Harry came in to Grimmauld Place from the end opening onto the main road, wings rippling slightly as he dropped lower, then twisted slightly and pulled up.
The low point of his dive had been just inches short of the ground, and by pulling up and flaring his wings he was able to shed most of the speed of his dive – leaving him almost hovering for a moment – before landing with all four feet over the course of not more than a second or so.
It had taken Harry a while to work out how to do that, but it was so long ago now he only sort of vaguely remembered it. It was from not long after he'd turned into a dragon, but Harry had been a dragon for so long that it was just normal and it was sometimes a bit of a shock to remember he hadn't been born one.
The door to Number Twelve opened as he finished carefully furling his wings, and Sirius waved. "There you are, Harry! Enjoying being seventeen?"
"So far," Harry replied, heading up the path to join Sirius inside, glad there were only a few spots of rain. "I haven't had much chance to do magic, though."
"I went a bit berserk when I could first use magic outside of school, which I'm sure won't surprise you in the least," Sirius confided. "Do you want to get your stuff sorted out first?"
He paused. "Oh, wait, hold on. Something else first."
Harry tilted his head slightly, wondering what Sirius meant.
Then his Dogfather bent down a little, taking Harry's paw, and used that to lift him and wrap a rather startled Harry in an embrace.
"Welcome home," he said, a little hoarsely. "And it is your home, Harry, you'll always be welcome here."
Harry didn't quite know what to say, so he just hugged back a bit, and then Sirius stepped back and Harry went back to all fours.
"That's quite enough of that," Sirius went on. "I don't want to lose my man license."
"There are man licenses?" Harry asked. "How do you qualify?"
"I think it's something about weight lifting," Sirius mused. "Or possibly getting drunk. I'm not really clear on the details."
Harry put up his tent in his room – by magic – and after he'd done that he just sort of sat there for a minute, looking at his wand.
It was funny, because he'd already been doing magic for nearly six years. But it was the first time when he'd be able to say that he'd always be able to use magic – there wasn't going to be a single other day for the rest of his life when he'd be unable to cast magic.
"Xerographia," Harry said, duplicating himself a second copy of The Long Patrol, so he could take one of them back to the Surrey library system in two days and keep the other in his hoard. It was as easy as that, and in a way it was sort of overwhelming – now when he thought of something it would help to do with magic, he could just do it.
"Any idea how you want to decorate your room?" Sirius asked, leaning into Harry's hoard room. "I mean, you know, your bedroom. Obviously this place is already decorated how you want, you've had it for years, but… I thought it'd be good to make your bedroom reflect your personality a bit."
Harry had to admit, it sounded nice.
"How do you know what to suggest in situations like this?" he asked Sirius.
"I've been in a situation a bit like this," Sirius reminded him. "I moved out of this house to do it, actually. When I arrived at James's house I redecorated the room to make it as Gryffindor as possible."
"From what I know about my dad, I don't imagine you had much to do," Harry said.
"Well, we did have a bit of a competition about which of us could put more lions on the wall," Sirius admitted, then winced slightly.
"It's nothing," he said, waving his hand in response to Harry's concern. "I just… you know. He's been gone a long time, but being reminded is still kind of sad."
He clapped his hands. "So! What do you think about, say, bookcases? And – wait, hold on, I think there's a room on the other side of here… Kreacher!"
Kreacher stepped through the door. "Dog master did not need to be so loud, Kreacher was only outside the door."
"And how was I supposed to know that?" Sirius asked.
"Dog master should take a bath," Kreacher informed him loftily. "That way dog master will be able to smell beyond the end of his own nose."
"You think you're funny," Sirius said, matter-of-factly, which got a nod from Kreacher. "Anyway, I had the idea of one of those bookcases where you pull on the right book and the whole thing turns out to be a door. Is that something we can do here?"
"Kreacher has to point out that the room on the other side of that wall is a bathroom," the House-Elf replied.
He tugged his ear. "Of course, perhaps dog master does not see the need for a bathroom, since it has been so long since he had a bath?"
"I'll think about it," Sirius decided. "And so should you. Maybe if we expand this room enough we can fit a wall across the middle… anyway, your friends will be arriving before long. It's much easier to arrange a birthday party when more than half the people involved can Apparate."
He paused. "It's also Neville's, though, because you two are so close together in age. It was easier."
Harry didn't mind that, and assured Sirius that that was the case.
They did decide they had enough time to do the walls, though, and Harry flicked some Colovaria charms at the walls to make three of them nice shades of blue, the ceiling a deep midnight black speckled with stars, the carpet a sort of grassy green and give the last wall a mottled grey-white look like a cloudbank.
"It must be kind of a pain for Muggles doing this," Sirius said, as Harry adjusted the blue a few times to make it match what he was thinking of. "They must be a lot more patient than us."
Harry shrugged, then pointed his wand at the ceiling. "Colo con vibro."
The stars started flashing through all the colours of the rainbow and a few more besides, silver not being typical on a standard-issue rainbow, and Sirius examined them critically.
"It's your choice," he shrugged.
Harry had sometimes sort of wondered why it was that some wizarding families lived in the all-Wizard village of Hogsmeade but everyone else was scattered up and down the country. It seemed like it made things a lot more awkward, because Floo powder at least was something that cost money and you needed to be properly connected to it.
He hadn't really factored in how Apparition changed that, though.
Ginny arrived at the door by herself, because Ron had brought her by Side-Along Apparition and then gone back to get Luna. Despite that meaning Ron had to Apparate from Devon to London, back to Devon and then back to London again, he only arrived about thirty seconds later and did so while the door was still open from letting in Ginny.
For his part Dean flew in through the open window that allowed owls in and out, so he actually came down stairs to say hello, and Neville arrived by Floo. Then Tanisis arrived by Floo as well, since having her come Side-Along and appearing outside wouldn't exactly be in keeping with the whole "statute of secrecy" stuff, and finally both sets of Twins arrived at once before knocking on the door.
Because it was Fred, George, Taira and Anna involved, they Apparated into the garden and knocked on the back door. Just because they could.
What really struck Harry about it – apart from it being nice to see his friends again – was that none of them had left the house more than five minutes before they'd arrived. It had taken them less time to get ready and arrive than it would take someone to walk to the other end of Hogsmeade.
In a way, it really was like – for wizards – the whole country was just a village which happened to have lots and lots of other people in it, and in particular anyone who could Apparate could go anywhere they wanted.
Of course, by then the actual birthday party was starting.
Sirius – and Kreacher – had laid on a spread of the sort of thing that was usually called party food, operating on the not unreasonable assumption that a party was the best time to have party food. It meant everyone could pick what they liked the idea of the most, rather than having to try to work out a single meal which everyone liked.
There was a cake, as well, though that was off to one side under a glass cover and everyone pretended not to notice. It was pretty big, but then again it was meant to count as his and Neville's cakes, and under the circumstances Harry thought it would be terribly rude to complain about sharing.
Then there was the fondue set.
"I'm not entirely sure why I came up with this," Sirius admitted, as Kreacher brought in a big tray with dozens upon dozens of cubes of bread. "It might have been that Asterix book."
Harry remembered reading that Asterix book. "Don't you get forfeits for losing your bread, in that?"
"I think we can skip those," Sirius replied. "It's quite a long way to go to throw someone into Lake Geneva."
"How does this work?" Tanisis asked.
"Well, the way it's meant to work is that you use a fork to pick up some bread," Sirius demonstrated. "And the cheese in here is melted, and you just… dip the bread in, then take it out and put it on your plate."
"So I came up with an idea," Fred reported.
"Is it the same idea I just came up with?" George checked.
"Well, I don't know, do I?" Fred replied.
Ron groaned. "Oh, here we go…"
"What I was wondering was, well, we've got all these trick sweets," George explained. "And plenty of research still to do. So that might make a good forfeit."
"We're all going to end up canaries, aren't we?" Neville guessed.
"No, those are finished," Fred told him. "No need for further research there. And besides, they're all quite safe."
"By quite safe, do you mean, safe but in a British way?" Ginny checked. "Or just, you know, almost safe?"
All four twins considered that.
"I think the word almost is a good word in this situation," Taira told her. "It's nearly the right word."
"You mean the right nearly word," his sister countered.
"That as well."
"Harry, Nev, please say this isn't the kind of thing you want at your party," Ron implored. "That way we can just get on with the sensible things, like eating way too much food."
Harry glanced over at Neville, to see what he thought, and saw that his very-slightly-older friend had a very feline smirk.
"I don't think we mind much," he decided.
"Well, I'm going to be spending part of this as a squirrel with an eight foot long tail or something," Ron said, throwing up his hands. "I hope you're happy."
"Did we bring some of the tail triplers?" Anna asked.
"...I should stop coming up with dreadful outcomes that end up actually happening," Ron grumbled.
"Well, all you need to do is not drop the bread, right?" Hermione pointed out.
"This is going to be a really weird afternoon..."
A lot of people dropped bread.
Consequently, a lot of people tried out Marauder sweets.
It wasn't actually as much of a problem as it would have been even a year ago, because more than half of the people in the room were not only qualified at Transfiguration to OWL level (and either qualified at NEWT level or on the way there) but actually able to use their wands to reverse any effects after everyone had had a look at them – and they could be quite funny, from one which made it so Neville's hair looked like it was actually on fire to a peculiar effect that made Tanisis slowly and gracefully float down to land on the wall.
"That's sort of a modification of Fizzing Whizzbees," Fred explained, as Tanisis did her best not to tread on any portraits. "The magic formula's good, we've got it so it rotates the direction of gravity and it's full of anti-falling charms so you don't go fast,but we're not sure what to put it into."
"Sideways sucker?" Dean suggested. "That way it's only active when you're actually sucking on it."
"I like it," Taira decided.
Tanisis then surprised most of them by muttering something under her breath and manifesting a pair of snowy white wings. She jumped off the wall, flapping a few times, and hovered in the middle of the room before coughing.
"Can someone stick a chair to the floor for me?" she asked. "I think I need an anchor..."
The game went on for a while after that, managing to make lunch a fun event in and of itself – they didn't only have cheese, and a lot of the other party food got eaten, but the fondue was the central element – and then they had the cake.
Instead of the two of them both trying to blow out the candles, Sirius suggested the very reasonable solution that Harry blew the candles into igniting and then Neville blew them out, and Harry took a deep breath before doing his best to send out a flat sheet of flame that would affect the candles without setting fire to the cake.
That set all seventeen candles alight, and everyone else sang Happy Birthday before Neville did his best to blow all the candles out again with one breath. Which he managed, though it was touch and go with the last one, and Harry joined in the applause.
Presents came next, some of them in normal Muggle-style wrapping paper while others – like the one Neville had brought Harry – were in the much more flashy paper that wizards came up with, made with geometric shapes or words which crawled slowly over the curves of the package within. Many of the presents were books, which was hardly something Harry was going to complain about – for a wonder, none of them were books he already had – and he'd got Neville books himself anyway, all four of the Song of the Lioness ones because it seemed like they'd fit somehow.
The other things Harry got were a mixture between little magical gifts – Hermione got him a little beaded bag she'd made herself, which had bookshelves on the inside – and more mundane but still heartfelt things. Sirius had even got him a watch, which everyone took a moment to explain was the traditional gift for a wizard when he came of age.
"I'm not sure the tradition includes a digital watch, though," Hermione added. "Are you sure that's going to work at Hogwarts?"
"It should," Sirius replied. "I did most of the enchanting work at Dogwarts."
He gave Harry a little pamphlet, which explained the dozen or so extra modes he'd fitted into the watch. Apparently it could do things like tell you what time it currently was anywhere in the world, or show you how long it was until sunset, or pick up radio transmissions.
"And if you need to make it so nobody else can use it, you just need to use the password to lock it," Sirius went on.
"Why would he need to make it so nobody else could use a watch?" Ginny asked. "It's a watch."
"It is a watch that can cast a shield charm," Harry replied, still looking through the pamphlet. "Or conjure a shield. Why would you need that?"
Sirius coughed, sounding embarrassed. "Well, you know how it is, you start fiddling with things… one thing leads to another and there's a button on your motorbike which drops a wall behind you…"
"I know the feeling," Ron agreed, nodding understandingly.
After the presents were dealt with, the rest of the birthday could continue unabated.
The Marauders had brought along plenty of their in-home fireworks, including a miniature fireworks display, and it turned out that when they said a miniature fireworks display they meant a miniature fireworks display. You put the display on the floor, and lit the fuse, and for the next ten or twenty minutes tiny fireworks rose lazily into the air over a miniature town and burst in puffballs about the size of someone's head.
"This must be the sort of view that dragons get of fireworks," Luna said, contemplating it. "Don't you think so?"
"I think most dragons don't go flying on fireworks night," Dean replied. "You don't want to be shot down."
Harry thought that it would take some seriously impressive fireworks to shoot down even quite a small dragon, but then there was a knock at the door.
Sirius went to get it, and to the general surprise of everyone involved it turned out that the visitor was Professor Dumbledore.
"Happy Birthday, Harry," he said, by way of introduction. "And a belated Happy Birthday to Neville as well, of course, along with Happy Birthdays to anyone for whom I forgot to pay them a visit on their last birthday. I am afraid that when you have seen so many of your own birthdays as I have it can sometimes be quite hard to remember them."
"It's a pity you didn't arrive earlier, Professor," Sirius said. "We had a fondue, and there were plenty of sweets with it. Want to try one?"
"Well, of course," Dumbledore agreed. "I fear that I have not earned it, but I would not want to pass up on a sweet."
He took it, and everyone sort of subtly craned their necks to watch – or, at least, most people were subtle; Harry realized afterwards that his neck was a bit long to be subtle about that sort of thing.
Then Dumbledore's hair and beard all turned rainbow. Not any particular colour, but rainbow striped – red through yellow and green to purple, and then lapping around back to red again.
"How remarkable," Dumbledore said, inspecting his beard. "I suggest you call them Rainbow Refreshers. Now, I am afraid that I would like to prevail on Harry's time for a moment, if that would be acceptable?"
"I wouldn't mind at all, Professor," Harry said.
"Excellent," Dumbledore pronounced. "We will not be long, I expect, and I will allow you to return to your revelry before long."
The easiest place to go to talk was into the kitchen, where the whizz and pop of the tiny fireworks display was just about audible over the hum of conversation from the living room, and Dumbledore gave Harry a sly look before picking up a mini sausage roll between two long fingers.
"Please, do not tell the House-Elves at Hogwarts," he requested, eyes alight with humour. "They would be terribly indignant."
Harry nodded his assent, and Dumbledore ate it with a smile before brushing his hands against one another.
"I do feel that one hasn't fully participated in a party unless they've had some food," he explained. "Now, I am afraid that this is more in the manner of business."
He tapped his chin, then inspected his beard again. "I may have to keep it this way, and see who first mentions it," he mused. "Anyway, Harry, I believe that last time we met I mentioned the idea of a summer job at Gringotts?"
"Yes, Professor," Harry agreed.
"Well, you will hopefully be pleased to hear that I have arranged it with Mr. Bill Weasley, with the Goblin Liason Office, and with the fine Goblin Wickraw who is the current head of Gringotts Bank." Dumbledore smiled pleasantly. "You will be spending five days starting on the Eleventh of August taking part in a concept borrowed from Muggles called penetration testing, which is to see how good security is by trying to break through it; in some cases this also includes entering vaults to see how good their internal security is, as it happens."
He then smiled. "Of course, I believe I should be able to take time out of my own busy schedule to come along on a few of the visits. It should be quite educational."
Harry nodded, thinking about what Dumbledore wasn't saying.
It was one of those times it was obvious what was going on only because you already knew the real reason. And it did make a lot of sense to Harry that Goblins would want to know what worked and didn't work on a dragon like him, just in case.
"Harry, you might want to see this!" Dean called. "You know those Quidditch figures? Fred and George brought along more than a dozen of you, there's going to be a fourteen-dragon Quidditch match!"
"I believe we are done here, Harry," Dumbledore added. "Unless you have any comments to add, of course; since it seems quite likely you will, I believe I will watch the game at least."
Harry wasn't entirely sure what to think of the Quidditch game.
It was sort of weird, watching so many of him playing Quidditch – including in roles he'd never been in. Black-Backed Bookwyrm Seekers were sensible enough – though they went whizzing off chasing the tiny winged golden spark of the Snitch and took no other part in the game – but the Bludgers got hammered back and forth a few times before being eaten by mistake and the Chasers were doing things with their tails and wings that Harry had never actually come up with himself.
"Some of this is based on Isaac," Fred provided. "We could improve it if you spent some time doing the Chaser thing, it was a bit fiddly."
"And eating the Bludgers?" Tanisis asked.
George sniggered. "That's based on watching Harry at dinner. Does he still eat forks?"
"Only when it's provided with the dish," Harry said, a bit defensively.
The Quaffle sailed the length of the pitch, and one of the Chaser Harries (Harrys? What was the plural of a Harry?) bounced it back and forth through the goal hoop three times with wand and tail before being driven away by the Keeper Harry.
"This is sped up, right?" Ron checked.
"Yeah, usually ten minutes is about equal to an hour of a proper game," Anne agreed. "We did that to make it easier to test, then just left it that way."
There was a bang as the miniature Quaffle exploded, and all the Harrys involved in that looked briefly confused before landing and going back to being quiescent models.
"...well, either we need to accept that that wasn't working, or change something about it," Tyler summarized.
"I have a third option," Sirius said, and raised his voice. "Kreacher, bring in the TV!"
Kreacher walked into the room, shot a vaguely pitying look at Sirius, and opened a cupboard – revealing a television inside it.
"Good work," Sirius told him, unperturbed, and picked up a remote control from inside the cupboard. "I asked Ted Tonks what would be a good film for this situation, and he told me this one would be a good guess."
The film turned out to be called Airplane!, with the exclamation mark, and while Harry didn't think he got more than maybe half the jokes it was still so stuffed full of jokes that he rarely managed to stop laughing.
It was a fine finish to a very nice party.
Harry had a few days after that to relax, getting used to the whole idea of being able to just use magic whenever he wanted, and it felt like some of the best practice he'd had in Charms and Transfiguration for the whole of the time since he'd got his wand in the first place – which was probably partly because he was just doing it when he felt like it, so he needed something done and did it with magic while that need was still uppermost in his mind.
The Hogwarts letter arrived on the sixth of August, specifying that there were only three new textbooks Harry needed. One was the seventh and final Standard Book of Spells, then there was a book called The Four Directions by Min Sun (someone Harry had never heard of) and finally The Art of War by Sun Tzu.
Harry had heard of that one, certainly – but he didn't think Sun Tzu had been a wizard.
"I wonder if the new teacher is Chinese," he said, considering, as they walked through London to reach Diagon Alley – it wasn't all that far, and they were both in the mood for a walk. "Or maybe they've just read some Chinese books."
Sirius shrugged. "Could be either. Could be both."
"I think someone who's Chinese has probably read some Chinese books," Harry said, with a smile. "Even my cousin Dudley has read some books in English, though I think the only ones he's read which he didn't have to read for school involved lots of gruesome things happening."
They reached the Leaky Cauldron, then, and went through to Diagon Alley. Harry tapped the brick himself, and as it slid aside to produce the archway he stopped and frowned at it a bit.
"I wonder why this isn't just an archway all the time," he said. "Muggles can't even see the Leaky Cauldron, and the main Floo exit for Diagon Alley is in the Leaky Cauldron anyway. You'd think it'd be easier to have it open all the time."
Sirius considered that.
"Mostly, I think it's because wizards like being secretive, Harry," he decided. "It's like the passwords."
"That would do it," Harry agreed, readily.
It turned out, once they got home, that The Four Directions was sort of a magical equivalent of the Art of War. It wasn't particularly long, and talked about all the situations where using magic was a good idea or a bad idea, and while some of what it said was obviously a bit out of date – Harry didn't think the argument that a thousand miles was a thousand miles to a wizard just as much as it was to a normal man held any more, not now that Apparition had been developed, or discovered, or whichever word you applied to it – the rest of it at least was more philosophical than about right or wrong as such.
Harry had to admit that he had no idea what Defence Against the Dark Arts was even going to be like this year. With hindsight, the books they'd had the previous years had given different kinds of clues – the Slinkhard book had at least indicated that Professor Umbridge wasn't going to do much in the way of interactive teaching, while the Lockhart books had indicated that their teacher that year was a bit of a narcissist or at the very least thought nobody else had put it as well as he had. But The Art of War wasn't anything to do with magic, and while the Four Directions book was it still seemed like most of what was going to be in their lessons was going to come from the Defence teacher rather than from their textbook.
Unless Professor Dumbledore had run out of good possible teachers again. That could have happened as well.
That puzzle kept Harry occupied, in a sort of idle mostly-doing-other-things way, until the eleventh of August when Harry got up bright and early to fly to Gringotts. (Sirius in the mornings was neither bright nor early, so Harry wrote out a reminder for his Dogfather and left it with Hedwig to deliver.)
Harry's commute to his summer job took only a few minutes in the air – he knew where he was going and a sprint through the sky was just the thing to help him wake up properly – then he walked through a Diagon Alley which was mostly still setting up shop (where Patricia Stimpson nodded to him from inside Slug and Jigger's apothecary as she set up the displays) and reached the entrance to Gringotts at what his new watch told him was just before eight in the morning.
Dumbledore arrived just after he did, walking out of the astronomy shop with a peculiar globe of light – a little like a star, but held in a hand.
His beard was still rainbow coloured.
"Ah, Harry, good morning," he said. "The salesman in that shop is extremely good, he sold me The Stellar Book of Stars but I haven't the first idea how to read it."
"Maybe you can only read it at night?" Harry suggested.
"An excellent idea, Harry," Dumbledore decided, and placed it in his pocket. "I will have to try that this evening."
He smiled. "I would also like to ask you what you think of your new position."
"You mean at Gringotts, sir?" Harry asked, a little confused.
"I refer to the position of Head Boy, Harry," Dumbledore clarified.
Harry frowned. "I think I must have missed that bit on my Hogwarts letter… I don't remember seeing that bit."
"It is quite possible that at least one of us forgot it," the Headmaster told Harry. "When we get home this afternoon, I suggest you look around your room and I will look around my office. Hopefully at least one of us will find the missive in question."
Harry had only just started thinking about what it would be like to be Head Boy – now he knew that he'd be being Head Boy – when the doors to Gringotts opened, two guards immediately marching out to take position.
"Mr. Potter," said a third goblin, one which Harry vaguely recognized as Mr. Shardmouth. "The Head Goblin is waiting, so if you would follow me?"
"Of course," Harry agreed, thinking to himself that it was probably a good idea to make very sure of his manners.
Dumbledore followed behind Harry, and – since he'd never been to Gringotts this early in the day – Harry had a quick look around as Mr. Shardmouth led them into the building.
The counters at the front were all set up, and each occupied with a goblin – though none of them yet had anything to do, except for one at the far left who was steadily counting out money with a clink clink clink sound – and then he was led through a door into the interior corridors of the building.
They went left, then right, past someone towing a cart full of binders, and then both Harry and Dumbledore were ushered into a finely appointed office – one with a mahogany desk, and filing cabinets made of wood inlaid with a tracery of silver, and a spear affixed to the wall with a dozen large emeralds set into the blade and haft.
An old goblin was seated behind the desk, and shuffled some papers before inviting both Harry and Dumbledore to sit down.
"Mr. Potter," the goblin said. "Mr. Dumbledore has already met me, but for your information I am Mr. Wickraw, the Head Goblin at Gringotts."
"It's nice to meet you, sir," Harry said. "Do Goblins shake hands?"
It turned out they did, and Harry offered a paw which was duly shaken.
"Now," Mr. Wickraw said, getting right down to business. "Mr. Dumbledore originally approached us over the matter of you having some work experience here at Gringotts. I have seen your OWL results and your sixth year exam results as well, so I am aware of your general qualifications, but before making my final decision I would like to speak to you personally."
He steepled his fingers. "So, Mr. Potter. Why do you think that having you work here for the week would help us?"
"There's several ways, sir," Harry replied, having been thinking about this. "One of them is that something I'm thinking about as a job after leaving school is doing cursebreaking, and doing that through Gringotts is one way that that can be done so it would make that an easier transition."
He mentally counted off the list. "Then – I've got a strange reaction to a lot of magic, because some things don't affect me, so it would help for you to be able to work out what defences still work on me and what defences have trouble. I can fly, for example, and even if you have a way of stopping broomsticks from working there are still Animagi and some of them can turn into flying animals."
Mr. Wickraw nodded, making a note. "What kind of strange reaction to magic?"
"Lots of magic doesn't work on me, and some of it only works if I'm the one casting it," Harry summarized. "I can't travel by Portkey, for example."
"Harry, if I might trouble you with some advice?" Dumbledore began. "You do not need to worry about what you tell Mr. Wickraw. The Head Goblin of Gringotts is absolutely discreet on such matters."
"Right," Harry said. "I can also use Fiendfyre, which is a very powerful fire spell that might be able to burn through vault doors or walls, and which can destroy certain cursed objects."
"Indeed," Mr. Wickraw said, non-committally. "In addition to that, Mr. Potter, I note that you have been involved for years with the more conventional dragons at Hogwarts."
"That's right, sir," Harry confirmed. "I've heard you use guard dragons at the moment, but the new Hogwarts dragons who speak Dragonish will probably be much better guards. I'm not sure if they'll ever be going to Hogwarts themselves, but even if they don't then being able to give instructions in Dragonish would be much more efficient."
He lifted a paw and wiggled it a bit. "I don't think I'd be able to teach much Dragonish in just a week, though."
"Quite," Mr. Wickraw agreed. "Though it is good you mention it, of course."
He tapped his finger on one of the pages he'd been shuffling. "I see that you made a sword for your Ancient Runes OWL?"
Harry nodded in reply. "Yes, sir. It seemed like an interesting project."
"Quite," Mr. Wickraw said, with a smile. "The spear on the wall is my own creation, as it happens."
He fixed Harry with a stare, then.
"I see you have good marks in History of Magic, Mr. Potter," he said. "But in my experience the History of Magic course at Hogwarts is not always very good."
Dumbledore coughed, lightly.
"What is your opinion of the issue of the Sword of Gryffindor?" Mr. Wickraw asked.
"I don't necessarily know all the information, sir," Harry replied. "But if what I have heard is correct, then King Ragnuk made the sword for Godric Gryffindor and then tried to take it back from Godric himself. Since the sword has Gryffindor's name, I'm inclined to believe it was a commission, and even if there was a dispute over whether the object would follow human or goblin inheritance law that would only apply once Gryffindor himself died."
Mr. Wickraw didn't respond.
"If the sword were found again, then I think the fairest approach would be for the price paid by Hogwarts to retain it to be set by negotiation," Harry went on. "Then either the sword would be retained by Hogwarts itself in return for a fee, or returned to the descendants of King Ragnuk; the fee would take into account both the initial attempt by King Ragnuk to take the sword and the subsequent retention of the sword by Hogwarts or the previous headmasters thereof."
Now the Head Goblin nodded slightly, almost against his will.
"I believe we can do business, Mr. Potter," he said, leaving Harry feeling that he'd passed whatever test had been going on. "I will have Mr. Shardmouth show you around."
The first things that Mr. Shardmouth showed Harry were surprisingly mundane. There was an office, which was where Harry would be doing any paperwork – something which sounded likely, since Harry supposed he was doing work at a bank – and an introduction to how things were laid out, though Mr. Shardmouth assured Harry that he wasn't going to need to know straight away.
Dumbledore smiled his way through the discussions, and the introductions as well (to goblins with such names as Griphook, Axetalon and Urg). They had different roles which were a bit hard to remember, though Harry couldn't say if that was because they were strange goblin terms or just that they were strange banking terms.
Then they got to the actual interesting bit.
"This is the main ventilation shaft," Mr. Shardmouth explained, pointing upwards in the middle of a well-lit cavern.
If this were a story where the ventilation shaft were important, there'd be a little chink of sunlight which would alert the heroes to how they could get out, but there was no such clue here. Instead Harry spread his wings a little, feeling how the air moved, then nodded – there was a gentle air current upwards.
"There are other ones, right?" he asked. "It feels like there would have to be."
"Correct," Mr. Shardmouth verified. "There are three others, all smaller, and in colder parts of Gringotts. The air flows from the colder sections to the warmer ones such as this."
Harry nodded, then spread his wings the rest of the way.
"Should I just see if I can get up there?" he checked.
"Of course, Mr. Potter," Mr. Shardmouth confirmed. "The magical protections here are the same as on the smaller shafts."
Harry was just about to take off, then paused.
"Birds and bats and things must occasionally find this," he said, thinking out loud. "One way or the other. Do they get affected?"
"That would be a waste of time," the goblin replied. "We can't have the alarms go off for every single bat."
Harry took off, then, and flew up towards the crack in the ceiling. He had to use his paws and claws to pull himself up once he was actually at the ceiling, and the ventilation shaft wasn't straight – it turned left, then right, then back in on itself, and Harry eventually admitted defeat and went back down rather than get stuck.
Mr. Shardmouth didn't look happy.
"Is something wrong?" Harry asked.
"Nothing to do with you, Mr. Potter," Mr. Shardmouth said, composing himself a little. "I think I need to have a word with Nagnok, that should have set off the alarms."
"I believe I have the solution," Professor Dumbledore said, mildly. "Unless I am incorrect, and that is something I am quite used to, might it be that the protections are intended to detect those Charms which allow one to fly – such as one might find on a broom?"
He indicated Harry. "While Mr. Potter does indeed use magic to fly, or a little of it, he does not use Charms in the way which we normally understand them. But those Animagi which can turn into animals such as beetles or birds would fly by entirely non-magical means."
"I need to have several words with Nagnok," Mr. Shardmouth decided, grimly. "Starting with 'Fix this'."
"You could put a grille on the shaft," Harry suggested. "Or, more than one of them, and have the second one sound the alarm if it's disturbed. That way a normal bird or bat or whatever wouldn't get far enough to sound the alarm…"
The other things that Harry did on that first day were mostly that sort of thing, at least until about one in the afternoon. Mr. Shardmouth required Harry to go through a waterfall on a cart, then to go through it flying, and took notes on what happened both times (which wasn't much, as far as Harry was concerned), and then after that he had to put his paw on a door without a keyhole.
"This is like one of those ones on door You Know Which, isn't it?" he asked, after lifting his paw away again. "The one which had the You Know What in it."
Mr. Shardmouth looked politely baffled, which was an interesting look on a goblin.
"Back when I first came here," Harry elaborated. "After I spent twenty minutes swimming around in my hoard, I mean – you were the one who showed me around, and Hagrid had to pick something up. I don't actually know what vault it was, or what it was in there – though I've got a guess – but the way Hagrid said it I wondered if it was like how everyone knows what You Know Who is."
The goblin's expression cleared. Next to him, Dumbledore was smiling in a way which reminded Harry of how Sirius looked with a particularly good comic.
"You are correct, Mr. Potter," Mr. Shardmouth said. "The You Know What, as you describe it, was indeed held in a vault with a melting door."
"What about the dragons?" Harry added. "I remember seeing a dragon off in the distance back then."
"As it happens, all our dragons have recently been put out to pasture in a reserve in Burkina Faso," the goblin told him. "Part of a reconsideration of policy. I can assure you, however, that Gringotts will be interested in hiring dragons again under… a different policy… when they become available, and wish to remind you that the current lack of dragons is a Gringotts business secret."
That entirely made sense to Harry, and he said so.
Then it was lunch – it was Harry's first time trying out Goblin cuisine, which at least in this case ran to pastries with extremely spicy fillings – and most of the afternoon was the much more mundane business of paperwork.
Dumbledore took his leave for that, saying that he should really go and see whether the Wizengamot had finished the argument they'd been having yesterday, so Harry was mostly doing it alone in the office he'd been assigned.
Skara dropped by to say hello, though, which was nice of her.
"So, how was it?" Sirius asked, when Harry came through the door a little after four in the afternoon.
"You mean working at Gringotts?" Harry asked, shaking the water off his wings – there'd been ominous rumbles of thunder, but even flying home as fast as he could hadn't seen him avoid being rained on. "Not bad, they're kind of used to young wizards working there but not quite so used to dragons doing paperwork."
Sirius winked. "No, I mean working. Closest thing I've ever done is politics, when it's something important, and even that is new this decade for me."
Harry thought back, then realized that was probably true.
"Oh, and you'll like what we did with your room," Sirius added, springing out of his armchair. "I bet you'll be impressed."
His room – the one you reached by opening the door – had a large bed in the corner, and had two walls lined with bookshelves. It looked about as big as before, but the lack of his tent made Harry suspect something was up.
Sirius promptly proved that, by pushing on The Black Gryphon and The White Dragon at the same time, and the bookshelf opened like a door. Behind was a larger room, one with the tent set up, but also a second bed and a sort of giant pet bed full of cushions.
"Thought you might want to see if it works out," Sirius explained. "If it doesn't, no worry, we'll give it to Hagrid or something."
Striding over to one of the bookshelves that covered the walls of that room, Sirius demonstrated further that a non-fiction book about the Dam Busters, when pushed in conjunction with Dolphins of Pern, opened the door to an en-suite bathroom with (among other things) a dragon-sized bath and a dragon-scale shower.
"Kreacher plumbed it all in over the afternoon," Sirius explained. "It uses the same pipes and stuff as the bathroom that was already on this floor, so both the inner rooms are hidden. And if you want to lock one of the doors you just take the books in with you, they open from the inside by the handles."
He stood back. "I decided not long ago that Grimmauld Place was nowhere near fun enough, not like most magical homes, so I'm fixing that. Dogwarts needs some quirks as well, though… want a room with a launch catapult?"
The next day, Dumbledore met Harry outside Gringotts again and told him that, alas, the letter naming Harry as Head Boy had gone unwritten because of some minor issue in Godalming in Essex.
Harry remembered exactly what the issue had been, and he supposed that that was fair enough. It had been quite a distracting experience.
Dumbledore gave Harry the letter in question right then and there, and while there was work to deal with Harry simply put it in his beaded bag. It was nestled nicely under his wing, thanks to some elastic ropes which had probably taken Hermione quite a lot of work, and he was fairly sure it would stay safe there over the course of his work.
That day – and, as it later transpired, the next – were mostly taken up with the strengths and weaknesses of the rock of Gringotts itself as a defence. Harry used his raw strength (which often surprised him, since while he flew around a lot he didn't use his forelegs to do it) to test non-magical excavation much more quickly than it would have been possible to do with someone using a pick or a shovel, then used regular dragon flame to attack the rock.
It turned out the latter was more effective than anyone had expected, so that was another bit of good work Harry had done, and while he wasn't sure that his report that the rock was 'edible' had had quite such an effect he flew home that day feeling quite proud.
Once home, of course, he had the Head Boy letter to open, and also one from Ginny (carried by her tiny and slightly crazy owl) which told him that Percy had been fired out his window by a spring launcher courtesy of both Fred and George earlier that day.
It passed on a request from Percy to give Sirius a thwack if he'd been responsible for the idea, which left Harry wondering if the Twins or Sirius had come up with the idea first.
At least they'd picked one of the Weasleys who was capable of independent flight.
Moving on from that, the Head Boy letter contained the badge – which Harry used to replace his Prefect badge on the robes he'd be wearing – and contained a quick summary of his duties, as well as the first passwords for all four of the house common rooms and for the Prefects' bathroom (among other things).
Harry was intrigued to know that as Head Boy he'd be in a meeting with the Headmaster and Deputy Headmaster once a week, on Sundays, and that he'd be kept up to date on the passwords for all four houses – something which, he was reminded, was because he was a representative of the whole school when acting as Head Boy, rather than being a representative of his House specifically.
The way it sounded was that, if you needed there to be one specific boy from the school who was to represent it, it would probably be the Head Boy. And the same was true of the Head Girl (probably).
It all sounded interesting, and Harry asked Sirius that evening what his parents had done when they were Head Boy and Head Girl. The answer – at least, as far as Sirius described it – seemed to be that they'd managed to very effectively prevent Sirius from finding out that they had most of the passwords in question.
Which was probably for the best, knowing Sirius.
It was on Thursday that they finally reached the real reason why Harry was in Gringotts.
The whole morning had involved particularly nasty things like Fiendfyre – the first test of which had left Mr. Shardmouth very nonplussed at a molten hole in what had previously been the door to the Nott vault – and some of the more dangerous Goblin curses which were placed on some of the more critical vaults, all of which just happened to be those belonging to Death Eaters (either currently in prison or those who Harry was fairly sure were guilty but had managed to avoid conviction). Most of the curses hadn't worked either, or at least not very well, though one runic sequence which involved a rain of molten metal had managed to pin Harry down until released.
It would have been quite spectacularly fatal for anyone who wasn't a dragon, and Harry had to admit he was quite grateful Mr. Shardmouth had advised him to divest himself of anything remotely destructible before activating that trap. There hadn't been any sign of Horcruxes yet, though, despite Dumbledore idly checking each time they were inside a vault.
Just before lunch, though, they reached the Lestrange vault.
"By a long standing request, this whole vault is under the effect of two curses," Mr. Shardmouth told Harry. "The Gemino curse means that any object which is touched will duplicate itself, while the Flagrante curse causes any object which is touched..."
"-to heat up," Harry finished. "So anyone who stays in there too long is going to end up buried under hot metal."
"Indeed," Mr. Shardmouth confirmed. "The copies are, of course, worthless, and dissolve after twelve hours."
He smiled. "Though any thief is unlikely to last that long."
He ran his finger down the door, and it melted away – revealing the most extravagant vault Harry had seen yet. It was full of gold, of golden goblets, silver armour, of the strange leathery skins of magical creatures, of potions and crowns.
It was more like a dragon's hoard than anything Harry had yet seen, except that he doubted that any dragon would include some of the mortal remains of their own kind. Maybe a really unpleasant one, but Harry hoped that dragons like that would never actually exist.
"Lumos Maxima," Dumbledore incanted with a negligent little wave of his wand, lighting up the whole vault in a way that made it shine like it was daytime as they walked inside. There was only a little area near the entrance which was free of objects on the floor, and the wizard, the goblin and the dragon between them nearly filled it.
"Professor," Harry said, pointing at a goblet – one of several in the vault, but one with two handles which had been given pride of place. "Is that…?"
"I do believe it is," Dumbledore confirmed.
Mr. Shardmouth looked annoyed, at the reminder that anything was going to be taken from any of the vaults, but Dumbledore smiled pleasantly.
"That is the cup of Helga Hufflepuff," he explained. "Originally created by her, I believe, and which was in the ownership of her descendant Hepzibah Smith until she was murdered by Tom Riddle."
He twitched his wand, conjuring a sheet of metal out of thin air, then Transfigured the sheet into a phoenix made out of the same metal. The phoenix flew over to snag the handles of the cup, briefly hovering in place with talons firmly clamped, then came back over and deposited the cup on the floor of the vault.
"Can you prove that Tom Riddle murdered Hepzibah Smith?" Mr. Shardmouth challenged.
In reply, Dumbledore flicked his wand. The tip hovered less than half an inch from the brim, and there was a little flicker of red light.
"Alas, I believe I can," he said. "Or, as closely as makes no difference. You see, this cup is imbued with dark, evil magic… magic which requires as part of the casting a murder. If Tom Riddle did not murder Hepzibah Smith, he took her cup after her death and then murdered someone else so as to cast the magic of which I speak."
He stepped back. "Since these are stolen goods, I will have to inform a member of the family of my seizure – and, regrettably, destruction – of the proceeds. Harry, do you happen to have a mirror keyed to Sirius?"
Harry did indeed, and it took only a few minutes to contact Sirius.
He said, in a formal-seeming way, that he understood and that he hoped it wasn't necessary to inform the news media. Dumbledore replied that it would be better for all concerned if it didn't reach the news, and Mr. Shardmouth confirmed that that was the understanding currently held by Gringotts.
Then Harry destroyed the Cup with a little jet of Fiendfyre, diluting it with a much larger burst of Bluebell Flames, and followed that up by picking up a single Galleon from the vault. Both curses activated, that time, and the scatter of a dozen or so duplicate coins scattered across the floor – fortunately, none of them touched anyone's shoes.
"Excellent," Dumbledore pronounced. "Do you know, I believe I might make it a project in my old age to make another such Cup. It might prove a useful pastime, once I have divested myself of a few of my jobs."
Mr. Shardmouth was too busy staring at the puddle of metal that had once been Hufflepuff's Cup. Harry was worried at first that he was having second thoughts, but then he spoke.
"That is what Fiendfyre is like?" the goblin asked. "I felt what that was doing that time! It was… burning through the magic, or something like that?"
"Fiendfyre is indeed quite ferociously powerful," Dumbledore confirmed. "I dare say that by this point Mr. Potter is the world expert in the subject."
"I think we're going to need to try and work out a countermeasure to that," Mr. Shardmouth summarized, seeming to regain some of his aplomb. "A new project for you for the afternoon, I think, Mr. Potter."
The final day and a half of Harry's time at Gringotts was taken up doing the sort of thing that was more what Harry sort of thought was normal for working at Gringotts – or, at least, the sort of thing that a curse breaker or magical defences expert would do. That meant trying to work out how to either break through a system of defences or neutralize a way of doing so, in this case mostly the latter, and Harry worked with not only Shardmouth but also another goblin (by the name of Griphook, one Harry had been introduced to before) and Ron's oldest brother Bill to combine the work that could be done by Charms, Transfiguration, Alchemy, Runes and a few other things.
Gringotts had plenty of reference books, and Bill knew some interesting diagnostic spells (and a fair amount about Arithmancy) and after a few hours throwing around ideas on the topic they decided that the best approach that could actually be practically used would be to add an extra layer or two to the defences. The problem wasn't so much in coming up with a way to prevent Fiendfyre from breaking into a vault – as Bill pointed out, Gringotts had made an enormous amount of profit over the decades demonstrating that you could unpick any magical defence with enough time, and do it without disturbing the contents either – but in ensuring that it was both slower and more hassle than was currently the case. And that if someone tried it it wouldn't just destroy everything in the vault.
Adding a layer of fused stone made out of very high-temperature rock alchemically treated with tungsten and ash was one possibility – something which could be added to the back of a door with a lock, or form a second layer behind a melting door, coat the inside of a vault. It wasn't impervious to Fiendfyre but would take a while to melt through, while the simple precaution of an alarm spell suppressed by the intact stone layer would mean that someone couldn't burn or melt their way through the protective stone layer without the alarm being raised.
(Though the idea of someone trying to stealthily burn through solid rock with Fiendfyre was sort of amusing in the first place.)
Then the other idea was one which came from a much more Muggle way of thinking about things, which was just to install sprinklers in all the vaults but to fill them with bluebell flames.
If it worked, it worked, after all.
The final thing that happened was that Bill gave him a more general talk (over lunch, in fact) about what curse breaking was like in the field. It was a bit like archaeology and a bit like scientific research, because unlike with the Gringotts experiments he'd been doing over the week it was often historically important to know what the curses were and to neutralize them without corrupting the historical record of the rest of the tomb or other vault, and also because you wanted to be very sure you were neutralizing the right thing. Bill's own work in Egypt had gone well, though, including a painstaking two-year cursebreaking on a massive tomb complex at Bahariya in western Egypt before finally bringing down the masking enchantment that had hidden the whole site since a malfunction in the seventh century.
It seemed that not many new discoveries of that sort that showed up in the news were actually new discoveries, because often they were only found by Muggles after a cursebreaking team had made sure the site was safe to leave for Muggle discovery.
For the rest of the summer, Harry had a few things to reflect on.
The first was what it had been like working at Gringotts, and Harry thought that it seemed like kind of a nice place to work. It wasn't the same as school, but the intellectual challenge stuff had been fun, and based on how hard it had been for Gringotts to come up with a defensive enchantment that actually troubled him it seemed like he'd be able to do quite well at cursebreaking.
(He could also just stick around for a few years, that was a genuine option because of how much money Sirius had, but it felt like having a job was worthwhile.)
Harry also found himself thinking a lot about Horcruxes. They'd ticked off all the ones they knew about or even seriously guessed about, and it had taken him a long time to get close to the six Horcruxes that he'd been aiming for – with decades between them – but there could be another one out there, and the only other place of any kind of importance Harry could think of as a hiding place was the Ministry. But there was nothing that Voldemort could have used as his Horcrux, at least if he was using the same sort of logic as he had for the others and looking out for things which were meaningful.
Then there was his Apparition test, which came along a few days later – on the Twenty-First of August – and which Harry passed quite handily. He'd been mentally preparing himself for it for days, and when the time actually came and he did the test it was almost anticlimactic.
Apparate to a specified destination, where (if you got it right) the examiner arrived just a moment after you. If you hadn't Splinched, then do it again back to the start point.
Repeat for a different location, and that was more or less it.
There was something remarkably freeing about being able to take off, fly into the sky, turn on the spot and Apparate half the length of Britain in one go.
"Not really a great end to the summer, is it?" Ron asked.
Harry didn't need to ask what he meant. They'd all heard about half an hour ago.
The friends were assembled around a table in the gardens of Longbottom House, which had an excellent view of some pleasant hills forming part of the Yorkshire Dales.
It was a very nice table for that kind of picnic lunch that only counted as a picnic lunch because it was outdoors, and even though they could have Apparated up onto the hills themselves – or onto an island in the Hebrides, for that matter – it had seemed like a nicer idea to just have scones and sandwiches in the grounds of Longbottom House, where there was no risk of having to scramble to bundle everything up and Apparate home if a thunderstorm rolled into view.
The news was sort of depressing the mood, though.
"It sounds kind of wrong," Dean contributed. "I mean… she was a princess. You don't really expect princesses to die in car crashes."
"I don't think you really expect princesses to die at all, come to that," Harry frowned. "It's just not the sort of thing they do."
"Unlike You Know Whos," Neville pointed out. "For someone who was all about not dying, he's died twice now. That's more than anyone else has managed."
Hermione cut a scone in half, then buttered it and added some jam. "That does make me think, actually."
"About what?" Ron said. "Something wrong?"
"More like… kind of how grateful we should be to Harry, really," Hermione explained. "Dean and myself, especially… we're hearing on the news about someone famous dying in a car crash. But if Voldemort hadn't been stopped – by Harry – we might be hearing about someone we know dying because of Voldemort and his lackeys."
"I think you're looking too hard for that silver lining," Ron judged. "It is a good point, though…"
Another one bites the dust. They've sort of run out of leads now, though.
Not having mind-affecting visions is very useful for your mental health and general wellbeing, but it does diminish the number of clues you have available.
As for the bit at the end… Harry is British, so there's no way to avoid that particular incident (short of, well, hiding out in the woods for months or something). For non-Brits, the search term is "Diana".