Roxie slumbered, snuggled into the blue pillow, her fists balled into the plain azure duvet. The slim gold wedding ring dangled against her neck, trembling as the leather lace caught her slow, even breaths.
‘She’s not ours, mon Amour,’ Fleur whispered, cupping his cheek. ‘She can’t replace Katie.’
‘Nothing can replace our little chick, mon Reve.’ Harry drew her close and pressed a soft kiss to her lips. ‘And soon we’re going to have her back. Very soon. Only three steps to go.’
‘The damaz-kar and the phoenix,’ Harry murmured. ‘And then the price.’
Whatever never having our dream taken away is worth.
Fleur’s blue eyes darkened a few hues. ‘We’ve paid our price, mon Coeur. We’ve paid everything we have. Your friends. My friends. Your godfather. My parents. Your Katie. My little sister. There is nothing left but our sunset…’
But we said no risks.
‘But we still have to actually do it,’ he said. ‘I’ve got all the runes ready. You just need to create your trigger and however you need to use the phoenix so I can add them to the design.’
And I’ll find a way to add the price. Something open, in case it’s not necessary.
‘I can do it. I’ve been reading through that book on rituals you used to hide from me under the sofa.’
A faint smile curved Harry’s lips. ‘This will be the very last one. After this, there’s no more need for wishing or hoping or hurting. It will all be perfect.’
Fleur leant her head on his chest, sliding her arms around him and holding him tight. ‘I missed this. I missed you. It’s so quiet here without Gabby chirping at us and Katie scampering around. I even miss my parents’ quiet bustle in the background.’
A hot lump swelled in his throat. ‘I know.’ He kissed her on the forehead. ‘Not long now, mon Trésor.’
She pushed herself from his embrace and stepped back, raising her chin. ‘Wake her up, mon Amour. Get the ring.’ Fleur tossed her silver hair over her shoulder and inclined her head toward the willow tree. ‘I’ll be down there when you need me to take her somewhere, I’ve been working on my part for La Victoire Finale between keeping the wards on France up.’
‘Anything on phoenixes?’
She shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, mon Amour. But we will find a way.’
Harry took a deep breath through the sudden stab of panic. ‘There can’t be much time left now,’ he whispered, slipping his wand from his sleeve and transfiguring his face back into Tom Gaunt. ‘There’s no time.’
Fleur tensed and vanished; heat washed across his thumbnail.
‘Enervate.’ Harry reached out and shook Roxie’s shoulder. ‘Roxie… Wake up, Roxie.’
She stirred with a low whine, rolling over and dragging the duvet over her head.
He laughed. ‘No, you have to get up, Roxie.’
Roxie sat bolt upright, clutching for the ring around her neck.
‘It’s okay,’ Harry murmured. ‘It’s still there.’
She took a shaky breath, staring around at the room. ‘Where are we?’
Roxie’s green eyes widened. ‘You took me with you?’ Her lip trembled. ‘Really?’
‘Of course.’ Harry held out a hand, smothering his churning anxiety beneath a smile. ‘Hop up, Roxie. We need to make sure it worked. I think it did.’
Roxie closed her eyes. ‘It’s gone.’ Tears trickled through her lashes, leaving shining trails down her cheeks. ‘I can’t feel it anymore. No…’ Her fingers crept to the wedding ring hanging around her neck. ‘No I can kind of feel it. It’s… here?’
In the ring.
‘Once the ring is destroyed, you’ll be free.’
‘Destroyed?’ Roxie gulped. ‘But…’
‘You have to leave all of it behind. I know how much it means.’ Harry lifted the slim silver chain around his neck on one finger to show her the soft glow of his wedding band. ‘See?’
‘I can’t do it.’ She balled her fists around the ring. ‘It’s my mom’s.’
‘I can do it. It doesn’t matter who does it and I’d have to do it for you anyway. Things like this are not easy to destroy; it takes powerful magic.’
Roxie bobbed her head and lifted the leather string over her head, holding it out to him in shaking, white-knuckled hands.
Harry eased it free from her fingers and tucked it into his pocket. ‘You’re free now, Roxie. You saved yourself. Now you can make all your wishes come true.’
‘Free…’ A bright smile spread across her face, tugging at Harry’s heartstrings, and she scrambled from under the covers, snatching Tarbeck’s wand from the sidetable. ‘What’s a spell I can try?’
‘Careful.’ Harry patted the edge of the bed. ‘We need to check and see how your magic is, first. Remember, to tear the obscurus out you believed it’d fulfilled its purpose and you didn’t need it. And there were three things it was meant to do. It’s hurt everyone who wants to hurt you. It didn’t have to kill you to stop how much it hurts because it stopped hurting. But taking your magic away so nobody would want to hurt you again…’
Roxie clutched her wand. ‘I can still do it.’ She waved the wand. ‘What’s a spell?’
He conjured a small white feather and set it on the bed. ‘I want you to imagine it floating up into the air. You’re lifting it. The incantation is wingardium leviosa. And, to help with the spell we have a wand motion that pairs well with the idea of levitating. It’s a gentle upwards swish—’ Harry demonstrated with his wand ‘—and then a little flick up at the end.’
‘Wingardium leviosa,’ Roxie whispered, sweeping her wand up and wrenching it up.
‘Gently.’ Harry laughed. ‘We’re levitating it, not trying to send it through the roof. Give it another try.’
The feather sat on the duvet.
Harry’s heart sank. ‘Roxie…’
‘No!’ Tears sprang into her eyes. ‘I can do it! I still have magic!’ She swished and flicked her wand. ‘Wingardium leviosa. Wingardium leviosa. Wingardium leviosa.’ Her lip shook as she slashed the wand harder and harder. ‘Wingardium leviosa.’
If you want it that much and nothing’s happening, then there’s no magic left.
He caught her hand. ‘It’s okay, Roxie.’
‘Remember what you were wishing for,’ Harry murmured. ‘It wasn’t magic, was it?’
Her shoulders slumped. ‘No.’
‘What was it?’ He eased the wand from her hand and put it down beside her legs on the bed. ‘What did you want more than anything? So much just thinking about it made you want to scream.’
‘I just want a family that loves me,’ Roxie whispered. ‘I want someone like my mom who gives me cookies. And I want a dad like you who comes to help me and looks after me.’
‘I can do that,’ Harry said. ‘I can make sure you get your dream.’
A huge grin spread across Roxie’s face. ‘Really? You’ll let me stay? You’ll keep me?’ Her green eyes dropped to the wand. ‘Will I be able to do magic like everyone else again one day? Will it — will it come back?’
Dreams are dust. Harry bit the words back.
‘Sometimes perfect wishes can come true,’ he murmured. ‘I know they can.’
She grabbed his waist, burying her face in his ribs. ‘Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.’ Roxie’s warm tears soaked through his robes. ‘Thank you. Thank you.’
Better hope than despair.
He slipped his wand from his sleeve, a thick lump swelling his throat. ‘Obliviate.’
Harry wiped all her memories away, sweeping years of suffering from her thoughts and leaving snatches of cookies and laughter and sunlit cornfields. You’ll get your wish, Roxie. I promise. He put her to sleep with a whisper and apparated down to the willow with Roxie in his arms, stepping out onto the white pebbles. But not with me.
Fleur glanced up from the pensieve. ‘Did it work, mon Amour?’
‘It worked.’ Harry shifted Roxie’s weight onto his hip. ‘She has no memory of anything anymore. Her magic’s all but gone. It’s bound to the obscurus and the ring, and when we destroy that it’ll be gone for good. There’ll be nothing to prompt her to remember and she has no magic to overcome the charm anyway.’
‘I’ll take her to La Maison.’ Fleur drifted across and cupped his cheek. ‘It’s much much better than killing her, mon Coeur. You were right.’
‘I know…’ A soft melancholy sank into his heart. ‘It was harder. To save her. But better.’
‘She’ll be fine. La Maison is a good place. They’ll look after her and then make sure she goes to a nice muggle home.’
Harry took a deep breath. ‘Did you make sure there’s a good reason for her being American, not speaking French, and things like that?’
Fleur nodded, a soft gleam in her blue eyes. ‘Occasionally foreigners are caught up in magical incidents. We find a way. They’ll teach her French using magic and give her a story to explain why she’s in France. She will be fine.’
He stared down at Roxie’s sleeping face, wiping her tears away with his sleeve. ‘Au revoir, Roxie. You won’t ever remember me, but I’ll remember you.’
Fleur lifted her from his arms. ‘A bientot, mon Amour.’ She flickered away, sending a little flash of heat across his thumb.
Harry’s eyes drifted to the black silk rippling over the Mirror of Erised. Fierce temptation seized his heart, bubbling up like molten flame. He swept the silk away. ‘Hello, baby bird.’
Katie beamed back from behind the glass, babbling at him as she chewed on the end of the Elder Wand.
‘Don’t eat that, silly little chick, we need it to bring you back.’ Harry slipped a step closer, resting his forehead against the cold silver surface. ‘We’re nearly there. I promise. Just a little bit longer, Katie. Just wait a little bit longer.’
She dropped the Elder Wand and held out her hands with a disconsolate wail.
His heart wrenched. ‘I know. I know.’
Her green eyes darkened and small white feathers sprouted along her arms as she waved them at him. ‘Papa,’ she mouthed. ‘Papa.’
Harry pushed his fingertips against the glass until they turned white and his nails bent. A slight pain throbbed against the cold silver surface and soft, insistent need tugged at his heart.
‘Sorry, baby bird. I have to look away.’ He dragged his eyes down to the black silk pooling on the pebbles and picked it up, sweeping it back over the Mirror of Erised. ‘Or I never will and you’ll never come back for real.’
I need to do something else until Fleur comes back. Harry’s gaze strayed to Ba’alat Tanit’s Looking Glass. I should check. It’s been a while. He held out his hand, summoning it from the base of the pensieve into his hold, and sliced a small cut across the ball of his thumb.
A bead of crimson trickled from the ball of his thumb, swelling into a single drop and splashing onto the smooth glass.
The world fell away.
Fleur stood at his side before shifting, twisting stairs, her rosewood wand in her hand as she smiled at the distant orange light of the sunset.
A dark shape reared in the corner of Harry’s eye, lunging forward, fangs agape.
Fleur gasped, grasping at her heel.
A thick coil of dark scales slithered around her, cruel gimlet eyes gleaming as thin pale lips curled back from countless needle-like teeth. It struck again, sinking its teeth into Fleur’s shoulder.
Nagini shuddered and convulsed; small tongues of golden fire flickered in the bite mark on Fleur’s pale skin, welling up from the wound and trickling down her skin, eating through her like boiling water through ice.
Nothing lasts forever. Harry bit the words back as the amber flames swallowed Fleur, turning her to ash.
Nagini’s coils bled into deep dark shadow, coiling, twisting, swelling and rising over him like a great wave, blotting the sunset out like the creeping dark of the eclipse.
‘Not sunsets,’ the amber-masked figure whispered from somewhere in the dark. ‘Not wishes. Not dreams.’ Golden flames danced in the knife-edge thin slits of the serpent’s cold eyes, swirling like a storm. ‘Not even hope.’
Harry opened his eyes into the sun beneath the willow boughs and turned the mirror over. He pressed his bloodstained thumb against the smooth silver surface.
A faint, fading shade whirled in the air, dancing in the dark like heat haze above a ribbon of tarmac, writhing just beyond his reach.
‘The storm.’ Sophonissa’s voice rose like steam curling off dark water. ‘Death. The final enemy.’
‘One final victory,’ the swirling shadow whispered in little Katie’s voice. ‘La Victoire Finale.’
A brilliant emerald flash tore the swirling soft shadow away, scattering it into the warm orange glow of the setting sun.