Riddle Me This

Sketched roses spread across the small table; the fine dark lines of ink shading soaked in the morning light.

‘I have been…practising… while we… wait for… news,’ Liliana rasped, sweeping the drawings into a neat stack. ‘I told Grise… about the… unspeakables… and he told… me that the… Janissaries… failed to take… Atlantis.’

Harry offered her a small smile. ‘They’re very good.’

‘I am getting… better, but… I’m not as… good as I… used to be.’

He pictured the red rose, drawing a limp, pale red flower from the air. ‘You’re doing better than I am.’

Liliana hooked her dark hair off her face with her little finger. ‘Grise says that… we should try… and secure… Atlantis.’

‘Well if there are no janissaries or unspeakables about, it should be fairly easy. There aren’t many magical communities left in Greece, so there can’t be many aurors.’

‘Présidente… Desrosiers… is in talks… with Cretan… leaders now… Britain has… abandoned… the island. She wants to… limit Suleiman’s… expansion.’ Liliana cupped her throat and winced. ‘Crete will accept… French protection… and if we… hold Atlantis… so will Greece.’

‘And Suleiman doesn’t get to come west where he might later cause trouble,’ Harry said.

‘Something… like that.’ She pulled her wand out. ‘I think that… Desrosiers… wants to try… and replace… Britain as… leading power… on the ICW.’

Of course she does. Everyone wants to be the greatest country, or the greatest witch or wizard.

‘How do we get to Atlantis?’ Harry asked.

‘I have been… before,’ she whispered. ‘Grindelwald… also used it… to control… Greece in his… second war.’

‘Lead the way, then, Liliana.’ He vanished his rose and drew his wand from his sleeve. ‘I’ve never been before.’

And maybe if we have Atlantis, I can find a reason to slip away and get to Romania.

Liliana reached out and took his arm. ‘Desrosiers… might not be… wrong. It was…Dumbledore… who kept Britain… paramount… and even with… Amelia Bones’s… reforms, they… are lacking… that sort of… wizard.’

‘So is France.’

‘We have… you.’

Harry frowned. ‘I don’t want to be Dumbledore, Liliana.’

‘That is why… you can be… him,’ she rasped. ‘Grindelwald… wanted it. You do not.’

I won’t let it happen.

‘And if it… is not you… then it will… be Suleiman.’ Liliana’s hoarse voice dropped to a whisper. ‘It should… be you. You see… people… you bring… hope to them… Suleiman… is another… politician… he sees… nations.’

‘We’ll see what happens,’ Harry murmured. ‘But I won’t make you any promises.’

‘It is who… you are.’ Her grip tightened. ‘Atlantis.’

The plain white walls whirled into pale sand and the smooth lagoon.

Liliana stiffened. ‘There are.. corpses… all over… the beach.’

Harry turned on his heel, digging a small divot in the sand. The gulls hopped over the red and white robed bodies, screaming at the sky.

‘Janissaries and Greeks,’ he murmured.

I should disguise the unspeakables’ bodies. 

‘Stay here, Liliana. Put up some wards.’ He strode forward, grimacing as a gentle breeze swept the stench of rotting flesh over him.

Maggots writhed in the lump of tattered flesh and dark robes, and flies buzzed above the sand-crusted red hair and blood-splattered dragon fang.

He charmed the robes white with a flick of his wand and waved Liliana across. ‘Greeks and janissaries, like I thought. Two ortas are dead here.’

She stared at the heap of bodies with dark eyes, shielding her mouth from the flies. ‘This must be… most of… Greece’s… auror force.’

‘It does look like it,’ Harry murmured. ‘Is there anyone you recognise? A captain?’

Liliana shook her head. ‘The Greek… Strategos, Lysander… might be here. I will search. If he still… has the key… of office… we should… keep it.’

He dipped a hand into his pocket, curling his fingers around the silver key. ‘I’ll scout the rest of the island. See if anyone else is still alive.’

There isn’t. Harry glanced up at the shallow green hill rising over the crescent beach of the lagoon. But it gives me time to report Violette and Vert at Atlantis, which might make a useful excuse for Lemon Sorbet vanishing at some point.

He apparated up amongst the short, bent pine trunks and slipped off Violette’s ring, replacing it with the plain iron one and transfiguring his robes. Harry transfigured his face and pulled Lemon Sorbet’s mask from his pocket. ‘Epidamnus,’ he said, grabbing the longest key.

The rocky hillside lurched and the sea blurred into green woods with a sharp jolt.

He placed Lemon Sorbet’s mask over his face and strode over the snarling carved lion and down into the tower.

‘Lemon Sorbet!’ Astoria poked her head through the map room door. ‘You’re still alive.’

‘So far.’

‘Good. Wild Cherry might be upset if I turned you into a clown inferius.’

‘I think I’d be upset too,’ he said. ‘Where’s Smooth Mint?’

‘In here,’ Daphne called from inside.

Astoria disappeared into the map room. ‘Have you made a friend, Daph?’

Harry stepped in as Astoria pushed her mask atop her blonde braids. ‘I thought we were all friends already.’

‘Ah but maybe you’re a friend, friend.’ She poked her sister in the side. ‘Don’t be rude, Daph. If you fancy a lemon, just say.’

Daphne sighed.

‘Fine. Fine.’ Astoria pulled her sister’s mask off. ‘But mint and lemon go well together, you’d make a very tasty ice cream baby.’

Harry snorted. ‘I found the key. He placed Lysander’s worn silver key on the table. ‘But Violette and Vert are on Atlantis now and I can’t duel him without a few more days of rest.’

‘And Team Hedgehog?’ Daphne studied the key with a small frown and a gleam of worry in her blue eyes.

‘There’s nothing left of them.’

‘That’s what you get for choosing boring code names,’ Astoria chimed in. ‘Aren’t you glad you’re an ice cream?’ She flapped a hand. ‘We need to give Dragon a new name if he’s staying with us permanently.’

Harry’s blood ran cold. ‘Dragon survived?’

‘He was bitten by an inferius and lost a lot of blood,’ Daphne said.

Astoria snickered. ‘He bailed back to Crete less than a minute after Violette turned up and turned everything to chaos. He’s good at chaos, our Henri Dufort.’

‘What’s Dragon like?’ Harry bounced his wand in his sleeve, shoving the anxiety gnawing at his gut down into the emptiness.

‘Boring.’ Astoria shrugged. ‘Very upset about all his team being killed, especially Gryphon, and absolutely hates Violette and France.’

Especially upset about Bill. A small smile tugged at the corner of Harry’s mouth. I wonder…

Daphne stood up and slid a small vial of golden potion across the table. ‘This is for you.’

‘Liquid luck.’ Astoria beamed. ‘We’re hoping, with a little luck, you can kill Violette.’

I’m pretty sure this is the fake I made. 

Harry pocketed it. ‘It’s worth a try.’

‘And if you’re lucky, your illness won’t trouble you,’ Daphne said. ‘And you won’t get hurt.’

‘It only lasts a few minutes, so don’t waste that time,’ Astoria said.

‘Let Violette wear himself out using overpowered magic, then drink the vial,’ Daphne murmured. ‘If he’s tired and you’re lucky, you could be able to get him.’

‘I’ll go back to Lemnos and rest for a day or two, then go to Atlantis.’ He glanced between the two sisters. ‘How’s things here?’

‘Quiet.’ Astoria grinned. ‘Almost as quiet as Daph.’

‘Only Otto Vogt and the Saxon aurors have attacked at all,’ Daphne said. ‘It might not be as good as it sounds.’

‘I like quiet,’ Harry replied.

Quiet means I’m free to visit Romania.

‘I’ll see you in a few days, unless I die.’ He rolled his eyes at Astoria’s cheerful wave. ‘Lemnos. Lemnos Four.’ Harry stumbled through the groves, swapping rings, robes and tucking Lemon Sorbet’s mask away. ‘Atlantis one.’

He stepped onto the white sand.

Liliana glanced up. ‘I found… Lysander. The key… is gone.’

‘Well, that’s that then,’ Harry said, slipping his wand out of his sleeve. ‘Shall I tidy up?’

‘Yes,’ she rasped. ‘Was there… anyone?’

‘The whole place is deserted,’ he replied, transfiguring the corpses into sand and sweeping it flat across the beach. ‘If there’s anyone here, they’re very good at hiding.’

‘We should… stay here,’ Liliana whispered. ‘I am not… sure what… to do now.’

I’m not staying here, not when I need to be in Romania and then finding a way to the U.S.

‘You should go back to Paris.’ Harry weighed the words on his tongue. ‘Tell Grise about this. See what he thinks. It might be a good moment for us to have a go at getting Sint-Maarten back somehow. The Americans won’t say no to help—’ the corner of his mouth twitched with wry humour ‘—I’d quite like to see America, too.’

She nodded. ‘Do not… let the… janissaries… take this… island.’

‘I won’t.’ Harry spun his wand in his fingers, showering the sand with silver sparks. ‘If they don’t agree to leave, I’ll just kill them and blame Lemon Sorbet.’

Liliana vanished with a loud crack.

‘How long can I keep this up?’ Harry muttered, apparating back atop the hill. ‘How long do we have before Gabby’s magic fades?’

‘A good question to ask.’ A soft voice carrying a strange double timbre tugged at his thoughts. The sphinx lay in the gap between two pines, a broad smile on its symmetrical female face. ‘Dreams are such fascinating things, little human.’

‘There’s only one dream left,’ he whispered. ‘Why are you here? Have you been watching us?’

‘A shadow of a dream,’ it said. ‘The faint hope of not letting it be torn away.’ 

‘You didn’t answer my question. Why are you here? Is there anyone else here with you?’ 

Nobody can know. They’ll get in the way.

The sphinx’s smile widened. ‘There’s only the two of us here, Heir of Slytherin. I do not consort with creatures beneath my interest.’

Harry mulled that over. ‘Why?’

‘When is victory not really victory? When does falling to your last enemy stop being defeat?’ It laughed. ‘I gave you a riddle when we first met, have you solved it yet?’

The last enemy. Death. It’s always defeat. This doesn’t help at all.

‘Who said I was here to help?’ The sphinx stretched, arching its back like a cat, and rose to its feet; it brushed aside the pines and stared down at him with burning green eyes.

‘If you’re not here to help, then I’ve no interest in your test,’ Harry said. ‘I don’t have time to waste.’

‘Who said the riddle was a test?’ The sphinx’s smile sharpened. ‘Or, more aptly, who said it was that riddle I wanted you to hear?’ It reached out with one huge paw and touched the tip of its claw to Harry’s heart. ‘Neither can live while the other survives, Heir of Slytherin.’

Tom. One of two. Harry shoved the claw away and ignored the cold prickling down his spine. I mustn’t dream his dreams.

‘Let me pass.’

‘Pass?’ Its laughter echoed through the pines and out to sea. ‘Sometimes, to go forward, you must go back.’

‘Back where? Britain?’ 

‘All the way back, Heir of Slytherin. I have watched your kin since little Salazar begged me to teach him at Ephesos on the shores of this very sea. He was interesting for a human, recreating magics your kind had begun to fear or forget, but it is your blood that catches my eye. Two hearts beat for it. One thumping within your breast and one more… screaming far beneath the sea.’

‘Kart Hadasht.’ A chill tricked down Harry’s spine.

‘That city sank. I care not for their screaming storm below the waves, but they saw a last son coming as they drowned. A world-changer. A son so marked by fate the world whispered of his coming two thousand years before he began to dream. And what a delicious dream it is.’ A gleam of hunger swelled in the sphinx’s eyes. ‘The sunset that eclipses the world.’

‘I let Kart Hadasht die. And I destroyed Rome.’

‘All those secrets and dreams, the delightful delusions of mortal minds,’ it murmured. ‘But you cannot lie to me, Last Son of Kart Hadasht. Mortal minds are simple things to untangle. All your deceptions are just spice sprinkled upon that sweet sunset.’

Harry swallowed hard. ‘What do you want?’ Fear clenched its cold fist about his heart. ‘What do you know?’

‘I know many things, son of Ba’alat Tanit. Many many things.’ Its sharp smile stretched from ear to ear across its symmetrical female face, showing off a mouthful of curved fangs and a barbed blue tongue. ‘And I wait to see what you will do next. I want to taste this dream.’

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