One month later, a wadded-up Daily Prophet sailed across a dimly-lit flat Harry shared with George and Ron and banked off the lip of an over-flowing rubbish bin.
“Bugger,” swore Harry as he stared at the discarded paper. He hadn’t been known to swear as much as Ron, but his friend’s habit was becoming infectious with the turn his life had taken.
You’d think defeating the darkest wizard in a century would lift a guy’s spirits.
“Great buggering, bugger!” said Harry more forcefully. He slunk into his dilapidated sofa as far as he could manage and moaning in surrender, let his head loll back onto the stiff cushion. The paper hadn’t been any comfort because, like every Prophet he’d read that week, it didn’t hold the answer to his most current dilemma.
Since the Ministry had been recaptured and a Minister appointed, the Prophet had been reporting the proper news. Accounts of the dead and their families filled the front page alongside bits and snatches of how Harry had spent the past year. The second- and third-page stories were about the other heroes of the Battle of Hogwarts, a different two or three each day. Ron, Hermione, Neville, Ginny, the teachers and other students were given varying degrees of attention; yet even knowing the whole story, Harry couldn’t begin to understand how anyone else would from just these clippings.
But it was still Harry Potter everyone clamoured to see and read about. He couldn’t count the number of keys to various Wizarding cities across the world he’d received. Every time he went out to eat he caused a minor riot. So, he followed Hermione’s advice and put himself out of sight by holing up in his new flat.
Harry pointed his wand at the wall and said, “Reveleo.” The wall shimmered and became transparent. The walk in front of the flat was jammed with reporters and photographers.
He couldn’t even go outside to fetch the paper and he knew it was just as bad around The Burrow, at Hogwarts, and at Privet Drive. He allowed himself a rare smile at the disruption that would cause the Dursleys.
Being cooped up in a flat presented an entirely new problem, however. Ron and George were able to come and go as they pleased, although George spent far too much time at the still-closed Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes. Harry now faced the worst curse imaginable — the curse of idleness. He’d had lots of practice being stuck for long, boring summers at the Dursleys’. But now that he was of age and should be able to live a normal life, it chafed in a way that was slowly driving him batty.
His life wasn’t completely idle. He still had his friends, and he still had Ginny.
Thinking of Ginny brought a smile to his face as he thought of the past few weeks of euphoric re-uniting with her away from the crowds of camera-toting reporters and hoards of owls bearing more good wishes than he could hope to read. Then, at the thought of Ginny, his eyes shot to the rust-spotted clock on the wall. He smacked his forehead and sat rigidly in the sofa as he realised his girlfriend had been waiting for him at a pub in Oxford for the past ten minutes.
“Bugger!” he yelled once more, jumped to his feet, and ran to the hall mirror. He quickly tried to tame his hair with a Combing Charm and was met with the same level of success that he’d always had. Giving up on his hair, he made sure he was otherwise presentable and popped out of the flat.
“Hello, lovely,” said a tall, handsome man with an earring dangling from his nose. “Waiting for someone to escort you in?”
Ginny smirked at the man, obviously a Muggle, who just as obviously thought she was unattached. “No thanks,” she replied and continued to search for the man that was supposed to be chatting her up. “I’m taken with someone less...” She wrinkled her nose. “…holey.”
The unsavoury Muggle must have got the hint because when Ginny’s eyes swept back to the crowded sidewalk in front of the pub, he was missing. Harry, however, wasn’t missing and was, in fact, nervously scanning the crowd for her.
“There you are,” she said as she sidled up to him. “Getting caught up on your beauty rest?”
He replied with a sour look. “More like getting caught up in my current misery.”
Ginny frowned. “It’s only been a month, Harry. Give it some time.” She took his hand and wound it around her arm. “Let’s distract ourselves with Ron and Hermione’s bickering contest.”
Harry groaned. “Again?”
“I’m not out here because I like being chatted up by random Muggles...”
His face darkened. “Who’s been...?”
“Forget about it,” she said, cutting him off. “I handled it just fine. Now, how about you buy me a drink?”
“Alright then,” he replied with a small smile, his face clear of all traces of jealousy.
Ginny gave a tiny sigh and followed him inside.
The pub was jammed with Muggles talking loudly on their mobile phones, sharing pints of dark, bitter beer, and laughing at boisterous and sometimes rude jokes. This was why they chose this particular pub. Hermione wisely suggested that they meet somewhere that Harry wouldn’t attract a crowd. It had only taken a couple of days from the time Voldemort’s fractured soul had finally been banished forever until Harry was mobbed by well-wishers and it wasn’t long after that that a few straggling Death Eater-wannabes had tried to attack him. Much to everyone’s annoyance, they’d been keeping Harry out of the public eye ever since.
Harry followed Ginny to a table in the back near the loos where Ron and Hermione were still bickering. Ron noticed them first, only because he was interrupted by the arrival of their food. The waitress rolled her eyes sympathetically at Ginny as she left.
“Oi,” Ron said even as he took a huge bite of sandwich. “‘Bout time you made it ‘ere.” He swallowed and gestured at the four plates. “We took the liberty of ordering you something.”
Harry took the spot next to Ron and Ginny slid in next to Hermione. “Ron didn’t think you’d be able to tear yourself away from your riveting afternoon of self-pity,” said the brunette witch as she pinched a crisp with her fingers and popped it into her mouth.
Ginny elbowed her friend. “He wasn’t...”
“I was wallowing in self-pity, Ginny,” Harry interrupted. “But I’d rather be here, anyway.”
“No wallowin’ today,” Ron said between unchewed bits of sandwich.
“Here, here,” said Ginny with a smile. Then she leaned forward and, with a meaningful look, whispered, “Or ever.”
Harry nodded, but did not reply. Ginny sighed again and dug into her fish and chips.
“When are you going to fetch your parents?” he asked Hermione.
She smiled. “Soon. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a year, but I hope they understand why I did it.”
“How long are you going to stay with them?” asked Ginny.
Hermione pushed her finger around the neck of her bottle. “I don’t know.” She gave Ron a wary look. “A couple of weeks. I need to consider what I’m going to do about school.”
Ron groaned. “You’re not going back are you?”
Hermione stiffened. “Why not? McGonagall said the school will be open in September and none of us took seventh year.”
“But Hermione,” Ron whinged, “we all got four N.E.W.T.s and you can take the rest of the tests without another day at Hogwarts.”
Harry remembered the book Kingsley had given him and wondered again what he should do about his offer.
Hermione seemed to relent. “I don’t know what I want to do with my education. I mean... what should I be?”
They all seemed to consider this. The truth was, no one had thought much about being employed. It still felt like summer holidays and frankly, Harry didn’t want to think about anything but somewhere with a beach. And perhaps Ginny in a swimming costume.
“What about the Ministry?” offered Ron. Harry distracted his thoughts of Ginny in a swimming costume by noticing that, for the first time since he’d known him, Ron had forgotten to eat while talking to Hermione.
“I’m not sure if the Ministry is right for me,” she said to Ron, who was leaning back into his seat.
Ron snorted. “You mean you’re not sure the Ministry is ready for you.”
Hermione’s cheeks had a spot of pink on them and Ginny nodded at her brother’s compliment.
“Then again,” he said, putting his elbows back on the table, “with all the trouble the Ministry’s been having, it could use someone with all your big ideas.”
The faint pink blossomed into red. “You’re very sweet, Ron, but I don’t think I’m inclined to stick my neck under that particular guillotine. After what happened to your father...”
Harry repressed a shudder at what the Ministry had done to him. After twenty years of service, Arthur had been sacked for “failing to perform at standards”, which they all knew was Ministry doublespeak for “we don’t like you”. The truth was that the new Minister was very tolerant of mixed blood, but had no tolerance for Muggles at all.
Stanley Crackshot was comfortable with the idea that the International Decree for Secrecy should be rigidly enforced and had even tried to eliminate all the offices having anything to do with Muggles, but the Wizengamot stood firm against such obviously short-sighted action. Frustrated with his agenda being road blocked, he went about sacking anyone in the Ministry that showed even a remote interest in the Muggle world. Arthur stood out like a sore thumb and on the day he assumed power, Crackshot sent Arthur packing.
“I still can’t believe he was elected,” said Ron. “After all Kingsley did to rebuild, I thought he’d be a shoo-in.”
“Well,” offered Harry “he told me there were a lot of people still in the Ministry that didn’t agree with his ideas on openness with Muggles.”
“And,” added Ginny, “a lot of people thought he was too soft on Draco Malfoy.”
Hermione’s eyes were narrowed and the barely-sipped beer in front of her looked as if it would evaporate with the stare she was giving it. “I’ll tell you one thing,” she said sternly. “I won’t stand idly by and let Crackshot ruin the last two hundred years of reforms the magical world has made regarding Muggles. I may not be able to do it from the inside just yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do something.”
There would be no dissuading Hermione and Harry wasn’t planning on trying. If anything, he would help her in every way he could. Injustice was something the Harry did not tolerate very well and injustice against his family was the worst kind of all.
Two days later, Ginny found herself baking bread in The Burrow’s cosy kitchen when she heard a pop from the living room. A cursory glance at the family clock noted that hers was the only hand at “home”, but that another, more recently added hand was pointing to “safe”.
“Hi, Ginny,” Harry said exasperatedly.
She wiped her hands on her apron and flipped it onto the counter next to the rising dough. “Hello, Harry.” Reaching up on her toes to kiss him, Ginny noticed his wrinkled forehead. “What brings you here? Didn’t you say you were going to be on the casting range?”
Harry’s eyes shifted around the kitchen. “Yeah,” he replied. “Technically I’m not allowed inside, but Kingsley lets me on so I don’t feel so useless.”
“And?” Ginny asked, sensing that there was more to the story than that.
“And... I’ve been taking some duelling lessons from him during his off hours.” He gave her a lopsided smile. “I think he’s trying to get me interested so I’ll join up.”
Ginny took a step forward. “Remind me again why you don’t want to fight Dark wizards any more.”
Harry snorted and closed the distance between them. “The same reason I’m going to be returning the Elder Wand to Dumbledore’s grave. I’ve had enough trouble in my life without going to look for it.” He brushed a tuft of her hair behind her ear. “Now I just need to figure out what I do want to do with my life.”
Her lips turned down at the corners. “There’s bound to be something else out there for you, Harry. Maybe something not connected with Dark wizards?”
He seemed to contemplate this. “Like what?”
She offered him her brightest smile. “Like me.”
His eyes darkened and focused on her. “I can live with that.”
One searing kiss later, Ginny had forgotten all about the bread.
It had started out as a joke, but grew into an unspoken promise. When they were talking in the common room after the battle, Harry told her that he’d almost attacked Bellatrix Lestrange instead of Voldemort during the last battle. He told her that seeing that green light so close to her had nearly caused him to lose control. He said that she’d better never die because he didn’t know if he could handle one more death in his life. She’d been certain at the time that he was going to say he loved her, but in the silence that followed, she answered instead. “I can live with that,” she said, and they’d said it to each other as sort of an unspoken replacement for ‘I love you’ ever since.
The kissing continued and Ginny slowly pushed Harry into the living room. It didn’t take long before they found themselves kissing on the sofa and it was only the sound of the kitchen timer that finally broke them apart.
Ginny smoothed her hair and stood on wobbly legs. “I’d better go... need to... put the bread in the oven.”
Harry nodded, still pressed into the side of the sofa, where she’d pinned him. “I can live with that,” he said quietly.
She hurried into the kitchen where she punched down the dough and formed it into loaves. Then, she used her wand to speed up the second rising process. Mum insisted that the traditional method was better, but Ginny didn’t have the patience for it and settled for one traditional rising instead of two. By the time she had the oven door closed, Harry was pouring two glasses of pumpkin juice.
Ginny forced herself to not look disappointed at being kept from returning to their previous activities.
“There’s something else on your mind, isn’t there?” she asked.
“What, you don’t think I like it when you attack me with your lips?”
Ginny put her hands on her hips and tapped her foot.
He drained his glass and placed the empty container in the sink. “I was wondering if you’d come to Gringotts with me,” he said without looking at her, fumbling with something in his pocket.
“Of course,” she replied. “Need someone to fend off your fan club?” she added with a smile.
He gave a hollow chuckle and shook his head. Then, he pulled the thing from his pocket and handed it to her. “It’s not the getting there that I need you for.”
It was a letter. The green and silver seal of Gringotts Bank stared back at her. She read through it swiftly. “It’s a request to sort through your property and the... Oh!”
Her eyes went wide as the vaults and their approximated contents were listed in the letter. “Harry, you’re rich!”
That seemed to be the wrong thing to say, because he snatched the letter back and grumbled something to himself.
“Harry, I said I’d go with you, but what is it that’s got you so....” she trailed off, letting her thoughts race forward for a second. “That was your parents’ vault on the bottom, wasn’t it?”
He nodded, staring at the crumpled parchment in his hands.
It wasn’t that he wanted her help counting Galleons or keeping an inventory — Gringotts would have all of that — the idea of facing his parents’ past — his past — was emotional and Ginny knew that emotions weren’t Harry’s strong suit.
She took his hand and nuzzled her cheek on his shoulder. “I don’t care about the money, Harry. The amount was shocking, but...”
“I don’t care about any of it,” he said hotly but didn’t shrug her off. “I’d give it all away if it would bring just one of them back.”
Ginny turned him around and pulled him close. “I know,” she said. His breath was warm on the top of her head.
“I just wanted some company. There may be something in there I don’t understand... something from the Wizarding world I’m not familiar with.”
She touched a finger to his lips. “I’m not going to leave you.”
Harry bussed her forehead and took her by the hand. “I can live with that.”
Gringotts was still the same towering, impressive bank that Harry remembered from his first trip to Diagon Alley seven years ago, but now it seemed dark and scarred, like one of the security dragons at the bottom of the vaults.
All patrons of the bank now had to pass through a waterfall that left them dry, but Harry knew it would remove any concealing spells, including Polyjuice Potion and Invisibility Cloaks.
Harry showed his letter to one of the goblin clerks and was ushered to the vault entrances where they met a guide. The goblin appraised Harry with a wary look and procured a set of Clankers before leading them to a cart that sent them spiralling downward. Ginny gave a tiny shriek as they took a hairpin turn at a frightening speed, clutching his arm for the rest of the trip. Before the cart slowed, however, Harry noticed that they were very close to the Lestrange vault and the sound of laboured breathing filtered through the heavy, stale air.
As they turned a corner, they were met with not one, but three dragons. Two of the dragons were behind metal cages and the third was tied in the same manner as the one they’d stolen the last time Harry had ventured into the bowels of Gringotts. Their goblin guide manipulated the Clankers and, as they produced the sound of hammers on anvils, the tied dragon retreated enough to allow them passage to the vault behind.
“I will not accompany you to the vaults,” the goblin announced.
“What about the vault door?” asked Harry.
“New security procedures have been implemented so that only the blood of the account holder or one of their designees can open the vault door.”
Harry nodded. It made a certain sense. Since Harry had used the Imperius Curse on a goblin to get them into the Lestranges’ vault, ensuring that the account holder alone would be the one to open it was wise.
Standing in front of the giant door, Harry raised his hand to the surface and pressed it against the metal keyhole. There were a series of clicks and it began to lift. Harry was silently glad it did not require real blood to enter and was able to recognize that he was indeed a Potter by touch alone.
Ginny took his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze as they walked across the threshold.
The difference between the Lestrange vault and the Potter vault could not be more pronounced. Instead of wall-to-wall treasure, this vault held its valuables on tables and in cabinets and curios. Jewel-gilded swords, polished suits of armour, dusty tapestries, and large, delicate vases were tastefully placed in the dimly lit vault as if it were a living room rather than a hole hundreds of feet below London.
There were stacks and stacks of chests toward the back that Harry was sure held Galleons, but they seemed to have been put there as an afterthought, as if they were only there because they had no other place to put them.
“It’s beautiful,” whispered Ginny as the door slid shut behind them, plunging them into darkness.
Harry waved his wand at the wall sconces and bright yellow flames appeared.
“Much better,” said Ginny, who moved off to examine one of the tapestries.
Harry was drawn to an ornate bookshelf, covered with books of all sizes, covering a range of subjects sure to make Hermione drool. He touched each one, wondering if his parents had placed them here themselves, and noticed that they were free of dust and cobwebs due, no doubt, from charms cast when Harry was an infant.
The centre shelf contained books that all held one common theme: Potter. There were books on Potters from Ireland, Potters who owned land across mainland Europe and North America, and even a thick, leather-bound tome on the origin of the name. In the middle, and wedged between “A Modern Anthology of Famous Potters” and “A Potter’s guide to Herbology”, there was a green and gold book without a name. It seemed wholly unremarkable, but Harry was drawn to it. He pulled it from the shelf.
Behind it, tucked perfectly in the space between the other books lay an open velvet box. Inside the box, glittering in the soft firelight of the wall sconces, lay a spectacular diamond and ruby ring.
“Hey, Harry.” Ginny’s voice was low, but seemed to come from far away. “What do you make of this?”
Harry snatched the box, closed it with a snap and shoved it into his pocket. He carried the book over to where Ginny was staring at something on the wall.
She was standing in front of a row of framed photographs. Harry looked at them in the flickering light. “Are they… tombstones?”
Ginny nodded her head. “I guess your mum was in to family history.” She pointed to the corner of a small picture featuring the tombstone of John Jacob Potter, who, according to the caption on the frame, was a distant cousin. “There, what do you see?”
Following her finger, Harry focused on a blurred shape on a grave marker in the row behind John Potter’s. A ball of cold steel seemed to materialize in his stomach. It was hard to make out for sure, but Harry was almost certain that the symbol of the Deathly Hallows was engraved on that headstone and that headstone was somewhere near a member of his family.
Ginny seemed to sense his disquiet. She took the photo from the wall. “We’ll keep this for later. Why don’t we look at the swords?” she asked brightly.
Harry shook his head, wondering if the Deathly Hallows were going to haunt him even if he gave up the Elder Wand. He felt the weight of it in his pocket and squeezed his holly wand with his free hand. “No, I’ve got to do something I should have done a month ago.”
Harry and Ginny Apparated back to Harry’s flat to retrieve his Invisibility Cloak, the only Hallow he planned on keeping. They popped in to the doorway and, out of habit, checked the other side with the Reveleo spell. Still packed with camera-toting wizards. They froze when they heard the sound of what only could be described as a plunger being removed from a blocked sink.
“Really, Ron. You need to work on your technique,” said an exasperated-sounding Hermione.
Harry saw Ginny out of the corner of his eye, barely repressing her mirth with her hand clamped firmly on her mouth.
“I’d be a lot better if you’d let me practice more,” was Ron’s reply.
As determined as Harry was to get his Cloak and get rid of the cursed wand, the topic of his best friends’ conversation held him captive.
There was a shuffle of shoes and the creak of the old sofa in the living room. “I’d be open to the idea, Ron, but your idea of practicing is to smother me with your mouth.”
Ginny was now bent over, silently shaking with laughter. Harry snapped out of his stupor and with a silent incantation, Summoned his Cloak.
It zipped around the corner and fell into his hand, but not without alerting the occupants of the adjoining room.
“Harry? Is that you?” called Hermione.
Reluctantly, Harry and a still-smiling Ginny stepped into view. “We were just leaving,” he said quickly. “You just keep on doing what you were doing.” For some reason, he couldn’t look Ron or Hermione in the eye.
“Never mind that,” Hermione replied. “There’s something I wanted to show you… Oh, what’s that you’ve got there?”
“Er,” said Harry, just remembering that there was a book in his hand.
Hermione stepped closer and took it from Harry. “There’s no title,” she said and opened the cover, flipping through the pages.
Harry chanced a glance at Ron and saw that he was determinedly looking at the floor, his face a bright red. Ginny cleared her throat and caught Ron’s attention enough to give him a knowing look, which was immediately met with a glare. Ron’s red went from an embarrassed pink to a hot annoyance that Ginny tempered with a laugh.
“I’ll be spying on you two next,” said Ron, letting the colour drain from his face.
“This is fascinating,” said Hermione, drawing Harry’s attention back to the book. “It’s all about your family.”
Remembering that Potter had been emblazoned on everything in the same bookshelf this one had come from, Harry cleared his throat. “I had a feeling it might.”
“No,” Hermione clarified, “I mean it’s about your family. Biographies, anecdotal stories, and pictures.” She held out the open book to him. “Look for yourself.”
Harry peered at the page and began to recognize names. At the far left was a single name, “Harry James Potter” with his birthday listed underneath it. To the right of his name was his mother and father’s name with birth and death dates listed. Across the fold, were names he had never heard of. There were pictures by each name. “I have grandparents,” Harry said quietly. “My grandfather was Harold and my grandmother was Gwinnifred...”
“Longbottom?” said Ron in surprise. “You and Neville could be cousins!”
Harry smiled as he thought of all the people that could be family. For so long, he’d imagined that someone, somewhere would come to claim him from the Dursleys’; now that he was of age and didn’t need rescuing, the desire was somewhat less desperate, but replaced by an ache for the same timeless connection that bound Ginny and Ron, or Sirius and Tonks.
“I almost forgot,” said Hermione, who let Harry have the book back, and retrieved a newspaper. “Today’s Prophet has something you might be interested in.”
Groaning, Harry took the paper and settled on the sofa.
Above the fold was the article on Luna. He scanned it until he reached the middle and began to read out loud.
Lovegood, who has an unusual interest in mythical creatures, announced plans to accompany her father on a quest to search for the legendary Deathly Hallows. ‘The defeat of You-Know-Who has renewed his interest,’ she is quoted as saying. Even now, speculation has been swirling about the role that the unbeatable wand played in You-Know-Who’s defeat. You can bet that Xenophilius and his daughter won’t be the only ones interested in pursuing that particular legend.
Harry flapped the paper down in disgust.
“I knew it would eventually get out, but... so soon?” said Hermione.
“It’s not as if you have anything to worry about, Harry,” said Ron. “I mean, it’s the bloody Elder Wand.”
“Don’t you remember its history, Ron?” asked Ginny, who fingered the Prophet as if searching for an answer to this latest problem. “Death has followed every owner.”
Harry stood abruptly. “Not any more. I’m going to stop the cycle and give the wand back to Dumbledore.”
“Oh, Harry,” cried a distressed Hermione. “Don’t you realise? It doesn’t matter if you don’t have it. Once people know who last had the wand, they won’t care if you ground it into powder. They’ll hunt you down until you’re dead.”
Ginny’s face turned pale and she sent a pleading look in Harry’s direction.
“I can handle that without the Elder Wand if I have to,” said Harry, “but I’m not going to keep it a minute longer than I have to.”
Ron, who had been quietly staring at the wall during the exchange, stood also. “We’ll come with you.”
Harry had never seen Hogwarts in the full of summer. It was breathtaking, with the dark green leaves of the trees contrasting the deep blue sky above. The sun was setting on the western horizon, but the shadows of twilight hadn’t yet encroached on the grounds. He led his three friends past the entrance gate and followed the path toward Dumbledore’s tomb. When they cleared a small hill next to a copse of oak and birch trees, he stopped.
“What in Merlin’s name are they all doing here?” said Ron.
It was the last thing Harry expected. Scores of witches and wizards were standing in line to see the late Headmaster’s grave. Scores more were milling around on the grass or were setting up small shrines of flowers and pictures.
Ginny grabbed Harry’s hand and jerked him behind the nearest oak. “I don’t think you want to be recognized here.” Ron and Hermione nodded in agreement.
“Can you tell what they’re pictures of?” asked Ron pointing to the knots of people on either side of the lane.
“I think they’re people Voldemort killed,” replied Harry with a sudden realisation. “They don’t have a place to mourn their loved ones, so they chose Dumbledore’s tomb.”
Hermione sniffed. “They need a monument or something. It isn’t right.”
“No, it isn’t,” came a gruff voice behind them and they all whirled around to see half a dozen wands pointed at them. “You’ve finally decided to show yourself, eh, Potter?”