Susan Bones sipped tea from a thin porcelain cup; unicorns pranced around its sides through wreaths of pink roses and golden leaves. ‘Smooth Mint and Pistachio Surprise, your judgement?’
Neville edged forward. ‘I don’t—’
‘You’ll have your chance,’ Susan said. ‘But I want to hear from his captains first. Keeping the magical states of America from uniting by hopping around and stirring trouble and fear is one thing, knocking them out of a war is another.’
‘Smooth Mint?’ Astoria poked Daphne in the hip. ‘No?’
‘Fine fine.’ Astoria poked Harry in the side. ‘He’s good. I’ve seen him duel. Good enough to beat Violette with a little bit of luck. He has what Ginevra Weasley and her squad of aurors are missing.’
Who else are you going to send? Neville? Stunning spells don’t end wars.
‘Ginny Weasley is one of our finest aurors.’ Susan set her teacup down. ‘She’s done an exemplary job preventing the American states from uniting their forces and applying any pressure on us.’
‘But she’s not a witch that scares nations into surrendering,’ Daphne murmured. ‘She’s chipping away and dashing around, but while she keeps them on the back foot, she’s doing little real damage. They are scared of her but they all believe she’ll be caught eventually.’
‘We need someone who they believe can’t be caught,’ Astoria chimed in. ‘Lemon Sorbet’s capable of causing trouble to entire auror squads with his magic. If he got his own squad to support him…’
‘If the choice is between myself and my squad and Lemon Sorbet, it should be him,’ Neville said. ‘Only…’
He shuffled his feet. ‘There are rumours and the American papers are saying we’ve been doing really horrible things…’
‘Propaganda.’ Susan waved a hand at Neville. ‘They’re obviously exaggerating to keep support for their war going.’
‘I don’t think we should prove them right, is all,’ Neville said. ‘It’s one thing to defend ourselves, but quite another to use dark magic like that.’
Harry rolled his eyes. And that’s why it’s not going to be you that gets sent. Dark magic…
‘Lemon Sorbet?’ Susan rested her hands on a stack of papers from the Ministry of Muggle Affairs. ‘You’re not going to offer your own opinion?’
Harry pulled Lemon Sorbet’s mask from his face. ‘You want to terrify them into surrender. I can do that. They’re all separate states beneath their President, right?’
‘Their articles of confederation state that President Lee has the power to mobilise the forces of all members should any one of them be attacked on their own soil or if there is a clear threat to the Statute,’ Susan said. ‘I’m told that realistically, the magical communities of those states and the Native American tribes can’t really be forced by the federal government into doing anything. The articles were meant to unite them against a conventional conflict and uphold the Statute rather than something like this.’
Neville nodded. ‘Ginny has been waging a series of cautious skirmishes across America to ensure none of the states want to take the risk of sending their aurors away to fight elsewhere.’
‘Now Grindelwald has risen, I’m advised that America will likely feel more confident and the states may start to fall into line behind President Lee.’ Susan sipped her tea. ‘I’ve had it communicated to Ginny, through the adverts in the American magical papers, the need to counteract that immediately.’
‘Keeping them split up makes sense.’ Harry shrugged. ‘Just wipe one of them away. The rest won’t send any aurors off to the Caribbean after that.’
‘Just wipe one out?’ Susan’s teacup trembled as she set it down. ‘An entire magical state?’
Maybe not the people, it just has to be visible and scary.
‘See?’ Astoria snickered. ‘What Ginevra Weasley can’t do, Lemon Sorbet can.’
‘I am still not sure that can be done,’ Susan said.
‘He can do it,’ Daphne said. ‘I have faith in him.’
A fierce flash of gratitude seized him. I owe you. He swallowed the small hot lump in his throat. You and Astoria. I won’t forget this.
‘Very well.’ Susan pursed her lips. ‘It is imperative that America be defeated swiftly. De Mendoza is not going anywhere in Panama. Grant Hardsworth is dug in well behind strong wards. We need both you and Ginevra back here to fight Grindelwald as soon as possible. Do… do what must be done.’
Astoria poked him in the ribs. ‘Americans are touchy about a few things. They don’t like what they consider European dark magic and dark enchanted objects.’
‘Because they don’t have any,’ Daphne murmured.
‘Quite possibly,’ Susan said. ‘They are generally fearful of what they perceive as dark magic, which often means any spells or objects not commonly available to them.’
Harry quirked an eyebrow. ‘What about obscuri? They have problems with those, don’t they?’
Neville nodded. ‘They are very afraid of obscuri exposing them, but I’m not sure how that helps us.’
‘I’m just considering options,’ Harry replied. ‘So what are the goals?’
‘America agrees to peace on acceptable terms. Nothing less than what we already have claimed from them and as much more as you can manage.’ Susan pushed her tea aside and tugged a thin file out from under the stack of papers from the Department of Muggle Affairs. ‘A sizeable number of the Wizengamot would like to see America hit so hard that it won’t cause trouble for us for another century or so. We’ve had magical creatures released on our protectorates, wards sabotaged and endless wild provocations made. They have played dirty and few among the Wizengamot or the Ministry feel much sympathy for them now the wand is in the other hand. If some of the Native American tribes can also be brought into our sphere of influence, that would be ideal.’
‘I’ll do my best,’ Harry said.
Neville cleared his throat. ‘There is the matter of the chain of command. Ginny—’
‘Right…’ Susan grimaced. ‘Ginny is an auror captain, your senior, and has been there for a lot longer. She’s in command.’
‘Of course,’ Harry replied.
‘Don’t forget to mention your illness, Lemon Sorbet,’ Daphne murmured. ‘Will you be well enough to fight when you get back?’
‘What about your illness?’ Susan glowered. ‘What have I not been told?’
‘If I exert myself too much in America, I may have to recuperate for a bit,’ Harry said. ‘A week or so, I’d imagine.’
‘So be it.’ Susan flicked through the thin file and slid a small photo of a forested riverbend toward him. ‘Ginny last contacted us about rendezvousing for supplies or reinforcements through this location, referred to by the codename Black Salmon. It’s in the North-West of the Kaskas Alliance province — they’re a group of Native American tribes who exist beneath the blanket of the American federal government that protects the Statute and are bound by the articles of confederation. Ginny reports that most of the Native American magical people rely on the federal government only for help with the Statute and are otherwise nearly entirely independent. Ginny has been instructed not to antagonise any of them that don’t act against us.’
Harry studied the river bank, burning it into his memory. ‘Makes sense.’
‘Your ring will take you across the Atlantic to East Kepec and from there across the territories of our own allies and West Kepec,’ she said. ‘Ginny can fill you in on the details once you reach Black Salmon. Her reports are short by necessity, so much of the detail simply can’t be shared with us and you will likely learn a great deal more about the specifics from her.’
‘So I’m going?’
He allowed himself to taste the flash of sweet triumph and the yearning bit deep into his heart with burning hot teeth.
‘You’re going. Wait at Black Salmon. We will inform Ginny you are coming, but we don’t know how often she is at Black Salmon. She may be there already, but it may be a day or so before she arrives.’
If she’s not there, I can go explore…
Susan closed the thin file and tucked the thick stack of papers under her arm. ‘I have a meeting to attend. You may make use of this office for a few moments if you wish before you depart, Lemon Sorbet.’ She strode out.
Astoria and Daphne exchanged a glance.
‘Good luck, Lemon Sorbet,’ Daphne murmured. ‘Stay safe for us.’
‘Have fun,’ Astoria chimed in. ‘Make sure you don’t embarrass Team Ice Cream.’
Harry snorted. ‘I won’t.’
They vanished with a loud crack.
Neville shuffled his feet. ‘What are you going to do?’
‘What I’ve been asked to do.’ Harry placed Lemon Sorbet’s mask back over his face. ‘Whatever it takes.’
A little shudder rippled through Neville.
‘This is what you wanted, Neville. I am here. I am—’
‘I wanted you to stop this war, not escalate it,’ he muttered. ‘If you give the Resplendent Sun a swift victory in America, they will only get more popular and grow bolder.’
‘Would you rather you had to fight them and Grindelwald together?’ Harry sighed. ‘You’re just the same, aren’t you? The moment there’s a hard choice, you refuse to make it and wait for a hero to come and save you.’
‘I’ve made plenty of hard choices.’ Neville clenched his jaw. ‘Like finding you. But we needed another Dumbledore, and you’re the closest we’ve got.’
‘And it’s always about what you all need, isn’t it?’ Harry’s lip curled. ‘Your dreams are so much more important than any of theirs. Or mine.’
‘You’re just the same,’ Neville muttered. ‘You don’t care about us at all, do you?’
‘Why should I?’ Harry asked. ‘All any of you have ever done is expect me to die to save you. You didn’t even want to have to fight for your own dreams. I was meant to sacrifice everything I cared about to hand them to you on a silver platter.’
‘I know it wasn’t fair.’ Neville stared at the green carpet between his feet. ‘But it never is, H-Tom.’
Harry snorted. ‘But it’s fine so long as it’s unfair to me and not you, right Neville?’ He waved Neville’s reply away. ‘I don’t have time to waste. You’ll get what you wanted, just… not quite how you hoped for it. And I… I’ll get what I want too.’
The obscurial. The damaz-kar. The phoenix. Fear gnawed at his heart. And the price.
Harry took a deep breath and portkeyed across a string of windswept, spray-spattered towers, staring over a grey, heaving sea at thick clouds. ‘America…’ He breathed in the cold salt and let the fierce heat of the yearning bubble up onto his tongue. ‘One more step closer, baby bird.’
Harry apparated on through a scatter of secluded patches of wilderness until he stepped out onto smooth, puddle-strewn grey stone beneath still pines and stared into the gloom-shrouded tangle of ferns and bushes beneath the moss-veiled trunks. A leaping black salmon marked a large boulder on the far riverbank.
‘Don’t move.’ Ginny’s voice drifted down from above. ‘Raise your hands up where I can see both of them.’
She’ll recognise my wand. He shook his arm, feeling the warmth of his wand slide down to his elbow. I’ll have to keep it in my sleeve, like Daphne and Astoria sometimes do.
Harry lifted them above his head and wiggled his fingers. ‘You’re safe. I was sent to help end this war, now Grindelwald has re-emerged.’
A light thud and a soft splash echoed through the trees and Ginny stepped around his shoulder. Three slim scratches marred her cheek beneath her brown eyes, her red hair flowing over the small bronze sun badge on the lapel of her tight crimson auror robes to the small of her back.
‘An unspeakable,’ she muttered.
‘One of the ice creams.’ A grin flashed across her face. ‘Have you met the other team?’
‘A couple of times.’ The corner of Harry’s mouth curved up. ‘Briefly.’
‘Follow me.’ Ginny leapt up the roots protruding from the crumbling bank and glanced over her shoulder. ‘We’re camped back through here. This spot is a good one from which to target New Kleves.’
‘The Northernmost magical community of The Eastern Union of Free Magical States,’ she replied, leading him through the trees. ‘After we scare New Kleves, we can push south to keep the rest on their toes and then cross the Native American lands in central America to threaten the Western Union.’
‘I see.’ Harry followed her trailing red hair through the trees. ‘So there’s a bunch of magical states on either coast?’
‘Yes. They’re made up of the former magical colonies on the coast. They used to be really small, but the muggleborn population has exploded in the last century.’
Red-robed aurors drifted through the cluster of tents sat beneath the pines and a pair of them watched a string of shivering prisoners shackled together by a tangle of grey ropes.
‘Don’t mind them,’ Ginny said. ‘We’re halfway through preparations to give New Kleves a nasty shock and stop them sending any aurors away from their own state.’
Tracey Davis paced before the line of trembling prisoners, flipping a sickle off her thumb. ‘That one.’ She pointed her wand at a thin boy with dark hair and brown eyes. ‘Imperio.’
Harry frowned. ‘By scare…?’
‘There’s no sense in risking ourselves when we can use their own people against them,’ Ginny replied. ‘The ones that aren’t put under the Imperius we will return a little more… creatively. If Voldemort taught us anything, it’s that fear is a much greater weapon than magic.’
So President Lee wasn’t exaggerating that much after all. A touch of ice swelled in Harry’s breast. Ginny’s been destroying dreams. His stomach churned, an icy sickness settling in the pit of it, cold as the silver glass of the Mirror of Erised. And all for nothing.
‘Minister Bones has put you at my command,’ he said. ‘To end this as quickly as possible.’
Ginny froze, twisting on her boot heels to glare at him with brown eyes full of fire, and the whole clearing stilled around them.
‘She fucking what?’ Tracey Davis demanded, shoving the skinny boy to the ground and striding over. ‘Ginny’s an auror captain! She was Amelia Bones’s best auror captain!’
‘President Lee made mention of your… tactics at Copenhagen,’ Harry said. ‘It’s been decided they were more likely to keep America fighting than keen to agree to peace and risked harming Britain’s image. So they sent me.’
Ginny snorted. ‘You. One unspeakable. You’re going to do what my entire team has been trying to do since we got here?’
‘Yes.’ He leant his head to one side. ‘You’re using fear as a weapon like Voldemort and his Death Eaters did. But you’re terrorising the wrong people. Why take away their dreams? They’re not the ones who will decide to surrender or not. They can’t hurt us. President Lee won’t even notice their suffering, he’ll just use it as fuel to feed his propaganda. Voldemort went after those with influence. Wizengamot members, outspoken opponents, aurors and followers of Dumbledore. People understand when you attack them. You’re just… murdering random people you snatch off the street because they’re also American.’
Ginny’s eyes flashed. ‘And instead you’d what? Let them unite and form a force several times the size of ours?’
‘No.’ Harry smiled beneath Lemon Sorbet’s mask. ‘We keep them separated by scaring the people that matter. Where’s the nearest research hospital for obscuri?’
She blinked. ‘What?’
‘A little south of here,’ Tracey Davis said, frowning. ‘It’s a hotspot for hitwizard equivalents and auror drop-outs. Why?’
‘Have you ever seen soul magic like that unleashed? All the raw fury and pain of a child’s magic twisted into a weapon to lash out at the world with.’ He touched his fingertips to the warmth of his ebony wand. ‘We will wipe New Kleves away.’
‘A stupid fucking idea,’ Tracey Davis snapped. ‘The facility has good security to keep obscuri inside and you couldn’t control it even if you managed to grab one. It’s just as likely to end up killing us.’
Well, if you won’t do it when I ask nicely, then you can taste your own medicine. It’s only fair.
Harry slipped the tip of his wand from his sleeve. ‘I believe I mentioned who was in command, Tracey Davis. There’s a word for disobeying your commander in a time of war. Treason. And we know what the penalty for treason is these days in Britain, don’t we?’
She glowered, her eyes fixed on the tip of his wand. ‘I’m not scared of you. I’ve never even seen you before. You could just be some kid under that mask.’
‘I’m the one that defeated Violette,’ he replied. ‘He batted your whole squad around, I believe? Killed a few of you without being so much as scratched?’
Ginny balled her fists. ‘You beat him? Alone?’
‘Would you like a demonstration?’ Black mist trickled from his sleeve, snaking out over the trampled ferns in thin, razor-edged tendrils. ‘It might not be a very fun experience for you. Violette found it a bit too hole-some, if you get what I mean.’
Astoria would’ve liked that one.
‘I’ll hear your plan first,’ Ginny snapped. ‘If it has merit, it doesn’t matter who’s meant to be leading. The important thing is Britain. Too many of us died stopping Voldemort. Too many of us died making Britain safe again.’
‘Very well.’ Harry let the dark vapour curl back into his sleeve. ‘America has a well-known history with obscuri. They inspire strong reactions from the people here. We’ll use that. We should be more than capable of snatching an obscurial from one of their research facilities in the middle of the night. Once we have the obscurial, I will convince them to let the obscurus loose on New Kleves.’
‘Just like that?’ Tracey asked. ‘Let it go and hope it explodes?’
‘Obscuri are created to be unleashed,’ he murmured. ‘They’re not parasites, they’re suffering-fed offshoots of the soul created by the child’s desire to end their misery. Sometimes they might just devour all the magic a child has to rid themselves of the problem, but more often than not they lash out to destroy the source of their suffering. All we have to do is convince the child that those in New Kleves are responsible for their pain and point them at it…’
Ginny sucked in a sharp breath. ‘And if we destroy New Kleves, all the other states will refuse to send a single auror away out of fear it could happen to them.’
‘And the other obscurial research facilities will be reinforced with aurors to stop us doing it again, spreading them even thinner.’ Tracey Davis’s frown faded. ‘Okay. I get it.’
‘Once New Kleves is destroyed and the word has spread, we can go straight for President Lee and the centre of federal government in New Amsterdam to unleash the obscurial again. He will surrender to save his own skin and if he doesn’t, then we’ve cut off the head of the snake and can take advantage of the chaos to push them the rest of the way to giving in.’ Harry allowed the ice to tighten in his chest, sending dark mist trickling through his fingers. ‘Is that enough of a plan, or would you still like that demonstration of what happens to people who choose to be obstacles?’
She shook her head. ‘We will work with you.’
‘Then the first thing you can do is kill them,’ he said. ‘We don’t have time to waste on tormenting them or whoever’s waiting for them.’
Their dreams are dust now. What’s the point in making them suffer longer?
‘What’s the fucking difference?’ Tracey snapped. ‘Dead is dead.’
Harry let the mist pour from his sleeve, let the cold fury swell up inside him until countless curved claws of dark vapour curled into the stone beneath his feet with a grating screech. ‘The difference is I ordered you to do one and not the other.’
Tracey glanced at Ginny.
‘Tracey.’ Ginny clenched her fist around her wand. ‘Kill them. Cleanly.’ She levelled a fiery glare at Harry. ‘If this obscurial plan works, then it doesn’t matter, but if it fails and we die, then it’s on you, Lemon Sorbet.’
‘It won’t fail.’ Harry took a deep breath. ‘We’ll get an obscurial. Whatever it takes.’
And then I will do what nobody else has done and help the child save itself. He tucked his wand away and watched Tracey Davis shove the prisoners around out of the corner of his eye. Everyone wants to save themselves. They just have to believe they deserve it. Like I did.