Crimson light spilt through the slim gap, pouring past bone fingertips, pulsing in time with the pounding of Harry’s heart. The Elder Wand throbbed in his hand, flashing hot with each thrum, tugging at his magic.
‘Who wants to go in first?’ Harry asked. ‘Smith?’
Smith shook his head so hard, his handkerchief bandage slipped over his eyes. ‘Please don’t make me go first, Potter.’
‘What a fucking coward,’ Tracey’s ghost muttered in his ear. ‘It’s no wonder Bell didn’t want to get screwed by him. He’s pathetic.’
Harry exchanged a look with Katie. ‘Fine. I’ll go first.’ Fear clawed at his gut with cold, sharp talons. ‘Let’s hope it’s just loads of treasure after all.’
He took a deep breath and reached up to shake Pina.
‘What?’ Pina’s weight on his shoulders shifted. ‘I was sleeeping.’ A soft little sigh ruffled Harry’s hair. ‘It was so nice.’
‘We’re going in, Pina. Time for you to hop off.’
Her weight vanished and she landed on the floor. ‘To the shadow?’
‘I suspect so,’ Harry muttered, holding the Elder Wand tight in his fist and pulling the warm, bone door open.
A great bronze bull-headed statue rose from a pool of countless flickering, fist-sized rubies. Beneath its curving horns its eyes burnt with crimson light and a string of shining opals hung upon a gold chain at its neck.
‘That’s a lot of rubies.’ Smith tittered, staring down the short, stone ramp into the hoard. ‘I need more pockets.’
‘All the rubies we could have ever needed,’ Tracey murmured, drifting down to the edge of the pool of gems.
Crimson light shone through her like torch beams through smoke.
Katie tugged his sleeve, pointing her wand at where the pool of rubies flowed down a canal to. It ended against polished, gleaming bronze and a dark, basalt arch covered in crawling, glowing red runes.
‘If we can get through that, it might be a way out,’ she said. ‘But…’
The bull’s muzzle twisted into a sharp smile with a dull, metallic screech and its fists curled shut. Wisps of crimson magic danced about the opals dangling from its neck and the Elder Wand burst into song.
‘Fuck,’ Harry whispered, raising his wand. ‘Destroy it.’
Smith whimpered and shrank back. ‘We can’t—’
‘If we don’t, we’re stuck in here,’ Harry snapped as the brazen minotaur strode from the rubies, scattering Tracey’s ghost like smoke into the wind.
Katie hurled spells at it. They burst on the bronze like drops of water against glass.
He let the Elder Wand drink deep from his magic, let its song coax the fury out, tasting its copper heat on his tongue, feeling its bright thrill course through his veins.
A searing white flash filled the dome.
Harry gasped as the magic was ripped from him, sinking to one knee. The minotaur staggered back. Molten bronze spattered the rubies and ran from the glowing stump of its left shoulder to puddle at its cloven feet.
A bolt of red lanced past him, shattering the bone screen and sending Smith flying back into the wall. He rolled twice and fell still.
Katie conjured a swathe of ropes, snaring the bull’s legs and wrenching it to its knees. ‘Get up, Harry,’ she hissed. ‘You need to do that again.’
Crimson light rose from its gleaming skin, melting through the ropes and the minotaur lunged forward in a bronze blur.
A dark blur smashed into it and went flying into the rubies. The minotaur snorted and champed, wrenching its right leg back into shape.
Cold adrenaline flooded through Harry’s veins and he staggered to his feet. Katie snatched his hand and dragged him back over the broken bones and scattered, flickering rubies.
Pina leapt from the pool of crimson gems. ‘Bad statue.’ She wagged her finger at it. ‘Very bad.’
The minotaur paused, its crimson glare swivelling between Pina and them. A dark blur hammered into it, knocking it to its knees. Pina bent its bronze arm behind its back with a metallic shriek and held it down.
‘Get it,’ Katie muttered.
The Elder Wand sunk its teeth deep into him, tearing more magic from within. A white flash punched a glowing hole through the centre of the minotaur’s chest. It shuddered and the red flow in its eyes flickered, flaring like fires in the wind.
‘Pina!’ Harry yelled.
The minotaur rammed its horns through Pina’s chest and tossed her across the floor with a flick of its head, leaping after her, stamping on her legs with a vast bronze hoof and kicking her limp body across to Harry’s feet.
‘I’m already dead.’ A little giggle burst through Pina’s lips as her bones crunched back into place and her skin melted closed. ‘Already dead. Already dead.’ She jumped to her feet, her orange eyes burning. ‘And I go on and on and on and on.’
The minotaur lowered its head and charged. Katie hurled spells into its face, severing one of the curving horns and sending it skittering across the basalt.
Go on. Take more. Harry let the Elder Wand’s whisper pull the magic from him, tugging it from the dull ache. However much it takes.
Pina drove her fist into his forehead, snapping her forearm like a twig and bouncing away across the floor. The minotaur stamped on her head, crushing it like an egg, and kicked her down into the pool of rubies, its crimson eyes blazing.
The fury rose in Harry’s chest, swirling in spurts, spatters, splashes, and splatters, hot as the burning red eyes of Minos’s Shadow, sharp as the curved edge of the bronze khopesh in her fist. The Elder Wand sang in triumph, a swelling crescendo setting his blood alight.
A white flash splattered its legs across the floor.
The minotaur thudded to the ground, the crimson light in its blazing.
‘Fuck you,’ Harry spat, striding over. ‘I’m going to take your heart.’
‘Duck,’ Tracey whispered in his ear.
He flinched. A hot flash of blue struck him in the back, smashing him into the minotaur’s chest. His cheek smacked into the shining opals and sparks burst before his eyes.
‘Get up,’ Tracey hissed. ‘Get up and kill him. Kill him, or you’ll dream of her screams for the rest of your life.’
Harry cracked open an eye.
The red glare of the minotaur burnt a wand’s length from his face.
Cold shock tore through him. ‘Fuck.’ He grabbed at the opals, dragging himself up.
Their clasp snapped and he slid to one knee.
‘Kill him,’ Tracey whispered. ‘Kill him.’
‘Kill who?’ Harry stumbled upright, snatching his wand from his pocket.
Smith stood over Katie, his wand pointed at her chest. ‘Take it off. Take it all off. Slow.’ A broad grin spread across his face. ‘I’ve been looking forward to this since I snatched you from that office.’
‘Oh.’ Harry raised his wand as Katie unbuttoned her jacket with shaking hands. ‘I was going to feed him to Pina.’
A dark blur appeared in front of him. ‘Me?’ Pina chirped, picking the opal necklace from the ground. ‘Feed who to me?’ She stared into the pale stones, her orange eyes burning. ‘So bright and cold and distant and pretty.’
‘Pina,’ Harry snapped. ‘Eat Smith.’
Pina’s fist clenched around the gleaming stones. ‘Okay.’
A grey blur tore Smith’s arm off at the shoulder.
Katie scrambled back across the floor, glancing around. Harry limped to her side and pulled her to her feet, stuffing his wand into his pocket to redo the buttons of her jacket.
‘Fuck,’ she whispered, clinging to him with shaking fingers. ‘I really thought he was going to—’
‘He’s not going to be doing anything to anyone.’ Harry eased her around to look back. ‘See?’
Pina pinned Smith to the wall with one hand across his face, standing over his broken, twisted legs and pinning his remaining arm against the stone with a fistful of opals. Blood gushed from the stump of Smith’s shoulder.
‘No.’ He squirmed in her grip. ‘I wasn’t going to—’
She snapped his arm and he screamed, turning bone white.
‘It’s good I get to eat you, you nearly took away Harry. You nearly took away his Maybe-Tasty-Katie.’ Pina dropped his arm and ripped his throat out with one small hand, beaming as the blood fountained over her face.
Katie shuddered and flushed.
‘He deserves it,’ Harry said. ‘You know what he was going to do.’
‘I know,’ she whispered, burying her face in his shoulder. ‘But I can’t watch that.’
He stroked her hair until her trembling eased. ‘You don’t have to. She’ll be done in a moment.’ Harry pulled her close. ‘It’s okay. It’s over now.’
‘All messy!’ Pina appeared beside them and stuck her fistful of opals out. ‘Clean me, Harry.’
Katie squeaked and flinched back.
‘Sneaky little vampire child.’ Harry snorted and stripped the blood off her. ‘Is that better?’
‘Opals,’ Katie murmured, staring at the necklace dangling from Pina’s fingers.
‘Pretty.’ Pina beamed, clasping the necklace around her neck. ‘Like the temple in Mysia. She was so beautiful.’
‘Careful with those,’ Harry said, glancing back at the still, bronze form of the minotaur. ‘And don’t touch the rubies.’
‘I don’t want rubies.’ A fierce gleam rose in her orange eyes. ‘I want you to come with me, Harry. I’ve waited so long.’
‘Of course I’m coming with you.’ He patted her on the head, mussing her dark curls. ‘We’ll go lie low somewhere.’
Pina snatched his wrist and sank her teeth into his hand. Pain flashed up his arm.
‘Ow!’ Harry shoved her off. ‘Agrippina! What the fuck?!’
‘You have to come with me,’ she whispered.
‘Opals,’ Katie hissed. ‘The opals.’
Red light danced on the pale stones, flickering like faint crimson flames.
‘Pina take that off,’ Harry snapped. ‘Take it off now.’
‘No,’ she whined, stamping her foot. ‘I won’t. I like them.’
‘Agrippina.’ Harry pulled his wand out and glanced around. ‘Now.’
The Elder Wand lay on the basalt floor a dozen steps away, glowing with soft, pale light.
Pina stared at him with orange eyes and smiled, baring her little pearl-white fangs between blood-smeared pink lips. ‘No.’ She licked the red off with her small tongue. ‘Three thousands years. On and on and on. You have to come with me.’
‘I am—’ Realisation hit him like a hammer. ‘Oh.’
She nodded. ‘I waited and you nearly died too soon.’
Harry shook his head. ‘Pina, I can’t do the things I want to if you turn me.’
Pina pouted. ‘You have to.’ She huffed. ‘I’ll make you.’
‘What about what I want?’ Harry asked, stepping back, dragging Katie after him by the arm.
‘I’ll turn Maybe-Tasty-Katie, too,’ Pina chirped, prowling after him. ‘I was going to turn Tracey for you, but I can’t now.’ She paused, eyeing his wand. ‘You can’t outrun me, Harry. I’m faster than you. And I’m already dead.’
Harry took a deep breath. ‘Don’t do this, Pina. Take off the opals.’ He swallowed. ‘If you take off the opals and break them, and still want to turn me this badly, then I’ll think about it.’
A dark blur flashed forward.
Harry thrust out his wand.
Pina clawed into a wall of white magic, forcing herself closer step by step, her burning orange eyes fixed on his neck. ‘This is how it’s meant to be. How it’s meant to stay. It’s the best it’s ever been.’
Katie banished her back across the floor. ‘Harry.’
‘Get the opals,’ Harry said. ‘Don’t — don’t hurt Pina.’ He snatched the Elder Wand from the floor with a shaking hand and stuffed it in his pocket. ‘I can’t lose her as well.’
Pina blurred back toward them, hammering back into his shield. ‘Let me in,’ she sang. ‘Let me in, Harry. It will hurt a little bit, but then it won’t.’
‘Won’t.’ She forced her arm through the magic. ‘Dead Agrippina. Dead world. Dead everything.’ Pina clawed her torso through and Harry’s shield wavered. ‘But not when I’m with you. It’s like being alive again.’
Katie thrust her wand at the opals.
Pina ripped through the shield, snatching the wand from Katie’s hand and sweeping their legs out from under them. Harry’s back smacked into the floor. His head cracked against the cold stone.
Bright orange eyes peered down at him and a weight dropped onto his chest.
‘Hello, Pina.’ Harry’s heart sank. ‘If you do this, I will spend the next millennia hating and spanking you.’
‘That’s okay,’ she chirped. ‘Because you’ll be with me. And we’ll go on and on and on together.’ Pina bared her small fangs.
‘Wait.’ Harry took a deep breath. ‘If you take off the opals and let Katie go, I’ll let you turn me.’
‘Will you still try and spank me?’
A faint flash of humour flitted through him. ‘Probably yes. I’m going to be very very angry.’
Pina cocked her head, her ebony curls tumbling over her face. ‘But without Maybe-Tasty-Katie you’ll be sad.’ She scowled. ‘You both have to come. Katie first.’
She lunged from his chest, punching her little arm through Katie’s stomach in a spray of red. ‘There.’ Pina twirled, crimson trickling down her right arm and dripping from her fingertips. She hummed and caught one drop upon her tongue. ‘Definitely tasty.’
Katie shuddered and gasped, blood spurting from the hole in the belly. She groped for Harry’s wand and swung it. A flash of white smacked Pina in the chest, sending her tumbling back across the floor like a rag doll.
‘She’s dying,’ Tracey’s ghost crouched beside Katie, staring at the gushing wound with silver eyes. ‘She doesn’t have long.’
Harry staggered up, snatching the Elder Wand from his pocket; it sunk its teeth into his magic and drank deep. A dark blur flashed toward him. He closed his eyes and let the magic go.
White seared through his eyelids.
‘Oh no,’ Pina whispered. ‘Oh no.’
Harry cracked open one eye.
Katie pressed her hands to her stomach, blood streaming through her fingers, breathing in light, fast gasps; her eyes squeezed shut. Pina stared at Katie with wide, orange eyes as her upper chest and neck melted back into place. Bits of shattered opal tinkled to her feet and the red wisps of magic guttered out. In the corner of his eye, the bronze in the basalt arch melted away and crimson runes faded.
‘Pina…’ Harry took a step forward.
‘No.’ Pina stumbled back. ‘Dead Agrippina. Dead world. Dead magic.’ She burst into tears. ‘I just want to be alive again. Why can’t everything be alive again?’ Pina sank to her knees, clutching for the severed horn of the minotaur. ‘I’m sorry. Pina’s sorry. I don’t want to be alone anymore. I don’t want to. It just goes on and on and on and it’s so lonely and I’m so hungry and I just — I just—’ she drove the bronze horn through her chest with a soft crunch—I just want to sleep.’
‘Pina!’ Harry tore the horn out and threw it away.
Pina buried her face in his stomach. ‘It’s okay, daddy. It’s just like sleeping.’ She smiled up at him, her bright orange eyes dulling. ‘Nice and quiet. No hunger. No fear. Just peace,’ Pina whispered, clinging to his leg. ‘Just… like… sleeping…’
She crumbled to dust.
‘I’m sorry.’ Pina’s whisper echoed as if from the far end of a long, dark tunnel.
Tracey’s ghost lifted Pina’s onto her shoulders with a sad smile. ‘She’s dying, Harry. Bell is dying.’
Harry grabbed his wand from the floor, and stuffed it and the Elder Wand into his pocket, lifting Katie into his arms. A soft groan tore from her lips and her eyelids flickered. He pictured Analipsis beach and wrenched at his magic.
The domed hall and the pool of rubies remained still.
‘Fuck.’ He forced his tired legs down the ramp, stumbling and sliding to the arch.
A slim canal of rubies led toward a distant gleam of light.
‘Run,’ Tracey whispered.
‘Run,’ Pina sang. ‘Run run as fast as you can.’