Disclaimer: See Chapter One.
Author's Note: I fixed one item in Chapter 2, and now this chapter is done. It feels good to be writing again, and I think it's helped me with a lot of things at home. Thanks to everyone who reviewed.
Harry lost track of how long he wandered exactly, but the seasons changed at least twice, and as autumn began to seep into winter, the thought that he needed to find shelter for the cold months began to percolate through his equine brain. As the first snow began to fall, he saw a city on a hill, the only such habitation he had seen since high summer. He gathered his magic about him and returned to his human form. It was hard, voluntarily moving back into his small, slow human body, but once the reversion was complete, he was glad to be on two feet for a while.
Hedwig lit on Harry's shoulder and nipped him affectionately on the cheek, as if to say that he was being a silly hatchling. "I know, Hed. Come on. Let's see if we can't get something warm and dry for the winter." He unshrank his trunk and took out his thick black woolen cloak, thankful that it didn't have the Hogwarts crest embroidered on it. He had no wish to explain the emblem. He donned the cloak and reshrank the trunk, hanging it from his neck once again. Now suitably dressed for the weather, he put his hood up and began walking down the swiftly-softening road toward the city.
When Harry had bought his map back in Hawksnest, he had charmed it with one of the smaller charms that made up the Marauder's Map back home. The map showed his position on it when the charm was activated. The city he was now approaching was the Throne City of Jkatha. Its thick walls were made with stone from the nearby mountains, quarried over time and brought in by builder after builder in the city's long history. The gates were iron and the whole sight was imposing, but Harry had seen and lived in a far more impressive structure. Castles didn't unduly impact him.
The gates were open, as midday was usually a time of heavy merchant traffic. Harry was required, as were all travelers, to register his name and business with the gate guards, so he was led to a small office by the Gate Captain, a large man of solid build, mouse-gray hair, and an uncompromising face. "Have a seat. What's your name, sir?"
"Harry of James." It was normal for folk, he'd been told, to use only theirs and their father's familiar names unless they were noblemen.
"Well, Harry, what brings a young mage to the Throne City without a horse to carry him?"
Harry frowned, chagrined at having been made so quickly as a mage, but he decided to use it. "I've no need of a horse to travel quickly, but I do need work so I can earn shelter for the winter."
"You can't just call it up?"
Harry snorted. "I could, but it would be a waste of energy when earning a living would be both more honest and more satisfying, not to mention easier."
The Captain grinned. "Aye, it likely would." He paused to write Harry's name and business in his book. "Well, there is the Main Guild Hall of Mages in the Southwestern Quarter, and they've got any kind of contract you may be looking for as a mage. There are a few high-end inns in that area, as well, if it takes you a while to find a job. Of course, if you've the means, you could just rent yourself a room without getting that job, but you might be very bored."
Harry made a face at the thought of sitting on his rump for four months of winter. "Thanks for the information. What gave me away, anyhow?"
The Captain pointed at Harry's head, and for a moment he thought the man was going to talk about his scar, but instead he said, "Not many young men have white hair, and those I've seen always want to know where to find the Mage Guild."
"Ah." Working with nodes did cause that effect, though Harry's had been caused by being trapped inside a Gate. "I forgot. Well, thanks, Captain. I'll be on my way, now." Harry wondered if he, eventually, would have completely white hair and pale blue eyes. He didn't like the idea of losing the vibrant green which had been his only gift from his mother.
The Captain gave him directions to the Mage Guild, and Harry carefully wound his way through the busy streets of Jkatha's biggest city. When he reached it, it was very obvious that this place was very different from the other businesses in the area. For one, the building was made of wood, rather than native stone, and for another the shingle was written, not pictorial. Most mages had to know how to read and write, as learning from books was part of their training.
The interior was equally strange when compared to the average business establishment, with the only candles burning being scented ones. Instead, blue and yellow mage lights lit the Hall, which was a room of equal size to Hogwarts' Great Hall, if not equal height. There was a large board set up on the left hand side of the Hall with hundreds of paper slips tacked to it, presumably job postings. The back half of the Hall was set up as a dining area for the various mages and student mages who worked at the Hall itself, and the front half was set up much like an employment agency. In the distance, the sound of a muffled explosion reminded Harry forcefully of One of Neville Longbottom's various magical accidents, and he couldn't help but grin.
Hedwig, who had been riding on Harry's cushioned shoulder, took off to roost amongst the rafters, leaving her human to conduct his business. He went to the posting board and began reading through the many advertisements. There were plenty of contracts available for one or two years, but finding one for just the winter was going to be difficult. Finally, one posting looked promising, a temporary posting with one of the local noblemen, a Lord Gant of Bariwethin. He stated in his ad that the job included things like evening entertainments and accounting, but mostly consisted of protecting Gant's property from brigands. Harry was good at math, so the accounting wouldn't be a problem, and he knew he'd be able to pull off a few tricks the locals had never seen before, so that left the protection. Harry would have to make sure he knew what that protection entailed before he signed any contract, but it looked like a good job for him, as long as he could ensure that the contract was only three or four months long. He still itched to be on the road.
Harry pulled the posting off the board and took it to the receptionist at her desk in front of the hiring hall. She had a bright expression and looked "terminally perky," as Hermione would have said. Harry forced his thoughts not to settle on his childhood friend, refocusing on the woman, who said, "Welcome to Jkatha's Throne City. What can the Mage Guild do for you?"
He smiled and said, "I'm looking for work, just over the winter. This post looked line it would be perfect." He handed the advert over to the bubbly receptionist.
"Yes, Lord Gant will be by in the morning. Are you a bonded Guild Mage?" She pulled a sheet of parchment off a stack on the left-hand side of the desk.
"No. I've only recently completed my training. This will be my first paying job."
"What school of magery are you associated with?"
"We're new to this area, so you may not have heard of us. We're called the Sorcerers of the Wand, and we tend to have a much broader view of what is possible and what is not." In demonstration, Harry took out his wand and aimed it at the eagle quill she was using to keep her records. He said nothing, casting his spell wordlessly, and transfigured the quill into a gilded pen with a nib, something that was actually very easy because the two objects served the same purpose.
She held it up and looked at it, or rather, looked through it. This was what made Harry realize that she was a mage herself. She was looking at the pen with Mage Sight. "Interesting. I can see that the pen still wants to be a quill. And this isn't an illusion! The latticework is amazing!" She stared at it a while, then shook herself and turned her attention back to Harry. "Very well. As you are obviously an Adept, the contract won't require that you be bonded, but it would be a positive for you in Lord Gant's sight. Can I have your nave for the record?"
"Harry of James."
She scribbled down a note on her sheet, then said, "Be back here at first light. Lord Gant will come here before he conducts any other business. There are plenty of inns right here close, so you needn't worry about being late if you are careful. Do you have the coin for one night's stay?"
Harry nodded, valiantly keeping himself from snorting. He had enough for a year if he was so minded.
"Good. See you in the morning, then."
Harry stayed that night at an inn called the Boar's Head, and just hearing the name made him think of home, because it was a small leap indeed from "Boar's Head" to "Hog's Head". Harry was not happy with his reaction, and while sitting down to his dinner, a small meal of good beef stew and a thick slice of good, crusty bread, served with tea, he took stock of himself and his emotions. He knew that he couldn't go on reacting to every little memory from his former life with such extremes of loss and longing. He didn't even like the Hog's Head!
So Harry took his emotions and stuffed them behind and Occulmensy shield, at least his emotional responses to the past. All except the ones concerning Ginny. No, he couldn't bear to lock her in a box and close himself off from her memory. She would just have to remain as the lone boggart in the closet, free to come out and torment him whenever he came near it. But for everything else, he needed clarity, and dwelling on the past was doing him absolutely no good. In fact, he thought it might be driving himself insane.
Harry sat back and sighed with relief as his emotions settled down. He decided that he would use the Pensieve he had gotten for his seventeenth birthday when he got up to his room, remove the memories of his friends and adoptive family, save Ginny, and put them safely where they could no longer harm him.
Lord Gant was a tall, slightly overweight man in his early fifties, with iron-gray hair, small, greedy eyes and a permanent expression of calculation, and he'd remind Harry of Uncle Vernon, except that there was plenty of intelligence in that look, as well. He looked Harry up and down as he came in for his interview and sniffed disdainfully. "Aren't you a bit young to be an Adept, Harry of James?"
Harry raised an eyebrow at the man's skepticism. "Would my Lord care for a demonstration?"
Gang nodded and Harry stood, pushing his chair back into place as he did so. He took out his wand and decided to funnel an Adept-level spell through the wand, rather than the ruby at his throat. Harry drew gently from a nearby ley-line, not really needing much power for this spell, but not wanting to expend any of his own energy, either. He said, "Compaxus," and aimed the spell at a targeting dummy that was there for the purpose. The dummy expanded briefly, then contracted until it was a tiny shadow of its former self, then handed it to Gant. The man nearly stumbled from the weight of it, as Harry, who had been expecting it, did not.
"What did you do?"
"I've made the dummy smaller, but not lighter. I can make it smaller and smaller until it is so small it can't hold together anymore. It would be consumed and cause an enormous, deadly explosion. Not a spell to trifle with, certainly. But if used wisely, it can also make mining a breeze, as it can differentiate between one kind of rock and another, such as emeralds and the quartz they are contained in." Harry shrugged. "That's just an example, of course."
Gant huffed and pushed the compacted dummy off the table. Harry reversed the spell, and the dummy returned to normal. Gant pinned a look on Harry that told him to watch himself. "Very well, you'll do. You will be expected to protect my property from thieves during the winter, as well as go over my records for accounting mistakes and providing entertainment for the long winter nights. I'll be frank, son of James; I don't trust magic, but I've been informed that some of my enemies may be using mages to come in and steal from me. I will expect you to report to me daily, understood?"
Harry nodded, and he thought seriously about what he was getting himself into. This man was so much like Vernon, it was uncanny, and knowing that, Harry was seriously considering changing his mind. Being in a house with this man for three months was going to be tedious, to say the least, and it might become very bad indeed. But, he also reasoned, there would be no constant returning to the man's household year after year, no old man telling him that it was for the best, and no restriction on using magic to defend himself. He decided to go ahead and look at the contract.
The document was actually fairly straight-forward. Harry of James was agreeing to look after the interests of Lord Gant of Beriwethin, to protect his property, his lands and his people, for a period not to exceed four months and not less than three months, excluding violation of conscience or law. It was a standard Guild contract, not one written by Gant himself, so it was far more trustworthy. Thinking carefully, Harry made a drastic decision. There was protective wording in the contract that he wanted to be upheld, but there was only one way to force a Muggle into a magically binding contract.
Harry signed his name with a quill he conjured, a quill he swore he would never use again. Then he handed the quill to Gant to use in signing his part of the contract. Seeing that it wrote in red ink, but that it needed no ink well, Gant quickly scrawled his name, so quickly that he didn't register the pain in his hand until after he'd handed the quill back. He scowled at Harry when his own signature was suddenly cut into the back of his hand. "What did you do to me?"
Harry smiled and showed his own signature on his hand, next to the faint scar which read, "I must not tell lies." "It's a blood quill, m'lord. Having signed the contract in our own blood, the contract has become magically binding to both of us, inviolable. It would kill me if I broke it. Likewise, I am certain that no accident will befall my pay."
Gant slapped Harry across his face, surprising him. "You'll pay for that, I promise you." He stalked away, shouting as he left, "Be at Beriwethin by sundown, James!"
The young mage who worked as a receptionist approached Harry as Gant left. "What just happened here?"
Harry grinned. "I took your standard contract and tricked him into signing it with his own blood, just as I did. He can't breach it and neither can I. It protects us both, really, but I don't think he appreciates that fact." He handed her the contract to file. "How do I get to Beriwethin?"
The long months weren't as bad as life had been at the Dursleys' but this was not because of any lack of Gant's trying. He was a toad, but he was afraid of Harry, and that mostly kept him in line. Still, Harry's quarters were in with the servants, and he kept Harry working at almost all hours. He only got four hours to himself a night for sleeping, and he started using a time turner to stretch it into six. Harry did things that most mages would have blown their contracts for, but Harry was used to much worse, and he couldn't violate his contract. His room was plain and full of old, broken furniture, but Harry quickly transfigured the lot into a comfortable suite with a four-post bed covered in a thick duvet, and included charmed toilet facilities.
It was when Gant's men brought in a struggling boy of eleven or twelve years into the Great Hall where Harry was working on the books that his troubles really started. He was studying the accounts diligently, convinced that there was something funny about them, when they threw the boy at his feet. "This one was caught stealing from the granary. Gant told us to bring all thieves to you."
Harry nodded, then said, "Leave us." The guards hesitated. "Do you have a hearing problem?" he asked, an edge of danger in his voice. They hastily retreated, closing the great wooden doors behind them. Harry aimed his wand at the doors, locking them with a quick spell. He sighed. Given what he already suspected about Gant's taxing practices, the boy was probably only trying to get food for his family. Gant's reported tax rates were reasonable, but what his men brought in was far in excess of those reasonable rates, and no one from the capital had ever inquired about extra money, so he knew that they had never seen it. The only thing he still needed was concrete proof to bring before the King of Jkatha, but he'd been unsuccessful, so far, in finding it.
Turning his attention to the boy, who was clearly very frightened, Harry said, "What's your name, son?"
"How many years do you have?"
"And were you stealing from the granary, Kline?"
Kline stood up from the floor and looked Harry straight in the eyes, getting his measure. Then he calmly said, "Yes, I were. But I wouldn't 'a if we 'ad food ah home. Them toughs o' Laird Gant's steals from us 'n calls it taxes. Ih only be fair tat we steal back wot 'e took." Tears of anger rolled down Kline's face, but he stayed calm. "Me Ma's turned sick, m'lord. She ain' gonna make ih thru winter wi'out food."
Harry didn't sigh or nod. "How much did you take?"
"One sack 's big 's me 'ead."
"Less than half a full sack, then. Well that gives me two choices under the law. I can take your hand and send you back home immediately." Kline cringed, but said nothing and Harry was sure he was making the right decision. "Or I can enslave you for the remainder of my own contract. Which will it be, Kline?" He carefully didn't tell the boy how short a time that enslavement would be. Harry only had one month left in his contract.
Kline was surprised. "Yer givin' me t'e choice?"
"Yes, I am. Choose carefully."
Kline didn't have to think about it. Without his hand, he'd be worse than useless. "I'll be yer slave, t'en."
"Alright, then. We'll begin directly after supper."
It was two weeks before Gant ever saw the boy, and when he did, Harry was directing Kline in the cleaning of Gant's stables. He said, "Why is that boy here?"
"Because he was given to me as a thief and he is performing his punishment as my slave until my contract is done. He will work without pay until I release him."
"Why did you not have his hand removed?"
Harry glared at the cruel man. "Because he took less than half a sack of grain and he is the only male of his family. the law is quite clear on that point, and by my contract, I cannot breach the law."
Gant walked away, but from that point on, his eyes followed Harry wherever he went. That was what Harry wanted. He used himself as a distraction, visiting the boy's mother and feeding her from his own wages, giving the excuse that he was contract-bound to look after Gant's people. He made himself a right nuisance, keeping Gant's eyes on him. He asked nosy questions of visiting nobles and merchants. He put his nose into secret corners, and though he found nothing, it made Gant very nervous.
All of this left the way clear for Kline to sneak quietly into the treasury with Harry's wizard camera, a gift from Arthur Weasley. He took pictures of everything, including the corrected accounting records which were in the treasure room. The amount of embezzled funds in Gant's coffers would have fed his entire constituency for a year, and fed them well.
On the last day of his contract, Harry was extremely busy, as Gant fond all sorts of things that absolutely had to have Harry's particular touch. Kline asked him several times if they could go yet, with the impatience of any young boy. Harry tried to keep him quiet long enough to get them and Elma, Kline's mother, out of harm's way.
Harry didn't quite dare go against Gant's interests directly while still under the contract, but an hour before sunset on the last day, he asked Hedwig to deliver a letter to the King of Jkatha in the Throne City. The letter contained the photos Kline had taken and Harry's own calculations. Gant walked into Harry's rooms just in time to see him launch Hedwig out the window. He saw the envelope she was carrying and growled, "What was that?"
Harry shrugged. "A letter. Come to see me off?"
Gant snarled "Hardly. Someone saw your boy in my private treasury, James. I've come to collect him."
"He didn't steal form you, Gant. I asked him to go there. He used a spelled object of mine to capture images of the vault and its contents."
Knowing instantly that Harry must have sent these images to the King in order to expose his tricky accounting, Gant drew his sword and advanced on Harry, intent on killing him. How he thought he could get the drop on a mage of Harry's strength was anyone's guess, but Harry's own Gryffindor sword was in his hand in an instant. He blocked the lunge, forcing the blow up and over his head and then to his right, then closed with lightning speed and elbowed Gant in the nose. Then he drew his wand and shouted, "Incarcerous!" Thick ropes shot out of the end of his wand and wound like snakes around the foolish lord. "Petrificus totallus. Mobilicorpus." Harry levitated the frozen and bound man and led him outside to the main hall. He then unfroze him, put him into a chair and walked away.
Kline found Harry packing his trunk back up. "It's time, then?"
Harry shrank the trunk and hung it around his neck once again. "Yep." Then he told Kline, "Get on my back and I'll take you to your mother." He transformed into Moonnight.
Kline gasped and froze, amazed at the sight of the transformation and of the magnificent stallion. Moonnight snorted and stamped his front hoof, breaking the lad out of his stupor. "I can't ride!" Moonnight neighed insistently, stamping and shaking his head. Kline climbed on with trepidation as the stallion kneeled down where he could reach. Then he held on to the white mane for dear life as Moonnight stood back up and trotted out of the manor and into the grounds of Beriwethin.
They reached Kline's home quickly, but they knew the guards would look at this place for Harry of James. Kline slid off the horse's back, and he returned to human form. Elma, who had survived and recovered from her illness with Harry's help, was outside doing laundry and saw he whole thing. "Harry? What in heavens is going on? Kline?"
"Madame, you and your son are going to need to get out of here for a while. Is there anywhere you can go? Do you have friends of relatives in the Throne City?"
"M-my sister lives there, but why? What's happened?"
"I turned Lord Gant in to King Ylerined for embezzling and abuse of power. He's not bery happy with me, and the guards may come here looking for me. I don't want the two of you in harm's way."
"B-but the house! He'll burn the house!"
Thinking quickly, Harry conjured a burlap sack. He set it aside and started throwing charms. The laundry began washing itself, ringing out, rinsing, ringing out again, and then flying in a circle of ever growing lines of clean clothes. While that was working, Harry walked through the house, sealing it and removing any liquids that weren't sealed up. Then he exited the home and began concentrating magic from near-by ley-lines into a complex shrinking charm. Everything in the house shrank and was stuck in place. Then the house itself shrank to 1/16th scale, leaving a miniature house, a little more than one cubic foot. And it was the Reduction Charm, not the Compaction Charm, so the weight was correspondingly less.
Finally, Harry transfigured the milch cow into a rabbit and summoned all of the flying, now-dry laundry into the sack, folding it before it went in. The magic done for a moment, Harry sagged. This was the most he had ever done at once when he wasn't in the middle of a combat situation. But he still had plenty left. "Kline, get the bunny. Elma, get the house and the laundry. Do you know how to ride?"
He sighed. "All right. I'm going to change into a horse in a moment, but he's very flashy and recognizable, so I'm going to make him look like a mule. I'll want both of you to get on, cover yourselves with your cloaks, and then guide me to your sister's house. A touch with the knees will tell me which way to turn."
Sure enough, when Gant and his men came thundering by, the didn't notice the two peasants on their mule lumbering through the streets toward the gates of the Throne City, and for weeks they combed the countryside looking for the wayward mage. Gant didn't listen when his men told him to count himself lucky, or when they told him that the mage could have blown him to smithereens for hid impudence. But he listened when the King's men arrived on his doorstep with a warrant, an auditor, and a prison wagon.
Harry left on his own two feet, having set matters right for the people of the Beriwethin estate and received his pay from the Guildmaster, who's gotten it from Gant's hoarded funds so that the blooded contract wouldn't kill him. Kline and Elma saw him on his way, having had their home restored and their extorted monies returned. Kline said, "Are you sure you won't take the King up on his offer? I'd love to have you around. You could teach me magic!"
Harry grinned, but sadness still lingered in his expression. "Someone should be teaching you, Kline, but it'll have to be someone else. Go to the Mage Guild and see about getting yourself some training."
He looked at the gate and nodded to himself, then transformed into Moonnight. He nosed Kline affectionately, then headed on his way, pushing the gate open as he reached it, and barreling through it to once more run the open roads and fields in solitude, save for Hedwig's constant, soft-winged presence.