Raindrops drummed against the window, swirling in the gloom beyond the glass.
‘What is wrong with the weather in this country?’ Fleur muttered, rummaging through the kitchen cupboards. ‘Incroyable.’
‘Raining again, is it?’ Harry asked.
‘You know it is.’ Fleur scowled. ‘You can hear it.’
‘Stay inside then.’ Harry grinned. ‘Nothing good ever happens in the rain.’
She sighed. ‘I wanted to go out into the meadows today. It’s the middle of spring, Harry, there should be some sun.’
‘There is, it’s just behind all those grey clouds.’ Harry waved a hand at the window. ‘Don’t worry, we usually see it sometime around July… For about two days.’
‘You’re so British.’ Fleur wrinkled her nose. ‘You’re lucky I am slowly civilising you.’
‘Or maybe you just think you are and I’m actually de-civilising you.’
She threw everything back into the cupboard and kicked it shut. ‘Why is it raining all the time?!’
Harry glanced up. Fleur glowered at the cupboard, her arms folded across her chest and a delicate pout on her pale, rose-pink lips.
‘We’re out of sugar, aren’t we?’
‘I bought a whole bag last week,’ she cried. ‘Sirius is stealing it because I stopped him apparating around. I know he is.’
‘I’m not Sirius.’ Harry slipped out of his chair and stepped across the kitchen, pressing kisses to her pout until it curved into a smile and her hands slid into his hair. He pulled her mouth against his and summoned the jar of sugar Sirius had stashed behind the sofa into his hand. ‘Here you go.’
Fleur leant back from his lips. ‘You kept it a secret long enough to steal your kisses,’ she murmured.
‘Would you have it any other way?’ he teased.
‘Well.’ Her lips trailed over the corner of his mouth and along his jaw. ‘I can think of a much more appropriate reward for returning my stolen treasure.’
‘Let’s not give Sirius a show.’ Harry tucked the jar into her hands. ‘I heard him creaking about upstairs a few minutes ago.’
‘Fine.’ Fleur tugged the lid off the jar and snatched up her spoon. ‘But later, you’re going to make it up to me. A lot.’
Harry stepped behind her and wrapped his arms round her waist as she dipped the tablespoon into the jar. ‘One for the hot chocolate—’ he watched her pour a heaped spoonful of sugar into the steaming mug ‘—and one for me.’
Fleur stole the next spoonful for herself and shrugged, flashing him a bright smile. ‘It’s meant to be eaten.’
The wards thrummed.
Harry slipped the Elder Wand from his sleeve. ‘I’ll take a look.’ He apparated up to the window on the stairs and peered out into the rain.
Wet grass and branches rustled and swayed in the breeze around the front path.
He apparated back. ‘Nothing I can see from inside.’
Fleur set her mug of hot chocolate down and pulled out her wand, closing her eyes. ‘The wards are still fine. Something just touched them.’
‘I’ll go out,’ Harry said, disillusioning himself and apparating into the rain.
Cool wet drops struck his skin as he picked his way along the path, skirting the puddles. A silver wolf prowled the edge of the ward.
‘Harry,’ Neville’s voice emanated from it. ‘He’s here, Harry. They’re all here. We need you.’
And suddenly they want a hero again. Harry apparated back into the kitchen and tried to smother the churning in his stomach. Voldemort and the snake will be there, at least.
‘He’s attacking Hogwarts,’ he said.
‘We’re going.’ Fleur nodded. ‘I’ll get Sirius.’
‘Expecto patronum,’ Harry murmured, sending the silver anzu back. ‘I’m coming.’
I need to kill the snake at the very least.
‘I heard we’re going back to school.’ Sirius rubbed sleep from his eyes, yawning at the kitchen door. ‘It’s under attack?’
‘You look terrible,’ Harry said, tucking the Elder Wand into his left sleeve. ‘Perhaps you should stay here.’
‘I’m not staying behind. Not when I can still cast spells or seduce enemy witches.’
Fleur appeared behind him. ‘Looking like that?’
‘Why did you and James have to choose such cruel women?’ Sirius whined.
‘Are you ready?’ Fleur’s knuckles turned white around her wand.
‘As ready as I’ll ever be.’ Harry’s heart hammered against his ribs. ‘Snake first. Voldemort second.’
He held out his hand. Sirius grabbed his wrist and Fleur’s slim fingers slid through his. He apparated them into the chamber beside the pool.
Sirius hissed and pressed his fingers to his chest. ‘Bloody hell.’
‘You go up and look for the snake.’ Fleur pulled her wand out and ran its tip over Sirius’s chest. ‘I’ll fix him up so he can fight a little bit.’
Harry pulled her close and kissed her hard. ‘If he’s too hurt to duel well, make sure he stays down here however you have to,’ he whispered in her ear.
‘We’ll need every spell, mon Amour,’ Fleur whispered. ‘Go. And be careful.’
Harry bounded up the stairs three at a time, opening the entrance with a flick of his wand. ‘Neville?’
A flash of blue light smashed into his ribs, knocking him back against the wall. Thick, dark ropes swirled from the air and coiled around his right arm, lashing him to the taps.
‘I knew you’d come back.’ Hermione stepped out from behind a cubicle door and levelled her wand at him. A fierce gleam hovered in her eyes above the dark bags. ‘I knew it.’
‘So you decided to tie me up?’ Harry tested the ropes, but they held firm. ‘I’m flattered, Hermione, but this really isn’t the best time. Let me go.’
He tried to get his wand out of his sleeve, but the ropes trapped the holster under his sleeve. Merde. Harry twisted his left arm ’round until the Elder Wand slid down against his palm. Left-handed it is.
‘Neville was stupid enough to call you back here.’ Hermione pointed her free hand out into the corridor at a pair of still feet. ‘I saw your patronus and followed him so I could stop you!’
Harry blinked. ‘Stop me stopping Voldemort?’
‘No,’ she hissed. ‘Stop you from falling any further, before we have two Voldemorts.’
Cold panic clamped around his throat, driving the breath from his lungs. She means to kill me. He wrenched at the ropes, but they held his arm fast. I refuse to die. I won’t go back to the emptiness. I’m staying with Fleur.
‘You’ve no idea what you’re talking about,’ he retorted, tucking his left hand behind his back. ‘Get rid of these ropes and let me stop Voldemort! Nobody else can!’
‘You’re a murderer,’ Hermione whispered. ‘You killed Malfoy. You hung his body in the Great Hall…’
‘He killed Katie.’
‘You killed Katie!’ Her wand glimmered with purple light and his left arm snapped up against the wall. Dark ropes wrapped ‘round it, pinning the Elder Wand against his forearm. ‘Malfoy was in the library. It was you! And you probably killed Viktor and who knows how many other people!’
A little ball of cold settled in Harry’s heart. ‘You’re an idiot. Katie was my best friend.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ Hermione murmured. ‘I miss the boy who dragged us all into danger to save anyone and everyone he could.’ She squeezed her eyes closed and pointed her wand at his head. ‘But you’re not him. And you’re too dangerous to be left alive.’
I’m sorry, Fleur. He strained every sinew against the ropes without success, ignoring the cold despair rising up around his heart. I’m sorry.
Footsteps echoed up the stairs.
Hermione whirled around and slashed her wand at the passage. ‘Sectumsempra!’
Her spell carved a jagged line a finger’s length deep through the tiles and plaster, and into the chest of the figure in the entrance. Silver flickered in the shadows beyond the swirling white dust and Harry’s heart stopped.
Panic clenched its fist about him and his blood pounded in his ears. Black mist exploded from his right sleeve, tearing the ropes away.
‘That’s Snivellus’s spell.’ Sirius stumbled from the dark, touching a finger to the blood pouring down his chest. ‘James is never going to let me hear the end of this.’
He crumpled onto his face.
Fleur stood behind him, wand outstretched, feathers sprouting from her skin and her eyes burning black.
‘You’re really with him,’ Hermione whispered. ‘But—’
‘You treacherous, selfish, shallow little girl,’ Fleur hissed, raising her wand. ‘I’m going to melt your face off for taking Sirius from Harry.’
Hermione reeled back. ‘You’re just as bad as Harry, aren’t you!? You’re why he killed Katie!’
Harry slipped his ebony wand from his sleeve and cut away the other ropes as Fleur threw up a shimmering ward.
‘Sectumsempra,’ Hermione cried, slashing her wand over and over.
Jagged purple lines of magic hung against the shimmer and a stream of white flames seared a hole through Hermione’s chest. She flopped onto the tiles with a low thud and a quiet clink. Fleur stepped aside and dropped her ward, letting Hermione’s spell score deep lines into the wall. Harry tucked his ebony wand away and drew the Elder Wand, stepping over to Hermione and turning her over with his foot.
A heart-shaped, silver locket bearing a serpentine S swung in the smoking hole in her ribs, gleaming brightly as it dangled above her charred flesh.
Horror coiled in his gut and prickled down his spine. I destroyed that. I burnt it in the cave. He took a deep breath, grimacing at the stink of seared meat. But I didn’t check that locket before I burnt it. It must’ve been a decoy.
Fleur stepped past him and jabbed her wand at Neville. ‘Rennervate.’
‘Hermione!’ He scrambled to his feet, snatching his wand from his robes, then caught sight of them and released a long sigh. ‘Oh, Harry… Sorry, she got me by surprise.’
‘She killed my godfather.’ A wave of revulsion surged up within him. ‘Get out of my sight, Neville.’
‘You killed her,’ Neville muttered. ‘You killed Hermione.’
‘I killed what was left of her.’ Harry thrust his wand at the corridor. ‘Now go away.’
‘Wait!’ Neville edged into the room past Fleur and crouched down, brushing Hermione’s hair aside. ‘I should give this to Ron.’ His fingers brushed the clasp to the locket’s chain and he flinched back, staggering away against the wall.
‘What’s wrong?’ Harry flexed his fingers on the Elder Wand and shifted his weight onto the balls of his feet.
‘I saw you,’ Neville whispered. ‘You were terrible.’
‘It’s cursed. It showed Hermione the same thing; it drove her to this. All her nightmares…’ He wrapped a handful of paper towels around his hand and ripped the locket from Hermione’s neck. ‘I’ll destroy it.’
‘Get out, Neville,’ Fleur hissed. ‘You’re no friend of Harry’s.’
Neville flinched and stumbled away down the corridor.
Harry balanced the silver heart upon his palm. ‘Open,’ he murmured in parseltongue.
The world fell away.
A charred withered willow trunk smoked over fouled, dark water and red-spattered pebbles, burnt branches clawing out at a crimson sunset. Harry’s gaze slid down to a blood-smeared lock of silver hair fluttering in his palm and his lips twisted into a bitter smile.
Never. He tore himself free and hurled the locket to the floor, burying it in a gout of Fiendfyre. That will never happen.
The locket screamed, blackened and cracked, melting into a pool of silver, dark mist scattering from it like smoke before the breeze.
‘What did you see?’ Fleur put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Mon Amour?’
‘Something that will never happen.’
Harry stared down at Hermione’s pale face with a soft, hollow pang. Goodbye, Hermione.
‘The snake,’ Fleur murmured, raising the Resurrection Stone up on the slim silver chain hanging ’round her neck. ‘You can say goodbye later…’
‘The snake.’ Harry took a deep breath. ‘These are just husks now. There’s no point talking to something that’s lost its soul.’
The snake will be with Voldemort. He strode out of the bathroom. Or somewhere nearby, like it was at Azkaban.
Screams and shouts rang through the corridors, the tang of acrid smoke stung his nose and the flash and thunder of spell-fire echoed from across the school.
‘Let’s start at the Great Hall,’ he said, hurrying toward the stairs. ‘Keep an eye out for the snake. Homenum revelio will show it, since it’s a living horcrux.’
Fleur murmured the words of the spell glancing all around, then froze and grabbed his shoulder. ‘Above us, on the stairs. Someone’s with it. They’re coming this way.’
‘Voldemort, probably.’ Harry forced a twist of panic down and started up the steps. ‘You need to go.’
‘No time for that.’ Fleur shot him a trembling smile. ‘At least we don’t have to go out into the rain.’
Ron burst around the corner, wild-eyed, gripping his wand like a dagger. ‘Did you see that bloody snake?’
Relief flooded through him. ‘We were just looking for it, it’s around here somewhere.’
‘Merde,’ Fleur murmured. ‘I can’t see it anymore.’
A dark shape reared in the corner of Harry’s eye, lunging forward, fangs agape.
Merde. Harry braced himself for pain.
Fleur gasped, grasping at her heel.
‘No,’ Harry whispered.
The snake struck again, burying its fangs in Fleur’s shoulder. A bright green flash rippled down the corridor and the snake flopped away, rolling down the stairs.
‘It’s deadly,’ Ron muttered, backing away down the corridor. ‘That’s what killed Dad. The venom.’
‘You can’t die.’ Harry cradled Fleur against him, brushing her hair back from her face. ‘You’re going to be fine,’ he murmured. ‘You’re going to be fine. You have to be fine.’
Fleur’s breathing grew shallow and fast and her eyelids slipped shut. The world spun around him, dark spots hovering before his eyes and his heartbeat hammering in his ears as he gasped for breath.
Our dream. A twist of fury rose, bright as dawn but hot as hell.
Black mist swirled ’round his arm, stripping the sleeve from his robes, scattering tatters of cloth across the floor, and scoring deep gouges into the stone floor.
‘It broke my wand.’ Fleur opened her eyes and held up two pieces of rosewood joined by a glowing, silver thread.
Harry pressed his ebony wand into her hand. ‘Have mine. Just don’t leave.’ He clutched her against him and buried his face in her hair. ‘You can’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.’
She let out a soft groan. ‘You’re crushing my ribs, mon Cœur.’ Fleur kissed his forehead. ‘But apart from that, I’m going to be fine. We did a ritual, remember?’
The ritual. Relief flooded through him. Of course.
‘Sorry.’ He loosened his grip as his heartbeat slowed. ‘I panicked.’
‘I know.’ Fleur held his gaze with a soft little gleam in her blue eyes, tucking the broken pieces of her wand away and holding his up. ‘Reducto.’
The bannisters shattered and Sir Cadogan’s portrait exploded into splinters.
‘This will work,’ she said. ‘There’s only one thing left now, mon Amour.’
Just Voldemort. Harry helped Fleur to her feet and descended toward the Great Hall. No big deal. Just the most feared wizard alive.
A cluster of white-masked Death Eaters sprinted toward them, hurling bright curses. They burst against Fleur’s shield like distant fireworks.
‘Fulminis,’ Harry murmured.
A white flash tore through the corridor. He blinked away the green spots, throwing up his shield until the corridor came back into focus.
Ashes floated to the ground around them.
Harry twisted ‘round and deflected away a barrage of red spells and orange hexes. Fleur danced through bright beams of magic, twirling between two white-masked Death Eaters, spinning them in circles until their spells hit each other and they dropped to the floor.
‘Potter!’ Lucius Malfoy’s voice echoed from behind the half-melted silver mask shining at the bottom of the staircase. ‘I’m going to strangle you with your own entrails for what you did to my son!’
A wave of scorpions sprang from the debris, scuttling up the stairs, and Malfoy hurled spells at him, ripping holes through portraits and scorching tapestries.
Harry thrust his magic into the air, crushing the scorpions into a paste of twitching legs and tails. ‘You made a promise to Voldemort. I’m going to tear you away from him. He’s not going to have a single loyal follower left.’
Malfoy snarled and sprinted up the steps, curses streaking from his wand in crackling beams of orange and yellow.
Harry swatted them away. Just a couple steps further.
Malfoy’s foot sunk into the trick step and he jerked to a halt, his wand slipping from his grasp and bouncing down the stairs.
Harry wrapped the air around his arms and ripped them off with a twist of his wand, spraying red across the steps. ‘Always one step behind.’ He kicked Malfoy down into the rubble with a small smile.
Fleur stepped over Malfoy’s shuddering body and exchanged spells with a trio of Death Eaters, catching their curses upon her small Unyielding Shield Charm and hurling white fire over the nearest two.
Where’s Voldemort? Harry wondered, waiting for an opening as the two Death Eaters flailed and burnt. Watching from somewhere? He must be watching.
The final of the three dived past Fleur and tore the white mask from her face. ‘You killed my son,’ Narcissa Malfoy hissed. She hurled the ivory at his feet with a snarl, shattering it across the floor.
‘I killed your husband, too.’ Harry banished the pieces of the mask back at her and wrapped the air about her throat as she flinched.
Narcissa let out a hoarse scream. ‘Avada kedavra!’
Harry ducked the flash of green and snapped her neck with a flick of his wand. Narcissa Malfoy’s grey eyes turned blank and she crumpled to the floor.
‘Is he outside?’ Fleur asked, picking her way back across the corridor.
‘I think so. It’s the best place for a final duel.’ Harry held out the cloak to her, but she darted past it and threw her arms around him. ‘He’s waiting for me. You can’t come. I won’t be able to fight if you’re there. I won’t be able to breathe if you’re there.’
He thinks you’re a lie I made up to protect Katie. Harry hardened his heart. So if this does go wrong, if it’s our dream that dies, you’ll still be safe.
Fleur clung to him and buried her face in his chest. ‘Make sure you win.’ She crushed her lips against his. ‘You have to win, mon Amour. You must.’
As long as you live. He pried himself out of her arms and draped his invisibility cloak over her shoulders, spinning the Elder Wand ‘round in his hand in a swirl of silver sparks. There’s no difference between being alone and being dead, not if you’re not here.
‘I won’t lose.’ Harry stepped through the doors. ‘I refuse to lose,’ he whispered.
Corpses sprawled across the courtyard. Cold rain pattered upon their cold, pale limbs and faces, soaking into Harry’s robes.
‘Harry. At last.’ Voldemort spread his arms at the courtyard’s centre, shimmering with magic like a flame veiled in heat haze. ‘Come. Let’s see what power you have that I know not.’