Warmth soaked across his stomach, creeping down his legs as he waded through the rubies, struggling through cold, hard stones. Their sharp edges bit into his aching legs and stabbed at the soles of his feet.
‘Faster,’ Tracey whispered, drifting through the rubies beside him like fog. ‘She’s fading.’
Harry grit his teeth and blinked sweat from his stinging eyes, forcing his legs faster and peering at the distant, fatigue-blurred light.
‘Faster,’ Pina chirped. ‘You’re so slow, Harry. You’re always so slow.’
A sharp pain lanced through his right ankle as the gems rolled under his foot. He hissed and trudged on, ignoring the little twinges. Katie’s eyelids flickered, dust fell from her eyelashes, clinging to her pale lips and cheeks.
‘We’re getting there,’ Harry whispered. ‘I won’t let you die, Katie.’
‘You’re only fucking halfway,’ Tracey said. ‘She’ll be dead before you get to the end at this rate.’
‘You’re not a very helpful ghost,’ he muttered, struggling through the cold, hard stones. ‘Pina, you’re even less helpful.’
Pina’s ghost pouted. ‘Be faster.’
‘Or stop wading,’ Tracey said.
Harry froze. ‘Fuck.’ He rested Katie on the rubies and snatched the Elder Wand out, conjuring a long, flat piece of wood, dropping it over the top of the gems. ‘Right.’ He hauled himself onto it and lifted Katie back up.
Her faint breath tickled his arm and she let out a low moan.
‘Sorry,’ Harry whispered, breaking back into a run and conjuring a second piece of wood ahead of him. ‘I should have thought of this.’
‘You’re tired,’ Tracey whispered. ‘But you found a way out.’
Harry took a deep breath, ignoring the throb and ache of his legs, and lowered his head, watching his feet thud on his conjured boards as he ran. The tunnel grew lighter with each rush of breath and a warm breeze brushed his sweat-beaded skin.
He pictured Analipsis beach, but the tunnel remained still.
Just a little further.
The walls crept past, growing brighter, and he staggered onto smooth, marble and into hot, blinding sunlight.
Toppled, tumbled white stone towers crumbled into a bright blue sea. White-crested waves splashed against the tarnished green feet of a vast bull-headed statue.
Harry stumbled to a halt. This place seems familiar. He shook his head, ripping open the bottom seam of his jacket and pulling the silver cloak out from inside it. No time. Harry swept the cloak over them both.
‘We’re nearly there, Katie.’ He pictured Analipsis beach and wrenched at his magic.
The waves crashed against the rocks below, swirling and foaming over the ruins.
‘Fuck.’ Harry peered down the steps to where the sea swallowed them and squinted up into the bright sun. ‘Double fuck.’
Up is probably better. He dragged himself up the steps, cradling Katie against his chest. The wards on barrows and temples usually only go as high as the roof. I just need to get above the top of the dome.
His feet trudged up white steps between fallen, worn marble columns over cracks sprouting with green. The faint breeze pushed the silk of the cloak against face, flattening it against his chest and Katie’s side.
A marble throne stood before a tangle of cacti.
‘Her throne,’ Harry muttered, smothering a flash of fury. ‘Good fucking riddance.’
He closed his eyes and drew the last dregs of his magic up, picturing the smooth sand of Analipsis beach. Here we go, Katie.
Heat washed over him.
Harry opened his eyes.
Gleaming white silk whispered against the marble, trembling above bare feet; it rose up past a deep purple silk sash, over the swell of full breasts, to slim, pale-skinned shoulders and a cascade of crimson hair. Bright opals glittered on the bone crown tines resting atop her red tresses, sparkling against the dizzying swirl of the red runes floating across the pale ivory tines.
Harry’s blood ran cold.
‘Oh no,’ Pina’s ghost whispered. ‘Oh no.’
Minos’s Shadow breathed in the sea breeze, her dark lashes fluttering and a soft smile curving her pink lips. She rose, her maroon irises piercing right through the cloak.
Harry thrust the Elder Wand at her, letting it bite to his heart.
White silk rippled into flowing, glowing bronze, encasing her from her toes to the gleaming tips of the two curved horns above her head. Her eyes flashed crimson, burning bright and hot as the minotaur’s gaze and a searing shroud of magic shivered off her.
A shadow slipped across the sun, creeping across it until the world bled red.
‘So bright, so hot, so red, so powerful,’ Pina murmured, staring into the blood-stained eclipse from atop Tracey’s shoulders. ‘Astarte.’
A burning wind rose, pinning him to the ground, crushing down on him like the weight of the world; it tugged at the silver mist of Tracey and Pina, pulling little wisps of them away.
The Elder Wand smouldered and crumbled in his hand, the silk invisibility cloak unravelling into smoke and streaming past his shoulders. Tracey and Pina’s ghosts scattered into the sky and the Resurrection Stone on his finger burst into dust. Harry grit his teeth against the force of the searing storm.
It crushed him to his knees on the warm marble.
Dead Tracey. Dead Katie. Dead Agrippina. Dead Harry. A faint flash of bitter humour tore a quiet snort from him. Dead world.
He sighed. ‘Just do it, shadow. You win.’
Hot, sharp bronze grazed his throat, lifting his chin until he stared into her burning crimson eyes. Minos’s Shadow shimmered back into white silk and extended her hand, touching a fingertip to Katie’s cheek.
‘What?’ Harry asked. ‘What do you want?’
A sharp smile curved her lips as she drew the khopesh back. It shivered into a flickering, glowing, fist-sized ruby.
‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘Never.’
She thrust the ruby at him, her red eyes flicking to Katie’s bleeding stomach and back to him.
Harry swallowed. ‘You’ll save her?’
Her smile widened. Katie’s wound melted closed with a wisp of steam, the hole in her jacket weaving back together. Colour crept back into her cheeks and her shallow breathing turned even and deep.
He bowed his head. ‘Take it.’
The ruby shrank to the size of his thumbnail and she pressed it onto the gold band on his finger. Searing heat bit into him, curling through his arm and across his chest like a thousand, white-hot hooks, clawing deeper and deeper and deeper.
Harry clenched his jaw as tears sprang to his eyes. A wordless cry tore its way up inside him, catching at the back of his throat.
‘Don’t scream. Don’t fear.’ Her whisper echoed like distant thunder as she crouched before him, a soft smile in her maroon eyes. ‘I called. And you set me free.’
The burning vanished, fading to a slow, soft pulse upon his finger. Crimson light flickered in the ruby on the ring.
‘Show me this new world,’ she murmured, shimmering into red light and flowing into the gem on his hand. ‘Show me everything.’
Katie stirred in his arms, her eyelids fluttering. The thrum of the ring thundered in Harry’s ears and the light of the gem pulsed to the rhythm of her breath.
And remember… Her whisper rose from the well of his mind, sharp as the bronze khopesh’s edge. Your heart is mine…