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Harry Potter and the Secret of Atlantis (Harry Potter AU/Tomb Raider Crossover)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Starfox5, Nov 3, 2018.

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  1. Pahan

    Pahan Know what you're doing yet?

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    Suggested rewrite:

    Trapdoor under the carpets? No. Harry looked at the statue of Priapus. No. Yes. He took a closer look. There were too many spells on the shrine to merely preserve it. He quickly looked the spells over. There were several curses on it, linked to… Ah!

    Harry frowned. Usually, it was Ron who got into these kinds of predicaments. Needs must, however, and Harry took a deep breath and grabbed on to the relevant part of the statue with his left hand (keeping his wand in his right), starting the long sequence he was able to glean: up, down, up, down, left, right, left, right, back, forward...

    Another explosion slightly shook the walls, and Harry frowned - that hadn’t been a firework. But his pin didn’t vibrate, so Ron didn’t need help. Or was beyond help, Harry thought, then shook his head. He had his task to complete.

    ... left, up, pull, down, right, push, and one last long pull. Without letting go, Harry shifted his tired wrist and stepped to the side to avoid being sprayed: whether it was poison, Eternally Indelible Ink, or something else, he did not know and did not want to find out. Finally, Harry released the statue's nose and the statue moved, stepping to the side and opening a door in the wall, revealing a narrow staircase that wound down to the basement.
     
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  2. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    That's funny, but a bit too lewd as a joke - I pondered writing something similar, but decided against it when I wrote the scene. Ultimately, Bey wouldn't have had a secret passage where he has to move a statue's nose to enter - he'd have a "one touch with my wand and it opens" solution for mere convenience.
     
  3. Threadmarks: Chapter 12: Trouble in Tunis
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 12: Trouble in Tunis

    ‘Magical creatures have been used by wizards to guard their treasure chambers or homes for millennia, so to the layperson, this might seem an easy way to secure their valuables. However, in order to effectively use such creatures as guards, there are several hurdles which must be overcome. First, living creatures have to be fed. That may seem like a minor issue, but it means that whatever they are guarding has to be visited regularly by a trusted servant or yourself. And the food has to be protected and tested, lest a prospective thief tamper with it to poison the creature. In addition, many creatures have to be trained not to accept food from just anyone, or a thief can bring poisoned food with them to offer to the creature. This can be a particular problem with animals not intelligent enough to be easily trained.
    Guard animals also have to be trained not to attack their owner, which can be quite difficult with the more dangerous, and therefore more effective, beasts. The use of intelligent creatures such as sphinxes will avoid most of those problems, but such beasts are susceptible to bribes or betraying their owners. Finally, the more resistant to magical control a creature is, the more valuable it is as a guard against magic-using thieves, but the harder it is for one to control it. Finding the correct balance can be somewhat tricky and even dangerous. Fortunately, over the millennia, various methods to control creatures resistant to charms have been developed, although not all of them are legal in every civilised nation.
    One of the safest ways to control a creature, although also the one which takes longest to achieve the desired result, is to raise the creature from birth or hatching to adulthood. With a few exceptions, even the most ferocious of beasts tend to become loyal guards if raised properly - although some might also become overly affectionate, and anyone who has ever suffered the attentions of an adoring wyvern can testify that even this method is not without risk.’
    - Excerpt from ‘A Short Guide to Magical Creatures and Their Uses’ by Albert Nott, London, 1901


    *****​

    Tunisia, Wizarding Tunis, Palace of Murad Bey, September 25th, 2001

    Hermione Granger rolled her eyes. Lockhart was acting as if he had just saved everyone. Granted, he probably had saved Ron - but none of them would have been in danger if not for Lockhart forcing them to ‘help’ him. That witches actually fell for the man’s act… Well, she couldn’t deny that he was attractive, but his attitude was repulsive. Which was the reason why she wouldn’t warn him about the potential consequences of Tahira’s obvious attraction.

    They had more urgent problems anyway. She touched her earring. “Harry? The Chimaera has been dealt with. Do you have the ring?”

    “What? How?”

    She hated having to say it. “Lockhart knocked it out with poisoned meat.”

    “What?”

    “But we need to move - the Bey’s guards could arrive any moment. Will arrive!”

    “I’ll hurry!” Harry said. “But there are a lot of things to go through.”

    She was tempted to tell him that he should just take everything - they could sort it out later - but that wouldn’t let them countermand whatever order had been given to Tahira.

    “Ron! Mr Lockhart!” she yelled. “Harry’s still looking for the ring. Go help him!”

    “But the guards will arrive any moment - I couldn’t leave you to handle them!” the ponce protested.

    Fortunately, Ron was quick on the uptake. “Come on! When the guards arrive, they’ll see a broken harem, a stunned monster and poor, distraught harem girls. And not two suspicious-looking foreign wizards.”

    “I’m not suspicious-looking!” Lockhart claimed. “I’m dashing!”

    But he followed Ron into the ruined part of the palace. Hermione didn’t doubt that he would later claim that it had been his idea in the first place.

    “How clever of you,” Tahira commented with a sly and far too smug grin.

    “Thank you,” Hermione replied with a toothy smile.

    Ari walked over. The witch had picked up her wand but hadn’t bothered to gather and mend her shredded clothes. Instead, she confronted Tahira with a sneer. “Stick to Lockhart. Ron is mine.”

    The jinni princess scoffed. “You think I desire the lout? Hah! All I desire is justice for how he vexed me!”

    “You hurt him, I hurt you!” Ari retorted.

    “Try it, animal!” Tahira hissed. “I should have known you were too barbaric to be human!”

    “Big words from an overgrown smoke trail!”

    Sometimes, Ari’s talent for learning languages really was more hindrance than help.

    “What is going on? Shouldn’t we flee?” Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens asked.

    “We need to free Tahira from her bindings first,” Hermione explained. “Do you know if there are any other enslaved witches in the harem?”

    The other witch shook her head. “No. I could barely talk to them.”

    Ah. Hermione hadn’t considered that. She should have, of course - language barriers were the reason for their presence in Tunis, after all.

    “Do not meddle in the affairs of your better, beast!”

    Tahira grew another foot, reaching nine feet. And Ari’s growls were sounding more and more like a jaguar’s.

    Hermione was very glad that the Tunisian City Guards showed up before the two came to blows. She quickly told Harry and Ron before the guards got close enough to overhear her - not that they seemed to care much for her in the first place. Her Arabic wasn’t perfect, and the wizards and witches spoke rather quickly, but it wasn’t hard to deduce what they wanted to know since they were all staring at the unconscious Chimaera.

    She pointed at the beast. “It went on a rampage!” she said loudly and rapidly in English. “Demolished the harem! Bey has vanished!”

    That drew the guards’ attention to Hermione’s little group, and a witch quickly walked over. She conjured a blanket and offered it to Ari, who stared at it, then shook her head and conjured some actual clothes for herself instead.

    Hermione smiled at the Tunisian guardswitch. “She was in the bath.”

    “Ah.”

    “Where is the Bey’s son?” the witch wanted to know.

    Hermione shook her head. “I don’t know. He wasn’t in harem,” she added, switching to broken Arabic.

    “We need to search the place!” Hermione heard one of the wizards say in Arabic.

    But before they could split up, Bey appeared, slowly and rather jerkily clambering over the broken remains of the door to the garden. Behind him, two men followed - and one of them was rubbing his hand, no, the ring on his finger, as he walked towards Hermione.

    Polyjuice! It had to be Polyjuice! Clever indeed.

    But Tahira didn’t seem to have caught on, Hermione realised - the jinni was glaring at who Hermione knew was Harry.

    “You found her ring!” Hermione exclaimed and rushed to him. She ignored the surprised reactions of the guards surrounding who she hoped was Lockhart in disguise and handed the ring over to Tahira.

    The jinni blinked in surprise, then her eyes widened. She stared at the ring for a moment, then broke it in half in her hand.

    And started to laugh.

    Hermione wasn’t the only one to draw her wand in response.

    *****​

    “Vengeance is mine!” Tahira yelled, cackling with glee as she grew to what Ron claimed was her maximum size of a touch above ten feet. “I am free! I am free!”

    “Bloody hell!” Harry Potter heard Ron mutter next to him. “I hope Hermione knew what she was doing when she made a deal with her.”

    So did Harry.

    “I thought you wanted to keep this a secret?” Hermione hissed.

    Tahira actually blinked, then scowled.

    “Dumb spirit,” Ari commented. “As much brains as gust of hot wind. As a gust of hot wind, I mean.”

    The guards, meanwhile, were staring - and slowly moving away from the towering form of the jinni.

    “Sir! You need to come with us!” their apparent leader said in Arabic to the disguised Lockhart. “We need to get you to safety!”

    “You go - I shall face the jinni!” Lockhart, wearing Bey’s form, declared. None of the guards moved, though, so he made a shooing motion with his free hand. “Go! I don’t know how long I can hold her at bay!”

    Harry caught the leader signalling two of his men, but before he could react, the two jumped forward, one grabbing Lockhart’s arm and disapparating with him.

    “Give him back!” Tahira roared - Harry couldn’t tell if she had realised that this was Lockhart in disguise or thought it was actually Bey - and charged at the remaining guards, flames starting to cover her form.

    The Tunisian guards scattered in response, but in a way that let them set up a crossfire. Brave and disciplined. And they were used to fighting angry jinn - Tahira was hit with several Water-Making Spells that doused her flames while others conjured nets around her.

    Harry was tempted to let the jinni be captured - she certainly had caused them enough trouble in the past and right now. But Hermione scowled. “We need to help her - we made a Deal. And I would rather that her feud with Ron ends today.”

    “Oi!” Ron said. “This is not my fault!”

    “Feud would end if she ends,” Ari pointed out.

    Tahira roared again, using both fire and wand to wreck the nets covering her - but the guards were surrounding her. And at least some of them would be trained to subdue jinn, given how many jinn regularly visited the city.

    Harry sighed. Ten guards - nine, Tahira had just caught one with a spell that smashed him through the remains of a window - against the four of them. And an angry jinni.

    Well, he had faced worse odds. And he was wearing someone else’s face, so this shouldn’t come back to haunt them. “Let’s save a princess,” he said and cast a pair of Stunners at the closest guard.

    Three more guards dropped right after the one he had hit, courtesy of Hermione, Ron and Ari, and two more were downed, one by Harry and one by Tahira backhanding them into a wall, before the rest reacted and fled.

    A moment later, Bey - Lockhart appeared in the middle of the garden. “The nerve of them!” he complained. “To lay hands on me! But I taught them the error of their…”

    A blow from Tahira smashed him into the remains of the lawn.

    Harry couldn’t keep from snickering at the sight, and Ron was chuckling, but Hermione yelled:
    “That’s not Bey! That’s Lockhart in disguise!”

    Tahira looked shocked, then angry. “Why didn’t you tell me!” she snarled, glaring at them.

    “It’s never her fault,” Ron muttered. “And people blame me?”

    “It always her fault,” Ari spat.

    “What did you say, you beast?” Tahira snapped, putting her hands on her hip, wisps of smoke pouring out of her nostrils.

    “She said that we need to take the other enslaved witches and retreat before the guards return with reinforcements,” Hermione replied, cutting Ari off before the witch could repeat herself even more loudly and start another fight.

    “And before the Chimaera wakes up,” Ron added. “I think it moved a little and I’m not playing bait again.”

    *****​

    Tunisia, Wizarding Tunis, House of Omar Sayadi, September 25th, 2001

    “I’ve heard the rumours, and I saw the smoke and fire from my own humble home, but to see Gilderoy laid low like this… It must have been an epic battle.” Sayadi shook his head, watching the still unconscious Lockhart on the bed where he had just changed back to his natural form.

    Harry Potter, also returned to his own and much-preferred shape, nodded sagely. “Indeed. We had to battle a Chimaera, a dozen guards and traps and curses.” He was tempted to go into details of just how exactly Lockhart had been struck down, but Tahira glared at him, as did Hermione, who had it made very clear that she did not want to see the feud renewed after they had had so much trouble fulfilling their deal with the jinni.

    “He is a great hero,” Tahira said, sighing. “I owe him so much.”

    “Just remember to honour our Deal,” Hermione said.

    “Of course I will!” Tahira said, pouting. “You do not need to fear that I shall seek to violate the agreement we made - the legends of jinn using loopholes to trap wizards were evil lies spread by those who tried and failed to capture us!”

    “Speaking of capturing jinn…” Ron spoke up. “How did Bey manage to bind you without anyone knowing? And why did he do such a thing?”

    Ari nodded. “No sense at all.”

    Harry was certain that the other witch didn’t mean that capturing a princess of the most powerful jinn clan in the country sounded like a recipe for disaster.

    Tahira, frowned for a moment, eyeing the smiling Ari, then looked at Sayadi.

    “He is a friend of Lockhart’s,” Harry pointed out.

    “And a dozen guards heard you loudly announcing your newly gained freedom,” Hermione added.

    Tahira huffed, but, after a moment, frowned again and said: “He caught me by treachery and wanted to use me to steal the relics guarded by my clan. How he had heard of them, I cannot say, nor what he planned to do with them.”

    “He probably wanted to collect them, judging by what he showed us,” Ron said. “You know how collectors are.”

    That caused Mallory to scowl at them before he addressed Tahira with a smile. “Relics? How old might they be?”

    She narrowed her eyes at him. “Why do you want to know?”

    Mallory held a hand up. “I am no collector of jinn treasure. My interests lie in other areas. I was merely curious, nothing more.”

    Harry couldn’t fault him for that - he was curious as well. Old relics? Tunis was an area where, according to legends, Atlanteans and ancient Greeks had met for trade and war.

    Perhaps this diversion forced on them by Lockhart might end up helping them.

    Provided they found a way to find out more about those relics without starting another feud with Tahira’s clan. Which might be a little tricky.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley suppressed a grin when he heard Lockhart groan. The git had deserved that blow for getting them involved in this mess.

    “What the…” Lockhart gasped and sat up, his wand appearing in his hand. “Where… Ah.” He cleared his throat and smiled at the people surrounding them. “I see we were successful despite my temporary incapacitation.”

    “Yes,” Mr Sayadi said, smiling. “It was a ferocious battle - most of Bey’s palace was wrecked. I almost wish I had been there to see it.”

    “So does Lockhart,” Ron mumbled. Ari chuckled.

    “And we saved the fair maidens imprisoned in that scoundrel’s harem!” Lockhart beamed at Tahira and Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens, which caused both to blush - and the jinni princess to glare at the witch. Although Lockhart seemed to either have missed that or failed to realise what it meant for him.

    Ron grinned.

    Hermione, though, smiled rather thinly. “Indeed. We liberated the other enslaved witches in the harem after you were knocked out, then vacated the premises.”

    “Another adventure successfully completed, then.” Lockhart stood up, although his smile became a little strained in the process. “Now all that’s left is for me to escort Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens to her family.”

    “Oh, yes!” The aforementioned witch beamed at the blonde git. “My parents must be sick with worry!”

    Tahira’s expression, though, darkened so much, Ron pondered putting a guard on the other witch. He didn’t think the jinni would actually murder her apparent rival for Lockhart’s fleeting affections, but Tahira certainly was capable of getting rid of Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens in creative but non-lethal ways.

    “I could shrink you so we could send you home by owl,” she said, proving Ron right. With a beaming smile, she turned to Lockhart. “We still need you, sir. There’s more trouble afoot that we cannot solve without your help.”

    “Shrink me?” Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens took a step back, paling. “Again?”

    “You’ve done that before?” Lockhart looked surprised.

    “Merely as a demonstration of my power,” Tahira said, her smile growing a little forced - and rather toothy as she looked at her rival, who shrank back even more.

    “I don’t think we should send anyone by owl,” Hermione said.

    Ron glanced at Ari, who looked puzzled. He leaned over and shook his head before she could mention that they had done that before.

    Tahira frowned. “But, certainly, there must be a trustworthy person available who can escort the girl to her parents in Mr Lockhart’s place - his considerable talents would be wasted on such a trivial task when he is needed here!” She looked at Ron and sneered. “Mr Weasley, for example, could do that.”

    Ron narrowed his eyes at her. “We have an important task of our own,” he told her.

    “Yes!” Ari agreed. “Find someone else so you can seduce Lockhart!”

    “Please, please!” Lockhart raised his hands. “While I cannot be in two places at once, I’m certain that we can find a solution that leaves everyone satisfied.” He smiled at Tahira. “But you are correct - if I am needed here then I cannot, in good conscience, head off to the New World. Provided Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens’ safe return is assured, of course.”

    Ron wasn’t sure if he should be glad that Lockhart was falling for Tahira’s charms or annoyed that the git was staying in Tunis while Ron and his friends were trying to find the next lead in their search for Atlantis.

    On the other hand, Ron was rather interested in the relics Tahira had mentioned - she hadn’t said a word about them while they had been together.

    “We still need someone trustworthy to escort her home, though,” Lockhart said. “What about you, Mr Smith?” He beamed at Mallory. “You’re from the New World, aren’t you?”

    Mallory’s smile looked more like a grimace, in Ron’s opinion. “Ah, yes, but I fear I’m not suited to be a bodyguard - I’m no duellist, you see; I wouldn’t be able to protect her should we come under attack,” the man said.

    “Oh.” Lockhart frowned for a moment before smiling again. “That’s no reason to be embarrassed, my friend - not everyone can be as skilled as myself in the arts of duelling! But that still leaves us with the need for a trusted guard.”

    Ari hooked her arm around Ron’s and growled when the git looked at them, which didn’t seem to faze him at all.

    “Perhaps a bodyguard and a chaperone? Poor Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens might be glad for some female company.” Without waiting for an answer, Lockhart turned to Sayadi. “Indeed, I think that’s a very good solution. You will need some time to translate whatever texts they brought, won’t you?”

    Ron clenched his teeth when Sayadi nodded with a smile that told him that, once more, they had no choice but to agree.

    *****​

    “Don’t quote Star Wars,” Hermione Granger said as soon as she had finished casting a privacy charm in the guest suite Mr Sayadi had provided for them. “He’s not altering the deal - technically, we haven’t finished helping Lockhart save Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens until she’s back with her family.”

    Harry, as expected, pouted at her. “The spirit of the deal was clear, though.”

    She shrugged. “As I said,” she repeated herself, “technically, we haven’t yet completed the rescue of Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens.”

    “And what if he tries to make us do something else?” Ron asked.

    “Then we teach him why double-crossing us isn’t a good idea.”

    “Yes!” Ari enthusiastically agreed, as expected. Hermione would prefer to send the other witch off with Ron, but...

    “However, we need to decide who will escort Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens to her family,” she said, nodding at Ron and Ari. “I would suggest you two, but with the current crisis in the United States, I think Ari’s passport could cause trouble.” Or rather, her lack of knowledge about the muggle world in conjunction with what her passport claimed. Which might result in trouble with the ICW if they used magic to sort things out. Something they all could do without - even more so after today’s events. Word would get out, after all, with the number of witches they had freed returning to their families, even if it would take some time to reach the Bey of Tunis and his son.

    “And magical travel would take too long,” Ron said. “And you two grew up in the muggle world, so your records aren’t suspicious, right?”

    Hermione nodded. He had been paying attention to the muggle news, then. “Yes. I don’t like it, but it’s best if Harry and I escort Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens. It will set back our own work at least two days, though.” Probably more, depending on whether or not the airlines had already returned to their regular schedules. And how long it took to reach France from Tunis without alerting either muggle or magical authorities.

    “We can spare a few days doing nothing,” Ron said, grinning. “The worst’s over, after all. And watching Tahira chase Lockhart should be entertaining.”

    Ari sniffed. “They’re made for every other.”

    “Made for each other,” Ron corrected her. “And we might be able to find out more about those ‘relics’ she mentioned.”

    “As long as you don’t get dragged into more trouble,” Hermione cautioned him.

    “Don’t worry.” He grinned. “We’ve got Lockhart as a distraction.”

    And now she was worrying.

    *****​

    Free Republic of Maine, September 27th, 2001

    Hermione Granger had known that the family of Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens - Wyona, she reminded herself - was rich. They wouldn’t have been able to hire Lockhart otherwise. But seeing the family home - even Draco Malfoy wouldn’t have sneered at the manor, well, not for its size and style, at least - really drove that point home. Occupying a small hill on the border of the enclave, it looked like it had been taken straight out of ‘Gone with the Wind’. It was large enough to house an entire school without using Extension Charms. And the wards protecting it were powerful enough to fend off an army.

    Come to think of it, they might have done exactly that during the last conflict with Wizarding Québec, even if Maine had lost that war.

    “Impressive,” she said.

    But Wyona wasn’t listening - she was already running towards the main entrance. “Mom! Dad!”

    They couldn’t hear her, of course. Unless they had spells covering the area surrounding the manor - and Hermione hadn’t spotted any.

    But then the doors opened, and a wizard and witch rushed out. Wyona practically jumped into their arms. By the time Harry and Hermione had made their way over to them, they were still crying and laughing and hugging.

    And Hermione felt quite guilty about the fact that without Lockhart forcing them into his ‘adventure’, this wouldn’t have happened.

    *****​

    “Thank you again, Mr Potter, Miss Granger. Without you and Mr Lockhart, our dear Wyona would still...” Mr Ainsworth-Aitkens trailed off and shook his head. “And to think you and your friends risked your lives and more to save a stranger!”

    Hermione forced herself to smile. “When Mr Lockhart told us about her plight, we had to help,” she said.

    “Yes,” Harry nodded emphatically. “It wasn’t just us, though - our friends Ron and Ari also helped.”

    “Mr Lockhart taught you well, indeed,” Mrs Ainsworth-Aitkens said, nodding sagely.

    Hermione coughed. “He was only our teacher for a single year,” she said.

    “Then it is even more impressive that he could teach you so much! The man is a true hero!”

    As Wyona nodded, Hermione exchanged a glance with Harry. It seemed that Lockhart hadn’t learned anything since he had tried to steal Petunia’s achievements.

    Something they would have to rectify, once they were back in Tunis.

    Provided, of course, that Tahira hadn’t killed the man in the meantime. Something Hermione really wouldn’t be sad about right now.

    *****​

    United States of America, New York, September 27th, 2001

    “Harry? Why did you rent the honeymoon suite?”

    Harry Potter looked up from the newspaper and turned his head. Hermione had finished her shower and was walking towards the bed, wrapped in two towels. His eyes strayed to her bare legs for a moment. “We have the money,” he said. “And it’s more comfortable.” Less likely to catch the attention of the muggle authorities as well - suspects would try to blend in more, wouldn’t they?

    “I meant the honeymoon suite in particular,” she replied, sitting down and pulling the towel off her head before drying her hair with a flick of her wand.

    “Oh.” He hesitated. “Well… it’s not a hint, if that’s what you mean. A relationship is neither tied to a formal document nor will such a formality preserve it.”

    “That’s what I said about marriage,” she pointed out.

    “And I agree with it,” he replied. With a grin, he added: “Besides, quoting you always is a good idea.”

    She snorted. “Is that another hint?”

    He frowned. “What?”

    “A reference to the ‘yes, dear’ trope,” she clarified.

    “Oh.” He shook his head. “I honestly didn’t think of that. Not consciously, at least.”

    “But subconsciously?” She tilted her head slightly.

    Apparently, this wasn’t merely idle chatter. He stood and walked over to the bed, sitting down next to her. “Are you consciously thinking about it? You do seem to be spotting hints everywhere.”

    She snorted, then sighed. “I’ve thought about it. Who hasn’t?”

    He nodded. “Yes.”

    “But with Ari and Ron so…” She shrugged. “I’ve been thinking about such things a little more often than usual.”

    He focused on the first part. “Yes. Ari certainly seems different from his other girlfriends.”

    “His affairs, you mean,” Hermione said with a sniff.

    “That’s a little unfair,” he replied. Ron hadn’t strung anyone along, as far as Harry knew. Some just had expected more. Like Tahira.

    Hermione pressed her lips together but didn’t argue the point. Instead, she said: “Mum always says that the only reason to marry is if you want to have kids.”

    Harry nodded slowly. Children. He had thought about them. Not seriously. Not really seriously. But… “What do you think?”

    “About children or about marriage?”

    “Both?” He flashed her his best roguish smile.

    She snorted at that, smiling. Then she sighed again and looked at the ceiling. “Honestly, I want children. But we’re still very young.” She turned her head to look at him.

    He nodded instead of pointing out that his parents had had him when they had been even younger.

    “And I’d prefer to have children when we’ve settled down somewhat. Not travelling all over the globe. Petunia had a base camp to raise you in, after all.”

    “And boarding schools once I was old enough.” He smiled. “But growing up in a Curse-Breaker camp was fun.”

    She wrinkled her nose. “More for you than for Petunia, I believe.”

    He chuckled, if only to add some levity. “I guess once we find Atlantis, we’ll set up a base camp as well.”

    “I would think so.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “But I’m not going to take a break for nine months until I’ve personally explored the most important parts, once we find it.”

    “That’s fair,” he said. “Of course, you can translate texts and study relics without having to break curses…”

    “And leave you and Ron to deal with the Atlantean curses by yourselves?” She scoffed, though with a smile.

    He still pouted. “We could let Lockhart deal with them.”

    “Oh, yes!” she agreed, sneering. “To think Wyona and her parents think we owe our skills to him!”

    Harry nodded emphatically. Lockhart was a good Curse-Breaker - otherwise, he’d have died on his adventures - but he wasn’t as good as people thought he was. And he certainly wasn’t as good as Auntie, even with his magic. “I hope Tahira teaches him a lesson.”

    Hermione nodded. “And that Ari and Ron don’t get into trouble.”

    Harry didn’t wince as he nodded in agreement once more, but he had a bad feeling about that. Between Tahira, Lockhart and Mallory, not to mention Sayadi, there was just too much that could go wrong for them in Tunis.

    At least he and Hermione would be back there in a day’s time.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Wizarding Tunis, House of Omar Sayadi, September 27th, 2001

    “She’s a nuisance,” Ari said. “And Lockhart is stupid.”

    Ron Weasley didn’t have to look at her to know she was pouting in that adorable way of hers. He did so anyway, of course. “Yes.”

    That earned him an equally adorable scowl.

    “What do you want me to say?” he asked with a grin. “You’re right - Tahira’s a bother, and Lockhart’s an idiot.”

    She sniffed and went back to sprawling on the bed in a way that made him wonder if she hadn’t changed part of her skeleton to a jaguar’s. It couldn’t be comfortable, yet she insisted it was.

    Before he could say anything, he heard a tap on the window. He drew his wand as Ari’s head snapped up, and she sniffed the air.

    “Owl,” she said. “Harry’s.” And she went back to trying to find the most contorted-looking position in which she might relax.

    Ron chuckled as he went to open the window and let Hedwig in. The snowy owl barked, somehow managing to sound reproachful, and gave Ari a wide berth as she landed on the desk in their room, holding out her leg to him.

    He grabbed the letter and fed her a treat. “Harry and Hermione will be back in Tunis tomorrow.”

    “Good. Then we have a done deal.” Ari nodded emphatically. “Don’t trust them.”

    He didn’t correct her wording. Lockhart was a touchy subject, ever since she had caught a whiff of Lion’s Bane. Instead, he sighed as he sat down on the bed as well. “I wonder what happened to Tahira.”

    “Why? She is free. And annoying.”

    “But how was she bound in the first place, without anyone of her clan, or in the city, noticing?” Ron shook his head. “When she was chasing me, everyone knew it. And those relics she mentioned…”

    Ari scoffed. “Probably some pretty gems and nothing more. Or lie to catch Lockhart.”

    “I don’t think so,” he replied. “That’s not her style.”

    Ari snorted.

    “Really,” he said. “I know jinn have a reputation, but she never lied to me. She’s too proud for such, I think.”

    “I don’t think about jinn, I think about her.”

    He knew what she meant. “I know her.” That earned him another scowl.

    “You’re with me now!” She growled at him.

    “Yes.” And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

    She didn’t change, but the way she crawled towards him over the bed very much reminded him of her jaguar form.

    He didn’t mind at all.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Wizarding Tunis, House of Omar Sayadi, September 28th, 2001

    “Wake up! Trouble!”

    Ron Weasley shot up. Summoning his wand out of reflex before he remembered where he was. “Trouble?”

    Ari, sitting on the bed next to him, nodded. “People yelling about an attack. Outside,” she added, nodding towards the window of their room.

    Ron flicked his wand and summoned his clothes, then grabbed the shrunken box containing the skull and the other Atlantean relics they had brought. “Have they broken through the wards?”

    Ari tilted her head, quickly changed, then changed back. “No. But they expect the protections to fail at any moment.”

    Ron muttered a curse under his breath as he stashed the box in his pocket. “Better get ready to make a run for it,” he said. Who would dare to attack a manor in the middle of Wizarding Tunis? The answer was obvious - the Bey’s guards, of course. The ruler of the enclave must have found out who was behind the attack on his son.

    Fortunately, Ron had some experience with evading the city guards. Although he only had his spare broom, which couldn’t hold a candle to the Firebolt the Chimaera had destroyed. This might be a little tricky. Perhaps he should send Hedwig away with the box containing the relics. Just in case…

    “Watch out!”

    Ari’s warning made him whirl around in time to see her change and pounce on a white figure coming through the wall - and fall through it.

    A Patronus Charm, he realised. A peacock. Who would have… He groaned. Of course.

    “Mr Weasley? Miss Ari? We are under attack and require your help!” Lockhart’s voice filled the room. “We’re making our stand on the roof.”

    Ari changed back and stood up. “Stupid.”

    Ron nodded. “But they called for help.”

    “We’re guests.”

    “And we have a deal with Mr Sayadi.” They had to lend a wand.

    He opened the window and climbed out, then grabbed the edge of the roof above and pulled himself up on to the flat roof. Ari followed with considerably more grace even without changing.

    “Ah, I see you got my message. Quite a handy spell, isn’t it? I learned it from Professor Flitwick, you know?” Lockhart, standing there with his wand drawn, next to Mr Sayadi and several guards, smiled.

    Ron didn’t know and didn’t care. “How’re the wards?” he snapped.

    “About to break,” Lockhart answered - remarkably calm considering the situation. “They must be attacking from a neighbouring property; we would see them if they were in the streets. I guess this is a disadvantage of the wards covering the entire area of the property.”

    If the attackers were hiding then that might mean they weren’t the guards. Probably. “Did you call for help? And where is Tahira?” He ignored Ari’s growl behind him. The jinni princess would be very useful in a fight.

    “I decided against calling the guards, given our recent activities,” Mr Sayadi said. “I would not risk inviting the very people attacking us, should the Bey be behind them. And I have similar reservations towards most of my acquaintances.”

    “That would, indeed, be a bit of a bother,” Lockhart said. “Tahira’s with her family - she had to check on them. Regrettable; she’s a most impressive witch. But I think with your help, I can deal with whatever ruffians are about to attack us.” He beamed at Ron and Ari. “Just consider this a practical Defence exam!”

    Ron was tempted to demonstrate to the git just how much he had learned in the five years since Lockhart had quit Hogwarts, but with an unknown number of attackers about to break through the wards, they needed all the help they could get. Especially if Mr Sayadi was fighting as well. And the guards also looked like they needed every little bit of reassurance, or they’d bolt.

    So he nodded - very curtly - and took a look at the surrounding properties. He couldn’t spot the attackers - which meant they knew their business.

    Ari sniffed the air, then changed and did it again. Changing back, she pointed at the western neighbour as she gathered and mended her clothes. “Stinking people there.”

    “Well done, Miss Ari!” Lockhart beamed at her, and Ron had to fight the urge to hex the git. “Let us welcome them most warmly then, once the wards break! Though one of us should keep an eye out in case they try to come at us from behind.”

    Mr Sayadi nodded at the youngest guard, who stepped back as the rest took up positions at the edge of the roof, behind the low wall serving as a railing.

    Ron and Ari joined them - Lockhart kept standing, though, exposed to the enemy, casting Shield Charms.

    Five tense minutes later, the wards broke, and dark figures on brooms rose from the manor to the west, rushing towards them with wands flashing.

    There were about a dozen of them, all wearing dark - no, black - robes, Ron noted, as he flicked his wand and created a gust of wind in front of them. Good on their brooms as well - they were blown back, but not off their brooms, and quickly recovered, splitting into two groups. The guards sent various curses at them, but most missed, and those which hit were stopped by Shield Charms.

    The attackers, though, aimed their curses better. Parts of the roof blew up, sending rock splinters and shards flying. One of Mr Sayadi’s guards collapsed, and another was thrown back by a spell, rolling across the roof.

    “They aren’t locals,” Lockhart yelled, waving his wand around. A moment later, two of the broom flyers were struck by a giant bola that wrapped around them, smashing them together and sending them tumbling to the ground.

    Ari sent a few Stunners at the other group but missed. She managed to force them off-course, though, and Ron’s next volley hit one of them, shattering their shield and allowing Ari’s next Stunner to hit. The attacker stiffened, then rolled, stuck to their broom, and crashed into the wall of the manor a little below the roof.

    In response, a hail of curses - dark curses - descended on the two of them, and forced them to take cover behind a conjured wall before falling back.

    Ari growled, then conjured a greenish cloud in mid-air. One of the attackers flew right through it, apparently unconcerned. A moment later, he gasped and quickly swallowed something.

    Ari laughed. “That won’t help - it’s no poison!” Then she yelped when a Blasting Curse threw her and Ron across the roof and almost over the railing. Ron hit the stone wall hard, though his shield held and he rolled and came up in a crouch.

    Most of the guards had been driven back or taken out, but the attackers had suffered as well. Ron could count only about half a dozen still flying. Lockhart split one broom apart with a Cutting Curse but then was almost struck himself when three of the attackers ganged up on him.

    Ron drove them away with a quick series of Bludgeoning Curses.

    “Thank you! That was a timely distraction!” Lockhart yelled, diving into a roll and coming up casting.

    Ron clenched his teeth. And again when his next volley missed. Another Blasting Curse hit the roof, making him duck. How long could the roof last under such… The crater caused by the curse suddenly vanished.

    “Sayadi’s mending,” Ari said, “But more coming from behind!”

    Ron cursed as he saw another half dozen wizards and witches coming over the wall on the other side. He and Ari stalled them for a moment with Blasting Curses of their own, but they fanned out.

    What were they after? Or whom? Probably Sayadi - he was a wanted wizard in many European countries. Ron ducked as another volley of curses flew up at him from below, half of them shattering part of the walls and roof. That would explain the lack of lethal curses so far - they wouldn’t risk accidentally killing their target.

    Crouched down behind a reinforced wall, with Ari sending more of her spore clouds over the edge towards the attackers below, he looked over his shoulder. Mr Sayadi was standing on the stairs leading to the roof, only his head visible from Ron’s position, and he kept mending his house.

    But the attackers would break into it on the ground floor soon. Even reinforced by various spells, the walls wouldn’t keep them at bay for much longer.

    “Deal with the flyers!” he yelled to Lockhart. “We’re dealing with the intruders in the house!”

    Ron dashed across the roof, another Blasting Curse blowing him over, but he managed to get to his feet before he could be hit and jump forward, down the stairs.

    Landing hurt, shattering his weakened shield, but he was behind cover.

    Ari, as a jaguar and with her wand in her mouth, landed lightly next to him, then changed back. “No smell yet!” she hissed.

    He nodded. “Let’s go below!”

    They rushed to the ground floor, stopping halfway down the stairs. Smart intruders would use transfiguration to break through the walls, but this lot seemed fond of flashier spells. And louder ones. The house shook slightly - another attack on the roof. “Hear any explosion on this floor?”

    Ari frowned, then nodded. “Kitchen!” A moment later, she was bounding down the stairs on four paws again, Ron hot on her heels.

    They rounded a corner and came face to face with two wizards and one witch in the kitchen. Ron dropped to the wooden floor and slid past the entrance, catching one of them on the way with a Piercing Curse and Bludgeoning Curse volley that shattered the man’s shield and smashed him against the large stove as Ari pounced on the witch, whose shield shattered under the impact.

    Ron rolled over his shoulder and came up casting in the middle of the doorway, right as the second wizard was turning to save Ari’s victim. Ron’s Bludgeoning Curse drove the wizard back. His next shattered the man’s shield, right above the white sigil on his robe’s back.

    Ron jumped forward and to the side, causing a dark yellow curse to go wide, then stunned the man at point blank range.

    Ari stood, changing to a human, blood dripping from her hands, then stunned her screaming victim. “Stupid.”

    Ron stunned the third attacker for good measure. But there had been six of them on the ground floor.

    “More!” Ari snapped and changed again. Ron ran after her. “To the stairs!” he yelled.

    But the stairs were empty. Where were…

    “New hole!” Ari raced up to the first floor, changing on the way.

    On the first floor, there was indeed a hole in the ceiling - close to the stairs. And the missing three intruders - attacking Mr Sayadi from behind. The wizard’s Shield Charm was being overwhelmed as they arrived.

    Ari dashed forward, bowling one of them over, then raked him with her claws.

    Ron conjured a wall between them and Mr Sayadi, sealing off the roof, and jumped to the side. A yellow curse splashed against his Shield Charm, followed by a brown one that left pools of acid on the floor. He rolled over his shoulder and kept rolling, then jumped up and returned fire with two Piercing Curses followed by a conjured cloud of green mist - harmless, but they didn’t know that, judging by how they scrambled to avoid it. Ari caught them in the flank, but they dived through the next door before either she or Ron could hit them.

    “Hear anyone else?” he asked, looking around with his wand ready to cast.

    She frowned, changed and changed back after a few seconds. “Lockhart. Says the enemy fled.”

    A moment later, the wizard Ari had just savaged vanished - Portkey, Ron realised.

    *****​

    “Indeed, in hindsight it’s obvious.”

    Five minutes later, with Sayadi treated and out of danger, Lockhart shook his head in the remains of the man’s living room. “I should have blocked Portkeys. We would have prisoners to interrogate.”

    If it weren’t Lockhart, Ron Weasley would have told him that no one thought of blocking Portkeys. Generally, attackers did that to keep their victims from fleeing - Ron hadn’t even tried apparating. But Lockhart? A little humbling could only do the man some good.

    “Who were those attackers?” Ron asked. “They all wore the same black robes.” He drew a hissing breath when he remembered where he had seen those robes before. “Storm Wizard robes!”

    Lockhart shook his head. “They were much too young to be real Storm Wizards. Probably wands for hire who wanted to appear more dangerous than they were. It’s not uncommon among younger mercenaries. No, the real problem is that it seems someone has put a price on my friend’s head.”

    Mallory, who had spent the fight hiding in his room, nodded. “And a hefty one, if almost twenty mercenaries were willing to attack him.”

    Lockhart agreed. “I concur. Even if this is merely a misunderstanding, which my next book can clear up, this is a problem. Such determined foes will surely try again.” He shook his head. “And with the protections on the house broken, they will have an easier time, too - unless we do something.”

    Ron wanted to groan. They needed Mr Sayadi to translate the skull’s words. That meant they needed to keep him safe.

    Which would be difficult. Very difficult.

    “And there’s the matter of the missing princess,” Lockhart added. “She gave me a magic mirror so we could converse in her absence, but she is not responding to my attempts to contact her.”

    Fortunately, Lockhart was too far away from them to overhear Ari’s muttered “Good riddance!”

    *****​
     
    TheEyes, Najdrox, Kelenas and 2 others like this.
  4. RedX

    RedX Know what you're doing yet?

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    Huh. The plot thickens.
     
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  5. Threadmarks: Chapter 13: The Valley of the Jinn
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 13: The Valley of the Jinn

    ‘While wizards have been working as mercenaries for centuries, today’s mercenaries are a far cry from those of the days of the Condottieri or the Landsknechte. Today’s mercenaries, with the exception of those working in North America, rarely fight in wars but instead work as bodyguards, bounty hunters or even criminals. The term ‘hired wands’, despite its muggle roots, fits the current mercenary scene very well. Few wizarding governments are fond of mercenaries, and most consider them troublemakers at best, criminals at worst - not least because after both Grindelwald’s War and the Blood War in Britain, many Storm Wizards, as well as a number of Voldemort’s supporters, fled Europe and became mercenaries, contributing to the generally poor reputation of the profession.
    However, mercenaries have their uses, even today, for both individuals and governments. That the various wizarding enclaves in North America are always recruiting mercenaries for their wars is widely known. It is also an open secret that Bulgaria, Romania and Greece are spending significant sums of gold in order to ensure that the Balkan mercenaries, especially the Albanians, fight the Ottomans instead of raiding their own countries. And a magical individual doing business of any sort in the Mediterranean, Africa or the Caribbean would be well-advised to hire a decent number of bodyguards unless they are a duellist of renown.
    Nevertheless, and despite some novels romanticising the profession, most mercenary work is illegal or at least tied to employers of dubious stature - but it can be very lucrative, especially if one engages in the time-honoured tradition of plunder. Many a young wizard or witch from an impoverished family has managed to restore the family fortune with a talent for duelling and a penchant for looting - something few dare mention in their home countries, of course, especially in those countries where duels are still common.’
    - Excerpt from ‘I Was a Hired Wand - Twenty Years as a Mercenary’ by Herbert Steiner, Berlin, 2000


    *****​

    Tunisia, Wizarding Tunis, House of Omar Sayadi, September 28th, 2001

    “Leave you alone for two days, and this is the result.”

    Hermione Granger pressed her lips together and rolled her eyes at Harry’s comment as she studied Mr Sayadi’s house. It didn’t look damaged, but the wards had been broken, and there were spots on the ground behind the gate where the grass had been destroyed. “What happened?” she asked Ron.

    “It wasn’t my fault!” he replied.

    “I wasn’t asking whose fault it was - although I cannot fail but note that you were quick to defend yourself despite not being accused, which is suspicious - but what happened.” She glared at him.

    “Mercenaries tried to kidnap Sayadi,” Ari answered. “We drove them off.”

    “What she said. Hired wands, or so it seemed - all wore the same robes and sigil. Wannabe Storm Wizards according to Lockhart,” Ron elaborated. “They almost destroyed the house.”

    Hermione wasn’t certain she’d trust Lockhart’s judgement.

    “And stupid spirit’s missing,” Ari went on.

    “What?” Hermione looked at her, narrowing her eyes.

    “Tahira’s missing, according to Lockhart - he can’t reach her,” Ron explained. “And I don’t think she merely grew tired of him.”

    Hermione agreed with that assessment. The jinni princess was rather obsessive, in her experience. But that wasn’t their problem any more. “So we need to protect Mr Sayadi while he works for us,” she said.

    Ron nodded. “We’ve been working on adding some protections, but…” He sighed.

    Hermione nodded. Restoring the wards would require a lot more work and take a long time, no matter whether they tried to do it themselves or Mr Sayadi hired specialists.

    “We’d better move him to a safe, secret place,” Harry said.

    “If he agrees,” Ron replied. “He’s a proud man. He looked more angry than afraid, even though he was stunned during the attack and almost kidnapped.”

    “Great,” Hermione muttered. Another unreasonably proud wizard. Lockhart, Mr Sayadi - all they were missing were a bunch of Fleur’s relatives.

    Ron shrugged. “Well, Mallory’s alive and unhurt. He sat the whole attack out in his room.”

    Hermione frowned. That was a smart move, if not the most courageous. However… “Do you think he might be behind the attack?”

    Ron tilted his head. “I don’t know. Someone might be tracking him, somehow - first the attack on his house, now this?”

    “You think he could have hired the mercenaries?” Harry asked with a frown.

    “He stinks!” Ari said.

    “It’s possible. But without any proof…” Ron trailed off.

    “He could have done worse if he were a traitor,” Hermione pointed out. “He could have betrayed us to Bey.”

    “That is true,” Harry admitted. Ron nodded as well.

    Ari scowled. “I don’t trust him.”

    “Neither do we,” Ron told her. “But suspicion is not enough to take action.”

    The other witch huffed. “Should be enough.”

    “We’ll take precautions, though,” Harry said. “As usual.”

    Of course they would.

    *****​

    As Harry Potter had feared after listening to Ron, Mr Sayadi wasn’t keen on going into hiding.

    “Leaving?” The older wizard shook his head. “People would think I am a coward for letting foreign thieves drive me out of my home.”

    “But the house currently isn’t safe,” Hermione pointed out. “The protections are gone. The attackers could, if they returned, strike far more quickly and easily at you.”

    “We would need to muster more guards and be ready at all times,” Harry added.

    Mr Sayadi looked like he was considering doing exactly that. “Gold is not much of a hindrance,” he said after a moment.

    “But can you trust whoever you hire?” Harry asked. “The attackers were mercenaries as well, according to Mr Lockhart.”

    Lockhart nodded. “Indeed. Not as unskilled as the usual rabble using that attire to appear more dangerous, but a far cry from actual Storm Wizards. Why, I still remember an encounter with one when I was younger - I would have perished if I hadn’t managed to lure the witch into a trapped hallway in the wizard’s tomb she was trying to plunder.”

    “I think any mercenary with a few decades of experience would be dangerous,” Hermione said. “No matter their past.”

    “Oh, of course.” Lockhart’s ever-present smile didn’t waver. “But their knowledge of dark curses remains without peer among their fellow wands for hire.”

    “Only if you discount former Death Eaters,” Harry retorted with a thin smile.

    Now Lockhart frowned a little - for a moment. “But the real Death Eaters went back to their Dark Lord and were killed in that unpleasant scuffle in Britain a few years ago.”

    “We know,” Harry cut in before the man could spin another tale. “We were there, after all, fighting them in Britain and Egypt. My aunt managed to trap the Dark Lord himself.”

    “Ah, yes, Petunia.” This time, Lockhart’s smile looked forced. “What an impressive woman.”

    “I’ll say!” Harry beamed at Lockhart.

    The git cleared his throat. “But enough reminiscing. We have two urgent matters to deal with.”

    “Two?” Ari frowned.

    “Yes. My friend is in danger of being kidnapped - or worse - and Miss Tahira is missing. I fear she has been abducted again.”

    And they still needed Mr Sayadi’s help with the Atlantean skull. But, as much as Harry wanted to, pointing that out seemed rather callous when two people were in danger. Even if one of them was Tahira. And it wasn’t as if they could hope that Mr Sayadi would be able to work for them if he had to fear another kidnapping attempt.

    Harry glanced at Hermione and Ron - Ari’s opinion was obvious. Hermione was frowning, and Ron looked resigned. In other words, they had come to the same conclusion: They would have to help again.

    But this time they wouldn’t follow Lockhart’s plan.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, September 29th, 2001

    “Ahead of us lies the fabled Valley of the Jinn!” Lockhart decreed. “Shrouded in mystery, no mortal has set foot into the homeplace of the jinn in centuries! We might be the first...”

    “Actually, I’ve been here before,” Ron said. “Tahira showed me her home.”

    Ari scoffed at that, but the witch didn’t comment further. Which was a relief - she had been quite vocal earlier.

    “And I know traders who travel to the valley with some regularity,” Mr Sayadi added with a faint smile.

    Harry Potter chuckled at the expression on Lockhart’s face. The man was pouting. “That doesn’t make for a heroic scene, though,” he complained.

    “I’m certain that you will manage,” Hermione said, with a fake smile.

    “Oh, of course I will,” Lockhart replied. “I’m a bestselling author, after all.”

    “Of course.” Hermione’s reply was dripping with sarcasm, but the git seemed to take her words at face value.

    “But we should focus on our task - our tasks - at hand. We might have persuaded the mysterious attackers that Omar has left his home to hunt them down, but we cannot depend on our plan working.”

    “Our plan?” Harry coughed. It had been his plan. His and Ron’s.

    “Well, we are all in this together, aren’t we?” Lockhart nodded in response to his own question. “One for all, and all for one!”

    “For two, in this case,” Harry said. “We’re here to find out what has happened to Tahira, and to protect Mr Sayadi.”

    “As much as he can be protected in the middle of nowhere,” Mallory said, pointedly looking around. “At least the manor had some protections.”

    “It’s not the middle of nowhere,” Ron replied, “but the entrance to the Valley of the Jinn - and they have quite impressive protections. Not to mention an entire Clan of Jinn who don’t look kindly on people attacking their guests.”

    “That relies on us actually being granted hospitality by the very people who were hunting you but a few days ago,” Mallory retorted.

    “Oh, Miss Tahira has settled things - she told me so,” Lockhart said. “And why wouldn’t they grant us hospitality when we’re coming to help save her?”

    “Right,” Ron said. “Let’s go and meet the guards.”

    *****​

    “She took you home to meet parents?”

    When he heard Ari’s question, Ron Weasley winced before turning to look at her. He knew that tone. “She wanted to show me her home. Probably to show off since she’s a princess of her clan.”

    “Ah.” Ari nodded but didn’t lose her scowl.

    “But I never took her home to meet my parents,” Ron added with a smile.

    “She wasn’t banished from her tribe,” Ari replied. She was looking at him with an expression he had seldom seen on her face - almost vulnerable.

    Ah. “That doesn’t matter,” Ron said, reaching out to grab her hand and gently pull her closer. “I love you. And I want to be with you.”

    “And have a family?”

    He didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

    She hugged him, hard. Then they kissed.

    Harry cleared his throat, but Ron ignored him. His friend could wait, or kiss Hermione. This was more important.

    Hermione cleared her throat as well. “I don’t like to interrupt your public displays of affection...”

    Ari broke the kiss and scowled at her. “Then don’t!”

    Ron closed his eyes and sighed. “Thank you for ruining the moment,” he mumbled.

    “Those were five minutes, not a moment,” Harry replied. As if that mattered! “And you’re the only one who actually knows where the valley is located.”

    Ron sighed again. That was true. And he knew where the entrance was - well, he would recognise it when he saw it.

    Which might take a while - the mountain area they had to search was quite large, after all.

    *****​

    “There it is!” Ron Weasley declared, pointing ahead.

    “Really?” Harry sounded a little sceptical.

    Ron nodded emphatically. “Yes. I recognise the trees there.”

    “Like you recognised the gorge?”

    “I said it looked similar,” Ron corrected him. “I didn’t say it was the same.”

    Harry snorted, but Ron was already moving towards the gorge. “The guards are inside a hidden cave right behind the wardline.” He flicked his wand, casting a detection spell - it would be embarrassing if he wandered into the area covered by the spells hiding the valley and ended up confounded. Yes, there was the wardline - the spells were as… No, they weren’t.

    He frowned. “Someone tampered with the wards on the entrance.”

    “Are you certain?” Hermione took a step forward, casting the same spell.

    “Yes,” Ron said, even though he knew his friend would still verify it herself.

    “It looks like the valley might not be as safe as we hoped,” Mallory said with a thin smile.

    “Indeed!” Lockhart agreed. “It looks like the jinn might need our help!”

    “Yes. Someone broke through the wards,” Hermione said. “The Muggle-Repelling Charms and the Unplottable Charms were left alone, but the charms against intruders were broken.”

    “I knew it!” Lockhart declared. “And the absence of the guards… This is likely to be a much greater calamity than a mere kidnapping!”

    As much as Ron loathed the man’s flamboyant manner, he had to agree that this was worse than expected. “Yes.”

    “We must make haste!” Lockhart ran off - into the valley.

    Ron cursed. “Stop! They might mistake us for the attackers!”

    The git actually did stop but shook his head as he turned back to face him. “Nonsense! We both are known to them, aren’t we? You were here, and my reputation precedes me!”

    Ron blinked. He had known the git was arrogant, but to go that far… Of course. “Tahira told you that, didn’t she?”

    “Indeed. To think that even creatures as old and wise as the jinn read my books…” Lockhart sighed with a smile.

    “Stupid lying spirit,” Ari muttered.

    Ron nodded. Tahira didn’t think twice about being ‘creative’ with the truth when it served her whims.

    “We can’t stay out here, though,” Mallory pointed out. “If whoever broke through the wards is still in the valley, they might leave the same way they came.”

    And hiding elsewhere might be dangerous as well if the mercenaries had a way to track Mr Sayadi.

    Ari sniffed the air, then changed and changed back. “Blood.” She pointed at the rock hiding the guards’ cave.

    “I guess that decides it,” Harry said. “Let’s go see if there’s anything we can do.”

    There wasn’t. The four jinn manning the post were dead - one of them cut into tiny pieces spread out over dried blood, another untouched, but dead. Killing Curse, Ron guessed. And two looked like they had rotted where they fell.

    “Killing Curse,” Hermione confirmed after checking on the untouched corpse.

    Even Lockhart looked less eager to rush off now. “These are some very powerful dark curses. We aren’t facing ordinary dark wizards.” He shook his head. “And yet, we need to press on. If their guards were as easily killed as this seems to indicate, then the villagers will be in even greater danger.”

    Ron couldn’t argue with that. He glanced at his friends. Harry and Hermione looked grim, but they wouldn’t back off now. And Ari was sneering. “Stinks,” she said.

    “It’s a rotting curse. A very powerful one, by the looks of it,” Ron replied.

    “No, not those.” She nodded at the jinni who had been cut to pieces. “This one stinks.” She glanced around and added: “Like Mallory.”

    What? Ron looked at Mallory.

    Ari sniffed the air again. “Yes. Same stink.”

    “They smell the same?” Ron frowned without taking his eyes off the older wizard. That was very weird.

    Hermione knelt down next to the dried blood and scattered body parts, waving her wand while Harry not-so-subtly positioned himself between her and Mallory, Ron noticed.

    “You wouldn’t be a zombie, would you?” Lockhart asked Mallory. “I thought the tales of zombies able to wield wands were just myths.”

    “What?” Mallory looked around, and his expression showed he didn’t like what he saw, in Ron’s opinion. “No, I am not a zombie! Those are mere myths.”

    “He doesn’t stink like a zombie,” Ari confirmed. “Different stink.”

    “Stench,” Ron corrected her.

    “Different stench,” she repeated herself.

    “This was a dark curse, not merely an advanced cutting curse,” Hermione said as she stood. “I haven’t seen it before, but the residue on the cuts is distinct.”

    “I see.” Mallory looked calmer than Ron had expected. “I didn’t want to reveal it, but I’m the victim of a dark curse, and I need to regularly imbibe special potions to keep its effects at bay.”

    “You were struck by a delayed dark cutting curse?” Hermione sounded doubtful.

    “Not exactly,” Mallory replied. “But I assume that the curse which struck me uses some similar mechanics to prevent magical healing as this curse.” He nodded at the mess on the ground. “The dark wizard who cursed me was killed shortly afterwards by a friend of mine, so I was unable to find out anything about it.”

    Lockhart nodded slowly. “And you couldn’t get him to tell you the counter-curse.”

    “If there even is a counter-curse,” Mallory replied. “I haven’t found anything. It’s part of the reason I am so invested in Atlantean lore - they might have known spells that could help me.”

    “What about the houngans?” Hermione asked. “They have obscure lore as well, and…”

    “I’d rather die than deal with them,” Mallory interrupted her.

    Ah. Ron winced at the vehemence in the wizards statement. Ari sniffed and wrinkled her nose - almost sneering.

    “Well, with that settled, we should continue,” Lockhart said. “People - jinn - might need our help.”

    “Indeed,” Mr Sayadi added. “Lead on, Mr Weasley.”

    Right. Fortunately, Tahira had given him a tour during their visit last year. Ron would be able to find the village. Probably. “Follow me.”

    It took Ron an hour, all told, to reach the village. He blamed the Extension Charms with which the jinn had covered the valley. Harry, of course, blamed his sense of direction. Hermione, his memory. Ari blamed Tahira.

    But they reached the village anyway. Only, the mysterious attackers had reached it as well - the defences that kept it safe and hidden were gone. Ron could see the houses and caves lining the cliffs on both sides, and the small lake in the middle, surrounded by the spires forming their temple.

    And he could see half a dozen bodies on the ground. Not just jinn - dark-robed, black-robed wizards as well. And a violent battle in the air.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, September 29th, 2001

    Hermione Granger had heard Ron’s description of the Village of the Jinn last year. How the houses and caves were only accessible through the air - easy to access for a species able to fly. And how the temple’s spires seemed to touch the sky despite not rising past the mountains to either side. She had thought it would be mostly illusions - the jinn were famous for mastering veils and deceptions, after all. But to see it with her own eyes...

    If only they were here as visitors, instead of intruders happening upon a battle - she would love to analyse the spells on the temple.

    But there were jinn and what looked like harpies fighting in the air, and dead bodies on the ground. Bodies wearing Grindelwald’s sigil - like the mercenaries who had attacked Mr Sayadi’s home.

    “It seems that my lies to my neighbours about going to hunt my assailants down turned out to be the truth, after all,” Mr Sayadi said, sounding bemused. “Truly, the gods work in mysterious ways.”

    “Life writes the best plots,” Lockhart added in his pretentious tone. “I should know.”

    Hermione rolled her eyes - Lockhart’s plots bore only a passing resemblance to what had actually happened in reality, from what she had been able to check. “Currently, we’re dealing with this!” She pointed at the battle in the air, where dozens of jinn fought with double the number of harpies.

    “There are no mercenaries up there,” Harry said. “This must be a distraction.”

    “Yes,” Ron agreed. “Send harpies after the families, force the jinn to defend themselves and strike at your actual target while they are busy fighting. And harpies are traditional enemies of the jinn.”

    “The relics,” Hermione concluded.

    “Exactly.” Ron pointed at the temple. “They’re supposed to be in there.”

    “Then we need to make our way to the temple,” Lockhart said. “The jinn seem to have the battle in the sky in hand.”

    Hermione hated to agree with the pompous wizard, but he had a point. And if they were seen fighting the mercenaries, then the jinn would be less likely to attack them.

    At least she hoped that would be the case - she didn’t trust the jinn to be very reasonable after an attack on their village. But they couldn’t let the mercenaries get away with this. Or the relics.

    They rushed towards the temple, only stopping briefly to check if there were wounded among the dead - there weren’t. Above them, claws and innate magic met wands and innate powers. Hermione was certain that the jinn would win despite the numerical odds - there were dozens of dead harpies on the ground, conjured ones she hoped - but it would take time.

    “There are guards at the temple!” Ron yelled as they crossed the valley and reached the small forest that had grown around the lake, surrounding the temple.

    “I smell jinn blood,” Ari replied. “And curse stench.”

    Which meant most, if not all, of the guards would be already dead, Hermione knew. And there would be mercenaries guarding the approaches and looking out for jinn. Harry held up a hand before they broke the cover of the trees.

    “What?” Lockhart asked.

    “There will at least be lookouts,” Harry explained. “Disillusioned.”

    “Ah.” Lockhart nodded. “Nothing a Human-presence-revealing Spell cannot deal with.”

    Hermione bit her lower lip. That spell had a rather short range. And if they disillusioned themselves, friendly fire would become likely. From the jinn or themselves. “We need to spot them before they spot us,” she said.

    “Ari?” Harry asked.

    Ari nodded. A moment later, she had changed, Ron had disillusioned her, and a jaguar sprinted around the lake, sand being thrown up by her paws, heading towards the biggest spire, where Ron had said the entrance would be.

    Despite knowing that the spire was out of range, Hermione still kept an eye on it. A harpy fell into the lake, screaming, followed by another. That might spoil the water if nothing is done about it, she thought. Then snorted - she couldn’t let herself get distracted. Not now.

    Ari appeared at the foot of the spire, waving. That meant the way was clear. Harry started to rush towards the spire, and she followed. But no lookout? Had the mercenaries already left?

    No. They had left one, Hermione realised as she reached the spire and saw the body. Ari had dealt with the witch as she had dealt with Captain Ryan. Hermione winced, then thought of the dead jinn and clenched her teeth. These mercenaries were worse than bandits - and she knew how to deal with bandits.

    “Weird,” Harry commented. “The entrance is on the ground floor. And the stairs lead downwards.”

    That was indeed weird - jinn tended to build up, including their entrances. “It might not have been built by the jinn,” she suggested.

    “I think we can discuss architecture after we have dealt with the mercenaries,” Lockhart said. He was breathing a little hard, but far less so than Mr Sayadi and Mr Mallory.

    Hermione hated to agree with the man. So she didn’t. But she followed Harry to the entrance. The spire was hollow inside - with many ledges and a golden, glowing ball hanging from the very top. But the stairs led down, into the basement.

    “More blood. And stench.” Ari wrinkled her nose.

    “Onward then!” Lockhart was positively beaming. Hermione couldn’t believe it - it had to be an act.

    But the man went down the stairs, leading with his wand.

    “Guess we don’t need a pig,” Ron whispered. Ari snickered, and Hermione had to struggle not to giggle.

    But then explosions erupted below, and smoke billowed up. Hermione cast a Bubble-Head Charm and followed Harry and the others downstairs, clearing the smoke with a Wind-Gust Charm until they reached the entrance to the basement, next to which Lockhart was standing, his back pressed against the wall.

    “A dozen dark wizards are inside, trying to get through the protections on the second set of stairs,” he whispered.

    “A dozen?” Hermione heard Mr Mallory mutter.

    “We have the advantage of surprise.” Lockhart must have heard the man as well. “And we bested them before.” He raised his wand.

    “Hermione, walls!” Harry snapped.

    Then they charged inside, spells flying from the tips of their wands.

    *****​

    Harry Potter sent a pair of Blasting Curses at the dark wizards in the centre of the room as he entered, then threw himself to the side and rolled over his shoulder. A moment later, a wall appeared in front of him, and Hermione joined him behind it, followed by Ron and Ari, as splinters and shards hit the wall.

    “Hah!” he heard Lockhart yell, followed by another explosion.

    A quick glance over his shoulder showed that Lockhart had jumped behind one of the pillars in the room - and where the door had been was now a crater.

    “Reinforcing!” Hermione snapped. Harry scrambled forward, turning around the wall which doubled in size - and then turned into a green liquid that filled the entire room and splashed against their Shield Charms. Someone among the mercenaries was either talented or experienced enough to use Transfiguration on such a scale in battle. That was bad. Very bad.

    “Wave!” Harry yelled, and flicked his wand down, causing the stone floor to well up and travel towards the dark wizards like a stone tsunami - pushing the acid back towards them as well.

    The stone wave disappeared halfway to the enemy, but the acid kept flowing, and Harry saw at least two people get hit by the flood before Hermione conjured another wall and broke line of sight.

    They kept moving while the fireworks Ron had lit went off, covering the other half of the room in thick, green smoke. Harry slid to the edge of the wall and rounded the corner, just in time to catch one of the mercenaries who tried to avoid the coloured smoke with a Piercing Curse and a Bludgeoning Curse. The first shattered the man’s shield, the second threw him against the wall behind, hard enough to break multiple bones.

    Another doubled over, struck by one of Ari’s curses after Ron had dealt with their Shield Charm. Then a stone shelter covered the entire group, just before it shook as if it had been struck by an earthquake.

    “Bombarda,” Hermione explained. He saw that she was panting as she flicked her wand - strengthening and repairing the stone and metal shielding them. “Three… two… one…” she started.

    Harry hissed and dropped into a crouch.

    “...zero!” The shelter suddenly vanished, broken into several parts which shot towards the enemy, propelled forward by Hermione. Most didn’t reach them, though - curses flying towards Harry and his friends struck them, blowing them up in clouds of dust and smoke.

    Harry saw another dark-robed witch fall, struck by a curse he didn’t recognise - Lockhart’s work? He glanced to his side and saw the man dodge behind the pillar again - which was for some reason still standing. Reinforced, somehow.

    Ron and Ari took out yet another dark witch who had exposed herself, and Hermione made the ground rise in a slope in front of them, shielding them from the next wave of acid, as Harry drove a pair of the enemies back into their own conjured cover with a Blasting Curse.

    But what was the transfiguration specialist doing? Harry wondered as he sent more spells at the enemy. Someone with their skill wouldn’t remain idle. Had they been killed or disabled already?

    Harry doubted it. And were the other enemies retreating? No, they were… what was that cloud forming?

    His eyes widened when he realised what was happening, and he frantically whipped his wand around, conjuring a steel cage around his friends and himself. “Stay inside!” he yelled before someone could dispel it.

    And then the room lit up as arcs of electricity filled it. Harry heard Lockhart scream, but his attention was focused on the lightning dancing over the cage he had created. If he had made a mistake… But the cage held, and Hermione’s wall hid them from view.

    And then large copper spikes appeared, grounding the lightning. “Hah!” he heard Hermione exclaim and grinned.

    But Lockhart… had disappeared. Harry couldn’t see him any more.

    Then the wall shielding them shattered, and rock fragments pelted their Shield Charms, driving them back.

    “Who is that?” Ron yelled as they took cover behind a hastily reinforced pillar. “That’s not a normal mercenary!”

    Harry had come to that conclusion already. “I know,” he replied.

    “You know him?” Ari asked.

    There was no time to explain. A few Blasting Curses and conjured clouds of smoke covered them while Hermione conjured another shelter and Ron sent a wave of poisonous scarabs at the enemy - a favourite spell of Bill’s.

    But another lightning cloud, smaller this time, fried them before they could reach their target. Things weren’t looking good at all, but with a little...

    “Intruders!”

    “No! We are trying to stop the thieves! Please! He’s wounded! Plea..urck...”

    That was Mr Sayadi.

    Harry muttered a curse moments before a dozen jinn flew through the entrance, weapons and wands raised. And with the mercenaries hidden in the clouds of smoke he and his friends had conjured, it looked like there was no choice but to defend themselves against the furious jinn...

    Ron yelled: “Watch out, Zaid! There are dark wizards! Thieves!”

    The jinn stopped. Harry released his breath. Perhaps things would...

    “You! The traitor!”

    ...get worse. Hermione raised a wall as the jinn launched spells and arrows at them.

    “Zaid! We are fighting the thieves!” Ron yelled again.

    “Stupid spirits!” Harry heard Ari mutter.

    A Blasting Curse shook the wall, followed by screaming filling the room - the dark wizards had struck at the jinn.

    “Murderers! Get them!”

    Now arrows and curses flew towards the dark wizards. Harry used the opportunity and waved his friends forward, sending more curses through the thinning smoke. Another of the mercenaries fell, blood erupting where Harry’s Cutting Curse had sliced into him.

    A cloud of acid briefly held them back until Hermione dispelled it and Ron fired off some more fireworks to disorient the enemies, but just when they were about to flank the mercenaries, more jinn poured into the room. A moment later, the walls and floor suddenly grew spikes that formed a barrier, cutting off the mercenaries.

    “Rückzug!” Harry heard a voice command - amplified - as he started to break through the barrier. “They’re escaping!” he yelled.

    “Impossible - there is no other exit!” one of the jinn yelled back.

    But when they broke through the barrier, they found a hole in the ceiling leading to the surface. And a ten foot tall Tahira in dark robes, coming straight at them.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley jumped to the side even before he realised who was charging them, but the huge jinni still clipped his Shield Charm, shattering it and sending him flying to the side. Rolling over his shoulder, he winced when the shards from the shattered barrier dug into his torso. Jumping up, he almost lost his footing in the rubble as Tahira crashed into the jinn gathered at the breach. Most of them scattered in all directions, but she rammed one and smashed him into the back wall.

    “Traitor!” Zaid yelled - the jinni really liked jumping to conclusions, Ron thought as he took a step forward and recast his Shield Charm.

    “She must have been bound,” Hermione yelled from the other side of the breach. Where was Harry?

    Ron didn’t see his friend. And couldn’t search for him - Ari had changed and was charging straight towards Tahira, who had shrunk a little and was evading several attacks by the other jinn with manoeuvres that would make Krum take notes.

    And Ron’s love ran straight into the midst of this, heedless of the dozen spells and arrows flying! He cursed and aimed his wand - if he hit Tahira with a Stunner, they could capture her and sort this out. Just had to box her in. And avoid hitting Ari by mistake.

    “Acid wave!”

    That was Harry!

    Ron whirled and saw him conjure a wall into the hole the mercenaries had created - only for the stone to blacken almost immediately, then starting to crumble.

    But Hermione was already casting, and another stone slab blocked the acid - or whatever it was that was eating through solid stone. “Keep it up!” she yelled.

    That meant Harry and Hermione would be busy. And Ron had to protect them as they worked on dealing with the acid. Which meant taking out Tahira. And keeping the jinn from cursing them - accidentally or on purpose.

    And keeping Ari alive - the jaguar leapt at Tahira, dragging the screaming jinni down to the ground in a tangle of fur and limbs.

    And fire - Tahira practically exploded, flames shooting out of her skin, and Ari roared with pain as she was flung away, smoking, by a wild swing of her opponent. Ron sent a few Stunners at Tahira as he rushed towards Ari, but all missed when the jinni took to the air again. Then Ari rolled on to all four feet, snapped up her wand and charged again before he could reach her.

    Meanwhile, Tahira, looking like a giant made of fire, had slammed two more jinn into walls, leaving them dazed and smoking. And at least one more had been hit by an arrow, he noticed.

    “Ari! No!” Ron yelled - but the witch leapt on the remains of a pedestal, then pounced from there, straight at Tahira, who was still surrounded by flames.

    But at the apex of her jump, she changed, flicking her wand, and a stream of water hit the jinni princess, pushing her back - and out of the way of a volley of spells, including Ron’s next Stunner. Though it also extinguished the flames pouring out of her, and as she spluttered and roared in rage, Ari changed again and bit down on Tahira’s wand arm. The jinni’s screams seemed to make the walls shake, and once more the jaguar was sent flying, this time hitting the ground harder.

    Ron cursed and changed direction - and saw Tahira flying at the dazed-looking Ari. A flick of his wand conjured an angled stone wall, and the jinni crashed into it at full speed, then bounced off into the ceiling.

    And was finally hit by half a dozen spells that took her down. Ron added an Incarcerous Spell before he reached Ari. She was back on her feet, limping, but seemed determined to go and maul Tahira.

    Ron wrapped his arms around her neck, hugging her and holding her back - or trying to. “It’s OK, she’s out. We won!” he blurted out as he felt himself being dragged over the stone floor. “You won! Please stop!”

    Just as he feared he would have to stun her as well, she finally stopped, looked at him and growled.

    “You won!” he repeated. “She’s beaten.”

    Ari growled once more, then huffed and changed back. And hissed in pain. “Broke my leg,” she said. “Lost my wand.”

    Ron glanced down. Her legs seemed fine. Oh. Foreleg. A quick charm set and mended the bone. Instead of smiling, though, Ari hissed again - at the jinn surrounding them.

    “You thieves!” Zaid, looking more than a little battered, snapped.

    “Thieves? We were hunting these men!” Ron retorted. “They attacked us at Mr Sayadi’s house! When we found the dead guards at the valley’s entrance, we rushed here and caught them.”

    “A likely story,” Zaid replied.

    “True story,” Ari added. “Stupid spirit!”

    That didn’t really help. Not at all. “And you bring one of the cursed here?” Zaid spat.

    “Cursed?” Ari growled. “I’m no cursed, you stupid ball of smoke! I’m a jaguar!”

    “I know what you are!” Zaid replied. “Our clan remembers!”

    That seemed to surprise Ari as much as it did Ron. “What?” he asked. “How could you know her? She’s from the other side of the world!”

    “We remember,” Zaid said.

    “And we just saved your temple!” Harry cut in.

    Ron looked up. Harry and Hermione were standing in the breach, wands not quite raised at the jinn. Behind them, a giant block of obsidian reached to the ceiling.

    “We kept the alchemical acid at bay until I managed to neutralise it,” Hermione explained. “Otherwise, it would have dissolved everything in this room, and probably the floor below.”

    Zaid looked like he was about to refute her claim - Ron was wincing already; Hermione didn’t like to be contradicted in such matters at the best of times, much less right after a close fight - but another voice interrupted them before things could escalate.

    “Enough!”

    “Elder!” Zaid gasped at the oldest-looking jinni Ron had ever seen. “This is dangerous; you should not be here.”

    “It is dangerous indeed - but not for the reasons you think,” the old jinni said. “My granddaughter has been cursed, and our sanctuary was breached. Relics were taken.”

    “But she’s one of the cursed!”

    “No, I’m not!” Ari snarled. “It’s not even full moon, you stupid smokestack!”

    “He means you carry the curse of the Atlanteans,” the old jinni explained.

    “What?” Once more, both Ron and Ari were surprised. As were Harry and Hermione, by the looks of it.

    “Let us discuss somewhere a little more comfortable. There are many wounded in need of help as well,” the old jinni said.

    It sounded more like an order than an offer. And there were a lot more jinn filling the stairway, Ron realised.

    *****​

    The jinn knew what Ari and her tribe were? Or claimed to? Hermione Granger wasn’t certain if she believed that. Why hadn’t Tahira recognised Ari’s tribe, then? But she certainly wanted to hear this.

    They followed the old jinni - who hadn’t given his name yet - out of the room and up the stairs, escorted - or guarded - by about two dozen jinn. Not the best odds, if this turned sour.

    “Where are the others who were with us?” Harry asked. “Mallory, Lockhart, Mr Sayadi?”

    “They were taken to the village under guard,” one of the other jinn replied.

    “And treatment,” the old jinni added, “for the wounded.”

    So Lockhart had survived. Good - the man was a fool and a glory hound, but he also tried to be a hero. Hermione just hoped that the jinn wouldn’t salvage Lockhart’s certainly bruised ego. The man could do with some humility. Or humiliation.

    The reached the top of the stairs, leaving the spire - and Hermione winced at the sight of the ground littered with dead harpies and stains and spots where jinn had crashed into the ground, if she wasn’t mistaken.

    “We won, but at great cost,” the old jinni said. “We weren’t as prepared as we should have been.”

    Hermione nodded. She wasn’t about to offer any meaningless platitudes, and there wasn’t anything she could say to that.

    The stopped halfway between the lake and the northern cliff. Hermione pulled her broom out right away, then met the eyes of a jinni who had taken a step closer until he looked away. She wouldn’t be carried up.

    Harry and Ron, with Ari clinging to him, were already in the air, of course, following the old jinni. Half a minute later, they entered an opulent room far too big for the space available between the doors on the cliff - the jinn had certainly mastered Extension Charms.

    “I am Ali al-Jinn,” the old jinni said as he took a seat on a cushion in the centre of the room, then waved his hand and a dozen more cushions appeared arrayed in front of him. “Please have a seat.”

    They did. He hadn’t offered them their hospitality, Hermione noted. That was far more alarming than the dozen guards with them. And he had given his name as ‘Ali of the Jinn family’. If that was his real name, he certainly was older than Hermione had expected. If not… well, she couldn’t fault him for being careful.

    “Where are you taking Tahira?” Ron asked.

    “To a secure cell,” the old jinni replied. “She is being magically controlled.”

    “The ring that bound her was destroyed,” Ron said.

    “She wasn’t bound,” al-Jinn said, “but put under a curse.”

    “The Imperius Curse?” Harry asked.

    “I believe so.” Al-Jinn inclined his head. “That would make it hard to break even for talented young people like yourselves.”

    “There’s an easy way to break that curse - but we would have to pay the goblins,” Harry said. “The Thief’s Downfall.”

    “I see.” Al-Jinn nodded. “But before we further discuss my descendant, let us discuss your presence in this valley.”

    “And your claims about Ari,” Ron retorted.

    “It’s our home,” al-Jinn replied.

    Hermione cleared her throat before Ron could insist. “We came to the valley at Mr Lockhart’s behest because Tahira had gone missing and we had been attacked in Mr Sayadi’s home by mercenaries - the same men who attacked you. Once we found the guards dead we knew you were under attack, and rushed to help.”

    “A very noble deed, given the dangers.” Al-Jinn inclined his head. “But then, Mr Lockhart has a reputation.”

    Hermione forced herself to keep smiling instead of frowning. At least Lockhart wasn’t here to hear this. “Yes, he does,” she replied. “He was our teacher at Hogwarts.”

    “Ah.” The jinni’s smile grew a little. “You have a reputation as well,” he said. “Although a somewhat colourful one,” he added with a nod at Ron.

    “Thanks to Tahira,” Ron replied. “That wasn’t my fault.”

    “She is passionate and proud; the fire runs strong in her blood.”

    Ari snorted. “And the air runs strong in her head!”

    Hermione tensed, but the old jinni laughed. “You would say that, I assume,” he said.

    “Yes. Why did you call me cursed?” she growled.

    “Because your people were cursed by the Atlanteans,” he retorted. “Their blood was mixed with those of animals with the help of dark curses, in an attempt to create the perfect slaves.”

    Ari hissed. “Lies! We are jaguars given human form!”

    Al-Jinn blinked. “That is what I said, isn’t it?”

    “No! You said we were cursed - we weren’t!”

    “Semantics aside, you seem to be very familiar with the Atlanteans,” Harry cut in.

    “We remember them, better than anyone else. We remember their magic and their greed. And how they fought and schemed,” al-Jinn replied. “My grandfather fought them in his youth, defending our lands and kin against them, and he told me all about them.”

    “And about the relics,” Harry said, “which the thieves stole.”

    “And in which you are very interested.”

    “We’re interested in knowledge about the Atlanteans. We aren’t interested in owning their relics,” Hermione said.

    “That kind of knowledge is very dangerous.”

    “We have been attacked by those mercenaries, and by others. Ignorance is more dangerous,” Hermione retorted.

    “And trusting the wrong kind of people with the wrong kind of knowledge endangers us all.”

    “We do not want to harm you; we came to help you,” Harry said.

    “Sharing an enemy doesn’t make us friends,” al-Jinn pointed out. “How can we know that we can trust you?”

    “I can’t help but suspect that this is a question for which you already have the answer,” Harry said in a flat tone.

    She tensed even more when al-Jinn laughed again. “Indeed, young man, I have the answer,” he said. “There is a test for you.”

    Hermione was certain that this wouldn’t be the kind of test she loved to take.

    *****​
     
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  6. RedX

    RedX Know what you're doing yet?

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    I'm very much getting an 'RPG adventuring party' vibe here, on top of the 'action movie' one. Indeed, while an action movie has perhaps four or five big set-pieces, an RPG adventure keeps them steadily coming for the duration of the story arc- hook->mystery->combat->breather->combat->breather->*etc*->confrontation->reveal. (Sometimes reveal->confrontation.) Was that intentional?

    Anyway, excellent as always, looking forward to more!
     
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  7. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    I'm aiming for an action-rich plot. The rpg-like complications are consequences of previous actions, mostly.
     
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  8. Pahan

    Pahan Know what you're doing yet?

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    "No expose self! Only I expose to Ron!" shouted Ari angrily.
     
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  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 14: Egyptian Reunions
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 14: Egyptian Reunions

    ‘The Magical Ottoman Empire and the jinn have had a very complicated relationship throughout most of their shared history. The different clans of the jinn were fiercely independent and resisted all attempts to integrate them into the Empire. The border conflicts this spawned continued long after the Statue of Secrecy was established, and the jinn were the first among the Empire’s subjects to reject the claim of the Magical Ottoman Empire to all of the magical lands within the borders of the old Ottoman Empire. They were also the first to succeed - and unlike the Balkan countries, whose struggles would be supported by Magical Russia and Magical Poland, the jinn had no allies. On the contrary, as magical creatures, they faced opposition and even hostility from the International Confederation of Wizards. Furthermore, the jinn were not even united - their various clans fought separately, without coordinating their actions.
    So, then, why did their attempt at secession succeed? The usual answer given, that the jinn were so powerful and experienced that the Ottoman wizards were defeated despite their numbers, is obviously incorrect. If that were the case, the jinn would have never fallen, less than two centuries previously, under the Ottoman Empire’s power in the first place. Nor was it disinterest among the Ottomans that led to the jinn’s success - the Sultan and his advisors and officers were aware of the precedent would be set by their secession, and spent considerable time trying to subdue the rebellions until they finally acknowledged that they could not do so. Finally, the theories that the Sultan was seduced by a jinni princess and granted her people peace in exchange for her love, or that the jinn used relics of a forgotten age to cow the Ottomans lack even a shred of supporting evidence and are best relegated to cheap novels.
    No, this question, as is often the case in history, does not have a single answer. Instead, a multitude of factors were collectively responsible for the jinn’s success. Firstly, the jinn generally lived far away from the main population centres of the Empire - in mountain valleys and deserts, which had not much value for the muggles and therefore weren’t settled before the Statue of Secrecy. And while the Ottoman wizards knew little about these areas, the jinn were familiar with them - and had layered them with spells and traps, using their mastery of illusion to great effect. Secondly, the jinn, while vulnerable to magical means of controlling them, could fly much faster and were far more agile than the flying carpets and brooms available at the time, granting them superior tactical mobility. Their mastery of fire and air might not have been nearly as versatile as a wand, but when put against inexperienced young wizards and witches, it granted the jinn quite the advantage.
    Further, while the jinn lacked allies, the Magical Ottoman Empire certainly didn’t lack enemies. Beset on all sides by new magical nations, the Ottomans quickly became hard-pressed just to defend their core territories. And finally, the jinn had support from human wizards desiring more independence - some of the provincial leaders, the Bey of Tunis first among them, made deals with them long before the Sultan’s government opened negotiations.’
    - Excerpt from ‘The Rise and Fall of the Magical Ottoman Empire’ by Lyndon Snyder, London, 1981


    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, September 29th, 2001

    “And what exactly is this test?” Harry Potter asked, narrowing his eyes at al-Jinn.

    “We’ll use the very relics you desire,” the old jinni replied with a toothy smile.

    “What do these relics do?” Hermione immediately asked. “We’re not going to subject Harry to any sort of magical torture or binding!”

    Harry pressed his lips together for a moment. That was his decision, not hers. Although he had to admit that if they swapped places, he’d be likely to react in the same way. Still…

    “He will not be bound or compelled, rest assured,” al-Jinn said.

    “That would be more reassuring if you had offered us your hospitality,” Hermione snapped.

    Harry could almost feel the tension rise in the room. Jinn shifted positions, wands were not quite raised and eyes narrowed. If things got out of hand…

    “Your word that you’re speaking the truth will suffice,” Ron said.

    Al-Jinn stared at Harry’s friend for several seconds before slowly nodding. “You have my word.”

    It seemed that Harry had to trust that Ron knew what he was doing. Well, he generally did - and there wasn’t a witch involved this time. Apart from Ari.

    And if the jinn had wanted to betray them, they could have done so in the temple basement. Or ambushed them in the valley with their entire clan. Still… Harry couldn’t help but have a bad feeling about this.

    Al-Jinn stood up - well, floated up. Show-off. “Follow me then - just you.” He nodded at Harry. “The test is a very private matter.”

    “Alright,” Harry replied before Hermione could object again. He saw her clench her teeth and flashed a smile at her as their eyes met, then followed al-Jinn out of the room.

    A quick flight took them back to the temple - for his age, the jinni was remarkably fast. And if he were holding back, playing the role of a frail old wizard, as Dumbledore liked to at times… Well, Harry wouldn’t like to fight him.

    They entered the temple, al-Jinn leading the way. A dozen jinn bowed as he passed, most of them glaring at Harry. And, in the basement, al-Jinn went straight to the sealed door leading further down, where Zaid stood.

    To Harry’s surprise, the other jinni didn’t sneer at him, but simply stepped aside and let them pass through the open door. Harry couldn’t help feeling disappointed that he hadn’t been able to observe how the door was opened. Just in case.

    The stairway behind it was far narrower, and looked far older than the one above, Harry noted as they slowly made their way downwards until they reached a small room with a massive door - a vault.

    A vault made from a single piece of crystal, it seemed - coloured red. Harry narrowed his eyes. He could make out some shapes behind the door. If he squinted, he could almost see through it…

    The door swung open, and he blinked. Al-Jinn smiled. “You’re not the first one to be fascinated by the door.”

    “Ah.” Harry nodded, but his eyes were glued to the pedestals inside the vault. Tablets, urns - and a floating, glowing staff.

    “Our most powerful relic - able to raise islands and cause earthquakes,” al-Jinn said. “The Staff of the Atlanteans.”

    Harry hissed. An Atlantean relic!

    “But we’re here for this.” The jinni held up a rod. “This will…” He blinked. “No - the thieves have returned!” He whirled. “We must…”

    A Cutting Curse that sliced open his side interrupted him. Dark wizards appeared in the anteroom. Harry was about to send a curse at them, but the groaning jinni gestured, and the crystal door swung shut.

    “Let me heal you!” Harry waved his wand, but the bleeding wound didn’t close.

    “Dark curse,” al-Jinn muttered. “It’s no use.” He coughed blood. “The staff… they cannot have it. Take it and go.”

    “What?” Harry stared at the dying jinni.

    “Take the staff. Point it at the ceiling, and will the earth to part. Then fly up and get it to Zaid. He needs it. He will... He will…”

    Al-Jinn fell silent and slumped over.

    Harry cast a quick diagnosis charm; it confirmed what he already knew. He clenched his teeth and looked at the door. He could see the dark wizards attacking it. And he spotted the hairline cracks forming; it wouldn’t hold them back for much longer.

    He took a step back and turned towards the floating staff. After a moment’s hesitation, he reached out and grabbed it.

    And shivered as his entire body seemed to tingle. Power. This was… He took a few deep breaths. The power…

    A cracking sound made him whirl round. The door was about to shatter, judging by the hundreds of cracks forming a spiderweb all over its surface.

    There was no choice. Harry pointed the tip of the staff at the ceiling and imagined a shaft opening to the surface.

    And there it was. He could see the sky above. Now he needed his broom… Or did he?

    He imagined himself flying - and shot up the shaft, laughing despite the situation. This was… He shook his head. No wonder the dark wizards wanted the staff.

    But when he flew out of the shaft, into the sky, he winced. Corpses littered the ground - jinn, this time. Dark wizards and witches, dozens of them, fighting and killing the villagers everywhere. Hermione! Ron!

    “Harry!” He turned and saw his friends flying away on a carpet, two dark wizards on their heels. One, now - Ron had hit one with a Bludgeoning Curse. “We’re retreating; we cannot protect the wounded,” he heard Hermione’s voice from his enchanted pin. “Come to us!”

    But… Harry looked around. There was Zaid, fighting in the midst of a shrinking group of guards, surrounded by dark wizards. The jinn had lost. Were lost. And then Zaid fell, clutching his side. Like al-Jinn.

    More jinn fell. A dark wizard flew at Harry and was blasted into a red mist before Harry realised what he was doing.

    Zaid spotted him, reaching out with a blood-covered arm. He wanted the staff.

    But could he use it? He was dying.

    Al-Jinn. Zaid… the dark wizards. Harry could take the staff. Save the remaining jinn. Then borrow it.

    No! He clenched his teeth and shot down towards Zaid…

    ...and found himself sitting in front of the crystal vault. Next to a smiling al-Jinn.

    Ah!

    He closed his eyes and slowly breathed in, forcing himself to relax. And not to lash out at the smug bastard. After a few seconds, he looked at al-Jinn again. “I thought the jinn were masters of illusion, not hypnotism.”

    “That is true,” the old jinni replied. “But this is a relic - as I told you.”

    “You also said I wouldn’t be put under a magical compulsion.”

    “You were not controlled - your mind was merely fooled, aided by your recent memories, to make you think what you were experiencing was real.”

    Harry snorted. Indeed, you had to watch the exact wording when making deals with jinn. “I assume that the staff I saw isn’t actually inside the vault.”

    “The relic tailors the test to the individual being tested.”

    That was a non-answer if Harry had ever heard one. And he had heard quite a number of them at Hogwarts. “I passed, then.”

    “You did.”

    “So…” Harry looked at al-Jinn.

    “So now I will offer you my hospitality.”

    Harry swallowed his first response. Bloody jinn!

    *****​

    “Be welcome in our valley.” Al-Jinn bowed his head.

    “Thank you for your hospitality,” Ron Weasley said, together with his friends, Mr Sayadi, Lockhart and Mallory. He didn’t think that al-Jinn missed Harry’s sarcastic tone, nor Hermione’s glare, but the old jinni ignored both.

    “And you have our thanks for helping us fight those thieves.”

    Ron nodded in return. “And you have ours for treating those of us who were wounded helping you.” His smile was polite, nothing more.

    “It was the least we could do,” al-Jinn replied.

    “Yes,” Hermione replied with a thin smile.

    Ron cleared his throat before things could deteriorate. Jinn were a little too prickly about their honour for this. “So, now that you know you can trust us, let us talk about our shared enemies.”

    “The thieves.”

    “To be precise, they were mercenaries trying to pass themselves off as Storm Wizards despite their young age,” Lockhart cut in.

    Ron suppressed a frown. Apparently, getting cursed hadn’t fazed Lockhart for long, and the man was already trying to be the centre of attention again.

    “Their leader was neither young nor inexperienced,” Hermione pointed out.

    “Yes,” Harry agreed. “Transfiguration on that scale? In battle? There are not many wizards who can pull that off. And he was wearing the same robes.” He shook his head.

    “If he was an actual Storm Wizard, then it would stand to reason that he would become quite talented after gaining decades of experience,” al-Jinn said.

    “Even then that kind of skill would be exceptional,” Harry replied.

    “We’ve trained with Dumbledore and his friends,” Ron added. “And even among them, few would use transfiguration with that much skill.”

    “Herbert Kohlmeier!” Lockhart exclaimed, snapping his fingers. “The lightning and the mastery of the Dark Arts - it fits!” He nodded. “Of course, it would have taken the Butcher of Silesia to defeat me in such a manner.”

    “He hasn’t been seen since Grindelwald’s defeat,” Hermione said, pursing her lips. Probably angry at herself for not making the connection before Lockhart, Ron thought.

    “But his death hasn’t been confirmed, either. And there were persistent rumours that he had found a refuge in Jamaica,” Lockhart replied. “Ah! Now that I am forewarned, our next battle will be epic!”

    “He is one of Grindelwald’s followers then?” Al-Jinn tilted his head slightly.

    “He was one of his most infamous followers - he was called the ‘Schlächter von Schlesien’ because of the vast number of people he sacrificed in his dark rituals,” Hermione said. “He didn’t take to the field often, but when he did, he was said to call down lightning on his enemies.”

    “Exactly,” Lockhart agreed. “A very dangerous foe - infamous as well. His defeat will make headlines everywhere!”

    “If it actually was Kohlmeier,” Harry said. “We don’t have any real evidence, yet.”

    They had their memories of the man they fought, of course - but they would have to return to Britain to use Dumbledore’s Pensieve. “And we need to break the curse on Tahira, so she can tell us who controlled her,” Ron said.

    “Indeed. Twice now she has been caught - which hints at betrayal,” al-Jinn said.

    “Or stupidity,” Ari muttered.

    Ron glanced at her, wincing slightly. She had remained silent so far, despite her obvious disdain for al-Jinn.

    “My granddaughter is quick to anger, but she isn’t stupid. And she wouldn’t have travelled through the air to the valley. She would have apparated. Now, she might have been on an errand in Tunis, but I don’t believe so - not after having just regained her freedom. She would have made haste to inform me of her ordeal,” al-Jinn said.

    Ron reached out and squeezed Ari’s arm before she could point out that Tahira hadn’t taken off right away after being freed, but had spent considerable time with Lockhart first.

    “Indeed - she is as compassionate as she is passionate,” Lockhart said, nodding. “If she were forced to reveal your clan’s secrets, she would have rushed to tell you.”

    “Oh, she isn’t aware of the more important secrets,” al-Jinn said. “None of the younger jinn who travel outside the valley are. The risk of someone binding them and forcing them to betray us is just too high. That is why she couldn’t disable the protections on the temple.”

    “Ah.” Sensible, Ron thought.

    “Wisdom comes with age,” al-Jinn said. “You mentioned that you knew a way to break the curse on her without the risk of breaking her mind. The Thief’s Downfall, I believe - an apt name for such an undertaking.”

    Ron nodded. “Yes, we did. Using that, we can break the curse safely and free her - again.” His smile grew. “It would set us back in our own, important quest, but I am certain we can come to an agreement.”

    Turnabout was fair play.

    “I can help her!” Lockhart said.

    Ron’s smile slipped.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger pressed her lips together as Lockhart once again tried to ruin their plans. Why couldn’t he have had the grace to still be unconscious?

    “I am moved by your willingness to help my granddaughter,” al-Jinn said, “but I have to decline your offer. You see, Tahira, the jewel of my eye, has a weakness for attractive men, and her current state will only make her more vulnerable.”

    Lockhart gaped. “Are you insinuating that I would take advantage of the princess’s vulnerability? Do you think me such a cad, to stoop so low?” He even put his hand on his heart.

    “No, he knows her,” Ari said, sneering.

    Hermione tensed and glared at her. Insulting your host’s family wasn’t a smart thing to do. Since Ari ignored her, she glared at Ron for good measure.

    Al-Jinn, though, chuckled. “Tahira is very passionate - most jinn are, at that age.”

    Hermione saw Ron nod and Ari huff and grab his hand - quite hard, judging by his slight wince.

    “I assure you, sir, that I am a perfect gentleman,” Lockhart said, his back ramrod straight.

    “You mean my granddaughter’s charms would not be enough to sway you?” Al-Jinn raised an eyebrow.

    Lockhart shook his head. “I’ve withstood far greater temptations. Why, even the dances of the Nagas of India failed to seduce me!”

    “And yet you fell for a Veela,” Harry said with a sneer. “And cheated on Auntie,” he added under his breath.

    “That, I think, clinches it - Tahira would never accept being bested by a Veela.” Al-Jinn slowly shook his head. “It is best if someone else takes her to the goblins.”

    Hermione took note of the slight emphasis the jinni put on ‘Veela’, but there were more urgent subjects to be discussed. “With Mr Lockhart disqualified on the grounds of being too attractive,” she said - noticing how the man actually preened at that, “it falls to us, as the obvious choice to escort Tahira to the goblins. Although, as my friend pointed out, this will set our own plans back.”

    “And you would like to be compensated for that,” al-Jinn said.

    “Doing the right thing should be its own reward!” Lockhart butted in.

    “Helping each other is the right thing,” Hermione shot back.

    “Indeed,” al-Jinn agreed with a toothy smile. “Although this truth is usually understood, not stated.”

    Hermione forced herself to smile and acknowledged the point with a nod. “As you have no doubt realised, we’re seeking information about Atlantis.” Lockhart would have found that out from Mr Sayadi anyway, once the man finally got around to translating the skull’s words.

    “That is why you are with a descendant of their slaves.”

    “Ari is with us because she is a friend,” Hermione corrected him. “Although I think the fact that you recognised her tribe means you have knowledge of Atlantis.”

    “Priceless knowledge.” Al-Jinn’s smile hadn’t wavered, but he sat a little straighter.

    “Knowledge shared is not knowledge lost - on the contrary, knowledge spread is knowledge preserved,” Hermione retorted.

    “But a secret shared is a secret lost.”

    “That secret seems to have been lost already - those thieves knew where to strike.”

    Al-Jinn inclined his head. “They knew where to look, but they don’t know what we guard.”

    “That is an assumption,” she corrected him. “But you also stand to gain more knowledge if you help us.”

    “Knowledge we haven’t needed so far.”

    “That is another assumption,” she said.

    “And that knowledge might be needed to take revenge on the thieves,” Ron added. “They broke into your home, bound your kin and murdered your people.”

    Al-Jinn slowly nodded, his smile fading. “You assume that you know our customs.”

    “If Tahira went to the lengths she did after she felt wronged by me, I can only imagine what you’ll do in response to this attack,” Ron replied. “Jinn have a reputation, after all.”

    “That is true,” al-Jinn admitted. “Let us make a deal, then. We will share knowledge and help each other to bring those who wronged us to justice.”

    Hermione glanced at her friends. They knew about making deals with jinn. But this might be their best chance to find out what the jinn knew about the Atlanteans. And about Ari’s people. She nodded at Harry.

    “We have a deal,” he said.

    “Very well.” Al-Jinn clapped his hands, and a low table with wine and food appeared between them. “Let us feast then, to seal it. Then we can discuss the details.”

    Hermione smiled and started to eat - after subtly checking for poison, of course, out of habit - even though she really wanted to start working at once. They had already lost too much time.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, September 30th, 2001

    Jinn could be really pragmatic, Harry Potter thought as he saw Tahira. They hadn’t bothered with trying to restrain or control her - instead they had dosed her with the Draught of Living Death and were now floating her out of her grandfather’s house as if she were a piece of luggage.

    Al-Jinn flew towards him, shrinking as he approached. By the time he lightly touched the ground with his feet, he was human-sized. “You have the antidote, I trust.”

    “Of course!” Ron, standing next to Harry, replied, patting his belt. “Safely stashed.”

    “We would have shrunk her so you could transport her more easily,” al-Jinn said, “but that would have required another jinni to travel with you.”

    Yes, ruthless, Harry thought. “We’ll manage,” he said with a polite smile.

    Ari, of course, snorted. Loudly. “Good you didn’t. I might’ve mistaken her for a snack,” she joked. At least Harry hoped that she was joking - the witch really hadn’t gotten along with the jinn.

    Al-Jinn narrowed his eyes at her. “I see you still haven’t risen above your bestial ancestry.”

    Ari’s hiss was unlikely to convince anyone otherwise - at least in Harry’s opinion. He cleared his throat. “No one will be eating anyone. Tahira will be transported in one of our travelling trunks, in a safe and comfortable room.” There was no need to mention that Hermione had furnished the trunk just last night.

    “Very well.” Al-Jinn was smiling widely again. “She’s my favourite granddaughter, as you know.”

    The jinni had mentioned that a few times the previous evening. Harry had gotten the message the first time. “Anyone wishing to harm her will have to go through us,” he said.

    “And through me!” Lockhart, who looked far too perfect for this early in the morning, added as he joined them. “We will defend the princess with our lives!”

    “I expect nothing less,” al-Jinn said - as if Lockhart spoke for everyone. Of course, the old jinni knew that wasn’t the case, but he didn’t seem to care.

    Harry forced himself to keep smiling while Hermione took Tahira into the trunk.

    “I would be less concerned, of course, if you would take my dear granddaughter to Britain instead of to Egypt,” al-Jinn went on. “The Ottomans might not care much for their Egyptian province, but they are still its nominal overlords, and our history with the Ottomans is a little complicated.”

    “We’re aware of that,” Harry reassured him. Hermione had ensured that they knew all about the past struggles of the jinn to win their independence from the Ottomans. And he would have preferred to head back to Britain himself - but then Mr Sayadi would have had trouble with the authorities. And no one, least of all Mr Sayadi himself, thought he would be safe in the valley. If Lockhart hadn’t insisted on ‘seeing the entire affair through’... But he had, and so both were coming with them to Egypt, the closest location with a Thief’s Downfall they knew.

    “Very well.” Al-Jinn inclined his head.

    Harry hated taking a competitor with them - Mallory, who was the only one still not ready to travel, was bad enough by himself - and Lockhart being Lockhart made it worse. “To think that we travelled to Tunis simply to get the help of a linguist. But instead of hiring him, we’ve had to break into a palace, fight a battle in the Valley of the Jinn and are now about to travel to Egypt, to break the curse on a jinni princess.” Something had gone wrong a while ago, Harry knew.

    “And our work isn’t yet done! Those murderous thieves are still at large - led by a true Storm Wizard!” Lockhart exclaimed. “I’ve said it before - this book practically writes itself!”

    Harry clenched his teeth and counted to ten. He couldn’t hex the git.

    “Well, mate, it all made sense at the time,” Ron said, stretching his arms. “Apart from getting up so bloody early,” he added, nodding at the sun which had barely risen above the mountains. “And this time, there won’t be any more delays.”

    Harry nodded, glancing at Mr Sayadi, who was yawning. He would be able to start his work on the way. Well, once they reached Egypt.

    “Unless we find another ‘adventure’ in need of heroes in Egypt,” Hermione, rubbing her neck, said as she left the trunk. A flick of her wand shrank it, and another had it floating towards Harry.

    “What would be the odds of that?” Lockhart beamed at them as if she had been talking to him. Before anyone could answer, the git turned to watch the mountains again, sighing. “Ah, Egypt… I still remember my time as a Curse-Breaker there. Things were simpler, back then. I was merely a talented Curse-Breaker, not yet burdened with my fame.”

    “Before you started writing your books, you mean,” Harry said with a toothy grin as he slipped the shrunken trunk into his enchanted pocket.

    “Exactly! I hadn’t yet realised my many talents.” Lockhart nodded slowly.

    Once more, Harry had to keep from hexing the git. How could anyone be so in love with themselves? Wasn’t there anything that could pierce the man’s ego?

    “Speaking of the past,” Hermione cut in, “Harry’s aunt might be in the camp as well.”

    Harry would have smiled at Lockhart’s expression - if he didn’t have a bad feeling about that reunion himself.

    Auntie hadn’t been happy about their latest adventures, and she hadn’t yet heard about the mess in Tunis.

    Well, she might be too busy with her own expedition to visit the camp.

    *****​

    Egypt, Valley of the Kings, October 1st, 2001

    The Gringotts Curse-Breaker camp in Egypt hadn’t changed much since their last visit, Harry Potter noticed as they landed their flying carpets inside it. He spotted a few new faces among the Curse-Breakers, but he mostly saw people he had known for years - he had lived in the camp until he started primary school and, later, for almost all his summers. And the tents and huts hadn’t changed at all - he could see the slight hollow in the ground that, as a kid, he had used to sneak into the tent behind. Ah, the memories. It almost felt like coming home, he realised with a smile.

    “Ah, the memories! It’s like coming home after a long voyage! You can take the Curse-Breaker out of the camp, but you can’t take the camp out of the Curse-Breaker!”

    Harry’s smile vanished as soon as he heard Lockhart’s words. The bloody git wasn’t just content with ruining Harry’s search for Atlantis, he wanted to ruin his memories as well!

    Ari sniffed the air, then pointed at Ripclaw’s tent. “I smell goblin.”

    “Yes, that’s where the goblin in charge of the camp can usually be found,” Hermione said. “His name is Ripclaw. No, he doesn’t have actual claws.”

    “I know how goblins look.” Ari sniffed. “They don’t have claws.”

    “I meant the weapon - the bagh nakh, or ‘tiger’s claw’,” Hermione explained, then conjured an example.

    “Rather weak tiger,” Ari commented with a frown.

    “They were mostly used as a concealed weapon for self-defence, as far as I know,” Hermione replied. “Among muggles.”

    “Ah.” Ari nodded as if that explained everything. Perhaps it did.

    “Anyway,” Harry said before Hermione could start a discussion about muggle weapons, “we’re here to get Tahira treated, and Ripclaw’s the goblin to ask about that.” Usually the only goblin in the camp as well.

    “Of course. I remember the good fellow fondly!”

    Harry rolled his eyes while Ron coughed. He doubted that Ripclaw remembered Lockhart fondly - the goblin seemed to loathe all Curse-Breakers. Not that it mattered - goblins loved gold more than they hated wizards and witches, and tomb raiding was a highly profitable business for Gringotts. A high-risk profession for their employees, but they probably considered that a bonus.

    Well, that didn’t matter right now. As long as they had the gold to pay - and they had, Harry had ensured that al-Jinn sent enough gold with them - Ripclaw would let them use the Thief’s Downfall he had installed. It had saved a number of Curse-Breakers, but at a high cost, of course.

    And then they could finally…

    “Harry!”

    ...meet Auntie and Sirius.

    Harry smiled widely as he turned to face his aunt and his godfather. He loved them and he knew that they loved him, even though they might occasionally have some differences. Like now, he added to himself when he saw Auntie’s expression.

    “Hello, Petunia, Sirius,” Hermione said.

    “Hello! Ari, Petunia and Sirius, Harry’s aunt and godfather. Petunia, Sirius - this is Ari.” Ron gestured at the witch. “You know Lockhart. This is Mr Mallory, and this is Mr Sayadi.”

    “Hello,” Ari said and sniffed the air. “Dog,” she said.

    Sirius chuckled, but Auntie nodded at the others, glared at Lockhart, which shut the man up as far as Harry could tell, then went and hugged Harry. “You didn’t tell us you’d be coming to visit,” she said with a frown, taking a step back and looking him over as if he had just returned from Hogwarts or a Quidditch match.

    “Well… it was a spontaneous decision. Sort of an emergency,” Harry defended himself. “And we thought you were still on your own expedition.”

    “An emergency? You didn’t start a war or burn down a town, did you?” Auntie asked with an expression that clearly said he better have not.

    Once more, Sirius chuckled. “Oh, I don’t think…”

    “Only a palace,” Ari interrupted him. “And we joined war, didn’t start it.”

    Harry winced as Auntie’s frown deepened. Sirius, though, whistled. “Wow. We never set a palace on fire!”

    “It wasn’t our fault,” Harry quickly replied.

    “And not mine either,” Ron added.

    “Well, technically, all of this wouldn’t have happened if you and Tahira hadn’t had a falling out,” Hermione couldn’t help pointing out.

    “I wouldn’t call that a fault!” Lockhart declared. “Your help in freeing the poor captives from Bey’s harem was invaluable for me, after all!”

    “You broke into a harem?” Sirius exclaimed. “We never did that!”

    “I didn’t!” Harry defended himself. “Hermione and Ari did; I broke into Bey’s vault.”

    “And blew up his palace,” Ron added.

    “That wasn’t my fault. Besides, the Chimaera chasing you did more damage to the palace than my explosives,” Harry retorted.

    “You blew up the palace of the Bey of Tunis and broke into his harem?” Auntie asked in the same tone she had used when Harry had told her about their last trip to Tunis.

    “No. It was his son’s palace and harem,” Ari corrected her.

    That didn’t seem to improve Auntie’s mood at all.

    “It was his idea,” Harry said, pointing at Lockhart.

    He couldn’t help but smile widely when he saw Lockhart freeze, clearly caught between his urge to claim the fame for himself and his self-preservation instincts as Auntie turned towards him.

    Finally, payback!

    *****​

    “So you are responsible for this!”

    “Well… you see, my dear… I merely asked for their help in saving a poor enslaved witch.”

    “Did you just call me ‘dear’?”

    “Petunia! I meant Petunia!”

    “That’s ‘Mrs Black’ to you!”

    “I can speak for myself, Sirius.”

    Ron Weasley didn’t bother to hide his grin as Petunia and Sirius stalked towards Lockhart, who wasn’t looking as confident and self-assured any more.

    “We need help from him,” Ari said, pointing at Mr Sayadi, “and his friend said we needed to help free witches from Bey’s harem to get help.”

    “Really?” Sirius glared at the Tunisian wizard.

    Mr Sayadi’s smile grew a little strained as well, but the man met Sirius’s eyes. “Your children were hardly fazed by the request, nor were they truly forced. We made a deal, nothing more, and they were more than up to the task.” He turned towards Ron and his friends. “You wouldn’t have accepted if you hadn’t been certain that you could do it, would you?”

    “Of course not!” Harry replied, a moment before Petunia said: “Of course they would!”

    “Auntie! Things got a little out of hand, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle!” Harry actually pouted, Ron saw.

    “A little out of hand?”

    “Well… no one got hurt. No one important, at least. Or seriously.”

    “Only Lockhart,” Ari said.

    “My plan worked perfectly. If not for dear Tahira mistaking me for Bey, which was absolutely understandable at the time, everything would have gone according to plan.”

    “Apart from the Chimaera chasing me,” Ron couldn’t help pointing out.

    “I knocked the creature out as soon as I was aware of the problem,” Lockhart replied. “And you led it on a merry chase, indeed.”

    “His plan?” Petunia was glaring at everyone now. “I guess I should be glad he didn’t disguise the lot of you as harem girls to enter the palace.”

    “Only me and Hermione,” Ari said. “Ron and Harry were the slave merchants. Lockhart stayed outside.”

    Petunia blinked, then turned to Lockhart. “You actually did it? You bastard!”

    “I had everything under control!”

    “From outside the wards?”

    “I’m a Curse-Breaker, I can deal with wards!”

    “You’re a bloody egomaniac!” Petunia kneed Lockhart in the groin, but the wizard merely winced and took a step back.
    “Now see here… that was uncalled f…”

    Whatever charm or cup had protected the man’s groin did nothing for his face when Petunia hit him with an uppercut that sent him sprawling. Then she whirled to face Ron and his friends. “And you! What were you thinking!”

    “Not much, I’d think,” Sirius added, and Ron caught him flicking his wand at the groaning Lockhart.

    “We had it under control,” Harry said, frowning.

    “It was a calculated risk,” Hermione added - not quite as helpfully, in Ron’s opinion, as she probably thought. “And we couldn’t have known about the Storm Wizards and the jinn.”

    “Storm Wizards?” Sirius stared at them.

    “Jinn? You didn’t expect the jinn after Ron was chased by their princess and wrecked half of Tunis?” Petunia asked.

    “That wasn’t my fault!” Ron replied reflexively. “Should I have let her catch me?”

    “Was fault of stupid spirit,” Ari added. “Which is now cursed.”

    “You cursed her?” Petunia frowned.

    “No, the Storm Wizards did.”

    “Perhaps we should talk about this in a less public place,” Mallory cut in.

    Ron hated to agree with the man, but he was right.

    *****​

    “...and then we travelled here, using flying carpets and Apparition to get around the protections and guards.”

    While Harry finished retelling the latest events of their expedition, Ron Weasley looked around the inside of Petunia and Sirius’s enchanted Range Rover. Yes, such a car would be perfect for them. Plenty of rooms in the interior, tastefully decorated. Almost as roomy as The Burrow, probably. Not as cosy, though.

    “To sum up: You wrecked the palace of the Bey’s son in Tunis, freed several of his slaves, poisoned his pet, were attacked by wizards led by Kohlmeier - one of the most wanted dark wizards in the world - and then got involved in a war between Kohlmeier’s Storm Wizards and the jinn and are now trying to get a curse on Princess Tahira lifted.”

    “Yes,” Harry said, nodding. “As I said - we have it under control.”

    “You call that control?” Petunia shook her head. “This is worse than anything we did during the war.”

    “Well, I think the trap in the City of the Dead was worse,” Sirius said. “They haven’t been chased by an army of zombies and mummies.”

    Ron had heard of that particular adventure and nodded in agreement.

    “You’re not helping, Sirius,” Petunia told him.

    “Auntie, we can handle it,” Harry said. “All we need is to get Tahira through the Thief’s Downfall, and Mr Sayadi can work on the translation.”

    “And we’re not personae non gratae in Tunis any more,” Ron added.

    “Until the Bey finds out who attacked his son’s harem.” Petunia scoffed.

    “Rescuing the girls was the right thing to do,” Harry said.

    “We don’t dispute that,” Sirius said. “But trusting his plan?” He pointed at Lockhart, who was still staring into his oversized mirror - presumably to check if his face had been healed correctly by Mr Sayadi after Petunia’s blow and Sirius’s Pimple Hex had hit it.

    “It worked!” the man protested without taking his eyes off of his own reflection.

    “No thanks to you!” Petunia snapped.

    “You can’t know that.”

    “Peace, peace!” Mr Sayadi interjected. “We’re all on the same side here, aren’t we?”

    “I sure hope so,” Mallory said. Turning to Petunia, he added: “Although I think you are being a little overprotective. Mr Potter and his friends are very skilled wizards and witches.”

    “Yes, Auntie!” Harry agreed, then frowned when Petunia glared at him.

    The two stared at each other for a few seconds, then Harry’s aunt sighed. “I just worry about you. All of you.”

    “Well, we’re just doing what you’re doing,” Harry said.

    “That’s why I’m worried,” she replied.

    “And I worry about you,” Harry shot back.

    Ari snorted. “Danger is part of the job, isn’t it?”

    Petunia sighed again and muttered something not complimentary about Ron’s brother.

    “Well, we still have a jinni to save,” Ron said before Petunia could ask who had told Ari one of Bill’s favourite lines, “and a mystery to solve.”

    “And you’re busy with your own expedition, right, Auntie?” Harry asked.

    Ron winced as Petunia’s eyes narrowed. “Are you trying to get rid of us?” she asked.

    “Not like that!” Harry protested. “But this is our expedition! Our big break!”

    Hermione, of course, nodded in agreement.

    “Don’t you think that having Kohlmeier after you is a little more important than being first in an expedition?” Sirius said.

    “We don’t know that he’s after us,” Hermione pointed out.

    “He’s certainly after Omar!” Lockhart cut in. “I’ve written to several of my mercenary contacts to check if there’s a bounty on anyone’s head. Other than on Kohlmeier himself, of course.”

    “We’re not about to steal your fame,” Petunia said, “but you can’t expect us to sit back and do nothing while you’re caught in the middle of this.”

    “Exactly. Harry - this isn’t some bandit or pirate. This is one of the most infamous dark wizards in the world. If he were after us, we’d ask you for help,” Sirius said.

    “Really?” Harry sounded doubtful. Ron had to agree.

    “Well, you’d want to help us if our positions were reversed, right?” Petunia asked.

    “Of course!” Harry replied, then pressed his lips together and looked at Hermione.

    “More help is better than dying for pride,” Ari said.

    Ron couldn’t argue with that. Before he could agree, he heard a gong.

    “Someone’s at the wards,” Sirius said, drawing his wand. He tapped the window next to him, changing the view from a dune to the camp. “It’s Bill and Fleur.”

    Ron wasn’t sure if he should smile or frown at the news. He loved Bill, but…

    Sirius flicked his wand, and the door of the car’s living room opened, revealing Bill and Fleur. “Come in! Everyone’s here!”

    “Bill!” Ron said, smiling. “Fleur.”

    “Ron!” Bill beamed at him, though Ron didn’t miss how his big brother looked him over, checking for wounds or curses. “Hello, everyone!”

    Ron’s smile slipped a little at the glance from Bill - Ron had been about to make introductions without the prompt. “Everyone - my brother Bill and his wife, Fleur. Bill, Fleur - this is Ari.” He wrapped his arm around her waist, then nodded at the others. “Mr Mallory, Mr Sayadi, and you know Lockhart already.”

    “So this is the witch who finally managed to catch our wild Ron!” Bill smiled at Ari.

    Ari, though, was sniffing the air and staring at Fleur. “Bird.”

    “I’m a Veela,” Fleur corrected her with a glare.

    “She can transform into a bird,” Ron explained, “like you can transform into a jaguar.”

    “We don’t just transform - we are of jaguar blood,” Ari said.

    “And Fleur keeps her clothes when transforming. Most of the time,” Bill added with a grin that earned him a glare from Fleur. Ron wanted to sigh - it had been too much to hope that that particular incident at the family dinner wouldn’t quickly spread to every Weasley who hadn’t been present.

    The French witch, though, was frowning at Mr Sayadi, Ron noticed. “Mr Sayadi insisted on us helping Lockhart save a girl imprisoned in a harem,” he quickly said.

    “Really?” Fleur looked sceptical.

    “Indeed, Mademoiselle,” Mr Sayadi said. “Contrary to my reputation in some circles, I am no friend of slavers.”

    “I can vouch for my friend,” Lockhart spoke up, flashing his smile. “I’m sure you’ve heard of me.”

    “Yes, I have,” Fleur replied, which made Lockhart smile even more. “You claimed you were ‘caught’ by a ‘Veela allure’ even though there is no such thing!” She glared at him.

    “Ah…”

    “That’s exactly what you said when you cheated on me.” Petunia scoffed.

    Lockhart frowned. “That was over twenty years ago! How long will you hold a grudge?”

    Judging by Petunia’s glare, for at least another twenty years, Ron thought. Although that was probably over Lockhart’s recent actions as well.

    “Until you stop being a twit and apologise for cheating on her and trying to steal her fame!” Harry said with a sneer.

    “I wasn’t stealing her fame - my book made her famous!” Lockhart tried to defend himself.

    “As the ‘plucky squib’ you had to save, even though I was the one who had to save you!” Petunia spat.

    “I was doing all the casting!” Lockhart replied.

    “And I was doing all the thinking.”

    “Shouldn’t we focus on saving the princess?”

    “Princess?” Bill frowned, then looked at Ron. “He’s not talking about the jinni, is he?”

    Of course his brother would make the connection from Mr Sayadi’s home to Tahira. “Yes. Tahira got cursed by a Storm Wizard,” Ron explained.

    “Stupid spirit got bound twice!” Ari added.

    Fleur nodded, scoffing. “Jinn are so full of themselves, they always overestimate their power.”

    “And they’re jealous of your beauty,” Bill added with a grin.

    “Of course,” Fleur said with a smirk.

    “But what is this about a Storm Wizard?”

    Harry shrugged. “We’ve been fighting Kohlmeier and his Storm Wizards,” he said, far too nonchalantly in Ron’s opinion - Harry was overdoing the cool Curse-Breaker act again.

    “Kohlmeier? The Butcher of Silesia?” Fleur exclaimed with a gasp.

    “You’ve been fighting him?” Bill stared. “It’s a good thing we came by, then.”

    Ron winced. It was good to see Bill, and he loved his big brother, but… This felt a little too much like Bill coming to their rescue. They weren’t kids any more.

    On the other hand, they could use the help. And at least it was keeping it in the family.

    *****​

    “Lockhart’s taking Tahira to Ripclaw now. Bill and Fleur are showing Ron and Ari around. Mr Mallory is brewing another potion.” At least the man had said that that was what he was going to do before disappearing into his own wizarding tent.

    “And Auntie and Sirius are planning our next step.”

    Hermione Granger nodded as she sat down next to Harry on the bed in ‘their room’. He sounded more than a little bitter. “We need the help,” she said.

    He sighed, staring at the book in his lap. She doubted that he had read a single page. “I wouldn’t mind if they were merely helping,” he said after a moment, turning to look at her with a frown. “But they’re taking over.” He snorted. “Even gave us our own room without asking.”

    “It’s safer,” Hermione said. The Range Rover would spend the night disillusioned and hovering at a random spot in the desert.

    “I know.” Harry pressed his lips together and closed the book, dropping it more than putting it down on the floor.

    She bit her lower lip to refrain from calling him out on it. “And you don’t like it.”

    He sighed again. “We’re not kids any more. We’ve been working as Curse-Breakers for years! And now Auntie and Sirius are taking over.”

    She nodded. “I know.” All their work, and now they would have to share. It vexed her. “But we need the help.”

    He snorted. “This should have been our big discovery. Our expedition.”

    “Financed by Sirius,” she had to point out.

    “No one cares about that when it comes to discoveries.”

    He was right, of course. “Well, they won’t try to steal our fame.” Unlike Lockhart.

    “I know. But they’re already famous - people will think they did the real work, and we tagged along.” Harry slumped.

    She leaned over and wrapped her arm around his shoulders. That was true as well. “It’s not our fault.” That didn’t change it, of course.

    He nodded. “It’s Kohlmeier’s fault. If he weren’t involved, they wouldn’t be so concerned.”

    “Do you think so? They weren’t fine with our Hogwarts expeditions,” she replied. Petunia and Sirius had often overreacted to perfectly sensible activities at Hogwarts.

    “Well… they have to accept that we’re not kids any more, and we know what we’re doing,” Harry said.

    Hermione nodded. But both she and Harry knew perfectly well that that was unlikely - they knew Petunia and Sirius, after all.

    “At least with them focusing on our security, we can work on translating the skull’s words without distractions,” Hermione said. “That should help make up for the time we lost because of Lockhart.”

    “And we’ll get to see the relics in the valley,” Harry added.

    She nodded. With a little luck, that would allow them to crack the secret of Atlantis’s location.

    They were certainly due a little luck after everything they had gone through so far.

    *****​
     
    Izicata, TheEyes, RedX and 3 others like this.
  10. Threadmarks: Chapter 15: Revelations
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 15: Revelations

    ‘The goblins are one of the few intelligent magical species that are both social and civilised and can also procreate with humans, yet are not trusted with wands. The giants are the only other extant magical species which shares those traits - and their number has dwindled to such an extent that many Magizoologists believe they’ll become extinct in a few generations. Other species, even those which are naturally inclined to prey on humans, such as hags and vampires, have adapted to human civilisation soon enough, despite the lapses of particular individuals, and are generally well-integrated into the wizarding nations - arguably more integrated than most muggleborns. The jinn and the Nagas formed tribes, and later nations, which behaved like wizarding nations, trading and forming peaceful relations, and when they waged war, it was against other nations, not wizards in general. They also travel to wizarding countries often.
    Goblins, though, keep to themselves and have such a long history of brutal war against humans - and kept rebelling so often after they were subjugated by the Romans - that, to this day, they aren’t allowed wands. That the goblins became known for their love of gold instead of their love for war is a recent development, following their last rebellion, centuries after Gringotts had been founded, and relations remain tense since the goblins still resent being banned from using wands. However, as long as they continue to isolate themselves and display open hostility towards wizardkind even while doing business with us, allowing them the use of wanded magic would be reckless beyond belief and only invite another rebellion.
    But even without wands goblins remain dangerous. This is perfectly illustrated by the fact that it took them no more than a few decades to not only legalise grave robbing in Egypt but also monopolise it. Even taking the corrupt Ottoman authorities in Egypt into account, this achievement demonstrates how cunning the goblins are - and how greedy. They leave the dangerous business of actually raiding the tombs to foolish wizards and witches while they reap the benefits, keeping most treasures unearthed on those expeditions for themselves in a remarkable display of hypocrisy given their claim that everything crafted belongs to its creator and can only be rented.’
    - Excerpt from ‘Goblins: A history of Violence’ by Arthur Parkinson, London, 1932


    *****​

    Egypt, Valley of the Kings, October 1st, 2001

    “So let’s rest?” Harry Potter tilted his head as he leaned towards Hermione, shifting his body just a little bit so they could kiss.

    “Yes, ‘rest’,” Hermione whispered after they broke off the kiss.

    His hands were already moving towards her shirt when another gong went off in the room, followed by Sirius’s voice: “Ripclaw’s tent just went up in flames!”

    Harry closed his eyes and cursed Tahira.

    “Come on, Harry!” Hermione was already at the door.

    Sighing, he followed her.

    When they stepped out of the Range Rover, half a dozen Curse-Breakers had already gathered and were dowsing the tent with Water-Making Spells. Not just the tent, Harry thought when he noticed a soaked Mr Sayadi and a wet and cursing Ripclaw standing at the edge of the crowd.

    “Lockhart!” the goblin screamed. “You’ll pay for this! I’ll have you reimburse me down to every last Knut, you witless, gutless fool!”

    “Couldn’t happen to a nicer goblin or wizard,” Harry mumbled, loud enough for Sirius to snort, Auntie to frown and Hermione to elbow him.

    “The fire isn’t dying down,” Hermione commented, “despite all the water.”

    Indeed, most of the water seemed to be turning into steam, Harry noticed. Then the tent collapsed - the support structure must have burned or melted. No, a part had been left standing… No.

    “There’s Tahira,” Hermione said, pointing at the smouldering fabric covering what looked like a small giant. “But where’s Lockhart?”

    Harry flicked his wand, casting a Human-presence-revealing Spell. A marker appeared over one of the smaller humps covered by canvas. “There!”

    “Is he…?”

    But the marker was moving, slightly but visibly. And then the canvas parted - a Severing Charm; Harry recognised the effect - and Lockhart stood up. He looked rather singed, but not overly hurt. Looking around with wild eyes, he whirled. “Tahira!”

    “Lockhart! My tent!” Ripclaw screamed, running towards the Curse-Breaker.

    “Tahira!” Lockhart yelled. “Calm down!”

    A pillar of fire and steam replaced the canvas-covered figure in the centre of tent’s remains, and a roar filled the air.

    Harry clenched his teeth at the sudden wave of heat he felt, and he saw Ripclaw stagger back, covering his face with his raised arms. Lockhart, though, stood fast. “Tahira! Calm down! You’re safe!”

    Flames shot out in all directions, followed by billowing smoke. Lockhart’s Shield Charm parted the flames, but it wouldn’t keep out all of the heat, Harry knew.

    “Tahira!”

    Just when it seemed the fool would get consumed by the fire, the flames started to retreat, the fire to fade and the smoke to dissipate, revealing Tahira, ten feet tall. “Gilderoy?”

    Lockhart nodded, then toppled over.

    “Gilderoy!”

    *****​

    “You know, Lockhart really has remarkable dramatic timing,” Hermione said half an hour, lots of screaming and a dozen healing charms cast under the watchful eye of Tahira later. “If I hadn’t cast the Diagnosis Spell myself, I would have suspected him to have faked his collapse.”

    “He didn’t look that hurt,” Harry Potter replied, watching the door behind which Lockhart was recovering.

    “He was dehydrated,” Hermione explained. “His charms weren’t able to completely protect him against the jinni’s heat.”

    “Ah. So all they have to do is to fill him with water?”

    She rolled his eyes at that, but he saw her lips twitch. “They need to rehydrate him.”

    He shrugged. “As long as he survives.” Lockhart was a git, but he had guts. Standing up to a raging jinni…

    “He will. He wasn’t in any serious danger. Unless Tahira had lost control again,” Hermione said.

    “Stupid spirit,” Ari muttered.

    “I almost suspect that her grandfather encourages her to travel just so she doesn’t burn down their home,” Ron said.

    They had a chuckle at that, but before Harry could add to the joke, the door was slammed open, and Tahira stormed into the room.

    “We need to return to the valley at once! There’s a traitor among us!”

    *****​

    “So, the first girl you bring home to meet the ’rents is a half-jaguar witch from the Amazon rainforest.”

    Ron Weasley snorted at Bill’s comment as he rose from where he had been checking the Range Rover’s undercarriage.

    “Fleur and Ari are inside our tent,” Bill answered his question before he could ask it, nodding towards the tent ten yards from them. “We can speak freely.”

    Both chuckled at the joke, though only briefly. “I don’t really have anything to hide from her.”

    “Really?”

    Bill didn’t have to sound so sceptical, in Ron’s opinion. “Really.”

    “Even your past affairs?”

    This time, he rolled his eyes. “I’m not the Casanova of the family.”

    “Well, you certainly gave it a good try after I met Fleur,” Bill replied with a faint grin.

    Ron stared at him, and Bill held up his hands.

    “Sorry. Just trying to lighten the mood a little.”

    “What for?” Sure, they were in a bit of a pickle, but they had the situation under control.

    “Well, Mum’s going to push you towards marriage. She’ll assume you’re serious. She did it with me and Fleur.”

    Ron nodded, watching the camp’s perimeter - the part he could spot from here. “We’ve talked about it, Ari and I.”

    “What?”

    Ron glanced at his brother. Bill looked surprised. “We talked about it. Kids and stuff, you know.”

    “You are serious.”

    Looking at Bill’s expression, Ron was tempted to snap that Sirius was inside the car. “Why are you so surprised?” he asked instead.

    “Well… I mean…” Bill sighed. “Here I was all set to offer you my support and advice, and you’re…” He flicked his hand.

    “I don’t need it, but thanks,” Ron replied with a grin. He wasn’t just emulating his brother.

    Bill snorted at that. “Cocky, are we?”

    “That’s your fault,” Ron shot back with a chuckle.

    “Mum and Petunia think everything you lot did is my fault,” Bill grumbled.

    Ron merely grinned. There were a few advantages to having a big brother like Bill. He made a very good scapegoat, for one. “She’s different,” he said after a moment.

    “Different?”

    “Different from the others.”

    “I’ll say.”

    Ron glared at him. “She’s a genius with languages and a very skilled witch.” Ari wouldn’t take years to lose her accent like Fleur, he was sure of that.

    “I didn’t mean it like that,” Bill replied, holding up his hands again. “Then again, Tahira is a jinni. And then the school of sirens...”

    Ron clenched his teeth. He wouldn’t have minded if that particular story had remained a secret. At least from his siblings. “Is there a point to this?”

    Bill smiled. “Sorry. I’m still trying to get used to the fact that my youngest brother is thinking about marriage and kids.”

    “Fred and George have been in relationships far longer,” Ron pointed out.

    “Well, they’re also two years older than you.”

    That again. “Are you going to talk like that to Ginny as well? She’s younger than I, and she’s been with Luna longer as well.”

    Bill stared at him. “Do I look stupid? You know her!”

    Ron rolled his eyes again, but Bill reached out and clasped his shoulder with a smile. “Hey. I’m just kidding. You know, everyone is proud of you.”

    Ron shrugged his hand off and snorted, but he was smiling as well.

    *****​

    Egypt, Sahara, October 2nd, 2001

    “That traitor! Rahid! He stunned me from behind!” Tahira snarled. “We have to hurry home!”

    “We actually don’t,” Harry said. “I’ve sent a Patronus to inform your grandfather.”

    Ron Weasley, sitting in the Range Rover’s living room next to Ari - between her and the jinni princess, actually - nodded.

    “But we are heading to the Valley of the Jinn,” Hermione added with a slight frown towards them.

    “Not fast enough,” Tahira snapped. “I could fly much faster than this contraption!”

    “So go on!” Ari sneered, exposing her teeth. “Go and get bound a third time, silly smokestack!”

    Fleur, sitting in an only slightly enlarged armchair with Bill, giggled at that, and Tahira snarled at both witches. “You animals think this is amusing?”

    “Yes,” Ari replied.

    “No, they don’t,” Hermione said, glaring at Ron - as if he could do anything about it.

    “We find your impatience and lack of decorum amusing,” Fleur cut in with a smile so smug, Malfoy would have been envious.

    “You…” Tahira growled, and Ron saw wisps of smoke appear around her nose.

    “No fire or growing inside!” Petunia, standing in the doorway, snapped. “And no egging each other on,” she added with a glare at Fleur and Ari. “Really!” She shook her head. “We’re crossing the border to Libya. Do try not to wreck our car.”

    “As long as she doesn’t call me an animal again,” Fleur said with a sniff.

    “But you are, aren’t you?” Ari asked, sounding puzzled. “Bird.”

    “I most certainly am not an animal!” Fleur snapped, glaring at her.

    “Takes one to know one,” Tahira added with a sneer of her own. “Two birds of a feather.”

    “I’m no bird!” Ari protested. “She is. I’m a jaguar!”

    “I’m a Veela, though I assume it’s hard to remember that with only hot air between one’s ears.”

    “You half-breed!”

    “Half-bird you mean,” Ari not-so-helpfully corrected the jinni.

    This was going to be a long trip.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, October 2nd, 2001

    Finding the Valley of the Jinn from the air would have been more difficult than he had thought, Ron Weasley realised when Tahira ordered them to land in a spot he only recognised as the entrance to the valley after they had touched the ground. He assumed it was hidden by illusions.

    “Can’t we fly inside?” Mallory asked.

    “No.” Tahira shook her head as she stepped out of the Range Rover. “No guest flies into the valley.”

    Ari snorted but - for once - didn’t comment, to Ron’s relief.

    “Typical,” Fleur muttered.

    “A half-breed shouldn’t mind walking; flying is reserved for those who are part air, not part bird.” The jinni scoffed as she walked towards the wardline - which, as a discreet detection spell revealed to Ron, hadn’t yet been completely restored with all its former spells. That would take more time - and it would take much, much more time until the spells had grown powerful with age once more. They had restored the Anti-Apparition Jinxes, though.

    But the guards were there - a dozen of them, this time, two thirds of them in the air. “Halt!”

    “I’ve returned,” Tahira told them in Arabic. “And I bring news of a traitor!”

    “Or a victim like you,” Fleur said.

    “Veela!” the apparent leader of the jinn guards snarled, and wands and arrows were levelled at the French witch.

    Fleur pressed her lips together but faced them with a haughty expression. Bill, of course, backed her up, his wand drawn.

    Sometimes, Ron thought, the French were too brave and proud for their own good.

    “She’s with us,” Harry said. “Family.”

    “Kin,” Hermione added.

    The jinn didn’t lower their weapons, but the tension seemed to lessen. At least a little.

    “Stupid airheads,” Ari muttered under her breath.

    Sometimes, her gift for languages wasn’t very helpful, either.

    “Send for Grandfather!” Tahira snapped. “And go and apprehend Rahid! He is either a traitor or bound!”

    The leader of the guards hesitated a moment, then nodded sharply at one of the flying jinn, who quickly shot off towards their village.

    A few minutes later, al-Jinn landed, flanked by another dozen armed jinn.

    “Grandfather!” Tahira took a step towards him, then stopped.

    Al-Jinn flicked his wand, narrowed his eyes for a moment, then smiled. “Tahira.”

    A moment later, the two were hugging, and Tahira was talking rapidly in Arabic - Ron didn’t catch everything, but ‘Rahid’ was mentioned several times.

    “Thought they couldn’t detect the Imperius Curse,” Ari whispered.

    “It’s very hard to detect,” Hermione replied. “Which makes it even harder to break than it already is, with how deeply it affects the mind.”

    “Without ruining the mind in the process,” Ron added. Al-Jinn had detected it on Tahira before, so he must have known what to look for.

    “Goblins can do it,” Ari pointed out.

    “Yes.” Ron didn’t have to look at his friends to know they were frowning just like he was; that the goblins had an easy way to remove the Imperius Curse - and other curses - but mainly used it to protect Ripclaw’s vault against thieves, not to help out the Curse-Breakers, was a shame. Once someone managed to duplicate the goblin magic, there would be a reckoning.

    “Welcome to our Valley,” al-Jinn said, bowing after Tahira had finally finished her tale and inviting them into the valley. “You have our thanks for freeing my granddaughter.”

    “Again,” Ari said with a snort that made Tahira glare and her grandfather chuckle.

    “But as she has proven, she wasn’t the only one who had been enslaved. I think we need to acquire such a device for the village,” al-Jinn went on.

    “The goblins guard every Thief’s Downfall very carefully,” Bill told him.

    “Which is very selfish of them,” Lockhart said. “To hoard such devices for their own gain… Goblins!”

    “We can pay,” al-Jinn said.

    “They’ll squeeze you for your last Galleon,” Ron added. Goblins were like that.

    “It might be worth it,” al-Jinn replied. “Detecting the Imperius Curse or a binding is a difficult and lengthy task few among us can manage, so we cannot check every member of the Clan in a timely manner. Of course, if we have to pay them with all our treasures, that would also reduce the number of thieves attacking us, I believe.” He chuckled. “But perhaps we’ll merely ask for the right to use one of their devices when our people return to the village.”

    “Well, Ripclaw won’t be very friendly; not after his tent burned down,” Ron said.

    “By her,” Ari added, staring at Tahira.

    Who, judging by al-Jinn’s expression, hadn’t revealed that little detail yet.

    “I lost my temper,” she said, glaring at Ari, who sneered back.

    Al-Jinn sighed. “It seems acquiring access to such a device will be more difficult than I had hoped. More expensive as well, I fear.”

    Which was, in Ron’s experience, perfectly normal when dealing with goblins.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, October 3rd, 2001

    “If you’ll follow me.” Al-Jinn gestured towards the temple’s spire.

    “Of course.” Hermione Granger nodded in response, smiling widely. Finally, they would be shown the relics that had been left in the Clan’s care! She noted that the field in front of the spire no longer showed any sign of the shaft through which the thieves had escaped. Not even the few tufts of grass looked different compared to the rest of the field. She wanted to cast a detection spell to check whether it was an illusion, but al-Jinn’s path didn’t take them close enough.

    “You will be the first outsiders to see the relics in a thousand years,” he said as they approached the temple.

    “We’re honoured,” Ron replied.

    Hermione swallowed her own reply. If not for them insisting that they be granted access as promised, they still wouldn’t be allowed to study the relics - the old jinni had tried to stall them again by sending everyone back to Egypt to negotiate with the goblins. Fortunately, everybody had had to agree that even without Harry, Ron, Ari and herself, as well as Mr Mallory, the delegation would be safe enough. For once, Lockhart’s ego had worked in their favour since the man couldn’t claim he needed help - especially not when travelling with Petunia, Sirius, Bill and Fleur. And Mr Sayadi, of course, who refused to leave Lockhart’s side.

    “Indeed,” Mr Mallory added.

    She glanced at him; if he looked any more eager, he’d start drooling. They’d have to keep an eye on him.

    “Yes,” Harry added a little belatedly, “though how many have passed your test before?”

    “Oh, a number of people,” al-Jinn answered with a smile.

    “Ah.” Harry’s tone told Hermione that, like herself, he saw through the jinni’s evasive answer.

    Ari sniffed, and not, or not just, to check for scents.

    They entered the spire and headed down the stairs - which were still better guarded than the Valley’s entrance. The room in which they had fought the thieves had been restored as well - including the half a dozen pedestals, now empty, which had held relics. As during Harry’s ‘test’, the door leading downstairs was open already, with Zaid standing guard.

    “Were the relics in this room less important or otherwise distinguished from the remaining ones?” Hermione asked as they approached.

    Al-Jinn glanced at her before answering. “The ones the thieves took were items crafted by our ancestors for the clan.”

    “Which means that the ones below us weren’t made by jinn,” Hermione replied.

    Al-Jinn smiled again. “Perceptive.”

    “Thank you.” She didn’t feel flattered - the deduction was obvious, especially given the jinn’s habit of mincing words.

    “We found them,” he went on.

    “Found them, or looted them?” Harry asked.

    “Both, in a way.”

    The jinni didn’t seem to be able to give a straight answer unless circumstances absolutely demanded it. “From Atlanteans?” Hermione asked.

    Al-Jinn hesitated a second longer, this time, staring at her, before he nodded, his smile turning slightly crooked. “From an Atlantean.”

    “After Atlantis sank.” Hermione met his eyes.

    “What makes you say that?” he asked.

    “They didn’t crush your valley and take them back.”

    He chuckled. “You don’t think highly of our martial prowess. At that time, wizards didn’t wield wands.”

    “Neither did you,” she retorted. “And as impressive as your inherent powers are, the Atlanteans had an empire. Further, the existence of ‘relics’ implies that they had already mastered the art of enchanting items. That would compensate, a little at least, for the lack of wands.” Not to mention that, apparently, creatures like Ari’s people were fighting for them as well.

    He laughed this time. “Well reasoned.”

    She inclined her head in response. And when she caught Harry beaming at her, she couldn’t help smiling back. All of them were getting a little tired of the jinn mincing words.

    Al-Jinn sighed. “Indeed, the Atlanteans and their creatures fought well - many of us died defending our ancestral lands, and, despite their sacrifice, we were forced to retreat. If not for their island sinking, we would have likely been enslaved - by them, or their enemies.”

    “The Greeks and Egyptians,” Hermione replied.

    “Yes. At best we would have turned into clients paying tribute for protection.”

    “Which is why you relocated to the deserts and mountains.” Where the humans wouldn’t follow; not when fertile lands were there to be fought over after the Atlantean Empire had vanished.

    “Yes.” He nodded and led them past Zaid, who hadn’t said a single word so far, down to the next level, where the red crystal vault waited. She didn’t look at it, of course - she wouldn’t put it past the jinni to use the enchantment on the vault to fool her with an illusion. Even if that meant that she couldn’t observe how it was opened.

    Al-Jinn smirked, then turned to the door. Hermione heard Ari sniff once more. “Blood,” the other witch whispered.

    Keyed to al-Jinn’s blood - or his family’s blood, more likely, Hermione thought. Which meant Tahira’s blood would be able to open the vault if the other safeguards were dealt with. She was mulling the possibilities over - as every Curse-Breaker worth their salt would have done when faced with such a situation - until she heard al-Jinn speak.

    “You didn’t trust me?”

    “Just being cautious,” Harry said.

    Hermione was only half-listening. The vault was open in front of her, and she could see several staves on pedestals, a broken globe - and a cauldron.

    Oh, yes! This was exactly what she had been waiting for.

    She entered with a wide smile. The staves varied in length. Two of them were rather short, only about two feet long. The others ranged between five and six feet. Various runes - Atlantean style - covered them, beautifully carved and inlaid with gold, with jewels mounted on the top. And the globe… It was broken, missing a quarter to a third of its mass, but… She cocked her head. Yes. It wasn’t a perfect sphere. Flattened poles - it was a globe. But there were no lands nor seas marked on it. Only runes.

    The cauldron overshadowed everything, though. The size of a jacuzzi, it looked like it was made of solid gold, and it was covered in intricate runes - a spiderweb of delicate lines, far finer than the ones on the staves, covered every inch of its surface, and gems lined the rim. And the spells on it...

    “We’ve lost her.”

    She pressed her lips together and glared at Ron, who grinned back at her. And Harry was smiling as well! She shook her head, huffing, as al-Jinn chuckled.

    “Fascinating, aren’t they? Our heritage, you might say,” the jinni said.

    She understood what he meant. “We’ll be very careful.” Like every Curse-Breaker worth their salt.

    “Zaid will be staying here, in case you need anything.” And to keep an eye on them, of course. Zaid and three others, by the looks of it.

    Hermione didn’t mind - neither she nor her friends had any plans to betray the jinn, and it might deter Mr Mallory from doing something foolish. “Alright.” She turned to look at the group. “Start studying the staves. I’ll take the cauldron.”

    “That should be ‘I’ve taken the cauldron’, shouldn’t it?” Ron just had to add.

    She ignored that feeble joke and looked at Ari.

    “I’ll be guarding you,” the other witch said.

    “Maybe I should I keep watch as well,” Harry suggested.

    “No.” She shook her head again. “We’ll be fine - we’ve dealt with Atlantean wards before.” And they couldn’t take too long over this. Ari could handle any trouble.

    “Alright.” Harry briefly squeezed her hand, before he went over to the first staff while she sat down on a conjured cushion in front of the cauldron - this would take a while.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger twisted her wand, checking the next spell in the intricate weave of spells that covered the cauldron. It was harder than she had thought - she didn’t recognise any of the spells, and barely understood the general purpose of most of them. And those she did… She bit her lower lip. Whatever the cauldron did, it was activated by blood. Lots of blood. And she was certain that its main purpose was related to Transfiguration. But more than that… She exhaled with a huff, closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose.

    “Trouble?”

    Hermione turned her head and caught Harry smiling at her. “Nothing that I didn’t expect,” she replied. Of course, she had hoped that it would be easier, but that hadn’t been the case. She nodded at the staff in his hands. “What about you?”

    “I figured out how to activate it,” he said, smiling. “But I haven’t tried it out yet.”

    “Of course not.” Inside the vault? That would have been far too dangerous.

    “I think I got this one figured out,” Ron said, waving one of the smaller staffs.

    Hermione looked at Mr Mallory. The older wizard frowned. “The spells are unfamiliar.”

    She hadn’t expected anything else - the man was not a trained Curse-Breaker, and the runes were unfamiliar.

    Ari shrugged. “Nothing.”

    Which was a good report from their guard.

    She looked at Zaid. “Can we test them upstairs?” A little break would do them all good. “To test your results is part of a scientific study.”

    He not-quite-glared at her. “I will ask the Elder.” A glance from him had a jinni fly upstairs.

    A few minutes later, the jinni returned. “The Elder allows it,” she told Zaid.

    Zaid turned and nodded at them. Hermione had to fight not to roll her eyes at the posturing and instead keep smiling. “Thank you,” she said.

    “It’s the Elder’s decision.”

    They made their way upstairs, to the larger room. It had withstood - mostly - a pitched battle between dozens of participants. It certainly should be able to handle a little testing.

    Al-Jinn was there already - as were a dozen jinn, all of them standing and floating at the entrance of the room. Zaid stayed at the stairs leading to the vault with his group.

    Hermione flicked her wand, conjuring a stone statue which had some superficial similarities to a Storm Wizard.

    “Thank you,” Harry said, grinning as he took a step forward and cast a Shield Charm.

    Everyone quickly copied him, and Mr Mallory even took a step back - almost joining Zaid’s group.

    Hermione stood her ground, of course, as Harry levelled the staff at the statue. A moment later, a bolt of fire flew towards it, splashing against its chest in a small shower of flames and sparks. He repeated the action, sending another bolt at the target.

    The runes briefly glowed as the bolt formed and shot forward, Hermione noticed. If that happened with all staves, it would have made using them a little obvious. It didn’t matter with this staff, of course - the bolt of fire was very obvious.

    She conjured a few more targets, wooden ones. The wooden targets were set on fire.

    “Weak,” Ari said.

    “Did you use it correctly?” Mr Mallory asked. “This was… underwhelming.”

    “I did,” Harry replied as he lowered the staff. “And it performed as expected.”

    “What?” Mr Mallory said.

    “The Atlanteans didn’t have wands,” Hermione explained. “None of their contemporaries had them. The staff would have been quite powerful at the time.”

    “Oh.”

    “Indeed,” al-Jinn cut in as he floated towards them. “We often used these staves in battle, but after we acquired wands, they fell out of use.”

    “I guess this one isn’t very powerful either, then,” Ron said, holding up a smaller staff.

    Instead of answering, al-Jinn gestured at the line of targets.

    A moment later, a thin stream of water shot out of the staff, but only reached about ten yards before it hit the ground.

    “A weak variant of the Water-Making Spell,” Ron said.

    “Very valuable in the desert,” Hermione pointed out. Not useful for battling anything but a campfire, though.

    “What a disappointment!” Mr Mallory spat. “I’ll be in my tent.”

    Al-Jinn’s smile widened as the wizard stalked towards the stairs leading upwards. But if he expected Hermione and her friends to join Mr Mallory, al-Jinn would be disappointed.

    She would uncover the cauldron’s secrets.

    *****​

    Hermione was still engrossed in her work, Harry Potter noted when he put down another staff - probably one that discharged lightning, based on his analysis of the spells and runes. She hadn’t moved much during the last few hours, remaining seated on a conjured cushion and staring at the cauldron. At the spells on the cauldron, to be exact.

    “Hey,” he said, softly - as a rule, you didn’t startle Curse-Breakers when they were working, regardless of whether or not they were dealing with wards at the time. “Hey,” he repeated when she didn’t react. “It’s dinner time.”

    She mumbled an intelligible reply without taking her eyes off the cauldron.

    He gently shook his head with a smile - he had expected that. “Hermione, dinner time. You need to eat.”

    “Hm?”

    Progress. “It’s time to take a break for dinner,” he said, a little louder.

    “Oh.” She was blinking now.

    Ron chuckled behind him. “See? Lost in spells.”

    She sniffed in response, then winced and groaned when she tried to stand up after barely moving for hours. Harry held out his hand, and she took it without hesitation - she really had overdone it and she knew it.

    “Thanks,” she said as she stood.

    “Anytime,” he told her.

    “Dinner time,” Ron cut in. “I’m starving.”

    “Yes,” Ari agreed.

    “Didn’t you have some snacks in your pocket?” Hermione asked with a frown.

    “That’s no replacement for a decent meal,” Ron shot back.

    “You also have rations. One of them should replace a full meal,” Hermione pointed out as they walked out of the vault.

    “Given their taste they certainly don’t replace a full meal,” Ron replied. “Well, they sort of do - they make you lose your appetite.”

    “You’ve been spoiled by Molly’s cooking,” Harry said as Zaid and his guards fell in behind them. They hadn’t moved from their posts for hours either, but didn’t show any signs of discomfort. Probably using their innate flying ability to avoid getting tired, he guessed.

    “They don’t have enough meat,” Ari added.

    “They weren’t meant for half-jaguars,” Hermione retorted. “But you can duplicate the meat portions. Although we might need to study whether your human body requires more meat in its diet or not.” Harry could see her blink and frown. “And we should check how you digest food if you change shape - a jaguar’s digestive system isn’t like a human’s, and since your clothes don’t change with your body, would ingested food change? There could be complications if you change after a meal…”

    “No problems with meat,” Ari said. “No matter my shape.”

    “Then your digestive system is different from a normal human’s,” Hermione said, biting her lower lip. “How might that work?”

    “As long as it works,” Ron said, “I don’t much care.”

    Ari nodded. “Always been like that.”

    Harry knew Hermione wouldn’t let that go - not without a distraction. He cast a privacy spell - after all, only a few of the jinn knew what was stored in the temple’s vault - and asked: “So, did you make any progress?”

    Hermione hesitated a moment, then nodded. “I am certain that it wasn’t used to brew potions. There are too many spells affecting the cauldron’s interior for that.”

    He nodded. Even a single spell cast at a cauldron could ruin a potion - Snape’s lessons had driven that point home. Mostly because of Malfoy’s many attempts to sabotage them, of course - Snape himself hadn’t exactly been a model teacher.

    “But apart from that and that it is activated by blood and related to Transfiguration, I haven’t been able to discern anything else,” she continued, frowning. “The runes and spells are very complex.”

    “Weird. The staves aren’t exactly impressive,” Ron said. “Neither complex nor intricate.”

    “They were impressive for their time,” Harry said. “If every Atlantean wizard had such a staff, they must have been a terror on the battlefield. Even more so if people like Ari’s tribe fought in their ranks.” Most ancient cultures had been limited to ritual magic during the Atlantean epoch. Or enchanted weapons and similar solutions.

    “Which they probably did since the jinn recognised you, Ari,” Hermione said.

    Ari scoffed. “Stupid smoke spirits could be lying. We never left our territory.”

    If that was true - Ari’s tribe might not have had the full history - then how had the jinn recognised her nature? “So it looks like the staves were common among Atlanteans, but the cauldron is far more advanced - possibly unique.” Like the Goblet of Fire.

    “What are the chances of a unique magical item surviving the loss of Atlantis?” Hermione asked.

    Harry grinned. “That depends on how many such items they had created.”

    “And they would certainly try to save them,” Ron added. “So, I’d say: A pretty good chance.”

    Hermione nodded. “It’s a well-founded hypothesis.”

    Which meant she agreed but didn’t want to admit it in case she might be wrong, Harry knew. He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close. “Let’s eat and hope that the negotiations with the goblins won’t take too long.”

    And that the Storm Wizards didn’t return.

    *****​

    Ari wasn’t her usual self. Ron Weasley could tell at a glance when he saw her sitting outside their tent, staring at the lake in the middle of the valley. She wasn’t as tense as she usually was when expecting a fight - which, given her and the jinn’s attitudes, was normal in the valley. But she wasn’t relaxed either. She was hunched over even as she sat in the sand.

    “Oi!” He sat down next to her.

    “Oi.”

    Ron suppressed a frown. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her into his side. “What’s wrong?”

    “I’m obsolete,” she answered without looking at him.

    “What?”

    “Like the staves. Obsolete.” She turned her head to frown at him.

    He blinked. Oh.

    “I can change shape, but not with a wand. Not like the dog. Sirius.”

    He nodded. “You can carry it with you, though.”

    “I can’t fight like that, though.” She scowled, baring her teeth. “Not well,” she amended, raising her hand. “Claws are useless against Shield Charms. Fangs, too.”

    “Not useless,” he said. “You did well against Tahira.”

    She shook her head, her long hair swishing over his shoulder. “When we had no wands, we were powerful. Could change and fight, change back - no need to watch a wand. But everyone has wands. We’re obsolete. Like staves. Not like animagi.”

    Ron refrained from sighing. Instead, he gripped her shoulder more tightly, gently squeezing. He knew how she felt. And how she would hate it if he tried to tell her that she still was special.

    “Like jinn. Or sirens.” She growled.

    “You know, I don’t have any inherent power at all,” he told her with a smile. “Am I obsolete as well?” He didn’t give her time to answer. “I’m not. And neither are you. Petunia isn’t even a witch. She can’t use a wand - but she’s a famous tomb raider. Impressive, too.”

    “Not the same.” She scratched the ground with one finger, forming what looked like an Atlantean rune.

    “Essentially, it is the same,” he corrected her. “You’re a great witch, you’ve got a talent for languages.”

    “Feel stupid. Don’t know much. Not enough.”

    Once more, he had to refrain from sighing. “No one knows enough. Not ever. Just ask Hermione.”

    She snorted at that.

    “I’m serious. You aren’t obsolete. None of us is.” He reached over with his free hand and gently turned her face towards him. “And turning into a jaguar and back is cool. With or without clothes.”

    Another snort. She was smiling now. “You like it without clothes.”

    He didn’t deny it. He leaned forward and kissed her instead.

    When he pulled back, both of them were panting. And she was straddling him. And grinning. Toothily.

    “Let’s head to bed!” he said.

    She blinked, then licked her lips, and he could hear a soft growling.

    “Don’t want the jinn to watch.” Or his friends.

    That made her scowl, but she stood.

    Their bedroom was just a few yards inside the tent, anyway.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, October 4th, 2001

    Hedwig entered the tent a minute after they had started eating breakfast and went straight for the bacon and sausages. Hermione Granger was certain that there was something unnatural about the bird’s timing. She still flicked her wand and stopped the attack with a quickly conjured glass bowl. “No birds on the table during breakfast,” she told her with a stern gaze - which Hedwig ignored.

    “Unless they’re food,” Ari added.

    The post owl didn’t ignore that and hopped over to Harry without letting the witch out of her sight.

    “No eating Hedwig,” Harry muttered. The bird barked in agreement.

    “As long as she doesn’t try to steal our food,” Ron said, chuckling.

    “She did!” Ari said, licking her lips. Hermione hoped that the other witch was joking. On the other hand, Hedwig could do with some humility.

    “See if she ever saves us all again if you treat her like that!” Harry grumbled before feeding the spoiled bird a sausage.

    “That’s probably not good for her,” Hermione pointed out.

    “Rubbish! She knows best what’s good for her! She’s the smartest owl in Britain!” Harry cooed at the preening bird as he took the letter from her leg.

    “What’s it say?” Ron asked, leaning forward.

    Harry opened and skimmed it. “They arrived safely and have started negotiations. Which aren’t going well. Lockhart got a letter from his ‘mercenary contacts’. Apparently, there’s no bounty on Mr Sayadi.”

    Hermione nodded in agreement - she had expected that since Kohlmeier had a very large price on his head himself. He probably would not want to draw such attention from professional bounty hunters. Or Dumbledore.

    “No news yet about possible ties between Bey and Kohlmeier.”

    Hermione doubted that they would find out anything about that in Egypt, or anywhere other than Tunis. “How long do they expect to be in Egypt?”

    “At least a week,” Harry replied.

    That would be enough time to finish their task in the vault. At least she hoped so.

    *****​

    “You didn’t build the temple, did you?” Hermione asked half an hour later when they were on the way to the spire with al-Jinn.

    The jinni cocked his head at her. “Why do you think that?”

    She wanted to roll her eyes at the evasion, but that would have been rude. And have given him an excuse not to answer. “It’s not the same style as the rest of the valley,” she said. “Not even close. And it’s not Atlantean architecture, either,” she added.

    “Ah.” He nodded. “Your reasoning is correct.”

    “Who did it belong to?” Harry asked.

    “A tribe native to the region that was wiped out during the time the Atlanteans tried to conquer the area,” al-Jinn replied.

    He didn’t say they were wiped out by the Atlanteans, Hermione noted. She didn’t push him, though. Neither did Harry. But she kept the titbit in mind. And she was certain that the jinni knew she was doing so.

    She was getting tired of his word games.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, October 6th, 2001

    “The globe’s broken,” Harry said with a sigh.

    Hermione Granger looked up from where she had been studying the spells on the cauldron’s rim. “That was obvious from the start.”

    “Yes.” He frowned at her.

    “But we hoped that we could repair it,” Ron added.

    Repair an Atlantean relic, created with unknown spells, in two days? Since both of them were now frowning at her, Hermione’s expression must have given away her thoughts on that. “And what did you find out?”

    “There are spells on it that trigger a map of sorts,” Harry explained. He flicked his wand, and a dozen lights appeared on the globe’s surface. “But the spells lack a point of reference, so we can’t be certain if the different locations are actually at the right spots. We can’t even tell if the distances between the lights are correct.”

    Hermione briefly studied the lights. They didn’t conform to any world map she was familiar with.

    Ron held up the crystal ball they had found in the jungle. “And it’s not connected to this one, either. As far as we know, at least. There’s just too much missing of the globe.”

    Especially many of the runes, and the spells anchored on them, Hermione knew. “We haven’t been able to find out anything about the crystal ball.”

    “It was a long shot,” Ron said.

    Magical items weren’t lego bricks you could stick together to build something. On the other hand, the ability to try something new was a good quality for a Curse-Breaker. So she nodded instead of pointing out how futile the attempt had been.

    “How are you doing?” Harry asked.

    Now it was her turn to sigh. “I’m making progress, but it’s slower than I like.”

    “So, a few more days?” Ron grinned at her.

    She glared at him, then pouted when Harry laughed.

    She would crack the cauldron’s secrets.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, October 8th, 2001

    Hermione Granger narrowed her eyes and bit her lower lip as she leaned forward until her nose almost touched the cauldron’s rim. A flick of her wand lit up the runes lining the inside of the cauldron. Yes, the intricate pattern did match the reference she had found.

    And she wished it didn’t. The spells anchored to the runes forming this pattern weren’t Transfiguration spells. They were linked to them, but they were different.

    Dark.

    She closed her eyes and sat down again, sighing.

    “Don’t worry - you’ll figure it out.”

    She turned her head and looked at Harry, who was smiling at her. He meant well, she knew. Sighing again, she shook her head. “I have figured its purpose out.” She was almost certain, at least.

    “You have?” Harry blinked. “But why are you so…” He trailed off, probably to spare her feelings.

    She chuckled. Once. “I think the cauldron’s used to cross different species.” But in a rather unsavoury manner.

    He frowned. “Like Hagrid does?”

    “Another thing we can do with wands already, along with some potions?” Ron asked.

    “Only partially,” she replied, pointing at the cauldron. “I think it’s used to cross wizards and witches with other species while letting the resulting creature retain the ability to cast spells.” And, presumably, use wands.

    “Oh.” Ron whistled. Ari tensed, Hermione noticed.

    Harry winced. “That’ll be slightly controversial.”

    “Slightly?” Hermione snorted. Many wizards would be frothing at the mouth at the idea of creating new ‘half-breeds’ that could use wands. “That’s not the most controversial part, though. As far as I can tell, it’s powered by sacrifices. It doesn’t make two different species breed with each other - it creates a new life form out of their sacrifices.”

    Both hissed. “You mean…”

    She nodded. “Blood magic. Of the worst kind. And since the new life form would be at least part-human, soul magic as well.”

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2019
    Izicata, TheEyes, RedX and 3 others like this.
  11. Threadmarks: Chapter 16: Death Valley
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 16: Death Valley

    ‘Just as muggles have been breeding animals, so too have wizards been breeding magical creatures for millennia, and for the same reasons - as livestock, guard animals and companions. However, whereas muggles’ attempts to breed superior livestock are limited to natural changes, which are generally small and take generations to significantly improve a species, a wizard’s magic allows for far swifter progress - someone skilled in Transfiguration can transform any animal into the desired creature with a single spell.
    However, creating a new species - an animal that will actually breed and breed true - requires more than a wand and an imagination. Merely changing an animal’s shape will not be enough. A common method is cross-breeding. By using magic to force two different species to mate, any resulting offspring will often share traits from both parent species, although the new animal might be sterile - a desired results for some breeders, as it means their customers won’t be able to breed their own animals.
    Another, although morally questionable, method uses specialised curses. The infamous Quintapeds are a well-known, if unplanned, result of this method. Whereas traditional cross-breeding uses magic to facilitate or enable procreation, such curses force their victims into a new shape, which can result in a new species should the curse be inheritable.
    Blood magic can, in theory, combine the best aspects of both of the other methods, but there are no documented examples of this - although according to rumours, some experiments have been successful, but were kept a secret since blood magic and the Dark Arts are illegal in most civilised wizarding countries.
    Of course, unscrupulous individuals have attempted to cross-breed humans - both muggles and wizards - as well . A number of magical species are thought to have been created by wizards, although most of them deny this - often very violently, such as in the case of the centaurs. However, given the age of most magical species, it is questionable whether such theories are true - magic simply wasn’t sufficiently advanced in ancient times. That neither rumoured nor actual experiments with wizards have ever resulted in a new species able to use wanded magic also contradicts these theories.’
    - Excerpt from ‘Breeding and Crossbreeding - a Guide to Magical Animal Husbandry’ by Walther Smith, London, 1920


    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, October 8th, 2001

    “Blood and soul magic?” Harry Potter refrained from touching his scar. Like Voldemort…

    Hermione must have seen his hand twitch, though, since she reached out and held it. “Sorry,” she whispered, despite the privacy charm surrounding them.

    “Not your fault,” he replied in a low voice. It was all Voldemort’s fault.

    “What’s wrong?” Ari asked, looking puzzled.

    Harry sighed as both Ron and Hermione looked at him. “I’ve had some bad experiences with soul magic,” he said.

    “Ah.” Ari nodded. “And blood magic?”

    “Mixed.” Auntie had used blood magic - mostly accidentally - against Voldemort, after all. “But both are illegal in Britain.”

    “They are illegal in most countries,” Hermione added.

    “Am I illegal?” Ari asked.

    “What? Certainly not!” Ron exclaimed.

    Harry pressed his lips together - he should have anticipated that Ari would realise what the cauldron meant for her.

    “But this thing was used to create my tribe,” Ari said, pointing at the cauldron. “With blood and soul magic.”

    “That doesn’t mean you’re illegal - you didn’t do anything wrong!” Ron said. He pulled her close and placed a kiss on her head.

    “Further, if anyone were to try to declare you illegal, they would earn the enmity of many other species, such as the centaurs and the merpeople,” Hermione added, “since they probably share your origin.”

    “That wouldn’t stop some of them,” Harry pointed out. “And the Unspeakables might try something out of sheer curiosity.” They certainly seemed to have an unhealthy interest in dark and ancient magic, from what he could tell. And far too many secrets.

    “Dumbledore would stop them,” Hermione said.

    “We would stop them!” Ron snapped.

    “In any case, it might be best if we keep this a secret,” Harry suggested. “People might think we want to duplicate what the Atlanteans did. Kraft would have a field day painting us as dark wizards using blood and soul magic.” It was one thing to be accused of killing a Caribbean smuggler, but using the Dark Arts? After travelling near to Jamaica?

    Hermione nodded. “It will make publishing our finds more difficult, but this is a delicate matter.”

    Ari frowned. “Do we tell Mallory?”

    Harry took a deep breath and glanced at his friends. Ron shook his head, but Hermione was biting her lower lip. “We have an agreement with him,” she said.

    “But we didn’t find this thanks to his help,” Harry replied.

    “Not directly, but indirectly,” she retorted. “It seems like a distinction the jinn would use.”

    That hurt a little, but Harry nodded anyway. “Doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do.”

    “Don’t trust him. Stinks,” Ari said.

    “He’s cursed,” Hermione pointed out.

    “He’s too greedy,” Ron added.

    “So we keep this a secret,” Harry said. “From everyone but family.” He could imagine how Auntie would react if they kept it a secret from them.

    “Alright,” Ron answered.

    “What about the globe?” Ari asked. “Is it illegal as well?”

    Harry glanced at the broken item. “Probably.” Now that he thought about it… a few of the runes and spells made more sense in light of this.

    “Pour blood on it to test it?” Ari cocked her head.

    “Certainly not!” Harry snapped while his friends gasped.

    Ari looked puzzled. “What? Without tests, it’s just a hypothesis, you said. And no one will know if we keep it secret.”

    Hermione winced at that, Harry noticed. So much for ‘teaching her the scientific method’. It looked like Ari still had a little more to learn about the proper way to raid a tomb. Or she had learned a little too much. Harry wasn’t certain which was the case.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley cleared his throat. “We can’t really test that without using the Dark Arts,” he told Ari.

    “So? No one will know.”

    He didn’t wince, though he felt like it. It wasn’t Ari’s fault. “It’s not about others knowing,” he explained. “The Dark Arts are dangerous. And not just to your enemy,” he added quickly when she opened her mouth.

    “What?” Now she looked confused. Hadn’t they talked about this?

    They hadn’t, Ron realised. They had taken it for granted that she’d know because they knew.

    “The Dark Arts - well, the Dark Arts according to Webster’s ‘Guide to Dark Sorcery’, not according to the legal definition the Ministry uses, which covers all sorts of combat spells someone in power didn’t like for some reason or other, are defined by the fact that they harm those who use them.” Of course, Hermione would jump at the chance to rectify that. “Not in obvious ways, of course - though certain rituals that require self-sacrifices do - but more subtly. Insidiously. They damage your soul or your mind. Or both. And both blood magic and soul magic generally fall under that definition.”

    Now Ari was shivering and glancing at the cauldron.

    “She’s talking about the effects on the caster,” Ron said, hugging her once more and glaring at Hermione over Ari’s head.

    His friend pursed her lips. “In any case, it’s not worth the risk. We have the skull to examine and analyse. Which we will be doing as soon as the negotiations are finished and Mr Sayadi returns.”

    Which, Ron knew, could take a while - goblins were stubborn and greedy. “So, what do we do in the meantime?”

    Hermione sighed. “I would love to examine the vault door. A device able to ensnare Harry’s mind so thoroughly…”

    Ron glanced at the door. Zaid hadn’t left it - probably to prevent exactly that. “They said we could examine all the Atlantean relics.”

    “Obviously, they didn’t include the door,” Hermione said.

    “Or they did but hope we won’t ask to examine it,” Harry added.

    That would fit the tales Ron had been told by Tahira.

    “So, if we ask, the stupid spirits have to let us examine it?” Ari asked.

    “Perhaps,” Hermione replied. “But they might not be happy with us if we do so, either. They might hold a grudge.”

    That also fit the tales Ron had heard.

    “So?” Ari asked with a snort.

    Ron didn’t like letting the jinn get away with such games - if they were playing them, of course; he and his friends didn’t know whether they were or not - but he didn’t think it was worth the risk of antagonising them. “We aren’t here for the door, are we? We’re here so we can find out more about our goal.” Atlantis.

    Hermione nodded in agreement. Harry frowned - which looked like a pout - but sighed after a moment. “I guess so.”

    Ari scoffed but didn’t otherwise disagree.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, October 9th, 2001

    Hedwig arrived, as usual, during breakfast. Ron Weasley casually moved his plate away before the owl could steal his food, Ari growled and bent over her own plate - which didn’t seem to impress the bird at all - and Hermione quickly conjured covers for the serving plates. Harry, of course, was oblivious to anything else while he gushed over the owl for a few minutes before taking the letter from her.

    Ron shook his head, but he smiled as well.

    “Oh… They’ve finished negotiations,” Harry said after a glance at the parchment.

    “What?” Ron blinked. “Already?” He pushed the bowl with owl treats closer to Hedwig before the bird could make another attempt on his plate.

    “Looks like the jinn are a little wealthier than we thought,” Harry said.

    “Well, the legends claim they could create treasure - gems and more.” Hermione bit her lower lip, which meant she was mulling this over. “Those were muggle legends, of course. Still, they could have amassed quite some wealth, at least before the Doubling Charm was invented.”

    “Well, part of it has gone to the goblins for the right to use the Thief’s Downfall,” Harry went on.

    ‘Use’. Not ‘acquire’. Ron shook his head. That pretty much guaranteed trouble in the future. On the other hand, it was none of his or anyone else’s business. “So they’re returning to the valley?”

    “Yes. Probably be here in a day.” Harry put the letter down. “I’ll tell Mallory so he can plan not to brew potions tomorrow.”

    Ron snorted. It was only fair, of course, to keep the man in the loop, but Ron wouldn’t mind if Mallory spent the next week in his tent as well. “So... we get to relax, then?”

    Hermione scoffed. “Certainly not! There are several tests we still can do on the relics. Tests that don’t involve the Dark Arts,” she clarified with a glance at Ari. “And there are texts to translate.”

    “Ah.”

    It seemed as if Ari still doubted the groups’ - or perhaps just Hermione’s - moral conviction not to use blood magic.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, October 10th, 2001

    “We have returned with the solution to your tribe’s troubles!” Lockhart announced, standing in front of the Range Rover and pointing at two chests. “Two Floo connections will be installed, with a third and the Thief’s Downfall linking them at a secure location. So every visitor or returning resident can step here into the first, travel and return, safe and sound, through the second! Quite the cunning solution, if I do say so myself - and I’m not saying that just because it was my idea.”

    As much as Hermione Granger was loath to admit it, it was a smart solution - it allowed the goblins to keep control over their device, and let the jinn quickly send everyone through it. But she didn’t really care. All she wanted was to drag Mr Sayadi into their tent and have him finally - finally! - start translating the skull’s words! She would be damned if she let Lockhart’s ego delay them any further!

    But she couldn’t do anything while Lockhart engaged in self-aggrandisement. She glanced at Petunia, but Harry’s aunt didn’t step in and cut the egotistical wizard down to size. Hermione hoped that that didn’t mean that Lockhart actually had helped with the negotiations - the man’s ego was inflated enough already.

    “...and so I propose to install them at once!” he finished his tale.

    “Excellent idea! We’re very grateful for your help,” al-Jinn said.

    Yes, yes, they were - and they really wanted Mr Sayadi’s help now!

    “It’s all thanks to him!” Tahira said, draping her arm over Lockhart’s shoulder.

    Lockhart’s smile didn’t change - too caught in his own legend, Hermione thought.

    “But we really should install the Floo connections now,” the wizard said.

    Al-Jinn nodded. “Indeed.”

    This was her chance. Hermione walked up to Mr Sayadi. “I don’t think they need us for that,” she said with a bright smile.

    He chuckled. “And you are eager to start working on your translation, I would wager.”

    She didn’t deny it - she merely gestured towards the entrance to their tent.

    *****​

    “Akalesh. Abrar. Merkindor. Hesh. Tutala.”

    “Interesting,” Mr Sayadi said, rubbing his beard.

    Frustrating, in Hermione Granger’s opinion. Out loud, though, she said: “We think this is Atlantean.”

    “Yes,” Mr Mallory cut in. “And while we’re well-versed in the written language, we lack any hint about how to speak it.”

    Hermione bit her lip - they weren’t really ‘well-versed’, but they could translate the texts. Most of those they had recovered, at least.

    “‘Abrar’ means ‘blood’ in my tribe’s sacred language,” Ari said.

    “Ah? Some of the words sound familiar,” Mr Sayadi was still looking at the skull. “Are you certain this is a mere recording?”

    “It’s a bound ghost, actually,” Hermione explained. “As far as we can tell.”

    “A ghost?” That made the man look at them instead of the skull.

    “Yes.” She nodded. “Bound by several questionable spells.”

    “I see.”

    She doubted that. But it didn’t matter. “This is how you make it speak,” she said, demonstrating with her wand.

    “Akalesh. Abrar. Merkindor. Hesh. Tutala.”

    “That will be helpful,” Mr Sayadi said. “An old language, but with what sound like loan words from other old languages. And some of the sacred languages of the ancient temples might share the same roots…” He smiled. “If I had known that you had such a challenging task for me, I would have insisted on getting started much sooner!”

    Hermione managed not to curse upon hearing that. Her friends weren’t quite as restrained, and Mr Mallory cursed up a storm.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, October 14th, 2001

    “...and while ‘abrar’ now means ‘blood’ in Miss Ari’s sacred language, it originally stemmed from ‘abr’, which means ‘danger’ in the secret language of the Church of Baal,” Mr Sayadi explained. “Once I had that, I also had clues which allowed me to translate the rest of the words - or rather, to determine their most likely meanings.”

    Hermione Granger was scribbling down notes. Danger, not blood. That opened new possibilities. Some of the texts they had contained warnings. Perhaps…

    “‘Akalesh’ likely evolved into ‘kalesh’ - an ancient Hindi word meaning ‘cause unrest’,” he went on. “‘Merkindor’ is related to ‘kindor’, a Persian word for ‘holding a grudge’. ‘Hesh’ is another word from Baal’s Church and means ‘damnation’. ‘Tutala’ is Mermish for ‘poisonous water’.”

    “Cause unrest danger holding grudge damnation poisoned water.” Mr Mallory frowned. “And what does it mean?”

    “Those are the literal translations of the younger loan words,” Mr Sayadi told him. “You need to adjust them and allow for changed meanings and linguistic drift, and different grammar.”

    “And you did that,” Harry prompted.

    “I’ve come up with a possible translation,” Mr Sayadi said, smiling widely. “‘War and hatred endanger your soul and life itself’.”

    Mr Mallory didn’t seem to follow the translation, but Hermione could see how Mr Sayadi came to his conclusion.

    “And how does this help us?” Mr Mallory retorted. “A warning is useless.”

    “Few warnings are useless, in my experience,” Mr Sayadi said.

    Mr Mallory scowled at him but held his tongue.

    “It could be the key to understanding the skull,” Hermione said. “Perhaps this is a clue about how to contact the ghost…” If there were spells guarding against hatred for example, then… “This needs further study!” she exclaimed, already pointing her wand at the skull.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, October 15th, 2001

    “We’ve lost her.”

    Harry Potter rolled his eyes at Ron. “That joke’s getting old. No, that joke is old. Older than Dumbledore.”

    “As long as it’s not older than Flamel...” His friend grinned.

    “You certainly won’t grow much older if you don’t stop trying to distract me,” Hermione snapped - without taking her eyes or wand off the skull’s enchantments, Harry noted.

    “Sorry!” Ron replied, though he didn’t stop grinning.

    Harry sighed. “Just don’t overdo it,” he told her. “Tell us when you need to rest.”

    “I will.”

    Harry probably would have to step in at some point - Hermione had almost skipped breakfast this morning to get to work on analysing the skull’s enchantments with the help of the knowledge gained from Mr Sayadi. He nodded anyway - she wasn’t the only one fed up with delays.

    “Don’t worry, we all need regular rest,” Mr Sayadi cut in from the desk where he and Mallory were translating more of the texts they had recovered.

    “Didn’t you analyse the enchantments already?” Ari asked, looking puzzled. “You spent days on that.”

    “We did,” Harry replied. “But since we didn’t recognise most spells, we had to analyse each and every spell to find out its purpose, and even so we had to guess without casting and testing them ourselves.” Spellcrafting had progressed a lot since the Atlanteans, which made deciphering their spells more difficult.

    “And can’t test without blood,” Ari said, nodding.

    “That, too, plays a role,” Ron said. “It’s not as if we know much about blood magic.”

    “Yes.” Harry shrugged. “Given enough time, we could have understood the spells anyway.” That was what Curse-Breakers did, after all. “However, knowing their possible purpose will significantly speed up the process.” Or so they hoped.

    “And we make more progress translating the texts,” Ron added. “Even if it’s a little boring for those of us on guard duty.” Which meant Ron and Harry today.

    Ari nodded.

    “Guarding someone is always boring. Until it isn’t,” Harry said. He frowned at Ron and Ari’s looks - that was certainly more original than Ron’s jokes.

    *****​

    Fortunately, it didn’t take too much to drag Hermione away from the skull once it was time for dinner - she was neither too frustrated to take a break, nor too excited.

    “They’ve sent everyone through the Floo connections,” Sirius told Harry Potter and his friends as he flicked his wand and filled everyone’s glasses with pumpkin juice and water respectively. “Started at the one at the entrance of the valley and had them come out at the one in its centre.” With a stop in the goblin-controlled room with the Thief’s Downfall, of course.

    “Can they be connected to Tunisia’s Floo network?” Hermione asked.

    “I’m not certain. In theory, it should be possible,” Sirius said. “Which would make the valley rather vulnerable.”

    “Whoever wanted to do that would have to take control of one of the connections first, to modify them. And that means they would already be inside the valley,” Petunia pointed out.

    “Did they find any other controlled jinn?” Ron asked.

    “One seems to be missing,” Sirius said.

    That wasn’t good news. They knew that Rahid had been responsible - as much as he could be responsible when he had been cursed and controlled - for capturing Tahira and helping her set up the attack. But they had no clue what the missing jinni had done. “The Storm Wizards could already be in the valley,” Harry said.

    “I think they would have attacked before the Floo connections were set up, though,” Sirius pointed out. “They wouldn’t have given the jinn so much time to recover and set up their defences.”

    “Unless they were getting reinforcements or had to prepare their next attack,” Ron replied. “We don’t need to stay here any more, do we?”

    Hermione sighed. “We can still use Mr Sayadi’s help. And I don’t think he’ll leave with us as long as Lockhart is staying.”

    And Lockhart didn’t seem to be willing to ‘leave the jinn bereft of my help’, as he had put it. Or, as Ari had put it, ‘leave the stupid smoke princess’.

    “But do we need his help?” Ron asked.

    “We’ve now translated a lot of the texts and started on a pronunciation guide,” Harry said. “But we’re not yet done.”

    “And once we crack the spells keeping the ghost from properly communicating with us, Mr Sayadi’s help for translating his words might be invaluable,” Hermione added. “We could do without him, of course, but it would take us longer.”

    Ari nodded in apparent agreement.

    Which clinched it, in Harry’s opinion. They were Curse-Breakers. Taking risks was part of the job. And he’d rather be attacked by Storm Wizards in the middle of the Valley of the Jinn, with Tahira’s tribe ready to avenge their deaths, than in the middle of the desert with just his family and friends.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, October 17th, 2001

    Ron Weasley took a deep breath after stepping out of the tent. The cold, fresh air felt nice after spending the day inside their tent, going over texts with Ari and Mallory. Hermione might insist that the charms in the tent kept the air fresh and the temperature steady, but it didn’t feel like it to him.

    Beside him, Ari made a growling sound as she stretched, then sniffed the air. “Fleur and Bill,” she said.

    A moment later, Ron’s brother and sister-in-law approached them from Sirius and Petunia’s Range Rover. “Finished for today?” Bill asked.

    “With work,” Ron replied. Hermione was still at it, of course, as were Mallory and Mr Sayadi, but Harry would drag the witch out soon enough, and the other two wouldn’t be left working by themselves.

    Ari nodded. “You done with guarding?”

    Fleur snorted. “We’ve got the night shift.” She looked around and shook her head. “We would be safer hiding in the sky.”

    Ari muttered something about ‘birds’, but Ron nodded. “We would. But I don’t think we can or want to put everyone up in the Range Rover.” Certainly not Lockhart since that meant Tahira would be there as well. Between her, Ari and Fleur, they’d never have a quiet moment.

    “I just want some distance from the jinn,” Fleur said. Ron knew she wasn’t concerned about the possible danger from bound jinn - the jinn didn’t get along with Veela.

    “Yes,” Ari agreed. “Stupid spirits.” The jinn didn’t get along with Ari either.

    “We’re their guests,” Bill said, “and they take hospitality seriously.”

    Fleur’s expression showed that she thought as much of that as Ari did. Well, at least the two witches were bonding over their mutual dislike and distrust of the jinn. Which wasn’t a good thing for their expedition, but was definitely a good thing for future Weasley family functions.

    “Are you certain your people weren’t created by Atlanteans?” Ari suddenly asked.

    “No!” Fleur replied at once, not bothering to hide her anger. “We’ve talked about this already - Veela originated in Eastern Europe, not near the Atlantic. We’re not like your tribe.”

    Ari snorted, apparently unconvinced. “Could have fooled me.”

    “That’s not a high bar,” Fleur shot back.

    Ari narrowed her eyes in response. “Your legends could be wrong.”

    “They aren’t.”

    “Species don’t just come into being,” Ari pointed out. “They evolve or are created.”

    “Not the Veela.”

    There they went again. So much for bonding. Ron exchanged a glance with his brother. “How about we don’t argue until we manage to talk to the Atlantean ghost?” he said.

    “And how long will that be?” Bill asked before anyone could answer Ron’s question.

    “Few more days at most, I think,” Ron said. “We’re close to breaking the enchantments keeping the ghost from talking. It’s a little tricky to achieve that without setting the ghost free.” Which would likely make it disappear if it had been forcefully bound instead of naturally created - a possibility they couldn’t dismiss after what they had found out about the cauldron. “Do you need to return to the camp?”

    Bill shook his head. “No. We can stay as long as you need our help. Sirius actually hired us.” Mostly for the cut for the goblins, Ron knew - the greedy buggers would otherwise harbour a grudge for missing out on making a profit.

    He nodded. “Good.”

    He must have been a little too curt since Bill snorted. “We’re not meddling with your expedition. We’re just acting as guards. Don’t worry about us stealing your thunder.”

    Ron pressed his lips together. They meant well - but the public wouldn’t see it like that. On the other hand, he wouldn’t like to face Kohlmeier without their help. Or the jinn, if things should turn sour - Ari didn’t trust them, and he trusted her judgement more than al-Jinn’s smiles. Ron didn’t expect the jinni to break his word, but there were ways around such deals. There was a reason that the jinn had a reputation for ruining careless wizards by sticking to the letter of a deal and not its spirit.

    “I know,” he said, suppressing a sigh. Living took priority - every Curse-Breaker learned that quickly. One way or the other. “What’s for dinner?”

    “Bubble and squeak,” Bill answered. “But there’ll be cake as well.”

    A fireball that engulfed the temple’s main spire cut off Ron’s reply. He was already on the ground, casting a Shield Charm, when he heard the first screams. Then he conjured a low wall as cover and started looking for the enemies.

    Finding them was easy - dozens of spells flew back and forth near the spire as the few jinn left alive after the fireball tried to hold off the attackers. Above them, jinn burst out from their homes in the cliff, forming up in groups. But they would be too late to stop the Storm Wizards from breaking into the temple a second time - the dark wizards were about to overwhelm the last defenders.

    “We need to stop them!” he yelled, jumping over the low wall and sprinting towards the spire. Ari was at his side within a second, easily keeping pace even in her human form. He glanced over his shoulder - Bill and Fleur were following them. Good. He tapped the pin in his collar and snapped. “Storm Wizards trying to break into the temple! We’re stopping them!”

    “We’re on the way!” he heard Harry yell.

    “Coming!” Hermione replied.

    A moment later, Ron felt the urge to duck when he heard the Range Rover’s heavy machine gun open up and saw tracers fly over his head towards the enemy positions. He kept running, though, and sent a Blasting Curse at the enemy. The sand surrounding them blew up, revealing a conjured stone shelter. They must have been hidden underground, already inside the valley, he realised. But the jinn’s defences must have prevented them from breaking into the temple’s basement with a tunnel.

    More spells rained down on the Storm Wizards from above - more jinn were entering combat. And there was Lockhart on a broom, next to Tahira, diving at the enemy. But despite all that, the enemies were overrunning the defenders. Green Killing Curses struck down a flying jinni, and Ron saw another fall in a cloud of buzzing insects.

    He cast a Blasting Curse that threw the first row of the charging Storm Wizards down, shattering their shields, and Petunia’s fire shifted at once, tearing into the staggering enemies. One witch was decapitated by a bullet, another lost an arm and most of her chest to a short burst.

    But then smoke rose and obscured the entire area. Ron swore and crouched behind another conjured wall. He couldn’t charge into that cloud - certainly not with the jinn still sending spells into it. But…

    “Hermione!” Harry suddenly yelled.

    Ron whirled and gasped. Their tent had collapsed, spilling furniture and fixtures all over the place. And he could see spells flashing inside the cloud of dust and sand that the collapse had thrown up.

    The Storm Wizards were going after Mr Sayadi again!

    *****​

    “Coming!” Hermione Granger snapped, touching the pin in her robes’ collar. “The temple is under attack,” she told Mr Sayadi and Mr Mallory. “We need to…”

    The entire floor suddenly rose, throwing her back and to the ground and toppling the table in the centre. Trap!, she thought, already reacting. She was trying to reach the door when, a moment later, the floorboards and carpet blew apart, throwing her to the ground once more and revealing a tunnel full of dark-robed wizards and witches.

    Storm Wizards!

    Pain shot through her - a splinter had ripped into her leg. She touched the pin again as she rolled over her shoulder behind the table and cast a Shield Charm, but she couldn’t hear her own words - something was blocking sound, she realised. Not a Silencing Charm - she couldn’t hear anything either.

    Snarling, she sent a pair of Piercing Curses straight at the first Storm Wizard climbing out of the tunnel. He fell back with his shield shattered and his chest pierced. But two more replaced him, and Hermione dropped to the floor, letting two curses pass overhead as if this were a trapped tomb as she rolled behind the table once more.

    She finally managed a quick Episkey that stopped the bleeding, but not the pain, as she noticed Mr Mallory rushing past her, fleeing - and Mr Sayadi was trying to collect the relics from the outpost in Jamaica, which had been scattered around the room. She snapped off a Reductor Curse at the tunnel entrance, which slammed the witch trying to charge into the room back and sent the wizard next to her sprawling - all without making the slightest noise. She needed to dispel the jinx or charm muting all sound, but that would take time she didn’t have. The table exploded, followed by part of the wall as the enemy sent more curses at her.

    Her Shield Charm held, though, saving her from further harm, and she rolled behind the remains of a shelf, wincing at the pain that caused. A quick glance around the tent had her clenching her teeth - Mr Sayadi had been struck by splinters - he was holding a bleeding arm as he clutched the mask and skull to his chest. She waved at him, then pointed at the door. He nodded, and she cast a Blasting Curse directly at the tunnel entrance.

    The entire room shook, still eerily silent, and dust obscured everything - just as she had intended. That would cover Mr Sayadi’s retreat.

    And her own - a volley of curses flew out of the tunnel, half of them passing over her as she pressed herself into the ground, half-expecting spikes to rip out of the ground. Another part of the wall blew up, and a shelf toppled. And the dust was starting to settle. She couldn’t stay - she had to...

    No! Mr Sayadi was on the ground, a foot from the door, with a hole in his back big enough to stick an arm through it. Blood spread from his still body, forming a growing pool.

    Clenching her teeth, she aimed her wand at the ceiling and cast the strongest Cutting Curse she could manage, ripping the room, and with it, the tent, apart.

    The Extension Charms failed as soon as the tent started to collapse and the entire area was suddenly filled with furniture and supplies of all kinds, smashing together and blocking both movement and line of sight. Hermione suppressed her guilt at all the damage done to the relics she had just caused and cleared a path to Mr Sayadi’s corpse with Reductor Curses and Vanishing Charms. She didn’t have much time to escape - the debris wouldn’t hold the Storm Wizards for long.

    Just as she reached the body, the area grew brighter - but the light was flickering. Fire. They had set fire to the furniture. Swearing under her breath, she cast a Bubble-Head Charm - which she should have done right away - and grabbed the relics buried under Mr Sayadi’s corpse. A flick of her wand later, they were inside her enchanted pocket. But the body…

    She bit her lower lip - she didn’t have time to spare for this. But she couldn’t leave the body to be devoured by the fire. Or, worse, animated by the Storm Wizards. A swish and it turned into a doll - which was immediately soaked in the blood on the floor.

    She suppressed a shudder - she had seen worse, after all - and grabbed it. Now to…

    A silent blast showered her with splinters and debris, throwing her into the pile of broken wood and canvas that had been the living room. Merlin’s balls! She rolled on the floor, then flicked her wand, using a series of Vanishing Charms to burrow a tunnel beneath the debris blocking her flight and started crawling. She had to escape from the area to call for help. And to get away from the enemy.

    Halfway through the tunnel, another blast pushed her forward. She held her breath for a moment, fearing the worst, but neither did flames fill the tunnel nor did her shield shatter. She pushed herself forwards, uncaring of the blood on her clothes or the dirt and sand covering her. A few more yards…

    She broke through the sand in front of the tent’s remains. “Yes!”

    And she was out of the spell’s range, too! She touched her pin as she stood. “Harry! I’m…”

    Another explosion threw her to the ground, and this time, her shield didn’t hold. She rolled along the ground, barely managing to keep hold of her wand despite her training, and managed to shield herself again just in time to face another volley of curses from above. Did the Storm Wizards have control of the air?

    No, the curses came from jinn!

    “Stop!” she yelled, rolling to the side, then ran as fast as her wounded leg allowed towards the lake, “I’m on your side!” Had they betrayed her friends? Or were they being controlled?

    But the curses actually stopped - stupid curse-happy jinn, she thought. And she saw tracer rounds hitting the tent’s remains - the Range Rover was above them.

    “Hermione?” she heard through her pin.

    Harry! “The area around the tent is covered in a sound-proofing charm. Can’t hear anything inside,” she explained, conjuring some cover.

    “Are you hurt?”

    “I’m fine,” she replied. “But Mr Sayadi…”

    Harry swore.

    “Mr Mallory fled,” she added.

    Harry swore some more.

    “They’re breaking into the temple vault!” Ron cut in through the enchanted pins.

    Hermione turned just in time to see the entire spire of the temple collapse.

    *****​

    Harry Potter was about to fly over to Hermione when he saw the spire collapse, throwing up a giant cloud of sand and dust. For a moment, he and most in the air seemed to be frozen, staring at the sight of an expanding dust cloud covering the entire area around the lake.

    Then a curse from the ruins of their tent struck a flying jinni, and a bleeding, screaming mass fell to their death as Auntie’s machine gun resumed firing at the Storm Wizards in the debris, followed by the jinn above continuing their bombardment. If they took out this group of enemies, they could focus on the rest and...

    “Bloody hell!” he heard Ron exclaim. “There’s lightning in the cloud!”

    Harry gasped again. No. Transmutation of that scale… Kohlmeier.

    “Dust? And sparks? NO!” Hermione yelled. “It’s going to explode! Dust explosion!”

    Harry cast an Amplification Charm and yelled: “Vanish the dust before it explodes! Vanish it! Disperse it!”

    A few seconds later, al-Jinn’s voice filled the valley and Harry saw the flying jinn shoot towards the cloud, wands flashing. Small, but growing, whirlwinds started to disperse the cloud while Vanishing Charms struck the denser parts. Harry raised his wand, then turned away and rushed towards Hermione and the ruined tent. Auntie and Sirius were focusing on this group as well, anyway - best to finish here.

    He dashed over an open stretch of sand and dry earth and slid behind the wall Hermione had conjured. “Are you alright?” He felt his heart skip a beat - she was covered in blood.

    “I’m fine,” she snapped, then glanced at him. “It’s not mine,” she added. “It’s Mr Sayadi’s.”

    “Oh.” He nodded, curtly. “Let’s avenge him.”

    “Yes.”

    Harry crouched and peered over the wall. The mountain of debris - had they really had so much stuff in their tent? - had been reduced by explosions and other spells already, but still provided good cover on the ground - but that cut both ways and didn’t help much against the flying jinn. And the Range Rover.

    But there was an opportunity here. There were dust explosions - and there were fuel-air explosions. “Let’s conjure petrol in the air!”

    A second later, she agreed. “Yes.”

    Both started casting, conjuring clouds of fuel in the air above the enemy’s position. Harry was about to spark the explosion when a burst of tracers did it for him.

    The blast sent more debris flying and shredded what was left of their furniture, but there were no more curses sent into the air afterwards - though that might change. Harry got ready to jump over the wall and charge, but a dozen jinn were already diving.

    He didn’t think the surviving Storm Wizards there would be able to hold out much longer.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley threw himself on to the ground when he saw more sparks appear in the air above the ruins of the spire. Ari followed suit, muttering a curse in her native language. Bill and Fleur were a little slower, but still quick enough to avoid the web of lighting that suddenly appeared.

    Half a dozen jinn weren’t and screamed as the lightning hit them. Ron clenched his teeth and tried to ignore them - he had to focus on the debris changing into snakes and scorpions ahead of them. “Bloody hell!” he muttered, flicking his wand and blowing up the closest groups of animals.

    “Yes,” Ari agreed. “Not good.” She conjured moving, shimmering vines that started to ensnare the creatures - until Fleur’s fireballs burned plants and animals alike. “Not good at all!”

    But it was enough to keep the venomous animals at bay.

    “What were they thinking, collapsing the spire? That buried the vault beneath!” Bill muttered as he joined them in a small crater.

    “Might have been an accident or a trap,” Ron said. “But if it wrecked the basement’s defences, they’ll be digging a tunnel and breaking in as we speak.”

    Bill muttered a curse of his own. “We have to stop them, I guess,” he said, almost casually turning a shattered piece of the spire wall into acid which quickly covered half a dozen snakes.

    “Yes.” Ron conjured alcohol, then set it off. That took out a swarm of scorpions. “This is a holding action. They aren’t even trying to push us away.” And the number of curses sent towards the jinn or Ron’s group had shrunk as well. The Storm Wizards were breaking through below them. That meant they either had to dig a tunnel of their own or break through the Storm Wizards guarding the entrance of theirs. The former would take too long, the latter would cost too much blood.

    Suddenly, Lockhart’s loud voice filled the valley. “Watch out! Watch out!”

    Ron looked up, his eyes widening. A huge spike was falling down - right on the Storm Wizards’ position. Almost as huge as the lesser spires of the temple, by Ron’s estimate, the earth shook as it slammed into the ground right on top of the enemies.

    Then it started to topple - towards the lake. And towards Ron and his friends. They scrambled away and raced to safety just as the mass of stone and metal vanished. Conjured by Lockhart and massively enlarged by Tahira, Ron guessed as he rolled into a nearby crater.

    But that meant the tunnel’s entrance had been ripped wide open. And the defenders squished, he added with a wince. A dozen jinn flew towards the entrance, but before the first reached it, a plume of red smoke emerged. The jinni flew straight into it before he could veer off, and emerged choking and bleeding.

    Poison. And the smoke kept rising.

    “Have they flooded the entire basement?” Bill wondered. “Suicide?”

    No, Ron didn’t think so. Kohlmeier’s situation wasn’t that desperate. Quite the contrary. “More stalling,” he said through clenched teeth, “to gain them enough time to break into the vault.”

    And it would work if they didn’t find a way past the smoke. A safe way. “We need a tunnel of our own.” Kohlmeier wouldn’t fill the entire basement with poisonous smoke. The bastard had to keep the smoke isolated so he could work. But how isolated?

    Ron jerked, his planning interrupted, when another jinni crashed on to the ground nearby. What the… He looked up and swore.

    Jinn were fighting jinn above them - and the red smoke was spreading. He touched his pin. “They’re controlling more jinn and spreading poisonous smoke. We need help here!”

    *****​

    Tunisia, Aurés Mountains, Valley of the Jinn, October 18th, 2001

    Sitting on a conjured bench, still slightly favouring her healed leg, Hermione Granger stared at the ruins that were all that was left of the jinn’s temple. With the moon barely visible in the sky - the new moon had been two days ago - the only illumination was provided by a few lamps and charms. But she didn’t mind the lack of light - it hid the bodies on the ground.

    “They broke into the basement,” Harry said, next to her.

    “Kohlmeier was already gone,” she interrupted him. “And the vault was empty.” At least after the Storm Wizards had fled, the controlled jinn had been easily overwhelmed and captured.

    Harry sighed. “Yes. Bastard played us.”

    “We shouldn’t have trusted the jinn’s precautions,” she said. “I’m certain that Kohlmeier was hiding in the valley the whole time. Between the Imperius Curse and Obliviation, he must have subverted a lot of jinn we thought were safe.”

    “Yes,” Harry agreed, “al-Jinn came to the same conclusion. They managed to get the captured jinn through the Thief’s Downfall, but…”

    “...Kohlmeier got what he wanted,” she finished for him. And dozens of jinn had died. She shook her head. “He wanted Mr Sayadi, but his Storm Wizards killed him instead.” She didn’t look at the tent Lockhart had put up to hold his friend’s body.

    Harry nodded. “And a number of his followers were killed as well. He can’t have too many left.”

    “And he didn’t get the relics we had,” she added, “for whatever good that will do us.” Without Mr Sayadi’s help, communicating with the ghost would be difficult and tedious. “They’re still covered in his blood.” She shuddered, then clenched her teeth and pulled them out of her pocket.

    “Careful,” Harry said. “We’re in the open.”

    She didn’t listen. She wanted to clean them. Right now. And clean her pocket. And her hands. But when her wand sent a cleaning charm at the skull, it started to float.

    And Mr Sayadi’s voice came out of the skull’s mouth.

    “Oh, my! This is rather peculiar, isn’t it?”

    *****​
     
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