Well, dear readers, there will be more exposition in this chapter than you have probably grown used to. I felt it's time to introduce/point out more of the heavier issues (I did attempt to make things interesting!) — Gellert is entering the scene soon, so take this as a lead-up to the juicy parts you have all been waiting for! He is a politically inclined figure. ;)
Anyway, thank you for all your lovely reviews! Special thanks to the guests to whom I couldn't respond to! :)
It came as no shock that the first families to contact Harry with requests were of the Light or Neutral variety. The Dark clans, though undoubtedly in possession of more malevolent, cursed artifacts, would have no reason to ruin their precious heirlooms. Either that, or they would just practice more caution, and wait for Harry to gain a reputation. Most of them were Slytherins. Not that getting sorted into the house of snakes had anything to do with their views, especially at the impressionable age of eleven, it just so happened that Darker lines had a penchant to rear their progeny by encouraging the development of a certain set of character traits — like poise, ambition, determination, ruthlessness, cunning, and the like — that landed them in Salazar's elitist house. And being as they were, they were unlikely to jump headfirst into any situation. Harry would have to prove himself capable first, regardless of his ex-housemates' unwanted expectations or interest in him — which he still had no idea what to do about, by the way. Harry suspected he would have to call forth his own deeply buried Griffindorish tendencies, and confront the next loiterer that came to bother him in the shop directly, for lack of anything better to do. The whole LeStrange fiasco was bugging him.
Alas, he did his best to concentrate on things that actually made sense.
Like a welcome opportunity to acquire a Hallow. Yes, that was a worthy goal, and could prove to be ridiculously easy to meet. Why would Harry wait for the heir to attend Hogwarts, plan out elaborate, seemingly impossible feats of theft from the school, when the esteemed Lord Potter himself had contacted him with a job offer, inviting the devil into his home, so to speak?
As such, one of the first assignments Harry accepted as an official curse-breaker was from the Potters. According to the specifications he had so far gotten in the letters they have exchanged, the family had some trouble with a portrait of an ancestor capable of using magic. The man would travel along paintings across the manor, and was a self-proclaimed prankster, but his tricks were of a malicious nature more often than not. With an underage heir running around, the situation was rather precarious, but the familiy's plight was not deemed high enough priority by the goblins to deal with as fast as the Potters would have liked.
And so, exactly two weeks after gaining his license, Harry was getting ready for the job. As the first and most important occasion to prove his competence, as well as to make a professional impression, Harry would be leaving Tom behind. Besides, he had ulterior motives. If he was caught stealing the invisibility cloak — which was always a possibility — he didn't want his Godson mixed up in it. Naturally, he would be extremely cautious for more reasons than one, like avoiding breaking his chosen career amongst other things, but the Hallows were much more important than any reputation of trustworthiness. In fact, second only to Tom himself. In any case, the worst case scenario — not counting the brand on his good name — would be receiving a hefty fine by the Wizengamot for such a petty crime.
Harry used his shiny new 'public business Floo', as the Ministry officials had called it during the installation, and stumbled out of the fireplace in an empty receiving chamber of the Potter Manor around three in the afternoon, as previously agreed upon. A tiny, excitable elf popped in immediately after his arrival, and squeaked at Harry to follow her while bouncing towards the door.
Harry did so with an imperceptible grin. House-elves could always be counted upon to amuse.
The interior of the manor was nothing and everything like Harry expected. After ducking out of the chamber, Harry was greeted by the sight of a vast hall with numerous corridors and a marble stairway, leading to different quarters of the building. There was also an enormous, double-winged door facing the one he had exited, probably the main entrance, the polished wood decorated by detalied cravings and metal designs. However, this was where the resemblance ended to what Harry could recall of the Malfoy's pompous, cold manor house.
The walls here were painted a soft shade of peach, and had colorful tapestries, paintings, and various knick-knacks displayed all over to create a cheery sort of chaos. The floor was tiled with creamy marble bricks to match the stairs, and had — to Harry's astonishment — a Celtic knot of prosperity craved upon it, stretching all the way across, reminescent of a compass' design. Harry had no doubt that the points represented the four Cardinal directions accurarely.
Harry hadn't expected such a blatant display of Olde Magicks to be present in a predominantly Light home. Then again, the Potters were purebloods, their inclination notwithstanding, and would thus have been, at some point in the past, practitioners of the old ways. It was just in the recent centuries that such ancient, ritualistic magics had gained a stigma, all but forgotten except for the silly, pointless runic studies, taught in linguistic terms only and taken out of context. For the most part, this was due to the traditionalist Dark families' aggressive campaigns that promoted the might of the olden powers, wanting to make the declining ancient practices obligatory. Nowadays, anything remotely associated with the Dark was deemed Dark by nature. Harry had already grasped the surface of this problem in his previous life, but his ventures to the Hogwarts library's restricted section this time around gave him a much clearer understanding of what the sheer stubbornness and intolerance of their government had wrought — the complete ignorance of whole branches of useful magics and Wizarding traditions. Celtic — or Druidic — magic may not have been altogether forbidden, as there was indeed no basis for that, but their practice was heavily frowned upon and had mostly faded into oblivion for the majority of the Wizarding population.
However, regardless of the sad state of affairs, Harry was pleased that the Potters were seemingly exceptions to the foolish behavior of their peers. They may not have been his relatives anymore, but he had a sentimental — although distant — connection to them, still. He had never personally met these people, but it was gratifying to know they were not blindly giving in to propaganda nonetheless.
"Mr. Marlowe, I presume?"
Harry quickly snapped his eyes in the direction of the voice. Devan Potter — the current Lord of the House — was a man of authoritative, regal bearing, but his brown eyes, somewhat obscured by a messy, bitterly familiar nest of black hair, sparkled with a muted warmth as he strode down the stairs, smiling at Harry.
Harry made very sure to extrude an air of geniality, not wanting the man to be tense in his presence, and bowed his head respectfully in greeting.
"Lord Potter, it's a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance," he said smoothly. Etiquette was important if he wanted to be taken seriously, especially when still so green in the field. And spending seven years in Hogwarts' snake pit, Harry had learned many a useful pointer. He was dressed for the occasion as well; formal, deep green robes, buttoned up prim and proper, complemented by a pair of dragongide boots. His professional image was accentuated by him taking the time to actually style his hair, for once, pulling it back into one thick tail in the back. Harry was usually much too lazy to care beyond taming the wiry strands into vague neatness with the braids (with practiced cosmetic charms he would never-ever admit knowing), letting them dangle around his shoulders freely, but meetings with pureblood employers were enough incentive to make this minimal, additional effort.
"The pleasure is mine," the Lord returned with a boyish grin. He strode toward Harry with confident steps, and extended a hand after halting precisely two feet apart. Harry found the mix of formal and informal signals the man was projecting a bit odd, yet refreshing at the same time. He shook the offered appendage, and let a small smile grace his lips. He needed to appear honest and open; it wouldn't do for the man to become apprehensive of Harry's presence. He still only had vague suspicions about what made most so cautious around him, but he would do his best to negate the effect, now that it coincided with his purposes.
"Thank you for inviting me to your home. I understand you have problems with a portrait, yes?" Harry asked, getting straight down to business. However much he could grow to enjoy Devan Potter's company, he wasn't Harry's family, and would never be. There was no use in getting too friendly either, only to regret what could have never been.
"Ah, quick to the point," Lord Potter said cheerfully, motioning for Harry to follow him as he began walking in the direction of a corridor to the right. "I do appreciate that. You are right, we have been troubled by that blasted painting for years. Great Uncle Tompor's portrait had always been strange, but not long after Charlus' birth, he turned progressively more... nasty in his pranks."
"Charlus?" Harry asked, though he knew it was probably the small boy he had spied when he had first gone after the Hallows.
Lord Potter nodded. "My son. He will be attending Hogwarts next year."
"And you say the portrait has been acting out since his birth? How come it hasn't been dealt with yet?"
Lord Potter scowled. "The goblins keep canceling our appointments with their curse-breakers, and any independent practitioner we have hired wasn't able to do anything of real use." He shot Harry a sidelong, calculating look. "We were quite hopeful about the new name that appeared in the business. I would certainly be happy to see some results, at last. Note that I don't offer payment for failed services, however."
"Understood, of course."
After a satisfied nod, Lord Potter continued down the corridor, passing a number of closed doors until he stopped, having reached the correct one, and opened it before waving Harry inside.
"Here is the original frame, but Great Uncle rarely spends more than a few minutes in it a day. He does come back to sleep, though," he told Harry, pointing at a painting of an empty, majestic wingback chair. The room itself was otherwise bare with white, clinical walls. "This chamber is warded, but he still manages to travel throughout the manor. The canvas cannot be destroyed by any method we have tried so far, and even if we were able to, the portrait of the man would remain free to roam, unless we could somehow pin him in his frame. Then again, we would rather preserve the painting. Regardless of the headache he causes, he is still an important ancestor."
Harry grimaced sympathetically.
"How troublesome," he murmured in contemplation.
Lord Potter snorted. "Quite. The blasted prankster keeps charming the floors and stairs slippery — more than one of us had dangerous accidents by falling. Great Uncle also finds amusement in jinxing our silverware, our door handles, even some of our heirlooms!" he snapped in clear anger and frustration.
Harry lit up inwardly at hearing that. This was better than good — he could pin the invisiblity cloak's disappearance on the joke-happy painting! How very lucky! Not that he didnt have a dozen other half-formed plans to fall back on, but this would make things so much easier than he had originally anticipated. Now, to get his employer out of his hair...
"I understand," Harry said, clearing his throat. "This may take a while..."
Honestly, it wouldn't. Harry already had a good idea how to solve the meddlesome portrait's issue. But Potter didn't need to know that, did he?
"Yes, I thought it would," the Lord said with a sigh. "Bonny!" he called, and the house-elf that had greeted Harry appeared with a muted pop. "Stay with Mr. Marlowe. If he needs anything, assist him. Let me know when he's done."
"Yes, Great Master Lord Devan Potter, sir!" she squeaked. "Bonny be helping Mister Marlies!"
Harry guffawed at the mangled name before he could stop himself, but he promptly schooled his expression when Potter shot him a baffled kind of half-grin. Harry shrugged, still snickering inside. Elves really were great entertainment.
Before Potter exited the room, Harry called after him, "Oh, and I may need to find the wayward Great Uncle, Lord Potter. Do I have your permission to leave the chamber if necessary?"
"Of course," he answered easily. "Bonny can help you find him."
Harry smiled charmingly. "Thank you."
"Well then, I shall see you later, Mr. Marlowe," Potter said in parting, and walked out of the room.
Ignoring Bonny shuffling and bouncing in the corner like an over-excited bunny, Harry eyed the painting for a moment or two. It would probably be better to deal with it after he actually had the cloak, lest the Lord check in and find the job done without Harry getting his chance. But he did walk closer to inspect the canvas, to see if his suspicions about the cause of 'Uncle Tompor' possessing magic were correct. And, sure enough, if one knew what to look for — which an average curse-breaker certainly wouldn't — they could detect numerous, tiny, stylized symbols, cleverly hidden in the brush-strokes used to paint the cushioned leather chair. Harry snorted at the simplicity of it. Or was it ingenuity? Frankly, Harry would have had a lot of trouble piecing the puzzle together himself, if not for the blatant display of Celtic magic he had noted previously. He was just surprised it hadn't occurred to Lord Potter before.
The portrait was not cursed. That was why no curse-breaker had been able to find a counter. It just collected ambivalent magic like a sponge for the free use of it's mischievous resident, all with the application of specific, but simplified Celtic knots of power. 'Uncle Tompor' himself probably had a few hidden away on his person as well. All in all, it was a simple enough matter to solve.
That settled, Harry quickly turned his attention on the more pressing issue of acquiring the Hallow. First of all, he needed to know exactly what kind of wards he was working against. The last time he had scoped out the manor had been from the outside. Now that he was in, the more intricate protections were the main concern. And the elf — not to forget about the elf.
Harry shot a surreptitious glance at Bonny. She was humming to herself merrily, not paying him a lick of mind. But Harry knew she was alert. House-elves rarely, if ever, failed their masters, and did everything in their power to follow orders above and beyond what anyone could reasonably expect. However, they did not understand Wizarding magic. Harry would make good use of this.
Harry backed away from the portrait, and drew his wand. He wouldn't be casting with it, but Bonny could be easily deceived into thinking he was. He pointed the stick in the general direction of the painting, and while murmuring some nonsensical gibberish, he concentrated his power on sharpening his senses and revealing the structure of the wards on the home. It required a lot more energy than he was comfortable with expending, seeing that it was the details of the web he was interested in, but the sacrifice would be worth getting a little tired.
And... yes, he felt them now. The chamber itself was covered by a dome-like ward that would prevent anything or anyone older than a certain age leaving its confines, logically maybe a hundred or so. As Potter had mentioned, it was in place to serve as a poor attempt to contain the portrait's wandering, who wouldn't be affected by any restricting wards in the first place, as he didn't exist on the physical plane. The protection would, however, keep the cloak in, if Harry brought it there.
Otherwise, Harry could feel a number of standard wards, attached to a single grounding stone hidden away somewhere deep in the manor — the usual procedure. The more dangerous blood-tied wards were designed for keeping uninvited people out. Those obviously had no bearing on Harry at the present. In any case, the protections pertaining to his cause were set against ill intent, theft and Dark magic — all easily bypassed or circumvented. Harry harbored no ill will against the residents, so that particular layer could be outright ignored. The anti-theft... Harry wasn't thieving, per se. The invisibility cloak was his by virtue of more than one claim; he had inherited it at one point in time, and became the undisputed Master of it later on as well. The Hallow belonged to him as much as it did to any Potter, pure and simple.
Dark magic — now these categorizations were topics Harry had always found fascinating, ever since his discovery of the obscure, forgotten branches of magic in Hogwarts, and had looked closer into the reason of their decline.
'Dark', as it was, had no true or universal definition whatsoever. If one wanted to be technical, there was no such thing at all. Dark, Light, Neutral; they were all more or less fancy labels for moral value systems. Rather murky in their application, too. Dark traditionalist families, for example, were referred to as such because of their disregard for their fellow humans and sentinent magical species, and because they weren't shy or hypocritical about their views or methods either. But then, there were the Light families, who — though in disagreement about the dehumanization of muggles, muggleborns and halfbloods — were equally vicious in their discrimination against magical creatures, mostly against those deemed inherently 'Dark'. It was all incredibly contradictory and rather nonsensical. Defining Dark was like defining evil and good: futile and subjective. Yet it was as it was, and since nobody was protesting against their respective labels, the status quo would remain.
However as such, any magic performed would be categorized by circumstance, not by nonexistent properties. Magic was simply magic. Performing Dark, Neutral or Light spells were the users' and their peers' matter of perception, not some vague distinction in the power incorporated to achieve the desired effect, nor could it be decided based on Ministry verdicts unless the respective casters believed in those verdicts themselves. And as Harry's success now depended heavily on Bonny's cooperation, this was a handy way to skirt the ward. Harry didn't wish to harm Bonny. He wasn't sadistic or malicious, he even liked the creature. Also, it was Harry's mindset and will that would get channelled into the casting, which the anti-Dark ward would then analyze, not anyone else's. And Harry didn't believe he was Dark, nor that he would be performing Dark Arts.
And so, when the word was uttered, the actual magic produced was perceived as Neutral, acceptable in 'nature'. It had nothing to do with the amoral desire to control or to hurt, neither with any selfless wish to help, but everything to do with necessity and a justified goal.
Bonny froze immediately. Her eyes became glazed, and Harry could feel the connection they now shared, the elf's mind in a tranquil, pleasant haze, thanks to the spell.
"Bonny," Harry began, not taking his eyes off the deserted painting. He had to make sure the elusive Uncle wouldnt accidentally drop in at the wrong moment. "I would like you to answer a few questions for me. First of all; do you know about an invisibility cloak the Potters own, one that has been passed down to each heir through the generations?" He had to be specific — there was a chance they could own more than one similar item, but it was only the Hallow that could have kept it's power through the course of the centuries.
Bonny nodded dreamily. "Bonny knows."
"Is it kept in the manor?" If it wasn't, Harry would be upset indeed.
"Good," he sighed. "Where is it kept, exactly, and what protections does it have?"
Bonny swayed on her feet. "It's be in Master's and Mistress' bedroom. In the angry trunk."
Harry snorted. So the trunk was warded and cursed against unauthorized intrusion. Understandable and smart, but Harry was an adept curse-breaker. He couldn't secret away the whole trunk because the anti-theft wards on the manor would react to that, but hostile enchantments should be simple enough to take care of if he had direct access to the object they were tied to.
"Are there any paintings in your Master's bedchamber?"
"Two," the elf answered, then mumbled something about winter scenery being the Mistress' favorite.
"Is there anyone in the room right now?"
She shook her head.
"Apparate me there, then."
Bonny did so without a moment of hesitation. She grabbed Harry's hand, and popped him away to the requested destination. Harry staggered when they arrived — elf magic was very different and disorienting to experience. Not at all like Wizarding apparation. With Bonny, he was in one place, then in another the next second. No uncomfortable pressure, nausea, nothing, but all the more disconcerting for it. It had been the same with Dobby, all those years ago.
When he regained his bearings, Harry quickly took stock of his surroundings. The bedchamber was spacious, decorated with red, yellow, gold and blue. A large four-poster bed with silk sheets and hangings stood to the right, facing doors of what were bound to be the bathroom, walk-in closet, and exit. On the light blue walls hung the two paintings Bonny had mentioned. They indeed depicted only winter scenery, and had currently no annoying Uncles or other nosy ancestors spying in the frames, much to Harry's immense relief. At the foot of the bed stood a small trunk with golden inlays depicting ferocious lions. It also displayed an elaborate, almost garish lock Harry knew was only there for show. The difficulty of opening it lay in the magic he could feel radiating from the trunk. He pointed at it.
"Is that where the cloak is stored?"
The elf bobbed her head.
"Alright. Bonny, now I want you to go around the manor, and permanently banish exactly ten objects you find. At least two should be heirlooms, but none important enough that their loss would cause grief. Vases, china, that sort of thing. I also want you to be very careful not to be seen. No one can notice you; not the Potters, not any other elves, not the portraits. Only target places where there are similar paintings of scenery, but not of people." Harry instructed, gesturing at the wall. "Come back here when you're done."
After the elf disappeared, Harry strode to the trunk at once. He knelt, already casting all the revealing charms that came to mind. The protections he discovered were extensive, and quite harmful if disturbed, but none were particularly tricky to get rid of. The most troublesome of the lot was the password ward. But considering Harry had already done away with all other enchantments, he decided to be practical; after casting a Silencing Charm, he blasted the whole lid off. Not a terribly refined method, Harry would be the first to admit, but it got the job done.
The sight of the invisibility cloak filled him with joy and despair in equal measure. He loved it for the memories it represented, but hated it for what it was. A Hallow. The literal bane of his existence, without any amount of over-exaggeration. Unlike it's two counterparts, however, Harry was attached to this one, so finally having it back in his hands filled him with a confusing mix of emotions.
Alas, this was not the time to muse about his jumbled feelings. He couldn't afford the distraction.
Harry stood, clutching the slippery material tightly. With a wave of his wand, he banished the shattered trunk it had been stored in. The first part of the winged plan was complete. Now he only needed to wait for Bonny.
The nerve-wracking minutes ticked by agonizingly slow. Now that he had nothing else to focus his concentration on, Harry was becoming more paranoid by the second. Adrenalin was causing his heart to pump madly, worsening the pressure behind his eyes he had been more or less able to ignore so far. He even draped the invisibility cloak over himself — it would not do at all to get discovered on the 'crime scene'.
When Bonny finally made it back to the bedroom, Harry gave an explosive sigh of relief.
"Finally," he muttered. "Did you succeed, Bonny? Did anyone see you?"
The elf shook her head. "No, Mister Marlies. Bonny be good and sneaky. Bonny did as told."
"Very good. Thank you," Harry said. She wasn't helping of her own volition, and wouldn't remember any of the events later, but Harry was grateful nonetheless. "Now, can you apparate outside of the manor without alerting anyone?"
Harry grinned. "Then I'm giving you this." Harry ripped the cloak off, and thrust it into her arms. "Pop away to Hogsmeade's bookshop and hide it behind the counter. Come back immediately."
"Bonny be doing that, Mister Marlies," she affirmed dreamily, and did as instructed. The wards let her through with the cloak, not reacting by so much as a twinge. It was Harry who ordered her to take it, and the Hallow was his to do with as he pleased.
She was back within a minute at most. Harry made her transfer the both of them back to the age-warded chamber, and quickly cancelled the Imperius, shooting an Obliviate at her before she could shake off the disorienting effects.
Harry then made short work of negating all magic — including the Celtic knots — on Uncle Tompor's canvas by using a powerful symbol himself: the empty circle — Zero. He drew it on the back of the painting with a conjured brush, where it wouldn't ruin the artwork, and channelled magic into every inch of the single, rounded line. This would not, in reality, break any of the enchantments, nor would it cancel the existing symbols. That was impossible without destroying the painting. But emptiness was infinite by definition, and thus mightier than any other power in existence. It swallowed all in its wake.
And with that done, Harry could begin the hunt for Uncle Tompor. He would make a show of chasing the prankster through the corridors, and tell Lord Potter that the wizard kept banishing things in his rage after realizing the secret of his abilities had been discovered. Harry only had to goad him back to his original frame before he could be interrogated, which shouldn't be too hard with a few sly mentions of the Olde Magicks Harry would make. Once in the frame, Uncle Tompor would roam no more. The magic that animated him in the first place would be siphoned away. The magical Void would see to that.
A/N: So, I hope the action alleviated any possible exasperation with all the background knowledge and theory. But if you were bored out of your mind; I'm sorry. I find such topics interesting to dissect, but you guys are the readers, not me. However, Gellert is indeed appearing soon! And some of these things were necessary to give you perspective without making him boring.
(Trivia: 'Tompor' is a polite, outdated term for 'rump' or 'buttocks' in Hungarian. You can call the guy Uncle A**hole! Bwahahaha! Haha... ha... er...
Yeah, I'm having fun. Besides, it rhymes with Potter and sounds funky when pronounced in English. Like for everything else, blame my deranged muse, please.)