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Harry watched Fleur toy with the dragon-shaped chocolate bubble above her drink with a small smile. Those who run away live to fight another day.
Sirius sat on the far side of the kitchen table, tugging at his bandages. A crimson blotch spread from his waist to his armpit and his fingertips came away red.
‘Looks pretty,’ Harry said. ‘Maybe you should sit the next few fights out.’
‘Don’t poke it,’ Fleur snapped. ‘I’m not redoing the bandage again.’
‘It’s soaked through already,’ Sirius grumbled, pulling his robes closed over the top of it.
‘No more duelling if you can avoid it,’ Fleur ordered, letting the chocolate dragon collapse back into her drink and taking a long sip. ‘And if I see you apparating around the house, I will change the wards so you can’t.’
Sirius rolled his eyes. ‘It’s not that bad, Maman.’
Fleur reached out and poked him in the side without glancing up from her drink.
‘Shit,’ he hissed, clutching at his ribs.
‘Not that bad?’ Fleur put down her mug. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Fine,’ Sirius muttered. ‘It’s uncomfortable.’ He glowered at his bandages and glared at Harry. ‘How is it you managed to pick the only girl I’ve ever met that’s more stubborn and determined to be right than your mother was?’
‘A lot of very good luck,’ Fleur said. ‘Right, mon Amour?’
‘There was also some kidnapping of underage boys involved,’ Harry quipped. ‘And a lot of threats of immolation.’
Fleur stuck her nose in the air. ‘Yes. Romance.’
Harry laughed. ‘That’s not romance. Gabby’s taught me all about romance.’ He leant in across the table and lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘It involves several closely related veela girls and a lot of bodice ripping.’
Fleur shot him a small smile, her summer sky eyes dancing with light. Harry’s heart lurched in his breast and his breath stuck in his throat.
‘You and Gabby need to spend less time talking about bodice ripping alone together,’ Fleur said.
Harry shook his head. ‘Nuh uh. We haven’t finished planning Gabby’s surprise eighteenth birthday present.’
Fleur arched an eyebrow and sipped her hot chocolate. ‘How is it going to be a surprise if you’re planning it with her?’
‘It’s a surprise because it’s not a surprise. She’s expecting a surprise party, so the fact that it’s not a surprise is surprising.’
‘You’re talking nonsense, mon Cœur.’
He grinned at her. ‘I know.’
Fleur glanced at the clock. ‘And you only have about fifteen minutes.’
‘Right.’ Harry sighed. ‘Is the Polyjuice still upstairs?’
‘Non.’ Fleur plucked two vials from her pocket and slid them across the table. ‘Knowing you would leave it to the last minute, I already did it for you.’
He chuckled. ‘I resent that entirely fair accusation.’
‘Polyjuice?’ Sirius squinted at the vials. ‘Is this for the closely related veela girls and bodice ripping?’
Harry laughed and tucked the potions into his pocket. ‘Unfortunately not. Nev and I need to pick something up from the bank.’
‘The horcrux.’ Sirius nodded. ‘Watch out for the goblins, Harry. Bill Weasley said they were getting very agitated and they don’t take kindly to thieves at the best of times.’
‘I wasn’t planning on getting caught.’
‘You probably haven’t planned anything at all,’ Fleur muttered.
‘I had to do some proper planning this time.’ Harry stood up. ‘It should be fine. Steal some hair. Split them up. Get down to the vault. Get in the vault. Destroy a cup. Get back out again.’
‘And be sneaky, because if Voldemort realises we’re after his horcruxes, he might make more.’ Fleur crossed her ankles under the table and sipped her drink. ‘I don’t want to have to chase down his trinkets forever.’
‘He doesn’t know. I lied about Dumbledore’s death to cover up our success and he believed me.’ Harry watched Sirius’s shoulders relax a little in the corner of his eye. ‘And, even better, he thinks Fleur’s made up.’
‘What? How?!’ Fleur narrowed her eyes. ‘What did you say?’
‘Nothing,’ he protested. ‘He thinks you’re a story I made up to… er—’ he grimaced ‘—protect Katie.’
She swept around the table and embraced him. ‘Be careful,’ she whispered, curling her fingers into his robes. ‘No risks.’
‘I’ll try,’ Harry promised.
‘If I hear the word improvise even once when you come back,’ Fleur murmured. ‘I will let Gabby have her way with you.’
‘No you won’t.’ Harry kissed her on the tip of her nose. ‘You won’t even share your hot chocolate with her.’
‘That greedy little harpy just steals it anyway.’ Fleur pouted. ‘She thinks I don’t know.’
‘I’m slightly harder to steal,’ Harry said.
‘You better be,’ she whispered, catching his lips in a soft kiss. ‘And, as I was saying, any improvisation and I will sizzle you to a crisp.’
‘I’ll keep it a secret,’ he said. ‘You’ll never know.’
‘No more secrets, mon Cœur,’ she murmured.
Harry slipped out of her arms. ‘I’ll be back in a little while,’ he promised, apparating into the Chamber of Secrets and glancing at the Marauders’ Map.
Nev’s name hovered in the Gryffindor common room.
Harry disillusioned himself and strode through the corridors, slipping through the passage behind the Fat Lady after Colin Creevey. Shouting echoed through from the common room.
‘You sold him out to McGonagall!’ Nev yelled. ‘You’ve no idea if he even had anything to do with it!’
‘He murdered another student,’ Hermione hissed. ‘Who else do you think it was? Professor Trelawney?’
Harry stifled a snort of laughter. Plot twist.
‘Malfoy was a Death Eater, I was there when they took his body down and the mark was on his forearm.’ Nev balled his fists. ‘You can get all self-righteous, Hermione, but what have you done? Oh, I got Harry Potter expelled. Good work, Hermione. Now what? Nicely ask Voldemort to leave us alone?’
Hermione let out a little scream and yanked at the silver chain around her neck. ‘You don’t understand!’
Ron caught her hands and eased them free of her necklace. ‘Let’s go to the library, yeah, Hermione? Cool down a bit. No point fighting among friends, just helps Voldemort.’
Nev turned his back on them.
Harry sidestepped Ron and Hermione; he watched their backs vanish into the passageway and abandoned his concealment. ‘Time to go, Nev.’
Nev twisted ’round and gulped. ‘Gringotts?’
‘Come to Myrtle’s bathroom so the wards don’t show you leaving.’ Harry threw the invisibility cloak over Nev, disillusioned himself, and strode through the corridors to stand amidst the white tiles. ‘We’re going to go in and wait, then steal a hair from each of them. Same as we planned before. I go with one, you go with the other. If you get to the vault first, stun the Lestrange brother and the goblin, then leave this mark where I can see it.’ He drew the Peverell crest in the air, leaving it to fade behind them.
‘Grindelwald’s mark…’ Nev’s face darkened. ‘Why?’
‘I’ll recognise it. Nobody else will have drawn that mark down there’
‘But it’s Grindelwald’s mark,’ Nev whispered. ‘He’s worse than Voldemort…’
‘It’s just a symbol.’ Harry shrugged. ‘A message.’
‘Like cadent a latere mortem?’
‘He killed Katie.’ Harry fixed him with a flat stare and opened the Chamber of Secrets, pulling Neville over the threshold. ‘And we don’t have time to talk about it now.’ He apparated them into the shadows of the colonnade as the entrance slid closed, leading Nev into the bank.
Where are they?
‘There,’ Nev said, tugging Harry’s arm toward a pair of nondescript, thickset looking wizards on the far side of the hall.
‘Sure?’ he whispered.
‘Oh I’m sure,’ Nev snapped. ‘How could I not recognise them?’
‘We need to split them up,’ Harry said, drifting a little closer. ‘You take Rabastan, I’ll take Rodolphus.’ He slipped the Elder Wand from his sleeve. ‘Imperio.’
Rabastan Lestrange shivered as Harry’s will washed through him; he strode across to stand near them. Harry plucked a hair off his head, passing it and a vial of Polyjuice to Nev.
‘Just stick it in and drink it?’ Nev asked.
‘Quickly,’ Harry murmured, catching sight of Rodolphus pointing to the meeting room off to one side of the desks.
Nev dropped the hair in and shook the potion until it turned a dark yellow, pinching his nose and gulping it down. He groaned and shook as his muscles and bones rippled, his face shifting to match Rabastan’s.
Harry checked his appearance, glanced around, then swept the cloak off Nev and over the Imperiused Rabastan. ‘Go stand by Rodolphus, don’t say anything you don’t have to, and leave one of Rodolphus’ hairs on the counter.’
Nev’s face paled and he balled his fists, but he rose to his feet and strode back across to join Rodolphus. Harry watched him swipe a hair off Rodolphus’s collar and place it under the name sign as the goblin led the pair of them away.
Perfect. Harry strode over, directing Rabastan after him. He tugged the hair out from under the bronze sign and slipped it into the vial of potion. The thick goop turned a dull orange and Harry gulped it down with a grimace.
Heat bubbled in his bones and his muscles writhed beneath his skin. His bones twisted and shifted, his skin stretching and shrinking like elastic. Harry held his breath until it faded, abandoning his disillusionment, pulling the cloak off Rabastan, and stepping across in front of another goblin teller as they came out to the desk.
Let’s go visit the vault.
‘I would like to visit my vault,’ Rabastan demanded, extending his wand to the goblin.
The goblin turned it over in his long-fingered hands, then nodded and passed it back. ‘Follow me.’ It led them down a rough, torchlit passage and into one of Gringotts’s rather small carts.
They plunged on thin, iron tracks down into the bowels of the bank, twisting ‘round sharp corners and winding between vast stalagmites and stalactites.
‘Not too much further,’ the goblin said.
This is a long way down. Harry grimaced. Getting out won’t be fun if we get caught.
A fine, thin cool washed over his face. Rabastan shook his head and froze.
The waterfall. Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve, but his body shivered, shuddered and squirmed as he took hold of it.
‘Intruder.’ The goblin clutched for the brake.
‘Imperio,’ Harry ordered, forcing his wand arm up at the goblin.
‘Potter!’ Rabastan’s knuckles grazed his shoulder as the cart lurched left.
The Elder Wand bounced away into the bottom of the cart. Harry ducked a second swing, hammering his fist into Rabastan’s stomach and driving his knee into his face as Lestrange doubled over. Rabastan smashed his head into Harry’s face and white-hot pain flared through his nose.
‘Not so tough.’ Rabasran sneered, smearing blood off his lips with the back of his hand. ‘You’ve evaded the Dark Lord long enough.’
Harry threw himself forward, knocking Rabastan back and over the seats, and snatching the Elder Wand from the floor. The cart skidded to a halt, tossing them both forward against the cart’s side.
‘The Lestrange vault is just through here,’ the goblin said, pointing down past the pink-scarred, dirt-encrusted, white-scaled hide of a large dragon.
‘No,’ Rabastan hissed, dragging himself up on the side of the cart. ‘You have come for our Lord’s treasure, but you will not have it!’
Harry jumped out and back-stepped after the goblin, deflecting curses into the stalagmites. Rastaban swore, hurling glimmering yellow blood-boiling curses down the slope. Harry batted them away and sent a volley of piercing hexes back, smashing the cart off the rails and down into the dark. Rabastan jumped over the edge and slid down to the dragon terrace, dodging the creature’s swipe, and firing curses at the goblin.
Merde. Harry slid down after him, unleashing a hail of bone-splintering curses. If he kills the goblin, we can’t get into the vault.
Rabastan snarled and threw up his shield as Harry sprinted down the path. The goblin thrust a key into the lock.
‘No!’ Rabastan abandoned his shield, grunting as a pair of bone-splintering curses struck his left arm. ‘Avada kedavra!’
Green light flashed off the stalagmites and the goblin crumpled.
Rabastan swivelled ‘round and raised his wand before his face. ‘You won’t take another step toward my vault, Potter.’
Harry turned his magic on the goblin, threading his will through it until its eyes snapped open and it lurched to its feet.
Rabastan tracked Harry’s gaze, glancing behind him. ‘Fuck!’
The goblin hurled itself onto him, biting and clawing.
Harry dashed past the wrestling pair and stared at a mountain of gold, gems and priceless things. Merde. I’ll never find it in here. He took a deep breath. But I don’t have to find it, I just need to know it’s in here.
‘You’re too late, Lestrange,’ he shouted. ‘The cup is destroyed.’
Rabastan hurled the severed head of the goblin at Harry’s feet, swiping blood out of his eyes. ‘Then I will die for breaking my promise.’ He raised his wand. ‘But you will be dead before I pay for my failure, Potter. That, I guarantee.’
It’s here. Now I just have to tear it away from Voldemort. Harry drew the on the cold spark of hate at his heart and unleashed a billow of Fiendfyre, sending red tongues of flame swirling ‘round him. Ashes to ashes.
The Fiendfyre coalesced into the bright, white-hot basilisk.
‘I am not afraid of fire,’ Rabastan spat. ‘You won’t intimidate me.’
Harry sent the basilisk lunging through the open door and released his control. Rabastan howled in fury and hurled blood-boiling curses at Harry who swatted them away, returning fire.
Bright orange curses scorched black marks into pale stalagmites and spattered in sharp hisses across the cold, damp stone. Harry’s purple curses punched smoking holes through Rabastan’s robes and he dropped to his knees, spluttering blood across the ground. Summoning a whip of bright fire, Harry took both of Lestrange’s arms off at the elbow.
‘What now, Potter?’ Rabastan rasped, staring at the smoking stumps of his arms. ‘The Dark Lord cannot be defeated. All of this will be for nothing. He took the girl away from you, he’ll take everything else, too.’
‘No, he won’t.’ Harry kicked Rabastan into the fire within the vault and dragged the door closed. ‘I won’t be nothing.’
He tossed the keys away into the dark. Now to find Nev.
A cart rumbled to a stop above him on the slope. ‘You’ve got guts little Longbottom.’ Rodolphus’s deep voice thrummed with laughter. ‘You take after your parents in that. They were strong wizards, brave wizards, but not cunning, and I daresay you aren’t either.’
Merde. Harry disillusioned himself and clambered up the rocks to the summit.
‘He is a thief in Gringotts, wizard,’ the goblin snarled. ‘He is ours.’
‘I caught him,’ Rodolphus snapped. ‘He’s mine.’
‘The bank is aware of the intruder,’ the goblin growled. ‘Soon my kin and the guards will be here; it would be best if you gave us our prisoner.’
‘Was that a threat, goblin?’ Rodolphus hissed.
‘Gringotts is goblin land and under goblin law. The treaties are clear, break their terms at your own peril.’
‘Fine,’ Rodolphus spat. ‘But only after he tells me why he came. I owe the little bastard for my hand and for whatever he did to my brother!’
‘He must be alive and coherent,’ the goblin hissed.
Harry rounded the stalagmite, glimpsing a tangled mass of flesh where Rodolphus’s left fingers ought to have been.
‘Crucio.’ Rodolphus sneered as Neville writhed and howled beneath his wand. ‘Where is my brother? If he is dead or harmed, I will torture you until your whole family has a ward in St Mungo’s.’
Harry dropped his disillusionment and banished Rodolphus down the slope, summoning Nev’s wand from the ground.
‘Harry!’ Nev gasped. ‘I’m sorry. I was caught. They’re coming now.’
‘I imagine—‘ Harry handed Nev his wand back ‘—it’ll be quite easy to take your revenge now.’
Nev levelled his wand at Rodolphus with a trembling hand.
‘You know the words,’ Harry whispered. ‘Do it for yourself. Think of everything he stole, think how much you hated him, how much you hated everything. Use it. You know the words.’
Nev’s wand tip dropped. ‘I can’t. I just can’t.’
Perhaps you aren’t like me after all.
‘Reducto,’ Harry murmured, knocking Rodolphus back along the ground and leaving a thin trail of blood.
‘Some terrifying wizard you are, Potter!’ Rodolphus laughed. ‘If you hadn’t ambushed me, I’d’ve torn you apart.’
The dragon stirred behind him, snaking its neck up over his head. Nev covered his eyes as its jaws crunched closed over Rodolphus.
‘You fed him to a dragon,’ Nev whispered. ‘He was just lying there and you…’
‘Did what you couldn’t,’ Harry said. ‘Just like I always have to. When you all get too afraid to do what has to be done, who has to come save you? I do.’ He turned to the goblin. ‘You’ve five seconds to tell me how I can get out or that dragon’s going to get a second snack.’
The goblin cackled. ‘This is Gringotts. Nobody steals from Gringotts and survives.’
‘Watch me,’ Harry declared, raising his wand. ‘Well, I say watch me, but you’ve wasted your five seconds, so…’
Wait!’ The goblin raised its hands. ‘There’s a way. There are tunnels back up from every level, but they’re warded, only goblins can pass through the archways, so you’ll need me to get you up there.’
‘Where does the tunnel lead?’ Harry demanded.
‘Up. All the way up to the top.’ The goblin pointed at the alcove behind the dragon. ‘It’s just a lot of steps.’
Of course it had to be behind the dragon. Why are there always dragons? Harry pulled the invisibility cloak out from under his robes. Still, at least with this, we can just walk out.
Nev released a long sigh and his shoulders sagged. ‘Thank you. Do you have a name?’
The goblin stared. ‘Griphook…’
‘Nice name. Goodbye, Griphook.’ Harry imbued his magic into the air and closed it around the goblin like a giant fist, crushing Griphook into a wide smear of red upon the stone. ‘Come on, Nev.’
Nev ripped his arm away. ‘He was innocent, Harry.’
‘Innocent is a strong word. He would’ve betrayed us the moment he had the chance.’
‘We could have stunned him! Memory charmed him!’
‘And risk it going wrong or being undone? The goblins would be after us for the rest of our lives.’ Harry swept the cloak over them both. ‘I promised Fleur not to take risks.’ He dragged Nev after him past the dragon into a rough-hewn passage, stifling the trickle of ice in his blood. ‘I don’t break my promises to Fleur.’
‘It’s someone’s life,’ Nev hissed. ‘A little bit of risk is nothing.’
‘A little bit of risk is a little bit too much,’ Harry retorted. ‘You don’t risk losing things that are that important. Do you have any idea what it would be like to live without them?!’
What do you know of perfect dreams? Harry smothered a flash of cold fury. Of how cold and dark and empty the world is when there are no dreams left?
‘You risked your life before!’ Nev cried.
‘Because I thought it was what I was meant to do,’ Harry snapped. ‘And if I wasn’t a hero to all of you, then I wasn’t anything at all. But I know better now. I don’t need to be a hero. I just need Fleur.’
‘You think Fleur would want you to do this? Or Katie?’ Nev demanded. ‘What would they say if they saw what you just did?’
‘They’ve seen me do worse.’
Nev froze. ‘They what?’
‘Fleur and Katie understood.’ Harry hauled Nev after him by the arm, biting back on the ball of cold closing ‘round his heart. ‘There’s no good or evil here. There’s no dark or light. There’s just a mad scramble of selfish little people for all their different dreams. You can give up and let them use you, or you can make your own wishes come true.’
‘That’s not true,’ Nev whispered. ‘It’s not.’
Harry dragged him over the last few steps and out of the main bank into the shadows of the colonnade. ‘Are you going to tell me you only wanted me to teach you so you could help others?’ He apparated them back to the edge of the quidditch pitch and dropped Nev into the dirt. ‘Or will you admit it was because you wanted to be better, for yourself?’
‘That’s not the same!’
‘Yes it is. You wanted something. You made sure it happened. I also want something and I’m making sure it happens. The only difference is that the stakes are higher for me!’
‘Well, then I’m just not as strong as you,’ Nev muttered. ‘I can’t do that to someone. I just… can’t.’
‘Then one day, when you find yourself opposite someone who can, they’ll tear your dream away from you.’ Harry slipped his wand back into his sleeve. ‘And I bet you’ll wish you’d been stronger when they do.’
Nev staggered to his feet. ‘Maybe if everyone wants to tear your dream away, it’s the dream that’s the problem!’
‘I don’t want to rule the world, I just want to be free to spend my life with Fleur.’ Harry thrust a finger at the ruined grass where Katie had died. ‘It’s all of you that keep trying to take things away. You all made it this way, not me.’
You can’t understand, can you? He stared at Neville’s pale, horrified face. You’re not like me.
Harry apparated back into the kitchen with a soft snap. Silver hair, warm arms, and the scent of marzipan enveloped him. The weight vanished from his shoulders and his heart lifted, the ice melting away to a soft, warm glow.
‘What happened?’ Fleur demanded.
He chuckled. ‘I improvised.’
She stamped on his foot and pain flashed up his leg. ‘You do not come back with a face like that and joke!’
My face? His fingers crept up to the soft throbbing and came away smeared red. My nose.
‘Nothing serious.’ Harry held her close. ‘I destroyed the cup. Neville… He doesn’t understand.’ He sighed and breathed in the smell of her marzipan perfume. ‘I think I lost a friend today. My last friend.’
She cupped his cheek with her hand. ‘I’m sorry, mon Amour, but that’s what happens. They’re just not like us. They can’t understand.’ Fleur pressed her lips to his jaw and rested her head on his shoulder. ‘Forget them. We have our perfect wish. That’s all we need.’
‘The trouble with sunsets is they don’t last forever,’ he murmured.
Fleur stiffened in his arms. ‘Mon Cœur?’ she whispered.
‘We’re not free until there’s nothing that can steal you from me,’ Harry murmured. ‘So long as there’s a way I can lose you, our dream’s not safe.’
‘Then we make sure it’s safe,’ she said. ‘However we have to.’
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