The breeze sent small ripples across the surface of the lagoon, distorting the pale ruins beneath the surface.
Harry crouched in the sand over a small crab scuttling toward the water, staring a large gull in the eye as it hopped closer. ‘Try it.’
The gull stalked a few paces nearer.
He flicked his wand, sending it tumbling back over the sand, and the little crab vanished into the sea.
Safe and sound, baby crab.
A loud crack echoed over the beach and Harry straightened up.
Liliana strode across the sand, brushing her hood back and shaking out her hair. ‘I have… spoken to… Grise and he will… speak with… Présidente… Desrosiers. We are to… watch over… Atlantis… and Crete… and scout North… to try and… ward off any… Ottoman… incursions… to the islands… in the Aegean.’
‘Britain’s not lost yet and we’re already betraying our allies,’ Harry murmured. ‘But I suppose it’s their dreams or ours.’
‘There is… always… a greater… good, Violette.’ She stared down into the lagoon. ‘Grindelwald… used to… gaze into there… He felt that… the fate of… the wizards… and witches… that drowned… and had their… desperate… despairing… magic trapped… by the giant… clams was one… we would all… suffer if… we were not… ready when… our worlds… collided.’
It’s a shrine to Death and all the inescapable despair it brings. The silver coins glittered in his mind’s eye. Thousands of years of desperate little wishes offered up to it in hope of escape.
Harry turned away from the water. ‘You don’t sound like you hate him. Not always.’
‘It is… complicated.’
‘Isn’t it always?’ He sighed. ‘Do you know anything about sphinxes, Liliana?’
‘Only that… they are… very… dangerous.’
Harry snorted. ‘I had come to that conclusion too.’
‘One has been… seen in the… Black Forest… on and off… for a… half a century… or so,’ she rasped.
I could ask Fleur, but we don’t have time to waste on the sphinx. He smothered the unease stirring in his stomach. If it becomes an obstacle, I’ll wipe it away. If not, it’s not important.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ he murmured. ‘Just my curiosity. I find magical creatures fascinating. Phoenixes too.’
‘I saw one… once.’ Liliana’s dark eyes turned distant. ‘Grindelwald… looked so sad… when he heard… it sing.’
‘A phoenix saved my life when I was twelve.’ Harry slid his wand from his sleeve. ‘I’ll be back soon unless I run into Lemon Sorbet and things go wrong.’
‘You are too… strong to… lose to… an ice cream.’
‘It would be embarrassing.’ Harry allowed himself a small smile. ‘But he might get lucky.’
If I need him to.
‘Lemnos,’ he muttered under his breath, appearing amidst the cypresses with a loud pop.
And now I’m free to go to Romania. Harry pulled Violette’s ring off and replaced it with Lemon Sorbet’s, transfiguring his robes from blue and silver to black with a flick of his wand.
‘But I should deal with Dragon first.’ He pressed the tip of his wand to his cheek and changed his face, covering it with Lemon Sorbet’s mask. ‘If he’s Charlie Weasley, he might even know something useful.’
Harry dug the longest key out of his pocket. ‘Epidamnus,’ he whispered, stumbling over the carved lion into cool light drizzle.
Strawberry Sundae’s pink mask stared back from half a step away.
‘Hello, Strawberry Sundae,’ Harry said.
‘Hello, Lemon Sorbet.’ She leant her head onto her shoulder. ‘Have you run into Violette yet?’
‘I’m about to go find him, actually.’ He turned toward the door. ‘I just wanted to check things were still quiet here first.’
‘The Ostirrikians and Westsalians have vanished,’ Strawberry Sundae replied. ‘Otto Vogt’s Saxons are still there.’
‘Where did the rest go?’ Harry frowned. ‘Surely now is the best moment to attack us?’
‘Smooth Mint and Pistachio Surprise think they may have gone to Polans. Helping their ally against Tsarina Bugrov may be more important than us.’
It doesn’t matter. All that matters right now is Romania.
He strode down into the tower, peering into empty rooms. Colin and Anthony Goldstein glanced up from a game of exploding snap as he passed.
Where is he? Harry poked his head into the map room.
‘If you’re looking for your captains, they’re watching the wall.’ A tall, broad figure leant against the wall, the red dragon on his white mask gleaming in the bar of sunlight falling through the window.
‘I was looking for you.’ Harry stepped in, hunting for words. ‘You’ve fought Violette, right?’
Dragon stiffened. ‘Yes,’ he gritted. ‘He’s a monster. Like Voldemort.’
‘You hate him?’
‘He killed my whole team.’ Dragon clenched his fist around his wand. ‘I’ll kill him if I ever see him.’
‘I’m going after him now,’ Harry said. ‘With a little liquid luck, you might not ever see him again.’
‘Then good fucking riddance.’ Dragon took a long deep breath. ‘Sorry, mate. I just – I really hate that French cunt. I got bitten on the wrist by an inferius and had to bail out because of the blood loss. If I’d been there…’
‘You’d be dead.’ Harry smiled beneath Lemon Sorbet’s mask. ‘But you weren’t, so you aren’t.’
Dragon shook his head. ‘I am – was the defensive ward specialist on our team. I could have stopped Violette. Or at least slowed him down long enough to get us out.’
Harry swept his eyes across the empty vials on the table and the maps hanging from the walls. ‘So… Dragon? You like dragons?’
‘Do you like ice cream?’ Dragon grunted. ‘Yeah, I like dragons. Worked with them for a bit out in the Sunset Princedoms. They’re wild and free and majestic. You’d see what I mean if you ever saw one up close, they’re not pets. You gotta respect something that can turn you into ash or a smear on the ground in the blink of an eye.’
‘They seem pretty dangerous, what’s working with them like?’ Harry asked.
‘Used to be easy, to be honest, mate.’ Dragon shrugged. ‘You don’t get close much. More about keeping the muggles away. But the muggles kept on encroaching on their territory and you can’t cram dragons into a small preserve, they like lots of space, so keeping them there got harder and harder. Lost more than a few friends stopping dragons from trying to fly off and find new territory.’
‘Nah, not your fault. Stupid muggles just keep building and building.’ Dragon snorted. ‘The preserves in Romania are going to get themselves taken off the maps and get the muggles to turn the surrounding area into some kind of protected park. Think it’s a bit late really now. Dragons are already stuck like fish in a tank and they have multiple young, so it’ll just keep happening.’
‘Better that than the Statute getting broken.’ Harry leant on the doorframe. ‘You ever go to the famous preserves? The ones with those gems?’
‘I been around a few, mate,’ Dragon said. ‘Vampires don’t like wizards sticking about too long in their Princedoms, so you have to reapply for papers every couple years and you get moved about a bit sometimes.’ He shrugged. ‘Best not to upset the vampires, either. The young ones aren’t all that scary, but the old ones…’
‘What’s the biggest dragon you ever saw?’
‘Fafnyr.’ Dragon spread his arms as far as he could. ‘Snout this wide. Never saw him wake up; he’d slept for a century before I got there. But probably for the best. He had a nasty temper, apparently. Actually died while I was there. Choked on a gem. The one that made the preserve famous. They can do that if they sleep too long and don’t cough them up.’
Harry smiled. ‘What happened to Fafnyr afterward?’
‘Oh we just let nature run its course.’ Dragon dropped his arms. ‘He got eaten by Medea after she claimed his hoard. She was a nightmare, that dragon. Also famous, actually.’
‘Yeah, she nearly ate Harry Potter at the Triwizard Tournament a few years back.’
Fantastic. Harry stifled a sigh. Just the dragon I really wanted to see again.
Dragon laughed. ‘Not sure which idiot thought she was a good choice, but I guess they didn’t have much time to pick the fourth dragon. He wasn’t meant to be competing.’
‘Nah, I reckon she was causing trouble so they had her stunned and caged already. They probably just sent her to Britain and hoped she’d not come back. Active dragons can take a while to track and catch, especially wary nesting mothers.’
‘Guess he was just unlucky.’
Dragon shrugged. ‘Not sure I know of anyone less lucky. Poor kid didn’t even make it to seventeen.’
I’m not getting anywhere here. And I can’t legilimise him or get the mask off to borrow his appearance. Harry scowled at the floor. Merde. Improvisation it is.
‘I’d better go,’ he said.
‘Kill that fucker.’ Dragon called after him. ‘Don’t pull a single punch. Just fucking kill him.’
Harry strode back up the stairs, lifting Fleur’s macaron portkey in his pocket. Nothing for it. He paused over the carved lion, lifting Lemon Sorbet’s mask off and swapping rings. I could borrow Bill’s face. It’d be close-ish to Charlie’s. Revulsion churned in his stomach. No. No, I can’t be him.
He charmed his robes white and slid his wand back into his sleeve. ‘Wisteria.’
The rolling woods and hills behind the towertop blurred and he stumbled to one knee on rough, lichen-patched stone.
A pair of brown boots thudded across the rock. ‘State your name, visitor.’ A high voice demanded.
Harry pushed himself to his feet and threw a quick glance around.
Seven rune-marked cairns rose from the stone spur, their shadows sprawling down the slope past a small wooden cabin into the rustling branches of dense forest.
The brown-robed witch raised her wand, glaring through her blonde hair. ‘Your name. We have no portkey visits scheduled for today.’
A dark-haired witch stood in the shadows of the cairn, her wand pointed at his ribs.
‘Charlie Weasley,’ he replied, tucking the macaron into his pocket. ‘Dragon-handler.’
They exchanged a sharp glance and Harry thrust out his left hand, yanking them toward him with his magic and slipping his wand from his sleeve.
‘Shit,’ the blonde witch snapped as she sprawled across the ground, slashing her wand.
Crackling blue sparks leapt from its tip.
‘Aguamenti,’ Harry muttered, deflecting a trio of dark blue spells away down into the woods and drenching them both in a gush of water.
They spasmed and jerked, their eyes rolling back into their skulls. He put one foot on the blonde witch’s wand and banished the dark-haired witch back into the rock with a flick of his wand.
‘Legilimens,’ Harry whispered, catching the blonde witch’s blue eyes.
A whirl of fear tore at his thoughts, desperate hexes leapt to the surface, hurled forth from the tangle of terror.
He conjured a whip of fire, wrapping it about her shield and pushing an image of the Hungarian horntail into their thoughts. A scorched spur of stone rose above a slope of burnt trees. Darkness gaped in the rock through the charred skeletons of dead branches.
Fafnyr’s lair. Harry followed the fear through the white-hot flames of a jagged-spined silhouette to a mound of shining gemstones and a slumbering red dragon the length of a Quidditch pitch.
He ripped his thoughts free and disillusioned himself, stepping back off the blonde witch’s wand.
‘Where is he?’ The blonde witch scrambled to her feet and snatched her wand off the ground as Harry circled ‘round toward the pair. ‘Paula?’
‘He just vanished.’ Paula hauled herself up on the cairn. ‘Homenum—’
‘Obliviate.’ Harry wiped the last five minutes from Paula’s mind and turned to the blonde witch. ‘Obliviate.’
That’ll do. He tip-toed past into the cabin. They must have a map for real visitors somewhere.
A stack of leaflets fluttered on the desk.
Harry plucked one from the top and turned it over, finding a small map on the back.
In Romanian. Fantastic.
Footsteps approached the cabin.
He apparated out among the cairns with a soft snap and traced the names one by one, working his way out from the red cross near the preserve’s centre. ‘Fafnyr…’ Harry smiled and tapped his finger on the peak marked halfway across the preserve to the south. ‘That must be it.’
A distant cluster of rocks rose above the woods south of the seven cairns and above it, drifting through the thick white clouds, was the dark silhouette of a dragon.
Harry wrenched the world back past him, spinning the woods away until he stood on the scorched stone spur amidst a scatter of dull, dark scales and stared down at the burnt branches clawing out at the sky.
I must be right above the actual lair where the dragonbane gem is. He abandoned his Disillusionment Charm. The dragon’s flying about up there, so I should just be able to walk in and get it.
A loud thud rang across the peak and the ground trembled beneath his feet.
‘Merde,’ Harry muttered, twisting on his heel.
A pair of tattered, dark wings rose from behind the rocks and a jagged-scaled dragon head reared after them on a serpentine, spine-crested neck, its burning yellow eyes fixed on Harry.
An orange glow swelled in its throat.
Hi Medea. He scrambled for his wand, thrusting his magic into the air. Long time no see.
Searing flame gushed from the dragon’s maw, but he flicked it aside with a sweep of his wand and forced his magic to its tip.
White sparks flashed and whirled about the slim piece of ebony. A crackling beam flashed out, wrapping itself around the dragon’s muzzle and binding it shut. Smoke and the thick tang of scorched flesh drifted to Harry’s nose as the magic melted through the dark scales of the dragon’s snout.
A muffled rumble echoed from deep inside the beast’s chest and it wrenched its head, snapping the rope of sparking white lightning.
‘Fine. Be an obstacle.’ Harry clenched his wand tight and drew all the magic he could up. ‘I won’t be stopped.’
The dragon reared back and opened its maw, the bright orange glow rising in its gullet.
‘Fulminis,’ he snapped.
A white flash burnt Harry’s eyes and heat washed over him, searing at his skin. He blinked until the green spots faded from his vision.
Thick, dark-red dragon’s blood rained down onto the rocks, steaming and hissing; it splashed over Harry, scalding the skin from his flesh in flashes of fire and melting his robes away. The headless dragon’s corpse thudded onto the rocks and slid down behind the spur of the hill.
Almost one step closer, little chick. He held his breath, apparating down before the thick gloom of the lair. Almost there.
Harry flicked his wand and swept the blood off. The flesh and skin crept back, the bright pink patches faded back to pale skin. He flourished his wand, fixing his robes as he strode into the dark.
In the low light, a heap of gleaming gemstones shone in a rainbow of hues. At its summit rested a fierce red stone, bright as a ruby and large as he was tall.
Harry thrust out his wand, wrapping the air around it and lifting it down to his side. ‘There we go, baby bird.’ He pulled the macaron from his pocket and bit it in half, savouring the sweet taste. ‘Only a few things left now.’
The obscurial. The damaz-kar. The phoenix. Harry’s stomach tightened into a writhing knot. And the sacrifice.
‘Geminio,’ he murmured, conjuring a copy of the dragonbane gem and levitating it back atop the pile.
There’s no time to waste worrying now. Harry ate the last half of the macaron, chewing slowly as he switched rings and undid the charm on his robes. Whatever it takes when we get there.
He placed Lemon Sorbet’s mask on and grabbed the longest key from his pocket. ‘Epidamnus.’
Harry pictured the Isle of Bari as he staggered across the tower top and wrenched at the world with his magic, stumbling to his knees on the street.
The dragonbane gem hovered in front of him, glowing in the sunlight like frozen red flame.
He sighed and grabbed a rock. On we go.
‘Portus.’ Harry imagined Bonifacio. ‘Dragonbane.’
He stepped into the cool, still air beneath the grey arches and columns and lifted the acorn pendant and his glowing wedding band from under his robes.
‘Argent,’ Harry whispered, his thumbnail flashing hot.
Light rain pattered down on the white pebbles, rustling through the slim willow leaves and sending countless small circles across the rippling river water.
He swept the black silk off the mirror with one hand.
Katie stretched both hands up toward him with a small frown.
A sharp pain bit deep into Harry’s heart. ‘I know, baby bird. I know.’ He drew the runes on the mirror. ‘But we’re nearly there. Nearly there.’
Little white feathers poked through the loose weave of her jumper and her eyes darkened to pine green.
‘You’re so much like your beautiful maman,’ he whispered. ‘You won’t have to pout long, my little angel. I promise.’
Heat washed through his thumbnail and the pebbles grated behind him.
‘One more step, mon Trésor,’ Harry said, watching their daughter clutch for them beneath the shining silver surface. ‘America next. I think getting the damaz-kar might start a lot of trouble with the goblins so best to leave it until last.’
‘There are obscuri in a few very famous wizarding research hospitals,’ Fleur murmured, her footsteps drawing near. ‘I am trying to come up with a way to trap a phoenix, but I think it must require very advanced alchemy.’ Her voice trembled. ‘Gabby might have done it, we might not have time for me to learn…’
Harry clawed his sinking heart back up and stared into Katie’s green eyes. ‘There’s always a way.’
Liliana has that special portkey necklace. If I can get my hands on that, maybe it will help us figure things out.
‘Can you get away from the fighting in the Aegean?’ Fleur asked.
‘I’ll find a way.’ He tore his gaze away from the Mirror of Erised. ‘It might be time for one of Lemon Sorbet and Violette to die. Whichever is less likely to get sent to Britain.’
‘Injured. If it is Violette. You might need Violette to get to Château d’Acier and the goblins beneath.’
Harry breathed out a long sigh. ‘I’ll go back to Greece, to tell them that Lemon Sorbet has beaten Violette.’
‘If it doesn’t work, there’s always the muggle way to get to America,’ Fleur said. ‘But you will need the cloak to get past the wards at the muggle entrances.’
Harry swept the black silk back over the mirror and drew her into his arms. ‘I miss you so much,’ he whispered. ‘Every moment I have time to think. I hate it. It was meant to be different now. We were supposed to be free.’
Fleur’s blue eyes softened and she cupped his cheek. ‘It will all be worth it, mon Amour. For La Victoire Finale.’
‘I know. I won’t let it be for nothing.’ He held her hand against his face and breathed her in. ‘I just needed to say it, to hear it, it hurts. And I wish—’ wry bitter humour tugged at the corner of his mouth ‘—I wish it didn’t hurt so much.’
‘The more it hurts…’
‘Je t’aime.’ Harry kissed her on the forehead and pictured the red rose, drawing the magic through his fingers.
A lopsided maroon flower shed its petals onto the white pebbles. The wind caught them, buffeting them into the river and away downstream.
‘Maybe don’t keep that one,’ he said, tossing the thorny stem away into the water. ‘I’ll get the hang of it eventually.’
Fleur watched it float out of sight and rested her forehead against his. ‘We have a few moments, mon Amour, but then…’
‘Je sais,’ Harry murmured. ‘The obscurial. The damaz-kar. The phoenix.’
And the sacrifice. The words hung on the tip of his tongue as he held her tight.
Harry swallowed them back down.