Whitewashed walls rose from the neat grid of cobbled streets sitting in the base of a narrow valley between the bend of the river and the green blur of the forest’s edge.
‘Is that it?’ Roxie whispered, tugging at his sleeve.
‘That’s New Kleves,’ Harry said. ‘It’s where all the American aurors for this area are based and the centre of the magical state. Everyone living here is magical. It’s like a hidden magical haven for magical people that muggles like your family can’t find.’
‘What are aurors?’ she asked.
Harry frowned. ‘Possibly, if those are the police. Aurors are the law enforcement of magical states. They make sure New Kleves is perfectly safe for everyone living there.’
‘Magic cops,’ Roxie muttered.
‘They’re not quite the same as muggle ones,’ he said. ‘They primarily safeguard the Statute of Secrecy, which hides our world from the muggle one, and stop wizards or witches that break the laws set up to keep us all safe. They’re also meant to look after the magical people and creatures around New Kleves.’
Dark swirls of magic coiled in Roxie’s eyes. ‘But – but…’
‘Why didn’t they save you? Why didn’t they help you?’ Harry patted her on the back. ‘They should have. It’s their responsibility to find and help magical children like you before they suffer and turn themselves into obscuri to try and escape it.’
‘Why?’ she mumbled. ‘Why is it always me? Why couldn’t I be born here? Where everyone’s like me? Why do good things never happen to me?!’ Black, pitch-like bubbles welled up on her skin, bursting in puffs of inky smoke, and an eerie green glow flickered in her irises.
‘Easy, Roxie,’ he murmured, taking her hand.
‘It’s their fault!’ she hissed. ‘They left me in that place with them!’
‘I know. I know. But remember that no matter how strongly it calls to you, the obscurus doesn’t really know how to save you, because you didn’t know how to save yourself when your magic created it. Making the pain stop isn’t the same as saving you.’
The bubbles faded back beneath Roxie’s skin. ‘You said you knew a way,’ she whispered. ‘You promised.’
‘I did.’ Harry gave her hand a gentle squeeze. ‘I think once the obscurus has fulfilled its purpose — or once you believe it’s fulfilled its purpose — you’ll be able to tear it out and leave it behind.’
‘Tear it out?’ Roxie screwed her face up. ‘It would be… gone? It wouldn’t kill me like the magic doctors said it would?’
‘You don’t have to die,’ he whispered. ‘You don’t deserve to die, Roxie. But it won’t be easy for you to save yourself. There’s a price. It takes a completely selfish act to rip the obscurial free from your soul.’
Her forehead scrunched. ‘A completely selfish act. Like what?’
Harry let Lemon Sorbet’s mask melt back from his mouth and offered Roxie a gentle smile. ‘It’s complicated magic, but I’ll try to explain. The obscurus that’s killing you is part of your soul, you enchanted your soul to create it. To remove the obscurus you have to re-enchant your soul. Following me?’
She bobbed her head.
‘Magicks that affect the soul are very powerful. Think how much you wanted the suffering to end, to hurt those who hurt you. That’s how much you have to want to save yourself. When you cast any magic, the strength of it is affected by how strongly you want it. If I conjure you a button, I imagine the button and want to give you one. Does that make sense?’
‘What if I don’t want it enough?’ Roxie whispered.
‘All those years of suffering and all those wishes you made and lost faith in, they weren’t for nothing. They were for this. You deserve your dreams, Roxie.’ Harry slipped the tip of his wand from his sleeve and conjured her a button. ‘Like that, you have to imagine what you want. But re-enchanting your soul is not the same as conjuring a button. You have to really show you want to do it, to yourself. It’s one thing to think you want something but another to show yourself how much you want it. The Killing Curse is one way to do it. If you were to find someone, point your wand at them and speak the words avada kedavra, and you wanted to kill them to save yourself enough to successfully cast the spell, you’d be able to rip the obscurus out. But it won’t be easy to leave behind something that’s always been there for you, so you need to believe it’s fulfilled its purpose and you can leave it behind.’
‘Avada kedavra. Avada kedavra. Avada kedavra,’ Roxie murmured, her hand straying to her pocket. ‘I just rip it out? How?’
‘You imagine it. Like with the button.’ Harry glanced over Roxie’s head at Ginny. ‘I imagine it as ripping, as grabbing the obscurus, however you imagine it looking, and tearing it out. Once you have, then you need to entrust it to something you strongly associate with the obscurus and its purpose, so it can’t just return to you.’
It might melt back into your soul and vanish if you don’t, but I need it.
Roxie clutched the gold ring beneath her top. ‘Do you think I could do it?’
‘We need to find a way to do it that doesn’t require you casting the Killing Curse on someone. There aren’t that many wizards and witches who can cast the Killing Curse, you have to really want whatever it is you’re killing them for to just rip someone’s life away.’
‘I could do it,’ she whispered. ‘I did it before. Kinda.’
‘It’s not the same as letting the obscurus free, Roxie. You can’t tell yourself that it was the obscurus that did it and not you. You’d have to do it all yourself. For yourself. Do you understand the difference?’
She squinted up at him with a determined glint in her green eyes. ‘I think so. How do you know if you want it enough?’
A pair of loud cracks rang across the valley.
‘You know because it works.’ Harry bent down and lowered his voice. ‘But it can be done, Roxie. It worked for me.’
Roxie swallowed, sticking her hand in the pocket with her wand. ‘I can do it.’
Ginny strode across, her wand in her hand. ‘There are over thirty aurors in New Kleves. They’ve pulled back every wand in the state and evacuated everyone. They expected us. Tarbeck’s here.’
Tarbeck is perfect. She can’t like obscuri magic anymore than inferii.
Harry took a deep breath. ‘We should talk to Tarbeck first.’ He shot a pointed look at the back of Roxie’s head. ‘See what she has to say…’
Understanding flashed through Ginny’s brown eyes. ‘Will you not be too close?’
‘Don’t worry about me, I can protect myself,’ he said. ‘You form a loose perimeter, don’t waste the chance to pick off any exposed aurors, but don’t take any unnecessary risks. We aren’t here to kill everyone, just to make our statement, but if things get dramatic and violent, they’ll be scattered, so throw that ward locus over the town and wipe them all away.’
Roxie tugged at his hand. ‘What about me?’
‘You can come if you want. It’s only going to be talking. Megan Tarbeck is one of America’s leading auror captains, I’m sure she’ll listen to reason.’
As much as she did before, that is.
Ginny snorted. ‘She’s one of the three auror captains leading the federal forces of the confederation. Aside from the elected state representatives, there’s nobody with more power.’ A brief grin passed across her face. ‘Although really, it’s the auror captains that hold the real power. The Ministries and governments set up by the ICW to keep the Statute are only as powerful as their aurors and what they can enforce. Voldemort showed us all that very clearly.’
‘Where’s Tarbeck?’ Harry asked.
‘In the middle. On the roof of the hall.’
‘Are you coming, Roxie?’ he asked.
She grabbed his hand in both of hers and bobbed her head. ‘I want to see them. I want…’
To know why? Of course you do.
‘Alright.’ He let his wand slip down until the tip poked from his sleeve. ‘Hold on tight, Roxie.’
She crushed his fingers between hers.
Harry wrenched the world back past them, ripping through the wards and stepping onto the roof of the nearest building; he apparated them on to the rooftop garden of the hall.
Megan Tarbeck whirled, snatching her wands from her waist. ‘Of course you didn’t try and fight properly.’ She sneered. ‘All you fucking Brits do is skulk around and use dark magic on helpless civilians.’
‘Hello Tarbeck,’ Harry said, ignoring the two wands pointed at him. ‘I see you’re cowering here with every auror you could find instead of trying to fight properly either. Would you like to surrender?’
‘Fuck you.’ She spat at his feet. ‘I’m not surrendering and I’m not going to let you destroy my town.’ Tarbeck’s wands trembled in her fists. ‘And if you try and get that obscurial to do anything, I’ll kill it.’
‘It?’ Harry asked. ‘She has a name.’
And I have given her a dream.
‘Kill me?’ Roxie whispered, dark magic bubbling on her skin. ‘You were meant to help me!’
‘Help you?’ Tarbeck’s right wand dropped to point between Roxie’s eyes. ‘You’re an obscurial. You’re already dead. The parasite will kill you in a year or so. They shouldn’t waste time on kids like you. They should kill all of you before you do any damage to our world with your twisted dark magic.’
Well that ought to do it. Harry let the black mist of his horcrux pour from his sleeve. I didn’t even have to try.
‘You want to kill me?’ Roxie let go of his hand and dragged her wand out. ‘Ava—’ A scream tore from her lips, rising into an ear-splitting shriek that shattered the windows in the street below, showering the cobbles in glass.
Harry apparated behind Tarbeck, throwing his horcrux’s magic up around them as the roof crumbled beneath their feet. The building jolted and the ground vanished; he plummeted into the cloud of dust, hammering into hard cold stone.
Merde. Roxie better be okay. He dragged himself up, taking a deep breath through his nose as the throbbing pain faded, and coughed up dust. I forgot to re-cover my mouth with the mask.
Tarbeck staggered out of the ruined hall onto the cobbles, her wands in her bloodied hands. Harry fixed his mask and limped after her, sweeping the dust away with a flick of his wand.
A swirling vortex of bubbling pitch-black magic ripped through the town like a tornado, showering the heaps of rubble in its wake with chunks of stone and tile.
‘My home…’ Tarbeck spat a mouthful of blood into the street. ‘Fucking hell.’
Roxie’s magic smashed through the whitewashed walls of the houses with a grating screech, meandering back across the town as aurors apparated to safety in loud cracks. Spells flashed from the trees at the edges of the town and a chunk of stone flowed into a stone serpent, snatching up a grey-jacketed American auror and crushing the wizard into a red smear on the ground.
Roxie’s trying to raze the whole town. Harry watched the grazes fade from his knuckles and prowled after Tarbeck. Once she’s destroyed this place, she might feel it’s time to leave all this behind and be able to rip the obscurus out.
A stone scraped under his foot.
Tarbeck twisted on her heel, hurling hissing yellow curses from either wand as she advanced. Harry batted them back past her into the rubble, scorching deep marks into the stone, forcing his arm faster and faster as she got closer.
‘What the fuck?’ she muttered, conjuring a shield with the longer wand in her left hand and deflecting the hexes away into the dust. ‘That’s not fucking natural. I can barely see your fucking arms move.’
Glimmering yellow curses flashed from the short wand in Tarbeck’s right hand, but Harry sent them hissing back at her, striding forward. They burst on her shield in bright showers of sparks. Harry thrust his magic into the smashed bollard behind Tarbeck, twisting it into thin stone tendrils and wrapping them around her left arm as he swatted her spells back. A pair of orange curses punched a fist-sized hole through her stomach and her shin, spinning her around and tossing her back into the street.
Harry thrust out a hand, summoning the longer wand from the wreckage and tucking it into his sleeve.
She spluttered in the spreading pool of red, rolling onto her face and pushing herself up on her hands. The vortex whirled through the last houses at the forest’s edge and burst into wisps of dark smoke; Roxie slumped to her knees, sobbing into her hands on rubble-strewn cobbles.
Guilt gnawed at Harry’s heart. ‘I will not be stopped,’ he whispered to himself. ‘Whatever it takes.’
‘I will stop you.’ Tarbeck stood upright before the ruined walls, her blood-soaked hair clinging to her skin and her short wand levelled at his chest. ‘I will kill you.’
‘If you choose to be an obstacle,’ Harry said, drawing bright sparks to swirl around his wand as her hexes hissed over his shoulder. ‘I will get rid of you.’
I have to. For La Victoire Finale. The yearning swelled within him, a fistful of razors clenched tight about his throat. It’s all there is. And I need it.
White lightning flashed from his wand, obliterating a pair of yellow curses. Tarbeck burst into ash and the splinters of her wand showered across the ground.
Cool air whispered over his skin as the dust settled.
‘I will not be stopped.’ He stepped over her ashes toward Roxie, wrestling with the heat of the hurricane howling in his heart.
Nearly there, mon Reve. Harry pressed a hand to his wedding band and the acorn necklace, feeding a little magic into the pendant. Roxie. The damaz-kar. A phoenix.
Fierce warmth flared against his heart.
And then there’s just the price.
A ragged huddle of grey-jacketed aurors shielded themselves, stumbling back toward the shimmer of wards at the edge of New Kleves as spells hissed from the shadows of the collapsed buildings. Red figures flickered through the ruins with loud cracks and flashes of magic lit up the swirling clouds of dust.
Ginny’s taking no prisoners. Harry watched the cluster of American aurors dwindle one by one as he picked his way across the rubble toward Roxie. No risks.
One of Ginny’s mirror-visored aurors apparated in and put three blue curses through the back of the last grey-jacketed witch, kicking the body away across the cobbles.
Tracey dispelled her visor with a jab of her wand and grinned down at the corpses. ‘That’s the last of them! A clean sweep, captain.’
No chance to have a little chat with Angelina, then. Harry smothered a flash of frustration, swallowing a cold ball of rage. Maybe next time.
‘Hey…’ He knelt beside Roxie. ‘Are you okay?’
She buried her face in his side.
‘It’s okay.’ He wrapped one arm around her. ‘You’re going to be okay. You’re going to save yourself. I know you will.’
Ginny appeared beside them with a loud crack, firing a red flare into the air from the tip of her wand. Her squad apparated in around her.
‘Keep the wards up,’ Ginny said. ‘Sweep every inch of this place. Be thorough. Tracey, put your visor back up until we’re dead certain it’s just us.’
‘Yes, captain,’ Tracey said.
The aurors split off in pairs, disapparating across the ruins of New Kleves.
Ginny’s footsteps crunched across the gravel. ‘How is she?’
‘Upset and tired, I think.’ Harry wrapped an arm around Roxie and lifted her up over his shoulder. I’ll look after Roxie. Are we done here?’
‘Not quite.’ She tapped her wand against her crimson robes and the mirrored-visor rose up to cover her face. ‘After Voldemort died and Amelia Bones turned up at the battle of Hogwarts, a few Death Eaters hid in the secret passages and classrooms and broom cupboards. The last few names on our war memorial were put there because of them.’
‘No risks,’ Harry murmured.
‘That’s right.’ Ginny’s brown eyes blazed. ‘Ron died trying to fight Voldemort, the bloody idiot. But my twin brothers got cursed in the back by a bunch of cowards who hid in a broom cupboard for a whole day after the battle had ended.’ She pointed her wand out at the ruins. ‘So I’m careful now. Anyone that might be a risk, I’ll get rid of if I can. We’ll check every hidey-hole we can find, then we’ll go back to Black Salmon and ready ourselves to attack New Amsterdam and see if that finishes this.’
‘Thirty aurors dead. Tarbeck’s dead.’ Harry surveyed the destruction. ‘New Kleves is a ruin and there’s not all that much they can do to stop us from repeating this elsewhere.’
‘We should let them know we’re coming for New Amsterdam,’ Ginny said. ‘So they do all they can to stop us.’
‘And then when it’s not enough, they’ll give up,’ he murmured. ‘That’s a good idea.’
She drifted to the nearest corpse, picking its wand from the dust and snapping it. ‘This ought to make a good message’ Ginny stuffed the broken halves into the body’s mouth and severed its head with a purple flash.
‘I’ll take Roxie back to Black Salmon before you get started.’ Harry pictured the campsite among the trees and spun the world back past them.
Roxie sagged over his arm.
‘You’re okay.’ He set her down on her feet and brushed the dust off her dress, shaking it out of her hair. ‘See?’ Harry healed the grazes on her knees and palms with a murmur. ‘You’re safe.’
‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered. ‘I had to. They left me with them. They were meant to help me and that Tarbeck lady wanted to hurt me—’ Roxie balled her fists ‘—so I hurt her more first.’
‘Don’t worry, I’m not upset with you,’ Harry said. ‘It might be for the best. We were going to end up fighting anyway and this way you’ve hurt everyone who was responsible for you getting hurt.’ He tucked a finger under her chin and tilted her head up. ‘Do you still feel you need the obscurus?’
Roxie shook her head. ‘Not – not…’ she stared down at her shoes, shaking her dust-streaked hair over her face. ‘Not now I have you.’
A little warmth touched Harry’s heart. ‘I’m here, Roxie.’
‘When are you leaving America?’ she whispered. ‘Is it soon now you won the fight at that town?’
Are you asking when I’m leaving or how long you have? He weighed his words on the tip of his tongue. It took a lot to push me to save myself. A crucible of terrible calibre, Salazar called it.
‘Once America gives up fighting, I’ll leave. We’re going to New Amsterdam next. That’s where the president is. He’s in charge of the federal government that maintains the Statute and things like that.’
‘He’s in charge of all the magic cops. The ones that were meant to save me and never came.’ Little threads of darkness flickered through the whites of her eyes. ‘And the doctors that kept me in that room and put things in my food?’
The corner of Harry’s mouth twitched. ‘Yes. And after New Amsterdam and America’s surrender, I will have to leave. If I can, I’ll take you with me.’
‘Really?’ Roxie asked in a small voice. ‘You’re really going to take me with you?’
‘I promised.’ He crouched down. ‘But I can’t save you just by taking you away from here, Roxie. Wishes aren’t granted, remember. You have to make them. You have to save yourself. But I’ll be there to help.’
She stared at her toes. ‘I lost the wand you gave me. I need another one. Can I have another one? I’m sorry I lost it.’
Need? A fierce flash of triumph seized him. You’re thinking about trying it.
Harry chuckled. ‘It was only a temporary wand. When you’re older, you’ll get your own.’ He shook Tarbeck’s wand from his sleeve and held it out. ‘Have this one for now instead.’
She eyed the long, thin pale wand. ‘That’s one of that lady’s wands.’
‘It is.’ Harry waggled it. ‘Go on. You’ll do much greater things with it than she will.’
‘Did I… did I kill her?’ Roxie asked. ‘Before I screamed and let it out?’
‘No. I killed her afterwards.’ He pressed the wand into her small fingers. ‘Here. Remember, no messing around with it unless I’m there to make sure you’re safe.’
‘I won’t.’ Roxie stuffed the wand into her pocket. ‘That killing spell—’ she glanced away into the trees ‘—what were the words for it again? In case another magic cop tries to kill me.’
Harry smiled beneath Lemon Sorbet’s mask. ‘Avada kedavra.’
You’re going to try, aren’t you? You want to leave with me; whatever it takes. I guess I’d better make sure you have a chance to try it at New Amsterdam.
‘Go get yourself cleaned up, Roxie. You’re still pretty dusty.’ He pointed at their tent. ‘I need to go have a look at New Amsterdam so I can apparate into it in a few days.’
She batted at her hair, releasing a small cloud of dust. ‘After my bath, can I have more cookies?’
Harry laughed and lifted Lemon Sortbet’s mask off his face. ‘Yes. When you’re clean, you can have as many biscuits as you can make a huge mess with.’