A piercing shriek cut through the soft rustle of the willow leaves.
Violette is needed. Harry dipped a hand into his pocket and lifted Violette’s ring up in his palm. But I don’t have time to waste on that.
‘Go see, mon Amour,’ Fleur murmured, rising to her feet in the base of the pensieve and stepping back over her pages of runes. ‘I am not yet finished with this last part to include the phoenix. You have time and if you don’t reply, they may come looking for fear you have accepted Grindelwald’s offer or been targeted. That might be risky.’
‘It’s almost certainly something dangerous,’ he said. ‘The Unspeakables are letting me recuperate, but Présidente Desrosiers mentioned having one last attack on Grindelwald’s allies when I saw her in Paris.’
‘You can always say no when they ask you,’ she said. ‘But we still need a few more days, we can’t have them interrupt us now.’
‘I’ll go.’ Harry slipped Violette’s ring onto his finger. ‘Je t’aime, mon Rêve.’
‘Je t’aime,’ Fleur whispered, crouching down over her runes. ‘Hopefully, when you come back, I will have found a solution and we will finally be there.’
He wrenched the world back past him and stepped into the Sunshine Room.
Grise stood before a huddle of boil-riddled corpses, his wand in his hand. ‘Violette.’ His pink eyes held a grim gleam. ‘Vert will be with us in a moment. Présidente Desrosiers has asked us to make another attempt at the Hradrakkan Mysteries.’
Harry shook his head, smothering a flash of cold fear. ‘Grindelwald will be waiting for us.’
‘Not this… time.’ Liliana stepped in from the corridor. ‘The Unspeakables… have been… obviously… poking at… the vampires… to bait him… into thinking… we are… attacking… elsewhere.’
Grise nodded. ‘They tampered with the wards around the castle multiple times and fell back each time Grindelwald appeared until he stopped coming. Simultaneously, a force of American volunteers in the Netherlands under the former auror captain Grant Hardsworth and their British liaison, Cedric Diggory, has feigned malcontent over the recent hostilities and rumours of a British campaign of terror and let slip to Grindelwald’s allies that we are actually planning to attack rather than defend our ward lines. They informed Grindelwald that the Spanish absence from our defences is due to this strategy, rather than their reluctance to get involved directly. The moment I confirm we are ready to Présidente Desrosiers, she will pass on the word to the British Minister of Magic and her Unspeakables will perform a decoy attack into Alemannia.’
A little ice trickled through Harry’s blood. ‘And you’re telling me now?’
Liliana flinched. ‘Présidente… Desrosiers… did not… give Grise… permission… to inform us… until this… morning.’
‘The twenty-seventh day of the festival is one marked by another dance,’ Grise said. ‘It is an obvious choice to attack them on, so Présidente Desrosiers did not allow me to tell anyone else until the last moment for fear Grindelwald’s supporters did not all leave when he invited them back to Nurmengard.’
Harry clenched his jaw, wrestling with the cold dread pooling in the pit of his stomach. ‘So you think Grindelwald is going to be very busy, because you’ve not been wrong about that very recently, and even if he’s not there, we’re going to try and attack a lot of very old and powerful vampires who are now expecting it.’
‘The Unspeakables have provided us with a portkey that will get us through the wards of the castle and bypass their defences. It will take us directly to the roof.’ Grise waved his wand at the inferii huddled behind him. ‘Inferii are a good tool against vampires’ limited magicks and these are my best. I will secure the rooftop. You will raze the entire castle starting with anyone in the hall. Vert has… assured me that if we go today, there is every chance the vampire princes will be destroyed and the mission will be a success.’
She scried for it. The cold fear eased its grip. Then it’s possible.
‘Grindelwald… must be… stopped,’ Liliana rasped. ‘Or none… of us… will be… free to live… their dreams.’
Harry touched a hand to the empty space beneath his robes. The sunset. Despair tugged at him, drawing him down into the deep black below.
‘Please… Violette,’ Liliana whispered. ‘I know… we ask… so much… of you… but it is… only… because… you can do… so much… for us all. And better… hope…’
Than despair. He cut his heart free into the dark. Katie first.
‘Let’s go,’ he said. ‘Grindelwald does have to be stopped.’
The amber-masked figure will never hurt you, baby bird. Nobody will. I promise. Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve as Grise vanished with a loud crack. You will wake up to the best world I can leave you. Just in case.
‘I scried… to see how… we might… destroy them.’ Liliana brushed back her hood and stared at him with dark eyes. ‘This is… our best chance.’
‘I gathered from what Grise said.’ He sucked in a deep breath. ‘What did you see?’
‘I saw… the castle… consumed… by flames,’ she rasped. ‘We must… try to… do this. He will… not be… stopped like… he was before… once he… gathers… momentum… again.’
‘You’re probably right,’ Harry said. ‘And if he gets his way, he’ll drag the whole magical world into war to unify it so he can commit genocide against muggles.’
There’s no choice. The yearning burnt the fear away, seared the despair and the cold, numb dark to less than dust and tempered his heart. Katie deserves to wake up to better.
Grise reappeared with a loud pop. ‘We should go now,’ he said. ‘And waste not a single second.’
‘Ready,’ Liliana whispered, pulling her hood back up and holding out her arm. ‘I will… take us… to Iphika… with my… necklace.’
The Sunshine Room vanished in a flash of red flame and Harry stumbled into a warm wind, staggering across the toppled marble columns of Iphika’s fallen shrine and blinking away the sharp stabbing pains at the bright sun on the white stone and sparkling sea.
Liliana sagged to one knee on a column. ‘I will… be fine,’ she rasped, fumbling a small vial from her pocket. ‘Just need… a pepper-up.’
Grise held out a thick iron bar, ushering his inferii into a tight cluster with his wand. ‘This will take us the rest of the way,’ he said. ‘Violette, strike the moment we arrive and don’t stop for anything.’
Harry grabbed hold of the cold metal. ‘No time to waste,’ he murmured, bitter humour tugging at the corner of his mouth. ‘Of course.’
Liliana seized the end, smearing a trickle of pepper-up away from her lips. ‘I am… ready.’
Grise’s pink eyes hardened. ‘Needle.’
Iphika lurched, whirling into a clear blue sky and rough white crags.
Harry thrust his wand at the slate tiles beyond Grise’s feet and pictured the dark veins webbing across Katie’s chest. No more obstacles.
Cherry red flames surged from the tip of his wand, tearing through the roof and billowing across the hall; crimson fire swallowed the dancing vampires, burning them to dust, coalescing into the thick coils of the basilisk and flaring white-hot in the centre of the hall.
The windows shattered, spraying the surviving vampires with sharp glass shards and searing heat slammed into Harry, sending him staggering back as he flinched behind his arm.
The hungry whisper of the Fiendfyre swelled to a roar and the basilisk burst through the roof, rearing its head above the far end of the hall as the beams crumbled to glowing orange embers and streaming swirls of ash. Molten mortar wept from the walls as they sagged to the ground, sending burning vampires down into the fire with despairing screams.
Pale mist curled together on the smoking beam behind Grise. The White Prince bared his fangs through melted, twisted lips, his ivory hair blazing like a torch and bare scorched bone gleaming in the red light of the flames.
Grise’s inferii lunged.
The White Prince’s nails stretched into long talons and he slashed through the first, slicing through flesh and bone like it was paper; it burst, splashing boiling blood across the slate roof and over the vampire, but he clawed into the rest, ignoring the scalding blood boiling his flesh back to the bones and Grise’s hexes punching holes through his stomach, and scattering chunks of inferii down into the flames.
‘Vio… lette,’ Liliana rasped, hurling curses at the vampires on the wall beside the hall. ‘Kill him… and we have… done enough.’
Grise banished the beam out from under the blood-soaked White Prince, but he burst into mist, streaming away as the inferii plummeted into the writhing coils of crimson fire and burst into flames, crumbling to ash.
‘I will turn you.’ The White Prince’s face crept back over the scorched bones as he reformed on the blackened beam at the centre of the roof, his dark red eyes cold and dead. ‘All of you.’ The gaping holes in his stomach and scalds flowed closed. ‘And I will flay every piece of skin from your flesh every day until the day you are dust.’
‘Merde,’ Grise muttered, transfiguring the beam beneath the vampire’s feet and wrapping it around his calves. ‘Violette!’
‘You cannot kill me, wizard. I have bathed in the blood of all those who have tried.’ The White Prince tore himself free in a shower of splinters and bared his fangs, his deep red eyes fixed on Harry. ‘Come to me—’ the vampire’s voice melted through Harry, soft as silk and sweet as sugar on his tongue; it traced gentle warmth through his veins and sent a soft fluttering thrill down his spine ‘—be mine. In my palm I hold all you hope for.’
No. You’re just in the way. The yearning smouldered in his breast, a twist of sharp, knotted heat clamped about his heart like a fist of hot thorns. And it hurts. Katie’s bright smile shone beneath the cold glass of the Mirror of Erised in his mind’s eye and the storm of need stole the wind from his lungs, leaving dark spots swirling before his eyes as he gasped for air. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe!
‘I want—’ the storm hung on the tip of his tongue, a scorching, searing scream caught in the back of his throat. ‘I want—’
Blazing heat exploded from the basilisk as it rose over the remaining roof. A thousand needle-like fangs burnt bright as the sun in its gaping maw and the rest of the hall slumped into a steaming, shimmering pool of molten stone beneath its coils.
The White Prince glanced over his shoulder and snarled, leaping from the beam and shifting into a monstrous pale lizard.
A flash of fierce heat snatched him from the air and the basilisk swallowed him whole in a searing snap, smashing through the wall running alongside the hall and immolating the vampires fleeing along it in little puffs of smoke.
‘Raze the rest,’ Grise said, surveying the coils of crimson flame below. ‘Just to be sure.’
The white-hot basilisk ripped through the walls, splattering molten stone across the steaming streams of lava weeping from the crumbling castle and trickling down the rough white crags.
‘What great… power,’ Liliana whispered.
A faint soft thrill fluttered through Harry’s veins alongside the soft ache of fatigue as he watched the Fiendfyre serpent wrap itself around the watchtower at the far end of the ridge and crush it. Orange lava spurted through the coils of flame, showering down the mountainside and setting bushes and trees ablaze.
A small spark of golden flame burst into life above the ruined hall.
‘Out,’ Harry hissed. ‘We need to get out.’
‘It is… too late,’ Liliana rasped, staring over his shoulder. ‘He is… here.’
Harry twisted on his heel.
‘That I am.’ Grindelwald stood on the far corner of the remaining wall of the main hall, one hand tucked through the silver buttons of his burgundy waistcoat. Countless golden sparks swelled into being around him as he flourished his long thin wand. ‘You have done well. I owe you some small thanks, for the Sunset Princedoms would have soon become a thorn in my side. Albus tried for years to get them to join the ICW and think of the wider world, but they agreed only to abide by the Statute so long as they were left to their own squabbles. Without their greatest princes, they will have no choice but to comply with me and become part of the greater good I must work.’
Liliana trembled, her shaking fingers brushing her throat.
‘Would you join me, Simon Aguillard?’ Grindelwald levelled his wand at Grise, the flickering tongues of golden flame hovering around him like countless dancing candles. ‘Your elder brother did in the end.’
‘Julien is dead.’ Grise raised his wand. ‘And there is no Simon Aguillard. There is only Grise.’
‘Very well, what of you, Vert?’
A shudder rippled through Liliana. ‘Join… you… again?’
‘Again?’ Grindelwald’s sharp blue eyes bored into Liliana. ‘There are few of those who came to join me that changed their mind. Tell me, if you please, what name did I once know you by?’
She snatched back her hood, her dark eyes full of fire. ‘You have not… forgotten… my name… Grindelwald.’
‘Nein. I have not, Liliana.’ A small sad smile passed across his face. ‘In truth, I have forgotten none of them.’ Grindelwald’s hand cupped a small square outline within his waistcoat. ‘I write them down. All of them. So I will never forget.’
‘You… can… cross… mine… out,’ Liliana hissed.
‘So be it,’ he murmured. ‘I will make you no more offers, Violette. This trap I set for you above all others. You have proven yourself a risk to our world’s survival.’
Harry swept his wand up and the Fiendfyre basilisk slithered back across the mountain, searing the rough white rocks smooth beneath its blazing coils.
‘Hate is the weapon of a child,’ Grindelwald said, whipping his long, thin wand forward. ‘It is a poison I will leave far less place for in the world to come.’
The golden flames burst, falling in a shower of shining sparks; they ate through the Fiendfyre like heavy rain through snow, washing its crimson heat away into a lake of bright amber fire.
Grise and Liliana hurled curses at Grindelwald, spreading out across the narrow rooftop, but he batted them aside with little flicks of his wrist and took one step forward, thrusting out his wand. Ribbons of shimmering gold flew from its tip, swirling around Grindelwald in a shining spiral.
Grise threw up a bright shield of white magic.
The golden ribbons melted through it, slicing through Grise like a web of fluttering razors and scattering the burning pieces of his corpse across the slate.
Grindelwald’s hard blue eyes flicked to Harry and the ribbons lunged,
‘No,’ Liliana rasped, shoving him aside.
He rolled to his feet at the edge of the roof.
The golden ribbons lanced through Liliana’s limbs, stringing her up like a puppet.
‘Run,’ she spluttered, dangling in their grasp. ‘For Lili…ana—’
Her binds flashed bright as the sun and she burst into amber flames, showering down onto the roof and eating into the stone.
Grindelwald flourished his wand and the lake of golden fire rose; bright little spirals of flickering tongues streamed up and coalesced into shining sparks, hovering above them like a swathe of stars. ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Simon Aguillard.’ A faint sad smile flitted across his lips as the burning amber sparks closed in around Harry in a swirling blizzard of bright gold. ‘And auf Wiedersehen to you also, Henri Dufort.’ He tucked the thumb of his left hand through the buttons of his waistcoat. ‘I shall keep your names here with mine. And I will do all I can to ensure that I do not have to write your sisters’ beneath them. But if I must, I hope you understand that I will mourn them too.’ Grindelwald closed his eyes and flicked his wand.
The whirling storm of golden fire closed in and panic bubbled in the pit of Harry’s stomach, flashing hot and cold as it tangled itself into a tight knot of thorns. He hurled piercing hexes into the amber flames, but they swept through his magic like a swelling wave swallowing up raindrops and crept closer. He thrust his magic into the air and thrust his wand forward, but the wind rippled through the fire like a gentle breeze and faded away.
‘Merde.’ The knot of fear in his gut writhed and thrashed; beneath his pounding heart, despair waited with its small knowing smile.
No. Harry crushed it all down and slashed his wand at the fire. I will not be stopped. Not now.
The hazy basilisk smashed into the golden flames and burst like a bubble, melting away like smoke in the breeze.
It changes everything. Everything. The fear clawed at him as his left hand crept to the empty space beneath his robes. I can’t die. I’m not allowed to die. If I die, Katie will die.
A soft murmur of need rose through the fear, coiling about his heart like a soft dark-scaled serpent, and black mist burst through his sleeve, forcing the golden flames back.
You can change my magic. Relief flooded through his chest, ripping the breath from his lips as he sank to one knee. But you cannot change my soul. He twisted his wrist and the ebony tendrils snaked behind him and punched through the amber fire. One of two. And we know what our purpose is.
Harry dived through the gap and off the edge of the roof, shifting himself into the form of the raven and clamping his wings tight to his body. The cold wind howled and shrieked in his ears, ripping at his feathers as he plummeted past the rough white rocks and into the trees. He forced his wings open.
White-hot pain tore through him as the wind wrenched at his limbs, sending him spinning around in a breathless whirl, smashing into branches in fresh flashes of agony through a blur of green and a dizzying swirl of dark spots. Harry hammered into the ground and slumped into the soft, green grass.
The burning pain faded into the distance, drawn away by a deep numb darkness.
No. Harry let himself feel the fierce throb of agony and shifted back into his form with a ragged gasp, clenching his right fist over his ribs. I am not allowed to die. He pressed his balled fist against his heart, steeling himself against the washes of pain ripping through him. Je t’aime, mon Amour.
He sat up with a groan, gasping as lances of fire stabbed through his ribs. His left arm hung limp, a sharp spur of bone sticking through his forearm, bright with crimson, and his fingers stuck out at odd angles.
‘I think—’ Harry spat a mouthful of slick copper tang out into the grass and thrust his wand at his hand ‘—that Violette is going to stay dead now.’
‘Osassere sanentur.’ White-hot pain burst through his hand as his fingers crunched back into place, flaring up his arm in a burning wave as the bone sticking from his forearm jerked back into place. ‘Osassere sanentur.’ Harry tapped his ribs and clenched his jaw as they grated back into place in a searing flash of pain.
Blood dribbled from the gaping hole in his arm and trickled from the little cuts and lacerations covering his skin.
No risks. I can’t fight Grindelwald again before La Victoire Finale.
A small niggle of guilt tugged at him as he dragged himself up on the tree branch, battling the crushing weight of tiredness.
‘Sorry, Liliana,’ he whispered, slipping off Violette’s ring and sliding on Lemon Sorbet’s. ‘Sorry, mes sœurs.’ Harry took a long breath and placed Lemon Sorbet’s mask over his face, picturing the peak above Fafnir’s old lair. ‘Katie first.’
He wrenched the world back past him and grit his teeth as the tiredness clawed deeper, squeezing his eyes shut and ripping his way through Epidamnus, Bari, Rome, Bonifacio and home.
Soft heat flared beneath his thumbnail as the pebbles clicked beneath his feet and he slumped to his knees on the warm stones.
‘I’m back, baby bird—’ the words slurred on his tongue, dragged out by the deep fatigue hanging off him like a thick cold cloak ‘—as promised.’
Warmth flashed across his thumb.
‘Mon Amour,’ Fleur whispered, her swift steps ringing in his ears as the darkness tugged at him, drawing him down. She patted him down, pulling the mask from his face and tossing it aside. ‘Your turn to rest, mon Coeur,’ she murmured, cradling her head in his lap. ‘I’ll keep working on the pensieve while you sleep.’