Bill and Fleur’s cottage stood alone on a cliff overlooking the sea, its walls embedded with shells and whitewashed. It was a lonely and beautiful place. Wherever Harry went inside the tiny cottage or its garden, he could hear the constant ebb and flow of the sea, like the breathing of some great, slumbering creature. He spent much of the next few days making excuses to escape the crowded cottage, craving the cliff-top view of open sky and wide, empty sea, and the feel of cold, salty wind on his face. The enormity of his decision not to race Voldemort to the wand still scared Harry. He could not remember, ever before, choosing not to act. He was full of doubts, doubts that Ron could not help voicing whenever they were together.

“What if Dumbledore wanted us to work out the symbol in time to get the wand?” “What if working out what the symbol meant made you ‘worthy’ to get the Hallows?” “Harry, if that really is the Elder Wand, how the hell are we supposed to finish off You-Know-Who?”

Harry had no answers: There were moments when he wondered whether it had been outright madness not to try to prevent Voldemort breaking open the tomb. He could not even explain satisfactorily why he had decided against it: Every time he tried to reconstruct the internal arguments that had led to his decision, they sounded feebler to him.

The odd thing was that Hermione’s support made him feel just as confused as Ron’s doubts. Now forced to accept that the Elder Wand was real, she maintained that it was an evil object, and that the way Voldemort had taken possession of it was repellent, not to be considered.

“You could never have done that, Harry,” she said again and again. “You couldn’t have broken into Dumbledore’s grave.”

But the idea of Dumbledore’s corpse frightened Harry much less than the possibility that he might have misunderstood the living Dumbledore’s intentions. He felt that he was still groping in the dark; he had chosen his path but kept looking back, wondering whether he had misread the signs, whether he should not have taken the other way. From time to time, anger at Dumbledore crashed over him again, powerful as the waves slamming themselves against the cliff beneath the cottage, anger that Dumbledore had not explained before he died.

“But is he dead?” said Ron, three days after they had arrived at the cottage. Harry had been staring out over the wall that separated the cottage garden from the cliff when Ron and Hermione had found him; he wished they had not, having no wish to join in with their argument.

“Yes, he is. Ron, please don’t start that again!”

“Look at the facts, Hermione,” said Ron, speaking across Harry, who continued to gaze at the horizon. “The solve doe. The sword. The eye Harry saw in the mirror—”

“Harry admits he could have imagined the eye! Don’t you, Harry?”

“I could have,” said Harry without looking at her.

“But you don’t think you did, do you?” asked Ron.

“No, I don’t,” said Harry.

“There you go!” said Ron quickly, before Hermione could carry on. “If it wasn’t Dumbledore, explain how Dobby knew we were in the cellar, Hermione?”

“I can’t—but can you explain how Dumbledore sent him to us if he’s lying in a tomb at Hogwarts?”

“I dunno, it could’ve been his ghost!”

“Dumbledore wouldn’t come back as a ghost,” said Harry. There was little about Dumbledore he was sure of now, but he knew that much. “He would have gone on.”

“What d’you mean, ‘gone on’?” asked Ron, but before Harry could say any more, a voice behind them said, “’Arry?”