Smooth white sand stretched away beneath the low cliffs and the azure waves sparkled as they washed up the beach.
‘Out there… across… the waves… I felt it… drifting.’ Liliana swept her hood back and stared out to sea with a strange gleam in her dark eyes. ‘Sailing… gently… as easy as… sleeping… in the sun.’
Harry thrust his magic into the air and wrapped it around them. ‘Then let’s go see.’ He lifted them into the air and floated them over the waves.
‘You can fly… without… a broom,’ she rasped into the soft breeze.
‘Kind of,’ he said. ‘I did some reading about lotuses and how dangerous they are, but I didn’t have much time. Do our rings make us immune to its influence?’
‘I think… it might… but don’t… touch its… flowers.’
A dark speck appeared on the horizon as they drifted over the waves. Harry angled them toward it, pushing them faster through the air as anxiety tangled itself into a tight knot in his gut and the yearning began to bubble up through it.
‘We should… burn it,’ Liliana said.
‘I don’t know how to destroy one,’ Harry replied.
‘It has… a heart. We burn… the rest… and rip that… out of… the centre.’ She stared down past her dangling feet into the sea. ‘I think… we will… have to… get the heart… first, or… it will sink… and just… grow again… one day.’
‘Then let’s do that.’
That works perfectly.
A ring of bright green cacti stems rose from the edges of a clear oasis. Bedecked in clusters of pure white flowers, they trembled in the gentle breeze like wind chimes.
Harry set them down on the smooth pale ground.
‘It’s not… stone,’ Liliana rasped, pointing at the ground. ‘It’s part of… the lotus.’
He took a long deep breath of sweet air and let some of the anxiety melt away. One step closer to La Victoire Finale.
Liliana stared up at the snow white flowers. ‘They are… beautiful.’
‘Where’s the heart?’ Harry wandered down to the edge of the oasis and peered into the crystal clear water. ‘Down there?’
Fleur said it was down there. He squinted into the depths. Do I just rip my way in? Or will that damage it?
‘Liliana?’ Harry turned away from the oasis.
She reached up toward the white flowers.
He thrust out a hand and summoned her away. Liliana slammed into him, sending them sprawling across the ground; his wand bounded away and splashed into the oasis.
‘Don’t touch the flowers.’ He picked himself up and summoned his wand back to his hand.
A purple spell streaked past him.
Harry whirled around and deflected three more away, ripping a chunk from one of the stems. A pale cloud spilt from the white petals of the flowers as they trembled, floating down to their feet.
‘Merde. Pollen.’ He huffed out through his mouth and tried to ignore the faint sweet scent when he breathed in through his nose.
Liliana slashed her wand, sending a jagged ripple of red magic at him.
He apparated behind her. ‘Stupefy.’
His spell splashed on her shield and the red magic exploded behind her, scattering white petals and pollen across the island.
‘Double merde.’ Harry cast the bubble head charm and poked soft pieces of flower off his arms with the tip of his finger. ‘Why did you do that, Liliana?’ He sighed and smiled. ‘What a silly thing to do. Look at all the pollen you’ve got everywhere. You’re as messy as my little daughter.’
‘They look… so good,’ she rasped. ‘I just want… to touch them.’
Harry smiled down at the white flower between his feet. Silk smooth petals gleamed in the sun, trembling in the gentle breeze, and small clusters of pale dust coated the little stalks at its centre. The sweet taste of its pollen melted on the tip of his tongue and his mouth began to water.
How strong can it be? He crouched down and reached out, his fingertips hovering just above the smooth white. I bet they’re smooth and soft. Like Fleur’s skin. Or our little baby girl’s.
‘See?’ Liliana lifted one up in her cupped palms. ‘They’re not going to hurt us. They’re only flowers.’
What’s so special about flowers? Red rose petals tumbled into the grass before the eye of Harry’s mind and the smile faded from his lips. No. No more obstacles.
He let the emptiness rise, let it claw the lightness in his heart down into that dark cold place. ‘Don’t touch the flowers, Liliana.’
She bent and reached out for the nearest white bloom.
Harry set it on fire with a flick of his wand.
Liliana hissed and slashed her wand, sending jagged lines of crimson magic searing through the air. He threw up his shield and watched them explode against it, sending clouds of pale pollen rushing through the air.
A wide, vacant smile spread across her face and she sank to her knees. Harry felt the sweet lightness seep through him, lifting all the weight from his heart as he stared into the thick fog of pollen.
Is it so bad? There’d be no more hurting. His shield charm faded and a broad smile spread across his face. We promised Gabby. The smile froze, snagged on the long, deep cut in Gabby’s arm and on the dark veins sinking into Katie’s chest. No.
Liliana snatched up the white flowers, cramming blooms into her mouth.
Harry hardened his heart. ‘Stupefy.’
The flash of red knocked her sprawling across the ground and her wand rolled away into the base of one of the felled stems.
‘Enough of this,’ he whispered, reaching for the image of the amber-masked man and his ominous whisper. ‘You’re just in my way, lotus.’
Fiendfyre swirled through the air above them, burning the cloud of pollen to dust and melting the stems and searing the white flowers to ash.
Harry breathed in the fierce heat and tang of smoke with a small smile. ‘That’s better. Mess with my head now.’
The hungry roar of the red tongues of fire grew louder as they coiled into a basilisk of crimson flame. He forced it down into the oasis, searing the clear waters into steam, and squashed every spark out beneath Katie’s gap-toothed grin.
There. Harry thrust his magic into the air and wrapped it about his body, lowering himself down into the bottom of the oasis and onto soft, green ground. One step closer.
He slashed the ground back with a flick of his wand, ripping chunks of plant away until he caught a glimpse of something as clear as glass. Harry thrust his hand out and summoned it up.
It came free with a soft squelch, a shimmering malformed glass-like egg.
The lotus shuddered under his feet and the gentle breeze died.
Harry balanced it on his palm and floated himself back up, plucking Liliana’s wand from the ground and grabbing hold of the back of her robes. ‘The lotus heart.’ He wrenched the world back past him, dropping Liliana and her wand onto the bed of her hideout and portkeying back, hopping through Iphika and Bari to Bonifacio’s cool stone hall.
‘Argent,’ Harry breathed, pressing the heart of the lotus to his chest.
He stepped onto the white pebbles, heat flaring in his left thumbnail, and swept the black cloth off the Mirror of Erised.
Katie beamed back from behind the cold glass, reaching out with both her little hands and bouncing on her toes.
‘Soon, baby bird,’ he whispered, swallowing down the stab of fierce need and sketching runes across the surface of the mirror. ‘Soon.’
His thumbnail flashed hot again.
‘Is that the heart of the lotus?’ Fleur murmured over his shoulder.
Her voice lifted a little of the yearning, eased the edge off the quiet ache in his heart. I missed you so much.
‘Yes.’ Harry touched it against the glass and watched it vanish into the reflection. ‘One down, mon Rêve. And I’ll be in Atlantis soon.’
‘Bon,’ Fleur whispered, slipping her arms around his shoulders. ‘I’m afraid there’s no mention of damaz-kar in Egypt. But Château d’Acier is the site of one of the oldest and greatest known goblin grudges according to Les Inconnus. Rome razed something of great value to them when it drove them back under the alps. They forged the damaz-kar for it, one was glimpsed by Roman wizards during early rebellions.’
‘The pearls first. Then the dragonbane gem from whichever dragon preserve.’ Harry sucked in a deep breath to still the surge of the storm of yearning. ‘I’ve still not seen the wards on Atlantis.’
‘The lagoon the pearls are in is covered by a dome that can only be entered using a specific key. The Greeks use it as their Strategos’s symbol of office.’
‘Lysander has it. They’re at Atlantis. I’ll just take it off him after the Ottomans attack.’ Harry frowned, anxiety fluttering in the pit of his stomach. ‘But I’ll need the cloak to get through undetected.’
‘We need it for La Victoire Finale… I don’t want to risk it, not it or the Elder Wand. I might not need it.’
‘Without those pearls there’s no La Victoire Finale, mon Coeur.’ Fleur rested her head on his back and sighed. ‘Just make sure you bring it back. I miss our little angel. I want her back. I want her back now.’
‘Soon,’ he promised. ‘As soon as I can. I will not be stopped.’ He stared into the shining silver surface of the mirror where Katie babbled and chomped on her blue spoon with a bright grin. ‘I will find them.’