The twinned, three-skulled totems spread wings of pale bone before a thick, deep dark. Crimson light swirled in their ruby eyes like tiny red storms and the silence hung in the black like a shroud.
The hum of the Elder Wand swelled, sweet and hot as a Firewhiskey in his stomach, thrumming with the drum of his heart, rising like the slow swell of the sea before the storm.
She’s watching. All the hairs prickled on the nape of his neck and along his arms. She’s waiting. Harry’s fingers slipped to the burning wood of the Elder Wand.
‘Don’t look the statue in the eyes,’ he said. ‘Katie had to drag me away from it yesterday because I kept trying to stare.’
Tracey exchanged a look with Blaise. ‘Pina?’
Pina shook her head, sending her dark curls swaying. ‘No. I don’t want to.’
Dean scoffed. ‘The baby vampire is scared again.’
‘How about you do it, if you’re so brave,’ Harry snapped. ‘Go on. Step forward.’
The tips of Dean’s ears turned red and he turned away. ‘There’s no sense risking real people when that monster can do it.’
‘We’ll pull you out, Pina,’ Tracey murmured. ‘I need to try and figure out the magic so we can get through.’
Pina squirmed, stomping her foot on the skulls. ‘I don’t want to.’
Harry crouched down. ‘It’s probably the best way, Pina.’ He brushed her hair off her face and dusted off her grey dress. ‘You seem the most resilient of all of us to the magic here.’
Tracey nodded. ‘It won’t be for long.’
‘Fine.’ Pina scowled. ‘But I want something tasty in return.’
‘You can eat Blaise,’ Tracey suggested. ‘He doesn’t mind trading a little bit of blood for more rubies, do you, Blaise?’
‘Deal.’ A bright smile flashed across Blaise’s face. ‘My blood will come back, the rubies won’t.’
‘No.’ Pina pouted. ‘I want to see if Tracey is tasty.’
Tracey shivered. ‘I don’t like it.’
She huffed. ‘I don’t like being statue bait.’
‘She’s got a point, Trace,’ Harry said. ‘And better she gets to find out you’re tasty now than really want to find out later when we’re out of snacks…’
Tracey’s lips twisted. ‘Fine. But you only get a couple of seconds. I don’t want to be useless for a week like Harry was.’
‘Okay,’ Pina chirped, bouncing forward in front of the statue. ‘Hello giant bone thing. What do you… oh.’ A little shiver rippled through her and she stared up into the glowing rubies with a dazed smile.
The dark stirred beyond the totems, the shadows thickening and swirling; its silence deepened, growing heavier. The Elder Wand’s thrumming turned to pounding, hammering like war drums in Harry’s ears, goading his heart into thudding against his ribs like a rabbit dashing itself against the bars of its cage.
Pina stared up into the red glow, the swirling crimson light whirled in her burning orange eyes like sparks rising from a bonfire.
Dean’s hand snapped up.
Harry ripped the Elder Wand from his pocket, throwing a shield over Pina, and a flash of blue splashed against it in a shower of sparks. Blaise tucked his hands behind his back, a sly smile on his lips.
‘Put your wand away,’ Smith hissed, clutching at his handkerchief. ‘Dean, put it away!’
Katie pulled her wand, but Tracey snatched hers out and disarmed her.
A tense silence descended.
Soft laughter echoed from the dark and the Elder Wand thrummed to its murmur, shivering in Harry’s fingers.
‘Dean,’ he said. ‘The magic here is affecting you, put your wand down and—’
‘Fuck off.’ Dean twisted on his heel, hurling blue and orange curses at Harry. ‘If we don’t destroy that monster while she’s stuck, she’ll kill all of us!’
Harry ducked the first few, deflecting the rest. The Elder Wand sang in his hand, a bright fierce thrill blazing through his blood, tugging at his magic.
‘Harry, don’t play around,’ Tracey snapped.
He struck back, sending white hexes hissing through the air. Dean backpedalled across the ivory floor, stumbling on the smooth skulls. He cast a shining white shield out before him, wincing from the flashes of magic as the white hexes burst.
The Elder Wand’s song lifted, soaring in Harry’s ears, drowning everything but the rush of blood in his ears, sucking the magic out through him like Pina’s teeth in his arm. He clawed it back, but the wand’s whisper tugged at his heart, feeding a quiet murmur of temptation coiling there beneath his ribs, coaxing its hot little spark into a tight fist of flame.
Dean growled, slashing his wand like a sword through the air. Harry thrust the Elder Wand out, deflecting the magic away to carve deep gouges into the bone floor.
That was meant to kill. Harry let out a long breath and let the Elder Wand drink deep. Fine, then.
Soft laughter rose in the well of his mind. Your heart is mine. A red smile curved amongst his thoughts, smooth and bright as the bronze khopesh blade, sharp and hot as the ruby searing through his skin. I will have it.
A flash of white smashed Dean into the wall. His wand bounced across the skulls and into the burnt fragments of bone. He rose onto his hands and knees, crawling forward, blood dripping from his lip and trickling down the side of his head.
Harry summoned Dean’s wand back into his hand. ‘Stay down.’
A black glare twisted Dean’s face. ‘Fuck you, Potter. You think you’re better than I am? If I had that weird wand, I’d have ripped you apart, you cunt.’
Blaise stepped between them, plucking Dean’s wand from Harry’s hand. ‘Enough.’ He held the wand out at Dean. ‘We need to get to the treasure—’ Blaise’s fingers crept to his bulging pockets ‘—that’s all that matters.’
Dean dragged himself up with a groan. ‘Give me my fucking wand, cunt.’
‘No…’ Blaise stared at the wand in his hand. ‘No, I don’t think so.’ A thin smile curled his lips. ‘Reducto.’
A flash of red struck Dean in the ribs, plastering gore and shards of bone across the ivory walls.
‘One less person to share the treasure with,’ Blaise said, stuffing Dean’s wand into his pocket. ‘Tracey, pull Pina out from in front of that thing. We’re not getting any closer like this.’
Tracey’s green eyes narrowed and her lips thinned. ‘Fine.’ She scooped an arm around Pina’s waist and hoisted her onto her shoulders with a grunt. ‘Are you okay, Pina?’
‘I’m okay,’ Pina murmured, her orange eyes fixed on the statue. ‘It was all red. Everything was red. Red and red and red and red and red.’
Smith trembled. ‘What now?’
Tracey set Pina down. ‘Blaise and I need to talk,’ she snapped, tossing Katie’s wand back. ‘And Pina needs a few moments, we’ll want her focused when we get through those totems.’
Pina stumbled across the skulls and buried her face in Harry’s side, wrapping her little arms around his waist. ‘Did you see it?’ she whispered. ‘Did you see it, Daddy? It went on and on and on.’
‘I saw it.’ He mussed her dark curls, watching Tracey and Blaise exchanging furious hisses in the shadows of the column. ‘Are you hungry?’
‘No.’ Her grip tightened around his midriff. ‘It went on and on and on. Spinning forever. Dark world. Dead world… Dead Agrippina.’
She’s sad. A soft pang twisted in his breast.
‘Don’t think about that thing.’ Harry eased her arms free and knelt down, brushing her dark curls off her face and tucking the Elder Wand away. ‘What do you reckon Tracey and Blaise are saying?’
Pina blinked, her orange eyes sharpening. ‘Tracey is cross. Really cross. She’s saying all the words you say she shouldn’t say around me. Dean ruined things for them.’ She yawned and raised her arms. ‘Up. Tired. Want to just sleep.’
He lifted her onto his shoulders and sighed as she wrapped her arms around his head and slumped over it.
‘She okay?’ Katie asked.
‘Just a little out of sorts.’ Harry reached up and patted Pina on the back as her breathing turned deep and even. ‘In some ways, she really still is just a little girl, you know, not a monster. And the magic of this place is getting to all of us now. ’
‘Yeah…’ Katie flushed. ‘It really is.’
Harry glanced back at Tracey and Blaise’s argument. What did Dean ruin? Us getting through the door to the treasure? Fear stabbed at his gut like a dozen cold knives. She promised. She promised me not to touch them.
A low cough broke through his thoughts. ‘Er, look—’ Smith fiddled with his handkerchief ‘—Potter and Bell, I’m… I’m sorry about before. I thought you were onboard, Bell, didn’t realise you weren’t, wouldn’t have said that stuff otherwise. And Potter, you were right to stick up for her as she wasn’t happy with it, so no hard feelings.’
‘What do you want?’ Harry asked, sliding one hand inside his jacket to the slim bulge of the Elder Wand.
‘You were saying that the magic’s affecting us?’ Smith licked his lips and threw a nervous look at Tracey and Blaise. ‘I think it’s got to them. Especially Zabini.’
‘He’s obsessed,’ Katie murmured under her breath. ‘Always staring at those rubies.’
‘What’s your point?’ Harry let his hand drop back to his side.
‘I don’t want to get cursed in the back by Zabini,’ Smith said. ‘So… you two look out for me, and when we get out of here and are rich, I’ll make sure you both do well. Bell, I’ll get you back into the good graces, maybe I can even swing you another shot at those auror exams. Potter… name your price.’
‘I just want to get out of here without anyone else dying.’ A prickle crawled down Harry’s spine. ‘There’s a shadow down here with us. I’ve seen it. Felt it. Pina has, too.’
Smith squirmed. ‘I don’t know about that, but I don’t trust Zabini. Either something’s messing with him, or he’s just a snake and was waiting to take everything for himself the whole while.’
He’s always been a cold-blooded reptile.
‘You look out for us and we’ll look out for you,’ Harry replied.
‘Good.’ Smith’s shoulders slumped and a sigh escaped him. ‘Michael and Dean…’
‘Dean tried to murder a child,’ Katie snapped. ‘He would be going to Azkaban if he’d survived. Blaise will be if he does.’
‘Right.’ Smith nodded. ‘Of course.’
Katie drew Harry back a few steps. ‘Is Tracey after the treasure?’
Harry frowned. Whatever you want. Tracey’s voice floated up from the back of his mind, sultry and breathless with desire. I don’t care about rubies, just as long as we get the goblins off your back. I want you.
‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘Well, yes, but they’re a means to an end.’
Katie scrunched up her face. ‘You.’ Her brown eyes bored into him. ‘It is you, right? She wants to get you all sewn up in some permanent deal and have a kid or two.’
‘Something like that,’ Harry muttered. ‘Don’t turn your back on Blaise. He’s a schemer and I don’t know what’s going on in his head right now.’
She sidled a little closer. ‘Will Tracey try and hurt me?’
‘Just… don’t start anything with her,’ Harry said. ‘The shadow, she’s always watching, if you get angry, she feeds it. Tracey has a temper and she has a thing about people leaving her.’
‘I’ve noticed,’ Katie jibed. ‘She’s… she’s not a good person, Harry.’
‘She’s not that bad,’ he said. ‘Her friends and family were killed back when we were kids. All of them. Slowly. Tracey hid under the bed until they were done.’ Harry grimaced. ‘I shouldn’t be talking about it with you, she asked me not to tell anyone.’ He sighed and turned back to the gate. ‘How do we get in there? What do you think?’
‘The rubies,’ Katie replied. ‘Like before, but…’
‘I don’t want to touch them either,’ Harry murmured. ‘She’s in the rubies. She’s everywhere.’
The dark thickened behind the spread wings of bone and the Elder Wand’s whisper quickened, murmuring deepening to drumming, thrumming like a thousand footsteps echoing in his ears.
The crimson glow of the rubies flared. Red swirled in the stones, spreading like blood across the skulls, trickling, gushing, spurting, spraying and spattering. Her eyes stared through from somewhere beyond, sharp and hot as the bronze khopesh’s edge, piercing right through to his pounding heart.
I will take it. I will have it. I will keep it. Her whisper rose from the well of his mind, curling from the dark like smoke from the maw of a dragon, and the Elder Wand sang back, fierce and bright as flame searing through his veins. Your heart is mine.
Rubies glittered before his mind’s eye, a mountain of them.
Cursed rubies. Harry squeezed his eyes shut. Go away, shadow.
Soft laughter echoed in his ears.
Tracey’s wanton smirk hovered among his thoughts as she slipped her clothes free and sank to her knees. A coil of hot lust crept south and his pulse raced. The gleam of mischief in Katie’s eye as she trailed her finger down the collar of her jacket, dipping into the smooth curve of her cleavage.
Pina stirred, tugging at his hair. ‘You smell, Harry. You smell like when you and Tracey sneak off and lock me out of your room. And your heart is going so fast.’ She clapped her hands together, swift as running footsteps. ‘Like this.’
The crimson glow of the rubies throbbed with the thud of his heart, racing with the thrum of the Elder Wand, swirling, whirling, singing, screaming in his blood.
Don’t scream. The Shadow of Minos’s whisper tore through his thoughts like talons screeching across metal. Your heart is mine now.
Harry wrenched his gaze away from the ruby eyes and turned his back, sucking in deep breaths. He lifted Pina from his shoulders and set her down, pointing past where Smith crouched, staring at the ruby in his cupped hands, to Tracey and Blaise. ‘Go get them to stop fighting and help us get out of here, Agrippina. I want to leave.’
Katie giggled as Pina blurred across the hall. ‘What were you thinking about, Harry?’ She toyed with the corner of her jacket collar. ‘Is it the tight leather or are you still caught up on me pretending to give head to that sausage.’
‘I bet if I promised not to touch any rubies, you’d come and help me out of this jacket,’ she murmured. ‘I bet you’d help me out of everything.’
‘Seriously. Stop.’ He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to smother the heat beneath the even rhythm of deep, slow breaths. ‘I can’t think straight right now.’
A little gleam rose in her brown eyes and she took a step closer. ‘So if I kissed you now, you’d kiss me back?’
‘Yes,’ he muttered. ‘But it’s just this place, Katie. It’s just the magic. It’s just her.’
Katie bit her lip, her eyes straying down his chest. ‘But I’m really tempted,’ she whispered. ‘It’s like a hot hollow little pit at the bottom of my stomach and I want to fill it. I want it so much.’
‘Tracey wouldn’t forgive me if I did that.’
She scowled. ‘Tracey’s been messing with your head and hurting you, but fine.’ Katie folded her arms over her chest. ‘I don’t want to get cheated on again anyway.’
‘I just don’t want to ruin anything.’ Harry sank down onto the cool skulls and hunched his legs up, burying his face in his knees until the Elder Wand’s song faded. ‘Don’t look into the rubies in their eyes. If Pina hadn’t woken up, you would’ve had to drag me away again.’
Katie plopped herself down next to him. ‘I’ll just sit here and be good,’ she murmured. ‘Sorry, I shouldn’t have tried to—’
‘It’s okay. It’s the Shadow of Minos.’ He sighed. ‘I don’t blame you.’
‘I promise not to look at the rubies,’ she whispered. ‘Or touch them. And you don’t have to fuck me to get me to be sensible about not grabbing cursed things, either.’
‘Let’s just not mention anything risky,’ Harry said. ‘Stick with me. Don’t touch the rubies. Watch out for Blaise and Smith, and Pina, because we’re a day or two away from her getting hungry and cranky. And we’ll get out of here soon… hopefully.’
The shadows rippled in the corner of his eye; a dense, soft silence hanging like the quiet of a graveyard.
‘And Tracey,’ Katie murmured. ‘She really doesn’t like me being friendly with you very much.’
Harry forced a smile over a twist of unease. ‘You’re lucky she didn’t see that stunt with the sausage.’
She snickered. ‘I think she did. She was showing off that little hickey on her neck like it was the Order of Merlin.’
‘She wants what she wants,’ Harry murmured. ‘I can’t pretend like I didn’t want it. I just… I’m not—’
‘Not ready,’ Katie whispered. ‘That’s okay, you know. I’m not ready for things like that. After my disastrous relationships I’d want to take it nice and slow and safe if I decided I wanted anything like that again. Make sure things were fine with both of us before we take any more steps.’
‘I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready,’ he said. ‘I — I have Pina, and Trace, and I like doing this. I don’t like big changes. They’re always bad news.’
She slid an arm across his shoulders, laughing as he tensed. ‘Just a friendly hug, not listening to temptation.’ Katie patted him on the shoulder, warm against his side. ‘It sounds like you’re just waiting for something worth making a big change for. Like me, only for you it wasn’t some prick thinking he could use your failing career to pressure you into letting him fuck you any which way over his desk whenever he fancied it.’
‘I don’t think Blaise actually wants to sleep with anyone.’ Harry snorted. ‘If he does, which I’m actually not sure he ever has, he probably just does it to get a reaction from whichever poor girl he lied to.’
‘Do you actually like Zabini?’ Katie wrinkled her nose. ‘Like, at all? He’s so… so slimy.’
‘No.’ He chuckled. ‘Tracey and I are going to ditch him after this. We don’t need his contacts and he’s constantly trying to stir shit up between us and with other people, so we’re just going to take Pina and leave him. If we need to make money, we can find someone to sell things for us without him.’
‘Can I come?’ Katie grinned. ‘Pina did say you like spending all your time with girls, though I think Tracey’s little jab went over her head a bit.’
‘Well, she is quite short still.’ Harry laughed. ‘You’re going to have caught Smith and that whole Black Niffler group, you’ll be too busy getting praised and promoted.’ He flashed her a smile. ‘You can come and visit us, though. Pina will still want to see if you taste good and I’d rather it was you getting bitten than me.’