Ginny watched the deer pick their way through the ferns in the shadows below the pines, a sharp gleam in her brown eyes. ‘Is the girl sleeping?’
‘Yes.’ Harry glanced back at the low tent tucked in between two pines. ‘Let her sleep for a little while. She needs to rest.’
She nodded. ‘Her magic… is it like yours?’
‘She’ll lash out at New Kleves?’
‘If we take her there and she wants to,’ he replied. ‘We might be using her as a weapon, but I don’t want to see anyone scaring or threatening her. If they do, and they somehow survive her lashing out, then they’ll have to survive me too.’
‘I’ve told everyone to be kind to her.’ Ginny studied her wand. ‘This soul magic you use, it’s like obscuri. You have to suffer for it?’
‘It’s an enchantment of the soul,’ Harry murmured. ‘If your intent is strong enough, and it has to be very strong, then you can enchant your own soul, your own purpose. Obscuri do it to themselves, driven to wanting nothing else by the reaction of muggle relations or guardians to magic. They try to create something to take the magic away and stop the pain.’
Ginny’s knuckles whitened around her wand. ‘I had a brush with soul magic when I was a stupid little girl. A book. I poured myself into it and it swallowed me up. Harry saved me. When Tom had turned all my dreams to dust and nothing mattered, Harry came to fight for me.’ She stared away into the trees. ‘It was like waking up. And I knew I had to fight for me as well, because how could I not when he nearly died fighting for me?’
‘I’m sure he’d be glad to see you fighting for yourself.’
‘I let him fight alone,’ Ginny whispered. ‘We all did. And he died. It wasn’t until after he died that I stopped caring about what my parents and brothers thought and did what it took for us to win. But he died stopping Voldemort and so did three of my brothers, and I will not let anyone destroy what they died for.’
‘Whatever it takes?’ A small smile crept onto his lips beneath Lemon Sorbet’s mask.
‘I’ve come this far,’ she said. ‘I can’t turn back now. Harry didn’t.’
He didn’t die for you. Or Britain. He stifled a sigh. But I suppose fighting for our dreams is what we all do, so there’s no real difference in the end.
‘The captured witch, do you have her wand?’ Harry asked.
‘I’m going to give it to Roxanne,’ he said.
Ginny frowned. ‘Is that wise?’
Harry snorted. ‘She’s much more dangerous without one than with one.’
‘Guess so.’ Ginny grinned and pulled the short, thick wand from her pocket. ‘Here.’ Ginny’s cheer faded. ‘That witch…’
‘You shouldn’t take things away from people for no reason,’ he murmured. ‘Can we let her go without any risks?’
‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘She heard too much last night. We either keep her here until after New Kleves or we kill her. And keeping her here is a risk I won’t take with my squad’s lives. If she gets free, if she escapes, if she upsets the obscurial girl, there are too many ifs that could go wrong.’
‘No risks.’ Harry stood up. ‘But there’s no need for anything that would make Voldemort’s worst followers proud.’ He ducked back into his shelter and peered past the translucent curtain at the still figure of Roxanne, pulling Lemon Sorbet’s mask down. ‘Still sleeping.’
Harry hooked the acorn pendant up with one finger and pushed a little magic into it, watching it blossom into a mirror. ‘Mon amour,’ he whispered as Fleur’s face appeared. A hot lump swelled in his throat at the soft pain in her blue eyes. ‘I miss you.’
‘Je t’aime.’ She took a deep breath. ‘But we don’t have time to spend missing each other, mon Coeur.’
‘I have Roxanne in my care—’ he turned and lifted the mirror over his shoulder ‘—she’s sleeping right now. She ate almost an entire box of biscuits and passed out last night.’
A small frown wrinkled Fleur’s brows. ‘And you’re coming back already?’
‘I told Ginny we could use her as a weapon,’ Harry murmured. ‘And we will. But I think we should try to save her. It’d be easy just to bring her back and kill her. To tell ourselves that it’s our dream or hers. And saving Katie is going to be a strong part of the intent of our ritual. I’m not sure killing another little girl will help with that either.’
‘Can we save her?’ Fleur’s eyes darkened a fraction. ‘You promised me no risks.’
‘The obscurus is an enchantment on her soul, like an oath. She’s split her purpose and sentience so there is something there when she cries out for anything to take away her suffering. Something to hurt the people that hurt her. If Roxanne believes she doesn’t need it, and then if she has the will to rip it out and save herself…’
‘Like you did,’ Fleur murmured.
‘She wishes to be saved,’ Harry whispered. ‘But wishes are made. I did it. I just had to believe I deserved it, that I should save myself.’
‘Can you convince her?’
A little anxiety chewed at him. ‘I’ll get her to lash out at New Kleves. At New Amsterdam. And when she has, I’ll convince her that all the people that let her be hurt have been hurt. That now she has to save herself not from them, but from the obscurus. Nobody has ever been kind to her. She’ll want to save herself. She’ll do whatever it takes.’
‘Then try it.’ Fleur’s blue eyes softened. ‘Was it the biscuits?’
A faint smile crept onto his face. ‘She sat there and stuffed them into her mouth until she ran out and fell asleep in the crumbs.’
Fleur blinked back tears. ‘Hurry up, mon Amour. I need our little girl back. I miss her.’
Molten yearning bubbled its way up inside Harry. ‘I know,’ he whispered, the words sticking in his throat. ‘I know.’
‘It will be worth it,’ Fleur murmured. ‘It will be perfect.’
Harry lowered the mirror. ‘Je t’aime.’
‘Je t’aime.’ She kissed the mirror as it shrank back into an acorn.
He dropped it down the front of his black robes and brushed the translucent curtain aside. ‘Hey Roxie.’
Her eyelids fluttered. ‘Mom?’ The corner of her mouth curved into a smile. ‘Mom is that you?’
‘It’s me, Roxie.’
Her eyes snapped open. Black threads swirled around the eerie green glow of her irises and bubbles of ink-dark magic swelled and burst on her skin.
‘Easy,’ he murmured. ‘It’s only me.’
The gleam in her eyes dimmed. ‘I thought you were my mom. She’s the only one who called me Roxie.’
‘I heard.’ Harry offered her a small smile. ‘First time anyone’s ever called me that.’ He sat on the bottom of her bed. ‘Want me to not call you Roxie?’
She shook her head and clutched the ring beneath her dress with both hands.
‘You need to get up.’ He admired the crumbs and chocolate stains on the sheets. ‘But first, a bath. And you need to clean your teeth.’ Harry conjured her a toothbrush. ‘That ought to do it.’
‘Are we leaving?’ Roxie sat up, curling her toes. ‘Already?’
‘I’m British, Roxie. I’m here to fight Americans. I’m going to take you away, but first I have to beat them, or I can’t leave either.’
‘I know you’re British,’ she mumbled. ‘You have a funny accent.’
Harry snorted. ‘Not as funny as yours.’ He reached across and patted her on the back. ‘I have to go to New Kleves. We attacked the facility because there were a lot of aurors there and we’re going to do the same with New Kleves.’
‘More people like the doctor.’
‘Possibly,’ Harry replied. ‘I’m going to take you with me. To make sure you’re safe.’
‘What about you?’
‘Are you going to be fighting?’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But I’m good at fighting.’
Roxie nodded. ‘You’re like me. You said so. And your magic, it’s like mine.’
‘I want to talk about you, Roxie,’ Harry murmured. ‘Do you know why they locked you in that room?’
She scowled. ‘Because they were scared of me.’
‘They were scared of you. They didn’t want you to hurt anyone. And they also wanted to try and find a way to remove the obscurus.’
Slim threads of darkness coiled in the whites of her eyes. ‘No.’
‘It’s always been there, hasn’t it? When you really needed it.’ He wrapped one arm around her. ‘Did you let it out? Before. Did you mean to let it out?’
Roxie stared at her lap.
‘You don’t have to lie,’ he said. ‘I won’t mind.’
‘I did it,’ she whispered. ‘He wanted to sell my mom’s ring and I just – I just hated him so much and I wanted him gone. All of them. And I knew it was there. It’s always there, so I just… screamed and let it out.’
‘That’s what it’s for, you know.’ Harry gave her a gentle squeeze. ‘It’s a part of your soul. You created it to save you, to take away all the things that hurt you. And it did, didn’t it?’
Roxie squeezed her eyes shut.
‘It will always be able to do that,’ he said. ‘But there’s another side to it, isn’t there? A temptation…’
What’s so special about roses? A little shiver rippled down his spine. If it had hurt more, we’d be just the same. But I wasn’t hurting, I just wasn’t real.
Harry patted her on the back. ‘It’s okay,’ he murmured. ‘You created it to make the pain stop. And there’s more than one way to do that. We both know it. But the obscurial will fulfil that desire. It will take all your magic away, because you hoped that would stop anyone wanting to hurt you. It will tear anyone that hurts you to pieces, because you hoped that would stop them hurting you. And it will kill you, because you knew that if nothing else stopped it hurting, that would.’
‘I just wanted it to stop.’ Roxie stared up at him, her green eyes full of tears. ‘But I wasn’t brave enough. I was never brave enough.’
‘I have another way.’ Harry reached out and wiped her tears away on the edge of his thumb. ‘But first, I’ve got a present for you.’ He pressed the short, thick wand into her hands. ‘Only use this to defend yourself or when I’m around to make sure you’re safe.’
She clutched it until her knuckles turned white and a few green sparks shot from the tip. ‘Will you teach me?’
‘Magic?’ He smiled down at her. ‘Of course.’
‘Even if the obs-obscurus has taken it all away?’ Roxie swept her dark hair off her face. ‘If we get rid of it. Will you teach me?’
‘I’ll teach you with or without the obscurus, so long as you have magic to cast spells.’ Harry wiggled the toothbrush under her nose. ‘But first…’
She burst into tears and flopped into his lap, grabbing his leg in both arms.
‘Hey,’ he whispered. ‘Hey. What’s wrong?’
Roxie garbled something into his legs as her hot tears soaked through to his skin. Harry stroked her hair until she hiccuped and her sobs eased, a raw, dull pain twisting between his ribs as he held her close.
Soon, baby bird. He swallowed it all down. I promise you won’t have to wait in the mirror for too much longer.
‘Sorry,’ Roxie mumbled.
‘It’s okay.’ Harry lifted her up and sat her down on the edge of the bed. ‘There’s a bath in the back of the tent. Clean your teeth. Clean the rest of yourself. If you need anything, just yell for me, I’ll be outside.’
She bobbed her head, hiding behind her dark hair.
He stood up. ‘Off you go then.’
Roxie shuffled into the back room, clutching her wand in her fist.
‘Don’t mess around with the wand,’ Harry called after her. ‘Be careful.’ He snorted as he placed Lemon Sorbet’s mask on and stepped out of the tent. ‘Says the boy who nearly killed himself three times aged eleven because he thought all his friends would hate him if he wasn’t a hero.’
The American witch cowered against a tree opposite their tent. Angelina Johnson and Ernie Macmillan stood in front of her, wands drawn.
‘Just do it,’ Ernie grumbled.
‘It’s hard.’ Angelina levelled her wand at the witch’s face. ‘Cor exaruit,’ she hissed.
Black veins spread across the witch’s face, sinking deep into the skin.
The world drifted into the distance beyond the web of dark lines.
That’s the same curse. A cold fist clenched about his heart and ink-black mist trickled through his fingers as he watched the American witch shudder and crumple to the ground. The same fucking curse.
Harry crushed his fury down as she spasmed on the floor and fell still. ‘That’s an odd curse. I’ve never seen a spell like it before.’
Angelina twisted on her heel. ‘It’s an obscure one.’
He caught her eyes, touching their thoughts together. Tracey Davis whispered the words, over and over, a hundred times, and Angelina muttered them, jabbing her wand at American prisoner after American prisoner.
‘Hard to cast?’ Harry asked.
‘It takes a lot of spite to cast,’ she said. ‘Works okay on people you have a personal grudge against, but anyone else and it needs practice. Like, a lot of practice.’ Angelina pointed at the dark veins webbing the American witch’s face as her chest stilled. ‘Those shouldn’t show up. Not if I got it right. It’s supposed to enchant the blood to wither the heart so when the blood travels back to the heart it kills the person.’
‘Nasty,’ Harry murmured. ‘What do you use it for?’
‘When we catch people we cast it on them. If you do it weak enough you only enchant a small amount of blood and it takes a while for that blood to go through the heart enough times to wither it.’ Angelina shrugged. ‘We send the kids or civilians back like that. And then they suddenly die later.’
Neville said Ginny’s squad had members of the Resplendent Sun in it. Pale lips curled back from countless needle-like teeth and Harry’s wand burnt cold as ice against his skin. Maybe it was you and Tracey who came to France. Maybe it was you who cursed my little girl.
‘You alright?’ Angelina’s lip curled. ‘If you’re going to fight with us, you’ll need a stronger stomach than that. It’s fear that wins wars, not stunning spells.’
I’ll show you fear. Harry bit the words back. Katie first. La Victoire Finale first. He sucked in a deep breath and let the cold fury and the searing burn of his hate fade. And then if it was you, I’m going to rip every dream you had away and drown you in the despair.