About to become the last person in the free world to see the movie, but not before….
Harry returned to Grimmauld Place alone following the N.E.W.T.’s, citing an undefined illness to avoid the dinner promised by Mrs. Weasley earlier in the day. Despite an upturn in Ron’s mood that took place as soon as the exams were over, Harry was not ready to answer for his actions toward Ginny at his birthday party and hoped to postpone a confrontation as long as possible. Should she share her feelings with him again and find that he could not deliver the expected response, he feared the results may be worse, and longer lasting, than a stunning spell. As it stood, he held on to some hope that their relationship could be salvaged, though he had no idea how.
Sitting in the parlor late into the evening, Harry tried to think of what he could do to appease Ginny while steering clear of any discussion of his deepest feelings. Having faced Dark Lords and Death Eaters, Basilisks and Blast-Ended Skrewts, he knew a great deal about fear, but nothing terrified him as much as the prospect of hearing the words “I love you” falling from his tongue. For as long as he could remember, true feelings were what he pushed aside in order to do what needed to be done. Now, with his threats behind him and finally at peace, he should be able to share his inner emotions, but those long years of denial could not be overcome easily, even by the strength of his feelings for Ginny.
And then there was Cecelia. Harry knew nothing about her, but whenever he closed his eyes, he saw hers, dark and luminous. They seemed to have a gravity of their own, as though they might suck him inside their dark shimmering depths. He marveled that objects did not float in circles around, caught in her irresistible orbit. When she had stood before him at the Ministry, Harry had felt a similar sensation to that of a Portkey, a strong tugging sensation in his abdomen, drawing him closer to her.
His hand acted of its own volition, pulling the folded piece of paper from his pocket. He unfolded it slowly, his finger fumbling as though attempting to stop him from doing something he’d regret, and read the words on it:
Cecelia Fahad 2 Lampton Circle London
Expecting a phone number at first, it took Harry a moment to realize that, as a member of the magical community, she would likely have no need for a telephone. With her address, however, he could use the Floo Network to accomplish the same task–instantaneous communication with someone halfway across the country. Even better, he could Apparate . . . .
He folded the paper again and pulled it back to hurl into the fire, but held off at the last moment. His hand lowered and, with some effort, slid Cecelia’s information back into his pocket. Confused and agitated, he went to bed.
Harry’s sleep, unlike that of the previous night, was troubled by odd dreams in which he stood facing Ginny, eyeing him with unwavering adoration. He leaned in to kiss her, only to find her red hair had turned dark brown, and her eyes had shifted from their normal green to almost black. Instead of Ginny, Cecelia now stood before him, lips ready, waiting. Harry closed his eyes and, when he reopened them, found Ginny once again standing in front of him, ready for his kiss.
When he woke, Harry was struck with inspiration and dressed quickly in order to act upon it before he had second thoughts. He met Kreacher, holding a platter of food, at the bottom of the stairs and grabbed a muffin on his way out the door.
He arrived at Diagon Alley just as the shops were opening. The street was as empty as Harry had ever seen it, with only a few witches and wizards milling about and waiting outside certain stores. He received friendly waves from the likes of Madam Malkin, levitating a rack of clearance robes out to the sidewalk, and Mister Ollivander, his shop reopened after his long captivity by the Dark Lord. Only when he reached the building housing the wizarding bank of Gringotts did he hesitate. He stood with his hand on the wooden door handle for a long moment, then opened it and went inside.
The last time he had visited the bank, he had entered through the front door under his invisibility cloak and left on the back of a dragon that had been chained in one of the lowest levels of the vault, causing a great deal of chaos and destruction in the process. Now, as all eyes settled upon him and all sound in the normally bustling lobby stopped, he realized that the goblins had not forgotten.
He stood for some time by the door, ready to flee back into Diagon Alley should the goblins seek retribution for his actions of a few months before. The lobby looked like a Muggle photograph for some time, no one making the slightest movement, until a little figure, one that Harry recognized, skittered out from behind a counter and approached Harry.
“Well, Harry Potter,” Griphook said, “this is . . . unexpected.”
“I still have an account here,” Harry said, keeping his voice even to hide his discomfort.
“Yes, and you will find your vault safe and sound, unlike some of the others here.” Griphook winked, the gesture giving his pointed features a sinister look. “If you will follow me, I will take you there myself.”
Harry followed Griphook across the lobby of Gringotts, careful not to look to either side at the other goblins he could feel staring at him. Only when he was clear of their view did he dare breathe.
“So,” he said, trying to sound casual, “how have you been, Griphook?”
The goblin laughed, a cruel, high sound that made him shiver in its resemblance to Voldemort’s. “Despite my involvement in your law-breaking scheme, I have been accepted back on staff. Promoted even, to Director of Lower Vault Security. As my superiors put it, ‘This is your mess, you sort it out.'”
“That’s . . . great,” Harry stammered. To him, it seemed as though Griphook had forgotten that it was he, not Harry, who had devised the plan to break into LeStrange vault to steal the cup of Helga Hufflepuff. Bill Weasley’s warnings about goblins whispered in his mind and he made a point to be on his guard, particularly with Griphook.
“I’ve installed remarkable new measures to prevent you wizards from penetrating the lowest levels, measures that have been adopted throughout the bank. I think, should you try to steal from us again, that you would barely penetrate beyond the entrance to the vaults before you were killed.”
“Glad I didn’t plan on doing that today, then,” Harry said. He wanted to stick a barb into the goblin, just for spite, and went for the obvious. “More dragons, I suppose?”
“No,” Griphook said. They had reached the rail car that would take them down through the lower levels of the bank. “You and your criminal friends showed us how unreliable the beasts can be. However, you also showed us where our weaknesses lie, and for that, we owe you some measure of gratitude. Gringotts is stronger and safer now than ever before.”
They got into the rail car, but instead of setting off, Griphook muttered a few words in his own language. The car shuttered, then started slowly down the rail.
“One of our protections,” Griphook explained. “Should anyone besides an authorized representative of Gringotts try to use a rail car, the car will roll . . . straight into our incinerator.”
Harry said nothing, instead focusing on the vault doors sliding past them at increasing speeds. Griphook also remained silent until they reached his vault, but then could hold his tongue no more.
“Without me accompanying you,” the goblin said proudly, “you would have been killed seven times over before you reached this point.”
“That’s great,” Harry said, losing patience with Griphook’s boasting. “Now if we can just do what we need to and get out of here–“
“Of course, Mr. Potter.”
Harry entered the vault as soon as Griphook opened the door. Everything looked the same since the last time he entered, so he scooped a fair amount of gold galleons into a bag and returned to the door.
“There was some talk of charging you for the damages done to the bank,” Griphook told him, “but, in a measure of good faith and gratitude for your defeat of the Dark Lord, we decided against it.”
“Thanks,” Harry said, not sounding thankful.
They returned to the surface, Griphook watching him with a smug grin as though hoping Harry would ask more questions about the security measures protecting the bank. When they reached the end of their trip back up and got out, Griphook led him back to the lobby.
“Griphook,” Harry said before the goblin could walk off, “I need this changed to Muggle money.”
Griphook eyed him suspiciously, then motioned for him to follow him to a counter where another goblin took the bag from him and placed it on a golden set of scales. The side the gold sat upon sank immediately, but bills began appearing on the other side, balancing out the weight. Before long, the bag was balanced against a stack of British Pound notes which went into another bag and was slid across the counter to Harry.
“Will there be anything else, Mr. Potter?” Griphook asked, obviously hoping there wasn’t.
For a wild moment, Harry thought of asking about the sword of Godric Gryffindor, the one the goblins thought safe within Gringotts until Neville had drawn it from the Sorting Hat during the Battle of Hogwarts. Caution prevailed, however, and he shook his head. “No, that’s it.”
“Good day, then,” Griphook returned. The goblin turned and walked away.
Harry, longing to be somewhere without dozens of goblins staring at him, did the same.
Brompton Road in Knightsbridge was already busy, even at such an early hour. People commuting to work blending into the steady stream of tourists in a tide of Muggles that flowed around Harry as he walked toward his destination.
Harrods, the massive department store and bastion of Victorian excess, rose at an odd angle to the street, it’s long edifice marked at street level by a series of green awnings. As he reached the nearest of these, he saw that the store had just opened, allowing a throng of people past the security officer posted at the door, examining the wardrobe of each passerby to ensure no dressed inappropriately would enter.
Harry merged with the entering crowd and made his way inside. He found himself surrounded by names he had only heard from Aunt Petunia, and only then well out of earshot of Uncle Vernon. Gucci. Louis Vitton. He had no idea why a purse would cost thousands of dollars considering the mokeskin bag he kept at his side held so much more, but he had learned never to discount the madness of people like his aunt and uncle. Still, Ginny has shown an interest in the expensive Muggle wares during their one previous visit to the store and Harry wanted to buy her something extravagant for her birthday, something that would show her how he felt, hoping that it would erase the memory of his own birthday party.
He made his way through the crowd of morning shoppers and entered the next room. Rising through the building like a great chimney, this part of Harrods had been designed to resemble an Egyptian temple. Sandstone monoliths stretched high above him, heiroglyphics dancing across their rough surfaces. He envisioned Hermione standing beside him, deciphering them from her Ancient Runes textbook, pointing out every mistake made by the artist who designed them. He was about to press on through the mass of people, when a familiar face made him stop in mid-stride.
Stan Shunpike stood at the base of an elaborate escalator, his pimply face looking nervously about, his eyes darting back and forth as though he stood watching a tennis match at Wimbledon rather than in a store full of shopping Muggles. His arms, concealed by long sleeves, held a green bag with the Harrods logo in gold print similar to those held by a few others in the store. Still, the way Stan hugged the bag to his chest made Harry uncomfortable and he approached slowly. In his mind, he replayed the scene from the previous summer when Stan had flown with the Death Eaters in pursuit of Harry as he fled Privet Drive. Harry’s pity for Stan Shunpike had nearly gotten him killed and he had no intention of repeating his mistake.
Wand in hand, he emerged from the crowd a few feet from the escalator.
“Stan?” Harry said, trying not to sound threatening.
Stan jumped as though Harry had stung him and grabbed an elderly lady passing by him on her way to the escalator. The bag hung on his arm as he pulled her in front of him and his other hand pulled out his wand. “Stay back, Potter,” he yelled. “Stay back or I’ll do’er.”
Stan backed onto the escalator, dragging the protesting lady with him. She struggled against her captor, but Stan’s wiry arms held her taut between himself and Harry. Around them, a few people pointed and a few called out in surprise.
Harry, wand leveled at Stan, stepped onto the escalator. “I don’t know what you’re doing here, Stan, but you need to stop before someone gets hurt.”
“Before someone gets hurt?” Stan scoffed. “That’s the whole idea, idn’t it, Potter? Muggles getting hurt?”
“What are you talking about?” Harry asked, he looked past Stan to the top of the escalator, hoping for a stumble that would leave him an opening to do something to help the elderly lady. A pair of younger ladies passing on the down escalator laughed and pointed at him as they passed, but Harry dared not avert his attention from the wand in Stan’s hand.
“I’m talking about these scum,” he answered, waving his wand hand in a short circle to indicate the Muggles surrounding them. “These vermin the Dark Lord wished to eliminate. Yeah, someone’s gonna get hurt, Potter, and it’s them.”
Stan and his captive reached the top of the escalator and, to Harry’s disappointment, stepped off with no trouble, him dragging her along with him beside the balcony overlooking the ground floor. Harry followed, never taking his eyes off of them. The floor around them was mostly clear of shoppers, and for that Harry was thankful.
“Stay back,” Stan repeated. “I’ve got a job to do here and I’m not gonna let you stop me.”
Something clicked in Harry’s mind, the revelation shocking him so much that he almost lowered his wand. “You’re the one who planted the bomb at the Leaky Cauldron.”
Stan chuckled, increasing his grip on the old lady, who had gone limp. He shook the bag a bit without loosening his hold. “That’s right. And that’s not all we have planned.”
“Those of us who support the Dark Lord.”
“The Dark Lord is dead,” Harry said, growing impatient.
Stan grinned. “Not for long.”
With a grunt, Stan forced the elderly lady over the railing of the balcony.
“Accio!” Harry bellowed, pointing his wand toward the falling woman. Instead of hitting the hardwood floor, she shot back upward toward him like a yo-yo.
“Avada–” Harry heard Stan say just as the woman soared over the railing.
Harry fell backward, avoiding the jet of green light and the flying woman by inches. He guided her trajectory onto a table of women’s sweaters and rolled to the side to avoid another green jet. Raising his wand, he shot a Stunning Spell at the spot where Stan had been only a moment before and missed.
Scrambling behind a rack of dresses, he stood up in time to see Stan running away through the store, knocking aside Muggles as he fled.
Harry took off in pursuit, ignoring the shouts of protest and calls for security that followed him. He followed Stan’s dirty brown hair as it bobbed through several rooms of expensive merchandise, until he reached another escalator.
Stan was charging up the steps three at a time, receiving rude stares from the Muggles he nearly bowled over in his ascent. Harry followed as quickly as he could, apologizing the entire way up, and reached the top in time to see Stan fully across a room of glassware. Knowing he could not catch up by running, Harry turned on the spot and apparated to where he had just seen Stan entering the next room.
This room, too, housed elegant glassware and crystal. Several pieces stood either on tables or in display cases, giving the room a glittering, mirage feeling that Harry found disorienting. In the center of the room, Stan had run into a table, shattering a vase of smoky blue glass.
Hearing Harry behind him, Stan turned and raised his wand.
“Reducto!” he screamed.
Dozens of pieces of glass exploded on the table in front of Harry, sending a shower of multicolored shards soaring at him.
“Protego!” Harry cried, raising his wand just in time to avoid being perforated. The wicked bits of glass, darting toward him a moment before, turned about and screamed in the opposite direction, creating a high keening sound as they pierced the air.
Stan watched the swarm of glass, first with satisfaction, then with shock as it raced forward and struck him like a thousand tiny daggers. All around him, glass exploded as bits of flying debris struck the vases and stemware. He stepped backward, his footstep crunching amidst the remains of the destroyed goods, and toppled onto a table. His hand raised briefly, then went limp, his wand falling to the floor.
Harry took a tentative step forward, his own shoe crackling on the bits of glass. When Stan did not move, he took another step.
“Stan?” he asked, looking for some response.
As he spoke, all sound seemed to return to him, much as it had after the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, as though the outside world had been muted, then turned back to full volume. For the first time, he heard the distant calls of people rushing through the store and the voices of Muggle onlookers, much closer, who had seen the battle. At first, only a few shocked whispers reached him from the people he now saw huddled around the entrances to the room, then screams of horror broke out, accompanied by sobbing from a few women and several children.
Several security officers entered the room and, seeing Stan lying motionless and bloody across one of the tables, drew their weapons on Harry.
“Drop the stick,” one of them ordered.
Two more figures appeared out of the crowd, one of which Harry recognized. Cecelia and a large man with the same dark skin and eyes stood just behind the guards, taking in the scene. When her eyes met Harry’s, they grew wide, as though silently questioning him about what had just happened.
“I said drop it,” the security officer repeated.
Harry hesitated, fearing that Stan would attack him from behind if he let down his guard. To his surprise, it was not Stan Shunpike who acted, but Cecelia.
Drawing her own wand, thin and light-colored, she pointed it discreetly at the guards. Immediately, the eyes of the officer who had spoken slid out of focus, glazing over with a look of pure bewilderment. The remaining guards followed suit, the man beside Cecelia drawing his own wand and copying her movements. Soon, they had all lowered their weapons and stood sagging from the enchantments placed on them.
Three more people appeared out of nowhere, their arrivals announced by slight pops around Harry. A gray-haired wizard in a gray business suit stepped in front of the mass of onlookers and spoke in a loud, authoritative voice that carried over the crying children and excited conversations.
“Please, my name is Mr. Harrison and if you will line up along this wall, we would like to question each of you on what you just saw.” The wizard motioned for everyone watching to enter the room, careful to keep them from the piles of glass dust littering the floor. “That’s it. Right along there. Good. Now, this,” he motioned to a younger wizard who met the front of the line in a shadowed corner of the room, “is Mr. Starr and he’ll be asking you some questions.”
Harry watched as Mr. Starr greeted the first Muggle in line. He asked the young man, not much older than Harry, what he had seen, listened to his rendition of the battle, and flicked his wand. The young man’s eyes slid out of focus, much as the guards’ had done, and Mr. Starr directed him to leave the store by the nearest convenient exit.
“Obliviators,” a voice beside Harry explained. He turned and saw the dark-skinned wizard who had arrived with Cecelia at his shoulder. “Mr. Potter, I’m Mr. Fahad, Cecelia’s father, and if you would come with me–“
“What about Stan?” Harry asked.
“Dead.” Cecelia stood over the table, looking down on the bloody mass that had been Stan Shunpike.
Harry could not believe it. He recalled his first meeting with Stan aboard the Knight Bus. He thought of reading that Stan had been put in Azkaban. He thought of his attempt to stun Stan the previous summer that had nearly gotten him killed. He thought of seeing him downstairs, only a few minutes before, holding . . . .
“The bag!” Harry gasped. He looked around for the green Harrods bag that Stan had been holding downstairs and did not see it. “Where’s the shopping bag he was holding?”
“Well,” Mr. Fahad said. “There are a lot of shopping bags here. This is Harrods, after all.”
Harry fought the urge to scream his reply, instead rushing up to the man and looking directly up into his face. “His had a bomb in it. Like the one that destroyed the Leaky Cauldron.”
Mr. Fahad paled. Cecelia, standing at his side, did the same, her dark eyes widening until Harry thought they might pop out of her head. Before either of them could move, however, Harry was already running toward the door. In his mind, he could already picture the headlines declaring that the Princess of Wales had been slain in a terrorist bomb attack and the state of grief her death would cause, not only for Britain, but also for the world.
Wand in hand, he followed in reverse the path he had seen Stan take through the lavishly decorated rooms. His eyes searched frantically for the discarded bag, hoping to see it lying below a table or clothes rack. He worked his way back to the top of the escalator, the last place he could remember seeing the bag as it dangled on Stan’s arm, and found nothing.
Cecelia and her father followed him, conducting their own search to either side of him to cover a wider area. They, too, turned up nothing.
“Where the hell is it?” Harry said through gritted teeth.
“Maybe someone picked it up by mistake,” Cecelia offered.
“Maybe,” Harry said, barely listening. “Maybe . . . Accio bomb!”
He waved his wand and from the floor below heard a cry of surprise. A moment later, a green Harrods shopping bag soared up the escalator into his waiting hand.
A young woman, well-dressed and pretty, came into view below him. “Hey, that’s mine! I don’t know how you did that, but . . . .”
Mr. Fahad flashed his wand. The young woman, her face going slack, turned around and walked off.
Harry held the bag out in front of him, as though bringing it any closer would cause the bomb inside to go off. He set it on the floor, gently, and had to admire the courage of Mr. Fahad and Cecelia, who both stepped closer to take a look.
An ordinary-looking stuffed bear sat alone in the bottom of the bag. It bore no sign of its deadly intent and, for a moment, Harry wondered if he had been wrong about the bag’s contents. Then, the bear started to emit a bluish glow that pulsed like a heartbeat.
Or a timer.
Harry thought of the most isolated place he had ever known. Images of his eleventh birthday, the day he had learned of his destiny, rushed into his mind, particularly the decrepit island shack where Hagrid had found him, sleeping on the floor during his last day as a Muggle.
The blue light grew stronger and pulsed more rapidly, telling Harry that he had to act now. With a wave of his wand, he banished the bag and it furry contents away to that shack, hoping that no one would be close enough to be harmed when the bear exploded.
Just as Harry started to breathe again, a dark shape appeared in front of him. Cecelia wrapped her arms around him and, pressing her lips hard to his, made him forget all about exploding toys.