A small, dark head squirmed from the sand, flailing little flippers and a sand-crusted shell followed it into the gentle dawn light. The tiny turtle dragged itself from the ground and meandered down the beach toward the tide. Others wriggled out of the white sand in its wake.
A seagull swooped down, talking across the sand, one beady eye on the baby turtles.
Oh no you don’t. Harry hopped across the rocks, fluffing up his feathers and cawing.
The seagull flapped its wings and stared.
He jumped closer and spread his own, clacking his beak until the gull fled. The baby turtles struggled onto the damp sand and were whisked away on the white-foaming waves, swimming out to sea.
Off you go into the world. Harry hopped back up the beach and fluttered to the top of a pink-flowering cactus on the small headland. It’s much safer out to sea than it will be here in a few minutes.
The mismatched colours of the crowd of Tainoans spread along the beach, pouring spells into the flickering shimmer of the Unyielding Shield. Liliana’s shadow lingered in the bell tower above the island.
I hope you’re ready. He shifted back into his own form and slipped his wand from his sleeve, disillusioning himself. The ward will go soon.
Harry strode down the beach, picking his way along the wet sand. The tide washed his footsteps away behind him, foaming over his toes in a cool gush, and swept tatters of seaweed onto the white sand.
The Unyielding Shield wavered.
He abandoned his disillusionment and compressed his magic into a spark of silver at the tip of his wand, whipping it into the sand at their feet and shielding his eyes behind his arm.
Silver light flashed.
‘Lacero.’ Harry’s spell sliced through the neck of the nearest Tainoan as Liliana’s wards swept over the beach.
He forced his arm as fast as he could, blurring through wand motions and sending a storm of piercing hexes searing up the beach. Bodies jerked and crumpled as his curses ripped through them.
The Tainoans whirled round, hurling up shields. A few spells flashed at him from the ragged huddle. Harry sidestepped the first two and swatted the third into the sand, striding forward.
A trunk soared over his head and thudded onto the sand.
Another troll? He banished it down the beach. I’ll get to you in a moment.
The Tainoans stumbled back up the beach behind their shields, glancing over the shoulders at the path to Sint-Maarten and tossing curses at him.
He spun the world past him and whirled on his heel, slashing his wand at them. The hazy basilisk tore through the back of the group, hurling bodies down into the waves and spraying blood across the sand.
Three figures reeled back, wide-eyed. A damp stain spread down the legs of a dark-haired witch with long, tangled hair as she stared at the blood-stained beach, trembling like a leaf. Two wizards cowered beside each other, white-faced and blood-splattered.
Harry spared the trunk a look. Wrist-thick blue fingers curled in the sand either side of it and limpet and mussel shells gleamed on scarred arms as thick as his waist.
A yellow spell flashed toward him from the nearest wizard’s wand.
He deflected it into the stomach of the other wizard, blowing a hand-sized hole through him, and banished the legs out from under the first. The witch raised her wand, staggering back. Harry poured magic into the air, ducking her orange curse, and snapped her neck. The last wizard scrambled to his feet, scrabbling through the sand for his wand. Harry clamped the air tight around his head and twisted his wand, ripping his skull and spine away in a spray of red.
A deafening roar echoed down the beach.
He dropped the gleaming column of bone into the sand and swivelled on his heel.
The troll towered over the corpses. Loops of thick iron chain hung from its closed fist and a jagged chunk of rock swung from its end, brushing through the sand. Red runes glowed upon the crude, thick pieces of wood guarding its stomach, chest and limbs.
‘You don’t look very friendly,’ Harry muttered, raising his wand. ‘I don’t think the Levitating Charm is going to be quite so effective this time.’
The troll bared its teeth and growled, lumbering forward.
He wrapped the air around it and twisted his wand, wrenching at its head. The troll grunted and stumbled, whipping the rock around on its chain.
Nope. Harry shifted his weight and wrenched at the world.
A shimmering ward fell over the beach.
The jagged chunk of rock hissed past, tearing a burning line through him from collarbone to thigh. The world swam. Black spots swirled around the troll’s silhouette as it yanked the rock from the sand and swept it around again.
He dived down the beach, feeling the wind of the swing whisper through his hair, and rolled to his knees in the waves. Sea water stung in the throbbing cut from his chest to his knee and red spread through waves around him.
‘Vulnera sanentur,’ Harry hissed, pouring magic into the spell, releasing a long groan as the pain eased.
The troll lumbered around and roared, swinging the rock in a blurred circle over its head. He abandoned his healing and sent a hail of blasting curses at the stone. They splashed off the rune-engraved wood and the thick, blue hide.
It swept the rock down at him
Harry banished it back.
The stone shattered into chips, drilling little spikes of pain into his shoulders and chest.
The troll growled and shook its head. Thick, green blood oozed from shallow cuts across its face and neck.
The shimmer over the beach grew stronger, closing in around him like fog..
Merde. Harry thrust his magic into the dead Tainoans and back-stepped until he struck the ward.
The corpses jerked and shuddered, dragging themselves to their feet and lunging at the troll, ripping at the rune-engraved wooden armour. The creature roared as the cluster of inferii closed over it and lashed out with the chain, smashing a handful away into the sea.
Harry poured magic into the spiral of white sparks at the tip of his wand, ignoring the bite of fatigue. ‘Fulminis.’
A white flash seared at his eyes.
Three inferi burst into dust but the crackling white beam bounced off the wooden chest armour and hit the shimmering wards. The troll rumbled, ripping an inferius of its back and stomping on its chest. Red spurted through its thick, blue toes.
Harry released the lightning and thrust his magic into the sand, grimacing as the drain settled deep into his bone. He pulled the sand up and wrapped it around the troll’s legs, compressing it into stone, dragging in half the beach until a mound of rock surrounded the creature’s waist.
That better do it. He sucked in a deep breath and clenched his fist around the Elder Wand. If Ginny and the British aurors attack now, I’m going to need Liliana down here.
Inferii scrambled up the mound, seizing its arms, clawing and biting. The troll howled, straining against the rock encasing its legs. It ripped an arm free, throwing the chain away, and plucked an inferius off its shoulders and crushed its skull in its huge fist.
Harry clawed up a little more magic and thrust it into the iron chain, whipping the free end around the troll’s neck. It flailed at the inferii, swiping them away and clutching at the chain wrapped about its throat. Harry clenched his jaw and twisted his wand, coiling the chain tighter and tighter.
Thick green blood oozed through the iron links and dribbled down the troll’s neck. It wheezed and pounded at the stone trapping its legs with both fists, shaking the beach.
A loud crack echoed over the sound.
Liliana thrust her wand up and a bubble of white magic fell over the beach.
A deafening pop rang over the waves and red-robed aurors bounced back into the sea. They hung in the waves, shaking their heads and treading water, their reflective visors flashing in the sun.
‘Good timing, Liliana,’ Harry said, forcing the chain a little tighter. ‘That was close.’
The troll rumbled, pawing at the chain about its neck, its eyelids fluttering. The British aurors conjured flat wooden rafts and scrambled atop them, firing spells up the beach.
‘Kill him,’ Ginny yelled from the nearest raft. ‘Don’t just sit there!’
‘It seemed… the best… moment to… intervene.’ She threw up a barrier of white magic, her dark eyes on the sea. ‘They did a… good job… on this… troll.’
‘You’re telling me,’ he muttered. ‘That thing’s a bloody menace. I’ve half a mind to send it back.’
Liliana pursed her lips as spells burst against her shield in washes of colour. ‘Better to… kill it… you are… stronger than… they are… we are… at more of… an advantage… without the troll.’
‘I was only joking.’ Harry sagged as the troll slumped over on the stone mound and let his magic go with a shuddering sigh. ‘I never want to see that thing again.’
The inferii scrambled away into the sea, clawing through the waves toward the British aurors’ rafts. Spells flashed into the waves, shattering the corpses as they flailed in the water.
‘Let’s make… sure.’ Liliana edged forward and touched her wand to where the chain lay in the sand.
A shimmer of heat rose from the iron links until it glowed white-hot, burning through the troll’s throat, sending wisps of thick, dark reeking smoke across the beach.
Harry caught a glimpse of white bone past the glowing chain. ‘I think it’s dead.’
Liliana banished its severed head across the sand and left the chain to cool. ‘It is.’ She eyed the gashed robes down his chest. ‘Are you… injured?’
He pulled the rip open and studied the broad, pink mark down his ribs. ‘I healed myself up.’ Harry touched his wand tip to the robes and wove the tear back together. ‘When they’re done with the inferii, I’ll need your assistance. That troll was tough.’
‘I will shield… for you.’ She watched the last inferii fall still and sink below the waves. ‘They will… attack hard… if I can… soak up… their strength… we will… endure them.’
Ginny leapt from her raft into the shallows, wading to the shimmer of Liliana’s wards. Drops of seawater gleamed on the bronze, sun badge on the lapel of her robes and her damp hair clung to her head. Her aurors splashed after her, clutching their wands in the fists.
‘You had your one warning last time you came here,’ Harry said. ‘If you stay. You die.’
‘Fuck you.’ Her eyes roved over the bloodstained, corpse-strewn beach to rest on the severed troll head. ‘We’ll see who gets the last laugh.’
‘Take a couple of steps forward, then.’ He crooked a finger at her. ‘Don’t be shy, Ginevra. Come and face me.’
Ginny’s jaw clenched and her ears turned red. ‘Tracey. Plan B.’
The other aurors raised their wands. A dense shimmer fell over the island and the bubbles of wards on the beach faded.
‘You might not die today,’ she said. ‘But you will die here. I don’t care how long it fucking takes. If I have to starve you to death on this miserable little island, I will do it with a smile on my face.’
She disapparated with a loud crack. Her aurors vanished after her.
‘Another… victory,’ Liliana rasped, letting her shield fall. ‘Those wards… look strong… we will not… be able to… portkey or… apparate… anywhere.’
Harry turned Ginny’s words over in his head. ‘I don’t think they’re planning to try and storm the beaches again. They’re trapping us here.’
She swept back her hood and frowned at the small island across the waves. ‘Why wait… to attack… we are weaker… now than we… will be… next time.’
‘They must think it will work better for some reason.’
‘Maybe they’re… expecting… reinforcements,’ Liliana whispered. ‘Perhaps… the Unspeakables.’
‘I’m not waiting around here for them to turn up and make things risky.’ Harry slid the Elder Wand back into his sleeve. ‘I’ll drive them off that little rock tomorrow and do enough damage it won’t matter if the Unspeakables come or not.’
Liliana nodded. ‘That would… be wise… waiting… to fight… all of them… will get us… killed, even… you, Violette.’ She pressed the tip of her wand to her throat and released a soft sigh. ‘I will… extend our… wards to… cover all… of the… island… that way… they will… have nowhere… to go, but… all the way… back.’ She vanished with a loud pop.
And then I can go home. He cupped the acorn pendant, dragging up a little wisp of magic and pushing it into the necklace. To see you, mon Amour, and our little baby bird, too.
The yearning spiked, ripping through his chest with hot claws. ‘I hate this fucking island,’ he muttered. ‘I’m not coming back to save it again. Ginny can have the whole bloody thing.’