Title: Freedom And Not Peace.Summary: AU of GoF, sequel to Comes Out of Darkness Morn. Harry Potter's life is split between duty and freely chosen responsibility, and as his dark dreams of Voldemort grow, it becomes a desperate balancing act.
Notes: Fourth installment of this AU, the Sacrifices Arc.
I almost didn't think I would make it this far.
Summing up what's happened to this point would take at least two pages. Suffice it to say that this won't make much sense if you haven't read the three stories that come beforehand. If you have, then you'll know what it means when I say that Harry has to deal with his brother, reconcile with his parents, argue with goblins, do his best to balance his blood family and his adopted family, and attempt to negotiate with former Death Eaters and unaligned Dark wizards in order to pull in a favorable result for the Light. And that's only the beginning of it.
Disclaimer: The recognizable characters, events, concepts, and settings in the following story belong to J. K. Rowling, not to me. I am making no money from this fanfic.
Updates: I archive on Fanfiction, Skyehawke, and my LJ, and send notice of updates through my Yahoo!Group. The addresses of all of them, and information about the Arc itself, can be found in my Fanfiction profile.
Warnings: Language, violence, messed-up psychology, heavy angst, character death later in this and the other stories, eventual severe gore.
In addition, this is the first story in the arc where a slash romance between Harry and Draco becomes a going concern. There is no explicit sex, and the story is not primarily a romance because, well, it can't be with so much other stuff happening, but if you can't stand to read a story with slash in it, go away now. Additionally, since this is an epic, there will be other pairings, het and slash, and probably at least one saffic (femmeslash) pairing, though they may not all show up during Freedom and Not Peace. I'm not going to spoil them by saying who they involve. I haven't made up my mind on everything myself yet, so as to allow myself some freedom.
Sorry for the length of this introduction, but I thought it best to stamp out all the warnings in advance.
Ready? Let's go, then.
Freedom And Not Peace
Chapter One: Lux Aeterna
"This is the holiest time," James whispered. "This is the time of longest Light."
Harry's hands trembled as he clasped the little paper boat. He fought to still them. He reminded himself that he had chosen to come here, and that this ceremony was no different than the many pureblood rituals of the Dark wizards he had learned when he was a child.
But that was a lie, and Harry was getting better at realizing when he lied to himself. This was different. The pureblood rituals had never been something that he himself took part in during day-to-day life with his family. They had been exercises that he learned for the sake of winning his brother allies sometime in the future. This was a ritual of the Light, one that his own grandparents had celebrated, and his father as a child.
James looked almost like a child now, with his trousers rolled up above his ankles, as he took the first step forward into the gray waters of the North Sea, shivering at the waves' chill touch. The water shone like stone, Harry thought. Even the foam curling in to the sweeping amber sand of the Northumberland beach looked sharp, as though it were made of broken glass.
"This is Midsummer morning," James went on, his voice soft and solemn, "the moment when the sun shines in all its power, and magic can happen with its rising." He placed the boat he himself held gently on the water.
The first wave to come towards it seemed set to swamp it. It was such a simple little thing, Harry thought, the sides made of folded parchment, the mast a twig that James had broken from one of Lux Aeterna's yews, the sail a bit of brightly-colored cloth that had come from what James said was one of his childhood jumpers. James hadn't even waved a wand or incanted a spell to protect it.
But, inexplicably, the wave shied away from the boat and swept around it instead of over it. The next one went under it, and bore it up. Harry caught his breath. He couldn't feel the surge of magic that he would have expected, even the oddly directionless force that he associated with wandless magic, but there was something there, a faint golden glow that limned the boat. It grew brighter as Harry watched, and then the boat began to blaze like the sun. James let out a shaky breath. Harry darted a glance at his father. He was smiling.
"We sail our ships," he whispered, "to welcome in the sun, to salute it, as we once sailed out of the sun on a Midsummer morning."
Harry glanced at Connor, and found that his twin's eyes were wide. Connor obviously didn't know what to think, either. Harry flashed him a small smile, and then waded forward into the water and released his own boat.
The sunlight curled around it, and sent it skidding forward, away from the shore, following the path of James's boat. Harry watched as it bobbed and skipped. He could feel the magic reaching out to him this time, a purring warmth that slipped into his bones and took up residence there, as if his stomach had turned into its own cat.
Connor's boat followed his, nodding its mast like a head as it slid after the other two. Harry watched them until a shining gray wave took the three shimmering craft from sight. He was barely aware that his father had reached out and taken hold of his hand until he felt James tug gently at him, urging them both back to shore.
Harry walked as if in a daze. He could feel the sunlight traveling with him, lingering, exploring his bones with leisurely fingers. He had never been conscious of how bright everything in the world was. When he turned his head, individual grains of sand flashed as if polished. The birds darting overhead were too brilliant to look at. Harry exhaled a little breath and put out a hand.
He would have sworn that a great warm tongue licked his palm before it vanished.
James looked faintly uneasy as they reached shore again, but nodded bracingly when Harry glanced at him. "The sun is welcoming you, that's all," he said. "Potters have performed this ritual for hundreds of years. This is just the summer and the sun and the light getting a good look at you."
"It tickles!" Connor complained abruptly, and Harry saw that his eyes, for once, weren't dulled with nightmares of Sirius's death or Voldemort's capture and torture of him. He was grabbing at his jumper, laughing and swatting, as if insects were biting him. "I've never felt the sun tickle me before!"
"You've never been here before," said James, his pensive frown passing away, "on this day, at this time." He grabbed Connor and ruffled his hair. "Dawn on Midsummer is special, like sunset. Aren't you glad I dragged you out of bed?"
"Not if it was just to tickle me!" Connor squirmed out of his father's grasp, and laughed again. "I didn't know that this would involve making everything so bright I couldn't see, and tickling!"
Harry sighed quietly in relief. He had been doing what he could to heal his brother, to quell his trauma, to make him see that there was life even after everything he had been through, but he hadn't achieved a result this dramatic. Harry thought the wind and the light had as much to do with that as his father did, though.
He glanced around again. The land around them was thick with birds and spray and the noticeable wind and light, but empty of people. The beach curved down to meet the sea like an extended hand. The sea roared in to meet it meanwhile, flinging its waves a good distance up the sand before trickling away between its fingers. The noise was constant, smooth, reassuring, steady as a heartbeat. Harry found himself comforted to think that he could die, and still the sea would go on washing up on the sand.
Harry looked up, blinking. Connor had run ahead towards the Portkey that would take them back to Lux Aeterna, but James was walking at his side, peering closely at his face.
"Didn't you enjoy the ritual?" he asked.
Harry smiled. "Of course I did. It was wonderful to meet Light magic, in a way I haven't before. I didn't know that dances of any kind survived among the Light wizards. I'm glad they do."
"You looked so…" James fumbled for a word. Harry waited patiently. They were new at this, all of them. It would do no good if he hurried his father along, through the very pause that might be part of the reason James was learning to trust him. "So intent," his father said at last.
"I was thinking of Connor," said Harry. "He's much happier now than he was when we left the school."
James stopped, fidgeting from foot to foot. Harry stopped, too, gazing into his face. He was somewhat startled to find that he didn't have to crane his head back as far as he remembered. Of course, part of that came from not being around James for months at a time, but part of it was probably the growth spurt that James insisted he was finally entering.
"You know," said James at last, every word a step on an eggshell, "that you can think of yourself, too? You can talk to me about anything that's bothering you? I'll help take care of Connor, Harry. I know you can't stop completely. But I want you to have the chance to be taken care of, too." He stared off into the distance. Harry wondered if he was watching Connor. He hoped so. Death Eaters were unlikely to attack here, but they were still outside Lux Aeterna's wards, and accidents could happen. "Especially since Snape can't visit you."
Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I knew that might happen." Lux Aeterna's wards would accept Draco, who hadn't practiced enough Dark magic to make a difference to them, but a combination of Snape's Dark Mark, his magic, and James's dislike for him had made the Potter linchpin reject the Potions Master. Harry had promised to meet him at some point during the summer before they went back to Hogwarts, but right now he was still struggling to fit back with his family and learn new ways of being comfortable around them. And Connor still had at least one nightmare every night. Harry didn't think he could leave.
"You don't sound upset," James ventured, and finally met his eyes again. Harry was glad. It was easier to reassure people that he really was fine when they did that.
"I'm not," said Harry, with a shrug. "Like I said, I knew that might happen."
James was silent. He simply looked at Harry, and Harry let him look. His father understood him better after those silent, locked gazes.
"Are you going to let Hedwig fly from here?" James asked, when he'd apparently done his fill of looking.
Harry started, and then flushed. In truth, with the ritual and then his worry over Connor, he'd nearly forgotten that he'd brought his owl along, and why. "Yes," he murmured, and then hurried over to where the snowy owl waited, preening her feathers on a boulder and looking at the seabirds as though to say that she could outfly them all.
She perked up when Harry pulled a parchment from his pocket and bound it carefully to her leg. He spent a moment stroking her feathers, gazing into her golden eyes. Unlike the looks he shared with his father, his brother, and sometimes, it seemed, everyone else, this was an uncomplicated one.
"Hedwig," he whispered. "Malfoy Manor, girl, to Lucius Malfoy. It's his Midsummer gift."
Hedwig hooted her understanding, and clambered onto his arm as Harry extended it. Harry winced at the prickle of her claws, but spun and launched her into the air, the way that one should launch an owl at this point in the truce-dance.
Dazzling light spread around Hedwig as her wings caught the wind, her feathers glinting like the foam. Harry watched her as she turned south, towards Wiltshire, her pace precise and swift. She was out of sight in seconds.
Harry sighed, hoping the circle of light was a good omen. He had chosen his truce-gift carefully. It was the only one in the dance that he would initiate, given that Lucius had started this out by courting him. He had chosen to send a list of his own dearest ambitions and hopes, and what he perceived as his duties.
He wanted Lucius to understand what he would and would not do.
Draco would no doubt flush at the news. Snape would no doubt rail that he had been stupid. Even Narcissa Malfoy might raise an eyebrow. Harry was well-aware that she loved her husband, but did not entirely trust him.
Harry hoped that Lucius would respond with a similar list.
It's no good hating and distrusting people until they've proven beyond all doubt that they can be hated and distrusted, he thought as he accompanied his father back to the Portkey. If I'd done that in the past, I would have rejected Draco just based on his being a Malfoy, and Hawthorn and Adalrico just based on their once being Death Eaters, and I would have lost the chance to reconcile with my father and brother. It's better to ask, if you can, and see what they tell you.
Harry hesitated, one hand on the door handle. After all, James hadn't forbidden him to enter this room. He'd just said that it might not be a good idea.
And Connor was peacefully asleep now, his nightmares calmed by a Dreamless Sleep potion, and James was at least dozing, if not outright asleep, and Remus was still recovering from the full moon. And Harry was sick of dreaming of dark forests and a cold, high-pitched voice murmuring constantly of the sun. And his scar didn't usually bleed when he was awake.
Besides, he'd explored the rest of Lux Aeterna and found fascinating things—mirrors that only reflected pureblood wizards, windows that gazed into different worlds, rooms so perfectly proportioned that the light flooding them formed constructs like cathedrals with walls of sun and air. Nothing had harmed him. Harry couldn't see that this would be much different.
He did blink as a pulse of warmth hit him, but the door yielded when he pushed it, and nothing sprang out at him as he crossed the threshold.
Beyond the threshold, a wave of magic stopped him where he stood. Harry had never felt anything like it. He gazed at the structure in front of him, and understood why. No wizard, Light or Dark, had made this thing. It had come from…somewhere else.
The Maze was a glittering, overlapping labyrinth of tunnels, though Harry found it extremely hard to tell where one ended and another began, the same way that he found it hard to distinguish the ending of one sleeve when his jumper was sprawled on the floor. Light made it even harder to pick them out, wavering over the edges and the curves like a heat shimmer. Harry couldn't tell its color. Was it white, or silver, or gold, or something else? Perhaps it was the blue-white hue at the hearts of diamonds. Harry couldn't see the end of the Maze, but he could tell it filled almost the whole of the enormous room.
This was the structure his father had entered to face his mistakes, to learn what needed to be done for his family and his friends.
Harry felt the heat on his face, and could understand the why of that, too. This was Light as honest as a blade. Touch it, and it would cut you, but it would sear away all the impurities, too, and cut away the bruised and bleeding flesh. What was left would be scoured clean.
Harry didn't enter it. He wasn't that great a fool. But he walked carefully around the edge of the burning wards, and studied the Maze.
A few moments later, as the heat and the light focused and sharpened, he became aware that it was watching him back.
Harry blinked, and lifted his chin. So far, everything he had met in Lux Aeterna had not attacked him for the Dark magic that he had used in the past; his Potter blood had protected him. He was becoming aware that this might be the exception. He had imagined the Maze, but this was beyond his imagining. Just being in the same room with the Maze made him feel as if he were about to burst into a phoenix's cleansing flames.
A trill sounded above him, and Harry felt the Maze's attention shift, then relax. After all, the bird that had just entered the room was a creature of light. Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix who for some reason had abandoned the Headmaster and come with Harry, settled on his shoulder and rubbed his head against Harry's cheek.
Harry yawned. Sleep hadn't sounded at all appealing just a moment ago, and now it did. He cast a suspicious glance at Fawkes. Fawkes blinked one dark eye and sang a song of heat that blended into the warm rustle of blankets and the pleasant drowse of half-wakefulness at the end.
Harry yawned again. "I don't want to go to bed," he muttered, but he was being childish and he knew it.
Fawkes crooned, and Harry's eyes almost fell shut. He shook his head slowly. "I might wake Connor up if I went back now…"
The Maze abruptly reached out to him.
Harry froze, his heart banging hard and chasing away the spell of sleep Fawkes had tried to weave. Harry felt the light move over him, piercing, flickering, a few steps away from flame. Fawkes sat silent but respectful under it. Harry found himself remembering every time he had used Dark magic, every time he had hurt someone else even by accident, and especially the Walpurgis Night celebration, where he had danced wildly among the Dark wizards and gone through a portal of blackness that was supposed to free him utterly.
The Light let him go. Harry blinked and pushed his glasses up his nose. The Maze was still watching him, but now it was an indulgent kind of watchfulness, the kind a mother might give to a favored child.
Harry winced, and wished that comparison had not occurred to him.
Behind him, the door opened. The burning wards around the Maze slowly expanded, herding him towards it. Harry sighed and went.
"I'll just come back, you know," he told the Maze.
The barely discernible hum in his head had a tone of amusement to it this time.
Harry huffed and went to bed. He hated it when people—well, that included magical objects—treated him like a child. But he supposed that if anything could get away with it, an enormously powerful magical artifact not originally of Earth could.
This time, he didn't go to bed alone. Fawkes came along, the glow of his feathers muted when Harry hissed at him that he might wake Connor up, and perched on his pillow, and sang. Harry tried to resist, but his eyes fell shut, and he drifted away into a sleep that was dreamless, if one didn't count the image of himself walking along a path of white thorns and glass roses, trying to find the one trail that would lead to freedom for everybody.
Phoenix song accompanied him all the way.
James's hands trembled as he unfolded the parchment. He didn't mind admitting it. Of course, it also helped that he was alone in his study, and there was no one else to see his hands shaking. This was a response to the letter he had written Peter the day after he brought his boys home to Lux Aeterna.
Peter hadn't responded for nearly four weeks; this was the last day of June. James had been shamefully relieved. If his betrayed friend wanted to cut all the ties between them, that would be easier.
But he hadn't, as evidenced by this letter.
James took a deep breath, lowered his eyes to the parchment, and read.
I don't even know if I should call you that, since for the last twelve years you have been anything but dear to me.
James closed his eyes for a moment. If he listened to the boys playing with their friends beyond the window of his study, which looked out over Lux Aeterna's glittering sweep of front lawn, then he could pretend that Peter's letter was not there, and all the words that he deserved were not smacking him in the face.
You deserve them, he reminded himself, in a firm tone of voice that he thought he'd picked up from the Maze, and then looked back at the letter.
And yet that is not true, since, after all, I did go to Azkaban for your sake, and Sirius's, and Remus's. For twelve years, I stayed there for you. I told myself that you loved me, that you'd just been frightened, that you hadn't meant to betray me.
But you did. It hurt, James, even knowing that when it came down to a choice between me and your own family, of course you'd choose your own family. You chose Sirius and Remus over me too, though, and that hurt.
James found it hard to breathe. But it was better, it had to be better, than the pain he'd felt when he realized he'd been hiding from the truth all these years.
I decided at last that I didn't have any reason to stay in Azkaban any longer, no reason to honor a covenant with obviously false friends. I broke my phoenix web's grip by shifting it to another target, and focused on Harry. I promised myself that I'd protect him and keep him from being a sacrifice like I have been.
Dumbledore was wrong, James. Innocence isn't innocence when it's ignorance. Just to keep the whole wizarding world innocent of war, Dumbledore sacrificed minds and imbued them with a terrible knowledge. At least he had my consent when he did it to me. He never got Harry's.
That's what I'm going to ask for, James, as proof that you're telling the truth. Be a good father to Harry. If I hear that he suffered in your care, and you could have prevented the suffering, or you caused it, then I will consider you an enemy from now until the end of my life. I will slip in through any hole in your defenses that you can find. A rat can cause plenty of trouble before he's caught, James, and even a wizard is defenseless when he comes with enough friends. I know that very well.
If you can reassure me that you're going to be a good father to Harry, contact me again. If you don't write back, I'll assume you're the enemy.
James carefully put the parchment down and sat back, staring at the ceiling. On the whole, it hadn't been that bad, he thought, aware of the numbness at the center of himself. He could do what Peter had suggested. He would write back. He certainly intended to be a good father to Harry. And, in a way, it was good that he had this threat at his back, so he wouldn't ever be tempted to slip and falter.
He just hadn't expected a letter like this from Peter. There had been bitterness in it, yes, but also a savage strength that James had never seen when they were students in Hogwarts together. Twelve years in Azkaban had changed him.
Or it was always there, and I just never took the care to see it.
And now he had the visual of gray rats swarming him in his head. He knew that Peter had a special connection with rats, could summon them and speak with them. He could certainly call enough to take down someone else, and from the tone in his words, he wouldn't hesitate.
James stood up and wandered to the window, looking out over the vast lawn.
Ron Weasley and Connor were swooping about on their brooms, chasing the Quaffle that hovered and darted in front of them. Their laughter was audible from here. James hadn't minded at all when they asked him to Transfigure the lawn into a Quidditch pitch. It was simple magic, if strong, and it kept Connor satisfied. Connor needed time and healing, still, but his wants, as opposed to his needs, were fairly easy to tend to.
Harry…was a different matter.
James had to look around the lawn a few times before he could spot his elder son. Harry sat with Draco Malfoy in the shade of one of the yews at the edge of the grass. He was speaking with him, far too quietly to be heard from here. James narrowed his eyes. They didn't appear to be playing a game.
His gaze flitted back and forth from the flying pair to the sitting pair, and he shook his head.
He supposed he could dismiss the differences between the two friendships as products of the differences between his sons, or the boys they had befriended, or Light and Dark pureblooded wizards, or Gryffindors and Slytherins. But he still didn't know if that would produce so profound a gap. Connor and Ron were much the way he remembered himself and Sirius being—loud, strong as sunlight, boisterous as young lions, interested in Quidditch more than pranks but otherwise comparable.
Harry and Draco were so much quieter that it was unnerving. They did fly and play Quidditch together, and practice dueling spells together, and explore Lux Aeterna and commented on the artifacts together. (James had had to warn them away from several, including his great-grandfather's portrait, which had tried to hex Draco on learning he was a Malfoy). But they did it with an incredible intensity, as though each moment would never come again, and Draco, at least, gave James a poisonous glare whenever they were interrupted, quite unlike the usual sulky protest of a child told he had to go home now. Harry would become more reserved instantly when he noticed his father watching them, but if he didn't notice, he smiled and laughed in a way that James had never seen or heard when Harry lived with them in Godric's Hollow.
James couldn't understand it, and that agitated him, because he thought it meant he couldn't understand his son.
The door of the study opened, and James turned and smiled at Remus. "Feeling better?" he asked.
Remus nodded and covered his mouth with one hand to hide a yawn. "Don't know what came over me," he said. "Stress, I suppose, or the combination of it and the Wolfsbane Potion."
James nodded. Remus had been unable to attend the Midsummer morning ritual with them because of the full moon, but even after it had passed, he had been more tired than usual, and spent long hours sleeping or wandering quietly by himself in the corners of Lux Aeterna. James didn't know—
Oh. Of course I do.
James winced. "Remus," he said quietly, "you do know that you can talk to me about Sirius."
Remus blinked at him.
"I've been remiss not to talk to you about it before this," said James.
"I didn't want to intrude," said Remus, turning to admire a portrait on the wall, though his tense shoulders said he wasn't admiring it at all. "I—you've been so busy with your boys, James, and Merlin knows they need every bit of attention that you can give them—"
"I still should have talked to you," said James. "I'm an idiot, Remus." He moved carefully up to stand beside his friend, and wasn't surprised that the woman in the portrait, his great-aunt Mafalda, bore a strong resemblance to Sirius. The pureblood families had intermarried many times in the past, and there had been a time when the Blacks were considered prestigious allies, without the taint of insanity and Dark magic that had overcome the past few generations. Mafalda was peering hard at Remus now, as though trying to decide what to say to cheer him up. James knew how she felt. "You miss him, don't you?"
"Every damn day," said Remus softly. "He was—I'm still so angry at him, for not just telling us, the imbecile, that he had the Dark Lord in his head, and then I hate myself for being angry at him, and then I remember the pranks he used to pull and want to laugh, and then I'm angry at him again for making me feel so many contradictory emotions, and then I remember the way he died and want to scream." He lowered his head, his breathing careful and paced. James recognized the patterns. Remus had learned them while he was still a child, to control the wolf who thought his pain a grand game.
"I know," James whispered. In truth, he didn't feel much better, but he had simply been letting his grief for Sirius overwhelm him when he was alone at night, and sure that Connor and Harry didn't need anything from him right then. He hesitated for a long moment, then told himself, Looking stupid be damned, and pulled Remus into a rough hug. "I miss him every damn day, too. And the way he died is infuriating. The next time I see him, I'm going to kick his arse."
Remus laughed hard for a moment, and then tears spilled into his voice, though he didn't let them fall. James moved him over until they sat in front of the window, and positioned himself between Remus and the door.
"Now," he said, "tell me. Just tell me. Anything that you want to say."
Remus drew a deep breath and started talking. James found it easy to give Remus his full attention. He could rely on Harry to guard Connor, and Draco to guard Harry.
"No." Harry's voice was endlessly patient, Draco thought, even in a situation like this, where the person he was being patient at didn't deserve the favor. "You didn't flick your wrist hard enough. Like this. Protego!"
The Shield Charm snapped up in front of Harry. Draco backed away a step, though in truth that still left him close to Harry. The spell was instant, effective, and very, very strong. The wild crackle of magic made Draco's hair stand on end, and seemed to bounce from point to point in the wide room, constantly illuminated by crossing beams of sunlight from the enormous windows, that James had given the boys to practice in.
Draco didn't mind. That power smelled like roses, where once it had pained him. He loved to watch Harry practicing magic, even when, as now, he had to use his wand so that someone else could imitate him.
He just wished that Harry didn't have to be teaching his brother.
Connor Potter stood on the other side of the room, watching Harry with a frown of concentration. He held his wand out in front of him and said, without much conviction, "Protego."
The wrist flick was still wrong, Draco saw in exasperation, and the Shield Charm failed to materialize. Connor scowled. "I'll never be able to do it," he declared.
"Of course you will." Harry gave his brother a smile that made Draco feel sick. Harry was very far from the blind idiot he'd been where Connor was concerned a year ago, but he still had too much of himself tied up in the prat, Draco thought. He should pay more attention to those who were really concerned with him, like Draco, and should certainly not calmly insist on practicing with his brother when Draco was there, just because it was part of his daily routine.
"Do you really think so?" Connor glanced up, searching out Harry's eyes for reassurance. Draco scowled and folded his arms. Connor had just turned from asking Sirius for protection to asking Harry. And Harry gave it, and gave it—poured more and more of himself down the endless dry well that was Connor Potter. Draco had to struggle to retain his composed mask when he thought of it.
"Of course I do," said Harry, his voice low and soothing. "A powerful wizard is nothing without will, Connor. He can practice and practice, and not rouse the tiniest spark from his wand if he doesn't really want to. Or he can cast the most dazzling spells, and none of them will be what he really intends, because he doesn't know what he really intends. You're faltering now because of a lack of will, but you don't have to. You know what's at stake. You know that we have to do this."
Connor shivered, then raised his head and nodded. Draco blinked. This wasn't the first time Harry had said something like that, but it was the first time the words had worked so complete a transformation.
"I remember the Shrieking Shack," Connor whispered.
That was another thing that drove Draco mad. Harry had told him what happened in the Shack, but it wasn't the same as having been there. That was obvious every time the twins traded glances. They shared some special depth of experience that Draco didn't. Connor had access to part of Harry that he didn't.
Harry glanced back at him abruptly. "Are you all right, Draco?"
Draco blinked, realizing he'd almost let his own magic get out of control, and shook his head. "Fine."
Harry studied him for a moment more, then nodded and turned back to Connor. "Like this," he said, voice strong and confident. "Protego!"
Connor echoed him, his voice as self-willed, and this time gave the right wrist flick
A thin shield encased him. Harry laughed aloud. "Excellent, Connor! You'll have to work on making it stronger, still, but you've got the will, now, and you know what you need to do. I think even this shield will stand up to hexes." He gestured carefully with his wand. Draco knew Harry had to hold himself back as if on chains in situations like this. He was so much more used to using wandless, raw, wild magic. "Petrificus Totalus!"
The hex shot towards Connor and bounced off his shield. Connor's smile widened, and he broke into a spontaneous jig. Harry laughed again.
"Now that you can do it, we'll start working on building the shield stronger," he promised his brother, "and other defensive spells."
Connor grinned at him. "Tomorrow?" he asked, patting his stomach. "I'm starving."
Harry nodded. "I'll let you go—for today," he said, in a mock threatening tone, and Connor laughed in turn. "It must be near dinner, anyway. But we'll work on this tomorrow, and every day until you can do it perfectly."
Connor nodded. "I know," he said, and bounced off and through the door.
Harry turned to Draco the moment he was gone. "He is getting better," he said.
Draco lifted his chin. "You don't know that I was about to say anything about that."
"Yes," Harry pointed out, "I do."
Draco sighed. "Fine, Harry. But I want to know—when are you going to tell him that you're holding back on him?"
Harry's eyes slid away from his. Draco grasped his chin and tilted his face back, the way he had in the hospital wing when Harry had tried to deny that Draco loved him.
"You are," said Draco gently. If he played his cards right, he might be able to win Harry free of his commitment to teaching his brother. Surely James Potter could do it. He should. Connor was his child. "You're too powerful for these kinds of games. You know it. You can demonstrate to him how to cast spells, but you don't make a good opponent for a duel. You could destroy him at any time, and block any spell he casts, and you don't want to hurt him anyway. He'll only improve to a certain point, and then he'll start thinking that he's much better-prepared than he really is. Get someone else to train him. Your father, maybe, or Professor Lupin. They're nearer his match in power."
"I said that I would teach him," Harry whispered. "I said that even at Hogwarts, and it didn't work very well there. I need to make up for that. And there're still plenty of things I can teach him that don't rely on magic. Pureblood rituals, history, etiquette, leadership…"
"Harry." Draco decided that he might as well give Harry the full message that his parents had communicated to him before he left the Manor to visit Lux Aeterna. He hadn't wanted to, thinking the words too harsh for Harry's current worldview, but Harry needed to hear them. "You can teach him those things, yes, but he doesn't need them nearly as much as the magic. If Voldemort comes back and Connor's the one to defeat him, fine." Draco couldn't keep the skepticism out of his voice. He truly didn't think that the Dark Lord was going to fall at Connor's hand, ambiguous prophecy or not. Harry was so much his brother's better that it was impossible to conceive of. "But that doesn't mean he's going to be a leader. You are. You have to be. You know that there are wizards keeping an eye on you for your power, and they'll be looking for signs of your true intentions soon. That's what my mother was doing as Starborn, making sure that there are some wizards cautiously sympathetic to the possibility of a third side, not Voldemort's or Dumbledore's. She can only do that because you're—well, you. And sooner or later, you'll have to become the leader of that third side. My parents are willing to follow you if you become that leader, you know."
That last fact had impressed Draco the most. He didn't know what Midsummer gift Harry had sent to his father, but he did know that Lucius had been stunned and shaken for a day afterward, and then gravely thoughtful. And his mother, his mother who had never bowed her head to Voldemort, never got her arm branded with the Dark Mark, had smiled when Draco asked her about Harry and said, "He won't be a Lord, dear. He will be something much greater than that. And he shall have my loyalty until the day he shows that he can't become that person anymore. I don't expect that day to come."
"I don't want to give anyone orders."
Draco blinked, and came back from his dreams of the future to find the Harry of the now facing him, his arms folded and his eyes hard and his face shut.
"I don't want to compel anyone," said Harry. "And I don't want to order anyone around, either. If I can ask them to do things, fine. But I won't command them, Draco. I won't."
"You're not going to be a Lord," Draco tried.
"I don't care." Harry stepped away from him, and Draco was almost instantly irritated, as he always was when Harry got so far away from him. He tried to calm down, not let it show in his face. "They would still expect me to tell them what to do, wouldn't they?"
Reluctantly, Draco nodded. His mother had made that point to him. She had done what she had done so far to make the world a safer place for her son and to fulfill a debt she owed to Harry, but sooner or later she would come to a place where only Harry's power, backed by wisdom, could safely guide her. She would look to him then, and whatever name Harry gave what he told her, advice or commands or something else, she would still be obeying.
"I don't want to," said Harry. "I've been a slave. I would never wish that fate on anyone else."
"If they choose it, they're not slaves," said Draco. "Merlin, you're frustrating."
Harry shook his head. "I prefer to make bargains and debts and sacrifices, Draco. I understand those. As long as I can be of use to your family, as long as I can give something in return for any aid I get, then I'm happy enough. But don't ask me to become some kind of—" He waved his hands, obviously searching for the right word. "General," he spat at last, and strode towards the door.
"Harry," Draco whispered.
Harry heard it, and stopped, though he didn't look at him.
"There might be times when the bargains have to be very general, or you can't reach someone to ask their opinion," said Draco. "You've studied war. You know that. Are you really going to refuse to lead just because you might hurt someone's feelings, or make them feel briefly like a slave?"
Harry looked back over his shoulder. "I told you about being vates."
Draco nodded, bewildered.
"I don't see how I could be both the kind of leader that your parents want me to be and vates," said Harry. "Not when one is about commanding, sometimes without thought, and the other is about knowing myself so deeply that I'll be instantly aware of when I'm giving a command, and hammered by disgust for doing it. The magical creatures have been hurt enough by their bindings, Draco. I can't let myself get used to putting bindings on wizards. I'll rely on the pureblood rituals, which someone won't use unless they have full knowledge of what it entails, and bargains. If I can't return aid for aid, equal help for equal help, then I won't make the bargain."
Draco paused. What he had to say next sounded foolish and naïve, but he needed to say it.
"I think you can be both, Harry," he said. "If anyone can, it's you."
Harry blinked, obviously startled, then gave him a wry grin. "It's nice that you have such faith in me, Draco, but I think I'll probably have to choose, and I choose to be vates. I'll leave free choice open to the wizards, too, though they don't need as many nets removed. Just the nets that make them so blind and stubborn," he added, in an undertone.
"But what if someone chooses to obey you?" Draco asked. "Would you really deny that decision and force your own will over that person's will?"
He hated the way the question made Harry's smile vanish, but they needed to consider this. Harry needed to consider this, at least. Draco watched him struggle with discomfort squirming in his gut. He wished he could hug Harry and say he understood, but he didn't. He knew where he stood, where he would always stand.
Harry was the one who needed to make the choice.
"I don't know," said Harry at last, in a subdued tone. "I guess not."
Draco knew when to back off. The scent of roses in the room was nearly overpowering, as Harry's magic reacted to his upset. He smiled. It wasn't hard to do, now that the prat was gone. "Well, you don't need to choose right now. Do you want to go back and explore that secret passage in the attic?"
Harry perked up immediately. "Yes!" He opened the door that led out of the room and glanced around a few times. "But we'll have to be careful," he whispered. "Dad told me there was a ward on that door for a reason."
Draco blinked. He didn't remember a ward. "What ward?"
Harry swallowed. "I, uh, kind of destroyed it because it wouldn't let us in," he admitted. "But I'm sure that there's nothing there that will hurt us."
"Of course not," Draco said, reminding himself to be on guard, just in case.
Harry gave him a wild smile and dashed out of the room, heading for the attic—quietly.
Everything is so hard, Draco complained to himself, as he followed Harry through the sunlight of Lux Aeterna. I wish it wasn't this hard. But at least I'm here, and I can make sure that he doesn't overtax himself, or ignore important decisions, or make stupid ones. And that's enough.
And if it's not enough, I'll make it be enough.