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The first rays of light crept over the edge of the horizon, spilling across the shores of the Black Lake and casting long shadows from the towers and turrets of the school; it poured through the office window, bathing the pale, black-veined skin of Dumbledore’s face in a soft orange.
Harry placed the half-moon spectacles on the desk and emptied out the handful of vials of Snape’s potion, returning them to the same drawer. No mystery here. A cursed man who ran out of time.
Fawkes reappeared on the edge of the desk with a flash of red flame and a cheerful trill, grabbing the spectacles and swooping over to his perch.
‘He won’t be able to play that game anymore, Fawkes,’ Harry murmured.
Fawkes dropped the spectacles back onto the desk, nudging them with one taloned foot, pushing them back toward Dumbledore’s hand with his beak and hopping away to watch. Harry closed the drawer to Dumbledore’s desk and pulled the ring bearing the Resurrection Stone out of his pocket. Fawkes let out a soft cry and scuttled back across the desk, blinking thick, clear tears onto Dumbledore’s hand.
‘It’s too late, Fawkes.’ Harry cupped the weight of the ring in his hand and a twist of apprehension tightened in his breast. ‘He’s gone.’
He was going to die anyway. He stroked the band of gold on his palm. All those secrets. All those plans. If he’d just said something, maybe it wouldn’t have ended like this. Guilt chewed at his stomach with cold, blunt teeth as he closed his fingers over the ring. Maybe if I’d said something, but how could I have known to risk it? He would’ve just lied to me for the sake of his plan.
A wave of hot magic swirled about the room, rustling papers and rattling the doors to the cabinets. Fawkes hissed, scoring lines into the desktop with his talons and vanishing with a flash of red flame.
‘Sorry, Fawkes,’ Harry whispered. ‘But I have to be free. I can’t endure a world without dreams.’
Silence crept in as the colours of the sunrise faded. Harry sat across the desk from Dumbledore’s closed eyes and pale face, keeping one eye on the frozen portraits and spinning the ring around on the desk.
I shouldn’t waste my time. He snatched the ring off the surface. Now Dumbledore’s not here, Voldemort will come for Hogwarts.
‘Let’s see what you’re capable of,’ Harry murmured, touching the tip of his wand to the stone.
A storm of magic swirled within it.
Maybe Fleur will be able to figure it out, or Gabby. A faint desire to see it spin seized him and he flicked the ring into the air off his thumb, watching the band glint until it landed back on his palm. I don’t even know who to summon first. Harry flicked it back into the air and watched it flip once, twice, three times and thud back into his hand. My parents, maybe.
‘Harry.’ The echo of a whisper drifted over his shoulder.
His heart seized and his blood ran cold. Harry swallowed and took a deep breath, rising from his chair and forcing his feet to turn.
Translucent, trembling outlines hung before him like shadows suspended on dust.
‘Harry,’ his mother said. ‘You’ve grown up so much.’
‘I had to.’ He clenched his fist around the ring. ‘There was no other way.’
‘Sorry,’ his father murmured. ‘We didn’t want to leave you alone, but it was that or have you come with us.’
‘There’s no difference between alone or dead,’ Harry said. ‘Except when you’re alone, you can hope it might stop.’
‘You’re so powerful.’ His mother’s shade stretched out faint fingers toward Harry’s cheek, but her hand passed through him with nothing more than a faint chill. ‘I told you he would be special, James. I felt it when I carried him.’
‘It’s not wise to surround yourself with the dead, Harry,’ his father said.
‘Don’t depend on the dead for company,’ his mother whispered. ‘Call on us, on Katie, or on Salazar, but don’t cling to us.’
How does she know about Katie or Salazar? His heart sank down into a dark, cold pit. It’s not their souls, is it? It’s just an echo of what I want.
He let them fade away, turning the stone once more to call on Cadmus Peverell. Harry waited, glancing around, but no shade appeared, so he tried several more famous wizards.
Perhaps I have to have known them.
He flipped the ring thrice, running through names. ‘Bellatrix Lestrange.’
A small, smiling child of thick grey fog swayed before him, her lustrous curls toppling across one side of her face. ‘Baby cousin!’ She beamed and bounced on her heels. ‘You killed me! Well played!’
‘You lost,’ Harry said.
‘Bella was always going to lose eventually. Bell always said so. Nobody wins forever.’ She twirled on the spot and clapped her hands together. ‘It’s such a shame you didn’t want to come play with me. Games are much more fun together.’
Just one more. Harry turned the ring back over, gripped by a sudden whim.
‘Albus Dumbledore,’ he murmured.
‘Harry.’ Dumbledore’s shadow sat upon the edge of his desk. ‘What would you have me say?’
‘What do you know about the Deathly Hallows?’ Harry asked.
‘I know what you know,’ he said. ‘Or, I suspect, I know what you think that I know.’
‘An echo,’ Harry murmured. ‘Not a soul.’
‘Souls and echoes are not so far from each other,’ Dumbledore said. ‘Perhaps, if you knew them well enough, the echo might be strong enough to be half a soul.’
‘But not sentient, not really alive, not really her.’ Harry slumped back into the chair. ‘I’m never going to see her again, am I? She’s gone.’
‘An echo is better than a husk of clay,’ Dumbledore’s shade replied.
‘Tell me about the Hallows,’ Harry said. ‘Talk about something else.’
‘I believe they are aspects of death, created, as the oldest spells once were, by simple emotion and intuitive understanding. Though, in their case, I suspect it to be the cumulative understanding and feeling of many wizards and witches. Since their creation, they’ve been explained away by many stories and claimed by wizard after wizard.’
‘Gabby told me this.’ Harry pulled the Elder Wand from his sleeve and studied the tiny runes making up the pattern spiralling along its length. ‘She thought they were death, or, at least, they were what their creators thought death was.’
‘The cloak – invisible, intangible, undetectable and unstoppable. Just as death is. The stone – lingering sorrow, regret, loneliness and grief. Just as death brings. The wand – powerful, terrible and coveted. Just as death is.’
‘Gabby will be so happy to hear you agree with her,’ Harry muttered beneath his breath.
Dumbledore’s echo chuckled. ‘Perhaps young Gabby will be more pleased to hear that you think I would’ve agreed with her.’
‘I am sorry,’ Harry said. ‘I’m sorry I killed you and I’m sorry I can only say this to an echo.’
‘We all make mistakes, Harry,’ Dumbledore’s shade said. ‘I have made many myself. And those of us who are powerful make mistakes with greater consequences. Nobody can live without harming another in some way at some point. To intend no harm is good, but to do as little as possible is better.’ He smiled. ‘And, for all that you’ve endured, you’re not Tom. We’re all a little selfish, my boy, but while we care for others, we remain capable of making the best choices. Love, Harry; it so often makes the difference.’
A dangerous echo. Harry turned the ring over and watched Dumbledore’s figure flicker away. I will not call him again. If he’s what I think he should be, then even his shadow will want to convince me to martyr myself.
He slipped the ring onto his finger and tucked the Elder Wand up his other sleeve, sweeping the cloak over himself and unfreezing the sleeping portraits.
Breakfast time, I think. A fierce certainty seized him. The Great Hall’s definitely the best place to go back to.
Dumbledore’s grandfather clock chimed and the certainty drained away like water through his fingers.
Harry frowned. The Felix Felicis’s time is up.
He strode down into the corridors, pulling off the cloak and tucking it away.
Let’s see what happens, I suppose. Harry smothered a faint, nervous churning in his gut. Trust the liquid luck.
Silence fell over the Great Hall as he stepped in. Every eye turned to fix itself on him.
Just like when my name came out of the Goblet of Fire. They never change.
‘Mr Potter.’ McGonagall stood up from her seat at the table. ‘Up here if you please.’
Harry strolled down through the tables. ‘Professor?’
McGonagall drew herself up. ‘There is no evidence to implicate you in the horror that has taken place this night. However, it has been brought to my attention that a lot of people whom you have a motive to harm get hurt and thus, for the safety of the students, I hereby expel you from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.’
That wasn’t part of the plan. Harry smothered a scowl. But, I suppose I’ll have the qualifications I need in a few days and now I can’t be here, I can just go back to Fleur. A flash of inspiration struck. Of course, it’s what I wanted most. Felix Felicis.
‘Your wand, Mr Potter,’ McGonagall murmured. ‘Your NEWTs aren’t official and you’re not yet seventeen. Your parents would be heartbroken to see me do this, but I think it must be done.’
‘I’m fond of my wand, I suspect I’ll need it.’
‘It is the law, Mr Potter.’ McGonagall thrust out her hand. ‘Your wand.’
Harry studied her outstretched fingers. ‘Goodbye, professor.’ He turned on his heel and strode back through the tables, glimpsing Hermione’s relieved face.
Brought to your attention. He paused, mid-step. Just like she did with my Firebolt.
‘It seems I must leave,’ he called, catching Hermione’s eye. ‘However you will find that I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me.’
A flash of outrage crossed her face.
Voldemort will attack here soon now Dumbledore’s dead. Harry continued on his way out. And I bet you’ll all come crawling back begging for a hero to save you when he does. He allowed himself a small, thin smile. But you threw me away when you thought you didn’t need me anymore. You hated me for being what you wanted me to be. You don’t deserve a hero. And you’re not going to get one.
Harry strode out across the ruined quidditch pitch, skirting the jagged pieces of metal sprawling over the scarred, splinter-studded ground to the edge of the pines and apparated back into the kitchen of The Meadow. ‘I’m home.’
‘Welcome back, darling,’ Sirius’s gruff voice cried and a pair of arms wrapped around his shoulders. ‘Would you like a big kiss?’
‘Would you like to get off?’ Harry asked, prying himself free. ‘You’re not nearly pretty or French enough to be kissing me.’
‘How was school, honey?’ Sirius asked.
Harry grinned. ‘It was great. I got expelled.’
Sirius sputtered. ‘What?! Why?’
‘Malfoy.’ Fleur swept into the kitchen brandishing the morning’s paper, her eyes black as pitch. ‘Malfoy is why.’
Sirius took one look at Fleur’s dark irises and shot Harry a grin. ‘Every man for himself,’ he said, vanishing with a loud crack.
‘Idiot.’ Fleur glared up at the creaking landing above their head. ‘I told him not to apparate, it makes his injury worse.’
Harry patted down his pockets, but found only a lemon sherbet. ‘Sweet?’ He held it out.
Fleur plucked it from his fingers and held it up. Bright, azure flames melted it to a thin wisp of white smoke.
‘That was the only one I had,’ Harry said.
‘I’m not a pet to be bribed with sweet things every time you want forgiveness.’ Fleur prodded him in the chest with her finger. ‘I told you to be careful. And you hung Malfoy’s mutilated body in the Great Hall of the school!’
‘In my defence, the sweet things usually work.’ Harry took a quick step back as feathers exploded through Fleur’s skin. ‘And, also in my defence, I drank the Felix Felicis, so I’m almost certain I was following its lead when I did that.’
Her eyes narrowed. ‘Explain.’
Harry offered her a small smile. ‘Well, I didn’t really want to be at Hogwarts. I wanted to be here with you. While I could stay at Hogwarts, doing so would’ve probably been the smart thing to do, especially before I’d got my NEWTs. But now I’m expelled, I get what I want.’ He stepped forward and tapped her on the nose with his fingertip. ‘You.’
‘Idiot,’ Fleur murmured, her eyes fading back to blue and the white feathers slipping back beneath her skin. ‘Did you at least get the Resurrection Stone?’
Harry pulled the ring from his finger and passed it over. ‘Here. I can’t make anything of the magic, but you or Gabby will probably be able to do better.’
Fleur poked it around on her hand with the tip of her wand. ‘Something to play with later.’ She handed it back. ‘What about Dumbledore?’
Harry sighed. ‘I killed him.’ He took a deep breath. ‘And, well, I thought he meant to martyr me, to blinker me and toss me away to die, but he wanted me to live, I just couldn’t know, or it wouldn’t have worked.’
‘And you still killed him?’ Fleur asked.
‘I didn’t know until after it was too late.’
She stepped close and caught the hand holding the Resurrection Stone between hers. ‘Once he knew you knew, he might’ve not believed you could survive any more, and resorted to just killing you. He was dying anyway and you couldn’t have known.’ Fleur raised his fingers up and pressed a kiss to his knuckles. ‘That’s what happens when you keep secrets you shouldn’t be keeping, mon Cœur.’
‘I don’t have any secrets from you anymore,’ Harry promised. ‘Well—’ he shot her a grin ‘—I won’t in a moment.’
A faint pout crept onto Fleur’s lips. ‘What last secret is left, mon Amour.’ She pulled his arms around her and nestled into his chest. ‘I warn you, if a single word about veela-mates or soul-bonds or veela sister threesomes comes out of your mouth, I will turn you to ash.’
‘It’s nothing to do with those.’ Harry kissed her on the forehead. ‘Although I am intrigued by this veela sister threesome idea, maybe there’s something you want to tell me about veela and their families? Has Gabby been telling me the truth this whole time?’
Fleur laughed into his collarbone. ‘You can ask my sister about it.’ She pressed her lips to his neck, trailing kisses up to his jaw. ‘Now, you promised me a secret…’
Harry slid the Elder Wand from his sleeve. ‘I found the third one.’
‘The third…’ Fleur’s eyes went wide. ‘The Elder Wand?’
He nodded. ‘Turns out, Grindelwald probably did have it. He used the Peverell symbol, Dumbledore famously beat him in a duel, and it was Dumbledore who’s been using it the whole time.’
‘Have you used any of them?’ Her voice dropped to a murmur.
‘Katie?’ Fleur whispered.
Harry shook his head. ‘I wanted to test it, to see if it was really a soul.’
‘Just an echo.’ A small, bitter smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. ‘A better thing to say goodbye to than a husk of clay, but not much more than that. I suppose I can thank the Felix Felicis for letting me discover the truth before I called for Katie or Salazar full of hope.’
‘You still have me.’ Fleur drew his arms back around her and pulled him close. ‘You’ll always have me.’
‘Not always.’ Harry held her tight, squeezing his eyes shut. ‘Even if we beat Voldemort and anyone else, there’s a final enemy that’ll take you away from me.’
‘Master of Death,’ she whispered in his ear. ‘If there’s a final enemy, we just need a final victory.’