The silver acorn gleamed on his palm. Heavy in his hand. Hot against his skin.
‘How did it go so wrong?’ he whispered, curling his fingers closed over it and clenching tight until the metal bit into him. ‘It was always complicated, but I never thought it would go so wrong as this.’
Pina buried her face in his leg. ‘Come be with me. We can play together forever.’
‘But I’d be dead, Pina.’ He patted her on the head, swallowing the hot lick of fury down into the ball of fire beneath his ribs. ‘I couldn’t have kids or anything like that. You’d understand if you were older.’
She pouted. ‘But she’s gone, you can’t have that anyway.’
Harry winced from the sharp twist of pain in his heart. ‘There could be someone else. One day. I thought the same thing when Ginny and I fell apart.’
‘Like Maybe-Tasty-Katie?’ Pina chirped.
‘I don’t think so,’ he murmured. ‘I think that even if we somehow destroy the shadow and get out of here, I’m going to have to disappear to avoid ending up in Azkaban.’
‘Where will we go?’ She lifted her from his leg. ‘America? The New World?’
Harry snorted. ‘Nobody calls it that anymore, you wrinkly little old lady.’
‘I am not wrinkly.’ Pina patted her face. ‘See. No wrinkles. You’re wrinkly.’
‘Give it a few years and I really will be.’ He sighed. ‘I wonder what happened to everyone else, you know?’
‘Yeah. All the people I had to leave behind.’ Harry slipped his hand inside his jacket down past the Elder Wand to the small lump beneath the seam at the bottom of the pocket. ‘Some ghosts, some not.’
‘Annoying ghosties,’ Pina muttered. ‘Not very tasty.’
‘No, you can’t eat ghosts.’ He chuckled. ‘Which means you probably don’t like them very much with your one track mind.’
Something scraped on stone in the corridor. Harry jolted upright, snatching the Elder Wand from his pocket.
Smith limped from the gloom. ‘Just me, Potter.’
‘We thought you were dead.’ Harry nudged Pina up and stood. ‘Looked like you got hit right in the face.’
‘Just out cold.’ He turned his head. ‘Zabini’s curse took my ear off and sent me flying, but that’s it. I woke up a little while back and hobbled back up here.’ Smith pressed his blood-stained handkerchief to the red-crusted stump of his ear. ‘I hurt everywhere.’
‘We’re going to get going in a few moments,’ Harry said. ‘Just waiting on Katie to wake up.’
‘Bell?’ Smith’s eyes strayed to where her tent stood. ‘What about—’
‘Everyone else is dead,’ Harry said. ‘Blaise and Tracey are gone.’
‘Oh.’ Smith shuffled his feet. ‘Sorry about your girl, then, Potter. Guess the only silver lining is now we both get more of that treasure.’
Harry stepped across to Katie’s tent. ‘Katie?’
‘I’m almost done.’ She stuck her head out and scowled. ‘How the hell is he still alive?’
‘Blaise missed everything but his ear, apparently.’ Harry shot a glance over his shoulder. ‘Keep an eye on him. He’s already mentioned the treasure once.’
‘Right.’ Katie’s eyes strayed to the silver acorn dangling against his chest. ‘Harry—’
‘Hurry up.’ He tucked the necklace away. ‘Minos’s Shadow is waiting.’
She sighed. ‘Right.’
Harry stared through the arch into the dark as Katie took her tent down, shrinking it away and tucking it into the pocket of her jacket. Smith hovered, his eyes lingering on Katie’s boobs as she stretched, and the flash of heat reared in his chest, burning like a brand.
‘Pina,’ he whispered.
She blurred to his side. ‘What?’
‘Keep an eye on Smith,’ Harry murmured. ‘If he looks like he’s going to do anything, he’s all yours.’
She beamed and snapped her teeth. ‘What about Maybe-Tasty-Katie?’
‘No.’ Harry shook his head and bumped her in the butt with his knee. ‘Leave Katie be.’
‘What if she attacks you?’ Pina swiped her ebony curls off her face. ‘Can I eat her then?’
‘Once we’re out, she won’t,’ he said. ‘If she goes for us before then, just take her wand away.’
‘Okay,’ Pina chirped.
‘Are we all ready?’ Harry asked. ‘The Shadow of Minos is through there somewhere.’
Pina shivered. ‘On and on and on,’ she muttered. ‘Dead world for dead Agrippina.’
‘Let’s get out of here,’ Katie said, striding toward the arch.
Smith limped after her, his eyes on her legs as she stepped into the black. Harry clenched his teeth and followed, pulling the Elder Wand from his jacket.
A ramp descended around the wall of a vast domed hall to a ruby studded screen of bones. Crimson light poured through it like rays of dawn breaking across the horizon.
‘The shadow,’ Pina whispered.
Ice flashed through Harry’s blood and he clenched his fist around the Elder Wand. ‘No sneaking up on me right now, Pina. I’m a little on edge.’
‘Sorry.’ She leapt onto his shoulders.
Harry staggered under her sudden weight, shifting her across his shoulders until her butt stopped digging into his spine. ‘Come on then.’ He strode down the ramp, studying the smooth, dark stone walls and floor.
‘What do you think’s in there?’ Katie asked, throwing short glances back over her shoulder at Smith.
‘The Shadow of Minos.’ Harry patted the wall. ‘From what I remember of the island, Aia’s not that big, so we must be close to the North coast.’
‘So?’ Smith fiddled with his handkerchief. ‘I don’t see a way out.’
‘We have to destroy the shadow.’
‘And what then?’ Katie asked. ‘Walk all the way back?’
‘If we have to,’ Harry replied. ‘Without Tracey, we have to break out somehow. I think destroying the shadow is the only way to undo the magic on the temple. Otherwise, we’ll have to try and smash our way through the walls here.’
The ramp ran out before a pair of three-headed, bone sentinels. Hollow, dark eye sockets stared down at him from either side of a door of spread, skeletal hands.
‘We’re going to need your rubies.’
‘I don’t have any.’
Harry turned on his heel and stared at his bulging pockets. ‘Really?’ He tapped the Elder Wand against his palm, stifling the little flare of anger and the rising whisper of the wand. ‘Turn out your pockets then.’
‘No.’ Smith drew himself up. ‘I won’t.’
Pina cocked her head. ‘Does this mean I can eat him?’ A huge grin spread across her face. ‘I’m starting to get hungry again.’
Smith paled. ‘Okay, okay, wait.’ He fumbled a ruby from his pocket. ‘Here.’
‘We’re going to need another eleven.’
‘Eleven.’ Smith whimpered, digging into his pockets and counting them out one at a time. ‘That’s almost all of them!’
‘You can pry them out of the statue again afterward.’ Harry levitated the stack of rubies, sweeping them up into the eyes of the statue. ‘There we go.’
Crimson light flickered in the gems and the bone sentinels shuddered. Four long arms jerked free from their bodies as they pulled themselves from the screen of bone, their hands clenching into fists.
‘That’s not good,’ Katie whispered.
‘No it’s not.’ Harry bathed them in flames as they lumbered forward, retreating back up the ramp as fast as he could. ‘I never thought I would miss barrow wights, but I really really do.’
The bones blackened. Little orange tongues of fire licked up the ancient ivory. Smith hurled pale green curses into one chipping off bits of bone. A fist swiped through the air in front of him, hammering into the floor.
‘No!’ He turned and ran up the ramp. ‘We can’t fight those!’
Katie conjured a swathe of rope, tangling the limbs of the first one, lashing its legs together and bringing it down. ‘Destroy it!’ She grit her teeth. ‘It’s really strong. I can’t hold it for long.’
Harry let the Elder Wand draw deep on his magic and thrust it out. A white flash shattered the second titan of bones into a shower of scorched, stinking shards, sending them pattering down around them. The rubies bounced across the floor, their light flickering like distant stars.
Pina jumped on the floored sentinel, smashing the bones in its lower legs with her fists. It swatted her off and across into the wall with a loud crack. Harry flinched as she slid down the wall and rolled across the ground.
Katie grimaced, clasping her wand in both hands. ‘I can’t keep it down.’
‘Get the legs.’ Harry conjured a more dark ropes, wrapping them round its arms and pinning them to its chest. ‘I’ve got the rest.’
Pina blurred back across the hall to stand on its chest. Her arms crunched back into shape as she scowled down at it with hot, orange eyes. ‘Stupid bone statue.’ She raised her root and stamped on its head, shattering the skull and spilling the six rubies across the floor.
Its limbs fell still and the bones sprawled into a loose mound. The door of hands creaked ajar, spilling a bar of crimson light across the dark basalt floor.
Smith scrambled past over the splintered bones, clutching for the rubies, cramming them into his pockets.
‘Let’s take a breather,’ Harry said, sinking down to the floor.
The Elder Wand sang in his ear, tugging at his magic; its whispers rose and fell like the rumble of distant thunder, and the red light behind the door of hands began to wane and wax in time with the throb of his heart.
‘I really don’t like the look of that,’ he muttered, stuffing the wand away.
Pina squatted among the bones, poking around and tossing pieces over her shoulder.
‘Harry…’ Katie sat herself beside him. ‘Are you okay?’
‘I’m angry.’ He took a deep breath and let himself taste the hot, copper tang of fury on his tongue. A whirl of red swirled like a storm in his thoughts, spurts and spouts and gushes and spatters of crimson. ‘I’m so so angry.’
Her fingers brushed his arm. ‘For what it’s worth, I am sorry.’
‘It’s worth nothing,’ he hissed.
‘Sorry,’ he murmured. ‘I didn’t mean that. It’s her. In my head.’
‘I know.’ She slid a little closer, pink rising in her cheeks. ‘I can feel it. Not the anger, the… other feeling. Like my blood’s on fire.’ Katie squeezed her eyes shut. ‘It’s so bad right now. It’s so bad that when we were walking down the ramp and Smith was staring, I thought about what might’ve happened if he’d pressured me more.’ She shuddered, rubbing her thighs together. ‘I imagined him threatening me with getting fired and making me to suck his dick under his desk, forcing my head down until I choked on it, then bending me over the desk and fucking me however he felt like until I was sore and raw, and I fucking liked imagining it.’
A little heat crept south, pooling in Harry’s belly. ‘Let’s not talk about things like that.’ He took a long deep breath. ‘Or we’re going to do something we’ll regret a lot later.’
‘I know.’ She buried her face in her hands. ‘I’m really really trying.’
‘We’re going to destroy her.’ Harry glared through the bones at the crimson glow and clutched the silver acorn in his fist. ‘I promise.’
‘Tell me about her?’ Katie asked.
‘Tracey?’ Harry frowned. ‘Why?’
‘It will distract me,’ she whispered, the blush darkening. ‘It’s not Smith I’m thinking about doing stuff with right now.’ Katie caught his eye. ‘And you should talk about her.’
Harry released a long sigh and slipped a hand inside his jacket to his wand, vanishing the thread at the pocket seam. ‘There’s not too much to say, really.’ He drew out a smooth, gold, band and a dark stone, flipping it over three times in his palm. ‘Tracey…’
A ghost of grey fog shivered into being beside him. ‘Harry.’ Her whisper echoed as if from the other end of a barrow. ‘I’m so fucking stupid. I’m so fucking sorry. Now I’ve really fucking messed it up for good.’
Yes you have. He slid the ring onto his finger. Why couldn’t you have just waited?
‘Harry?’ Katie eyed the ring. ‘Was that for her?’
‘This?’ Harry shook his head. ‘No. It’s kind of an old family heirloom.’
‘Tell me about her?’
‘What’s to tell?’ Harry felt Tracey’s eyes on him as her ghost sat at his shoulder. ‘She was in my year at school, wanted to be a curse-breaker with her best friends, and her family hid from Voldemort with them, but his followers found out. They killed Daphne and Astoria, their family, and Tracey’s.’
‘Eventually,’ Tracey’s ghost whispered. ‘They raped them for hours. Over and over. Astoria screamed the whole time, even when they silenced her, she kept on screaming.’
The Elder Wand’s song darkened, growing hot in his hand.
‘She transfigured their bodies and took them with her when she became a curse-breaker. She really loved her friends.’ Harry grimaced. ‘I won’t say it was healthy, but how the fuck do you cope with something like that? Can you even cope at all?’
‘Her tools.’ Katie paled. ‘You—’
‘Don’t,’ he said. ‘It’s too late to say sorry.’ Harry stole a deep breath, forcing the heat down. ‘I met Tracey later, when my quidditch days were done, drinking my life away in a bar. Someone spiked her drink and she was about a minute away from stripping off in the middle of the place. I took her back to my hotel room and Sticking Charmed her to the bath.’ A faint smile passed across his lips. ‘She was so excited, begged me to do all sorts, but I just sat with her and let her swear at me until it passed.’
‘And then I came back and we did it all then.’ Tracey’s fingers of silver mist left cold little lines along his arm. ‘Such good times. We had so much fun when it was all simple.’
‘She introduced me to Blaise. We started our little group, paid off Blaise’s debts, my medical bills, some of my debt to the goblins, and Tracey began building her stupidly huge house.’ Harry closed his eyes. ‘And then it all got complicated. She wanted more than just friendship and a bit of fun, and I wasn’t ready. I was too scared of loving her and losing her, so I shied away.’
‘I wish you’d just said yes,’ Tracey murmured. ‘Now we’ll never have our time at all.’
A sharp pain knifed through his chest and hot tears sprang to his eyes. ‘She tried to goad me, hurt me, to force me to make that leap of faith. I didn’t.’
Katie stared down at the floor between her feet. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t be.’ Harry clenched his jaw. ‘It wasn’t your fault.’ He caught Tracey’s eye as her face fell. ‘Or hers. It was the shadow. She would never have done that without the Shadow of Minos influencing her.’
‘We’ll destroy it,’ Katie said. ‘And get out. I’ll be fired for this. For certain. I’ll find something else, though, it’ll be okay.’
‘I’ll be in Azkaban.’ Harry snorted. ‘Thanks for that, by the way.’
She flinched. ‘I won’t. I wouldn’t. We’ll just forget about all this. And get on with our lives.’
‘Your life,’ Tracey murmured, resting her cold head on his shoulder. Her hair spilt down his chest, a cascade of cool, silver mist. ‘Ours is over. Before it ever really began.’
Harry squeezed his eyes shut to hold back the hot sting of tears. ‘Can you give me a moment, Katie? Go drag Pina out of those bones and watch the gate or something.’
Katie nodded. ‘Of course.’ She stood and drifted toward Pina.
‘We always used to joke Pina would be the death of us,’ Tracey murmured. ‘It’s been a while since she drank, Harry…’
‘I know.’ He watched a beaming Pina build a tower out of bones at Katie’s feet. ‘I’ll feed her Smith once we’ve destroyed the Shadow of Minos, that will give us time to get out and go somewhere far away.’
‘Everything I had is yours now,’ Tracey whispered. ‘It was always going to be. I fucking loved you so much. I just wanted to know you wouldn’t leave.’
He reached for her, his fingers slipping through cool, grey fog onto cold, dark stone. ‘I did love you. You know I did.’
‘You never said it.’ She cupped his hand between her shivering, silver fingers. ‘You should have fucking said it.’
‘Don’t lose the ring,’ Tracey whispered in his ear. ‘Don’t lose me again.’
‘I won’t lose it. I promise. I won’t even take it off.’ Harry touched the tip of his finger to the dark stone set upon the gleaming, gold band. Hot words welled up from the fury burning in his heart. ‘I will… I will keep it.’