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The bronze pieces of the box’s lock gleamed in the summer sunshine spilling in through the kitchen window. Fleur waved her wand at them, watching them combine and recombine into a hundred different shapes.
Pretty, but does it actually work? She closed her eyes.
Threads of magic writhed in each piece, grasping at each other every time they combined like desperate fingers.
A shadow passed over her face.
Fleur cracked open an eye and traded her wand for a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Harry strolled past the window, trailed by a procession of glass jars and vials.
That idiot. She rolled her eyes and let a pout creep onto her lips. Thinking he can sneak off to the meadows where I won’t see him.
Fleur finished her hot chocolate, tucked her wand into the waist of her dress, and followed his trail through knee-high, dry grass. She ran her fingers through the rustling fronds near the brook and stepped beneath the shade of the elm trees, crunching twigs beneath her bare feet.
Harry stiffened and sighed. ‘Curious, were you?’
‘You must have been to put aside your box.’ A bright gleam of humour entered his eyes. ‘Are you going to tell me what it does?’
‘I am going to lock you in it.’ Fleur crossed her arms. ‘And keep you there.’
‘Imprisoned by a sex-craving, part-human bird-witch.’ Harry’s smile spread into a broad grin. ‘Sounds like fun to me.’
Fleur rolled her eyes and laughed. ‘You have been listening to Gabby again.’
‘She promised she’d make me prince-consort when she becomes veela queen as long as I renounce you as the first wife in my veela harem and swear on my magic I think she’s cuter than you.’
A peal of laughter burst from Fleur’s lips. ‘No she didn’t.’
‘No.’ Harry swept his wand in a vague circle and the vials spread out to hover in a loose circle around the edges of the grove before descending to the ground. ‘But she did spend a lot of time explaining how disappointed she was her older sister didn’t share her boyfriend with all the female members of her family like a real veela would.’
‘Ah, she’s on the eleventh book again. They start getting a bit weird from there.’ Fleur pointed a finger at the glassware. ‘What are you up to, mon Amour?’
Harry began to draw runes on the ground around him in incandescent, purple flames. ‘The ritual to increase how fast I recover after using magic. I’ll recover more, so I’ll be able to last longer in duels. It’s an obvious advantage to have, one I’m sure Voldemort has already seized.’
An interlocking design of seven triangles, all etched in patterns of blazing purple runes, surrounded him; an array of leaves rose from the largest three jars.
‘Myrrh, bloodroot, vervain,’ Harry said. ‘At the moment, this ritual would act as no more than a very potent version of some of the recovery potions you can get at St Mungo’s or in Diagon Alley, so to make it permanent I get to do the fun, sacrificial, blood magic bit.’ He flicked the tip of his wand across his wrist, releasing a thick stream of crimson from the underside of his palm.
Fleur curled her toes and hissed, clenching her jaw and balling her hands into fists. ‘I do not like you doing that.’
The blood flowed in an unbroken pattern over the design, spattering the plants in crimson as Harry made his way around the triangles.
Fleur tugged her wand from her waist and stepped to the edge of the set of triangles. ‘Vulnera sanentur,’ she murmured.
‘Thanks.’ He twirled his wand in his fingers. ‘You should close your eyes now.’
Fleur squeezed her eyes shut as a bright, purple flash seared at her eyelids, then dragged them open again.
Harry stood at the centre of a web of pulsing purple runes. Every vein stood out from his skin, his jaw clenched so tight his teeth grated and his whole body trembled.
It’s hurting him. Fleur twisted her feet in the short grass and moss until it tore. It’s really hurting him.
Harry sagged. ‘Not the most pleasant feeling,’ he muttered. ‘I imagine having molten lead poured through your veins would feel similar.’ He shot her a tired grin. ‘Or how showering in this house used to be before you finally fixed the enchantments in the bathroom.’
‘I did a better job of fixing the shower than you did of painting the door,’ Fleur retorted. ‘It’s supposed to be smooth and even.’
‘It is,’ Harry replied.
‘It is now you’ve gone and used magic to fix it,’ Fleur teased. ‘Before, there were lumps everywhere and more blue on the doorstep than on the door.’
‘It’s harder than it looks,’ Harry protested. ‘I needed a better brush really.’ He stuck his chin in the air and put his hands on his hips. ‘Next time, ‘Arry,’ he drawled in a high falsetto. ‘I shall paint ze door myself; eet ‘az more ‘air on eet zan ze brush does.’
She pouted at him. ‘And I shall. You are not an artist, mon Cœur.’
Harry vanished the remnants of his ritual and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. A bright little gleam welled up in his eyes.
‘You’re cute when you get excited,’ Fleur told him. ‘This is the one you designed to resist poisons, isn’t it?’
A clever enchantment. She watched him draw a perfect, triangular prism about himself in the same glowing purple runes until he was a shadow behind a wall of floating, violet fire.
A handful of bezoars hovered beside white mistletoe berries and a single silver drop rose from among them, floating to the peak of the prism of flame.
Fleur gasped. ‘Where did you get that?’
‘The uncursed unicorn blood?’ Harry grinned. ‘I had to make a slightly disturbing trade with a shady vampire for it, but it’s pretty much the only thing potent enough to purge any malicious substance or curse away.’
‘I know.’ Fleur tossed her hair over her shoulder. ‘I read your notes on what you wanted it to do, too.’
‘Sneak,’ he accused. ‘You threatened to tell Gabby about our list of rooms if I peaked at your box.’
Fleur laughed. ‘I will show you the box, if you let me join.’
‘Join?’ Harry froze and a shadow flickered through his eyes. ‘But—’ he swallowed ‘—ok.’
Realised I’ll be safer, have you? She smothered a triumphant smirk. Little by little, you’ll get used to doing everything with me. You’ll learn to trust me.
‘You’re getting better.’ She flashed him a soft smile and ducked through the floating runes. ‘Soon I’ll have all your secrets, mon Cœur.’
‘Then you’ll get bored of me and fly off.’
Fleur rolled her eyes and kissed him on the cheek. ‘If your awful bird jokes haven’t got rid of me, nothing will.’
Harry studied his design. ‘You know, I don’t think I have to change anything.’ He spun his wand in idle circles on his palm. ‘The only real issue is the sacrifice. I’ve made mine.’ The corner of his lips twitched. ‘I’ve sacrificed plenty to get here and it all counts.’
I’ve sacrificed plenty, too. She buried memories of a trio of best friends and all their times together beneath the French sun and the shadows of the Pyrenees. The more it hurts to get.
‘Does it matter who does the sacrificing?’ she asked.
Harry blinked. ‘You know, I’m not actually sure it will matter in our case.’
‘Our,’ she echoed. ‘Finally, mon Amor.’
Half a smile flashed across his face. ‘Our dream. Our sacrifice.’
Our perfect wish.
He opened his wrist and drew forth a thin stream of blood, draping it over the runes and leaving it hanging upon those in the air like a bright red ribbon. ‘Your turn,’ he murmured.
Fleur grimaced and slashed her wand across her wrist, murmuring the incantation of the cutting curse. A deep line tore through the soft, pale skin of her arm. Harry dug his heels into the grass and looked away.
A small smile slipped onto Fleur’s lips as she layered her blood over his own. ‘Vulnera sanentur,’ she whispered, touching the tip of her wand to his arm.
He twitched and the cut crept closed.
Fleur healed herself. ‘What now?’
‘Close your eyes,’ he whispered, taking her hand.
Fear curled cold, sharp nailed fingers into her belly. ‘Will it hurt a lot?’
He squeezed her fingers. ‘It will. But… the more it hurts to get—’
‘The more satisfying it is to get it,’ she murmured, closing her eyes and leaning back against his chest.
The purple runes glowed, pulsing so bright her eyelids shone red. The metallic tang of blood saturated her tongue and her lungs began to burn like she’d run until puking.
Fleur curled her fingers into fists, clenching her nails into her palm. That’s unpleasant. Really unpleasant.
The searing sensation in her chest oozed downward, settling as a roiling, hot pool in her stomach. Fleur forced her gorge down, inhaling through her nose, and Harry’s breathing turned light and fast beside her. A dizziness seized her. She swayed, stumbling and staggering against him until the sickness faded.
Merde. That wasn’t fun. She opened her eyes to fading purple light and wrinkled her nose at the copper taste clinging to her tongue.
‘That wasn’t so bad,’ Harry muttered. ‘I don’t feel too tired.’
‘Is it over?’ Fleur turned her nose up. ‘I felt a bit sick, but I’m not tired.’
‘It’s done. Do we have anything strong tasting in the kitchen?’
‘Yes.’ She ran her tongue over her teeth. ‘We have wine. Very sweet, white wine.’
‘Jurançon…’ Harry vanished the remnants of the ritual and slipped his wand away, apparating them back into the kitchen.
The dizziness returned and Fleur swayed, catching herself on the table. Harry sprawled across the floor with a groan.
‘I retract what I said,’ he muttered into the tiles. ‘This one’s just as bad as all the others.’
‘What were the others like?’ she asked.
‘They hurt a lot, but I didn’t feel so horribly sick.’
‘Maybe this will help.’ Fleur plucked a wine bottle from the fridge and tugged out the rubber stop. She conjured two glasses, poured a decent measure into each, gulping the closest down and letting the taste of blood fade.
‘That is a very British way to drink wine.’ Harry dragged himself off the floor and staggered into a chair. ‘Your family would be horrified.’
Fleur poured herself a second, more modest glass and sipped it. ‘Happy now?’
Harry quaffed his own drink and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, then reopened his eyes and grinned at her. ‘Now I’m happy. I don’t feel like I’m about to throw up or like I’ve just gone way too far in my impersonation of a vampire.’
‘Good.’ She finished her glass of wine a sip at a time, savouring the sweet, sharp bouquet and its hint of fruit. ‘Lying around feeling sick was not the plan for the rest of the day.’
‘No.’ Harry’s expression hardened. ‘No, it wasn’t.’
‘Do you think it’s still a good idea to go?’ Fleur asked. ‘You did just lose a fair bit of blood.’
He drummed his fingers on his glass. ‘It’s not ideal, but I don’t think we should waste our chance.’ Harry slid his glass aside and placed his hand over hers. ‘Do you not feel up to going? I can go alone.’
Fleur narrowed her eyes and let a little heat creep from her bones. ‘No. You’re not going alone. You’re not doing anything alone again.’ She stood and tucked the wine bottle back into the fridge. ‘I’ll apparate us to the edge of the wards, then take them down.’
Harry frowned. ‘Did you check Gringotts’s records to see who they know is there?’
Fleur opened her little notebook and flicked through the pages. ‘Just him, his son, and a house elf registered to the family.’
‘A house elf,’ Harry murmured. ‘I’d rather avoid the elf.’
‘Avoiding a house elf within its own residence is all but impossible.’
His eyes cooled and he drew in a deep breath. ‘Then I suppose there’s no choice. Shall we go?’
‘This doesn’t feel like much of a plan.’ Fleur sighed. ‘I much prefer having a plan.’
A small smile passed across Harry’s lips. ‘I don’t really like plans, they just cage you in. Nothing ever seems to go to plan, anyway.’
Planning leads to hoping. Fleur slid an arm ’round his shoulders and rested her head on his shoulder. And hoping leads to hurting.
‘Let’s go,’ she said, picturing the manse beyond the lawns.
They appeared upon the gentle slope of a Kentish hill underneath a spread of late-blossoming hawthorn and gentle drizzle. The soft smell of wet leaves and loam permeated the air with the sweet scent of rhododendron flowers. Two hedges, a ditch and a low, loose-stoned wall lay between them and the lawn of the Notts’ smart, symmetrical Georgian home.
‘The ward is on the wall.’ Fleur pulled out her wand. ‘They cast the Unyielding Shield Charm, which I can breach, and their anti-apparition wards and portkey wards are up, which I will tweak to prevent anyone leaving.’
‘Will they notice?’ Harry asked.
Fleur shook her head. ‘There’s nothing woven into the magic to alert anyone to any changes. They won’t know anything’s wrong unless they try to leave or they see us.’
‘Alright, then.’ Harry’s wand slid from his sleeve. ‘Wait, what about the Floo?’
‘Not connected. I checked.’ She touched the tip of her wand to the edge of the ward and re-wove the threads of magic preventing apparition and portkey travel. ‘Now hush, mon Amour.’
The best way to break the Unyielding Shield Charm is to force it to stretch infinitely far, instantly. Fleur forced an inverted version of the Unyielding Shield Charm from her wand in a crackling beam of white light and watched the two wards battle. Magic poured from her into her spell. It shouldn’t take long to exhaust it.
A shimmer rippled above them in the haze of rain and the resistance to her magic caved.
‘Done.’ Fleur let the drain wash over her and the ache settled into her limbs. ‘But that was tiring, very tiring. I won’t be fighting many long duels.’
‘Hopefully, we’ll catch them by surprise and won’t have to fight any.’ Harry took her free wrist in his hand and apparated them in front of and then past the window into the downstairs hall in two quiet snaps.
Fleur trailed Harry as he prowled the halls. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears over the soft patter of the rain and her eyes darted toward every shadow and shape. Why does it have to be so quiet?
A loud creak came from behind her.
Fleur whirled, unleashing a stunning spell and twisting away from where she stood, then casting three more at the dark figure in the doorway. Her spells spattered across faded tapestries and bright blue beams melted through the wall next to her head, taking some of her hair with it. Harry’s piercing curse clipped the white-masked wizard’s thigh, leaving a gushing groove.
‘Aguamenti,’ he snapped.
Ice cracked and spread across the hall, coating the tapestries and thrusting, in cruel jutting spikes, from the floor, walls and ceiling. The figure sprayed blasting curses at it, but the spines closed around him like the jaws of a trap, impaling his limbs and pinning him down like an olive on a cocktail stick. Blood trickled over the clear spines, congealed, then froze into red frost.
Jugson. Fleur disarmed Jugson and snapped his wand, tossing the pieces over her shoulder. I was useless. Casting stunning spells. And I didn’t even hit him.
‘There’s a house elf in residence here,’ Harry said. ‘Summon them.’
‘The house elf?’ Jugson sneered. ‘Why?‘
‘I don’t make the mistake of underestimating magical creatures just because they’re not intimidating.’ Harry cocked his head and the ice shivered, the spines twisting deeper into Jugson like screws into a wall and a fresh wave of red trickled down them. ‘Summon them.’
‘Askey,’ Jugson groaned.
A loud crack echoed down the hall and a bald, wrinkled head appeared between them and Jugson.
Harry’s wand snapped up. ‘Lacero.’
The head slipped off its neck and the elf collapsed as if the strings had been cut from his marionette. Crimson spurted from the severed stump onto the ice and froze.
No risking the one perfect thing that came true. Fleur rested a hand on Harry’s shoulder. No matter what it takes.
‘Are there any others here?’ Harry asked.
‘Are you going to kill them too, Potter? The Dark Lord was right about you. We should have listened.’
Harry traced the slender ebony tip of his wand down Jugson’s cheek and rested it against the throbbing artery in his neck, staring right into the death eater’s eyes. ‘One last try…’
A shallow old man. No different to shallow little girls.
‘Go to hell, Potter.’ Jugson spat at the floor between Harry’s feet where the blood crept across the rugs toward their toes. ‘We’ll all be waiting for you there.’
Harry’s spell punched a fist-sized hole through Jugon’s sternum and he turned away. ‘Let’s go,’ he murmured, pulling Fleur back from the spreading red puddle.
He is always the one who does this. Fleur smothered a sudden flare of heat and the prickle of feathers. I tell him I’m not a trophy, but all I do is wait for him when things are hard and help when it’s easy.
‘Do you think there will be others?’ she whispered.
‘There’s only Nott and his son,’ Harry said. ‘I only asked to provoke him to think about them.’
They swept past dull, plain tapestries depicting scenes of hunting and many empty rooms until they came to a grander doorway.
‘Nott’s in here.’ Harry touched the tip of his wand to the door and it crumbled to dust, pooling and swirling about their feet as they stepped into the hall. ‘I don’t know where his son is, but we’ll deal with that later.’
Elegant, expensive chairs surrounded a mahogany table that stretched from one end of the room to the other beneath an array of crystal chandeliers. A stooped figure sat at the far end of the table by the fire beneath the painting of a blonde woman.
‘Potter,’ Nott hissed. ‘How the Dark Lord will honour me when I bring him you.’
A flurry of bright orange curses arced towards them over the long mahogany table, but Harry flicked them aside from the tip of his wand, sending them to hiss and spatter across the floor. Fleur stepped ’round him, adding her spells to his as they advanced.
A stray curse struck the chandeliers and fragments of crystal rained down between them, cascading in a glittering sprawl across the centre of the room. The mahogany table collapsed into dust when Harry placed the tip of his wand upon it and Fleur, gracefully twirling around him, deflected the volley of curses Nott unleashed back at him, sending him diving across the carpet. Chairs splintered and shattered under stray spells.
Nott turned his wand on her. ‘Imperio.’
A light, floating sensation filled her, a low dull ache throbbed at the sight of the blonde woman painted above the hearth, then a surge of bright, hot hate seized her and she turned her wand on Harry.
Kill him. The spell hovered on the tip of her tongue, but something caught them each time she opened her mouth. Not Harry. He’s mine. Her wand tip snapped back to Nott.
Thin, dark ropes snared the Death Eater and dragged him into his chair, binding him tight. Harry summoned a pair of battered chairs from the wreckage and took a seat in front of him.
You forgot to take his wand, idiot. Fleur tugged Nott’s wand from his limp grip and tossed it into the fire behind him.
‘To what do I owe the pleasure?’ Nott drawled.
‘The other Death Eater’s dead. Askey too.’ Harry caught the Death Eater’s gaze. ‘Nobody’s coming to save you.’
Nott flinched. ‘I have nothing to say to you.’
‘You don’t have to say anything.’ Harry leant back on his chair. ‘It really makes no difference.’
Nott’s wife poked her pale face out from behind the tree on her canvas, clamping her hand over her mouth.
‘I was wondering if you knew of any of your fellows being given something to protect by Voldemort. An object that he greatly valued.’
‘I told you I have nothing to say to you.’ Nott sneered. ‘You, descended from such a prestigious bloodline, now consorting with that creature.’ His eyes flicked to Fleur. ‘It’s not unattractive, I suppose; it might make an amusing distraction at times, but to openly breed with it is to contaminate centuries of magical blood.’
A cold, sharp gleam entered Harry’s eye. ‘You should choose your next words very carefully.’
Fleur raised a finger and forced a bright blue spark into life upon its tip. ‘There’s more magic in my finger than you possess, shallow little man.’ She pressed the finger into his cheek until he clenched his jaw and writhed. ‘You don’t get to judge us.’
‘Father!’ Footsteps pounded across the floor. ‘Stupefy!’
Fleur whirled and batted aside the spell.
A young wizard clutched a short, light wood wand in one shaking hand. She tore it from his hand with a single spell and tossed it away into the corner.
‘He’s seen us,’ Harry said. ‘You know what that means.’
‘No,’ Nott shouted. ‘I don’t know anything about any object, I swear, but not my son, not Theo!’
‘I thought you didn’t have anything to say to us,’ Harry said. ‘I suppose, if you said something useful, Theo could be memory charmed.’
No he can’t be. Fleur exchanged a glance with him as Nott babbled. And it’s time I showed you we’re just the same. A small smile curved her lips. Maybe it’ll help you trust that this time your dream’s here to stay.
‘Enough,’ Harry said. ‘You’re repeating yourself.’
‘You said you would Memory Charm him,’ Nott croaked. ‘Please.’
‘I did.’ Harry raised his wand, a cold, hard look in his eyes.
Fleur clawed up Emilie and Caroline and all the little shallow girls with their games and their whispers and their words. Shallow little people who’d ruin dreams just because it’d make them feel powerful. The fire bubbled in her bones and the feathers strained beneath her skin. We have to ruin them first. It’s their dreams or ours.
‘Avada kedavra,’ she whispered.
A bright, green flash reflected back off the shattered pieces of chandelier and the polished parts of furniture. Theo Nott crumpled like a house of cards.
‘No!’ Nott cried. ‘You — you—’
‘I lied,’ Harry said.
‘Theo,’ Nott whispered, staring at the body of his son. Tears trickled down his grizzled face as he stared up at the painting above the mantle. ‘I failed you, Calli.’
Dead. A flutter of disquiet flitted through Fleur’s stomach. She crushed it. Just another small dream snuffed out. For ours to live, theirs must die. And I didn’t make it that way. They did.
‘He knew nothing,’ Harry said. ‘We’ve wasted our time.’
‘Two less Death Eaters,’ Fleur replied. ‘There are others on the list.’
‘Yes, there are.’ A faint smile curved Harry’s lips. ‘I’ll take them all away from him, one after the other. Until it’s just him again.’ He slashed his wand across his chest.
The fire swirled. A flaming serpent’s maw lunged from the grate, closing around Nott with a snap and a hiss like cold water poured into a hot pan.
‘We should raze the place.’ Harry took Fleur’s hand, apparating them both to the edge of the wards. ‘Another disappearance won’t stand out anymore, but we don’t want Dumbledore or someone at the Ministry to figure anything out.’
Fleur nodded. ‘No risking our perfect wish, mon Cœur.’
Harry wrapped an arm around her shoulders and raised his wand. ‘It’s not easy to cast or control, but if you could manage the Killing Curse…’
She leant into his embrace and thrust her wand out beside his. ‘There are plenty of things I’d like to see destroyed, and you should know I am more than stubborn enough to keep control.’
‘Together?’ Harry asked, pulling her a little tighter against him.
All the things I hate about this world. Fleur took a deep breath and let old thoughts rise up. Easy, pretty, expensive trinkets and beautiful lies that float beyond our fingertips.
Red-tipped flames billowed from their wands across the neat lawn. A roiling storm of magic swirled before them, eating into the wards like boiling water through ice. The head and wings of a vast, feathered serpent rose over the house; its coils encircled it, searing the grass and leaves to ash. Little yellow flames sprang up upon scorched branches, licking at the wood, and smoke streamed across the countryside.
‘Leave nothing but ash,’ Harry murmured.
The fiendfyre serpent spread its wings, rising over the home like a cobra, then plunged down into the house and drew its coils tight. The walls and roof dissolved beneath the flames and the mansion crashed into a pool of red fire. A thick column of smoke poured off it, rising up to blot out the sun.
Fleur forced the fire down, smothering the desire for destruction. The magic ripped the strength from her like a giant’s fist, leaving her gasping and trembling in Harry’s arms. Patches of crimson flame flared back up across the ruins.
‘That’s enough.’ Harry flourished his wand and the red flames guttered out into thin patches of yellow fire. ‘The rest will burn out naturally.’
‘It’s a lot easier to cast than end,’ Fleur said.
‘Hatred’s hard to direct.’ Harry’s wand vanished into his sleeve and he wrapped his other arm round her. ‘That was incredible control for your first time.’
‘What kind of veela would I be if I couldn’t manage a fire spell?’
He shot her a grin. ‘One that’s less inclined to melt my face off?’
‘It would just be harder to do.’ She sighed and let the ache of exhaustion wash through her. ‘I think I’d rather just take a nap, right now. You can go back to your stone hunting while I sleep.’
‘Are you okay?’ Harry murmured.
‘I’m tired.’ She leant her head on his shoulder and let her eyelids droop. ‘Between the Fiendfyre and the wards…’
‘That’s not what I meant.’ He twisted ’round and cradled her head against his chest. ‘You didn’t have to do that, you know.’
Fleur watched the flames consume the rest of the ruins. ‘Yes I did.’
‘You could’ve. And next time you start to worry about your wish slipping away, you might’ve thought back and remembered I wouldn’t do what you did. You might’ve started to doubt…’ She tilted her head back against his arm and watched the reflection of the fire dance in his eyes. ‘But now you can’t. It might be hard for you, but I will make you trust me. With everything. Without hesitation. Without doubt.’
Something very soft shone in Harry’s eyes and a small smile spread across his face. ‘There’s a mirror, one that can show you what you desire most…’
‘The Mirror of Erised,’ Fleur let her eyes slide shut and her weight slip into his arms. ‘It’s famous.’
‘I’ve seen it. In the Department of Mysteries.’
She forced her eyes open and held her breath. ‘What did you see?’
Us. I hope. She pictured their reflections in the glass, arm in arm. Gabby hovered at the edge of the scene, a mischievous gleam in her eye. Our perfect wish.
He apparated them back into their bedroom with a soft snap and laid her down on the bed. Her dress shifted into loose-fitting pyjamas as he pulled the duvet up and sat down beside her.
‘Harry?’ Fleur suppressed a yawn as the soft, warmth enveloped her and let her eyes drift shut. ‘What did you see?’
‘I saw you,’ he whispered, running his fingers through her hair as sleep drew her down into the dark. ‘I saw you.’