Catch 22

High, grey walls rose up into the night sky, lit by black-painted streetlamps and topped with coils of wire. The moonlight gleamed cold upon the thin glass windows.

Sunnyhill Hospital. Harry shook his head. It looks a lot more like a prison to me.

‘There are at least twenty wizards and witches who’ll turn up if an alarm is raised,’ Tracey Davis said, pointing her ward at the pair of shadows sitting in the booth behind the gate. ‘And they don’t let you work at places like this unless you know your stuff. It’s basically where all the dropouts from the auror legal exams or troublemakers from the department end up. They can all use a wand.’

Ginny crouched on the fallen tree beside them. ‘Are the others in position, Tracey?’


‘Then we have our perimeter,’ she said. ‘Put the anti-apparition ward locus somewhere in the middle of the roof.’ Ginny frowned. ‘Are you wearing that ring all the Unspeakables have, Lemon Sorbet?’

‘Yes,’ he said.

‘Good, you can still apparate then.’ She stood up.

‘Remember not to attack any of the children if you come across them,’ Harry said. ‘Don’t scare them. Don’t upset them. Don’t hurt them.’

‘What if they attack us?’ Tracey demanded.

‘Apparate out,’ he replied. ‘I can’t convince them that New Kleves is bad if they don’t trust us because their rescuers murdered half the children here.’

Ginny nodded. ‘Do as he says, Tracey.’ She straightened the bronze sun on her lapel. ‘We’re ready, Lemon Sorbet.’

‘I’ll bring down the gate,’ Harry stepped forward, picking his way over the roots and rocks down onto the road. ‘This isn’t meant to be a subtle attack. We want to rip our way in, find a suitable obscurial, set off all the alarms and leave plenty of survivors to talk after we destroy New Kleves.’

‘You said that already,’ Tracey snapped. 

‘Then there’s no possible way you could get it wrong,’ he murmured. ‘Is there?’

She scowled. ‘What about us? We’re not fucking cheerleaders.’

‘Once we’re in, you go put the locus on the roof, then you two will hold the gate while I find an obscurial; everyone else holds the perimeter. If there’s some kind of alarm, they shouldn’t be able to apparate in with the locus up. Anyone who’s smart enough to try and apparate just outside is fair game, but if you don’t have to fight, don’t take the risk.’ 

Harry pictured the dark veins snaking across his daughter’s skin and the blood washing from the long, deep cut in Gabby’s arm, letting freezing fury clench its fist around his heart. Black mist poured through his fingers, bubbling with slim, curved fangs as it crept toward the gate. It lunged, lashing out in a dozen dark lances, ripping through the steel gate like it were glass and smashing through the booth.

‘Fuuuuuck,’ Tracey whispered. 

No alarms. Nothing. 

Harry strode through the frost-coated rubble, stepping over a dismembered arm and a thick steaming red puddle into an empty concrete courtyard beneath four high walls. ‘Stay here.’

A small, white door sat on the far side beneath the giant sunburst sign. 

Sunnyhill. He stared at the word beneath the bright rays as his horcrux’s magic shrank back to coil around his forearm. Does the sun never set on this hill? Is it resplendent?

Ginny caught his shoulder. ‘Did you do that wandlessly?’

He tapped his sleeve. ‘Not entirely.’

A strange gleam hovered in her brown eyes. ‘What magic is it? I’ve seen something like it before, when I was a kid at Hogwarts. How do you do it?’

‘Who cast it?’ Harry crushed a stab of panic down into the emptiness. ‘A muggleborn?’

‘No,’ she murmured. ‘Muggle-raised. He’s dead.’

It’s a good thing I died so memorably. He breathed out the tangle of anxiety. Ginny mustn’t see my wand. I didn’t give her all her dreams back just to kill her here. Not for nothing.

‘It’s soul magic,’ Harry replied. ‘Not something you can really learn, I’m afraid. You either have it in you or you don’t.’

Ginny’s lips twisted. ‘Like an obscurial.’ Her fingers tightened on his shoulder. ‘Right? That’s how you know so much about them, isn’t it?’

‘I’m good with soul magic,’ Harry murmured, easing her hand off. ‘It’s powerful, abstract magic, but it comes with a very high price.’

Fury burnt in Ginny’s brown eyes. ‘Like for an obscurial. Treated horribly by everyone who’s supposed to care about them until they just want to lash out at the world.’ She sucked in a sharp breath. ‘And when they couldn’t keep it down, it would burst out, right? Like if their friend was murdered in front of them.’

Did you see Katie die? Harry smothered the memory’s dull ache and swallowed the hot lump in his throat. Did you see me lash out? Or did Romilda show it to you? 

Tracey kicked a chunk of concrete past them, sending it skittering into the shadows of the high wall. ‘Are you fucking going, Lemon Sorbet, or—’

‘Shut up, Tracey,’ Ginny hissed. ‘He’s going. I don’t want to hear another word of insubordination from you.’

Tracey blanched. ‘Yes, captain,’ she muttered. ‘Sorry, captain.’

‘The boy I remember, he was as much a hero as you can be,’ Ginny said. ‘The only thing I learnt from Voldemort is that dreams are dust. I learnt I had to fight for mine from Harry. He was the only one that fought for us.’ She twisted her heel into the ground. ‘But I’m wasting your time. Go get the obscurial, we can talk later.’

Harry studied the fierce glint in her eyes. ‘Dreams are dust,’ he murmured.

Dandelion seeds floating out to sea on a cold breeze.

Ginny shivered. ‘Go.’

He disillusioned himself and strode across to the white door. ‘Alohomora,’ he murmured, twisting it open and stepping in.

A white corridor stretched down to the painting of a sun in a blue summer sky and floating balloons. The faint tang of lemon-scented chemicals stung his nose.

Harry closed the door behind him. It’s very quiet. He prowled down the hall, glancing into empty office rooms until he reached the dead end and the painting. There’s nobody up here. Everything must be hidden somewhere. 

He dragged the cold fury up with Katie’s tearfilled green eyes and let its countless needle-like teeth bite deep into his heart; the ice burnt through his blood.

Black mist burst from his sleeve, scattering shreds of dark cloth into the air and smashing through the walls. Splintered shelves and desks sprawled beneath floating scraps of paper and the sunlit balloons thudded to the floor. 

The white corridor sloped down shallow stairs through the scarred frame and faint cries echoed from its far end.

It’s all below ground. And sound-proofed.

Harry swept on, glancing into padded, empty cells marked with red roman numerals.

‘That one just won’t shut up.’ A man’s voice echoed along the corridor from just beyond a corner. ‘She’s in twenty-two, way down the end, and I can still fucking her screaming her head off all the way down here. I heard Mcloughin say she’s the most powerful he’s seen in sixty years and that if she’d blown her top somewhere less secluded they’d’ve struggled to patch the Statute up.’

‘Do you have the key to his office?’ A woman asked. ‘I might get her something to help her sleep. She’s been here three nights and she’s not slept at all. She needs to sleep.’

‘She’ll get tired eventually. She’ll sleep then.’

‘John, the last thing we need is a scared, sleep-deprived, third-tier obscurial panicking when we bring her breakfast and splattering us over the walls like porridge.’

‘She can’t get out of the cell. The wards won’t even let them scratch the wall padding. I’ve tried throwing spells at it. Couldn’t even leave a mark.’ The man grunted. ‘But fine, so long as I’m not getting near her. The wards on her cell are the only thing that’s keeping her safely locked up. Mcloughin said she ripped that whole muggle farmhouse apart like a tornado when she snapped, Killed her father, his three wives, her seven half-siblings and the two dogs, and just sat there in the wreckage.’

Harry abandoned his disillusionment and pulled Lemon Sorbet’s mask from his face, stepping around the corner. ‘The third-tier obscurial girl, what’s her name?’

‘Roxanne Swift,’ the brown-haired witch replied with a frown. ‘Who are you? Someone new? You shouldn’t be here alone. We’re meant to stay in our pairs.’

John screwed his face up. ‘Why have you got such a weird accent?’

‘It’s a British accent,’ Harry said.

The dark mist punched through John’s ribs as he snatched for his wand, splattering crimson up the white walls.

The witch froze.

‘I’m just going to leave you,’ Harry said. ‘I’m not here for you. If you don’t move, I’m not going to hurt you. Do you understand?’

She gulped and nodded.

‘Good.’ He patted her on the shoulder, ignoring her flinch and tugged her wand from her pocket. ‘Now stay nice and still for me.’

Harry strode down the corridor as the screaming swelled louder and louder, checking the numerals until he reached twenty-two.

Let’s see who it is I’m going to save. He slid the iron shutter down. 

A short, skinny, dark-haired girl clutched the sides of her ragged dress. ‘Let me out!’ she yelled at the window, her voice rough and raw. ‘Let me out! Let me out! Let me out!’

‘They’re not going to,’ he said.

She whirled around, tears shining on her cheeks. Ink-black patches swirled through the whites of her eyes and the green of her irises flickered with pale eerie magic. ‘Let me out,’ she screamed, her voice rising into a piercing shriek that shook the glass panes in the roof window.

‘I’m going to free you.’ Harry touched the tip of his wand to the door and watched it crumble into dust. ‘See?’

 She stared at him, threads of darkness coiling in her eyes like tiny snakes. ‘Who are you? Another doctor? Another priest?’

‘No. I’m more like you, Roxanne.’ He let the black mist spill from his sleeve and snake across the floor. ‘See?’

‘It’s a trick.’ The glow in her green eyes flashed bright as the moon and she clutched at a thin gold ring hanging from the string around her neck. ‘It’s a trick!’ 

A wave of darkness burst from inside her.

Harry flinched behind a rush of ebony vapour and the obscurial’s magic bounced off, tearing at the walls in a cacophony of screeches and sparks. The gleaming black magic shrank back into her, soaking through her skin like water into a sponge. Bits of padding and dust filled the air, floating between them.

‘It’s a trick,’ she whispered. ‘It’s always a trick. Nothing good ever happens to me.’

Harry’s heart sank. I know that feeling. He squashed a flash of red roses and a bead of crimson welling up on his finger. But perfect wishes do come true. You just have to make them.

‘Nothing good ever just happens to anyone.’ He crouched down. ‘Wishes aren’t just granted.’

Roxanne stared at him. ‘You mean it’ll always be like this?’ she whispered. ‘Forever?’

‘No. Wishes aren’t just granted. Wishes are made,’ Harry murmured. ‘You can’t just wait for someone to come save you. You have to save yourself. But I’m going to help you do it, because you’re like me.’

Her lip shook. ‘You’re lying. Nothing I want ever happens. You’re like that doctor and my friends and my father and my family—’ blotches of dark blossomed and bubbled on her skin ‘—and… and everyone!’

He held out his hand and offered her a gentle smile. ‘Would you really rather stay here?’

Roxanne balled her fists. ‘If you try to hurt me, I’ll hurt you more.’

‘I’m not going to hurt you,’ Harry murmured, taking a step toward her. ‘I’m going to show you how to save yourself.’

‘Who are you?’ she demanded, staring at his hand like she was starving and he held a great feast in his palm. ‘What do you want?’

‘You can call me Lemon Sorbet, Roxanne,’ Harry said. ‘It’s not my real name, but nobody here is meant to know that, so I’ll have to tell you later, once we’ve left everyone else behind.’ A soft sadness tugged at his smile. ‘And I really do want to help you. Nobody deserves that emptiness.’

And saving you is harder than sacrificing you. He took a deep breath. It would be easier to kill you. To say it’s your dreams or mine. 

The eerie glow faded from her green irises and she sagged into the scattered pieces of padding, clutching her necklace to her heart with both hands. ‘You’re really going to take me away from here?’ she whispered. ‘You promise? It’s not a trick? I’m not going to wake up in another cell like when the doctor promised he was taking me away from the farm?’

‘No. We’re going to a camp in the woods. And then we’re going to do whatever it takes to free you from the obscurus inside you. It won’t be easy, Roxanne. Soul magic never is.’

‘But it’s all I have,’ she mumbled. ‘At least it is always there. Even though the doctor says it’s killing me.’

‘Not anymore.’ Harry reached down and took her small hand in his. ‘Now you have me, too.’

‘Have you got any food?’ Roxanne muttered. ‘I’m really hungry. I didn’t want to eat here, the doctor puts things in your food.’

‘I don’t have any, but we can go get some.’ He lifted her up and set her on her feet. ‘Let’s change those clothes first.’ Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve, transfiguring her ragged dress into a dark green t-shirt and jeans. ‘There, that’s a little better.’

She grabbed at her necklace and let out a little gasp when her hands touched the ring. 

‘It’s still there,’ he said. ‘I only changed your dress.’

Is it precious to you? Something important? Harry swallowed a surge of bitter guilt and cupped his wedding band against his heart. Important enough that your purpose and it could be one?

Roxanne tucked it under her t-shirt and reached her hand out toward him.

He wrapped her hand in his. ‘I need to talk to the people who are with me, then we’ll find you some food.’ Harry glanced at the dark bags under her eyes. ‘And then you need to sleep.’

She clung to his hand and nodded. ‘Can we get cookies? Mom used to make me cookies before—’ her lip trembled and her eyes filled with tears ‘—before.’

‘Of course.’ Harry pictured the outer courtyard and replaced Lemon Sorbet’s mask. ‘Hold on tight to my hand. This will feel uncomfortable, but it’s going to get us outside.’ 

Roxanne grabbed onto his wrist with her other hand, her small nails digging into his skin.

He wrenched the world back past them, and stepped out over the severed arm and pool of red, vanishing both with a flick of his wand and tucking it back into his sleeve.

‘You got it.’ Tracey glanced up from where she had her wand pressed between the eyes of the witch from the corridor and let out a low whistle. ‘Maybe this will work after all.’

‘Be quiet, Tracey,’ Harry told her. ‘Ginny, this is Roxanne. I’m going to take her to get some food at the nearest muggle town and then she needs to rest at our camp.’

Ginny nodded. ‘And here?’

‘Leave it as it is.’

‘And her?’ She motioned at the witch under Tracey’s wand. ‘She heard us talking.’

I told you to stay still. 

He sighed and handed Ginny the witch’s wand. ‘Bring her to Black Salmon, then. We’ll deal with her there.’

The witch trembled.

‘Stupefy,’ Tracey muttered, dropping the witch to the ground in a red flash.

‘Let’s go, Tracey.’ Ginny vanished with a loud crack.

Tracey disapparated in a deafening pop.

Harry pulled off Lemon Sorbet’s mask and tucked it into his pocket, smiling down at Roxanne. ‘Still holding on tight, Roxanne?’

She bobbed her head. ‘Cookies?’

He chuckled. ‘Got a sweet tooth?’ The smile melted off his face and a raw dull ache bit deep. ‘I know another little girl who’s just the same.’

My little girl. Desperate need clamped its fist around his throat, clawing at him with talons as sharp as razors and hot as flame. And soon I’ll have her back. His heart seized beneath his ribs and a fierce heat stung at his eyes. I need to.

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