Red-robed janissaries appeared in the surf with loud cracks, swimming toward the shore through the rolling waves.
I shouldn’t kill too many. Harry disillusioned himself. I’ll need them to attack Atlantis.
He slipped his wand from his sleeve and thrust his magic into the sand, twirling the slim piece of ebony in his fingers as the first janissary waded onto the beach.
He flicked his wand.
A fist of sand clenched around the janissary, blood spurting through its fingers and staining the gentle wash of white foaming up the beach red.
‘It’s a trap! Back!’ Their captain disapparated with a loud crack.
The others vanished in a series of deafening pops, leaving the waves to wash up past the mangled corpse.
Anafe they can have. Lemnos I need to keep.
Harry transfigured it into a heap of sand and reached into his pocket for the other vibrating key. ‘Lemnos. Lemnos Four.’
He stumbled over cypress roots, peering through the shade of their branches toward the flicker of red robes on the far side of the small island.
This is a waste of time. I should get back to Epidamnus and make sure nobody is going to come looking for me while I’m hunting for the lotus.
A wisp of cold dark mist coiled through his fingers as he strode through the trees.
The janissaries drew red runes across the rocks and roots, talking and laughing amongst themselves.
Harry levelled his wand at the wand-crested iron headplate of their captain. ‘Imperio.’ His will drowned a smouldering pride, washing its embers away like a torrent of cold water.
Orange curses flashed from his wand, punching through the other janissaries. Spells streaked through the trees, withering branches and spraying showers of needles over the stones. The janissary captain fell under a hail of spells and slumped down into the roots with five other corpses.
‘What the shit was that?’ a janissary spat.
Harry thrust his magic into the air, wrapping it around the heads of the remaining six and twisting his wrist, snapping their necks. ‘Done.’ He stared down at the bodies and flicked his wand, transfiguring them into heaps of pine needles as he grabbed hold of the longest iron key in the bunch. ‘Epidamnus.’
The cypresses lurched left and he staggered onto dark stone.
Harry glanced at the snarling lion carved between his feet and out over the woods to the north as a loud crack rang across the crumbling roman ruins.
‘Lemon Sorbet.’ Daphne pointed down at the weathered Roman road, the pale green mask’s vacant smile staring across into the woods. ‘We need you down there with Strawberry Sundae. Pistachio Surprise and I are holding the other road in, but they’re readying themselves for a more serious attack. Marie Renner and Karsten Metternich’s aurors have been picking away at us for days, but went quiet this morning.’
‘You think that means something is about to happen.’
‘It means it’s Otto Vogt’s turn to attack,’ she replied. ‘He’s less cautious. We’re running low on supplies and need to avoid injury if we can. This team has no real healer. We’re not made for prolonged attritional combat like this.’
No. You hit and run. Like in Italy.
Harry turned his words over on his tongue. ‘My illness is starting to flare up… If I keep pushing myself, there will come a time when it catches up with me and I have to rest.’
‘How long will you need to rest?’
‘It could be weeks.’ He spun his wand in his fingers, twirling it over and over as he thought. ‘I’ll take a day or two out on Lemnos and see if it helps. If the Janissaries don’t attack, it might, but they’re creeping across the Aegean a bit more every day. I can only get to so many places fast enough.’
Daphne sighed. ‘The last thing we need is one of us dying. Team Hedgehog is stuck on Crete hunting Violette and Vert.’
‘The Janissaries are heading for Atlantis one hop at a time. I might not be able to stop them getting there by myself.’
Spells hissed from the trees, bursting against the walls in little showers of sparks.
‘Get down there,’ Daphne said. ‘We’ll worry about Atlantis later.’
Harry spun the world back past himself and stepped out on the other side of the road. ‘Strawberry Sundae.’
Strawberry Sundae gave him a wave. ‘The Ostirrikians and Westsalians don’t really seem very keen on fighting. I’ve not even seen Marie Renner or Karsten Metternich. I don’t think Tsarina Bugrov was as far away from getting to fight Polans and not the Germanic States as we thought. The vote must have been close.’
‘And the others?’
‘Otto Vogt and the aurors from Saxonia came to fight.’ They poked their head around the corner and flinched back as spells streaked past and burst against the thin bricks. ‘We coated the walls in Zheng’s Potion to stop them breaking through or transfiguring them, so don’t worry about that, but we can’t make any more, because the hidden city state in North China isn’t selling us the slug slime that’s the key ingredient while we’re at war. Don’t let them get to the walls or we’ll have wasted it.’
‘How strong is it?’
‘You’d need Fiendfyre or something of similar strength to get through.’ Strawberry Sundae tapped the bricks with their wand. ‘They’d have turned this town into rubble and driven us back with sheer numbers if we hadn’t done it.’
‘Anything else I should know?’ Harry asked, glancing around the wall.
A group of dark-robed aurors with white castles over their hearts gathered in the fringe of the woods.
‘I think the Saxonian aurors are coming.’ He frowned. ‘Saxonian?’
‘Saxon.’ Strawberry Sundae flexed their fingers. ‘They’re the ones that came to fight. The wards extend to the edge of the trees, so they’ve got to run to the walls from there. Don’t let them reach us if you can. If they take this wall, they’ll be able to grind us out of here and this is the only place we can stop them spreading out across Greece.’
Harry patted the crumbling bricks. ‘So it’s an important wall. Alright then.’
Best to hit them as hard as I can. He turned things over in his head. If they break through here, that might be a problem. And it gives me an excuse to disappear for a day or two to go after that lotus.
A purple spell hissed through the gap in the wall and away down the old road.
‘Ready, Lemon Sorbet?’ Strawberry Sundae leant round the wall and fired a couple of blue hexes back.
‘Don’t get too close to them.’
Harry closed his eyes and pictured the dark veins snaking across Katie’s chest and the long, deep cut on Gabby’s arm. Katie’s blank eyes and the gleam of white opals muddled in beside Sirius’s wry last words and Snape’s bitter guilt.
Cold fury swelled in his breast and dark mist poured from his sleeve, coiling around his arm in a dozen shivering swirls.
‘What is that?’ Strawberry Sundae whispered. ‘Why can I feel it?’
Harry apparated up atop the wall and stared out over the grass at the approaching line of aurors. Their curses flashed up toward him in a storm of crackling colour.
The black vapour lunged, a swirling cloud of curved teeth; it tore through the spells, scattering them into sparks like so much parchment, and ripped through the grass, slamming into a wall of shimmering shield charms, scoring deep into their magic with the piercing shriek of steel through glass. Dozens of tendrils burst from the cloud, lancing through the Shield Charms and frost spread across the ground, coating the tattered grass in thin spines of ice.
He clenched his fist as the yearning surged up in his breast, fierce as flame and sharp as razors. The dark mist churned like boiling water; gaping maws of needle-like teeth opened and closed within each bubble, biting through Shield Charms. Screams rang out in the swirling, whirling ink-black magic of his horcrux and loud cracks echoed over the ruins.
This is a waste of time. His magic tore into the trees, spraying arm-length splinters and leaves across the frosted grass. I hate it.
Flashes of spellfire came through the trees.
‘I will not be stopped,’ Harry whispered as the flicker of magic faded. ‘I will find it.’
La Victoire Finale. I saw it. It’s all there is. And I need it.
He dragged in a deep shuddering breath and pushed the storm down, shoved it deep into the emptiness and let it claw everything away.
The swirling cloud of fangs sank like fog, shrinking back across the hoar-frosted grass and into his wand.
‘Dreams are dust,’ Strawberry Sundae whispered, staring up at the sky. ‘Dandelion seeds drifting away on a cold wind.’
Harry thrust his magic into the air and wrapped it around himself, floating back down to the ground. ‘Shadows hovering behind glass,’ he murmured. ‘You don’t want to look into that for too long, Strawberry Sundae.’
A little shudder rippled through them. ‘And I thought I was the loony one.’
‘Loony?’ The word tasted familiar.
‘Ah…’ Strawberry Sundae tapped their wand against their palm. ‘Wild Cherry said you weren’t one of us. I didn’t expect you to get my little joke.’
‘I don’t.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I wasn’t one of you.’
I never was.
‘Well, it hardly matters now. Pistachio Surprise has planned our little welcoming ceremony for you. You’ll learn all our names.’
‘Knowing Pistachio Surprise, yes. And it’s as good a time as any.’ They vanished and reappeared with a loud pair of cracks.
The rest of Team Ice Cream appeared one by one, the pops of their apparition echoing across the ruined town.
‘Well done, Lemon Sorbet.’ Astoria cheered. ‘Welcome to Team Ice Cream!’ She pulled her green mask off her face and grinned. ‘Astoria Greengrass, but you already knew that.’
‘Daphne Greengrass,’ Daphne murmured, lowering hers to flash him a cool blue stare. ‘As you know.’
‘Colin Creevey.’ Wild Cherry stuck the red mask into his belt and gave Harry a thumbs up. ‘Youngest ever unspeakable.’
Vanilla Delight snorted. ‘Scraping the bottom of the barrel—’
‘Ice cream pot,’ Astoria said. ‘Not barrels.’
‘Anthony Goldstein.’ Vanilla Delight pulled his cream mask away from a swathe of slim white scars and one pale dead eye. ‘I look better masked up these days. Took one in the face during the Battle of Hogwarts.’
‘We’re not really meant to do this,’ Strawberry Sundae said. ‘But we learnt when we fought against Voldemort that it’s better to fight with and for each other than anything else.’ She pushed her mask up into a tangle of pale-blonde hair and smiled. ‘Luna Lovegood.’
All members of Neville’s little DA group, except the Greengrasses.
Harry pulled Lemon Sorbet’s mask off. ‘Tom Gaunt.’
‘And now we’re all friends…’ Astoria dug through her pockets and produced six small pots. ‘Daph, I don’t have any spoons.’
Daphne sighed and conjured a handful of metal spoons, passing them around the group. ‘Remember to keep an eye out, Astoria. They might come back.’
‘Not if they know what’s good for them,’ Astoria declared. ‘Nobody interrupts Team Ice Cream’s ice cream time.’
Colin groaned. ‘I don’t even like ice cream. I have sensitive teeth.’
‘Heresy.’ Astoria tossed an ice cream pot at his face. ‘And this is sorbet, not ice cream. They’re not the same, you uncultured muggleborn lout.’
‘It’s still cold.’
Harry snorted and tugged the top off his, studying the pale yellow colour. ‘Lemon sorbet?’
‘It’s our little team-bonding ritual. It was just Daph and I to begin with, because we needed less training after all that duelling, so we did it together and then kept doing it.’ She aimed a mock glare at Colin. ‘Despite the constant grumblings of heretics.’
‘Alright. Alright.’ Colin peeled the lid off. ‘It’s better than the other team-bonding exercises.’
‘You said you liked clowns!’ Astoria grinned. ‘I added them especially for you!’
‘Not inferius clowns.’
Harry choked on his spoonful of sorbet. ‘What?’
‘I put a lot of time and effort into that, you know.’ Astoria waved her spoon at him. ‘Didn’t I, Daph?’
‘I researched muggle clowns. I transfigured all the clothes. I even made that one do the never-ending handkerchief trick.’ She skimmed a slim piece of sorbet off her pot and stuck the spoon in her mouth upside down. ‘I’m very upset you don’t appreciate my efforts.’
‘It did the never-ending handkerchief trick with its own intestines…’ Colin turned a little green. ‘And then it made them into balloon animals.’
Astoria giggled. ‘The look on your face…’
‘Astoria,’ Daphne murmured.
The grin slid off Astoria’s face. ‘Right. Sorry, Daph. You go ahead while you can get a word in around me.’
‘We’re holding here in Epidamnus. Just. Mostly because Marie Renner and Karsten Metternicht seem very loath to do any actual fighting.’ Daphne poked at her sorbet with the edge of her spoon. ‘I don’t think Lemon Sorbet caused too many casualties to the Saxon aurors today, either; they bailed out very fast. And with the janissaries creeping across the Aegean bit by bit, we’re in a pickle.’
‘Team Hedgehog was meant to back us up, but Violette’s got them chasing shadows in Crete,’ Astoria said.
‘What happens if they reach Atlantis?’ Harry asked.
‘Atlantis must not fall,’ Daphne said. ‘The Greeks will never forgive us and from there the janissaries will be able to get all over Greece. It’s bad enough Violette has Iphika.’
‘The only way it could really be worse is if Suleiman decides to finally leave Constantinople and come fight himself,’ Colin muttered.
‘He’s not done that since Grindelwald,’ Anthony Goldstein said. ‘But what do we do about Atlantis? We can’t help. If they attack here more seriously, we’ll barely keep them out at best.’
‘Team Hedgehog will abandon Crete and fall back to Atlantis if we think it’s going to be attacked, Tom,’ Daphne replied, dipping a hand into her pocket. ‘However, I’m assuming, since you pushed yourself, you will need to rest to avoid your illness flaring back up seriously.’
‘I will. For at least a day or so.’ Harry eyed the small, white glass bead on her palm. ‘Is that meant to help?’
‘I wouldn’t suggest eating it,’ Astoria chimed in. ‘It bursts into white smoke. Might cause indigestion.’
‘It’s the distress signal for Atlantis.’ Daphne reached out and dropped it into his pocket. ‘Watch the Ottoman movements in the Aegean, warn us if they look like they’re going for Atlantis and we’ll pass the message on so Team Hedgehog can pull back and prepare a trap. If this bursts, you must go help them. Don’t let Atlantis fall, even if you have to push yourself to stop it.’
The corner of Harry’s mouth twitched. ‘I won’t. I didn’t realise you had this beacon.’
‘It’s our only one,’ Astoria said. ‘So don’t lose it.’
‘We won’t be able to come,’ Luna said. ‘Not without letting the Germans into Greece.’
‘So I go alone, because the Janissaries probably aren’t going to attack Atlantis and many other islands at the same time.’ He nodded. ‘I’ll do my best.’
And no Team Ice Cream to get in the way. I just have to be able to explain what happened and why Lemon Sorbet couldn’t stop it.
‘Don’t be so direct when you fight,’ Astoria warned. ‘I’ve seen you duel twice now. You need to be cleverer and less of a hammer. All those fancy powerful pieces of magic will tire you out much faster than spells.’ She hummed. ‘Actually, Daph, we should try that on Violette, he likes to hurl around Fiendfyre, lightning and Grindelwald’s duelling spell, those would tire him out pretty fast. Even Voldemort used them more sparingly than he does.’
It’s not going to work. Harry smothered a flash of humour. Not now, at least.
Daphne nodded. ‘Let the Ottomans commit themselves to the attack before you reveal yourself. We estimate there are fifteen ortas of janissaries, some of which we have destroyed or have been merged after taking casualties, and we need to thin their numbers out while they’re split across Egypt and the Aegean or they’ll overwhelm us later when they mass together.’
‘But not so fast we provoke Suleiman into coming out here himself,’ Astoria added. ‘I don’t want to duel anyone who went toe to toe with Grindelwald more than once. Well… not outside of the ring.’ She poked Daphne in the hip. ‘Daph…’
‘Watch out for Violette,’ Daphne murmured. ‘We expected more fireworks from him, not whatever game of hide and seek he’s playing with Team Hedgehog on Crete.’
‘And he might set fire to you again,’ Astoria said.
‘I would prefer to avoid that,’ he admitted, finishing his sorbet.
This is actually quite nice. Harry let the sweet lemon melt on his tongue. Fleur would like this a lot. A dull ache gnawed away beneath his ribs. And so would Gabby. And our little Katie.
‘Okay, break’s over. Colin, you better finish that sorbet,’ Astoria said, wagging a finger at him. ‘Or I’ll plan another team bonding exercise with more clown inferi. It’s too nice to be wasted.’ She vanished her empty pot and spoon with a flick of her wand and placed her mask back over her face. ‘We’ll go up top on the tower this time, right, Smooth Mint?’
Daphne pulled her mask back on. ‘Wild Cherry and Strawberry Sundae, you hold the far gate. Vanilla Delight, you’ve got the one below us.’
‘I doubt they’ll be back today,’ Astoria said. ‘Marie and Karsten won’t want to run into Lemon Sorbet if they can avoid it and Otto Vogt’s busy licking his wounds.’
‘I’ll return to Lemnos,’ Harry said, vanishing his sorbet pot and the spoon. ‘Good luck here.’
‘Don’t forget your mask, Lemon Sorbet.’ Astoria wagged her finger at him. ‘It cost the last person who forgot an arm and a leg. Right, Wild Cherry?’
Harry laughed and stuck his mask back on. ‘I won’t let anyone see my face, don’t worry.’