It was three minutes to midnight. Harry hadn't reminded anybody about his approaching birthday as he knew they were all still grieving and hadn't wanted them to make a fuss. It wasn't a big deal anyway; during his childhood he had grown well accustomed to not receiving presents or having a party thrown for him. This would be no different. But this birthday was significant, it was symbolic. He would now be of age; he would be able to perform magic! That sounded great but another thought also crossed his mind. The protection would definitely be gone. He had, somehow, convinced himself that, by staying at the Burrow, it had ended a while back but, thinking about it, he hadn't known for sure. It could still be that it would lapse about now, in a matter of minutes, two minutes, he counted. Instinctively, he reached out for his wand, just in case, and adjusted his glasses.
"BOOM!" a loud exploding noise startled him and caused him to bang his head against the bedside table. That woke Ron up too, who had originally only pretended to go to sleep but had unwittingly managed it for real. Harry's head was aching with the impact and the room started spinning around him.
"Not you two!" he shouted. "You just made me think it was Death Eaters or something, you right pair of idiots!"
"Sorry, Harry. Didn't mean to scare you," apologised George. "It was just a smoke bomb!" It must have been that indeed because the room was now completely enveloped in a dark purple mist. Voices started singing Happy Birthday.
"You remembered?" said Harry, feeling rather touched after all.
"Well, of course," said Fred. "And I bet Ginny did too!" And there she was, beside what appeared to be a mountain of objects wrapped in gift paper.
Ginny blushed at Harry's gaze. She waved her hand over the pile of presents and said, "This is from everybody, Harry, not just from me."
"Shall I open them now?" asked Harry a little lost for words.
"Unless you want to stand there like a prat looking at the wrapping papers," replied Ron matter-of-factly.
The first packet contained what it appeared to be a life-time supply of "edible Death Eaters". Harry smiled; the twins' black sense of humour didn't cease to amaze him. They were made of some sort of jelly but they burst in your mouth forming smoke replicas of the Dark Mark. Mrs. Weasley had banned the things from day number one, which added to the fun. She didn't even allow them to sell them in the shop. "This is bound to end up badly!" she had warned.
"Very amusing, thanks, you two."
Another one from the twins was a self-replenishing bottle of Firewhisky. In addition, there was a potion bottle filled with a liquid that was either lilac or pink, Harry couldn't really decide, but it came with the message: "To sweeten up our little sister when the need arises". Both Harry and Ginny went terribly red and held down their gaze. Something else yet that Mrs. Weasley was sure not to approve of. That was why they had suggested Harry opened their presents first, before the others joined in.
"Here's one from Hermione," said Ginny "she'll be here tomorrow.”
Harry's emerald green eyes opened wide in surprise and confusion. "Bloody hell!"
"What is it, mate?" asked Ron intrigued.
"Vouchers for driving lessons, I mean, "Muggle"...! She's written a note saying they'll be useful next year when we have to venture into the great wide world. She's taking some too."
"Dad would love that!" agreed the Weasley siblings.
"I guess she is trying to get us to live as Muggles, part of some plan?" asked Harry, looking towards Ron.
"If you are going to make all that noise, you may as well come downstairs. All of you, to the kitchen!" ordered Mrs. Weasley, shouting from downstairs. "Happy birthday, Harry!" she said, hugging him very tightly. Thankfully she seemed to have forgiven him for trying to get Ron into the Order. She had baked a huge, beautifully decorated cake featuring a Quidditch pitch with moving players and all the trimmings.
"This is really great, Molly, I never expected..." said Harry, sincerely impressed. He blew out the candles before Molly cut the cake. Everyone got a piece and commented on how delicious it was. Everything was washed down with a nice cup of hot tea and then Molly ordered them back to bed.
"We'll have the proper celebration tomorrow, Harry. It's far too late now. That was always the idea, only, Fred and George, of course, have woken up the whole house!" complained Mrs. Weasley.
They did as they were told or, rather, they pretended to, but, this time they made sure they had charmed the room so that no noise could be heard.
"Come on, Harry, don't say you're not curious," Ron said, prodding Harry and pointing at the unopened presents.
"Well, of course I'm curious!" he replied with a very big grin.
"Blimey, this one is from Trelawney!" exclaimed Ron, a bit perplexed.
Harry rolled his eyes in exasperation despite the fact that he was intrigued about what his Divination professor could have possibly sent him. Nevertheless he unenthusiastically remarked, "Don't tell me, she's been predicting my agonising death again? "He grabbed the package from Ron's hand, briefly noted the crystal ball wrapping paper and ripped it open. "Some runes, a deck of Tarot cards, let's see... I told you, a personalised astrological projection! Sorry, guys, but I'm not in the mood for doom and gloom right now," explained Harry moving on to the next present. "This is from Luna, of course, a yearly subscription to the Quibbler."
"Who would have guessed!" added Ron, being a little uncharitable to the girl.
A Remembrall and a Mimbulus Mimbletonia from Neville. “He says these items may aid me in my quest, whatever my quest may be," read Harry. Harry remembered how it had been him, in fact, who had rescued Neville's Remembrall from Malfoy in their fist year.
"This one is from me," announced Ron timidly. "I don't think it's much..." It looked like an antique elvin carved wooden box. "Come on, put something in it!" added Ron.
"Something like what?" asked Harry, a bit confused.
"Anything, just anything," replied Ron excited.
"Wow," shouted all of them in unison as Harry placed the deck of Tarot cards from Trelawney in it. They had become invisible! Also they objects automatically reduced in size to fit into the box.
"Honestly, Ron, how could you say it wasn't much! This is brilliant!" exclaimed Harry, patting his friend on the back.
There were quite a few more bits and bobs, home-baked cakes from Hagrid, books on DADA from Tonks and Lupin and the customary hand-knitted jumper from Molly Weasley. This one was actually quite inconspicuous and had a note that read "Since I can see that I can't prevent you from going wherever you think that you have to go, I hope this will keep you warm."
Harry really smiled. She was kind of giving him permission then?
"This is from me, Harry," Ginny spoke in a quite serious tone. "I thought you could do with some. I've been brewing it for ages, well, since I think you saved our lives with it, well, you'll know when I'm talking about..."
"Bloody hell, sis," Fred couldn't contain his admiration. "You've done this all by yourself? Felix Felicis!"
"Yes, if you must know," replied Ginny, with a smug expression. "And without the help of obscure books," she added, shooting a malicious look in Harry and Ron's direction.
"I can't believe it, Gin. I think this deserves a big kiss!" Harry was in awe.
"Hey, careful with our little sister, or you will have us to contend with," teased the twins. Harry and Ginny ignored them. Ron gave them a slightly disapproving look and took his gaze elsewhere.
"All right, Harry. Did you not think there would be something more from us?" asked George, smiling naughtily.
"Umm, no, why?" answered Harry unassumingly.
"To the person who made our dream a reality!" announced Fred, bowing to Harry extremely theatrically.
"What, what is it?" enquired Harry, looking at a very small and dark looking bottle.
"This, my dear Chosen One
," Harry pulled a face. He hated being referred to by that name. "This will allow you to feign your own death for up to 12 hours."
Ron became alarmed at hearing these words and instantly thought of what Hermione would have to say about this. "Has Hermione seen this? It looks bleeding dangerous! I take it that you've tested it on yourselves first?"
"Sorry, little bro. No, we got it in Knockturn Alley. Cost an arm and a leg, couldn't go wasting it! I think you need the whole dose, anyway, for it to do the trick. You will just have to trust it does what it's supposed to if its use becomes, well, necessary," said Fred, who was obviously accustomed to putting himself in the front line of fire.
"Wouldn't go using it as a joke, though," added George, with a little more wisdom.
"Well, thanks very much," said Harry, a little lost for words. "But I think we better find out more about this stuff before we, well, I think you know what I mean."
Harry slept unusually soundly. The morning had risen bright, hot and full of promise. Even Molly seemed to be in better spirits. Several owls arrived whilst they had breakfast. The first one was from Gringotts, inviting Harry to a meeting in connection with his inheritance, which he could now legally fully access. There were several more wishing Harry a Happy Birthday but the most exciting development was seeing Fawkes again. They all seemed pleasantly surprised but also a little sad. The phoenix carried two messages, one for Harry and one for Mrs. Weasley. They were almost identical and were written in what it appeared to be Dumbledore’s handwriting .
By the time you receive this I will no longer be amongst you. Please, I would ask you not to be sad about my passing. As I did say before, death is only one more adventure, the greatest adventure. There are practicalities, however, that require your attention. I wish for you to be informed of the contents of my will. These will be disclosed at 6:00 pm today at Headquarters. Further instructions shall be given there.
I sincerely hope you are all well. Don’t lose faith. Evil shall not prevail forever.
Yours as ever,
Harry’s message continued a little longer:
I trust that you are continuing with the work in which we were engaged together. Have faith in your abilities and your inner power but always remember that everything you do, you do out of your own free will. No prophecy can ever be fulfilled unless one's actions make it happen. You still have a choice, Harry; you will always have a choice. I’m bequeathing an item to you which I hope will be useful. There is something else I need to give you. This is indeed very special and it is rightfully yours anyway. It will be given to you upon your coming of age, but be prudent, Harry, I have reason to believe it holds a very important clue but I do not think it wise for you to try to use it other than if you chose to confront Voldemort, and only at the very end. As always, I trust you will realise the importance of keeping this information strictly confidential, save for as previously arranged. I wish I could have been more helpful.
Yours, as always,
Harry felt a very tight knot forming in his throat, also in his stomach. He had really struggled to contain the tears but was now beginning to give in. Molly Weasley had realised that Harry’s message seemed to have been longer than hers but hadn't wished to pry. She enveloped him in motherly embrace and told him that there was no shame in crying. “It’ll do you good, love. Let go, let it happen,” she encouraged him.
He threw his inhibitions to the wind and let his tears flow. Ron and Ginny patted him in the back and they found they were also beginning to weep themselves.
Molly announced they had planned an Order meeting at Grimmauld Place for that date in any case. Also, she commented on how they thought it was now sensible for Harry, actually for all of them, to move to Headquarters for a while, until they could ascertain what exactly would happen now that the blood protection had ended. He wasn’t particularly thrilled with the prospect but accepted that it was probably a necessary evil.
"We'll have the birthday party afterwards," concluded Mrs. Weasley, smiling at Harry.
He arrived at Gringotts, as requested. The Weasleys had not wished to come into the bank with him and waited instead at the Leaky Cauldron
. Their excuse was that, surely, the goblins would want to talk to him in private. However, Harry was aware of how sensitive his friend Ron was to the topic of money, despite the fact that he had always made it clear he was more than willing to share his gold with them. Maybe, he thought, it was because of that. He knew in his heart of hearts that he was probably relatively well-off but was not quite prepared to learn exactly how damn rich. In fact, he was beginning to feel a little embarrassed, almost a bit guilty. After all, he hadn't started his working life yet. It didn't seem fitting to have all that much.
Tom, the bartender was really happy to have animated custom for a change. Mrs. Weasley and her youngest offspring found Hagrid sitting at the bar sipping a pint of mead with a vacant expression. The presence of the half-giant made Mrs. Weasley feel a little safer, which was not a bad thing.
"Come on, Hagrid, cheer up, mate!" said Ron. "It's Harry's birthday after all, try and be happy if just for one day!"
"Ah, yeah, 'course, 'Arry, where is 'e?" asked Hagrid absent-mindedly.
Molly leaned close to the large man as she whispered, "He's gone to Gringotts, about the inheritance."
" O' Course, o' course, 'e's now seventeen," realised the Hogwarts' teacher and gamekeeper.
"Hermione is joining us here in a little while," said Ginny.
"Bet he's worth a fortune, Mum, don't you reckon?" Ron asked nonchalantly.
"Ronald, this is none of our business," she replied very quietly giving him a sign to also lower his voice.
"He will be, Molly," agreed Hagrid. "The Potters were very rich and he'll get the whole Black estate too. 'e deserves it thou,” he paused. “Seventeen 'already! It seems almost yest'day that I took 'im from Godric 'ollow, wrapped in a tiny blanket..."
"Hagrid, please, don't go all sentimental on us!" ordered Ginny, who found situations like this rather hard to handle, especially since she found the idea of Harry as a little baby, bundled in a blanket, rather odd since she now viewed him in a rather different light. The thought gave her the giggles.
At that moment, Harry walked into the Leaky Cauldron
. He spotted the group of red heads and Hagrid and walked over to them. "Hiya, everyone," saluted Harry, wearing a big smile. "What are you laughing at?" he asked Ginny. He looked at her completely puzzled as she continued to laugh. Harry found that he was soon joining in on her contagious laughter involuntarily and without really knowing why.
"It's nothing." Ginny suddenly couldn't control her giggles. The more she looked at him, the more she couldn't stop.
"Right," he said, giving up the idea of trying to figure out what was so funny. Instead he settled for giving her a quick kiss on the cheek, thrilled with the idea that he could now be himself around her once again.
“So, how did it go, dear?” asked Molly, changing the subject.
“Oh, that? Fine, fine, thanks.” He blushed quite strongly.
“No need to be embarrassed,” she said to him. “Did anything come as a surprise to you, really?”
“Molly, surprise is an understatement. I really had no idea of...of the amounts involved.” It was obvious that Harry wasn’t comfortable talking about financial matters either.
Mrs. Weasley lowered her voice some more as she continued. “But it was bound to be that way, Harry. The Potters are a very old, very well-to-do wizarding family and, as for the Blacks, well, what can I say, wealthier than the Malfoys, and of course, you are the sole...well ...of both.”
Harry didn’t know what to say. What could he really say? Oddly enough, he felt a bit inadequate. This newly acquired knowledge of the extent his wealth had somehow given him a feeling of “non-belonging”. He was one of the richest wizards in Britain and all he really wanted was just to be normal. This being said, the remark about him out-weighting the Malfoys made him secretly pleased.
Harry clapped his hands together excitedly as he called out, "Ok, folks. Birthday time! Who wants to come to Muggle London for a bite and a drink so that I can try out something I've just been given?"
"Harry, no way. It's risky enough in here, even with Hagrid!" protested Molly.
"Mrs. Weasley, this is like living under house arrest! We'll be fine. Anyway, since I'm the Chosen One
, I can protect you all!” he teased feeling he was, just for once, on top of the world.
“Listen to me, young man!” Molly said full of rage.
“Now, relax, just for today... people only come of age once, please...” He looked at her in such a way that he disarmed her.
“You do have a knack for twisting Mum’s arm, don’t you?” observed Ginny a little jealous. Harry winked at her with complicity.
“Anyway, mate, what is that thing that you said you’ve been given”? asked Ron intrigued.
Harry pulled a small, thin, rectangular plastic object out of his pocket, which Ron eyed with interest. He flipped it over a couple of times as he spoke, “Ah, just a Muggle thing. I asked at Gringotts for Muggle money but I wanted a reasonable amount. They suggested it’d be better if I use a credit card. That’s what most Muggles use. They said it would raise less suspicion.”
“He’s right, Ron,” pointed out Hermione, who had just arrived, seemingly unnoticed. “Which one is it, can I have a look?” she asked with playful curiosity. “Goodness, Harry!” Hermione went pale. “How did you get this?”
“Why? I was given it at Gringotts. What, what’s wrong with it?”
Hermione's voice was full of astonishment as she looked from the credit card to Harry, “This is virtually unlimited! You aren’t, you can’t be...?”
“That wealthy?” Harry finished the sentence.
“Oh, Harry, I don’t know what to say. So, you have all your inheritance then? Maybe you should talk to someone about secure investments. I don’t know, Harry,” continued Hermione, still a little flabbergasted.
“Don’t make an issue of it, Mione,” Ron warned her lowering his voice. “He’s been going the shade of ripe tomatoes since he came back from the bank. I think he is also in shock.” Hermione understood.
After leaving Diagon Alley, they took a quick stroll through London’s River Bank and had lunch at one of the many fashionable bistros by the Thames. Ron and Ginny were trying to order cocktails behind their mother’s back. The waitress was debating whether to ask Ginny for proof of age ID but the sheer size of Hagrid blatantly put her off.
They had had a wonderful time. Harry felt happy for the first time since the wedding, They were all enjoying themselves. He felt as if he was giving something back to the people who mattered to him.
As they were heading back to the Leaky Cauldron
Molly annouced, “Time to go back to Grimmauld Place!” There were many moans and groans from the gathered teenagers who still wanted to continue having a good time. But Molly was firm in her decision as she pointed a stern finger at Harry as she said, "And don’t you dare turn up tipsy for the reading of the will, birthday boy!”