Something heavy draped itself across his stomach. Harry snapped his eyes open to blinding brightness and thrust his hand beneath his pillow, curling his fingers ‘round his wand. Warmth rushed up his arm.
‘Morning Harry.’ Katie beamed up at him from his abdomen. A bright gleam hovered in her mahogany eyes and her hair spilt over the side of his bed. ‘Time to get up.’
‘Get off.’ He groaned and tensed his stomach, bouncing her head up and down. ‘I’m not even getting the train, remember?’
‘Oh I know.’ Katie giggled, reaching out a hand and patting him on the head. ‘Did you know you’ve got the best bed hair I’ve ever seen?’
‘How did you get in?’ Harry squinted into the bright light shining through his curtains. ‘I put a sticking charm on the hangings.’
‘I noticed.’ She waved her wand in the air. ‘It took me almost five whole seconds to get in once I lost patience with trying to draw them.’
‘You wanted to say goodbye again this badly?’ Harry sat up and scooped Katie’s head out of his lap. ‘Does Alicia know you’re in my bed with me?’
‘Yes.’ Katie smirked. ‘I finally convinced her to see sense; it only took until the last hour of our school life together.’
‘Better late than never.’ Harry transfigured his pyjamas into school robes and undid his sticking charm. ‘So why did you decide to invite yourself into my bed?’
Katie peered around. ‘Where is all your stuff? There’s literally nothing in your trunk. Is this even your trunk?’
‘Around.’ Harry yawned. ‘And no, it’s just a spare one for my pyjamas.’
‘Where’s everyone else?’ Katie asked.
You mean you didn’t check before jumping in bed with me? Harry grimaced. I hope nobody noticed. That’s one rumour I don’t need cropping back up. Or getting back to Fleur, somehow. He shuddered. She wouldn’t be happy at all.
He plastered a smile over the tight, cold knot in his gut. ‘Maybe they all left before they were forced to witness you being murdered for waking me early,’ he said. ‘What possessed you to come and disturb me?’
‘I wanted to say goodbye.’ Katie bounced off the edge of his bed and gazed out at the grey, undecided Scottish sky, fogging the panes with her breath. ‘Breakfast?’
‘Fine.’ He groaned and rolled onto his feet. ‘Why’re you so cheerful? It’s your last day of school with Angelina and Alicia, I expected you to be moping.’
‘I know.’ Katie beamed. ‘Angelina had to cast a handful of Cheering Charms on me when we woke up so I’d be less miserable and actually get out of bed. She cast a few too many.’ She giggled. ‘And then I thought I could come down here to see you and she went to argue with Alicia about something.’
‘That explains a lot.’ Harry grinned. ‘Though not why you thought waking me up was a good idea.’
‘You get to see me.’ She swivelled about. ‘I might not be the prettiest witch you’ve woken up in bed with recently, but I’m your best friend.’
‘Let’s go to breakfast,’ Harry said. ‘Before someone sees you here, some terribly contrived scheme hatches, and we both get immolated by a very feathery Fleur.’
‘Feathery?’ Katie swatted her brown hair out of her face. ‘She has feathers?’
‘Sometimes.’ Harry chuckled. ‘Usually when she’s angry at me.’
‘And that happens a lot, does it?’ She bit at her lip.
‘I have to bribe her with cake.’ He shot her a grin. ‘It seems like all the girls I know need to be bribed with something.’
Katie laughed. ‘She’s cheaper than I am.’
Harry rolled his eyes and headed down toward the Great Hall. ‘Don’t let her hear you say that. She’s very competitive and Paris probably has some very expensive sweets shops.’
Katie bounced alongside him. ‘Does that mean I’ll get to meet Frenchie?’
He froze. ‘Er—’
‘Don’t worry, Harry. I know that’d probably be super awkward for you.’ She laughed and placed one foot right into the trick step. ‘I’ll keep all our secrets.’
Harry concealed a smile and waited.
‘Shit.’ Katie tugged at her leg, then reached for her wand. ‘Stupid step.’
Harry plucked her wand out of her fingers. ‘Now you’re stuck.’
‘I’m completely at your mercy,’ Katie breathed. A wicked glint appeared in her eyes and she tied her hair into a knot with a slow deliberate twist. ‘What do I have to do to get you to free me, Harry?’
He snorted. ‘I don’t think we’d even have time for anything like that. Someone’ll be coming soon.’
She giggled. ‘I bet someone would be coming soon.’
Harry rolled his eyes and freed her with a flick of her wand. ‘That was awful.’
‘You love me.’ Katie beamed and skipped down the stairs. ‘I am the light of your life.’
Harry caught her at the tables and dropped her wand into her lap. ‘You might need this.’
‘Thanks.’ She stuffed it back into her robes. ‘You sure you don’t want to ride the train with me?’
‘It’s a long ride,’ Harry replied. ‘But I’ll come see you over the summer. Nev, too.’ He moved the goblets out of range of her elbow. ‘Are you going to see Alicia and Angelina?’
‘At some point. They’re helping Fred and George with some enterprise they’re starting this summer, but I’m not supposed to tell you that.’ She scrunched up her face. ‘There’s a lot of things they don’t want me to tell you, really.’
‘You should probably listen to them,’ Harry said. ‘I’m sure I don’t want to know whatever girly secrets the three of you have.’
‘I promised.’ Katie helped herself to half a plate of bacon and leant on his shoulder. ‘And promises have to be kept.’
Yes, they do. Harry glanced down the table to where an irritated Alicia was hissing in Angelina’s ear. I guess someone’s realised too many cheering charms probably weren’t a good idea.
‘So what’re you doing over the summer, Harry?’ Katie asked.
‘Not much,’ Harry replied. ‘Studying for NEWTs probably and meeting up with friends.’
She twisted her lips around. ‘Not going to see Fleur?’
‘Hopefully, I’ll be seeing a lot of Fleur.’ Harry flushed at Katie’s suggestive look. ‘And I’ll probably be keeping my head down and staying safe. I’ll be a target now.’
‘You’ve been a target every year.’ Katie patted him on the cheek, the tips of her fingers brushing the corner of his mouth. ‘I don’t care.’
‘I’m still coming incognito when I meet up with you over the summer. Just in case.’
‘You should bring Frenchie, if she’s alright with taking the risk,’ Katie said. ‘I’d actually like to meet her at some point. I have so many things to tell her about you.’ A spark of mischief gleamed in her eyes.
Harry chuckled. ‘Planning on embarrassing me?’
‘If she’s scared off, then you’ll focus all your gifts on me.’ She beamed. ‘I love to be spoilt.’
‘I don’t think there’s much you could tell her that would be more embarrassing than what she already knows, but don’t let me dissuade you.’
‘You won’t.’ She grinned and took a large bite of her sandwich.
Harry watched the first, most eager students start to head towards the doors and the carriages back to Hogsmeade Station. Katie crammed her bacon sandwich into her mouth and choked, gulping water from Harry’s cup to get it down.
‘You good?’ Harry asked.
She gave him a thumbs up, but her gaze drifted toward the leavers and the laughter faded from her eyes.
The Cheering Charms have worn off.
More and more students filtered out. Harry glimpsed Nev and Ron among them, the latter jostling with Malfoy when he strayed too close.
Katie threw a glance to where the other two chasers were lingering, then twisted about and pulled him into a tight, warm hug. ‘I’ll see you in the summer, Harry. Any day’s fine if you want to come visit. My parents own the third café on the left in the southern part of Diagon Alley. It’s the one with red umbrellas.’
‘I’ll come visit.’ He wrapped his arms back ‘round her and gave her a gentle pat on the back when her embrace lingered.
‘You promise?’ She leant back. ‘Don’t let Frenchie drag you off to France the whole time and forget your best friend.’
‘I’ll be mad if you break it.’ Katie waved her fist under his nose and sighed. ‘Time to go… Bye, Harry.’
‘Bye, Katie.’ Harry watched her back drift out the door between Angelina and Alicia, waving when she glanced back at him.
And now it’s time to get out of here and away from Privet Drive. A strange thrill seized him. Scattered flashes of half-desire on empty days amidst his aunt’s roses and in the dark beneath the stairs crept up from the back of his mind. I did it. A ball of emotion burst with a hot rush strong enough to bring tears to his eyes. I’m really leaving that place forever.
He plucked one last slice of toast from the nearest rack and swept out of the hall, pirouetting around Argus Filch who mumbled warnings at him with what was almost a smile upon his lips, and bounding up the stairs three steps at a time.
Myrtle hovered before the taps, little more than a faint outline, as if formed from steam.
‘Myrtle.’ Harry edged through the puddle. ‘Are you okay?’
She swivelled ‘round. ‘Harry.’ A small smile appeared on her lips. ‘For a moment, I thought you were someone else.’
Tom. He held his tongue. You’ve called me Tom more than once. Was he a friend to you like he was to Ginny?
‘I’m very glad I could help you, Harry.’ Myrtle drifted closer and brushed her cold fingertips down his cheek, leaving a trail of pins and needles tingling on his skin. ‘I think I’m about to fade.’
‘Fade?’ He stared into her eyes. ‘That sounds very… final, Myrtle.’
She offered him a trembling smile. ‘I — I’m not feeling so bad anymore. I did something wrong, before I died, and I couldn’t let it go. Like a great weight…’ She touched a finger to her heart. ‘Just here. Then you came, feeling so familiar, and I could help you. I feel all light. Free.’
Free to disappear. Harry smothered the prickle crawling down his spine.
Myrtle watched her fingers fade like smoke into the breeze. ‘Bye Harry,’ she whispered. ‘Bye Tom.’
Gone. Harry watched her vanish. Just like that. Here one moment, then nothing forever. He stifled a ripple of revulsion and the soft wrench of horror in his heart. It’s what she wanted. No regrets.
‘Open.’ He drifted down the stairs into the chamber, listening to the echo of his footsteps across the main hall, and opened the door into the study. ‘I’m back.’
‘So you are,’ Salazar murmured, petting his serpent as it buried its blunt nose into his neck. ‘I have a story for you today.’
Harry settled himself down in front of the desk. ‘What’s it about?’
He twitched. ‘Are there ghosts?’
‘Not of the sort you mean.’ Salazar’s eyes swam with shadows. ‘You’ll understand after you hear it.’
Harry leant back in the chair and straightened the stacks of books on the desk. ‘Alright then.’
‘I heard several sensible variations, all millennia old by the time I was born,’ Salazar said. ‘They started with a witch and her younger brother. The witch, whose name has been lost to history, all but raised her younger brother after their parents died. She turned out to be quite a gifted witch, and, once her brother was old enough to remain at home alone, travelled the country crafting wands and other objects for the wealthy. Eventually, she was asked to create an artefact of incredible power, a mirror that would create a perfect, permanent copy of any object it reflected.’
‘That sounds like something that should not have been made lightly,’ Harry said.
‘It’s hard to resist the temptation to do something great with the gifts we’re given,’ Salazar murmured. ‘It took the witch many attempts to craft the mirror, working in secret so as not to advertise her project, but when she was successful she left her brother behind and went to present it to the wizard who had commissioned it. This wizard was very pleased with her creation, but, fearing she might create another, ordered her killed, and the witch was executed.’
Harry grimaced. ‘What happened to her brother?’
‘That is the true story.’ A thin, cool smile curved Salazar’s lips. ‘He grew up determined to have his revenge and find a way to bring his sister back.’
‘How could she be brought back?’ Harry asked. ‘She’s dead.’
Can magic do that? He buried a surge of bright hope. Could I do that?
‘Many things once considered impossible have become possible through magic,’ Salazar said. ‘He planned and studied for decades, hiding his vengeful ambition, for the wizard with the mirror had used it to become very powerful. The brother married, had and raised his children, but never forgot his goal. He crafted a wand to take his revenge, a wand more powerful than anything any other wielded. It was rumoured he was so bent on his revenge that he invoked the power of death itself to craft it, trading his own soul in return.’
‘That sounds unbelievable,’ Harry said.
‘I suspect he just crafted a very powerful wand,’ Salazar said. ‘Nonetheless, he was not satisfied, because one wand against all the power of the wizard’s followers would not be enough. He went further, crafting a cloak to let him sneak into the wizard’s castle undetected, a cloak supposedly powerful enough to hide him completely.’
Like mine. Harry threw a glance at the folded silver surface of his own invisibility cloak.
‘I see you have guessed at some of the relevance of this story.’ A small, proud smile turned the corners of Salazar’s mouth up. ‘I knew you would.’ He tapped his wand against his palm, sending silver sparks showering down into the base of his frame. ‘The younger brother slipped into the castle under his cloak, killed the wizard, destroyed the mirror his sister made and left. However, his desire to bring her back had only grown over the years and his vengeance was no longer enough. At the advice of his wife and children he created a stone, one with the power to show him the dead, so that he could prove his quest was not impossible. It showed him his sister, drawing her from whatever comes after death, but her existence was not true enough and, determined to bring her back in full, he created one last artefact.’
A faint, ominous chill fell upon Harry. ‘This doesn’t sound like a happy story. Why’re you telling it?’
‘You’ll understand soon. The last thing he made was a gate, a veiled archway into the realm of death itself. He intended to enter and return with his sister. The younger brother left the first three things he had made in the hands of his three children, the wand to the eldest, the cloak to his youngest, and the stone to the middle child, who’d lost his daughter to disease, then went to find his sister. His family waited.They waited for many years, his wife died, but their father never returned—’
‘Is this a warning?’ Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘Or are you telling me I could use these artefacts to kill Voldemort?’
‘Don’t interrupt, brat,’ Salazar snapped. ‘Godric died trying to recover a wand for an old wizard by the name of Ignatius Peverell. Peverell claimed the wand was an heirloom that’d been stolen from him, but Godric believed the myth and wanted to remove such a dangerous weapon from the world. After my wife died, I came across his notes on the three artefacts, deciding, against logic, to search for the stone that might let me see my wife once more. I never found it and the Peverells denied its existence. My daughter was certain they were lying.’
‘And the cloak?’ Harry tugged his cloak onto his lap and ran his fingertips over the material.
Salazar stroked the side of his thumb along his serpent’s spine. ‘I suspect the Peverell family somehow found the wand, the stone and the cloak, encouraging the belief of myths and legends to conceal the truth of their existence and to increase their own reputation. The more outlandish tales claimed the three sons earnt them from Death itself. The only shred of proof I have is that they changed their sigil from a thestral rampant to a curious symbol sometime after Rome’s Emperor bestowed them with lands in Britain. Does your cloak have a mark on it?’
Harry unfolded the cloak, running his eyes over each inch. ‘What am I looking for?’
‘A triangle, divided in half by a line and encasing a circle.’
Harry pored over the cloak until a faint gleam of silver a few shades darker than the rest caught his eye. He pulled it beneath the light. A triangle, circle, and line shone upon the garment. Ice trickled through his veins.
‘It’s true.’ Harry glanced up at Salazar and held up the marked cloak. ‘The sigil’s on here. It’s Grindelwald’s mark, I saw it on the graves at Godric’s Hollow, and I’ve seen the doorway, it’s in the Department of Mysteries now.’
Salazar’s forehead creased. ‘Then it’s likely the other artefacts exist, too. I was confident, but never quite certain. I can’t say how much truth is in old stories, Harry. The chance of finding them after all these years is next to nothing.’
‘Why are you telling me, then?’ Harry demanded.
‘Because it’s time to reseal the Chamber of Secrets. If there are other descendants among your generations, they have not found me and nor does it seem likely they will. We will reseal the chamber so its wards are tied to your blood descendants.’
Harry glanced at his cloak. ‘The sacrifice. I need to know how valuable the cloak is to use it.’
‘No,’ Salazar murmured. ‘In the end, the cloak means little to you. Useful, but the desperate affection you had for anything connected to lost parents has faded just like Tom’s did.’
Harry frowned. ‘So how do I seal it?’
‘I tied the wards here to my bloodline and the sacrifice my wife and I had already made to aid them.’ Salazar sighed and cupped his serpent’s head against his breast. ‘You have no such sacrifice to tie the wards to.’
‘Have I not given enough?’ Harry clenched his fists. ‘What else is there for me to give?’
Salazar shook his head. ‘I have spent a long time considering this, it was necessary the moment Voldemort returned, and I have decided what has to happen.’
‘So what’s the price?’ Harry demanded.
His mind raced. Something to keep Voldemort out. A silver-haired, emerald-eyed little girl smiled at him from within her mother’s embrace and his heart lurched. Something that will help my family forever.
‘Something that feels almost invaluable,’ Salazar whispered. ‘Something so precious you might not survive without it.’
Fleur. Harry’s heart froze and his breath caught.
The world spun around him until he clawed back a gasp of air.
‘I won’t.’ He shook his head and his wand flashed ice cold against his skin. ‘I can’t. I couldn’t. Never.’
‘Not her,’ Salazar murmured. ‘I would never ask you to do that. The answer is staring you in the face, Harry. I’m not, as you once so tactfully told me, Salazar Slytherin, just an imprint of him on canvas. No lives need be wasted when I will suffice.’
‘But I need you.’
‘Tom had me and it didn’t stop him. No, there’s no other choice, Harry. It must be me.’
‘I won’t ever be able to speak to you again,’ Harry whispered. ‘Every time I come down here, it’ll just be a hollow hall.’
Salazar sighed. ‘Do you need me more than you need her, Harry? It must be me, because if it’s not me…’
Harry wrestled with the cage of thorns around his heart. ‘It — it can’t be her.’
‘Then it must be me.’ Salazar offered him a faint smile and studied his wand. ‘Perhaps, Harry, you’ll be fortunate enough to stumble across a way to speak to me again. I may have other portraits still surviving somewhere, dormant, until those of my blood discover them.’
He’s lying. Harry swallowed a bitter lump. Cold, hollow talons clawed at him within. He knows this is the only one. I’ll have to find that stone to ever speak with him again.
‘What do I have to do?’ he whispered.
‘The runes for the wards are inscribed in the patterns of the snakes’ scales in the main chamber, both the effigies and across the ceiling, you need only go over them with your magic and add your blood.’
‘Shall I carry you outside?’ Harry offered.
Salazar smirked. ‘Just levitate me out.’
A faint stab of humour pierced through the abyss. ‘I knew I should’ve actually tried. There never was any sort of charm, was there?’
‘If it makes you feel better, Tom never realised either and he was carrying me around for twice as long as you were.’
‘I wouldn’t have minded carrying you about a little longer,’ Harry murmured.
‘The things that are necessary are not always easy,’ Salazar replied. ‘Besides, I’ve lingered in this chamber for long enough. My friends have left no imprints of themselves to keep me company.’
Harry set him down at the centre of the chamber, using a sticking charm to keep the frame of the canvas upright, and traced over the runes within the pattern of the scales with purple flame. Eventually, he stood at the centre of a web of shimmering purple fire, bathed in a bright violet glow.
‘You’ll need a few extra ones now,’ Salazar said. ‘Make it yours.’
Harry scanned the lines of twisting, shining runes, then, at the ceiling’s centre, etched a few, simple glyphs with a shaking hand. ‘Are you sure there’s no other way?’
‘I am,’ Salazar whispered. ‘I would not leave you to face Voldemort without me if there were a better option. If we leave this entrance open, he will tear through this place without warning. We made this place to be a haven, and it must remain one, for you and for all children.’
‘Can I not just intend…? Somehow?’
‘It would not be the same if you knew you might circumvent the price,’ Salazar murmured. ‘You know this.’
‘How?’ Harry swallowed the hot lump in his throat and clenched his jaw. The tears prickling in his eyes persisted.
‘Do it quickly. I will feel no pain, but it will be easier for you.’
It has to be done. Harry wrestled with it. I can’t leave or Dumbledore will come after me. It can’t stay unprotected or Voldemort will come here.
He levelled his wand at the painting. Weak, pale, yellow flames burst from its tip and guttered out.
‘It is hard, Harry,’ Salazar whispered. ‘But you endured before. You can endure again. You will not be alone so long as you have her.’
Harry hardened his heart. It’s the only way. He has to be destroyed.
Fiendfyre flooded from his wand, coiling into the shape of the basilisk; it lunged, closing its fangs over Salazar, then Harry squashed it from existence.
Hogwarts will be safe. I will be safe. He sliced open the ball of his thumb and spattered a few drops of blood onto the floor at his feet. Fleur will be safe.
The Chamber of Secrets lurched, trembling as if caught in an earthquake. The runes flared bright as sunlight, pulsing in time with the beat of Harry’s heart until his head span; then he was plunged into the dark.
It’s done. A faint hope rose up in the quiet blackness.
‘Salazar?’ Harry whispered.
The chamber echoed his voice back at him, over and over, until the murmurs faded into thick, dense silence. A thin, fragile bubble held a swirling vortex of emotion prisoner in his heart.
The bubble wavered, his wand flared hot and cold in his hand and the darkness curled ‘round him, deep and hollow as the emptiness within. Harry pictured the hall of the Meadow and wrenched the world back past him.
Fleur’s soft humming drifted from the lounge.
He stumbled toward it, blinking back tears. Raw, hot, bitter feeling howled in his heart and Harry clamped his mouth shut before its scream spilt through his lips.
‘Harry?’ She reached out and drew him down onto the sofa next to her as his tears began to trickle down his cheeks. ‘What’s wrong?’
Harry shook his head, wrapped his arms ‘round her and pulled her close until the soft warmth of her and the sweet scent of marzipan and burnt holly blotted out the world.
Fleur cradled his head in her lap. ‘You’ll survive, mon Cœur.’ She ran her fingers through his hair and pressed a soft kiss to his forehead. ‘I’m still here. And I’m never going anywhere.’