Red umbrellas fluttered over full tables and a buzzing crowd bustled back and forth across worn cobbles.
It’s like nothing happened. Harry watched them pour in and out of shops, drifting through Gringotts’s colonnade.
A tattered newspaper lay against the base of a column, Neville and Ginny’s faces staring up from its pages, locked in stern grimaces above the high collars of stark, red auror robes.
It’s hard to imagine Neville and Ginny as auror captains. Harry picked the paper up and skimmed the article. Amelia Bones must’ve drafted everyone she could convince.
He flicked through the pages. ‘Ottoman Caliphate’s janissaries vandalise ancient magical lagoons in Greek territory. Suspected U.S. agents release magical menagerie to run amok in muggle Jamaican town.’ Harry sighed and dropped it back to the ground. ‘Britain’s protectorates plead for aid against foreign aggression.’
Well, Neville and Ginny can learn what it’s like to play hero. Harry Potter died over a year ago.
He dropped his Disillusionment Charm and wandered into Gringotts, strolling across the smooth marble floor to the far end. ‘I’d like to have a private conversation about certain accounts,’ he said to the goblin at the desk.
‘And you are?’ The goblin peered down at him from its perch.
‘Here to talk about the Potter inheritance.’ He smiled. ‘Preferably with someone very senior.’
‘Another one.’ The goblin growled and pushed a small button on the corner of its desk, speaking in rapid Gobbledegook. ‘Very well. Be warned, wizard, Gringotts does not like to have its time wasted.’
Harry waited, studying the dark patterns in the marble until a goblin stalked out of an arched corridor and along to the desk, toting a thick briefcase.
‘I am Bodak,’ the goblin said, glowering at Harry with small, dark eyes. ‘Senior spokesgoblin for Gringotts in Britain. Follow me.’
Harry trailed Bodak ‘round the desks into a private room, taking a seat on one side of the small table.
‘I understand you want to enquire about the Potter inheritance. You’re not the first.’ Bodak slapped his briefcase down on the table. ‘Harry James Potter died just over a year ago, but no body was recovered and while he was observed to have been struck with the Killing Curse, he famously survived it once before as an infant.’
‘So?’ Harry asked.
‘The Ministry of Magic declared him legally dead a week later and claimed, with no will and no immediate living beneficiaries, the money ought to return to the state.’
He snorted. Of course they did. Probably decided to do it the moment they realised they no longer needed a hero to save them anymore.
Bodak unzipped his case, shuffling through papers. ‘Gringotts’s policy on the matter is slightly less open to… politics. If, by the second calendar anniversary of his death, Harry James Potter doesn’t make himself known to Gringotts, he will be considered deceased. It has been more than a year, and in almost ninety five percent of cases that have waited this long, the owner was later declared deceased. If he is declared deceased, Gringotts will attempt to find a beneficiary for his assets. However, all of Harry James Potter’s close blood relatives are dead or disqualified, and without a will we have little option but to accept the Ministry’s request.’
‘I have an exciting alternative,’ Harry said. ‘It’s still mine.’
The pages slipped through Bodak’s fingers. ‘You claim to be Harry James Potter.’
‘In the flesh.’ He smothered a laugh at the goblin’s slanted squint. ‘I can prove it.’
‘Your wand ought to do,’ Bodak said. ‘It had a most unusual magic about it. I recall it distinctly.’
Harry slid it from his sleeve and held it out. ‘There.’
‘I do not wish to touch it,’ Bodak replied. ‘I do not think the magic on it would permit it. However, this is the wand I recall.’ He re-ordered the spilt papers one at a time and zipped the case closed. ‘How can Gringotts help you, Mr Potter?’
‘I’m just tying up loose ends,’ he said. ‘The property at Budleigh Babberton can be transferred to the ownership of Fleur Delacour, as can all the rest of the assets.’
Which means, when we marry, it will all be ours again. Harry caught the sharp glint in Bodak’s eyes. But I can’t trust Gringotts. They’d betray me without a second thought.
‘Please don’t notify Fleur Delacour. If she’s aware I’ve survived, she will try and transfer them back.’
Bodak’s lips curled into a sharp-toothed grin. ‘You are no longer involved?’
Perfect. He hid a flare of sweet triumph. Now all the ties between Fleur Delacour and Harry Potter are severed, save for Neville’s letters.
‘It seems a year was too long for her to wait for me,’ Harry said. ‘I’ve no need of all these trinkets where I’m going and I wish for her to be happy.’
‘Perhaps you should view the main Potter vault before making such a decision, Mr Potter,’ Bodak said. ‘You might want to keep some of the heirlooms, a few are priceless.’
‘I suppose I might as well look.’ He tucked his wand back into his sleeve and studied his hand. ‘I did not intend to survive, Bodak. With Fleur now happily engaged to another man, I’ve no reason to endure my unexpected afterlife.’
Bodak’s grin faded. ‘I see, Mr Potter. In that case, may I have your consent to not make a record of your return? It will save Gringotts the extra admin fees incurred in waiting two more years from this date to declare you deceased.’
‘Be my guest,’ Harry said. ‘I don’t care in the slightest.’
‘Excellent.’ Bodak hefted the case off the desk. ‘In a moment, you may accompany me to the lower levels to view your vault.’ The goblin paused. ‘Actually, Mr Potter. There is another matter I am bound to inform you of. The Black Family inheritance is determined by certain blood magics cast by the family many generations ago. There are two claimants, yourself and another. However, because of recent events, the magic is struggling to determine which of the two of you ought to have been disowned from inheriting first.’
‘It doesn’t matter.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I’ve no use for it. Let the other claimant have it.’
‘They’ve yet to come forward,’ Bodak said, striding out into the hall. ‘But my duty was merely to inform you. I have done that.’
Harry followed the goblin past a desk, pausing as Bodak dumped the briefcase into the hands of another goblin, then down to the cart. This thing again.
Bodak ushered him in and dismissed the cart goblin. ‘Keep your hands and legs inside if you don’t want to lose them, Mr Potter.’ A broad grin curled across the goblin’s face, baring all his sharp teeth. ‘But I suppose you don’t much care, do you?’
‘It would be inconvenient,’ Harry replied. ‘I’ve still got a couple of things to sort out.’
The cart jerked forward, plunging down past vast, milk-white stalagmites and stalactites, thundering around sharp bends past clusters of ancient stone vaults. He glimpsed the pale-scaled dragon on its terrace as they curved ‘round a vast column and ground to a halt before a single terrace of dark basalt.
A great, circular bronze door gleamed between an arch of shining obsidian. Two rearing, rampant thestrals flared their wings at its centre, surrounded by a wreath of fig leaves and vines.
Bodak released the brake lever and stepped onto the terrace. ‘This is the Potter vault.’
‘Was it always the Potter vault?’ Harry stepped out after him.
Bodak’s sharp grin returned. ‘No. When Gringotts established this bank under the terms of Roman—’ Bodak’s expression soured ‘—rule, it was the Peverell vault. The last branch of the Peverells to hold the name were slain and the vault was inherited by the Potter family as the nearest blood relative Gringotts would deal with. It is one of our most secure vaults, so using it as the main family vault made sense.’
‘I see.’ Harry drifted across to stand before the huge bronze door. ‘Is there a key?’
‘Blood.’ Bodak pointed a long finger to where a small bronze spike protruded at the very centre. ‘The Peverell family, like many ancient Roman noble families, placed great stock in blood magics.’
Harry pressed his fingertip to the door, wincing at the sharp sting. The bronze needle clicked back into the door and the whole bronze circle shivered, shimmered, then melted away into a fine grey fog.
‘You are Harry James Potter, then.’ Bodak nodded. ‘Good.’
Sneaky. Harry rolled his eyes as he stepped through the veil of magic into the vault. I suppose if I’d been an imposter with a stolen wand, something nasty would’ve happened to me.
Small mounds of galleons piled against the walls between worn stone columns and pale marble statues, figures in faded purple togas flitted across the mosaic-tiled walls. He drifted forward, running his eyes over the small plinths bearing gleaming jewellery worked in silver and gold.
‘How old is all this?’ Harry asked.
‘Most of it is just gold,’ Bodak said, pointing a claw to the far end of the vault. ‘The Peverell family lost most of its more splendid pieces in the crumbling of Rome, but the few that remain are down there.’
Harry hurried through the plinths, past rune-engraved gladii, longswords and mail. Seven stone plinths stood in the alcove at the vault’s end. A bent-beaked golden eagle rested on the leftmost, its claws clutching tattered red cloth emblazoned with the fading golden numerals for nine. Two halves of a broken staff sat on the plinth beside it, still sparking with magic where a wooden snake curled about the splintered stave.
Bodak prowled up beside him. ‘A Roman eagle. Reclaimed by your ancestors. It is the reason they were given lands in Britain. The Caduceus staff, once a legendary artefact, broken in the fall of Rome. Your ancestors acquired it, hoping to restore it. Unfortunately, that’s impossible as far as even our best enchanters have been able to determine.’
Harry nodded. ‘Just trinkets.’
But Fleur might like them. The Caduceus would be a good birthday present for her.
He turned to the next pair of plinths. A circle of elaborate gold chain pooled on the stone, a single gleaming opal pendant at its centre, and a shining oval of polished silver rested upon the other stand.
Katie. A flash of eerie opals on her pale throat flickered through memories of her bright smile and red umbrellas, and a tight fist of emotion clamped about his heart. Harry picked the necklace up and tucked it into his pocket.
‘The Opal Pendant.’ Bodak shrugged. ‘Etruscan, supposed to ensure the wearer never has nightmares.’
‘I’ll take this.’
‘Nightmares, Mr Potter?’
‘I’m about to sleep forever,’ Harry said. ‘Avoiding nightmares feels like a wise idea.’
Bodak’s rasping laughter echoed through the vault. ‘You humans have a strange concept of death.’
Harry moved to the next plinth.
‘Ah, an unusual piece,’ the goblin said. ‘The Peverells brought it with them and never spoke much of what it did, though it was one of their most prized pieces and often removed and used, once even by your own parents not long before your birth. Beneath the blood magic worked on it by the Peverells’ ancestors, the magic on it is twisted, it dances, and I cannot follow it. We can, however, translate the Punic inscription. It says this is Tanit’s Looking Glass, the Herald of Foes.’ Bodak studied the silver disc with a hungry gleam in his eye. ‘If you would share with us something of its abilities before your death, Gringotts would appreciate it. Only those with Peverell blood can use it now your ancestors have woven their blood magic through the original enchantments.’
‘I’ll take it with me then, I may as well see what it does. It doesn’t matter too much if it turns out to be cursed.’ Harry slipped it into his pocket and stepped toward the final plinth.
A silver locust the size of his thumbnail stood at its centre.
‘I would advise not touching that,’ Bodak said, pointing a claw at the slim ring of hieroglyphs engraved into the stone around the insect. ‘It reads break the seal, and the locust flies free to swarm and devour. Nobody has broken the seal, despite it being the oldest thing in the vault, but generally ancient artefacts with runic warnings written around them are best not tampered with.’
‘Fair enough.’ Harry turned on his heel and walked back toward the entrance. ‘I’ve seen all I want to see, Bodak. I’m leaving.’
He pulled the Opal Pendant from his pocket as the cart thundered back up toward the surface, staring at his reflection in the pale gemstone. Poor Katie. A faint urge to use the Resurrection Stone seized him as the cold weight of her absence settled on him like endless snow. No. It’s not really her I’d summon. It’d just be a shadow. She’s gone.
The cart screeched to a halt.
Bodak leapt out. ‘I will oversee the transfer of all your assets into Fleur Delacour’s name.’ The goblin’s lips thinned. ‘You realise, Mr Potter, that when she weds this other man, he may also own everything you give her.’
Harry slid his wand from his sleeve and transfigured his face, shifting his features. ‘I’ll be dead by then. I won’t see it.’
Bodak nodded. ‘Very well. Goodbye, Mr Potter.’
Harry apparated back onto the street with a soft snap.
A cloaked figure twisted around with a shocked gasp. Pansy Parkinson’s wide eyes met his and she vanished with a deafening crack.
Merde, did she recognise me? He glanced into the window of Ollivander’s. Only my eyes are the same. Harry raised his wand, transfiguring the green threads of his iris to a familiar charcoal grey and charming his hair silver-blond. There, now I look like a male Gabby.
He strode into the café with a sharp twist of grief, its soft, dull ache tearing through him.
Katie’s mother stood behind the counter. Deeper wrinkles marked her face and a tiredness hung in the faint smile she offered him. ‘What can I get you?’
Harry glanced at the cakes. ‘A slice of chocolate cake will do for me. To go, if possible. I need to get to a meeting.’
Faint creases marred her brow as she boxed up the slice of cake. ‘I’m sorry, you seem a little familiar. Have we met?’
‘Once or twice,’ he replied. ‘I was a friend of your daughter.’
‘Oh.’ The box trembled in her hands as she slid it over the counter. ‘Well, that’s—’
Harry set the Opal Pendant down beside the cake. ‘Will this do?’
Katie’s mother stared at it with wide eyes. ‘I think that’s worth quite a bit more than a slice of cake.’
‘It is.’ He smiled and pushed it across the counter with a finger. ‘I didn’t really come here for cake.’ Harry tucked the box under his arm. ‘I came to say goodbye.’
Again. He smothered the memory of a silver girl’s tears of shining mist and the soft chill of her kiss. Melancholy coiled around his heart, dragging it down into a deep, dark cold pit. I’m going to miss her. I wish I’d been able to save her.
‘Thank you.’ Katie’s mother picked up the necklace and cupped it in her hands. ‘With everything that happened, it feels a little like nobody noticed our world falling apart.’
‘Things just carried on as if nothing had changed.’
She pressed her lips together and blinked back tears, nodding. ‘Yes. But our little girl is gone. We’ll — we’ll never see her again.’
You could. Harry squashed the thought of the Resurrection Stone. No. That would only cause more pain in the long run.
‘I can’t bring her back, but, well, I can give you this. It reminds me of her. It’s supposed to prevent nightmares, but I don’t know how true that is.’
‘Thank you,’ Katie’s mother whispered. ‘What’s your name?’
Harry tensed. ‘Thank you for the cake.’
I shouldn’t come back to this country. Harry wrenched the world back past him until he stepped into Fleur’s bedroom. My dream is with Fleur, not there.
‘Success?’ Fleur spun ‘round in her chair. ‘Oh, you bought me cake.’
‘From Katie’s café,’ he murmured, unable to keep the sorrow from seeping into his tone.
Her lips twisted. ‘You still miss her, mon Cœur?’
‘Not when I’m here.’ He sighed. ‘But back there, standing in Diagon Alley, it was like she’d just been torn away from me again.’
Fleur rose from her chair. ‘You loved her a little.’
I didn’t love—’
‘You did.’ She took his face in her warm hands. ‘Not how she loved you, but you did.’
‘She was the only other person in the whole world who was always there for me,’ Harry murmured. ‘And I mean for me.’
‘You know,’ Fleur whispered. ‘If it turns out that our child is a girl, I wouldn’t mind calling her Katrina.’
A hot lump surged into Harry’s throat and tears welled in his eyes. ‘You really don’t?’
‘I am a jealous girl.’ She gave him a faint smile. ‘But you loved her and I think it would mean a lot to you, non?’
Harry nodded, swallowing down the fist of emotion. ‘Thank you, mon Amour.’
Fleur pressed a light kiss to his lips. ‘Mon fiancé.’ She dropped her fingers from his face. ‘Now, have you finished your paperwork to become a French citizen? Or must I start nagging you before we’re even wed?’
‘Yes. All finished.’ Harry grinned. ‘Henri Decolmar. Academically brilliant, but sadly not quite as brilliant as his wife-to-be…’
His heart flopped beneath his ribs. That sounds very strange.
‘I like that.’ A small smirk crept onto Fleur’s lips. ‘I like that a lot.’
‘Of course you do.’ He chuckled. ‘Possessive bird-girl.’
‘You love it,’ she whispered. ‘And we both know it.’
Her fingers curled into his robes. ‘That line’s giving me a lot of butterflies right now, mon Cœur.’ Fleur rested her cheek against his. ‘If you told sixteen-year-old me she would be here feeling like this, she probably would have set you on fire.’
‘I feel like sixteen-year-old you probably set a lot of people on fire.’
Fleur’s smirk broadened against his cheek. ‘Non. I would never let them see they hurt me. Never. And eventually, it just stopped hurting at all.’
‘But that’s worse,’ Harry whispered. ‘That’s so much worse.’
‘In a different way.’
He grimaced. ‘I suppose.’
‘Forget about them,’ Fleur murmured, stepping back to catch his eye. ‘We wiped all our obstacles away. They’re gone. There are always more little people trying to claw away your dreams to make their own. Don’t let them spoil our sunset. They can’t take it away. They’re not capable of it.’
‘But they’ll try.’ Harry smothered a stab of cold rage. ‘They’ll try and take you away. They’ll try and take — take our child away.’
The world always tries. It’s awful like that. A screaming horde of selfish people clawing and gnawing at one another.
‘And we’ll burn them if they try,’ she hissed. ‘But only if we have to. Otherwise, we’ll spend all our time on them and never enjoy the perfect wish we wanted.’
‘But there’s a final enemy,’ Harry said. ‘Even if all the others fail.’
‘Then we’ll make a final victory.’ Fleur took his hands and held them tight. ‘And we’ll never be parted. Not us and not our baby.’ She pulled him close and crushed her lips against his. ‘La Victoire Finale,’ she breathed.
‘La Victoire Finale,’ Harry murmured between her kisses. ‘A sunset that lasts forever.’