Harry staggered into the study and slumped into the chair. He leant his head back and released a long sigh. ‘I’m still tired.’
‘You slept for almost ten hours.’ Salazar cracked a broad grin and poked his snake’s nose, snatching his finger out the way of its tongue. ‘But you did very well, Harry. Well done.’
‘Not well enough.’ Harry dragged himself out of his chair. ‘Fleur arrives in London today. I really need to find some sort of bribe to distract her until she’s calmed down enough not to melt my face off.’
Salazar snorted. ‘I like this girl of yours.’
‘So do I.’ Harry murmured. ‘Enough to stake my face on the slim hope her love of cake will outweigh her desire to immediately immolate me.’
‘My wife would’ve understood.’ Salazar cackled. ‘But she would’ve made sure I felt every iota of her anger all the same.’
‘You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?’
‘Yes,’ Slytherin snarked. ‘Now, tell me about this witch you killed? How powerful was she?’
‘To use her own words, nobody has ever beaten her except Voldemort. She was probably weakened having only just escaped from Azkaban, but there aren’t many wizards or witches that I would confidently back to beat her regardless.’
‘Good.’ Salazar ran a finger down his snake’s spine. ‘Very good. You will need all that strength, cunning, and skill, soon. And you’ll need that girl, too. You can’t do it alone, Harry. Winning alone is meaningless. Don’t lose her.’
‘I know,’ Harry whispered. ‘I won’t lose her.’
Salazar’s eyes bored into Harry’s. ‘I wonder why Voldemort let you go. Tom would’ve never fallen for a trick like that. He would’ve made an ally or a corpse of you.’
‘He wants to see what I will become.’ Harry recalled Voldemort’s words in the atrium. ‘You told him to find equals too, didn’t you?’
Shadows clustered in Salazar’s eyes. ‘Everything I’ve told you, I once told him.’
‘He’s curious, I think. About me. He remembers what you told him.’
‘I think you’re likely right,’ Salazar murmured. ‘Voldemort is not Tom Riddle. The brilliant boy I taught has been twisted into something terrible. Was it me, I wonder? Or did something else gnaw at him until there was nothing left?’
‘It’s not your fault.’ Harry stretched for some words. ‘You taught me the same things and I’ve not ended up like him.’
‘Not yet,’ Salazar whispered. ‘That’s why it’s so important you keep hold of that girl, Harry. She’s the one thing you have I don’t remember him having.’
Harry crushed all thought of their similarities. ‘My soul’s healing. I have Fleur. I’ll never end up like him.’
I have a perfect thing. Voldemort has nothing.
‘Go to her, then.’ Salazar stroked his goatee. ‘I will muse about whether a prophecy that was told but never heard or learnt about would actually come to pass.’
‘Is the answer to that immediately important?’ Harry asked.
‘Just because it seems to have no relevance now does not mean it will not be useful later.’ Salazar crossed him arms. ‘And don’t think I don’t know your disdain for interesting pieces of magic is completely feigned.’
‘I’m going.’ Harry pictured Diagon Alley and apparated himself into the doorway of Ollivander’s.
A crowd of witches and wizards bustled back and forth along the street. Harry glanced toward Gringotts, then slipped through the hustle into a seat in one of the small cafes.
A slim, freckled witch drifted across. Her eyes flicked to Harry’s forhead and she gulped. ‘Er… What would you like?’
‘Something sweet.’ Harry ran his eye down the menu.
Madeira cake will work. She liked pound cake and they’re not that dissimilar. He double-checked the menu. Nothing with plums or marzipan, unfortunately.
‘Sure.’ She shuffled her feet. ‘Anything to drink?’
‘Not for me, thanks.’ Harry put the menu down. ‘Do you have any cake with plums in it?’
She blinked, then shook her head. ‘Not today. The special’s carrot cake.’
‘No worries.’ He flashed her a bright smile. ‘That’ll do for me, then.’
And now to have my face melted off. Harry pulled the acorn from under his clothes. ‘Azure.’
Fleur’s pitch-black eyes glared from the polished surface. ‘Bonjour, mon Cœur. I read a very interesting article this morning before I apparated to Gringotts. The atrium of your ministry looked like a warzone in the photo… How would you like to die?’
Harry grimaced. ‘I’m just down the road at the café with the blue umbrellas, so you can come and set fire to me now, if you like.’
The mirror shrank back into a seed. Harry tucked it away and twisted round to watch the street. His stomach knotted and churned, sweat coated his palms, and his heart writhed beneath his ribs.
‘Your cake.’ The freckled witch slid a plate of madeira cake in front of him.
‘Thanks.’ He chuckled. ‘You’re a lifesaver.’
She flushed. ‘Let me know if you need anything else.’
Soft, hot hands slipped into his hair and tugged to near the point of pain. ‘Flirting with the waitress is not a good idea, mon Cœur,’ Fleur whispered in his ear.
Harry poked the plate of madeira cake toward the empty seat next to him with one finger. ‘I was actually being completely literal.’
Fleur huffed, then released him, dropped into the seat, and stole his fork. ‘This is mine now.’ Her eyes shifted from ink-black to midnight blue. ‘All of it.’
A small smile crept onto Harry’s lips. ‘It was always all yours. I’m trying to bribe you into forgiving me.’
‘It will not work.’ She jabbed the fork at him and slapped a copy of the Daily Prophet onto the table. ‘I am going to eat this cake. You are going to explain this.’
Break In at the Department of Mysteries. Harry skimmed the front page. Atrium Destroyed in Overnight Duel Between Intruders. Bellatrix Lestrange Found Dead.
‘Things didn’t go as we planned. Voldemort went after it too.’
‘Lestrange?’ Fleur lowered her voice to a faint whisper. ‘Did you?’
‘Yes…’ He managed a grin. ‘It was a close run thing, getting out.’
Fleur’s eyes flashed black and she drove her heel into the top of his foot. Pain seared up his leg. ‘It isn’t funny,’ she hissed. ‘I’ve been on the verge of panic. I had to sit in France and wait to hear if you were still alive to meet me today!’
She worried about me. Gentle warmth flooded Harry’s heart. She didn’t just sit back and wait for me to save the day.
‘Now I know how Gabby feels.’ He nursed his foot and cast a glance at her red heels. ‘Did you choose the sharpest ones you own?’
‘Yes.’ Fleur crossed her arms. ‘I did. You deserve it.’ She took a forkful of cake. ‘Now keep going, you have not finished your explanation.’
‘Right. Sirius and I duelled Malfoy and Lestrange after acquiring the prophecy, my godfather and Malfoy were unconscious, but Bellatrix and I both heard it. I killed her when Voldemort arrived so she couldn’t tell him.’
Fleur’s eyes shifted to their usual blue and she pulled her wand out and traced it over him. The tip drew faint, gentle lines down his neck. Harry shivered and twitched away.
‘That tickles, Fleur.’
Harry let her run her wand over him. ‘Done?’
‘No magic but your own that I can find.’ Fleur put her wand away and picked her fork back up. ‘So you know the prophecy now?’
He nodded. ‘Either I’m going to kill him, or he’s going to kill me.’ Harry risked a glance into Fleur’s eyes. ‘Dumbledore knows the entire thing. I think he believes it requires me to sacrifice myself and take Voldemort with me like my mother almost did.’
Fleur’s slim shoulder tensed and her lip trembled. She tugged his hand across the table and slipped her fingers through his. ‘I hope you’re not even considering such a ridiculous idea.’
‘No.’ Harry shook his head. ‘It seems like he wants me to willingly walk to my death at Voldemort’s hand, though, so he will at least not try anything beyond engineering opportunities for me to get myself killed.’
‘Like your little escapade yesterday.’ Fleur’s face tightened. ‘You hurled yourself right into his trap, Harry!’
‘Maybe,’ Harry murmured. ‘Dumbledore did arrive just as I left and long after the duel should’ve ended based on what he knows about my skill. I’d wager everything but you that Snape, his Death Eater spy, told him that the prophecy was being stolen tonight and he intended to let me be lured there.’
Fleur set her fork down with a sharp click and brushed crumbs off her cheek. ‘So get rid of Voldemort, then Dumbledore can eat a huge slice of humble pie.’
Merde. Harry stifled a grimace. There’s no way around it now.
‘That won’t work,’ he said.
‘Why?’ Fleur’s grip on his hand tightened until Harry winced. ‘Why not?!’
‘I told you about horcruxes,’ he murmured. ‘I didn’t tell you that any object can become one, living or otherwise.’
The life drained from Fleur’s face like the light of the sunset in Harry’s dreams fading into the dark. ‘You’re a horcrux. Another secret!’ The shape of her face shifted and her eyes swelled to near twice their usual size. Short white feathers sprouted from her bare arms.
Harry’s heart twisted beneath his ribs. ‘I was. Not anymore. That’s why I didn’t say.’
‘But if you don’t die, then Dumbledore won’t believe Voldemort has,’ Fleur murmured. Her features slipped back to their usual state. ‘I assume you’ve considered telling him.’
‘I don’t trust him to stop.’ Harry stared into the grain of the table. ‘And if he knows I know, then who knows what he’ll do. I’ll have to try and trick him somehow, otherwise…’
Fleur dragged his arm into her lap, hauling Harry and his chair across the ground against her. ‘Was that all that happened at the Department of Mysteries?’
Their reflections in the shining glass of the Mirror of Erised and the clear dream of a silver-haired, green-eyed girl swirled through Harry’s head. Another perfect wish. He buried the image. One’s more than I ever hoped for. Fleur might not even like it.
‘That was pretty much everything.’
‘Then let’s go to Gringotts.’ She stood. ‘I’ve drawn up a contract to purchase the small home in Budleigh Babberton for around one hundred and ten thousand galleons, since you decided to vanish for the whole morning. Once we’ve paid a certain percentage, it’ll become binding, the house will be ours, then we’ve a decade to pay the rest off before the goblins get tetchy.’
‘Ah.’ Harry hopped out of his chair took her arm. ‘You want me to empty my vault for you.’ He feigned a serious face. ‘You know this will greatly affect how much cake I’m able to buy you?’
‘Not if you want me to keep forgiving you for doing stupid, reckless things, it won’t,’ Fleur murmured. ‘It’s good I’m here to keep a close eye on you now.’
Harry rummaged for a handful of sickles and put them beside the empty plate. He gave the waitress a wave as they left.
‘Really?’ Fleur’s grip tightened. ‘I’m right here.’
‘I was just letting her know we were leaving,’ Harry protested. ‘Are you secretly the really jealous type?’
Fleur ground to a halt and tugged him round to face her. ‘Not secretly. I am the jealous type.’ A pout crept onto her lips. ‘I do not share.’
Harry laughed. ‘I guess it’s a good thing I don’t have loads of female friends.’
‘Just Katie Bell…’ Fleur’s eyes narrowed and darkened to ocean blue. ‘Who I would love to meet now I’m in England, mon Cœur.’
He grimaced. ‘Really? You’re not just going to pick a fight with her?’
Fleur huffed and stalked toward Gringotts. ‘I’m just going to make sure she knows how things are. I doubt you’ve even told a single person about me. In fact, I’m certain you haven’t.’ She whirled on him. ‘The painting doesn’t count!’
She doesn’t trust me? Harry flinched. A chill crept through him. What did I do?
‘Not for that reason,’ he murmured. ‘I just—’
Fleur’s brow creased and she pressed a finger to his lips. ‘I didn’t mean it like that. I just want to make sure she’s not up to anything devious. I know the sort of games some girls try to steal a boy’s attention away from other girls. But nobody’s stealing you from me.’ Her eyes darkened. ‘I will burn them.’
Definitely the jealous sort. Harry tried to remind himself that it was supposed to be a bad thing, but warmth swirled round his heart and a smile crept onto his lips. Too late for logic, I suppose.
They strode through the door of Gringotts and looked about for an empty desk.
Harry spotted one at the far end of the line closed desks. ‘There’s one on the far side.’
The goblin fixed them with a long stare as they approached. ‘What do you need, humans?’
‘I made an enquiry about inheriting a number of vaults from different families not long ago.’ Harry glanced around him at the handful of other clients in the bank. ‘I’d like to know if anything came of it.’
‘Mr Potter…’ The goblin’s grin widened to reveal a set of very sharp teeth. ‘You caused quite a stir with some of your claims, step this way and a spokes-goblin will be with you shortly.’
The goblin ushered them into a small room in the corridor just behind his desk, then hurried off.
‘I seem to have caused trouble,’ Harry remarked.
‘You’re quite gifted at it.’ Fleur leant her shoulder into his. ‘Worse than Gabby.’
Harry laughed. ‘That seems a little unfair. I’ve not stolen your cake, stained anything with chocolate, pretended to elope with your boyfriend, or hoarded an unreasonable number of shoes.’
Fleur turned her nose up. ‘Perhaps, but my baby sister hasn’t destroyed any centres of government in the last week.’
‘Give her a few years,’ Harry said. ‘She’ll get there.’
A wrinkled, iron-haired goblin entered the room carrying a file half as wide as Harry’s waist. ‘I am Bodak.’ He dropped the file on the table with a loud thud. ‘The senior spokes-goblin for Gringotts in Britain; it is a pleasure to meet you, Mr Potter. I presume this is Miss Delacour.’
‘The pleasure is mine,’ Harry said.
‘Oh no, Mr Potter.’ Bodak grinned. ‘The pleasure is ours, we’ve not had a request as interesting as yours in some time.’ He opened the file, pulling out the top piece of parchment, an ancient, worn thing covered in faded writing; it’d been torn in half, then taped together and stamped in gobbledegook.
I hope that’s not our property deed.
‘This is the marriage agreement between one Shelagh Slytherin and Rufinius Gaunt; it was annulled after the former had a child out of wedlock with another man, then died giving birth. Gaunt married Shelagh’s sister under a separate agreement instead and the Slytherin name disappeared. The dowry has sat in a vault gathering dust since Gaunt refused it and there’s never been a Slytherin not from the Gaunt line to accept his refusal, so that the Gaunt family could then inherit the money anyway.’ Bodak flicked through the paperwork beneath, showing off endless sheets of coat of arms. ‘Wizarding law is so fascinatingly obtuse, sometimes… It took some searching to find the bastard son to corroborate your claim, Mr Potter, but it turns out he was quietly adopted by a member of the Potter family not long afterward. This wouldn’t normally be enough to proof your lineage, but your ability to speak to serpents satisfies us and we’d much rather that gold was earning interest. Therefore, the dowry belongs to you. It’s about sixty five thousand galleons, once adjusted for inflation.’
So the link to Salazar is old, but the Potter family hasn’t been able to speak to snakes or everyone would know about it. Harry frowned. Perhaps Salazar’s blood magic requires more than just his blood. I’ll ask him.
‘And the other inquiries?’
‘Unsuccessful.’ Bodak pulled a thin sheet of paper out from inside the cover of the file. ‘Though you would’ve had a claim on anything they had left, there’s nothing to be claimed.’
‘Should I transfer the money into the Potter family vault?’ Bodak asked.
‘No,’ Fleur said. ‘There’s a contract drawn up under both our names for a property in Budleigh Babberton, we’d like to make the first payment on it.’
I suppose we might as well.
Bodak looked between them, then nodded. ‘I’ll transfer the money straight from the dowry account to the former owner’s. If I pay the rest of the cost of the property using the money from your trust vault, Mr Potter, you will have the house in your name before the stamp duty law changes. That will shave a few thousand galleons off the final price.’
Harry raised an eyebrow at Fleur. She nodded.
‘How much will be left in my trust vault?’ he asked.
‘Approximately three thousand galleons,’ Badok replied. ‘It will be topped up in a few months time, though, and it remains impossible for you to exhaust more than half your inheritance until you come of age.’
‘Do it,’ Harry said.
‘It will be done, Mr Potter.’ Badok extended one long-fingered hand in his direction.
Harry shook it, hiding his distaste at the cold, leathery texture of the goblin’s skin.
‘I assume Gringotts will take its brokerage cut,’ Fleur said.
‘The commission is included in the initial price on the contract, Miss Delacour,’ Bodak said. ‘The property will be yours in no more time than it takes me to walk from this room to my office.’ Badok scooped up his enormous file and swept out.
‘I’ll pay you back half the cost of the house when I can afford it,’ Fleur murmured. ‘We can do it officially through Gringotts to ensure we have half each.’
‘I don’t mind,’ Harry said. ‘As long as you’re safe.’
Fleur pouted. ‘I don’t like being in your debt.’
‘You’re so proud.’ Harry fought the smile that threatened to spread across his face and lost horribly.
Fleur stuck her chin in the air and pushed her lower lip out a little further. ‘You love me.’
Harry pressed a gentle kiss to her pout. ‘I definitely do.’
‘You’d better.’ Fleur dragged his mouth back to hers when he pulled away and let out a quiet moan. ‘The fidelius charm isn’t easy to cast and Gabby’s price for being the secret keeper is a small mountain of sweets and a private talk with you.’
‘A what with me?’ Harry grinned. ‘Does that mean Gabby and I get to finally run away together to enjoy our forbidden romance?’
‘I would be able to find you in less than five minutes.’ Fleur’s soft laugh echoed through the room. ‘She’d take you straight to Paris to buy her clafoutis again.’ The smile faded from her face. ‘I must go and finish my paperwork for my job, mon Cœur.’
Leaving me. Harry’s stomach knotted.
‘Don’t flirt with any waitresses, mon Rêve,’ he said.
She laughed, then apparated away.
Harry sighed as the cold crept in to take her place, then twisted the world back past him until he stood in the Chamber of Secret’s study.
‘Well, your face seems fine. Better than mine, anyway.’ Salazar pushed his serpent’s tongue away from his cheek. ‘Get off, you wretched creature.’
Harry snorted. ‘I avoided a fiery death with some tactical application of cake and now own a house for the summer.’
‘Congratulations.’ Salazar yawned. ‘Make sure you ward it. You don’t want any uninvited guests.’
‘I will.’ Harry paused. ‘Well, Fleur will. She’s probably going to enjoy showing off how good she is at it.’
‘She’s living with you?’ Salazar ran his fingers through his goatee. ‘Good. That’s very good. I don’t want you spending the whole summer alone.’
‘I don’t dislike you quite so much as to avoid coming here for the whole summer,’ Harry quipped.
Shadows crept into Salazar’s eyes. ‘Be careful with your wards, Harry. Don’t leave any loopholes.’
Harry nodded. ‘I won’t.’ He collapsed into the chair. ‘I discovered how we’re related, too. One of your descendants had a child out of wedlock with a Potter.’
‘That explains why you didn’t know.’ Salazar wound his snake round his arm, then unwound it again. ‘I guess they tried to be discreet.’
‘Nobody seems to have been able to speak parseltongue, though.’ Harry raised an eyebrow at the painting. ‘Why’s that?’
‘Magic.’ Salazar sighed. ‘All my blood have the ability, but only my family can speak to serpents. I was careful with my intent, I didn’t want to my descendants to be stolen and used for that power. At least one person of my blood with the ability must consider you family, or the gift never awakens when you start to learn to speak.’
‘His mother would’ve considered him family. Merope Gaunt.’
Harry frowned. ‘And me?’
Salazar’s lips twisted. ‘I’m unsure, but I suspect the horcrux within you may have been the one. It is Voldemort’s will and magic, but the fragment would’ve known you were family the moment it possessed you. Blood magics are not an easy thing to conceal from your own kin.’
‘And he considered me family.’ Harry’s eyebrows shot up. ‘I highly doubt that.’
‘Tom considered his muggle father and relatives family, too.’ Salazar’s tone turned bleak as the stark stone floor of the chamber. ‘I’m fairly sure he killed them all.’
‘I suppose it doesn’t matter.’ Harry toyed with the golden hourglass. ‘There’s something else I’ve been meaning to ask you… If I use this, what might happen?’
Salazar frowned. ‘Besides growing old a little bit faster? Your mind needs to sleep every so often to cope with the mental strain of everything you do. Using the time-turner adds more mental strain.’
‘Could it cause dreams?’ Harry asked.
‘Having nightmares? Mental strain can present in all sorts of ways, as far as I know. It’s not my area of expertise, but you’re already under plenty of stress, Harry.’ Salazar pointed his wand at the time-turner. ‘Use it sparingly. I said nothing and let you abuse it last year, because a bit more strain and stress was worth risking. This year, it’s not.’