The air was crisp, and at this hour, everything was shaded in the soft blues and greys of approaching dawn. The scree crunched beneath his feet as he plodded along the shallow-graded trail, the mountain face on one side and a fog-covered valley spreading out before him on the other. Lurking beneath the thick blanket of mist that would soon be chased away by the morning sun he knew lay a sleepy town, most of its residents still comfortably abed. He could sense the man he was searching for was near…so very near… Was he down there in the valley, curled up under a knitted blanket or sipping a steaming cup of kofe on the porch in his favourite rocking chair? Would his burning questions soon be answered? Would his curiosity at last be sated…?
“—ke up, Harry.”
Something jostled his shoulder, and Harry’s eyes fluttered open, bringing Ron’s concerned face blurring into view. His back ached from lying stretched out on the camp bed in Ron’s dingy attic room. It was just before dawn here, too, just like in his dream, and there was a heavy, weighted quiet that said the rest of the house was still fast asleep. Even Pigwidgeon was snoozing on his perch in the corner, his head lolling as he leaned into the ancient but indulgent Errol.
“You were muttering in your sleep.”
“Was I?” Harry rubbed at his forehead; his scar was prickling.
Ron nodded. “Yeah. Kept saying something about ‘Gregorovitch’.”
Harry frowned. “Who’s that?”
“Beats me—you were the one saying it.” Ron cocked his head. “You don’t know him?”
“Doesn’t ring a bell.” It wasn’t entirely true—Harry was sure he’d heard it somewhere, but he couldn’t pin down where. “I think…I think Voldemort’s looking for him, though.”
“So you were dreaming about—?” Harry nodded, and Ron shuddered dramatically. “Yikes. Wouldn’t wanna be him, then.”
Harry made to sit up up, and Ron drew back to sit on his own bed. There would be no getting back to sleep now, not now that he realised the dream had been more a vision. He tried to remember what he’d seen—any details might help—but like most dreams, all he came away with were wisps and vague emotions. He knew there had been mountains, though. And a town—perhaps the home of this Gregorovitch character. “I think…maybe he’s abroad.”
“And maybe Gregorovitch too. There were mountains, big ones. Don’t reckon it was anywhere in Britain.” After a moment’s beat, he asked, “…Mind if we don’t tell Hermione about this? She’s on me to try and shut down whatever this connection is, but I dunno how she expects me to keep him out of my head while I’m asleep.”
“Maybe you need one of those helmets Luna’s always going on about.” Ron tapped his forehead. “It’s the nargles, mate. They’re slipping him the key, and in he comes like he owns the place.”
Harry laughed weakly, still trying to wrack his mind for where he’d heard the name ‘Gregorovitch’ before, knowing it was going to bother him until he sorted it out. “For some reason I feel like he’s connected to Quidditch somehow…”
Ron’s nose wrinkled. “Who, You-Know-Who?”
“Hm…” Ron frowned in thought. “Sure you’re not thinking of Gorgovitch?”
“Dragomir Gorgovitch. Chaser who transferred to the Cannons for a small mint couple of years back. Record-holder for most Quaffle drops in a season.”
“Sounds like first-rate Cannons material to me.”
“You shut your foul mouth right this instant, Harry Potter, or I’ll hex your lips off, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop—” Ron’s face lit up. “Hey, there is a damn thing you can do to stop me now!” He reached over and punched Harry’s shoulder. “Happy birthday, mate.”
Harry smiled, as he’d completely forgotten. “Yeah, I’m seventeen now!” He cast about for his wand, finding it had fallen from where he’d set it beside his pillow and rolled under the camp bed. Snatching it up, he pointed at a hole in his left sock, through which he could see his wriggling toes. “Reparo!” To his delight—and relief, too—the hole began neatly stitching itself together, and Ron favoured him with polite round of applause.
“Now there’s a fine demonstration of what six years at Hogwarts will get you. Wanna try my Cannons jumper next? There’s a stubborn stain Mum just can’t get out.” Harry sent an empty teacup flying at his head next, and he winced and held an arm up in defence.
“For that, I ought to keep the present I was gonna give you. Seems like someone’s not feeling too friendly today.” Harry held his hand out expectantly, and Ron rolled his eyes. “Yeah, all right, bend my arm why don’t you.” He drew the gift from the space between his mattress and headboard. “Make sure you open it here; it’s not exactly fit for Mum’s eyes.”
Harry tested the weight. “A book? Sure this isn’t Hermione’s present to me?”
“Now now, my dear Mr. Potter, this is decidedly not going to be part of our on-the-go library.” He motioned for Harry to unwrap it, revealing the cover. “Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches. Explains everything you need to know about girls!”
Harry lifted a brow. “Cause I’m gonna meet so many witches when we’re on the run?”
“I’m not saying you’ve gotta use it now. Think of it as…insurance for the future! You know, assuming we survive and whatnot.”
“Really? Doom and gloom on your birthday?” Ron rolled his eyes. “Anyway—Fred and George gave me a copy for my birthday a few months back, and it’s actually proven pretty informative.” Harry wondered if Ron had already taken some of the book’s advice, as he seemed ready to swear by it. “Sure, you might not have anyone woo-worthy around at the moment, but imagine, if you will, a far-flung future where it’s either heed the sage words of this book, lovingly gifted by your thoughtful best friend, or, you know—” Ron shrugged. “Go with your fall-back.”
“My fall-back?” He hoped Ron wasn’t about to suggest Ginny. Ron had been making overtures for months that none of her boyfriends of late had been worth anything and didn’t Harry agree that she needed to find a nice, stable bloke who would get along with the rest of her family and was also as mad about Quidditch as she was? It was starting to get a little uncomfortable, if he were being honest.
Harry grimaced. Now he kind of wished Ron had suggested Ginny, and he mimed throwing the book at Ron’s head, sending him ducking with a laugh.
“Hey! If anything, that ought to be incentive enough!”
“Yeah yeah, thanks for that. Could’ve laid off of that topic at least for my birthday. I’m gonna sick up whatever birthday meal your mum makes, and it’ll be your job to explain why.”
They quickly dressed and made their way downstairs, finding a pile of presents waiting on the kitchen table. Mrs. Weasley was standing watch over a frying pan and turned to greet them as they entered, beaming when she saw Harry.
“Oh, you just missed Arthur, dear! He had to rush to work early, something about an unscheduled meeting—but he swore he’d be back in time for your dinner and made me promise to wish you a happy seventeenth.” She nodded to the presents. “You’ve lots of well-wishers wanting to celebrate the occasion with a gift. That’s ours there on top.”
Harry made sure to open that one first, gently untying the ribbon and peeling back the paper with care to reveal what looked to be a golden pocket watch, a bit scuffed with age but still a perfectly beautiful piece.
“It’s tradition to give a wizard a watch when he comes of age,” she said, watching him anxiously over her shoulder as she tended to what smelled like fried eggs. “I’m afraid that one isn’t new like Ron’s; it was actually my brother Fabian’s, and well, he wasn’t terribly careful with his possessions. It’s a bit dented on the back, but—”
Harry launched himself at her, mindful of the hot pans, and wrapped her in a tight hug that he hoped conveyed the depth of his gratitude and an apology for all the trouble he’d caused her and would yet cause. He thought perhaps she might have understood him, for when he released her at length, she patted his cheek clumsily and quickly turned back to her frying pans, distractedly waving her wand and causing a few uncracked eggs to go floating out the kitchen window instead of into a fresh pan.
Hermione joined them before he’d made his way back to the table to start on the rest of the gifts in the pile. “Happy birthday, Harry!” She handed him her gift directly. “I didn’t have much time to do shopping this summer—you know, because of things. But I still hope you like it!” She slipped into a seat next to Ron, asking, “What did you get him?”
Ron pretended not to hear. “Go on, open it up, let’s see!”
It turned out to be a new Sneakoscope, which was perfect, as he couldn’t recall what had happened to his previous one—perhaps it was still stuffed down one of Uncle Vernon’s old socks. The other packages included an enchanted razor from Bill and Fleur that would never dull and offered several different self-shave settings, chocolates filled with fancy French wizarding liqueur from the Delacours, and a training Snitch that wouldn’t fly outside a designated radius from Tonks and Remus. He was most interested, though, in the gargantuan box of the latest Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes merchandise from Fred and George, which Hermione whispered would surely come in handy on the road.
They spent most of the afternoon helping set up the back garden for dinner, stretching the dinner table to several times its original length to fit the expanded guest list. Fred and George arrived early with an army of crimson lanterns in tow, which they enchanted to float over guests’ heads, flashing a golden ‘17’ in large numbers and setting off a mini fireworks display whenever someone said ‘Happy Birthday’ within a ten-foot radius. Hermione added to the effect, guiding ropes of fairy lights of alternating crimson and gold to tangle themselves into the shrubbery around the garden. “And it’s easy enough to change the colours later,” she explained to Mrs. Weasley, who was monitoring the decorating efforts with a close eye. “So you could reuse them for the wedding, if you like.”
“You’re a wiz at this stuff, ‘Mione,” Ron said, nodding in admiration.
“Thank you!” She flushed with pride, though her brows were crumpled just a tic in confusion. Ron gave Harry a knowing wink, and mouthed Chapter Seven.
As the late afternoon stretched into the early evening, the sky going pale lavenders and bright oranges, the remaining guests arrived. Remus and Tonks showed up with Charlie Weasley in tow, having been tasked with his pick-up and escort from the Portkey Authority, and Hagrid wasn’t far behind.
“Seventeen, eh!” said Hagrid, nursing what looked like an entire bucket of wine. “Hard teh believe it was six years ago ter the day we met for the first time. Well, the first time you remembered!” He ribbed Harry, brows waggling. “How’s that cousin o’ yers doin’, eh? Still a little—” He made an oinking sound, a devious grin beneath his beard, and Harry thought it might not be his first wine bucket of the evening.
“Not quite so little anymore,” Harry said, smiling in memory—he knew he shouldn’t still find one of the most traumatising moments of Dudley’s life amusing, but he did, all the same.
Hagrid’s eyes lit with recollection. “Oh! Right, wanted ter give yeh yer gift in private…” He reached into his coat, pulling out a small drawstring pouch made of some sort of scaly hide and threaded through with a length of cord that suggested it was meant to be worn around the neck. “Mokeskin!”
“Yup! Dead useful, those pouches. Yeh can hide anythin’ in there an’ no one but the owner can get it out.” Hagrid leaned over to whisper into Harry’s ear, “And I had a fella in Knockturn Alley fit this one with an Undetectable Extension Charm too—but don’t go tellin’ anyone. Not supposed to slap those on anything but what the Ministry’s approved.”
“Thanks!” Harry said, wondering just how extendable Extension Charms actually were.
Hagrid’s wine-flush darkened, and he waved Harry off with a bashful smile.
Mr. Weasley still had not arrived by the time Mrs. Weasley levitated Harry’s cake out into the garden: a golden Snitch the size of a beach ball with fluttering wings of candy floss. She invited everyone to take their seats, as dinner was ready—she was certain that Arthur would be home at any moment, and he would be mortified to know he’d been responsible for Harry’s feast getting cold.
No one was keen to refuse, given she seemed strung ten ways to Tuesday, so they quickly took their seats. Harry found himself next to Charlie, who had received a brutally short haircut from his mother promptly on arrival; he seemed unable to resist patting his hair every so often, as if he missed its length.
They all reached for cutlery and serving spoons, and Molly removed the lid from the casserole dish with a tea towel, setting it to the side. Permission tacitly granted, they all dove in at once, every witch and wizard for themselves. Charlie politely offered Harry first dibs on what turned out to be a lamb stew, and Harry quickly spooned a healthy serving onto his plate.
“I see Mum’s finally got you eating proper Weasley portions,” Charlie laughed, taking the ladle from Harry.
Harry grinned. “Took a few years, but she wore me down.” And then, a thought occurred to him. A thought he kind of wished hadn’t, but there it was, and now that it was in his head, it wouldn’t be leaving any time soon unless he did something about it. He swallowed, mouth dry all of a sudden, and then went for it: “Hey—can I ask you something, Charlie?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Do you…” Harry tried to phrase his question carefully. “What do you know about…about dragon Animagi?”
“Dragon Animagi?” Charlie parroted, and across the table, Hermione’s head snapped to look at them. Harry resolutely did not make eye contact. Charlie leaned back in his chair, rubbing at his hair again. “Those are rare, yeah. I honestly don’t know that much—I work with proper dragons, of course. I do know it doesn’t tend to work out too well for the poor sods saddled with such a form, though.”
“How so?” Bragge had intimated the same thing, but well, Harry had sorted Malfoy out months ago, hadn’t he?
“Well, dragons aren’t like normal magical creatures. They’re classified as Beasts by our Ministry, but they’re actually closer to Beings, like Veela and Centaurs and Merfolk. The Romanian Ministry of Magic even has a special classification for creatures like dragons that are more sapient than most but simply incapable of communication with humans.”
“What do you mean by ‘sapient’?”
“I mean—they’ve got…well, feelings. A consciousness—and underneath, instincts that are so strong, so ingrained and part of their being that it’s cheap to call them that. Lots of animals have instincts, sure, and they’re easy enough to overcome as most any Animagus will tell you, but with dragons…well, history tells us mastering those instincts is a lot more difficult than most. Even if the witch or wizard survived the transformation mentally intact—which is a tall order; I’m pretty sure most don’t manage it—those instincts would have imprinted on them with such strength that it’d be…” Charlie shook his head, brows lifting. “Unbearable at times, I have to imagine. Dealing with all the complications of dragons that are usually mitigated to at least some degree by being part of a colony—like hoarding, jealousy, mistrust. It’d probably drive a human spare.”
“What about…” Harry wondered if he could convince Mrs. Weasley to let him have a little wine, seeing as it was his birthday. “Umm, what about—mates? Like, don’t dragons mate for life?”
Charlie let out a low whistle, shaking his head. “Wow. Yeah, that would be—”
They all saw it at the same time—a silver bolt, streaking across the yard with preternatural speed and hopping up onto the table before resolving itself into the form of a moon-bright silver weasel that dimmed the glow of the lanterns floating lazily overhead. It reared up on its hind legs, sniffing the air—and then began speaking in Mr. Weasley’s voice:
“Minister for Magic coming with me; be prepared.”
Its message delivered, the Patronus promptly vanished with a pop, and for a brief moment, everyone simply stared at the table where it had stood in blank silence.
Then there was a flurry of activity. Remus shoved his chair away and grabbed Tonks’s hand. “I shouldn’t be here,” he said. “Harry—I’m sorry—I’ll explain later—” But Tonks was already giving him a shove toward the fence line, her wand brandished and an apologetic expression on her face. They broke into a run after a few steps before jumping the fence and vanishing from sight.
Mrs. Weasley, who’d been about to cut into the cake, looked absolutely bewildered, several steps behind the rest of the table. “The Minister—but why—? I don’t understand—”
Another pop interrupted her lost mumblings, though, and Mr. Weasley appeared out of thin air at the garden gate, marching smartly for the lantern-lit garden with Rufus Scrimgeour in tow. Harry felt his stomach churn; this was decidedly not how he’d wanted his birthday to end.
He considered for a moment making his escape then and there. He’d promised he’d stay for Bill and Fleur’s wedding, but surely anyone could understand not wanting to stick around in such distasteful company.
He lost his chance, though, as Scrimgeour’s wandering eye, surveying the setup, lit on Harry. He looked somehow in even worse straits than he had at Dumbledore’s funeral, his already craggy face lined deeply with a scraggly beard and grim set to his brows. Clearly, the Ministry’s failed efforts to do anything more than coddle folks with empty reassurances weighed heavily on his shoulders. Good.
With a deliberate sort of calm that seemed restrained and put upon, Scrimgeour made his way to the head of the table where Harry sat and took a long look at the remaining guests. Tonks’s and Remus’s chairs were conspicuously empty now. “…Arthur did not mention I would be crashing a party were I to drop in.”
“Kind of crass to mention it to someone who’s not been invited,” Harry said, and Scrimgeour’s thin-lipped grimace deepened.
“…All the same, many happy returns.” When Harry did not respond to the congratulations, he laid a hand on Harry’s shoulder and leaned in, dropping his voice. “I’m going to need to speak with you in private, Harry.” Scrimgeour’s jaw tightened, his lip curling just a bit at the corner. “And with Mr. Ronald Weasley and Miss Hermione Granger as well.”
“Us?” said Ron, who sat just to Harry’s right and had overheard the comment. “What for?”
“Were I to go into it here, it would no longer be a private word, would it, Mr. Weasley?” Scrimgeour turned back to Ron’s dad, brows raised meaningfully, and Mr. Weasley immediately snapped to attention.
“Oh—er.” Mr. Weasley was wringing his hands, looking quite as nervous as he sounded. “The sitting room, I think? Or there’s Ron’s room, just off the attic—” Out of Scrimgeour’s eyeline, Ron was violently miming NO! to his father.
“The sitting room should be fine,” Scrimgeour said gruffly, and Mr. Weasley moved to lead them inside—but Scrimgeour cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Your son can show me inside, I’m sure. I think it’s best I handle things from here, Arthur.”
Mr. Weasley swallowed, and he looked a bit ill, but he nodded, looking to Harry. “We’ll just continue the party out here, and you can join us when you’re done.”
The three of them stood, with Ron leading the group back to the house. It was dead silent the whole way and felt not a little like walking to their execution; there could only be one reason the Minister himself was here, showing up out of the blue. The Ministry had somehow realised they were planning on going rogue and was here to put a stop to it.
The Burrow lay dark and cold, with everyone out making merry in the garden. “Some light, I think, would be appropriate,” Scrimgeour said, waving his wand at the oil lamps lining the wall and filling the cosy room with a soft glow that belied the cloud hanging over their heads.
Scrimgeour sank comfortably into the Mr. Weasley’s favoured armchair and gestured for Harry, Ron, and Hermione to squeeze onto the shabby sofa just diagonal to it.
“Now, as I’m sure you’ve surmised, I’m here on a bit of sensitive business, and to what I’m sure is our mutual disappointment, it involves the three of you. I’d like to ask you a few questions—separately, if it’s no trouble. Just to ensure there are no…” Scrimgeour narrowed his gaze. “Distractions.” He pointed at Harry and Hermione. “I’ll speak with Mr. Weasley first—”
“Or we can save you some time and just speak to us together,” said Harry in a tone that would have made Uncle Vernon go polka-dotted with rage. Hermione gave a sharp nod, clearly of the same mind: Scrimgeour thought they would be easier to pick apart if he attacked them separately. Fuck that. “If it’s that important, you should probably get on with it, Sir.”
Scrimgeour studied them all for a long beat, and Harry could almost hear the Minister’s teeth being ground down to dust. He must have eventually decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, giving Harry even more reason to be uncooperative, for he shrugged. “Well, if you’re going to insist.” He straightened, putting himself back arights. “As I’m sure you’ve noticed, if you bothered to glance at the most recent issue of the Daily Prophet, today was the reading of Albus Dumbledore’s will. It should come as no great shock to you that you were mentioned in said will, so I’m here to execute the relevant portions.”
Harry blinked, looking to Ron and Hermione, who seemed equally baffled. “His—will?”
Scrimgeour’s gaze went appraising, and Harry could almost see the clockwork cogs spinning. “…Yes, his will. In which he bequeathed the three of you several items, which I’m now here to address.”
“Wait—all three of us?” asked Ron, gesturing to himself and Hermione in bald shock.
“Yes, all three of—”
“Why now?” Harry interrupted. “It’s been nearly a month—surely it doesn’t take that long to manage a will.”
Scrimgeour looked uncomfortable. “The reading was only just held this morning—”
“The public reading, maybe.” Hermione snorted, then turned to Harry. “Clearly they wanted to pick through it themselves and pocket whatever seemed valuable.”
Finally finding his voice, Scrimgeour dismissed her with a sniff, drawling, “The Ministry does not ‘pocket’ things, Miss Granger. However, the Decree for Justifiable Confiscation empowers the Ministry to review the contents and confiscate—”
“—‘Confiscate items deemed by an impartial committee to be Dark in nature,’” Hermione finished. “It was meant to keep Dark artefacts from being passed down through families and bypassing modern regulations through grandfather clauses.” Harry found himself more than a little impressed. Ron was just openly gaping. “And the Ministry has to provide verifiable evidence that the objects are even illegal to begin with before they can convene the committee.” She glared at Scrimgeour. “Gonna tell us Dumbledore’s office was just stacked with Cursed objects he was trying to pawn off on school children?”
Scrimgeour actually looked a little impressed himself now. “…Impressive grasp of Ministerial reach you’ve got there, Miss Granger. We could use your like in my office.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I’m set for the foreseeable future.”
Scrimgeour was giving her a very dark look now, and Harry spoke up to distract him. “Well, thanks loads for looking out for our innocence and well-being, Minister, but I can’t help wonder why you’re finally giving us our stuff. Couldn’t find someone willing to Curse them for you as pretext to keep them yourselves?”
“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Hermione said, then quirked one brow. “But I’d wager it’s because the thirty-one day holding period’s finally up. They can’t keep them any longer than that, per the decree. If the Ministry can’t prove they’re dangerous within that time, then they’ve got to pass on the objects as directed in the will—ergo, to us.”
Scrimgeour ignored her, turning his focus on Ron, perhaps deeming him the easiest mark of the three of them. “Tell me, Ronald: what sort of sweets did Dumbledore favour?” Harry didn’t miss how he’d dropped niceties, back to treating them like children rather than equals.
Ron looked startled at being addressed. “I—huh? Sweets, sir?”
“Yes—he was rather fond of them. I thought you might know which ones were his favourites—I’m sure you enjoyed some with him during your frequent friendly chats, what with you being one of his favourite students and all.”
“Er, I’m not really—Harry was the one who…” He looked to Harry—and then caught Hermione behind him giving a very meaningful look that suggested he should maybe stop talking, right away. Too late, though, for Scrimgeour slapped his knee, beaming in triumph.
“If you were not such bosom chums, then why do you think he would have made personal mention of you in his will, much less left you a gift on his passing? Mr. Potter was correct—it did not, in fact, take us a month to read through Albus Dumbledore’s will. It was brief, succinct, and straightforward in how his assets were to be divided. Most of his personal possessions were left to the Hogwarts archives, while a few trinkets here and there were passed on to private acquaintances.” He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees, and studied Ron carefully. “What have you done—or what are you going to do—to merit such special treatment? You, who has just said he was never all that close to Dumbledore?”
Ron shifted uncomfortably, and Harry was sure there was a stream of foul curses running wild inside his mind. Hermione was probably readying some of her own to loose upon him later, too. “I…I dunno. I mean, yeah we weren’t best mates or anything, but he always liked to compliment me on my new Christmas jumper each year…”
“Come on, Ron, you were a stand-out student!” Hermione said, reaching over to squeeze his arm (with rather more force than seemed appropriate). “Star member of the Quidditch team and a Gryffindor Prefect! Dumbledore was very impressed with you—you’ve made quite the name for yourself over the years. Why, he might have even made you Head Boy this year if he hadn’t passed!”
This was being rather liberal, but as Harry didn’t want to wind up with Hermione’s other hand squeezing his arm, he let the point stand.
Scrimgeour’s mouth twisted into a sour frown, but he seemed to finally relent when, with a sigh, he reached into his coat pocket and drew out a roll of parchment and a soft leather bag. Holding the parchment up to the light, he cleared his throat.
“‘The Last Will and Testament of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. I, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, being of reasonably sound mind but admittedly not that stable body, do hereby…’” Scrimgeour made some mumblings to himself, his eyes scanning the parchment. “…Yes, here we are… ‘To Ronald Bilius Weasley, I leave…’” His eyes flicked up to meet Ron’s, “‘The sword of Godric Gryffindor, in the hope that his battle prowess and strategy on the chess board will translate well to this far more dangerous game in which we find ourselves now involved.’”
Ron’s eyes bugged out, and Harry and Hermione stiffened at his side. Harry glanced around, wondering if Scrimgeour had somehow brought the sword along with him. But there was no sign of it within the Weasleys’ sitting room, and it didn’t seem like it would have fit in the leather pouch, either, unless this bag too had some manner of Extension Charm on it.
“…So where is it?”
“Not here, I can tell you that,” Scrimgeour said with a superior sniff. “Godric Gryffindor’s sword is property of the public and therefore not subject to being willed away by anyone who takes a fancy to it. Dumbledore is in no better a position to give it away as he pleases than he would be at liberty to will away my mother’s Goblin-forged ruby and moonstone tiara. That sword belongs—”
“If not to Ron, then Harry, surely!” said Hermione hotly. “He’s wielded it once already! It came to him from the Sorting Hat when—”
“When he had great need of it?” Scrimgeour looked smug, twisting a lock of his salt-and-pepper hair around a finger. “I certainly hope you weren’t under the impression such an event was unheard of—or even all that rare. That sword has had a habit of popping up in the hands of ‘worthy’ Gryffindors throughout history—and none of them were allowed to claim ownership of it either. Now—” He fixed his calculating gaze on Ron once more. “Why would Dumbledore have left you, or tried to leave you, an item so rare, so valuable, if you had but a casual relationship with him? He must have taught thousands of students—yet the only ones he remembered in his will were you three. Why is that? To what end did he expect you to use the sword, Mr. Weasley?”
Ron shrugged. “Mum’s cutlery can’t slice steak worth shit; maybe he sympathised. Should put the fear of an angry god into the garden gnomes too, I expect.”
Even in the dim light, Harry could see Scrimgeour’s face flushing with irritation, and Hermione had to bite her lip to keep from smiling too boldly.
After squinting at Ron for another long moment, Scrimgeour turned back to Dumbledore’s will with a growl. “‘To Miss Hermione Jean Granger, I leave my copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, in the hope she will learn many a life lesson from the fables therein, as I have in my time.’”
He then pulled from the leather bag a small book that looked like it’d been around since the invention of the printing press. The binding had been Mended several times over the years, bearing scars of spellwork wrought upon it, and it had a funny, musty smell that suggested it had not been well cared for in its time. Hermione accepted it as if receiving a bomb, and Harry thought she might be holding her breath. Setting it in her lap, she traced a finger over what Harry assumed must be the title, a collection of runes whose meaning he could only guess at.
“Have you read this book before, Miss Granger?” asked Scrimgeour.
“No,” she said distractedly, still staring at the cover, awestruck.
“Then why do you think it was willed to you?”
“I mean…it’s no great secret I like reading,” Hermione’s voice was very small and thick with building emotion now. She mopped at her eyes with her sleeve. Next to them, Ron began fishing around in his pocket, producing a handkerchief that she took with a weak smile of thanks.
“Why this book, then? He had quite the collection—surely you would have benefited more from a compilation of his treatises, or his first-edition copy of Gamp’s Magical Theorems, rather than a book of fairy tales.” Scrimgeour was getting irritated again, as his efforts to prise answers from the three of them failed one by one. Harry almost felt sorry for the Minister, as they really were honestly baffled as to Dumbledore’s intent with the gifts so far.
“Perhaps he thought I spent too much time focusing on studies and meant to encourage me to read more for pleasure.”
“You’re very bright, Miss Granger. In what I’m sure were many intimate conversations held with your late Headmaster, as you must have been quite close to be included in his will, did you ever happen to discuss codes? Cyphers? Any means of passing messages secretly, through the written word?”
“Of course not,” Hermione scoffed, blowing her nose in Ron’s handkerchief and giving a bright sniff as she pulled herself back together. “Though I don’t imagine that will have stopped the Department of Mysteries or your crack team of Aurors from combing through this book page by page.” She tapped the obviously Mended portions of the bindings. “Your lot’s handiwork?”
Scrimgeour’s frown twisted, showing teeth, and he turned back to the will, fingers crumpling the edges of the parchment from holding on to it so tightly. “‘To Harry James Potter…’” Harry couldn’t help it, he was excited. The book hadn’t been too interesting, but Dumbledore had given Ron the bloody sword of Gryffindor. What would he leave Harry? What if—what if it was a map? Instructions on where to find the other Horcruxes? “‘I leave the Snitch he caught in his first Quidditch match at Hogwarts, as a reminder to rely on the innate skills with which he has been blessed without forgetting the value of teamwork.’”
Harry felt something inside him wilt a bit in disappointment, as that was certainly didn’t sound like a weapon or master plan. From the leather pouch, Scrimgeour pulled a tiny golden ball, no bigger than a walnut, with its delicate wings curled close around it at rest. Harry hadn’t seen that first game Snitch in years, but he reckoned it was the same one, and to say its presentation here was anticlimactic was an understatement.
“You played a fair number of Quidditch games in your time at Hogwarts thus far. Why do think Dumbledore left you this particular Snitch?” Scrimgeour asked, though at this point, he mostly sounded resigned to Harry not giving him a straight answer.
“Let me know when you figure it out yourself.” Scrimgeour’s gaze hardened, and Harry shrugged. “I mean, you just said it was to remind me about…self-reliance and teamwork and whatnot. Hard to argue with the man himself.”
“So that’s it, then? A memento from a teacher to a favoured student?”
“You sound like you think it’s not that, Sir, so I can’t really help you.”
Scrimgeour leaned forward, holding up the Snitch and inspecting it closely. “Do you know what a ‘flesh memory’ is, Harry?”
Harry shook his head, not having the faintest clue, but Hermione made a soft noise, and after seeming to struggle with herself a bit, she eventually blurted out, “Snitches are imbued with a magical recording of the first person ever to touch them.” At least she didn’t sound too pleased in her performance this time.
Both Harry and Ron gave her bewildered looks; to be shown up by Hermione on the subject of Quidditch was a decisive blow to their pride.
“Ten points to Gryffindor.” Scrimgeour’s sour frown went crooked, hooking into a lop-sided grin. “Snitches are handled with gloves at all stages of the manufacturing process, never touching human flesh until first snatched up by a skilled Seeker in a Quidditch game. The Enchantment worked into the Snitch’s casing allows it to recognise the magical signature of that first brush with a witch or wizard, which can then be used to resolve cases of a disputed capture. Now, this particular Snitch, Mr. Potter—” He tapped the little ball. “—being your first game Snitch and thus enchanted to respond to only your magical signature, would make a perfect hiding place for an object—a tiny one, admittedly—that someone wanted to find its way into your hands, and yours alone.”
The excitement from before returned with full force, because shit, Scrimgeour was right. That had to be why Dumbledore had left him this Snitch. There was no way it was a mere keepsake—no way any of these items were, not even Hermione’s book. But if it did have a flesh memory for Harry, and he took it here, in full view of Scrimgeour, what might happen if the Snitch did reveal itself on skin contact?
Scrimgeour seemed to be of a similar mind. “Shall we see what the old man’s been up to with this little trinket here?” Scrimgeour held it out for Harry, one brow raised. “Or should I save us both the trouble and simply ask you what’s inside?”
“You could ask—I couldn’t rightly tell you, though, since like I said, I dunno why he would’ve left it to me.” Which wasn’t entirely a lie; he had ideas, certainly, spurred on by this newfound knowledge concerning the curious manufacture of Snitches, but he didn’t know for sure, and he wasn’t keen on bouncing any of those ideas off a Ministry employee either.
But he had no choice, and maybe if it proved something too dangerous for Scrimgeour to know about, they could overpower and Obliviate him before he could fight back. He was a skilled wizard with decades more experience than the three of them put together, but he was old and one person, and they were young and three. He silently implored Ron and Hermione to be at the ready, hoping they’d come to the same conclusion as Harry had.
He met the Minister’s sharp gaze, holding his hand out obediently, and held his breath until he felt the cool, smooth casing touch his flesh, fingers instinctively gripping in response. The wings gave a spastic flutter, beating against Harry’s fingers and rocking in his grip before the latent magic expended itself and it fell still. The four of them stared as if bewitched, waiting for something—anything—to happen.
“Well that was fascinating,” Ron muttered, and Hermione failed to stifle an inelegant snort.
“Sounds like maybe you’ve been had, Minister,” Harry said. “You may want to consider this is all just Dumbledore’s idea of a post-mortem prank.”
“He was quite the jokester,” Hermione intoned solemnly, though her lips were still quirking up at their corners.
Scrimgeour looked at all of them in turn—and then whipped his wand out and viciously incinerated the parchment, which Harry sincerely hoped had merely been a copy of the will in question. The ashes fluttered to the carpet, swirling in a cloud of dust as Scrimgeour heaved himself to his feet. “Thank you for your time.”
There was some scrabbling at the back door, and Mr. Weasley stumbled inside, white-faced. “Er, were you going to be wrapping things up soon? It’s only, we still haven’t cut the cake yet, and we were hoping…”
Mrs. Weasley poked her head in just behind her husband. “Can’t have your day end without a slice of birthday cake, Harry!” Her voice was thick with false cheer, and she kept an eye fixed on the Minister, who was stuffing his leather pouch back into his coat pocket.
He gave the three of them a final hard look, gaze lingering longest on Harry, before whipping around in a swirl of robes and storming from the room in a huff.
Mr. Weasley chased after him with apologies on his lips, but he returned in short order, shoulders slumped. “Well, he’s gone.”
“Ronald Weasley. Language!”
Ron winced. “Sorry, Mum. But he’s such a—well, you know!”
Mr. Weasley stared at the back door, and Harry wondered if there were really any guests still waiting outside, or had everyone scattered like Remus and Tonks after Scrimgeour had shown? Bill and the others might have Apparated up into their rooms, now within the safety of the protective charms.
“So, er, he wouldn’t tell me what he needed to speak with you about, only that it was very urgent…” Mr. Weasley stepped around into the sitting room and took back his chair, which Harry found was something of a relief. Like the tilted world had just righted itself a tick.
He didn’t seem to want to outright ask what the ‘urgent matter’ had been, perhaps feeling it wasn’t his place to pry. Harry appreciated the thought. “Turns out Dumbledore left us a few things in his will. Evidently the Ministry had been holding onto the items and only just decided to pass them on to us.”
Mrs. Weasley bustled outside to summon the others in for refreshments, muttering something about it just feels safer with a roof over our heads right now. Harry didn’t know why it felt that way, but he agreed.
Once everyone had crowded around the kitchen table, with Hagrid taking Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s seat on the sofa, Mrs. Weasley began slicing portions of cake while Harry and Hermione passed around their gifts from Dumbledore for everyone’s perusal, with Ron left to lament not being allowed to have his. “Well, it is a valuable historical artefact,” Mr. Weasley admitted, patting his bald pate with a frown.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard were met with muted interest and dismissed relatively quickly, and none seemed to see the importance of the Snitch. Charlie, having been a Seeker himself, did recall the bit about flesh memories, but he’d never heard of anyone hiding anything in a Snitch. There was a general air of Oh, was that all? to the scene, and Harry suspected most of them were now reminding themselves that Dumbledore had been a bit on the eccentric side, especially in his later years.
As the hour was drawing late, the requisite chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ was delivered in record time between hastily devoured bites of cake before suggestions were made to retire, as they had an early morning ahead of them.
“Are you sure you’ll be all right out here, Hagrid?” Mrs. Weasley asked, wincing as Hagrid whacked a tent peg into the ground with a forceful whallop of his fist. He’d been invited to the wedding the next day—the next day!—but even without the glut of guests already bunking in the Burrow, he would’ve found sleeping inside a tight fit, so he’d offered to set himself up a tent in the back garden.
“Oh don’t you worry abou’ me, Molly,” Hagrid chuckled, before adding in a loud whisper, “Though I wouldn’t say no to a nightcap, if yeh’ve got anythin’ handy.”
Harry bid his goodnights, enduring a kiss on the forehead from Mrs. Weasley and a firm clap on the shoulder from Mr. Weasley, before begging off to wash up for bed. As he passed Hermione, who’d just finished Banishing the extra chairs back to the attic, he whispered, “Ron’s room.”
He quickly readied himself for bed, waiting for the other residents in the house to settle and for Hermione to join them. Ron flipped through The Tales of Beedle the Bard boredly, and Harry began sorting through his possessions, trying to decide what deserved slipping into his new Mokeskin pouch. He’d never been overly attached to gold, instead being much more protective of his otherwise priceless possessions, like the Marauder’s Map for sure, and R.A.B.’s locket. Definitely his new—well, old—Snitch, and there was less chance of his slicing his finger open again if he kept the shard of Sirius’s mirror in the pouch, so in it went as well.
“Think we ought to hide anything else in here?” Harry asked, holding up the pouch, and Ron scratched his chin.
“Ooh—how about my sword of Gryffin—oh wait.” He shrugged. “I think we’re good. But I’d hold off asking Hermione, if I were you, unless you wanna fill it with half the Hogwarts library.”
“I’m storing the books in my own bag, for your information,” Hermione sniffed, slipping through the door just then. It was after eleven now, and they could see that the hallway behind her was dark. “Sorry—Ginny wanted some last-minute help picking out her robes for tomorrow. Seems wizarding weddings are just as perfect for hooking up as Muggle ones, and she means to not start the school year single.”
“Hope you picked something sensible, then,” Ron warned. “Ankle-length. Sleeves down to about here—” He touched his wrist.
“Oh, naturally. We figured what with all this flying free—” Hermione waved over her chest. “—She ought to be more modest with the rest of the outfit. Won’t want to show up the bride.”
Harry snorted softly, casting a quiet Muffliato and relishing, again, his newfound freedom to practise magic whenever he pleased. Hermione took a seat on Harry’s camp bed, and he joined Ron on Ron’s bed.
“So that was interesting, to say the least,” Hermione said, taking The Tales of Beedle the Bard from Ron. “I’m still honestly baffled as to why Dumbledore would have left us anything at all in his will, let alone these particular items.”
Harry frowned. “You might not have been that close to him, but he cared for you, still. Respected you, even.”
Hermione gave him a fond smile. “But it hardly compared to how he felt about you. And besides, I didn’t mean it like that; more in the sense that…well, it seems rather roundabout. Why wait until he’d died to give us these items, if they’re so important? With no instructions on their use or intention whatsoever.” She frowned, lips thinning in disappointment. “Like that Snitch—oh, I was so sure something was going to happen when you touched it, Harry!”
Harry retrieved the Snitch from the pouch, giving it a little shake to make the wings flutter. “…Well, it might still.”
Ron sat up, suddenly interested. “But the flesh memory didn’t activate.”
“True, but Scrimgeour also forgot one crucial detail about that first Snitch I ever caught.”
Hermione shook her head, clearly not following, but Ron began pounding the mattress, hissing excitedly, “That was the one you—!” He gestured to his mouth, miming taking a huge bite out of something. “Right down the gullet!”
“I didn’t swallow it,” Harry reminded, “But otherwise yeah. So I was thinking maybe…”
He could feel his heart thudding against his ribcage, as if trying to jump out and touch the Snitch itself. With a sharp inhalation, he brought the Snitch to his mouth and kissed the cool metal shell.
But again, nothing happened.
Harry’s heart ceased its acrobatics, thudding into his stomach with a weighty disappointment. He’d been certain that—
“Harry, look!” Hermione gasped, pointing to the Snitch. “Something’s happening!”
Harry jerked the Snitch away, nearly dropping it—and then he saw it: words being scrawled across the golden surface in a thin cursive script penned with glowing, molten ink that Harry knew instinctively must be Dumbledore’s:
I open at the close.
They flared bright for a brief moment—and then just as quickly faded, though not before Harry had managed to commit them to memory. “I open at the close…” Harry repeated softly, still staring at the now dull, aged gold hull of the Snitch. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Hermione and Ron shook their heads, and Harry cursed silently. More damn riddles, as if they didn’t have enough mysteries on their hands already.
He muttered the words to himself a few times over, even brought the Snitch to his lips again and spoke the phrase against the casing, but there was no reaction this time.
Ron grew bored, flopping back down onto his back. “Well what about the sword he left me? You think we’re supposed to use it to protect ourselves?”
Fat lot of good it was going to do, then, and surely Dumbledore had known that. Harry didn’t like Scrimgeour, but he was kind of right: the sword of Gryffindor really wasn’t Dumbledore’s to give away, and if he’d really wanted Ron to have it, surely he would’ve plucked it from the case in which it had sat in his office and just given it to Ron.
Frustration with both Dumbledore for being so cryptic and themselves for not being able to figure out what must surely be terribly obvious riddles warred within Harry. He’d spent so much time with Dumbledore the previous year—surely there was some simple explanation for all this, some single thread connecting these seemingly disparate objects. Had the sword ever come up at all, or anything about opening or closing? The seaside cave had required a blood sacrifice before it would open to allow them into the chamber that housed the fake Horcrux. Was Harry meant to slice his wrist open over the Snitch, then? Was there another Horcrux inside the Snitch?
Hermione sighed, holding The Tales of Beedle the Bard at arms’ length. “I know I can be a bit of a bookworm, but why would he think I needed this? I’ve never even heard of it…” She sounded almost offended, like Dumbledore had been deliberately keeping an important resource from her.
Ron rolled over onto his side, brows knit in disbelief. “Wait, seriously? Everyone’s heard of these stories! They’re classics!”
“Classics?” Hermione scoffed. “In what world?”
“The wizarding world, duh!” He thumped the book. “Beedle wrote dozens of those…whadya call ‘em? The stories where you’re supposed to learn an important lesson from them.”
Ron shrugged. “That collection’s got all the old standbys—your ‘The Fountain of Fair Fortune’…your ‘The Wizard and the Hopping Pot’…your ‘Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump’…”
Hermione snorted, raising a hand to cover her mouth. “You’re making those up.”
“I’m not!” Ron was starting to sound irritated, and it was in moments like this Harry was reminded that the Weasleys, as much as the Malfoys, were Purebloods and just a bit presumptuous about it at times. “My mum must’ve worn our family copy to dust reading those stories to us as kids—”
“Yes, well, your mum’s a witch,” Hermione reminded. “And I’m Muggleborn—and Harry might as well be. We grew up hearing about Muggle fairy tales, like ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ and ‘Puss in Boots’.”
“‘Puss in Boots’?” Ron snorted, waggling his brows with a leer. “Now who’s making up titles?”
Hermione raised her wand, casting a soft Lumos to better illuminate the cover. The gilding on the runes was so faded, Harry was astounded she could make them out at all. “If this is a book of children’s stories…then I confess I’m even more confused as to why Dumbledore would leave it to me.” She wrinkled her nose, and Harry imagined she was weighing the chances these really were mundane objects Dumbledore had willed to them as simple mementos from a beloved professor.
“Well, I mean—they’ve been adapted and rewritten tons of times over the centuries. Different authors give different spins on the tales. I hear the original versions by Beedle himself are actually a fair bit darker than the watered-down bedtime stories they’ve become.” Ron gave a dramatic shudder.
A sharp creak from out in the hallway rent the quiet, and they froze. Hermione looked nervously to Harry, but he was certain the Muffliato was still holding.
“…We should probably get to bed,” Hermione whispered. “Tomorrow’s a big day.” Harry wasn’t feeling particularly tired, but he silently agreed with her: one more day, and then they could be off. They might not even be here another twenty-four hours; they’d need their strength for the journey ahead.
“And miss seeing Mum send Ginny back to her room to change out of whatever scandalous outfit you two have Transfigured from a negligee?” Ron punched his pillow to fluff it. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”