The sun beat down on the rocky hillside and its scatter of tough shrubs, gleaming upon Violette’s ring and the shining on the slim piece of glass sat upon the worn base of the toppled statue.
Hurry, Liliana. He swallowed a soft murmur of need and sighed, tilting his head back and closing his eyes. There’s no time left to waste. Gabby’s magic will not last forever.
Harry slid his wand from his sleeve and let his frustration rise, felt it bubble up into the back of his throat, a raw, fierce scream. Dark mist spilt from his wand, gushing through his fingers and thrashing about his hand in slim, sharp tendrils.
We’re out of time. He closed his eyes and breathed in the cold of the clenched fist of fury. And out of things we can afford to lose.
The slim piece of glass vibrated in his pocket.
Harry snatched it up. ‘Lemon Sorbet is summoned…’
Send him to Greece. Fierce yearning clawed its way up inside him and the dark mist dug slim talons into the stone beside him, scoring deep lines into the worn marble. Or to the US. Anywhere I need to be.
He stuffed the glass and Violette’s ring back into his pocket, the black vapour shrinking into his wand as he transfigured his face and robes, and clapped Lemon Sorbet’s mask onto his face.
‘Here we go.’
A faint ray of hope found him as he apparated back, hopping from to Bari to Rome to Corsica to the willow.
Black silk fluttered before the mirror and his thumbnail flashed warm as he stumbled a step closer over the white pebbles.
‘Hello, baby bird,’ Harry whispered. ‘I wish you weren’t gone.’
Desperate desire clamped its fist ’round his heart and raw, thick, hot emotion bubbled onto his tongue.
‘But not really gone.’ He pounded the heel of his hand against his ribs until the yearning eased and he could breathe. ‘Just out of reach.’
Harry grabbed the acorn pendant under his robes. ‘Argent.’ He stuffed it back beneath the tight, dark British auror robes and wrenched the world past him, stepping out into the glow of green lanterns.
Susan Bones started behind her desk. ‘Lemon Sorbet.’
‘Where?’ He swept his eyes over the stacks of paperwork and half-empty teacups..
‘Violette has come to ruin our plans in Greece. According to my Minister for War, you are more or less the only force I can send. Voldemort’s uprising has left us without many wands to call on beyond those my aunt rebuilt.’ She clenched her jaw and slid an iron ring across her desk. ‘Go to Thessaloniki. Your captains and team are there.’
Harry studied the tiny runes cut into the inside of the band. ‘Generally I’m wary of putting on enchanted things if I don’t know exactly what they do.’
‘It won’t hurt you. I’m told wearing it is strange the first time, since it is the only way to know the locations of our portkey points.’
There’s no choice. He slid it onto his finger in place of Violette’s ring. I need to get to Greece.
A sharp twinge bit into his temple.
‘Do you know how to get to Thessaloniki?’ Susan asked.
And from the back of his mind rose a series of places Harry had never seen before. Bleak, dark tower tops like Azkaban’s, each with a different magical creature carved into their roof.
‘Your captains will fill you in on the rest. I’ve no time to spare for anyone but bloody Tsarina Bugrov right now.’ Susan flapped a hand at him.
He apparated to the first, stepping into soft drizzle and staring back at the distinctive white cliffs.
A handy ring. Harry studied the plain metal band. I ought to get Fleur to check it just in case though. Like with the mask and that enchanted glass.
He apparated across the string of towers, lingering for a moment on the familiar summit over-looking Mal Hadasht, then spinning the world back past himself thrice more to appear above a choppy blue sea in a strong, warm wind.
The carving of a three-headed hydra snarled in the stone beneath his boots as he strode across the roof and tugged the door open.
Strawberry Sundae’s pink mask smiled at him from the gloom of the stairwell. ‘Lemon Sorbet.’
‘Strawberry Sundae,’ Harry replied. ‘Where—’
‘Two flights down.’ They reached past and pulled the door closed, forcing him down a couple of steps and vanished with a loud crack.
Let’s find out what’s going on. He hurried down the steps. And then the first chance that comes, I take.
Harry rapped his knuckles on the door. ‘I’m here.’
‘Who’s there?’ Pistachio Surprise called from inside.
He opened the door. ‘Me.’
‘Lemon Sorbet who?’ They laughed, leaning over a table piled with potions and files.
Smooth Mint turned away from the slit window with a quiet sigh. ‘Neville Longbottom believes you could counter Violette, but we are sceptical.’
Their dark and light green masks stared at him over the table with vacant eyes and wide smiles.
‘We’ll see.’ Harry shrugged, running his eyes over the maps pinned to the wall.
A small cluster of coloured wedges hovered over the sea just south of Thessaloniki and another group hung over North Egypt.
‘Us and Team Hedgehog.’ Smooth Mint tracked his gaze to the wall.
Pistachio Surprise stuck a purple Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Bean on the west coast of Greece. ‘Violette, represented by this aubergine flavour bean—’
‘Blackcurrant,’ Smooth Mint said.
Smooth Mint plucked it off the map, their mask melting back to reveal pale skin and a delicate chin, and bit it in half, thrusting the other half out at Pistachio Surprise.
Their mask crept back and they snatched the half-bean, cramming it into their mouth. ‘Fine it’s blackcurrant.’
Harry sighed. It’s like the Duforts all over again…
‘Violette…?’ He pointed at the map.
‘Right!’ Pistachio Surprise said. ‘Violette is sunbathing on Iphika and we have Janissaries testing our ward responses on the islands in the Aegean. Tsarina Bugrov has forced the rest back to Constantinople but hasn’t continued to pressure them as we agreed.’
‘She was speaking quietly with Ansgar Fürstenburg in Copenhagen,’ Smooth Mint said. ‘And Minister Bones has heard nothing from her since her victory in Abaskia on the Eastern Black Sea coast a week ago.’
Pistachio Surprise turned away from the map. ‘We can only trust ourselves. She may have cut some deal with the Germanic States and Polans to reclaim those Slavic States and settle for peace.’
Smooth Mint tapped a dark circle on the map halfway between Greece and Crete. ‘Lysander and the Greek aurors are here, in Atlantis.’
A soft murmur of need stirred in Harry’s heart. ‘Atlantis?’
‘Don’t waste time with the Greeks,’ Pistachio Surprise said. ‘They’re useless. Have been since their greatest bloodlines scattered themselves across Alexander’s Empire and spent the next centuries killing each other and destroying their own legacy.’
Smooth Mint sighed. ‘After muggle Rome fell, Greece was invaded repeatedly by non-separated pagan peoples. The magical cities, artefacts and bloodlines left were all wiped out bar Atlantis. The magical communities are tiny and they have very few aurors for a country as big as they are. We have put them in Atlantis because they will fight to the death for it should the Janissaries make it that far across the Aegean, but that is about all they can be relied upon to do.’
‘But back to Violette.’ Pistachio Surprise dug through their pockets. ‘That was the last purple one, Smooth Mint.’
‘So cold, Smooth Mint.’
Smooth Mint sighed. ‘Violette has Iphika, which the last war against Grindelwald showed was a very convenient location from which to attack mainland Greece or Italy.’
‘He’s not to be underestimated,’ Pistachio Surprise murmured. ‘Take nothing for granted. He uses magic like a hammer, but he’s clever too. He bypassed an age line. We have been unable to contain him so far. He is that powerful.’
‘He might just be very young.’ Smooth Mint charmed another wedge purple and stuck it on the map. ‘His sisters are over a decade older than him, but their mother would have just about been able to have him before she died.’
‘She died mysteriously,’ Pistachio Surprise chimed in. ‘Maybe Henri Dufort’s how she died.’
A small smile tugged at the corner of Harry’s mouth. ‘I’ll watch out for Violette.’
‘That’s exactly what you’re going to be doing,’ Smooth Mint said. ‘We know Violette is immune to Strawberry Sundae’s gift and skilled in the Mind Arts, immune to Wild Cherry’s potions and poisons, a very skilled duellist and very powerful. What we don’t know is what he isn’t good at.’
‘Go to Iphika.’ Pistachio Surprise poked Smooth Mint in the hip until they stepped aside. ‘Observe from a safe distance. Find us something we can use against him.’
Back to Iphika? Harry clenched his jaw. Fantastic.
‘Don’t let him see you,’ Smooth Mint said. ‘Violette is going to ruin everything we’ve planned if he’s allowed to get into mainland Greece where we can’t at least keep track of him. Britain has no more forces left to send anywhere.’
‘It’s going well, though.’ Pistachio Surprise ran their fingers over Egypt. ‘So long as Ginevra Weasley keeps popping up all over the US and Tsarina Bugrov doesn’t let the Janissaries focus on us.’
Harry stared at the map. I’m not spending weeks pretending to spy on myself. I don’t have time. He turned it over in his head. I’ll just say Violette caught me.
‘I’ll go to Iphika then.’ He caught himself as he shifted his weight to apparate. ‘I may need a portkey.’
Pistachio Surprise rummaged through the vials and tossed him an ice cream stick. ‘Actually…’ They lifted a small golden vial. ‘Smooth Mint?’
‘No.’ Smooth Mint shook their head. ‘Felix felicis isn’t something we’re going to get any more of for a while. Save it.’
‘Alright.’ Pistachio Surprise tucked the vial into their pocket. ‘The word is Fortescue.’
Their green masks whirled into a dark blur and he splashed into the warm sea.
‘Fantastic.’ Harry kicked water, twisting around until he caught sight of Iphika over the waves and apparating back up onto the hill.
Now what. He vanished the portkey and dried himself with a flick of his wand. I need them to send me to Crete when Violette appears there. Harry frowned at the worn marble statue base. So let’s give them a reason to think I can help Team Hedgehog deal with Violette.
Heat flared through his thumb and the black willow rose under his nail. A little niggle of anxiety ate at him.
‘Best to check.’ Harry pulled off Lemon Sorbet’s mask and apparated, jumping through Bari to Bonifacio. ‘Argent,’ he whispered, clutching the acorn pendant.
Fleur glanced up from the resurrection stone and gold band on her hand. ‘It’s just me, mon Amour.’
‘Talking to Gabby?’
Her blue eyes darkened a few hues. ‘It is no different to you using memories of Katie in the pensieve.’
‘I know,’ he murmured. ‘Just… be careful.’
Fleur’s expression softened. ‘Is Vert not going to notice you’re gone?’
Harry shook his head. ‘She’s sailing to Crete. She’ll come back to get you when she gets there, to get through the wards, and then you can call me.’ He raised the acorn and his glowing wedding ring up on their slim, silver chain. ‘And I’ll be close enough to go lotus hunting.’
‘You have a new ring.’ Fleur studied the iron band on his finger.
‘Lemon Sorbet’s. It’s for Britain’s portkeys.’ Harry held out his hand. ‘Can you check it for me?’
She pulled her wand out and touched it to the tip with a small frown. ‘Where have you been sent?’
He gave her a little smile. ‘Greece.’
Fleur’s breath hitched. ‘So you’re close…’
‘I need to find a lotus, but I have no idea how. And I need to find a way to get into Atlantis without anyone on either side thinking it was Lemon Sorbet or Violette.’
‘Lotuses are usually found by tracking disappearances,’ she replied, lowering her wand. ‘But at the moment that’s not going to be easy or even helpful given there’s a war on. This ring is clever, but it doesn’t do anything to worry about. It’s a ward key to a lot of different wards and carries an impression of what I assume are those places?’
‘That’s good. I didn’t really have any choice in putting it on earlier.’ Harry mulled over her words on lotuses. ‘I’ll get Liliana to find the lotus. She promised to scry for me. I just need an excuse to get her to look for one.’
‘Atlantis is almost sacred to the Greeks, it has centuries of wards on it.’ Fleur closed her fist over the stone. ‘You may need the cloak to get through them. I don’t know more than that.’
A soft yearning bubbled up beneath his breast. ‘I’ll find a way.’
‘We will find a way, mon Amour,’ she whispered. ‘It’s just us now.’
He stepped forward and wrapped his hands around her fist, drawing her into his arms. ‘Not for long.’ Harry rested his forehead against Fleur’s, brushing noses with her. ‘We’ll have our little veela hatchling back soon.’
‘I found nothing in Salazar’s library about damaz-kar in Egypt.’ Fleur’s breath tickled his neck. ‘He had some knowledge of them, they’re very potent and made only from goblin bone without any precious metals or gems, but no wizard has ever gotten close enough to study them. They’ve been glimpsed by Romans beneath the Alps once or twice during rebellions there. That’s it.’
‘You’ve got time still.’ Harry frowned. ‘Unless Grise is keeping you busy?’
‘I am meant to be helping your sisters if they need it,’ she replied with a touch of sharpness. ‘The attack on us has worried Présidente Desrosiers about the integrity of the wards, so I’m creating new ones. For all of France. Ones that only I can maintain. I won’t be able to travel far from France for long. And Grise has promised to make sure one of us is around to look after our daughter.’
‘At least you’re safe.’ He breathed out his relief into her silver hair. ‘Keep hunting damaz-kar. The harder it is for us to get it, the stronger the ritual will be.’
The lotus. Liliana. Atlantis. The cloak. Harry held Fleur tight. And the rest.
‘I’m going to go back now,’ he whispered, stepping back. ‘Use the pendant when you need me, if it’s hot for several seconds I’ll know you’re not just missing me.’
She clutched his hand. ‘No risks.’ Fleur’s lower lip shook. ‘I can’t lose anything else. You can’t not come back again.’
‘I can’t promise you no risks,’ Harry murmured. ‘But I won’t take any unnecessary ones. I’ll be careful. And I will always come back. That I do promise.’
Fleur released his hand and took a deep shuddering breath, tossing her hair over shoulder. ‘Go, then.’ She balled her fists and her eyes flashed black as pitch. ‘And see what you can learn about who attacked us. I want to watch them burn.’
But Katie first. Harry apparated his way back across to Iphika and pulled Lemon Sorbet’s mask out, pressing it onto his face. Now, how best to show I had a little run in with Violette?
He knelt and ground his knees into the dirt, slicing a few holes into his robes.
‘And now for the finishing touch.’ Harry set his arm on fire and took a deep breath as the heat bit into arm, red-hot pain curling into his flesh.
It’s only pain. He let it drift into the distance beyond tumbling red petals and a crimson-tipped thorn.
Apparating back onto the tower top, he stumbled to his knees and conjured a rush of water, dousing the flames beneath a wash of stinging cold.
Raw blistered skin stretched under the scorched tatters of his robes. ‘Wonderful.’
‘Ice cream is meant to be kept cold,’ Pistachio Surprise skipped up the steps, their wand in their hand. ‘I see you met Violette.’
‘He wasn’t very friendly.’ Harry murmured the healing incantation under his breath a few times as his body healed itself. ‘I got him back a few times though, until all the Fiendfyre.’
‘He is fond of Fiendfyre and whatever Grindelwald’s air spell is called, if it ever was named.’ Pistachio Surprise restored his robes with a flick of their wand. ‘How long did you last?’
‘A good few minutes. And I put a couple of holes in him.’ Harry recalled what they’d said on Iphika. ‘My magic was invented to counter Grindelwald’s spell and it works half well against Fiendfyre, but I wasn’t expecting him to be so fast.’
‘It’s not natural.’ Pistachio Surprise’s dark green mask stared down at him. ‘Some kind of alchemical enchantment on himself, maybe. Smooth Mint and I asked someone we thought might know, but they only had theories on how it might have been accomplished. We can’t counter it.’
‘It’s fine. My magic can stop spells even if they’re fast, I just wasn’t ready for what duelling someone like that would be like.’ Harry smiled behind his mask as he rose to his feet. ‘Usually I can just rip through without having to be clever.’
‘You’re sure it was Violette and not Vert or another?’
‘His face kept changing. Silver tree and blue robes like the Duforts wear, but not quite the same.’
Smooth Mint drifted from the gloom of the stairs, folding their arms. ‘That is definitely Violette. Maybe you’re everything Longbottom claimed after all, Lemon Sorbet.’
‘And don’t be bitter that you lost, Lemon Sorbet,’ Pistachio Surprise chimed. ‘We’ve all had to flake a couple of times now against Violette.’
Smooth Mint sighed. ‘Welcome to Team Ice Cream, Lemon Sorbet. It’s all downhill from here.’
‘And it’s a rocky road.’ Pistachio Surprise snickered.