Dead things danced in darkness deep as the sea, swirling and twirling in the shadows just beyond his sight.
I know all your faces. Harry gazed into the gloom. All your names.
They stared back with gleaming pale eyes, whispering Sophonissa’s words as their fervent awe prickled on his skin, seeping through him into a soft, fluttering thrill.
A single red spark welled up in the distance; it burst on the horizon into crimson rays, washing across the world. And from the dawn’s bloodstained sky came a familiar figure, frozen amber flame glowing in place of its face.
‘Nothing lasts forever,’ Harry whispered as the sun rose.
Its rays turned the figure to a shimmering silhouette of amber fire.
‘Not dreams,’ it whispered back, stepping across the sky to stretch out its hand. ‘Not wishes. Not sunsets—’ the burning amber hand sank through his skin, searing his heart away ‘—not even hope.’
Harry jolted awake into bright light, clutching the hot silver acorn under his robes and snatching ragged gasps of breath.
A full moon hung in the slit window of Thessaloniki’s tower, throwing pale light over his face, and voices drifted up from the room below.
Smooth Mint and Pistachio Surprise are still talking to Susan Bones.
The acorn burnt against his chest.
Harry dragged it out and watched it unfurl into the gleaming mirror. His wedding ring glowed with soft silver light as it swayed beneath it on the silver chain.
‘Violette.’ The corner of Fleur’s mouth crooked. ‘Did we wake you?’
‘Yes.’ He sat up, pulling his wand out from under his pillow and resting it on his lap. ‘Crete?’
Fleur turned her mirror, showing white sand and pink-flowering cacti before grass-tufted dunes. ‘I’ve altered the wards, you’ll be able to portkey in.’
Footsteps echoed up the stairs.
Harry frowned, kicking back the sheet. ‘Tell Liliana I’m under attack at Iphika but will be there as soon as I can be. She should prepare us a hideout and come back to meet me when I arrive so we can announce our arrival and attract some attention.’ He snatched Lemon Sorbet’s mask from beside the small bed. ‘I need to get away from here first.’
Fleur nodded, her blue eyes soft. ‘Au revoir, mon Amour.’
Harry shrank the mirror back down into an acorn and stuffed it and his wedding ring under his robes, clapping the mask onto his face as a fist thudded against the door.
‘Lemon Sorbet,’ Vanilla Delight called. ‘Get down here. We have a situation.’
Unease stirred in the pit of Harry’s stomach, slithering about like a nest of snakes. ‘I’ll be there.’
They can’t have found me out. He jumped out of bed and pulled on his dragonhide boots. It must be something else. Maybe this is a good chance to get away to Crete.
Grabbing his wand, he unlocked the door with a flick of it and made his way down the pitch black stairs to the map room.
A sheet of dark glass hung on the wall. Susan Bones‘s face hovered in it, stern and tired, with deep bags under her eyes. The other unspeakables gathered around the table, their eyes on the Minister for Magic.
‘And all six scoops are here.’ Pistachio Surprise waved Harry across.
‘Good. There’s no time to waste.’
No there’s not. Harry slipped his wand back up his sleeve and squeezed into the gap between Strawberry Sundae and Pistachio Surprise. None at all.
‘Tsarina Bugrov has fucked us all.’ Susan Bones’s jaw twitched. ‘That bitch decided Constantinople and Suleiman were too scary.’
So she’s cut that deal and settled for peace.
‘So she has invaded Polans instead.’
Harry’s blood ran cold and Strawberry Sundae sucked their breath in with a low hiss.
Wild Cherry raised his hand. ‘The allied Germanic—’
‘As of now, we are at war with the Germanic States as well.’ Susan Bones ground her teeth. ‘Tsarina Bugrov has fucked us. Fucked everything. All to build her stupid Slavic Magical State.’
Pistachio Surprise turned to the map. ‘They’ll have to fight her in Polans…’
‘But we’re going to have twice as many Janissaries coming across the Aegean or half of them going down to Egypt,’ Smooth Mint said. ‘And we will have Marie Renner on top of us here the moment she has time to talk to Suleiman about joining forces.’
Fuck. Harry clenched his jaw. If I’m stuck fighting here, I can’t get to Crete. And I can’t explain Violette’s mysterious disappearance without a lot of fucking luck. He glanced down at the table and the mess of vials and files. Or just a little liquid luck. Harry spotted the small, glowing vial in the middle of the table and picked up another empty one of equal size.
‘You are to hold the north of Greece against Marie Renner and anyone who comes with her. An attack may already be imminent and the Janissaries will cross the Aegean to help them.’ Susan Bones’s jaw twitched again. ‘Team Hedgehog will continue their work in Egypt unless Crete is threatened. If need be, let the Janissaries advance across the Aegean. Mainland Greece is the most important thing—’
Pistachio Surprise clutched at their pocket, elbowing Harry in the stomach.
He switched the vials as he stumbled back, hiding the Felix Felicis in his sleeve. ‘Geminio.’
The copied vial teetered on his fingertips.
‘Janissaries are attacking,’ Pistachio Surprise said, holding up an array of iron keys. ‘Lemnos Four again.’
Susan Bones vanished from the glass.
Smooth Mint and Pistachio Surprise exchanged a long look.
Harry ducked behind Strawberry Sundae and swigged the vial of Felix Felicis. It burst on his tongue like fireworks, the heat of their explosion melting through his veins as the copied vial slipped through his grip and rolled under the edge of a map.
‘This won’t just be janissaries,’ Vanilla Delight said. ‘The moment we get to Lemnos, Marie Renner will break through the wards north of here.’
‘We can’t be in two places at once,’ Smooth Mint said. ‘Lemnos is too important to lose.’
We can if we split up. The words caught on the tip of his tongue, snagged on the strange sharp intuition of Felix Felicis as he dropped the empty vial into his pocket.
‘Don’t be shy, Smooth Mint,’ Pistachio Surprise chimed in.
‘From Lemnos they can reach mainland Greece in too many places,’ Smooth Mint replied. ‘Let’s go.’
Pistachio Surprise took Smooth Mint’s hand and grabbed Harry’s wrist. ‘Lemon Sorbet is going to Lemnos.’
‘I don’t think Lemnos has anything to do with lemons.’ He snorted and took Strawberry Sundae’s wrist in his other hand.
‘Lemnos. Lemnos Four.’ Pistachio Surprise’s grip tightened.
The tower lurched forward and they appeared beneath the shade of cypress trees.
A crowd of red-robed figures swivelled, raising their wands. Their leader barked something as Harry tugged his arm from Strawberry Sundae’s grip and they spread into a line. Curses flew from pairs of janissaries along the line and back to its start in a rippling volley, bursting on Vanilla Delight’s ward in barrages of hissing yellow sparks.
The Felix Felicis burnt on Harry’s tongue like the winter ice of Petunia’s pond on his fingers and a cold point of rage swelled in his breast. Dark mist lanced from his sleeve as he slipped his wand from his sleeve, ripping through the volley of spells and the cypress trunks, spraying the janissaries with splinters. Cries of alarm rang through the toppling trees as they threw up overlapping shields of white light. Harry’s magic crashed over it like the tide, spilling back and surging forth to slam into it again.
The cypresses crashed to the ground between them, spilling green needles across the ground.
‘Curious.’ Pistachio Surprise let go of his arm and picked one slim green leaf up. ‘Now where did you learn that, Lemon Sorbet?’
Harry ignored them, staring through the glowing shields at the Janissaries’ captain. I’m not wasting time fighting over another stupid little island. Something coiled tight in the ice beneath his ribs. I need to be on Crete. Not here.
Countless needle-like fangs curved from the black vapour, biting into the shield as the magic of his horcrux shivered and curled like smoke on the breeze, full of sharp, dark swirling shadows. They clawed into the shield, ripping the white light into gossamer-thin tatters.
The janissary captain barked and a series of loud cracks rang out as black mist swallowed the janissaries.
Harry drew his magic back to him, letting it curl around his fingers. Shredded red cloth and crimson gore spattered the fallen trees beneath swirls of steaming, shining frost, and chunks of shattered bone gleamed in the moonlight.
‘Very curious.’ Smooth Mint’s pale green mask turned to Vanilla Delight. ‘Check the trigger wards here. Take Strawberry Sundae and Wild Cherry to check the rest of Lemnos, then back to Thessaloniki.’
Pistachio Surprise poked them in the hip. ‘Don’t keep me in the dark, Smooth Mint.’
Smooth Mint watched the other three unspeakables drift away. ‘Julien Aguillard never had any other pupils that he mentioned.’
Harry let his magic fade and studied the frosted needles of the toppled cypresses. ‘I only met him twice. This is my own creation.’
‘Julien only offered to teach us after we won all those duelling trophies,’ Pistachio Surprise murmured. ‘But Lemon Sorbet is not lying, his magic isn’t quite the same as ours. That wasn’t conjured dust, it was… something else. We would remember that if we’d faced it in a duel.’
‘We might have actually lost.’ Smooth Mint’s pale green mask smiled its wide, vacant smile at him.
Harry poked at a slug curled up on the fallen trunk of the nearest tree with the tip of his boot. I heard a little rumour about duelling trophies. The words rose from the back of his mind in a half-familiar voice. Slughorn. He smiled to himself, buoyed by sharp, warm clarity. I know who you are. No wonder you all laughed when I asked. You were there the whole time.
Words rose onto his tongue with soft confidence. ‘Strawberry Sundae told me you all know who each other really are…’
‘They didn’t lie.’ Pistachio Surprise laughed. ‘But don’t be sour, Lemon Sorbet. You’ll find out like we all did.’
‘Oh I’ll get you out of your shell, Pistachio Surprise,’ Harry replied. ‘You and your sister. Don’t worry about the Greengrasses indeed…’
Pistachio Surprise reached up and pulled the mask from her face. Astoria Greengrass grinned back at him, her pale blue eyes full of laughter. ‘You got us,’ she said, her voice soft and low. Astoria poked Smooth Mint in the chest. ‘Don’t be rude, Daph, we’re having a team bonding moment with Tom.’
‘Charmed.’ Daphne pulled her mask away to flash him a cool stare and replaced it. ‘We need to return to Thessaloniki.’
Astoria beamed and held up an array of iron keys. ‘We really do. All the wards are tripping up at Epidamnus.’ Her grin faded and she pressed the dark green mask over her face, her voice twisting back into the metallic rasp. ‘And Mykonos and Naxos and Astipaea down south.’
‘I can go south.’ The words bubbled from Harry’s lips, rising on the tingling warmth of Felix Felicis. ‘If you give me a portkey.’
Daphne and Astoria exchanged a long look.
Astoria twisted a trio of metal keys off the band and stuffed them into her pocket. ‘Show him the layout, Smooth Mint.’
Daphne pulled a small square of paper out and unfolded it into a map of Greece in the air. ‘Lemnos is here—’ she tapped the north east corner ‘—Astipaea is right down in the south east. Here. Naxos is a bit further north west and Mykonos further still.’
‘They’re groups of islands.’ Astoria grabbed Daphne’s hand and tossed him the rest of the keys. ‘Work your way south from Lemnos to Mykonos to Naxos to Astipaea. There are other island groups too, but they’ve not been attacked yet. If we let them get a foothold in all these islands, it will take forever to root them out, but we can most afford to lose Astipaea and Amorgos because Atlantis is just west of them and stops them going anywhere too troublesome so long as we still hold the rest of the islands to the north west.’
Daphne handed him the map. ‘You’ll need this.’
‘If we’re not in Thessaloniki when you’re done, come to Epidamnus on the north-west coast of Greece,’ Astoria said. ‘There are spare portkeys in the map room.’
‘If you can’t pull back, we’ll come to you as soon as we can,’ Daphne said. ‘But Marie Renner may keep us busy. It might be a case of you running around islands alone while we stop the Germanic States.’
Which would be just perfect. Harry thanked Felix Felicis and anything else that might have convinced Daphne and Astoria. Now Lemon Sorbet can sort out these islands and Violette can get to Crete.
‘Thanks.’ He took the map and levitated it up in the air between them. ‘I’ll make sure the islands stay British and come to help as soon as I can.’
They vanished with a loud crack.
Mykonos… He scanned the map and found the name on the far right of a mass of islands stretching south east across the Aegean from Athens. I can just about portkey to Crete from there.
The larger island of Naxos rested right beneath it, and below that, between Ios and Thera, sat Atlantis.
A quiet murmur of need sprang up in his heart and he balled his fists, taking a deep breath to still the heat fluttering through his veins.
Mykonos and Naxos first. Harry folded the map up and tucked it into his pocket. The Janissaries can have Astipaea, I’ll go to Crete instead.
He grabbed the vibrating key that said Mykonos Eight and frowned. ‘Mykonos. Mykonos Eight?’
Lemnos’s toppled cypresses blurred and he stumbled out onto the spur of a small isle. Silver moonlight rippled on the waves beneath his feet, glittering beneath the distant stars.
Harry turned on his heel, raising his wand.
A ragged group of red-garbed janissaries etched runes across the stones at the centre of the island. The pale light gleamed on the rune-inscribed iron bands on their forearms and the shining iron plate on the front of their red hats.
Harry thrust his magic into the air, layering it into a tight mesh of wards, and let the cold fury rise, spilling dark mist from his wand. It lunged, half a hundred lances ripping through the centre of the group and snapping back to his side
Shuddering gasps and cries drowned the soft crash of the waves behind him and a red hat rolled to his feet, the wand engraved into the iron plate blurred by deep scratches.
Fear shone in their eyes as the magic of his horcrux coiled around his hand, writhing and swirling like thick smoke. Patterns of frost spread across the stone beneath his feet and snuffed out the runes like little candles in the midnight wind.
A janissary stepped forward, barking orders as the survivors apparated out into a loose circle. Her dark eyes fixed themselves on him even as she gestured her janissaries out into their formation.
Their captain. Harry sized her up, drifting forward over the rough ground.
Three crossed wands shone on the iron plate of her hat in copper inlay and gold runes encircled the ends of her sleeves and ran along the red sash at her waist.
‘Nothing will you learn from us, unspeakable,’ the witch snapped in rough English. ‘We will die for our caliph first.’
That’s fine. The fist of ice clenched beneath his ribs. I need to go to Crete and you’re just in the way.
‘Then die,’ he murmured.
The black mist swept forward, a whirling cloud of needle-like teeth that stripped the dirt from the stone, shredded shrubs and scored the rocks. Spells shattered in its countless writhing maws. It swallowed them, boiling over them like a bubbling froth of fangs, and shrank back to Harry’s side, slow and soft as spring mist.
The janissary captain’s head lay in the crook of the rocks, half her face ripped back to bare bone, her teeth studding a frozen pool of gore, caught in the tangle of her blood-soaked, frosted hair.
Harry reached for the next vibrating key. ‘Naxos. Naxos Two.’
He staggered across a low, white sand beach into more red-garbed janissaries. The dark mist lashed from his arm in thin wisps, scything through the nearest two red-robed figures. The others vanished with a loud crack.
Astipaea you can have. Harry took a deep breath and buried his fury, shoving it down into the dark empty place below his heart. The closer to Atlantis you get, the easier you’ll be blamed for an attack on it.
The magic of his horcrux crept back into his wand, fading from around his fingers like mist before the morning sun as he tucked Lemon Sorbet’s mask away and untransfigured his face.
Using my horcrux is more effective than I hoped. He scooped Violette’s ring from his pocket and stuck it onto his finger. Whatever it is.
Harry bent and plucked a piece of driftwood from the shore, picturing the pink-flowering cacti and the beach behind Fleur. ‘Portus.’ He clenched his fist around it. ‘Lotus.’
Liliana sat on the bank of a grass-tufted dune, staring out across the sea with dark eyes, her hood crumpled around her shoulders. ‘Violette… you have… come at last.’
‘Iphika was attacked.’ He tossed his portkey away into the sand and strode up the beach over the tideline of seaweed and shells. ‘They pulled back very fast, though. I think something else caught their attention.’
The Germanic States. Harry turned things over in his head. If Liliana thought the British were trying to use a lotus like they did those Tainoan trolls, she would scry for it without asking too many questions.
She rose, brushing sand from her robes. ‘We should… announce our… presence… now you’re… here too.’
‘Do we have somewhere to fall back to?’
‘I have… found us… a place,’ Liliana rasped. ‘Sarcelle has… gone back… to France.’
‘So we’re ready to cause a commotion and drag the unspeakables back from Egypt.’
Team Hedgehog. Harry clenched his jaw as the ice tightened in his chest. It was them who cursed Katrina. Them or Team Ice Cream.
‘Do it,’ he said. ‘I’ll try to rip something useful out of their thoughts.’
She jabbed her wand into the air. ‘Fianto duri!’
A rush of white magic flashed against a faint shimmer in the sky and burst in a rain of fading sparks
White-robed aurors appeared on the beach with a loud crack.
Harry caught the eye of their long-haired captain and raised his wand.
‘No,’ the wizard snapped in Greek, catching the arm of the auror beside him. ‘We’re not dying for Britain like the Tainos and the Italians. If those unspeakables aren’t here to fight with us, we’re not fighting.’
They vanished in a series of deafening pops.
Liliana lowered her wand. ‘Strange,’ she rasped,
‘They didn’t want to fight without Britain,’ Harry replied.
‘You used… the Mind Arts?’
‘Yes,’ he lied, twisting Violette’s ring around his finger. ‘The Cretan Aurors are wary of being left to fight to the last man against Britain’s enemies like the Tainos and the Italians were. The Unspeakables are fighting in Egypt, but are already returning from there because they are having to fight the Germanic States in north Greece.’
‘The Germanic… States?’ Liliana stared at him with a small frown. ‘That makes… no sense… they are… neutral.’
‘That’s what I learnt.’ Harry pointed north. ‘This team has to defend the Aegean and that one has to defend Greece.’ Inspiration struck, bursting through his brain like a firework in the night. ‘They had some plan to keep causing trouble in Egypt anyway, though. A lotus? In the Nile? It didn’t sound all that dangerous.’
She tensed. ‘Real lotuses… are not… pretty… flowers. They are… very… deadly. If it was… released in… the Nile… it will kill… thousands of… muggles and… risk the… Statute.’
‘Can you find it?’ He slipped his wand back into his sleeve. ‘If you scry for me, Liliana?’
‘I will… scry for… you.’
‘I’ll set up bases across Crete and see what I can find out while you scry,’ Harry said.
And that way Lemon Sorbet is free to get away if need be. Unease knotted in his gut. But I can’t keep this up for long. Not with all the Felix Felicis in the world.