The white flames of the brazier flickered and danced beneath the floating glass lanterns.
‘How was Britain?’ Fleur murmured. ‘Did Susan Bones give you permission to go to Greece?’
Harry shook his head. ‘Not yet. They gave me that mask and the enchanted little piece of glass for Smooth Mint or Pistachio Surprise to contact me with, but I’ve heard nothing.’
‘You’re with the ice creams.’ Fleur glanced over her shoulder as footsteps approached from the corridor. ‘Let’s see if Violette can go to Greece instead.’
Harry nodded as Grise pushed the door open, a glass lantern cradled in his arms.
‘Violette. Sarcelle.’ He trudged over. ‘I’m sorry for your loss. She will be much missed.’ Grise scooped a tongue of white flame into the glass lanterns and closed it. ‘As is our tradition, we will light a lantern for Cramoisi. It will float here for as long as Les Inconnus exists.’
Liliana appeared with a loud crack and froze at the sight of Harry. ‘You are… back here.’
Fleur’s fingers balled into fists and a little heat washed across Harry’s side. ‘Light your trinket, Grise. I won’t mourn my sister here.’
Grise ushered the lantern up alongside the score of others. ‘I had thought to say some words, but…’
‘Don’t,’ Harry said. ‘We said our words already. We’re not here for that. We’re here to fight.’
‘For a… greater… good,’ Liliana whispered. ‘Or mostly… for revenge?’
‘Where are we going?’ Fleur demanded. ‘Spain? Britain? Malta? Gibraltar? Greece?’
‘Présidente Desrosiers has two goals in mind.’ Grise steepled his fingers. ‘She seems… angry.’
‘She feels betrayed,’ Harry said. ‘Her associate in Britain facilitated the attack on us.’
‘Did they know it was you, Violette?’ Grise asked. ‘If Desrosiers hinted at your identity to someone in Britain…’
‘I don’t know. It doesn’t matter, it can’t be repeated,’ Harry replied.
Grise frowned at his hands. ‘Very well. Desrosiers wants Sint-Maarten reclaimed, but with the loss of our portkey network across the Atlantic this is all but impossible. Her second objective is severing British access to the Mediterranean.’
‘Malta and… Gibraltar,’ Liliana rasped. ‘Both are… formidable… and now… better… guarded.’
‘Also all but impossible,’ Grise said. ‘We have decided it would be best to cut off the territories Britain uses those stepping stones to access and leave them less useful. We can take them later when they have moved their focus elsewhere.’
Harry allowed himself a small smile. ‘Greece.’
‘And Egypt.’ Grise reached inside his robes, pulling out a map and his wand. He levitated it up above the brazier. ‘Suleiman sent half his Janissaries to retake the newly dubbed Principality of Kyiv from Tsarina Bugrov and directed the other half across the Aegean. However, British unspeakables are present in Greece and have now begun to launch attacks into Egypt from Crete.’
‘You want Violette to counter the Unspeakables,’ Harry said.
Just like Neville feared. I wonder if Lemon Sorbet will be sent to fight Violette soon?
‘As best as we can determine, Tsarina Bugrov has not yet entirely safeguarded the region against attack and until she does, Suleiman will not abandon his attempt to reclaim it and focus on the British.’ Grise tapped Crete. ‘This means his Janissaries are stretched thin across the Aegean and Egypt, and Britain can grind his forces down with the Unspeakables until Suleiman may be forced to leave Constantinople and enter the war himself or accept peace on British terms.’
‘Which we… don’t want,’ Liliana said. ‘Because that… leaves their… Unspeakables… free to… act against… France.’
‘And because if Suleiman reclaims the former Ottoman territories he will do what Ottoman Caliphs have done for centuries and attempt to expand west, likely picking a fight with Ostirrikia or the vampires he so detests, but also possibly contesting our hold on North Africa,’ Grise said. ‘The Ottoman Magical Caliphate was formed when struggling roman magical communities seized control of muggle states after the Ikhanate Empire lost its grip on the region. Its founder dreamt of rebuilding Rome’s legacy and it was only when Britain, France and Spain insisted it adhere to the Statute completely that it finally completely separated its secret magical nobility from the muggle world. And in so doing, various parts rebelled, which the British stole under the guise of assisting the Caliph at the time.’
Rome’s legacy. Harry scowled into the white flames and shoved Sophonissa’s words away. None of that matters now.
‘We would be Britain’s only enemy in Europe if they stop fighting against the Ottomans,’ Fleur said. ‘And they have Spain on their side.’
‘The Duforts can hold France against anything they can throw at us, but Italy? Sicily? North Africa?’ Grise shook his head. ‘We need to prevent Britain from forcing the Ottomans out of the war by cutting off British access to Egypt at all costs.’
Liliana pointed her wand at the map. ‘We cannot… reach Crete… to stop… the attacks… on Egypt.’
‘We must create a stepping stone first.’ Grise placed the tip of his wand on a small island off the west coast of southern Greece. ‘Iphika is well-placed. Grindelwald used it. And we seized it from Grindelwald later in the second war for the same reason.’
‘They will… expect us.’
‘They will. If we are fortunate it will be a single team of unspeakables, if not, it might be both teams.’ His pink eyes flicked to rest on Harry. ‘You have done everything you have ever claimed to be able to. Can you do this? Can you get to Greece?’
‘Yes.’ Harry took a deep breath to still the yearning bubbling up in his breast. ‘I can and I will.’
‘I will… go also,’ Liliana said. ‘I am not… as skilled with… wards as… Sarcelle, but… I do not… think it… wise for… us to risk… another… loss for… Violette.’
‘That will work,’ Harry said, resting a hand on her shoulder. ‘And I will go in a few moments if it’s possible. There’s no time to waste.’
Grise reached into his pocket and produced a worn loop of copper chain. ‘This portkey took me to Iphika when I first went there to fight Grindelwald’s forces. It will not be deterred by wards.’
Liliana reached out and took it. ‘I remember… this.’
‘I kept it, old friend. Just in case.’
Harry caught Fleur’s eye. ‘I’ll be back in a minute, Vert.’ He drew her into the corridor and through to Gabby’s old room. ‘We can’t both go. If we both die…’
‘We will not.’ Fleur turned her nose up. ‘But I was not going to object. I’m concerned by what made Liliana choose to volunteer. She knows too much…’
‘I’ll find out.’ He pulled her close and held her tight, breathing in the soft, sweet scent of marzipan. ‘Je t’aime, mon Trésor. In case I don’t see you for a little while.’
‘Je t’aime,’ Fleur whispered. ‘Remember. The lotus heart. Three dark pearls from Atlantis. I will hunt through the archives for any damaz-kar mentioned in Egypt.’
‘And Salazar’s library,’ he murmured. ‘We mustn’t forget our mistakes. If we’d looked there harder…’
Her grip tightened. ‘Je sais.’
‘I will find a way,’ Harry promised. ‘No matter how.’
Fleur pressed her forehead against his and took a deep shaky breath. ‘Don’t get caught. We can’t do this quickly with everyone hunting us and Gabby’s magic might begin to fade.’
‘I won’t get caught.’ He brushed her silver hair back over her shoulder and kissed her. ‘Violette appearing in Greece will get Lemon Sorbet sent there. Once I’m on both sides, I’ll be able to arrange something.’
She clung to him, crushing her mouth into his, leaving his lips tingling. ‘Go. Go mon Amour. Don’t come back until you have them.’ Fleur stepped back out of his arms and apparated away.
‘I won’t,’ Harry murmured. ‘The more it hurts to get, the more likely La Victoire Finale succeeds.’ He took a deep breath of cool air, staring down at the hollow stone pit at the centre of the room. ‘I’m sorry, Gabby. It won’t be a secret for long. Either it works and I’ll tell her, or it doesn’t.’
And if it doesn’t, then nothing matters.
‘Vio…lette?’ A light step scraped in the door. ‘Are you… well?’
He turned on his heel, sliding his wand from his sleeve. ‘As well as can be expected.’
Liliana held out the dangling copper chain, the beaten, scratched metal swinging from her fingers. ‘This will take… us all… the way. It was… Liliana’s… a gift… from him.’
‘All the way?’ Harry frowned, drifting up a couple of steps. ‘That’s a long way…’
‘It was meant… to pass through… wards like… a phoenix.’ Liliana’s knuckles whitened around the chain. ‘He made it… and called… it a… portkey… but it is… alchemy. Using it… is very… tiring.’
‘Can you get us there?’
‘I can… but I… cannot… get us… back and… I will… be too… tired to… fight much.’
Harry reached out and took a tight hold of the cold copper chain. ‘I can fight for both of us if I have to.’
Liliana swept her hood back and stared at him with dark eyes. ‘For the… Greater Good.’
Red flames washes across the stone and Harry dropped onto his feet in the warm dust, staggering forward against a small cypress.
Let’s let the Unspeakables know Violette is here. He ran his eye across the small rocky hill rising from the waves and the small toppled shrine at its peak. Then they’ll send Lemon Sorbet to Greece too.
‘Be… wary…’ Liliana flopped onto her back, gasping for breath in thin hoarse rattles. ‘Vio…lette.’
He breathed in the sweet pine sap and faint scent of the sea, spinning his wand in his fingers. ‘No risks, Liliana.’
A loud pop rang out from the peak of the shallow hill and a scatter of bright-masked, dark-robed figures appeared on the slope beyond the cypress branches.
The other flavours. Harry stepped in front of Liliana and raised his wand, thrusting his magic into the air.
‘I can… defend… myself,’ she rasped, scrambling to her feet
‘Stay here.’ He strode up the slope. ‘I’ll drive them off.’
Best not to kill them, I might need them to get Lemon Sorbet somewhere important. If it turns out it was them that attacked us, I can kill them later.
‘Hello, Violette!’ Pistachio Surprise called, grey mist spilling from their sleeves to swirl in eddying circles around their shoulders and waist. ‘How’s the sun looking?’
‘Resplendent.’ Harry closed the air in around them, clenching his magic like a fist.
Fog poured from Smooth Mint into a smooth wall, holding his magic fast. ‘Grindelwald’s spell. Ours was created to counter it.’
They must have a plan for Violette. He abandoned the air and paused halfway up the slope. Let’s see it. And crush it.
Vanilla Delight drew a familiar circle of runes in the air before their beige mask and cast them over the group. The grey mist swirled in thin spirals around it, curling into thick, dark swirls and fading like wisps of smoke.
‘An age line…’ Harry hurled a trio of piercing hexes up the slope and watched them burst against the mist.
But one meant to stop anyone older than eighteen crossing. A wry little smile crept onto his lips. A good thing I was dead for a year. My birthday isn’t for another week.
‘Wild Cherry.’ Smooth Mint held out their hand. ‘A little luck, if you’d be so kind…’
The red-masked unspeakable produced two tiny golden vials and unease stirred in Harry’s stomach.
‘Felix felicis…’ He concealed the anxiety thrashing in his gut. ‘You’ll be lucky to survive.’
Pistachio Surprise’s dark green mask melted up to reveal pale skin and pink lips. ‘We thought just the same, Henri Dufort.’ They tipped three drops onto their tongue and swallowed.
‘You cause chaos, Violette.’ Smooth Mint’s pale green mask crept back to reveal fair skin as they drank theirs. ‘With you around, who knows what might happen?’
Should I leave? Harry flexed his fingers on his wand. How powerful is felix felicis?
Liliana laughed, stepping to his shoulder. ‘You think… that has… not been… tried before?’ She tugged her hood back up. ‘A little nudge… is not… enough… to stop… Violette… luck can… only take… you so far.’
It’s defined by what they know, too. Harry shoved the tight tangle of fear down into the emptiness and hurled blasting curses up the slope, blending his wand motions together as fast as he could. And they know nothing. Not even my age.
His storm of spells hammered into the shivering grey fog and shattered, hexes flashed back and forth, deflecting off one another to splatter, sear, and scorch the rocky hillside.
Harry wrenched the world back past him and stepped out inside the age line, raising his wand. A yellow spell bounced back off Liliana’s purple one, streaking through a gap in the mist and snapping his right forearm.
Merde. He let out a hiss at the fierce, throbbing pain and thrust out his other hand, wrenching at Pistachio Surprise and Smooth Mint with his magic as they twisted around.
The two unspeakables smashed into him, knocking his wand from numb fingers as the burning pain in his arm spiked and sending them sprawling across the floor. Grey mist writhed above their heads as Harry summoned his wand back into his left hand and apparated behind the worn columns of the shrine.
‘Osassere sanentur,’ he muttered, wincing at the flash of fire as his arm snapped back into place.
‘Drop the age line,’ Smooth Mint ordered, drawing the smoke-like magic back into a swirling shield to deflect Liliana’s curses. ‘Violette got through it.’
‘How the fuck did he do that?’ Vanilla Delight growled, flicking his wand at the circle of runes. ‘Only Bellatrix fucking Lestrange ever got through one and she was too insane to say how.’
‘Maybe he’s mad too.’ Strawberry Sundae’s nebulous silver shield deflected Liliana’s purple spells off in all directions. ‘Impossible magic needs a little madness.’
‘It’s that or he’s a lot younger than his three sisters,’ Pistachio Surprise said. ‘How long, Wild Cherry?’
‘A couple minutes.’
‘Vanilla, Cherry, Strawberry, kill Vert,’ Smooth Mint said. ‘Pistachio and I will hold off Violette for a couple of minutes.’
Harry thrust his magic into the columns of the shrine, transfiguring them into the four stone-scaled, marble serpents. They thudded to the ground in clouds of dust, streaking down the slope with a dull rumble. Grey fog swirled, sharpening into a whirl of lashing razors and shredding through the stone snakes with a grating screech. Sharp chips and chunks of rock skittered across the slope, scattering down to the sea.
Fine. Have fire instead.
Harry dragged the amber-masked figure up, a single swirling shadow behind Katie as she laughed under cold glass, and poured fiendfyre down the slope. Its searing heat scorched his skin and forced tears of molten stone from the ground, setting the cypresses ablaze in a crackling rush of orange sparks.
He swept a wall of crimson flames between Team Ice Cream and Liliana and brought it roaring back up the slope, its red tongues reaching out, full of hungry whispers.
‘Back.’ Smooth Mint hurled a wave of grey fog into the flames. ‘Pistachio!’
A slim tendril of mist curled around the waist of the other unspeakables, yanking them back to Pistachio’s side as they dragged a ring of iron keys out.
A loud crack rang over the small isle and they vanished.
‘They will… be back,’ Liliana rasped. ‘With others.’
‘I will drive them away again.’ Harry let the memory of Katie’s cheerful babbling wash the fiendfyre away like cool, clear water sweeping dust from its path. ‘I can ward this place like Mal Hadasht if need be.’
‘And Crete?’ She trudged up the slope, tugging her hood back. ‘Even you… cannot… apparate… that far.’
We’ll have to find another way. Like we did to get to Malta.
He stripped the flickering flames from the cypress with a flick of his wand and reshaped it into a small boat. ‘Can you sail, Liliana?’
‘I can… make do… with magic,’ she whispered. ‘For you.’
‘To Crete, then.’ Harry spun his wand in his fingers, showering the slope in silver sparks. ‘Find a safe spot outside the ward we can portkey to, return here with your necklace, and get Sarcelle from Paris. She will get us through the wards without breaking them. When she has, she will tell me and I will come to Crete.’
‘And then… Violette?’ Liliana stared up at him with dark eyes.
‘We make our presence known,’ he replied, levitating the boat down onto the waves. ‘So those unspeakables have to come back from Egypt to protect Crete.’
And so Lemon Sorbet is sent to Crete or Greece.
‘They will… hunt us… all over… the island,’ she rasped. ‘Two teams… of them… if the… Janissaries… slacken… their attacks.’
‘We hide. Like Julien hid from us.’ Harry pulled Violette’s ring from his finger and met her wide-eyes. ‘Whatever it takes.’
I just need to get to Crete. From there. Egypt. Atlantis. The lotus’s heart. Bitter humour drew the corner of his mouth into a small smile. The locket. The cup. The snake. The diadem. The ring. A fierce yearning bubbled up into a ball of burning need, tearing ’round beneath his ribs like the winds of a hurricane, its hot claws sharp as razors. Does this never end?