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The golden statues gleamed in the fountain as Harry slipped through the atrium beneath his cloak and into the elevator beside a slim, lanky wizard with a box of files in his arms. Red-robed hit wizards clustered at the entrances, wands in their hands.
The lanky wizard elbowed one of the buttons.
‘Internal Affairs,’ the automated voice announced.
Harry studied the inside of the elevator. Seems like they fixed all the damage. He stared at the ceiling until the doors pinged and the wizard stumbled out. Department of Mysteries time. Harry pushed the button and waited.
‘Floor thirteen,’ the female voice said.
‘Thanks.’ Harry slipped out and strode down the corridor toward the ruined entrance. ‘I guess they haven’t fixed this.’ He cast a quick revealing charm, but nothing appeared, so he leant against the wall. ‘Time to wait, then.’
He spun his wand in his hand and watched the elevator doors while time trickled by. One more horcrux. The stone. Harry closed his eyes and let the sunset hover among his thoughts. And then we’re free. Blood spread over white tiles before his mind’s eye and Dobby’s faint smile vanished in the flames. Until we die. His gut knotted. Then the emptiness has us forever.
The elevator pinged.
Five dark-robed figures stepped out. Four white masks surrounded one gleaming silver one.
‘Hurry up,’ Rookwood snapped. ‘We go in. We take anything useful. We get out. Don’t touch anything unless I say so. If you see a time-turner, let me know. They’re our priority.’
I destroyed all the time-turners. Harry curled his fingers into the silk of his cloak and raised his wand. No Fiendfyre down here. It’ll bring the place down on my head. He waited as they approached, holding his breath and flattening himself against the wall.
The last white-masked Death Eater stepped past in a wash of wet wool reek.
Harry pulled off the cloak. ‘Ardens flagello.’
A wave of purple fire swept from the end of his wand.
A Death Eater disappeared beneath it, writhing and screaming. The fire splashed off Rookwood’s shield and guttered out. Harry batted away a handful of orange curses and transfigured the walls into spikes, wrinkling his nose at the stench of seared flesh.
‘Confringo.’ One of the Death Eaters shattered the spines.
Harry’s piercing curses punched through him, spattering them all in steaming gore. Brown spells sailed over his shoulder and scorched small holes into the wall. He deflected a few back at them, slipping his own spells into the mix until they threw up shining, silver shields.
‘Fuck this,’ Rookwood snarled, turning on his heel and sprinting through the ruined door. ‘You two kill him. I’ll get what we need.’
Harry poured magic into his spells as the two Death Eaters retreated after Rookwood, hammering curses into their Shield Charms until their light wavered and failed. The pair threw themselves through the nearest door.
‘There’s no way out of here.’ He stepped after them, sparing a glance for the whispering archway. ‘Except past me.’
‘What do you want?!’ The closest tore off his white mask. ‘Whatever you want, just tell us! You can have it!’
Harry slashed his wand forward and stuffed the invisibility cloak under his clothes. The basilisk’s maw closed over them, sending shredded corpses splattering across the stone benches like rag dolls, and he sprinted back out after Rookwood’s fading footsteps.
Rookwood kicked at the sealed door, saw Harry, then swore and bolted into the Hall of Prophecies.
Back here again. Harry stepped in after him.
‘You’re the sort of wizard who ends up down here, you know.’ Rookwood’s voice drifted through the shelves of glowing white orbs. ‘I came down here, but only to look after the place. You belong.’
Harry prowled through the prophecies, breathing in the soft cool must. ‘Come out, come out, wherever you are!’
Rookwood’s sneer echoed through the shelves. ‘You sound like that mad bitch, Bellatrix. The Dark Lord never favoured me like he did her or the others. I had to earn this silver mask.’
‘I killed her.’ Harry tracked Rookwood’s voice through the gloom. ‘I’m going to kill you.’
Derisive laughter drifted through the pale, gleaming spheres. ‘No you aren’t. I know this place pretty well. This mask I earnt. I earnt it down here. Six long fucking years rotting in the dust for that silver trinket.’
‘Then you know there’s no way out.’ Harry peered through the rows of predictions and spun his wand in his hand, then strode back to the entrance. ‘And if you’re going to play hide and seek, I’ll just wait by the door…’
A shadow flickered in the corner of his eye.
He twisted ‘round and batted away a bright orange curse; it smashed through the shelves, leaving a trail of white ghosts and a cacophony of prophecies. Rookwood dived behind a stack of white orbs. Harry hurled piercing hexes through it, sending shards of glass hissing through the air.
White mist swirled over Rookwood and silence hung over the Hall of Prophecies.
Back to hiding. Harry retreated toward the door one step at a time, glass fragments crunching beneath his feet.
A faint shimmer darted past his shoulder.
Merde. Harry twisted ‘round and unleashed a barrage of spells.
Rookwood’s Disillusionment Charm faded and a shining silver shield weathered the hail of Harry’s spells. ‘Good luck getting out.’ He reached out and touched a finger to one of the prophecies.
Double merde. Harry hurled another pair of spells after Rookwood, scorching the walls of the corridor. His third spell put a fist-sized hole in the elevator door as Rookwood ascended out of sight. The aurors will be here in a few seconds. And they’ll probably seal the exit off and sweep this place for disillusioned wizards.
‘No point sneaking.’ He thrust his wand back into his sleeve and conjured long, dark robes and a plain white mask to conceal himself. Harry closed his eyes and wrenched at the world; his magic scrabbled at thick, strong wards. ‘And only one way out.’
The elevator pinged and a group of red-robed wizards charged out behind bright shield charms. Harry grit his teeth and clawed at the ward, crushing it down. Spells flashed past. A ray of blue light seared through his thigh and sent him staggering back against the wall.
The world spun past him and he stumbled across the kitchen floor, spattering blood across the saucepan cupboard. The stinging throb in his leg swelled to a crescendo and he sank down to the floor, poking a finger around the edge of the smoking hole.
‘That… did not go well.’ He sighed. ‘Vulnera sanentur.’
The throb in his thigh faded away.
Harry vanished his conjured robes and mask, then kicked his jeans off. ‘Better not let Fleur see that hole or she’ll melt my face off.’
‘Better not let me see what, mon Cœur?’ Fleur stepped in from the hall, a copy of the Daily Prophet in her hand. ‘Unfortunately for you, I’m on my lunch break…’
‘Ah.’ Harry shot her a rueful grin. ‘So. To sum up. Rookwood got away. Some auror made a hole in my leg. And I had to break the wards to apparate out, so I’m going to feel dead tired when the adrenaline wears off.’
Fleur’s lips thinned and her eyes darkened to midnight blue. ‘Did you… improvise?’
‘Nope.’ He grinned and repaired the hole in the front, then turned the jeans over and mended the one in the back. ‘I didn’t even really have a plan to begin with, this time.’
‘It went all the way through?’ Fleur’s eyes flashed black and she swatted him over the head with the newspaper. ‘You have no sense of danger!’ The newspaper burst into flames, scattering to ashes, and white feathers burst through her skin. ‘How do you think I feel?! Waiting, knowing you might do something stupid and reckless enough that you won’t come back!’
Guilt twisted beneath his ribs. ‘Fleur…’
She dusted ash from her hands and crossed her arms, crumpling white feathers against her stomach. ‘How would you like it if I came back with a hole in me?’
He flinched. ‘It’s not the same.’
‘Not for you.’
‘Not for you!’ He hauled his jeans back on. ‘I’ve been hurt before. I’ll endure. I’ll drag myself back to you even if I’m nothing but a charred corpse!’
‘I don’t care.’ Fleur reached out and caught his chin in her fingers, tilting his head up to hers. ‘You don’t get to take risks with our sunset, mon Cœur. Not without talking to me first. If you die, our perfect dream dies, too.’
He swallowed. ‘But if we don’t kill Voldemort—’
‘Some auror put a hole through you.’ She closed her eyes and forced the feathers back beneath her skin. ‘You think Voldemort won’t do worse if you go off to fight him blindly?’
Harry stifled a chill. ‘I was trying not to think about fighting him at all.’ He shivered. ‘I spoke to Salazar about it once. The will behind his magic, the power in his spells, all driven by what he’s sacrificed, what he endured.’
‘What has he sacrificed?’ Fleur swept her hair back over her shoulder. ‘What has he endured that you haven’t, mon Amour.’
‘He’s sacrificed everything.’
‘Why?’ Fleur breathed.
A girl in thick-framed glasses strode down a London street in the eye of Harry’s mind. ‘I don’t know… Perhaps, perhaps after everyone turned on him and there were no more wishes left, there was no perfect girl to save him.’
When all the dreams are gone, nothing’s left. A little shudder rippled down his spine and his wand turned hot within his sleeve. There’s only power.
Fleur’s eyes softened and faded to sky blue. ‘It doesn’t matter what his dream is or was,’ she whispered. ‘He’s standing between us and the sunset.’
She’s right. It doesn’t matter. Harry closed his eyes.
A shadow hovered before the dipping crescent of the red sun, the scattered, warped recollection of a handful of dreams. It spread its arms and green light flickered through the storm clouds like lightning.
Neither can live… He smothered the twist of fear. There’s no choice. He dies. Or our dream does.