A fortnight after the Final Battle, Harry received a cryptically worded summons for an audience at Gringotts:
Dear Mr Potter,
Your presence is requested for a secret and private reading of the last will and testament of someone who wishes to remain anonymous until the reading of the will. You are to tell no one about it, as the identity of your benefactor is an extremely sensitive matter. The deceased has made you the heir and sole beneficiary of their estate. This is a confidential matter which is to remain confidential even after the reading of the will. To attend the reading, you must accept these terms. If you accept, please sign below and come to Gringotts tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock.
At the bottom of the page was a space for Harry's signature, along with the addendum that upon signing the letter, he would henceforth be bound to a magical contract that would prevent him from revealing the information contained within.
Harry stared at the parchment in his hand and frowned. Who would name him as their heir and the sole beneficiary of their estate? And who would want him to keep that information confidential? Dumbledore would probably have been the most likely candidate but his will had already been read and executed. Was it someone from the Order? Not Lupin, surely. Remus would have made Teddy his heir, not Harry. Mad-Eye? Maybe. He didn't have any children and he had cared about Harry, to the point of being overprotective even. Or ... could it be ... Snape? It was possible, Harry thought, as he scanned the contents of the Gringott's letter again. Unlikely, but possible. Snape was exactly the sort of person who would leave such mysterious and meticulously calculated instructions about the reading of his will. And who else but Severus Snape would insist on such secretive measures?
Leery of signing anything that would constitute a binding magical contract, Harry deliberated for a while, but in the end he knew there wasn't really a choice.
It would just be another secret he'd have to keep.
He grimaced at the thought of the other secret, the one he knew he could never tell to another living soul: he was once again in possession of the three Deathly Hallows. After the Final Battle, he had fully intended to return the Elder Wand to its previous resting place and to leave the Resurrection Stone in the Forbidden Forest where he'd dropped it. But after thinking about it further, he realised the disastrous consequences that could happen if he left two of the Hallows in places where they could easily be found. He certainly hadn't asked for it but there was no getting around the fact that he was the one who had successfully united the Hallows, and like it or not, he was now the master of Death. As such, it was his responsibility to keep the Hallows safe.
And so it was that the evening after the Battle, Harry slipped on his Invisibility Cloak and returned to the Forbidden Forest, Elder Wand in hand, and used a Point Me spell to find the Resurrection Stone. Ron and Hermione had gone to the Burrow with the Weasleys, but he'd begged off, telling them he was going to return the wand then go to Grimmauld Place to get some much-needed sleep. It didn't take him long to find the stone, which only seemed to confirm that he was right to get it back. Once he'd retrieved it, he walked to Hogsmeade and Apparated straight to London, then put the wand and the stone in a box and warded it with every protection spell and enchantment he could think of. As a final safeguard, he spelled it so it could only be opened with a command in Parseltongue.
And that was yet another secret. He was still a Parselmouth. Apparently not all of Dumbledore's theories were correct. Perhaps it was a natural gift and Harry had been born with the ability to speak the language of serpents, or if he did indeed gain the ability to speak it because he had been Voldemort's horcrux, maybe it was a language that once learned, couldn't be forgotten. In any case, it wasn't something Harry wanted anyone to know - not even Ron and Hermione. He just wanted to be normal for a change ... or at least pretend to be. Besides, there was a far bigger issue to take into account. Now that Dumbledore and Voldemort were both dead, the wizarding world would likely consider Harry to be the most powerful wizard in Britain, if not the world. Whether it was a deserved assumption or not, it was what people were going to think, and he knew it. He would have to be very careful about the public's perception of him, more than he ever had before.
He knew all too well that public opinion changed fast and swung from one extreme to the other, particularly when it came to him. Harry might be a hero again right now, but he knew it would just be a matter of time before people would begin focusing less on the fact that he defeated Voldemort and more on the idea that he was the most powerful wizard alive, and therefore, a wizard to be feared. When things settled down, he was sure it wouldn't be long before the public started watching him with mistrust and suspicion, looking for any sign that he might be the next Dark Lord in the making. Being a known Parselmouth would only cause trouble for him. So Harry lied and told his friends that he lost the ability to speak Parseltongue when Voldemort cast the killing curse on him and destroyed the soul fragment that gave him the aptitude in the first place.
That first night at Grimmauld Place was the hardest. The house was intact and unharmed - Harry had spoken to Kreacher at Hogwarts after the Battle and had been surprised to learn that the house was still safely protected under the Fidelius Charm; when asked what happened with Yaxley, Kreacher explained that he had been at the house when the Death Eater appeared, and he had Apparated Yaxley out immediately and Obliviated him of the memory of its location, therefore keeping the location of number twelve a secret - and Harry was grateful for it and glad to be home again. But he'd just seen Sirius in the Forest only hours before and the pain of losing him all over again was overwhelming. He couldn't bear the thought of staying in his godfather's old room so he decided to take Regulus' bedroom as his own. Despite being exhausted, he couldn't sleep. His mind kept replaying memories of the Battle, over and over; and he couldn't stop thinking about his parents, and Sirius, and Lupin and Tonks, and Fred, and Snape, and all the others who'd died in the battle. When he did sleep he had strange, restless dreams about the younger Tom Riddle at Hogwarts and Voldemort in the graveyard at Little Hangleton. It was a long night.
Hermione showed up the next morning, looking pale and drawn, and asked if she could stay with him for a day or two. Though she and Harry were considered honourary members of the Weasley clan, neither wanted to intrude on the privacy of the grieving family who were only just beginning to mourn the devastating loss of Fred. Guilt had taken a firm hold of Harry by that point and he confided to Hermione that he wasn't sure he could bear to face anyone, especially the Weasleys. After all, it was his fault that Fred died in the first place. It was his fault that Lupin and Tonks were dead and that Teddy was now an orphan.
"How can you think that?" Hermione had said, aghast. "It was Voldemort's fault, not yours!"
Harry responded by whispering the words that Voldemort had spoken, the words that would be forever imprinted on his soul: "You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself."
"No, Harry! It was war, and death is an inevitable part of war," she'd said. "You can't save everyone. It's not possible. You couldn't have saved Fred or Lupin or Tonks ... or any of them. And it wasn't up to you, don't you see? They all chose to fight, and they knew what they were getting themselves into. We all did. It was their choice. Don't take that away from them. To blame yourself is to dishonour their bravery and their sacrifice."
He'd nodded, not wanting to argue. Intellectually, he understood what she was saying. But he felt like he had failed. Yes, he'd defeated Voldemort in the end, but the cost was so unbearably high. He didn't think he would ever be able to forgive himself.
Ron and Ginny came over a few hours after that conversation. The moment Harry saw them, whatever control he'd had up until then shattered. Hermione must have seen it because she immediately stepped in, quietly explaining that Harry needed time to process everything that had happened.
"He died," she reminded them, her voice grim. "No one can understand what he went through, not even us."
Both Ron and Ginny tried to approach Harry then, but all he could do was shake his head and cover his face with his hands, unable to speak or even look at them. Distantly, he could hear Hermione whispering words like "survivor's guilt" and "post traumatic stress" but he barely registered what she was saying. At that moment, he felt like the worst kind of coward. Immobilised by the torrent of emotions that had taken possession of him, he could only sit there, frozen, as Hermione went on: "I think it's all just caught up with him now. Considering what he's been through, I'm sure he must be suffering from the after-effects of physical, emotional and magical shock. We have to protect him. He needs quiet, and time and space to recuperate. Everyone is going to want to bombard him with questions that he isn't ready to answer. They'll expect too much from him and you know how he is when it comes to that. He'd wear himself out trying to be what they want him to be." The whispers grew quieter then he heard her say, "No, you two should be with your family. Your mum and dad need you. George needs you. I'll stay here and look after him."
Harry felt a steady hand on his shoulder a moment later. "Mate," Ron said softly. "I understand. You take all the time you need and don't you dare for one second blame yourself for anything. Fred - " Ron's voice broke suddenly but then he cleared his throat and continued, "Fred would never forgive you if he knew you were blaming yourself." Ginny was next. "Harry?" she whispered. He tried to look at her but couldn't. "Don't worry about anything right now," she said. Harry wanted to wince at her overly bright tone. He had lost a friend, but they had lost their beloved brother. Neither should have to burden themselves with trying to comfort him. "You just take care of yourself, all right?" He managed to nod in response. Then Hermione led them away.
Hermione was a godsend, helping him get through those first few terrible days. When the surviving Order members came to check on him, she held them off, telling them that he was recovering from a curse inflicted during the Final Battle and that the private Healer who was looking after him had issued the strict decree that he was not to be disturbed under any circumstances.
She made it her mission to take care of all the practical matters that most needed to be addressed: first, a public statement of hope and reassurance from Harry to the wizarding world and second, two interviews, for The Quibbler and The Daily Prophet, which she arranged with her usual efficiency. She sat in on both interviews, carefully monitoring the questions and answers. She and Harry had prepared for them thoroughly, having decided that the true story could never be revealed (lest anyone else get the idea to make horcruxes of their own), and they came up with an accounting of Harry's part in the war that was both believable and appeasing to the masses. During Harry's final confrontation with Voldemort, he'd talked about the horcruxes in front of everyone, but thankfully Hermione had somehow had the presence of mind to cast a Muffliato Charm around Harry and Voldemort when they started speaking, so no one had actually heard what had been said between them. In the Daily Prophet interview, Harry made an official statement when asked about it, saying that while he would not reveal the details about that last conversation, he could confirm that it left no doubt that Voldemort was defeated once and for all.
Those first few days were the hardest but Harry slowly started to come to terms with all that happened. Ever the survivor, he steeled himself to push forward and shift his focus to doing what was necessary to put himself back together. Although, that was a task easier said than done. He would never admit it to anyone, but a big part of him felt curiously empty, and he found himself wondering if that emptiness had sprung from the void the now-destroyed soul piece once occupied. He couldn't help but remember what Hermione said about him and Voldemort that one time, when he'd kept their link open and watched Voldemort question and then murder that woman during his search for Gregorovitch: "I don't get it, Harry - do you like having this special connection or relationship or what - whatever - " It echoed in his head every time he felt the strange pang of emptiness inside him, and every time, he would shove the thought away, not wanting to think about it.
At the start of the second week, Harry finally convinced Hermione that he was okay, thanks to all her help, and so she went to the Burrow to be with Ron. Harry remained at Grimmauld Place with Kreacher. He attended the funerals for Fred and Lupin and Tonks, which had been heartbreaking and nearly unbearable, and made a few necessary appearances at the Death Eater trials. At the Malfoy trials, he testified on the behalf of Narcissa and Draco. It took some convincing but when Harry explained that Narcissa had saved him by lying to Voldemort during the Final Battle and that Draco had been forced to serve Voldemort but had, in his own way, tried to protect Harry on two separate occasions, the Wizengamot listened. Lucius was sent to Azkaban with all the other Death Eaters but Narcissa and Draco were both pardoned.
Harry spent the rest of his time at home. He wanted to be alone - he had a lot to think about and many decisions to make regarding his future. He talked to Kreacher a lot, about his plans to renovate the house, and about the possibility of inviting Andromeda and his now-godson, Teddy, to live there once the house was fixed up. He sometimes spoke to Phineas Nigellus, whose portrait had been returned by Hermione and now hung in the Black drawing room. Knowing from Snape's memories that Phineas had actually been working with Snape and Dumbledore and had in fact been instrumental in helping him during the war, Harry tried to thank him one time. Phineas gave him an odd look then smiled. "You like this house, don't you?" he asked unexpectedly. Harry blinked at him then nodded. "The Black House," Phineas emphasised, his eyes gleaming. "You see the Black family tapestry there," he said, pointing at it. "On that tapestry we are called The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black - noble, Mr Potter. Nobility comes in many forms, sometimes in quarters one wouldn't have expected." And with that, he smiled again then walked out of the frame, presumably going back to his portrait at Hogwarts.
Kingsley Shacklebolt had been formally named the official Minister of Magic and was working tirelessly to handle the aftermath, embracing the challenge of bringing order to the chaos the war had wrought with admirable aplomb and proficiency. Harry was glad someone competent was finally in charge. He trusted Kingsley and knew that there was no better person for the job.
Voldemort was dead, the war was over, and Wizarding Britain was in good hands with Kingsley at the helm. Everything was starting to come together and it looked like things were going to be all right.
But now, exactly a fortnight after the Final Battle, the Gringotts letter had come and suddenly there was a new mystery to solve. The moment Harry signed his name and bound himself to the magical contract, a feeling of foreboding crept over him and he wondered if he'd made a grave mistake. But it was too late to change his mind; he would simply have to go and see for himself who was behind the strange summons.
The next morning Harry arrived at Gringotts quite early, having a few other matters to take care of first. He was a bit worried initially about how his presence would be received due to the trio's successful break-in and subsequent escape from the Wizarding Bank roughly two weeks prior, but none of the goblins said anything about it to him; instead, he was met with an odd sort of indifference, although he did glimpse a few scowls and even a few looks of reluctant admiration on some of the goblins' faces. The first thing Harry did was pay a visit to his trust vault, where he deposited the box containing the two Hallows. Grimmauld Place had been a safe enough place to hide them short term, but he could think of no safer place for the long term than his vault.
When he'd returned to the Gringotts lobby, he asked to speak to the goblin in charge of the Potter account. Minutes later, he was introduced to Morbek, the manager of the Potter estate. The goblin led Harry to a private room and once they were alone, Harry got straight to the point.
"I was wondering if my parents left a copy of their will here at Gringotts," he began, and when Morbek nodded in the affirmative he continued, "I am of age now and have been for almost a year but because of the war, this is my first opportunity to meet with you to discuss my inheritance. I wanted to talk about my trust vault ... and anything else I might have inherited now that I'm legally an adult."
The goblin laughed. "Oh yes, you've inherited more than the trust vault, Mr Potter," he said with an amused grin. "And we will go over all the particulars, rest assured. However, you might want to call for Argrod, the manager of the Black estate. I would suggest that you ask that he join us after we discuss the more private details of your holdings as the Potter Heir."
An hour later, Harry left the room, his mind reeling. He'd had to conclude the meeting with Morbek and Argrod because the time had come for his appointment for the reading of the mysterious will, but as he followed the goblin who was presently escorting him to the place where the will was to be read, all Harry could think about was what he had just learned. His whole world had been thrown off-kilter, with one staggering revelation that had shocked him to the core.
He'd been surprised to learn that he had inherited a fairly sizable fortune as the Potter Heir, including various holdings and properties he'd never known about. But, the real shock was finding out that he was also the Black Heir. Harry had been caught completely off guard when he was told the startling facts about his paternal grandparents. Apparently, his grandfather, Charlus Potter, had married Dorea Black, who was the aunt of Sirius' mother, Walburga. James Potter had been Walburga's first cousin. Harry could scarcely believe it. He had been stunned to discover that he'd had family in the wizarding world all along, and worse, that no one told him. Why? Why hadn't Sirius told him that he wasn't merely Harry's godfather, but in fact his actual family - his second cousin? Why had no one ever told him he was related to Sirius by blood, or that he was blood-related to an equal degree to Narcissa Malfoy, Bellatrix Lestrange and Andromeda Tonks? Why had no one told him he was also blood-related to Nymphadora Tonks and his godson Teddy? Why had it been kept secret?
During the meeting with Argrod, Harry learned that when Sirius died, he and Draco Malfoy had been equally entitled to claim the position as Heir to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, because at the time, they were the last two living male blood descendents of Cygnus and Violetta Black. But Sirius had named Harry as his heir, so it had all become his, not just by magic, but by blood and birthright.
Harry had no more time to think on it, for he suddenly found himself standing in front of a door. The goblin opened it and gestured for him to go in. Harry peeked inside and saw that the room was empty, save for a table and two chairs. The goblin ushered him inside, and after telling Harry to sit down and wait, he gave a small bow then left, closing the door behind him. Moments later, the door opened again, and a stern-faced goblin entered.
"Mr Potter," he said with a curt nod, taking the other seat. "I am Ulbrok, the executor of your benefactor's estate. You are here for the reading of the last will and testament of someone who took many precautions regarding the inheritance bequeathed to you. One of those precautions was put in place to ensure your acceptance of said inheritance," he said with a nasty smile. "To summarise, you will find you have no choice but to agree to the terms your benefactor insisted upon."
Harry stared at him in surprise. "What terms? Who is this benefactor?"
"You'll know in due time," Ulbrok said. "The first order of business is to take you to the vault. There is something you must see there which shall explain everything." The goblin stood.
"This is highly irregular, I'm sure," Harry said with a frown, getting to his feet.
"Irregular ... yes," Ulbrok said. "But you must be used to such things, Mr Potter. You are, after all, The Boy Who Lived ... and now, The One Who Defeated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
"Voldemort," Harry corrected. There was no taboo on the name anymore and he refused to refer to the dead Dark Lord as anything other than Voldemort.
"Very bold," the goblin murmured. "We'll see how brave you are when you hear the terms of your bequeathment." His mouth curled up in an ugly smile. "Now, come along, Mr Potter. It's time to see what you have inherited."
Harry followed, growing more nervous with each step. Who was behind all this? Was it Snape? Or was it someone far more sinister? A fallen Death Eater getting their last revenge? They entered the hallway that led to the vaults. Ulbrok called for a cart and within seconds, it arrived and they climbed aboard; then the cart lurched forward and began whizzing along full throttle, hurtling through the twisted passages, until finally it grinded to a halt in front of vault 853.
"Here we are," Ulbrok said. They exited the cart and approached the door. Ulbrok grinned then turned and stroked the door with his long, gnarled fingers until it vanished and the entrance to the vault appeared. Harry looked inside: the front of the vault looked like a library; there were several bookcases filled top to bottom with books, positioned in such a way that Harry couldn't see what lay beyond them. "Go on," the goblin urged, his eyes shining with what appeared to be anticipation. "You may go in now."
"Hang on! I'm not just going in there," Harry protested, balking at the idea of entering an unknown vault, especially under the circumstances, which were creepy at best and potentially deadly at worst. "This could be a trap. Who knows what's in there!"
"No need to worry, Mr Potter. The moment you signed that letter, you became heir to this vault, and as such, nothing in it can harm you," Ulbrok asserted. At Harry's doubtful look, he gave a nod of understanding then raised a hand and intoned, "I hereby swear on my magic that Harry Potter will be safe while inside the vault. So mote it be."
Harry hesitated, but finally decided it was best to just get it over with.
He stepped inside. It was dark beyond the bookcases, so he cast a Lumos as he made his way forward. He had little time to get a good look around, because suddenly a cold, high-pitched voice said, "Ah! Harry Potter. You are here at last!"