drifted to his nose.
That smells like troll.
A huge, webbed, blue-green hand reached through the trunk, thudding into the sand. Limpets and whelks studded the thick, scar-latticed skin and patches of limp, dry seaweed dangled from its elbow and wrist.
‘Which makes perfect sense all of a sudden, because it looks a lot like some kind of sea troll.’ He levelled his wand at the nearest, picturing the amber-masked figure and drawing the cold fist of hate tight around his heart. ‘Avada kedavra.’
A green flash splashed off the troll’s broad forehead as it clambered from the trunk and a starfish slipped from its shoulder to bounce down the beach into the waves.
Why didn’t that work? Harry banished the three other cases into the waves. It can’t be magically resistant enough to stop soul magic.
He twirled his wand in his hand. ‘Unless… it doesn’t have a soul to rip away to begin with because it’s not smart enough to be sentient or whatever.’ Harry sighed. ‘Merde.’
The troll crushed the trunk under its foot with a deep rumble and curled its huge hands into fists. Its huge, dark eyes fixed themselves on Harry, narrowing to slits. Three more trolls rose from the water, scrambling from the waves on their webbed hands and feet.
‘Trolls, in the beach resort, thought you ought to know,’ he muttered, pouring magic into his wand.
White sparks swirled around its tip.
The troll let out a deafening roar and charged.
A bright white flash seared at his eyes.
The shadow of the troll reeled back, smoking. A raw, weeping star-shaped wound gaped across its upper chest, baring thick, white bone.
‘Merde.’ Harry pictured the amber mask burning amidst the swirling red lights of Kart Hadasht’s storm of screams and poured Fiendfyre down the beach.
The crimson flames curled into a great serpent, wrapping itself around the first sea troll and melting through thick skin, flesh and bone. The sea troll flailed and fell to its knees, crumbling away beneath the flames and streaming dark smoke.
The sour reek of burnt skin stung Harry’s nose as he drove the Fiendfyre on through the other three trolls, gritting his teeth as it sucked the magic from him. A soft ache settled into his limbs as the three trolls hurled themselves into the sea and sweat prickled on his forehead, beading along his forearms.
Loud cracks echoed across the beach.
He set the crimson flames free and hurled up his shield. Bright spells burst against it in showers of coloured sparks, hissing down into the sand.
Harry took a deep breath and let the ache ebb, glancing through the wall of white magic at the array of red-robed, mirror-visored figures and the bubbling, boiling sea around the flailing trolls.
‘Keep going!’ Ginny cried, sweeping a shimmer of wards over their heads with a flick of her wand. ‘He’s pinned down. And after all that magic, he can’t hold for much longer.’
‘Yes I can.’ He winced as the ache bit a little deeper and cupped his necklace against his heart. ‘I made a promise.’
I keep my promises to Fleur. As always.
Harry smeared the sweat away from his eyes and wrenched at the world, crushing Ginny’s wards down and picturing the beach beyond the line of British aurors. He staggered across the sand with a soft snap, twisting on his heel to hurl hexes as fast as his aching, trembling arm could manage.
Spells burst in the air, ricocheting into the sea and the spreading sheet of Fiendfyre.
Harry focused on the right end of the line, batting their spells back, forcing them to huddle toward the sea and the rising, hungry whisper of the crimson flames.
‘Push back!’ Ginny forced her way to the front, deflecting his spells back. ‘Don’t let him trap us against the fire!’
He took a step forward, sucking in a deep breath, and forced his leaden legs across the sand, swatting spells back and slipping his own curses into the mix. Pain seared through his right thigh and burst across his left shoulder. A bright yellow curse burst Leanne’s head like a balloon, spraying red mist across the white sand.
Harry ignored the burning in his leg and shoulder and dragged himself another step forward.
‘Fuck,’ Ginny growled, throwing a bright, silver shield over her squad. ‘Back, fall back.’
The British aurors vanished in a series of cracks.
‘I will kill you, Violette.’ She glared through the light of her charm, chest heaving. ‘You’re not getting off this island. I will bury you here.’ The tips of Ginny’s ears turned red and she bared her teeth. ‘If we even leave enough of you to bury.’
She vanished with a crack and the silver shield charm wavered away.
Of course you’ll try. It’s my dream or yours.
Harry thrust his magic back into the Fiendfyre, cupping the acorn pendant and his wedding band against his heart. ‘I love you,’ he whispered, letting the fatigue seep through him as the sun soaked into his skin. ‘I’ll be back soon.’
The crimson flames guttered out, leaving a steaming sea washing over a smooth swathe of shining glass. Harry stared down into it, ignoring the fading throb of his injuries and the cooling dampness sticking his robes to his skin.
A single shadow hovered beneath the gleaming surface and the hot whisper of yearning swirled in his heart like a single red spark beneath Kart Hadasht’s dome.
A loud crack rang out beside him.
He twisted, his arm snapping up.
Liliana stared at the long, pale wand. ‘His wand.’
‘Not really,’ Harry replied. ‘He stole it. And it was taken from him when he lost.’
‘How did… you get… the wand?’
‘I took it from someone else.’ He balanced it on his hand. ‘It’s powerful, but only if you want to kill, I think. I prefer my own wand.’
As long as the horcrux doesn’t start doing anything upsetting.
‘They would… recognise… another wand,’ she said. ‘The dark… one is… one they… would have… seen before.’
‘Possibly, yes.’ Harry released a long sigh and slipped the Elder Wand back into his sleeve. ‘You should put the Unyielding Shield back up, Liliana.’
‘Of course.’ She drew herself up and thrust her wand up. ‘Fianto… duri!’
A torrent of white magic soared into the sky, bursting over their heads like fireworks and falling in a shimmer at their feet.
‘Unless they have more sea trolls or whatever those trolls were, they’ll have to attack themselves next time,’ Harry said. ‘I got a handful of their Tainos allies and one auror. Next time, I won’t be so tired…’
‘They will… have another… trap set… for you,’ Liliana rasped. ‘The British… know you… are strong… and will… not risk… a fair fight.’
He shrugged. ‘That’s fine. I don’t fight fair either.’
‘I should… be down… here where—’
‘No.’ Harry shook his head. ‘I’m good at wriggling out of tight situations. You can come down and save me, but only if necessary.’
‘They might bring… something… worse than… Tainoan… Trolls next… time they… attack,’ Liliana said.
‘Like what?’ Harry asked. ‘Trolls are about as magically resistant as anything comes. In fact—’ he wracked his brain ‘—I can’t think of anything that’s as magically resistant as a troll that isn’t a dragon or a sphinx or a nundu or something that would be really hard to stick in a trunk and throw at me.’
‘It is still… wise to… be wary.’
Don’t take risks. He rested a fingertip on the wedding band hanging beneath his robes. Fleur will never forgive me if our sunset dies because of Violette.
‘Perhaps we should set our own trap,’ Harry said.
‘What sort… of trap?’
‘Something to stop them apparating out of the way or escaping.’ He glanced up the beach to where the other wards ended. ‘If their Tainos allies hadn’t been able to apparate, I would have wiped away almost everyone but the aurors today.’
‘I could… cast new… wards?’ Liliana pointed at the wreckage bobbing on the waves. ‘Down here.’
‘But then you’d be more tired…’ Harry frowned. ‘Can you move your earlier wards or make the bubble bigger?’
She pulled back her hood, blinking her dark eyes in the sun. ‘I can… try that… it should… work.’
‘Let them break the Unyielding Shield and go for me,’ he said. ‘When they commit, push the wards past us as quickly as you can.’
‘And then… you strike… like he… could do.’
‘Like I can do,’ Harry said. ‘Hopefully it will be enough to get them to leave.’
But it won’t be. He recalled the fury blazing in Ginny’s brown eyes. She’s not going to give up. A faint, wry smile twitched at his lips. I gave you all your dreams back and now you’re going to try to kill me for them. The humour faded beneath a flash of burning amber and anxiety coiled into a tight knot in the pit of his stomach. Is it her?