The soft silver glow of his wedding band shone through Harry’s fingers as he swung his legs off the edge of the roof, admiring the distant silver stars. Spells flashed beneath the shimmering bubble of wards covering the ruins of New Amsterdam, streaking out across the sea and fading into the night.
He tucked the wedding band down his robes and leapt into the sky, shifting his shape into the raven and soaring on the sea breeze.
Beneath his wings, Ginny’s squad of aurors apparated across the rooftops, surrounding a small group of Americans and ripping them apart in hails of hexes.
Good. Whittling them down.
Harry drifted down and alighted beside a rune-engraved iron circle on the roof. ‘The ward locus.’ He touched the tip of his wand to it.
A twisting mass of threads of magic swirled in a ball around it.
Clever. So that’s how you make them permeable; they move. And I assume if it recognises you, it’ll open a gap for you. He bounced his wand against his palm. How to do this…
Ginny’s aurors appeared on a roof at the far edge of the ruins, sending blue and orange flashes of magic down into the street below.
Harry transfigured his robes into the long, grey jacket of the Americans and pulled Lemon Sorbet’s mask off. I guess I can be you again, Julien. He changed his face and eyes, apparating down into the street and disillusioning himself. Now I just have to find some Americans and wait for Tracey.
He drifted through the streets, picking his way over the blood-spattered rubble and around scorched, still bodies.
A white hawk fluttered down from the sky, shifting into the shape of a man. ‘I know you’re there,’ Cetanawuaka said. ‘The eyes of the hawk are sharp and the dust betrays you. Come out.’
Harry abandoned his charm.
‘We are being slaughtered.’ Cetanawuaka’s face darkened. ‘We need to regroup and get out of here. For now, you stick with me.’ He turned on his heel and led Harry inside, through small, neat rooms and up the carpeted stairs. ‘Don’t say a word. Do nothing the coward orders unless I tell you to do it.’
Harry stifled a smile.
Cetanawuaka twisted the brass knob on the first door on the landing. ‘I’ve located the vice-president and found an auror to assist as I returned.’
President Lee sat in an armchair, fiddling with his pocket watch. ‘Cetanawuaka. What’s going on out there? Is the obscurial dead like I ordered?’
‘The girl is gone. The unspeakable took her and hasn’t returned. Ginevra Weasley and her aurors have put up clever wards. If I broke them to leave, they’d merely reform and I’d be unable to break back through and be of any use. And there’s nobody close enough to bring back here in time.’
‘Get us out, then!’ President Lee snapped his pocket watch closed with shaking fingers. ‘We can’t help the rest. We must get out. We can—’
‘We’re not leaving.’ Cetanawuaka touched his fingers to the white and red patterns adorning the bar of black paint across his cheeks and nose. ‘I will not leave my aurors to die just to save your cowardly skin.’
‘I am the president.’
‘You are a fool. You upset the obscurial and unleashed her magic on us. That is what scattered our aurors and destroyed New Kleves. This blood is on your hands. I could’ve talked to her. Prevented her from being unleashed on us.’
‘It’s the British who did it. Their dark magic.’
‘The girl was clearly American.’ Cetanawuaka drew his wand. ‘We must find more aurors to regroup with. The British are clearing the streets of anyone in the open, but from the number of bodies there are still twice as many of us hiding in the ruins.’
President Lee leapt from his chair. ‘Then gather them up and kill all the British. Every last one of them. If we can do that, I can use these attacks to convince the other states to act in accordance with our articles of confederation and take the fight to them!’
‘What if they asked you to surrender?’ Harry asked, slipping his wand from his sleeve.
President Lee sneered. ‘I would never—’
‘British!’ Cetanawuaka whirled, the white hawk feathers streaming from his hand as he slashed his wand.
Harry banished him back into the wall and thrust out his left hand, summoning Cetanawuaka’s wand into his grasp. ‘Very well, then.’ He watched Cetanawuaka drag himself up onto his hands and knees with a groan. ‘Cetanawuaka, you mentioned a vice president… If something very unfortunate were to happen to President Lee, would that vice-president be able and inclined to surrender?’
Cetanawuaka hauled himself up on the arm of President Lee’s chair. ‘She might well be. After this…’ He shook his head. ‘I warned them. I told them that picking a full-scale fight with a nation that’s been fighting magical wars for much of the last century or so when we’ve barely fought any in our entire history was a bad idea.’
‘They should have listened to you,’ Harry said, thrusting his magic into the air. ‘But what I’m hearing, Cetanawuaka, is that if President Lee is alive, I have no chance of getting what I want. And if he’s dead…’
Harry swished his wand, smashing him back into the wall. ‘I’ll kill you if you try that again. Don’t be stupid. There are two ways this can go. You stay put and be good, and then find that vice-president and bring her to the bison statue, or you can be smeared across that wall.’ He turned to President Lee. ‘They’re both pretty upsetting for you, I’m afraid. But you’ve been an annoyance every time you’ve appeared, so I can’t say I feel that bad about it.’
‘Wait!’ President Lee flapped his hands. ‘I didn’t mean—’
‘I think I’ve listened to you talk enough already.’ Harry flicked his wand, snapping Lee’s jaw shut and wrapping the air about his head. ‘So…’ He twisted his wrist, ripping Lee’s skull free and tearing his spine out of his back. ‘That’s better.’
Cetanawuaka stared at the dripping column of bone as it flopped over the back of the chair and rolled across the floor.
‘Are you really going to miss him?’ Harry tossed the hawk-feather adorned wand onto the bed. ‘I’ll be at that bison statue soon. If you want to save your aurors and other important parts of your confederation from ending up like this, you’ll be there too. If you don’t surrender, every single American in New Amsterdam is going to be dead by dawn.’
And now I can go find Tracey. Black mist poured through his fingers, smashing through the wall.
Cetanawuaka dropped his head. ‘I’ll be there. We’re beaten. None of the states will dare send their forces away from home after this.’
‘That’s why we did it.’ Harry wrapped the air around himself and lifted himself up into the sky, floating up onto the nearest roof and undoing his transfiguration. ‘Now…’
I suppose the best way to find out which one is Tracey is just to tell Ginny to get the ward locus. Tracey’s the one who carries it. He pulled Lemon Sorbet’s mask out and placed it over his face. And once I know which one is her, I can snatch her away.
He scanned the rooftops, catching the flicker of red robes atop the crumbling edge of a half-shattered house, and aparated across.
Scorchmarks and seared holes scattered the tight red auror robes of the loose circle. Chips and scratches marred their reflective masks.
One visored auror stepped forward, raising a finger to their lips and pointing down through the floor. ‘Lemon Sorbet.’
There are aurors beneath us, are there?
‘Ginny.’ Harry pointed down at the severed bronze head of the bison. ‘Cetanawuaka and the vice president will be there to surrender in a few moments. We should get the ward locus and prepare to leave, but don’t deactivate the wards just yet.’
She nodded. ‘Tracey. You heard.’
One of the red figures disappeared with a loud crack.
Harry counted the handful of red figures. ‘You seem a couple short?’
‘Ernie is gone. We destroyed his body on the spot to avoid identification or complexities. Angelina is missing and almost certainly dead, but we’ve not found a body so she probably got caught up in the release of the obscurial at some point.’ Ginny swept her visor up, a small frown creasing her forehead. ‘Where is Roxie?’
‘Gone,’ Harry said. ‘We no longer need her.’
Ginny nodded. ‘We do what we must.’ She swept her visor back down. ‘She would have died soon from the obscurus anyway.’
You would’ve killed Roxie, wouldn’t you? Distaste curdled on Harry’s tongue. Your dreams or hers. But I saved her. A touch of pride warmed his heart. I did something better.
He turned away, burning the three scorch marks across Tracey’s back into his brain as she appeared with a pop, the ward locus in her hand. ‘Are they underneath?’
‘About a dozen, we think.’ Ginny’s mirrored visor turned to the bison and back. ‘We want to do as much damage as we can, to make sure they don’t change their mind about peace after we’re fighting Grindelwald.’
I need to snatch Tracey out of the middle of this somehow.
‘Let me take a look,’ he said, disillusioning himself.
Harry wrapped the air around himself and floated down onto a splintered piece of door. Seven dust-cloaked Americans huddled behind the battered remnants of the kitchen wall, wands in hand.
This is going to be tricky. Harry picked his way across the rubble and tiptoed through the film of dust, crouching down against the wall. I need a distraction. Something to keep them occupied for a short time.
‘Time…’ he whispered, a flash of inspiration catching hold. ‘Finally something I can use our research for, Liliana.’ Harry etched a ring of runes at the base of the wall and pressed the tip of his wand to the stone.
Dust dribbled from the stone; the grains tumbled in the small shimmering bubble surrounding the runes, floating down to the floor.
That’ll do it.
He apparated back up onto the tiles and abandoned his disillusionment charm. ‘They’re all huddled behind the wall of the kitchen, you could tear right through them with a volley of spells, but it won’t be long before we need to be at that bison statue.’
Ginny thrust out her wand. ‘No mercy.’
Harry tracked Tracey across the tiles and smiled a small cold smile. Oh don’t worry, Ginny. There won’t be any.
‘On three,’ Ginny said. ‘One. Two. Three.’
He wrenched the roof edge past him and stepped out into the street. The ward locus gleamed in Tracey’s fist as she prowled left, firing glimmering pale violet curses into the wall. Spells ricocheted into the walls and rubble, bursting in showers of glowing sparks, and screams tore through the rising cloud of dust.
Harry edged forward, flexing his fingers on his wand. One Stunning Spell. One Gemino Charm. One Blasting Curse. Up there. Back here. He watched the wall groan and bulge, crumbling at its centre.
‘The house!’ one of Ginny’s aurors yelled. ‘It’s coming down!’
‘Stupefy,’ Harry murmured, touching the tip of his wand to Tracey’s back.
The house collapsed in a deafening crash and a stinging rush of dust.
‘Geminio,’ he hissed into it, tugging the ward locus from her limp fingers and dropping it onto the street.
A limp copy of Tracey slumped into the street as the aurors staggered and stumbled in the swirling cloud of dirt.
Harry rolled the corpse over and pointed his wand at her head. ‘Reducto.’
Red spattered the ground.
He grabbed Tracey by the back of her robes and wrenched the world back past him, stepping out beside President Lee’s headless corpse and dropping her into the chair. Her wand rolled across the duvet and bounced over the floor.
No need for that anymore. Harry stomped on it and lashed Tracey to the chair, swaddling her in thick black ropes from neck to ankle. And back. He apparated back into the dust, deflecting a pair of blue hexes away into the wall.
‘Stop!’ Ginny shouted. ‘That’s Lemon Sorbet.’
‘I didn’t feel like catching an entire house.’ Harry swept the dust away with a flick of his wand. ‘Time to get to the statue, Ginny.’
She ripped her mirrored visor back and balled her fists. ‘Tracey, get rid of Cormac’s body. He didn’t apparate out from under the house in time.’
Her aurors glanced between each other.
‘Tracey,’ Ginny snapped. ‘Now.’
‘Captain…’ One of her aurors stepped forward and pointed at the headless body sprawled at the rubble’s edge. ‘I don’t think Tracey made it.’
Ginny’s brown eyes blazed. ‘Fuck.’ Her wand trembled in her white-knuckles as she picked the ward locus up from the ground and shook the dust off. ‘Fucking hell.’
‘The statue,’ Harry said. ‘We do what we must.’
‘We do what we must.’ Ginny jabbed her wand at the copy of Tracey’s body, pouring cherry-red flames across the stones in a gush of hungry whispers. ‘Bye Tracey. Don’t worry, you didn’t die for nothing. We won’t let the sun set.’
Fiendfyre. Harry apparated out between the bent bronze horns of the bison as Ginny swept the flames through the rubble with a swish of her wand.
A thin, dark-eyed witch stood in smart, black robes beside Cetanawuaka, her wand shaking in her fist.
‘Cetanawuaka,’ Harry said. ‘Is this your vice-president?’
‘Elizabeth Moreno.’ The witch’s voice wavered. ‘I’m told President Lee is dead?’
A series of loud cracks rang out across the rubble and Ginny strode forward to join him, the ward locus in her hand.
‘My aurors are on the rooftops,’ she said. ‘Just in case anyone decides they don’t want to live.’
‘What are your terms?’ Elizabeth Moreno asked.
‘I’d imagine things stay as they are now,’ Harry replied. ‘Minister Bones will be in contact, but I think our aurors will stay here with you for a short while to make sure things go smoothly.’ He pinned Cetanawuaka with a long look. ‘If I find myself having to come back here, I’m going to personally make sure that there’s not enough left of your confederation to trouble anyone for a thousand years. I don’t have time to waste here. There are more important things for me to do.’
Almost there, baby bird. Almost there.
‘Grindelwald.’ Elizabeth Moreno nodded. ‘I suppose I should wait to speak to Minister Bones before I breathe a sigh of relief that this awful war is over, but if you would, please convey to her that there are those among our forces who wish to fight against Grindelwald. They threatened to defect when President Lee refused to listen, but they will be allowed to help if they still wish to. The Union of the Magical States of America understands that the Statute protects us all and we must all fight to protect it.’
‘We will inform her,’ he said. ‘I don’t think there’s anything more that needs to be said.’
Ginny will. I’m going to be ill.
She drew herself up and tucked her wand away. ‘One day. In the future. You will be judged for what you have done here.’
Harry snorted. ‘And you will be judged for what you couldn’t do. Take the wards down, captain.’
Ginny tapped her wand against the locus.
Elizabeth Moreno shot him a sharp look and she and Cetanawuaka vanished with a loud crack.
Harry bent to Ginny’s ear. ‘I will return to London in a day. I need to rest first and recover a little.’
‘Recover from what?’ she whispered. ‘Were you injured?’
‘No. My illness.’ He pictured the small room a little way across the ruins of New Amsterdam. ‘I’ll be okay with rest. After I’ve been back to London I’ll need to recuperate for maybe a couple of weeks. They knew this was coming, I can’t fight like I do for too long without this happening and Violette pushed me to the brink.’
Ginny scowled. ‘Is it your magic? The obscurial-like magic?’
‘Keep an eye on New Amsterdam and everything here; I’m sure Minister Bones will be in touch soon.’ Harry spun the world back past him and stepped out in front of the chair.
Tracey writhed in the ropes, pushing herself up onto her toes and rocking the chair back and forth. Her left arm twisted, curling in toward her pocket.
‘You’re not going anywhere.’ He thrust his magic into the air, pinning her to the seat, and swept the ropes off. ‘What were you trying to get to?’ Harry dipped a hand into her pocket, brushing cool metal. He pulled it out.
A small bronze sun sat on his palm, gleaming in the light spilling in through the shattered wall.
Cold dark mist rose from his sleeve, curling through his fingers and hovering over the badge. ‘The Resplendent Sun…’
Tracey fell still.
‘Yes. I know who you are.’ He touched his wand to it, ripping the magic in the metal apart, scouring it clean with the first cold flash of fury. ‘I want to ask you a question.’
‘Fuck you, fucking traitor!’ Tracey sneered. ‘Did Longbottom finally get the guts to get his hands dirty or did someone else in his little school alumni group send you?’
Harry laughed. ‘Neville? No. Of course he hasn’t.’
The sneer faded. ‘Then which one of that group of fuckwits sent you?’
‘We’ll get to why I’m here,’ he murmured, pinning the bronze sun over her heart and straightening it up. ‘I’d like to know who else went to France with you. And who sent you.’
‘Never been to France.’ Tracey snorted. ‘But if I have it was on a secret mission for Albus Dumbledore with Harry Potter.’
‘Something tells me you’re lying…’ Harry merged their thoughts, but found only the same bronze sun hovering before his mind’s eye. ‘You’re a good occlumens.’ He fed her little flashes of feeling, snatches of Desrosiers’s golden ring and Angelina’s memory of Katie and Gabby beneath the cherry trees, but the metal badge didn’t waver. ‘A very good occlumens,’ he muttered.
She shot him a smug smile. ‘Now what, traitor? I’m not telling you fucking shit. And Ginny’s going to come looking for me soon, so you’re completely fucked.’
‘Ginny thinks she burnt your body a few minutes ago. Nobody’s coming looking for you,’ he said, pulling Lemon Sorbet’s mask off and tucking it into his pocket. ‘I could hurt you. I could melt that badge and make you drink it. But I won’t. There’s always someone like you, coming to take things away from me. I know why you did it, but it doesn’t really matter what your dreams were. And soon it won’t matter if there’s anyone else who might try again and I can go ask my questions of the other members of the Resplendent Sun. So instead…’ Harry conjured a lopsided red rose in the fingers of his left hand. ‘Did you ever ask Romilda what’s so special about roses, Tracey?’
‘No. I’m not fucking gay, so I don’t give other girls roses. And I don’t like stupid fucking flowers anyway.’
‘Let me show you then. Like I showed her.’ Harry tucked the rose through the badge and patted her on the cheek. ‘Close your eyes.’
Tracey sneered. ‘Yeah, or I could fucking not do that. You going to rape me? Torture me? Kill me? Fucking do it. I’ve seen it all. Done it all. I might even cum.’
‘Close your eyes,’ he murmured, slipping his wand from his sleeve. ‘Or I will rip them out of your face and feed them to you.’
Tracey glowered at him. ‘Fuck you.’ She squeezed her eyes shut and spread her thighs. ‘Go on then. Do it. I like it rough.’
Harry glanced at where her fingernails bit into the chair. ‘No you don’t. You’re terrified.’ A sad smile crept onto his face. ‘And you’re trying to rattle me so I don’t do what you’re terrified of.’
Her fingernails dug deeper. ‘No I’m fucking not. I’ve not had a good fuck in a while, so if you’re going to do it, fucking get on with it before I get bored.’
‘I’m not going to touch you.’ Harry shrugged. ‘Well, not like that. I’m married. And we have a beautiful baby girl.’
‘What, you going to show me a photo of your daughter before you rape me now?’
A touch of ice trickled through his veins, settling on his heart like snow. ‘I don’t need to show you a photo of my little girl, Tracey,’ he said. ‘You’ve already seen her. In France.’
Tracey’s eyes snapped open. ‘Oh, now I get it. You’re Neville’s French fucker. And we killed all of your family.’ She laughed. ‘Well, boohoo you. That’s what war’s like. We all had a taste of it already. My parents went early in the war. Hit wizards. Half my fucking housemates laughed at me because their parents were out there fighting for Voldemort.’ Her lips curled into a savage grin and a bitter gleam hovered in her brown eyes. ‘I got the last laugh, though. Feeding their parents to the dementors one by one if they weren’t already dead. Wasn’t so fucking funny then, was it? I didn’t see any of them laughing anymore then.’
‘Who sent you to France, Tracey? It’s really not going to make any difference to you if you tell me and this is your last chance before we take a trip down memory lane together.’
She gave him a smug smile. ‘Wouldn’t you like to know. Tell you what, if you can make me cum when you work up the balls to rape me, I’ll tell you.’
‘Have it your way.’ Harry reached out and brushed her eyes closed.
What’s so special about roses? He reached back into the dazed empty blur, through the fierce hollow pang of withered wishes to the red rose and the drop of crimson welling up on his thumb, and let the emptiness swell up in the bead of blood until it swallowed them. Nothing. Nothing at all. See? See?
Tracey shivered, her breath trembling. The bronze sun wavered; its rays curled into gleaming petals and the pin curved into a thorn.
Harry let the tangle of bitter wishes, helpless hope and desperate need claw its way up within. The emptiness bared its teeth beneath, cruel, cold gimlet eyes and a thousand icy fangs sinking deep into a tired, torn heart. See? It’s hungry. You have to feed it. He smiled as the bronze rose crumbled into a whirl of horror. Feed it like I fed it. Every wish. Every dream. All your hope. Until there’s nothing left.
The world drifted off into the distance as they sank down into that bottomless, devouring dark. She clawed at it, fought it, but the weight of his heart dragged them down into the crushing cold abyss.
And then suddenly. He cupped his wedding band against his chest and pictured its soft glow. There’s one perfect thing. The yearning bubbled up like liquid flame, a swirling storm of searing heat beneath his ribs; its winds caught on the lump in his throat, clamping about it like a fist. And you need it. Because it’s all there is. And if it gets taken away, you’re going back to that empty place forever.
Harry let her free.
She tore her eyes open with a gasp and shook her head. ‘Was that fucking it?’ A blurred bronze sun hovered amidst their thoughts. ‘You might as well get on with fucking me. It’d be less boring for both of us.’
‘It?’ A bitter stab of humour tugged at Harry’s lips. ‘No. No. Now we go around again. And again. And again. Until there are no more dreams left.’
What’s so special about flowers? Horror blossomed in Tracey’s eyes and the bronze sun’s rays curled into red rose petals, its pin spiralling into a thin thorned stem. Everything.
‘Yes,’ he murmured, plunging her back in. ‘Now you see.’
She writhed and thrashed and cried and screamed, kicking her heels and scratching at the chair, caught in the flood of memories. Harry fed her to the emptiness, lifting her out and dropping her back in, over and over, until a dazed hollow glint hung in her brown eyes and she slipped out of the chair to curl on the floor.
‘Please,’ Tracey whispered, hugging her knees to her chest. ‘Please. Just one thing. Just one. I want it to stop. I need it to stop. I can’t be here anymore. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t…’
He lifted her back up onto the chair, into the soft warmth of the acorn pendant and waking beside Fleur, the heart-stopping, breathtaking wrench of meeting Katie’s baby blue eyes for the first time. ‘It’s okay. See? There’s still one perfect wish, hanging by a thread…’
A little life crept back into Tracey’s brown eyes. ‘Please…’ she begged. ‘Please stop.’
‘I won’t be stopped,’ Harry murmured. ‘And I’m going to take it away again.’
‘No.’ She tugged on her hair, wrenching at it. ‘No. No you can’t. Please don’t. You can’t. I can’t. I just can’t. I can’t. I can’t. Please don’t make me.’
‘You know where wishing and hoping leads.’ He cupped her cheek. ‘Dreams are dust. Dandelion seeds floating out to sea on a cold wind. Soft smiles beneath cold glass.’
Tears crawled down Tracey’s face, soaking into her red robes. ‘Please. Please. I’ll do anything. Whatever you want. I don’t want to feel like that again. I can’t go back into the empty place. There’s nothing left to feed it. Nothing. It’ll take me.’
‘Back you go.’
‘No, please!’ She clutched at the front of his robes. ‘Why? Please, why?’
‘You know why,’ Harry whispered, familiar words hanging on the tip of his tongue. ‘Go on.’ Dark mist curled through his fingers, splitting into slim tendrils of bubbling teeth and coiling around her neck. ‘Say it.’
Tracey sobbed into his stomach. ‘Perfect wishes like that just don’t come true.’
His magic ripped her limb from limb in a spray of hot red, tearing the chair to splinters.
Harry stared down into the gore-stained, red-drenched splinters and shards of bone, a slick copper tang hanging on his tongue and stinging his lips. Your dreams or mine. And you made it that way. So this is where you end up. He allowed himself a small tired smile. Nearly there, baby bird. Gabby is avenged. Only three steps left. And then there’ll be no more hurting and no more secrets. Just like we promised.