‘Grise is… in Paris.’ Liliana picked her way over the uneven ground to the edge of the hole in the dome. ‘We are… on our own… for a while.’
Harry dangled his legs into the dark, swinging his feet. ‘What’s he doing in Paris?’
‘Présidente… Desrosiers… demanded… a meeting… for something.’ She crouched on the far side of the small slope and tugged her hood back. ‘Grise thinks… she has… someone… of her own… in Britain. An… unofficial… contact… of sorts.’
The Last Scions again? Unease chewed at his stomach. Are they playing all the sides? They were on the run when I found Pansy, did she somehow trick me? Or did she not know?
‘Any idea who?’ Harry asked.
‘Grise has no… idea, but… I would… think it… is someone… well-placed.’ She peered down into the dark. ‘I do not… like that… place down there.’
He snorted. ‘Me neither.’
Liliana held his gaze with a strange gleam in her dark eyes. ‘When I scry… for things… I glimpse… what magic… echoes. It is… a faint… impression.’ She pressed a hand to her throat and winced. ‘I have… never scried… something… like that… before.’
Ba’alat Tanit was built from thousands of burnt babies; the blood magic is stronger than anything else I’ve ever seen. Katie’s bright green eyes and happy babbling burbled through his thoughts and the yearning bubbled back up. All those perfect wishes, for the flames.
‘Does the strength of the piece of magic affect it?’ he asked.
Liliana shrugged her shoulders. ‘I do… not know.’ She dropped down to sit as he was, dangling her legs into the dark. ‘I just… scry and… see echoes… it is just… what I… always have… done.’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ he said. ‘It’s old history. Dead magic.’
‘I read… the Duforts’… report,’ she replied. ‘The magic… was not… dead.’
‘It is now.’ Harry pointed down into the ruins below. ‘I let it die. Everything that was foretold has happened. The last three descendants of the Adirim stood before Ba’al in Kart Hadasht. Two of them burnt. The third destroyed the legacy of Rome in the eclipse at Bari.’
Liliana rested her chin on her hands. ‘You are… kin of… the Bodonid… House.’
‘I don’t know.’ He shrugged. ‘I’m descended from a family who fled Kart Hadasht to Rome just before it fell. My blood activates the blood magics. That’s all there is to it.’
‘A family… that came… back,’ she rasped. ‘To search for… something that… screams for you.’
‘Kart Hadasht,’ Harry replied. ‘They were looking for Kart Hadasht’s Tophet.’
‘They must… have given… up then,’ Liliana whispered. ‘This place… was long… abandoned… when France… rediscovered… the island.’
‘They were given lands in Britain for something.’ He struggled to remember. ‘Something to do with one of those eagle standards, like the one I destroyed in Bari. I guess they gave up and stayed in Britain instead.’
‘You do… not care?’
‘They’ve been dead a really long time,’ Harry replied. ‘Unless they actually affect me, then no. I don’t.’
I sacrificed all of that. For the sunset.
‘I am… glad you… think so,’ Liliana rasped. ‘You are like… him. But without… a great dream.’
‘I have a dream, Liliana.’
‘It is a… dream for… yourself.’ She reached out and touched the wedding band hanging beneath his robes. ‘Not for… the world.’
Fleur and Katie flashed before his eyes and a small smile tugged at his lips. ‘And my family.’
‘A small and… precious dream,’ she whispered. ‘I killed… all mine. For him.’
‘You have to be careful what you sacrifice,’ Harry murmured. ‘Perfect things shouldn’t be traded away for nothing.’
A loud crack rang across the ruins on the far side of the hill.
‘Not for… nothing… not in… the end.’ Liliana stood up. ‘We fight for… hope and… they fight for… despair.’
‘The Duforts said that.’ Harry jumped to his feet. ‘When Julien tried to recruit them to his cause, Isobel said they chose to fight for hope instead of despair.’
‘Noire thought… like him… that it was… inevitable.’ She drew her hood back up. ‘I do not… know if… that’s true… but I would… rather die… and fight… for what… we have… than what… we fear.’
Hope and despair aren’t opposites, they’re sides of the same coin. He drifted after Liliana back through the grass and fallen marble columns, crushing the stab of fear into the emptiness. The sunset was hope. Now La Victoire Finale is. I just have to keep chasing it. Whatever it takes.
‘Violette.’ Giacomo led Zabini from a small cluster of Italian aurors. ‘What are you intending to do?’
Harry exchanged a glance with Liliana. ‘Take the stronghold.’
‘There is… one door,’ Liliana said. ‘One way in.’
And I can’t use the cloak to slip in through the wards, because we need it for La Victoire Finale. He frowned. I shouldn’t go alone anyway. It’s not worth the risk.
‘Let us consolidate our footing.’ Giacomo pointed at the tower. ‘We cannot get in there, but we should ensure they cannot come out here.’
Harry glanced at Liliana. ‘Can you extend the wards to cover everything?’
‘Trap them?’ she rasped. ‘I can… yes.’
‘Let us start with that.’ Giacomo drew his wand. ‘If they are trapped in there, I will feel much more comfortable.’
‘They will… not be… easily… contained,’ Liliana rasped. ‘They are… unspeakables.’
Zabini edged forward and cleared his throat. ‘I have no knowledge of this team, but the other has at least one ward specialist, it would surprise me if this one didn’t.’
‘Grazie, Signore Zabini.’ Giacomo’s brow creased. ‘We will be picked off if we cannot maintain strong wards, just as we were in Rome.’
Liliana nodded, her hood rustling. ‘It is not… taking the… tower that… has stopped… attacks… it is just… keeping a… foothold to… begin with.’
Harry grimaced. ‘Then we pick a fight. We lure them out. We kill Dragon, because Gryphon ordered them to take down our wards, and Gryphon since they seem to be the leader.’
‘They will not attack us blindly.’
‘We must provide bait,’ Zabini said, a sly smile on his face.
Harry smothered a twinge of unease. What’s your goal here? What are the Last Scions up to in Italy? He glanced at the pearl tie pin sticking from Zabini’s jacket lapel. That thing is very annoying.
‘The ruins… in the dip… are a… bad place to… linger,’ Liliana said. ‘Other assaults… have ended… bloodily there.’
Harry nodded. ‘We all go down then. They won’t be able to resist the chance to attack us. Giacomo, I assume you would prefer to fall back the moment we engage?’
Giacomo gave him a stiff nod. ‘I will not fight unspeakables. It is a price we cannot afford to pay. Not even for a united Italy.’
‘You will fall back to the hill and maintain these wards.’ Harry turned to Liliana. ‘You must ward all of them in the moment they appear, so they can’t escape or apparate about. I will transfigure the ruins when they arrive to split them up.’
‘You’ll fight an entire team of unspeakables?’ Zabini’s lips crooked. ‘Just the two of you?’
‘No.’ Harry shook his head and pointed down into the Roman ruins in the dip. ‘I’ll pick a fight with them in pairs, starting with Dragon. Liliana, if you get in trouble, apparate back up the hill. I should kill at least one of them in the first attack when they’re caught off balance. If that’s Dragon, then their ward specialist is gone and we can ward the entire island off and trap them in the tower.’
Giacomo pursed his lips. ‘When?’
‘Now seems as good a time as any other.’
The quicker I’m done here, the faster I’m home. The acorn and his wedding ring hung heavy as lumps of lead against his chest, and a gentle pang twisted in his heart. And I really would just like to be home.
Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve. ‘Get ready.’
Giacomo’s jaw tightened and he twisted on his heel and stalked back to his aurors.
Zabini cocked his head. ‘Your reputation precedes you, Violette. I’ve never seen Giacomo follow a command, I’ve never seen him given one. Even Marie Renner treats his pride with care. I’m curious what he’s seen you do that he listens like that.’
‘I’m curious why you’re here,’ Harry replied. ‘You’re not Italian.’
‘Through my mother, I am.’ Zabini’s easy smile sent the hairs prickling across Harry’s scalp. ‘Britain is my home, but I cannot return there. Amelia Bones saw to that.’
‘So you’ve just left and won’t look back?’
‘Oh I’m going back.’ The smile shrank a fraction. ‘One day. My family and all those like it will take the pound of flesh that we are owed.’
‘Some might… suspect… that they… already did,’ Liliana rasped. ‘Amelia… Bones was… murdered.’
‘But not by me.’ Zabini spread his hands. ‘Though I certainly shall not mourn her.’
Giacomo strode back across, stiff-backed. ‘We are ready. Do not expect us to stay and fight.’
‘Then let’s go.’ Harry wrenched the world past him, stepping out between two pools filled with iridescent shelled oysters with a soft snap.
Liliana apparated next to him, sending a fire-spouting crab scuttling away into the low walls. Giacomo and his aurors appeared with a loud crack, stumbling through the water and over the low, weathered Roman-brick ruins.
Harry thrust his magic into the walls. ‘I doubt it’ll be long before—’
A series of loud cracks rang across the ruins and out over the rolling sea, and the shimmer of wards fell over them. He flicked his wand, dragging the low walls up into thin barriers, twisting his wrist and forcing spikes to burst out.
Acromantula and Werewolf dived away onto the beach to the right, banishing firecrabs away. Stone spines pierced through the legs of Dragon and the Grindylow-masked Unspeakable.
‘Fuck!’ Gryphon froze.
‘Lacero,’ Harry strode forward, unleashing a volley of cutting curses and piercing hexes.
Gryphon threw a bright, white shield in front of Dragon and Grindylow, wincing as Harry’s magic hammered into it and burst in showers of sparks.
‘Get them.’ The brown centaur-masked unspeakable jabbed their wand at the wall, stabbing their magic into Harry’s and seizing a small patch of the wall. ‘I’ll fix this.’ Centaur transfigured the patch into glass. ‘You carry on with the plan. Grindylow, sort yourself and Dragon, find a way through this and go around the other side.’
Grindylow tugged themself off the stone spike with a gasp. ‘Vulnera sanentur,’ they muttered.
Harry wrenched at the world with his magic, but it stuck fast. Merde. They warded us, too.
He threw a few more spells into Gryphon’s shield as Dragon and Grindylow stumbled back through the ruins, glancing over his shoulder at where Liliana stood. The Italians clustered behind a mass of shields beyond her, retreating back through pools toward the hill as Werewolf and Acromantula fired spells after them.
This has gone a bit wrong. Harry caught sight of Zabini in their midst and abandoned his transfiguration. But maybe it can work out for me with a bit of improvisation.
Centaur stuck his wand out and grunted, turning the walls to glass in a slow ripple of magic. Harry poured magic through his wand, drawing into a swirl of white sparks and breathing in the tang of ozone.
Here we go.
A yellow spell flashed past his face.
Harry batted three more back at Gryphon, forcing them down the corridor over chunks of fallen driftwood. He turned his wand onto the glass walls. ‘Reducto.’
Sharp shards sprayed past Gryphon’s shield and the unspeakable staggered back, clapping a hand to their shoulder. Harry whirled on Centaur, forcing his arm through wand motions as fast as he could, burying the unspeakable in a storm of spells until he ripped through the shield.
‘Fuck me.’ Centaur dived to their left, rolling through pools as Harry’s spells smashed through the glass, hissing between Werewolf and Acromantula as they pinned the Italians behind their shields at the edge of the ruins. ‘You’re a fucking monster.’
‘I’m just me.’ Harry deflected Centaur’s curses back at them, stepping close, slipping his own spells in between. ‘And I could have been a lot worse than I am.’
There could have been no dreams left. Like Tom.
The white shield flashed up, but his hexes ripped through, punching holes through the black robes and spattering blood across the glass. Harry banished Centaur’s wand away into the sea.
‘Weird,’ Centaur spluttered, slumping back against the glass wall and sliding down it, leaving a red smear. ‘To get beaten by someone whose name you don’t even know.’ His head fell to the side and his chest stilled.
What’s so important about names? Harry twisted around. It’s purpose that matters. Who you are. Soul.
‘Shit,’ Gryphon hissed, hurling yellow hexes over the broken glass.
Harry threw up his shield and glanced back. The four other Unspeakables converged on the Italian aurors’ shield charms, breaking down each glowing barrier of white magic one by one.
Where’s Zabini? He caught sight of him in the middle, wand outstretched. Found you.
Harry retreated back over the oysters and pools of water, slipping back into the wall of Shield Charms. ‘I’m going to break the wards,’ he shouted, resting a hand on Zabini’s shoulder. ‘Apparate back as soon as you can.’ He pictured the darkness and the dead sea serpent, crushing the wards down until he stumbled across the ruined mosaic.
Zabini staggered to one knee, twisting to face Harry. ‘What—’
‘Lacero.’ Harry slashed Zabini’s wrist open to the bone in a flash of purple and kicked his wand down into the water. ‘There, now we can talk about why you’re here.’
‘Talk?’ Zabini clapped his left hand to his wrist, red poured through his fingers and down his arm, dripping onto the scattered tesserae. ‘I’m bleeding to fucking death. This will be a short conversation.’
‘I know.’ He glanced up at the hole in the roof and reached out, grabbing Zabini by the collar and dragging him out of the light. ‘I’m hoping that will persuade you to be honest when I ask you questions.’
‘Questions.’ Zabini stilled. ‘What questions?’
‘I’m curious about the Last Scions.’
He froze. ‘I don’t know—’
‘You do.’ Harry fixed him with a pointed look. ‘And I know you do. I have ways of knowing if you’re telling the truth.’
Zabini nodded. ‘It’s true. I do.’ He snatched the tie pin from his lapel, crammed into his mouth and swallowed it. ‘What now, Violette?’
Harry smothered a flash of fury. ‘Well, I’ll ask my questions. And we’ll see what you say.’ He spun his wand in his hand. ‘I’m sure I can think of some way to dissuade you from lying that doesn’t involve the Mind Arts.’
A derisive laugh tore from Zabini’s mouth. ‘If you say so.’
‘Who leads the Last Scions?’
‘Leads us?’ Zabini sneered. ‘We work together. We’re not Death Eaters. We don’t follow one person.’
‘Aren’t you?’ Harry asked. ‘None of you?’
The sneer faded and a glint of anger welled in his dark brown eyes. ‘No. I’ll tell you one thing, Violette. No lies. Plain truth. None of us were Death Eaters. Not one of us. We refused to fight. Some of us even tried to help resist Voldemort.’ He sucked his breath in and balled his blood-stained fists. ‘They didn’t care. We were purebloods. That was all that mattered to them. And they took everything we had. And not just money, or land, or houses, or heirlooms. We — I could’ve survived without any of that, it’s just stuff. No, they fed our families to the dementors. Every single fucking adult.’
A chill crawled down Harry’s spine. ‘Why?’
‘Because they hated us. And we couldn’t prove our innocence.’ Zabini trembled with rage. ‘And none of us had ever harmed any of them. We’ll get our pound of flesh. Even if all of us have to die to do it.’
Harry frowned. ‘You didn’t really fight against Voldemort, either.’
‘Did they?’ Zabini’s lips twisted into a sneer. ‘Oh Amelia Bones did, but most of the ones that passed judgement on us, they weren’t fighting. They hid at fucking Hogwarts or in the muggle world or abroad. And then they crawled out of their holes after Potter martyred himself and came for us, because all their real enemies were already dead and they were still scared and angry.’
‘You don’t sound fond of them…’
‘I have never hated anyone or anything how I hate them.’ Zabini glanced at his bleeding wrist and grimaced. ‘You’re not going to heal me, are you, Violette?’
‘Fuck you, then.’ He spat at Harry’s feet. ‘Fuck you and fuck all of them.’ A triumphant grin spread across his face. ‘We got some of that pound of flesh already. Oh how I wish I could’ve seen the look on Amelia Bones’s face as her own Resplendent Sun group murdered her.’ Zabini’s grin faded a fraction. ‘I suppose I won’t get to watch them drive Britain into war or see us take it all back in the chaos, now. A pity.’
‘They took all your dreams away,’ Harry murmured. ‘I can see why you would hate them.’
‘Dreams?’ Zabini’s grin curled into a sneer. ‘They took my mother. My friends. Everyone. Everything. We have nothing.’ A fierce gleam shone in his eyes. ‘But that just means we have nothing left to lose. You won’t stop it now. It’s too late. War is coming. And from the ashes we’ll rise up and take our revenge.’
Nothing left. Harry’s stomach knotted and churned. No dreams. Certainty hit him like a hammer, seizing the breath in his lungs. It’s one of them. The amber-masked figure is one of them.
‘Who’s the strongest of you?’ he demanded. ‘You can’t take on an entire country alone. Not without a wizard or witch of great power.’
‘We’re not alone.’ Zabini laughed. ‘We have the Resplendent Sun, they’re going to fight each other.’ He crossed his legs, a huge smile on his face. ‘You can kill me now, Violette. That’s all I have to say.’
‘I shouldn’t have let Pansy escape,’ Harry muttered. ‘I should have ripped everything she knew out of her head and killed all of you. Farley. Greengrass. Crabbe. Goyle. Greengrass—’ he listed on his fingers ‘—there are probably more of you, too. And this Resplendent Sun group you’re manipulating.’
Zabini’s smile vanished. ‘How do you know that? We are the only ones who know any of our names. Who are you?’
‘A martyr, apparently.’ Harry tugged Violette’s ring from his finger. ‘But one lucky enough to live.’
‘Oh fuck,’ Zabini breathed. ‘Fuck me.’ A broad grin spread across his face. ‘Oh but this is perfect, Potter. Perfect. Thank you for showing me your face. I can see how this is going to go now. It’s Amelia Bones and the Resplendent Sun all over again.’ He broke into laughter. ‘Perfect. So absolutely fucking perfect.’
Harry thrust his magic into the air, wrapping it around Zabini’s head. ‘Anything else you’d like to say.’
Zabini kept on laughing. ‘No, you go ahead and kill me, Potter. I’ve nothing left to lose and nothing more to say.’
‘Alright then.’ Harry twisted his wrist, ripping Zabini’s skull and spine away from his body.
Blood trickled down the pale, gleaming bone and dripped into the shattered mosaic. He swept everything all down into the water with a flick of his wand, stripping the tesserae from the ground until every drop of blood was gone.
One down. He took a deep breath to dispel the disquiet. I shouldn’t have spared Pansy, but I learn from my mistakes. I don’t forget them. I don’t repeat them. After La Victoire Finale, I’ll wipe every one of the Last Scions away, including the amber-masked figure.
Harry slipped the ring back onto his finger and apparated back up onto the hill.
‘Violette!’ Liliana swept across the hill. ‘Are you… okay?’
‘I’m fine,’ he replied. ‘I tried to cover our escape and needed to heal myself after they got a few curses in.’
Giacomo stepped up onto the marble column. ‘Where is Signore Zabini?’
Harry glanced around at the other aurors. ‘He didn’t come back here?’
‘No.’ Giacomo stared down into the ruins. ‘He was right next to us until we apparated. The unspeakables must have got him before he could.’
‘I got Centaur in return.’ Harry turned to Liliana. ‘Push the wards over the island, let’s trap them in as best we can. Dragon and Gryphon both survived, but I don’t think they’ll risk coming out to fight unless it’s an excellent opportunity.’
‘Of course,’ Liliana rasped, pulling out her wand. ‘I have… contacted… Grise. I… don’t think… I will be… much use… beyond… wards. I… couldn’t… even glimpse… anything. He will come… tomorrow.’
‘We’ll worry about getting into the tower tomorrow, then,’ he replied. ‘I’m sorry about Zabini, Giacomo, I thought we’d all apparated out in time.’
‘He was an excellent asset,’ Giacomo murmured as Liliana pushed her wards over the whole island and sagged. ‘His insight was extremely valuable.’
I bet it was. Harry smothered a flash of wry humour as the Italian turned on his heel and stalked off. He was manipulating you just like the Last Scions are using this Resplendent Sun group.
He stepped alongside Liliana. ‘Do we know anything about the Resplendent Sun?’ he murmured.
‘Who?’ Liliana peered up at him from beneath her hood. ‘I’ve never heard that name before.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Harry replied. ‘I must have misheard.’
They’re like the Order of the Phoenix, then. Some covert private little group almost nobody knows about. I’ll have to find them myself. He cupped his wedding band and the acorn pendant, drawing them up out from under his robes and pushing a little wisp of magic into the necklace. After La Victoire Finale.
The acorn warmed against his palm, cooled, and warmed once more.
‘Je t’aime, mon Trésor,’ Harry whispered, clenching his fist right around the soft glow of his wedding ring. ‘And our baby bird. I miss you both.’