The Heir of Magic
A/N: Harry Potter is coming into his magical maturity as he turns 17…but the stronger he grows, the less sane he feels. What will happen to Harry as he prepares to face Voldemort in the final battle?
This story has been edited and its title changed from the original "Jumping Off A Bridge." It is now considered complete.
Draco stood at the edge of the ruined bridge and looked down. It was early June, a day before his birthday, and the waters were running hard. He'd been standing here for a few minutes already. He was trying to convince himself of something that should have been obvious.
Draco Malfoy had nothing to live for.
When he and Snape had returned to the Dark Lord after the raid on Hogwarts, after the death of Dumbledore, the Dark Lord had praised Snape and inflicted pain curses on Draco for fifteen minutes.
Then the torture had begun.
"Rise, Severus," the snake-like leader had hissed. "I give you a prize for your performance tonight. You shall have your choice of two options. You know how infrequently I offer choices, so I expect you to select well, Severus."
Death Eater Severus Snape had risen from the stone floor in the basement of Riddle Manor and looked at his master. "You may either kill Draco for me or lead the torture against him. Death or torture for failure, Severus, which shall you have?"
Snape had picked torture. But not direct torture. No, Draco's godfather had selected that surrogates should stand in for his godson, surrogates that Draco would have to watch being tortured. Only the Dark Lord had modified Snape's proposal. For surrogates, Snape would have to torture and kill them.
Narcissa, Draco's mother, had been the first. Snape had directed her torture over several hours and then had stripped her of her magic. The Dark Lord ordered Bellatrix Lestrange to then behead her own sister.
Draco had seen everything.
Lucius, who had been broken out of Azkaban the same night Draco had led Death Eaters into Hogwarts, was led in next. The problem was that he was no longer sane or even responsive to the world around him. He didn't react under any of the tortures inflicted on him. Finally, the Dark Lord had commanded Lucius be given to the Dementors to kiss. Draco had watched that, too.
Then he'd watched while Malfoy Manor, including all the house elves trapped inside, was burned to the ground. The gardens lit up. Bellatrix even went and found Draco's first broom inside one of the gardening outbuildings and threw it into the blaze.
That act of treachery from his aunt, the woman who had taught him Occlumency, who had said she lived and cared for her little dragon, was enough to allow Draco to kill her. And he had, too, when the third day of torture began. He managed to get free of his aunt just long enough to push her down three flights of stairs. The horrifying crack her neck made when it collided against the stairs hadn't even made Draco flinch. No, it gave him the energy and power to save himself. He managed to apparate out of Riddle Manor before anyone else had figured out what had happened.
Now he had spent three days in a parody of freedom and realized he had no reason to remain breathing. He had engineered a way for Death Eaters to get into Hogwarts to save his family. His method worked, but the Dark Lord took his family any way. Snape took his family. Snape had chosen the people to sacrifice in Draco's place. Even his godfather was dead to Draco now.
The light side hated him. The dark side was hunting him to murder him. He had no friends, no family, no home. Draco had spent a few minutes wandering in and out of the extinguished Malfoy Manor. It would take years to rebuild it. But Draco's heart was shattered.
Harry Potter had been watching the whole performance from the other side of the river bank. For the last few weeks, he'd been watching almost everything he could. He watched Draco, some of the tortures the boy had undergone. He had found where Snape was, Wormtail, Bellatrix. He had observed the senior members of the Ministry of Magic. He had located the other remaining horcruxes, but still had no clear idea how to dispose of them.
Harry Potter watched Draco plummet the forty feet into the river below the bridge. He thought for a second if he should just let Draco have his easy way out. But Harry realized that Draco could possibly be of use.
Harry decided that Draco should at least answer a few questions.
"Oh, river," Harry said. "I would like the boy who just dropped in."
From that simple request to the magic in the river, Draco's body popped up and hovered on the surface. Then Harry used the ambient magic in the environment around him to bring Draco quickly to his side.
It was only then that Harry Potter pulled out his wand. He put Draco Malfoy into a healing sleep and cast diagnostic spells on his drenched body. Harry had spent enough weeks under Madam Pomfrey's care that he had a decent understanding of medical magic.
"Broken bones will heal," Harry muttered to himself. "The fall wasn't enough to kill him outright, but it did knock him unconscious. It'll be a painful healing process as I have no potions."
Harry levitated his enemy, put a hand on Draco's freezing shoulder, and apparated away.
Draco felt a tremendous surge of power and then he broke free into consciousness. He immediately felt warm, instead of cold. He was lying on something hard, not in a pool of water. Draco had always felt fuzzy when it came to religious doctrine, but he couldn't help feeling he was now in hell.
When he titled his head up and looked around, he definitely thought he was in hell. He was lying inside a warm, well-lit cave. But there were no torches anywhere, no sources of the light. This wasn't magic. This was the afterlife.
Then he peered further into the cave and saw someone sitting on a trunk. Draco squinted a bit, as he technically needed glasses but refused to wear them, and saw a messy mop of hair. Someone was watching him, his own personal demon in this version of hell.
"Who are you," Draco asked.
"Calm down," the voice replied. "Your little heart is going a million miles an hour."
Even with the distortion from the cave walls, Draco recognized the voice. It had seemed a millennia since he'd last heard it. It seemed an anchor to a more normal time, before Draco had unleashed hell on earth inside the confines of Hogwarts.
"Potter." Malfoy couldn't even summon up disgust.
"Happy Birthday, Malfoy. Your magical inheritance was strong enough to wake you from the healing sleep I put you in."
"You?" Draco was trying to scream, but his weak body wasn't cooperating. "Healing sleep? I didn't want to be healed. I wanted to be in that ruddy river."
"You're still useful to me, Malfoy. After you help me, I'd be glad to put you back in the river if you still want to go."
Draco's head roared with confusion and pain.
"What are you doing to me," he yelled.
"Trying to keep you alive long enough to be of some use, Draco. Now go back to sleep."
With that, Draco felt strong, deep, overwhelming magic poor into him from every bit of the stone he was laying on. It was like his brain just shut off, then, and his body focused all of its energy into self-repair.
Harry watched Draco Malfoy succumb to the magic in the cavern they were inside. No one would know it, but the large network of caverns here was perhaps the most magical site in all of England. Not like Stonehenge, which was thought magical but wasn't, not like Hogwarts. This cavern was filled with latent magic, pools of it everywhere. Magic that wasn't being used elsewhere in the world just wanted to come back to this cavern, to wait until it was called into service.
Harry Potter wasn't yet seventeen, hadn't yet had his magical inheritance, but he had already started receiving gifts.
The reason the wizarding world waited until a wizard's seventeenth year to make him an adult was because of the natural inheritance. It always came on or near the seventeenth birthday. For most witches and wizards, it meant extra power or additional control over that magical power. For others it meant accessing a gift that belonged to a family line or a gift that randomly cropped up from time to time. From what Harry had been reading recently, some families had gifts with strong elemental affinities, such as controlling fire or water spells better, while others had gifts related to animals, like parseltongue. Some individuals received gifts related to divination or arithmancy: Seers and Savants were the titled of those gifted. There were healing gifts and offensive gifts. There were rumors that people could be gifted with the ability to cause diseases or to cure blindness. There was a whole magical world only accessible through specific gifts.
Harry wasn't yet seventeen but he'd already begun receiving a slew of magical gifts, things he'd never heard of being in the Potter line (normally Potters received offensive spell gifts, like particular facility with cutting and bludgeoning curses). Being able to see the world's magic, just as he saw a tree or a river with his eyes, was the first of Harry's gifts and probably the most useful. He could look at a person and know how strong he was. Whether his magic was calm or agitated, what spell he was planning to cast. Whether the witch or wizard was telling the truth or fabricating a lie. The magic he saw told him all that. He could see the magic woven into wards to protect places. He could tell what each piece did, how it worked, and whether it had ever been tripped. He could see the remnants of magic that had been used in the past and even who had used the magic. That was how Harry had tracked down Snape and other Death Eaters. He could see the paths they used to travel.
Most importantly, Harry could see the magic in the world. Very little of the total magic in the world was contained within witches and wizards or other magical creatures. Most of it was free to move around, not confined within a body. Moving water had very powerful magic. Certain places, like this cavern, were even stronger. But there was magic everywhere. Harry estimated that less than a tenth of a percent of the world's magic was held inside human bodies. The rest was floating free, doing what it wished to do.
But Harry could see it. He could understand it. He thought he might be able to interact with it even. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
The first night he'd returned to the Dursleys after Dumbledore's funeral, Harry woke out of a dead sleep and been terrified. The entire room seemed lit up even though it was obviously dark out. Hedwig had a definite aura to her. His wand radiated warmth and power. He'd crept through the house examining things. Even the non-magical toaster seemed to have a bit of an aura to it. Perhaps because Harry used it to make the Dursleys breakfast.
Harry started using his gift that first night. Since he could see it, he could ask it to do favors for him. (Like now, for healing Draco Malfoy.) He'd interrogated the wards at the Dursley home and realized that there was no such thing as blood magic in place there, just ordinary wards, nowhere near as strong as what Hogwarts had around it. He'd asked the magic to help him get past the two Order members under Invisibility Cloaks outside the Dursley home. He'd figured out all of this just as soon as he started to see the magic of the world.
"I always thought Dumbledore could see through my invisibility cloak," Harry had muttered to himself. "But he couldn't. He just saw the outline of my magic."
Free magic was glad to do favors, to answer requests, but it hated to be commanded, wielded, or captured. Magic liked to be appreciated, to do good work. Harry only rarely used his own wand anymore. It was much easier just to ask for help, to ask for food he would like to eat, to ask for information leading him to the horcruxes, to ask how to finally defeat Voldemort.
Free magic had told him everything he'd asked. Now, he had more questions to ask once Draco Malfoy was healed and conscious.
Harry looked at the young man, the would-be murderer, lying against the stone, absorbing magic from the cavern. His magic was a touch stronger now because of his inheritance, but the young man was only an above average wizard. An above average, plotting, scheming wizard. Harry needed information from this little would-be assassin. And Harry couldn't interrogate the magic to get it. It would have to come from Draco's memories, from his experiences.
Harry pushed himself off the trunk he was sitting on, all his possessions in the world inside, and walked to the mouth of the cave. Harry had work to do and Draco Malfoy would be unconscious for days to come.
Harry apparated away. He needed to better understand the Ministry. Those people had employed Dolores Umbridge and couldn't be trusted on that fact alone. Harry wanted to know the rest of the story.
He was also trying to find more information on his new gift. On what he should expect when he finally reached his seventeenth birthday.
Harry had looked at himself, at his own magic, and it was astounding. He had observed Voldemort and all his Death Eaters. None were as strong as Harry now. And, when the final battle came, Harry wouldn't even draw on his own strength. No, he planned to ask the wind for help and the rivers. He'd ask the earth, the trees, and anything else he could find. With the magic of an entire world willing to help, Harry would win before Voldemort even knew what was happening.
But, the problem was that as he was getting stronger, Harry knew that his sanity was unraveling. The first cuts in his tether had come with the death of Cedric Diggory and the rebirth of Voldemort. Then had come the blood quill, the false visions from Voldemort, and the death of his godfather Sirius. Then force feeding poison to his mentor, Albus Dumbledore and being helpless while a weakened Dumbledore martyred himself for the light side.
There was a very thin line tethering Harry Potter to the way that the rest of the world thought, to its morals and values.
Harry was now the most powerful wizard in all England, perhaps the whole world. The way he saw the magic and spoke with it, that probably made him more powerful than anyone had ever dreamed. He could ask the dirt and the air to trade places and he could destroy all the land instantly. He could ask the air magic to take a break for a few hours and everyone would suffocate quickly. There were hundreds of ways Harry could kill everyone without even lifting his wand.
But with all this power, Harry felt, and could not prevent, his descent into madness. He had to save the world from Voldemort. Then he had to save the world from Harry Potter.
Harry Potter arrived outside the Ministry of Magic then asked the wards to let him inside. They gave way without a fuss. He walked through the empty building and found his way into the various records rooms inside. He was looking for a person or even a magical artifact strong enough to do the job. The final job was either repairing or destroying Harry Potter, you see. Harry had enough intelligence left, enough cunning, to realize that his tenuous grasp of sanity would probably remain until Harry's final kill, until Voldemort was dead.
Then who knew what would happen. It was like stepping off a bridge. Maybe Harry would die. Or maybe Harry would just take an enjoyable swim. Impossible to predict until it actually happened.
Draco woke up and found that all the pain in his body was gone. There were shards of his mind that were still broken, still torn apart. But he felt better than he had in nearly a year.
He was still lying on a stone in a cavern. He could remember the last time he'd woken up in this cave. Potter. Potter had brought him here. And, for a second, Draco Malfoy forgot to be angry with the man who'd saved him.
But he eventually remembered.
"Potter, where are you? What did you do to me?"
But no one responded. Draco pushed himself off the stone and started moving around the room. He walked over to where Potter had been sitting on a schoolboy's trunk. Draco flipped the lid open. It was really just a schoolboy's trunk. Draco pawed his way through the contents, looking for something to explain all this. But it was all school robes, potions ingredients, and text books. There wasn't any explanation inside. Nor any food or water.
Draco's stomach growled loudly. He shut the lid of the mawled trunk and began to walk through the cavern. Then he pushed into the next one. And the next one. It felt like he was in a maze. But every single inch of the cavern was lit. There were no shadows cast along the walls, no room in here for any kind of darkness.
Draco should have been unnerved. But, instead, he began to feel the incredible power of the room he was in. He leaned against a wall and gravity pulled him to the floor. Draco had to think.
He was still trying to think when Harry Potter found him on the ground. Harry lifted Draco to his feet without saying a word and led the taller young man further back into the caverns. When they arrived, there were chairs lined up next to the trunk Harry had sat upon before. There was also a small table with food on it.
"House elves," Draco asked. He couldn't understand the place they were at. He couldn't see how there was food available. He couldn't understand why Harry Potter of all people had saved his life. Why Harry wasn't now hexing Draco to his death.
Harry shook his head to Draco's question. But he didn't attempt to answer the underlying confusion.
Harry gestured Draco into a chair and pushed some of the food toward him. Draco's body forced him toward the food. It was unlike anything he'd ever tasted. It was vegetables and something mossy. It wasn't meat or eggs or anything Draco had ever tasted as a breakfast food, but it sparked of flavor. It tasted of life itself. Draco ate every bite and then downed a large goblet of water. He set the goblet down and watched it refill. Then he downed the second offering.
Draco's mind was filing away his questions while his body attacked the food and water. Finally, Draco's stomach pleaded that it was full.
He lifted his head and looked at Harry. The younger man had never looked so peaceful. But Draco could sense that something was off. It wasn't like how Bellatrix had been off, but it was in the same family of insanity.
Draco hadn't been expecting Harry to start the conversation. But that's just what Harry did.
"I rescued you, Draco, so you could tell me things about Voldemort and his supporters. I know what they did to you and your family. I know more than you think I do, so be sure to answer my questions truthfully." Harry paused for just a second. "Why did Voldemort assign you to kill Dumbledore?"
Draco felt like he'd been punched. Harry's words carried no anger or invective, only carefully controlled neutrality. Draco felt more terrified in Harry's presence than he ever had in the Dark Lord's. He knew he would have to speak the truth.
"He only told me it was my job because my father had failed. In the Ministry, when they were trying to get the prophecy. I was to take my father's place, prove myself."
Harry nodded. "But why Dumbledore? Why not me? Why not another target?"
Draco blanched. He didn't know the answer to this question. One didn't question why the Dark Lord did the things he did.
So Draco shrugged. "He never said."
"What is your best guess, Malfoy?"
"Because it was impossible. The Dark Lord wanted me to fail. He wanted to torture me, to cause pain to my family."
"But you succeeded." Harry's tone was still even as he casually mentioned the death of his mentor. It sent chills down Draco's spine. "And the Dark Lord still destroyed your family, didn't he? It didn't matter if the task was done. He still wanted his torture. His promise meant nothing. Only his will, only his need for pain and disaster."
Draco burst into tears. It wasn't a Malfoy thing to do, but what can you say? He saw in his head all the days of torture that Dark Lord had inflicted on him, how his mother had died after losing her magic. How his father had been reduced to a husk. But instead of wanting to throw himself off a bridge, Draco now felt angry. He wasn't mad at himself any more. He was mad at the insane man behind the Death Eaters, behind his parents' torture and execution.
Finally Draco looked up. He saw that Harry was smiling now. It was as though Harry could see straight into Draco's head. Draco poured his energy into his Occlumency shields.
Harry then laughed. "I wasn't reading your mind, Malfoy. I was reading your body language. No one taught you how to shield that, I'm guessing." Then the smile drooped a little bit. "Tell me who your father worked with in the Ministry of Magic."
"Lucius wasn't employed there." Draco always referred to his father as Lucius when speaking with other adults. If this Harry Potter was as scary as he seemed, then he qualified as an adult. It was the Malfoy way.
"No, he worked behind the scenes. Who did he have influence with? Your telling me won't hurt him now, Draco. But it could help everyone else."
Draco held out. Telling any of the Malfoy secrets could hurt the family's name. But the longer he held out, the more he wanted to tell the truth. Finally, Draco began to spill.
"Umbridge, in the Minister's office. Fudge, the ex-minister. Seven members of the Wizengamot, don't know their names but would recognize their faces. A handful of people in the creatures department. The head of the Department of Mysteries, of course. Two aurors, at least, don't know their names or faces, sorry. Everyone in the Goblin Relations office. Two people in the Floo office. The head of Azkaban and several of the human guards out there…"
Draco's recital continued for quite some time. Harry didn't say anything until Draco finished. The Malfoy heir always knew what the head of the family knew, where the money was, where the bribes were paid, and what the family's plans entailed. It was a good thing Draco knew.
"And which of them are marked as Death Eaters, Draco?"
"I don't know. I've only ever been to two meetings. The one where I was marked and the neverending one where I was tortured."
"Tell me the names of the Death Eaters you saw at the meetings," Harry said.
"Bellatrix, the other Lestranges, Peter Pettigrew, my father, my mother, Macnair the executioner, the Flints, the Bulstrodes, Goyle the father, Crabbe the father, Snape, Parkinson…"
The list continued and Harry Potter just sat there absorbing everything in. He didn't move, didn't flinch, didn't respond in any way.
"Tell me about the plans your father carried out for the Death Eaters."
"He couldn't do anything," Draco said. "Azkaban left him insane."
"Before that, before he was captured. What do you know of what Lucius did for Voldemort."
Draco paused to think. He could feel the room around him pushing him for answers. It was like he was swimming in veritaserum.
"I don't know much. I only began learning about the family estates, and all the rest, when I turned eleven. Most of what Lucius did was long before that, ancient history. I do know where he retrieved Tom Riddle's diary. I know how he gave monetary support to Death Eaters in hiding. How he came upon you in the Riddle Cemetery. And then the attack he led on you in the Department of Mysteries. That story I got from Narcissa, of course."
Harry's questions continued for hours. Draco knew he'd been subjected to brutal torture before, but it was nothing compared to the calm, quiet questions that Harry Potter kept asking. Draco's own mind didn't have time to process all the information that Harry was pulling from him. Harry wanted to know how everything worked, how the Death Eaters were organized, how their rituals worked, where they lived while on duty, even what they ate.
"What did it feel like when you received the Dark Mark, Draco?"
"It was pain, pure pain. Like white-hot pokers pressing at my skin. It went on and on, it felt like hours, but Lucius told me I was only writhing on the floor for a few minutes."
"Show it to me," Harry said.
Draco pulled up his left sleeve. The Mark was deeply black, almost alive, under his skin.
Harry examined it for a few minutes. It appeared like a strange oddity to him. "Do you wish to be rid of it?"
Draco shook his head, but his smile was fierce and loathing. "I would be done with it, but it won't part from me."
"Never say never."
Harry's hand was suddenly over the top of Draco's mark. The flesh on Draco felt cold, barely human at that. Then Harry's hand just got colder and colder. And the pain that Draco had felt when he received the Dark Mark commenced again. It felt like pure pain radiating from his forearm. But he didn't fall to the floor. He didn't scream. The pain was the same as before, but it was bearable.
Draco forced himself to watch the process. Slowly, while the pain built, Draco saw faint wisps of black stream from his arm and reform in the air. While he watched, the Dark Mark on his arm became a faint outline in the air. As the pain grew, the Mark dancing in the air turned darker and more solid. As the final crescendo of pain subsided, the Dark Mark in the air coalesced into its final form. Solid, completely black, grimly intelligent.
Harry pulled his hand away from Draco. Draco's eyes fell to his forearm. The mark was gone. Whatever darkness had been underneath his skin now hung in the air in front of him.
"How did you do that," Draco murmured. He felt like he had just run a race, even though he hadn't left his seat.
"I asked you if you wanted the Mark gone. When you said yes, I asked for some help to separate it from your body. The Dark Mark cannot be destroyed once it's created, it seems, but it can be moved."
"Draco, I haven't finished with my questions yet. And I owe you nothing. You are merely fulfilling a life debt to me since I saved you from the river. The magic of the life debt compels you to answer. And I will keep asking questions as long as I have them."
Draco fell silent and watched the Dark Mark.
"Tell me about the construction of the wards around Malfoy Manor."
The interrogation continued onward. They stopped only to consume more food, utterly bizarre food but delicious, and more water from time to time. Draco couldn't tell if hours or days had passed. The questions kept coming from every direction. Draco had to explain the interior design, the number of rooms and where they stood, of every home he'd ever visited. He'd had to name all of his friends and what he thought of them. He'd had to explain his thoughts about various potions he'd brewed for Snape. He'd had to give the names of every house elf who'd worked for the Malfoys. Then the names of every house elf he'd met and who the elves worked for. Harry had made Draco explain every cruelty he'd ever committed to another person or sentient being. And when Draco tried leaving some out, Harry somehow knew.
Then Harry started on a new line of questioning. "What do you know of becoming a Dark Lord?"
That one left Draco flummoxed. He knew he was a Dark wizard, by birth, by training, by desire. But to become a Dark Lord? Draco had never considered it.
"Let me rephrase it, then," Harry said. "What do you know of a Dark wizard becoming a Dark Lord? Like Voldemort or Grindelwald."
"It's about power, I think. Accumulating it, using it, showing it. It's about learning enough spells and becoming a fine enough warrior to command respect. It's about learning a cause and bringing people into it. A wizard without followers couldn't proclaim himself a lord. A lord must have vassals. And vassals come only with power, from fear or greed or maybe love."
Draco had never had these conscious thoughts before, but there they were just coming out of his mouth.
"So, from what I know from Lucius, I gather it took the Dark Lord many years to accumulate enough raw power to do the things a Dark wizard does to become a Dark Lord. It takes a lot of power to make the dark magic of the world comfortable with someone, to get control over that dark magic."
Harry had a thin smile on his face now. For the first time since the interrogation started, it seemed that Harry was debating inside himself on where to take his questions.
"Did you realize you came into your inheritance a week ago, Draco?"
"My birthday was a week ago?"
"Yes, you've been unconscious healing for eight days now, save those few minutes you woke up when the inheritance took. The jump you took smashed up a lot of things inside you. But you're all stitched together again, I promise." Harry's small smile disappeared. "Tell me what you know of magical inheritances."
"Very little. I know that they happen at age seventeen. They can be little or they can present a gift of some kind. Or a boost in magical power."
Harry had been examining this more and more since he'd seen what had happened to Draco. He now knew more. "I wouldn't call it a boost, Draco. I would call it an unlocking. You're born with all the power you'll ever have. But you gain access to more and more of it as you age. At seventeen, your body finally cracks off the last of the simple restraints you've been born with. However, some people, a small fraction of wizards, do get more than that. They get access to the gifts they've been born with. Some discover they have the ability to speak Parseltongue or Gobbeldygook. Some discover empathy, the ability to sense other's emotions. Some discover telepathy. Some are natural Occlumens or Pyromages. Some have unusual powers of healing. I personally expect to receive several rare gifts when I turn seventeen. But you, Draco, you share a gift with the Dark Lord. One of the gifts a Lord of either persuasion must have. Did you know that?"
"No," Draco almost shouted. "How could I? I've been unconscious for a week.";
The smile returned to Harry Potter's face.
"Why do wizards use wands, Draco?"
"I've never thought about," Draco whined. He was still processing his similarity with the Dark Lord. He didn't even know what that similarity was, or how Harry knew, but he was sure he hadn't heard a lie.
"Why do wizards speak words to make their spells function?"
"I don't know. They never covered any of this in the magical theory I was taught."
"Why are wandless spells possible? Do you know of any? Why wordless spells?"
"I'm not a theorist," Draco said. "I just use the spells, the skills, I was taught. I don't know why it works. It just does."
"Do you know what 'accidental' magic is, Draco?"
"I did accidental magic when I was a child, long before I was given a wand. I turned a house elf blue when it wouldn't bring me dessert, actually."
"You've always had an anger problem, Malfoy. But the reason I ask is that I have been developing my own theory of magic. Of course, I started by trying to figure out the answers to these questions first. I snuck into all the libraries I could think of, even the library of banned works inside the Ministry. But none of them gave satisfactory answers. I questioned Unspeakables. I sought out the most powerful wizards I could find. But no one had an answer. So then I started looking at the magic…"
"Looking at the magic? What insanity is this?"
"…I looked at the magic and it began to explain some things to me. For example, I've decided that wands and worded spells are actually restraints on magic."
"But if the magic is restrained, how does anything happen then? Your idea doesn't make sense," Draco said.
"It does. Using a wand ensures that only the wizard's magic is used in the spell casting. It restrains the free magic from helping or interfering. And using a word forces the magic inside a wizard to take a particular form. It's very coercive against the magic. That's why it's so difficult to learn. Wingardium Leviosa as an eleven year old is hard to master, but I 'accidentally' levitated myself when I was still in school. I used magic to disappear glass, to heal my bruises."
Draco looked half-intrigued. "Alright, then, Mr. Theorist. What is accidental magic, then?"
"'Accidental' magic is real magic, Draco. It's unrestrained, based on emotion or actual need. It isn't commanded. It doesn't use the restraints of wand or word. It is free magic, along with the magic inside the wizard's body, expressing something."
Draco was flummoxed again while he paused to consider the idea.
"What does any of this theory have to do with Dark wizards? And this gift I have with the Dark Lord?"
Harry Potter offered that thin smile again.
"All wizards are roughly even when it comes to raw magical strength. Their training regimens may vary greatly, of course. I am now personally stronger than Voldemort, but he could easily order five of his Death Eaters to kill me. And they would win. So, I ask you again what you suspect about how a Dark wizard becomes a Dark Lord."
"They learn to work without wands," Draco said, trying to see how the different threads of this conversation fit together.
Harry nodded, but didn't say anything. He was waiting for Draco's next set of conclusions.
"They learn to use 'accidental' magic on purpose? Is that what you're trying to get me to understand?"
"Yes. It is this free magic they learn to harness. But they go about it in the wrong ways. Voldemort sacrificed part of himself to be able to commune with the free magic, but he only gets to touch a small fragment. Dumbledore sacrificed his ability to see himself as he actually is. He could see only the good he was doing, not the harm and destruction he left in his wake."
"I'd call wrongfully imprisoned people destruction. He was the head of the Wizengamot and he never called for a trial of Sirius Black. He knew how powerful I would become, he could obviously see my magic, but he never bothered to train me. I think he purposefully employed incompetent teachers just to allow me time to remain a child. But it didn't work."
"Lupin taught us stuff."
"But Dumbledore didn't expect an impoverished werewolf to be a good teacher. Remus was just extraordinary. Even now, when the rest of the people in Dumbledore's group have fallen to pieces, Remus is still looking for information. Still trying to keep all the werewolves from siding with the Death Eaters. Remus is a very powerful person and a powerful wizard. But, no one will ever believe it because of the wolf curse."
The cavern fell silent.
"So, you can see magic," Draco asked, restarting the conversation. "Really see it?"
"I can, but I don't think many can. It's a gift that can only partially be faked. Dark Lords learn only to see Dark magic. Light Lords learn only to see Light magic. But more than ninety-nine percent of the world's magic is unaffiliated. By going through the rituals, by making the sacrifices, one only gets a pitiful reward."
"You're not even seventeen. How do you have a gift?"
"I don't know," Harry said. "But I know it won't be the last gift I receive. I can see and understand most of my magic. But not all of it. I expect the rest will be revealed when I reach my birthday."
The word 'birthday' reminded Draco of what he wanted to know. "So, will you tell me about my gift? The one I share with the Dark Lord?"
"I will, Malfoy, I will. You possess a rare gift. I do not know if Dumbledore possessed it, as he died before I came into my ability to see magic. But I do know that Voldemort has it. Your gift, Malfoy, is nothing flashy, but it is powerful. You have the ability, if you choose, to continue releasing restraints on your magic as you age."
"But you said the restraints were gone once I hit seventeen."
"No, I said the simplest restraints were gone. Your body contains far more magic than you can hope to use now. As you age, you may be able to access more and more of it. But it's a choice, you see. Tom Riddle chose to grow stronger. He chose to ally with the Dark magic to the exclusion of all other. Now I have to kill him before he tears our world apart. If you were to make the same choices, Malfoy, say within the next fifty years, I might have to come and visit with you again. And perform the same mercy on you that I will be performing on Voldemort on August First."
"August First? You're going to kill the Dark Lord this summer?"
Harry twisted his head a bit and then stood up. "I have asked you all the questions I needed to at this time, Malfoy. And I have answered the few questions I deemed to be interesting. You are free to go from here. But you will not be able to find this place again. I will be keeping my eye on you, Malfoy. And perhaps we will have a friendly chat next time. Perhaps I will be willing to answer more of your questions. Perhaps."
With that, Draco felt himself yanked out of the glowing room. When he realized he was sitting on the ground and that it was dark outside, he tried to stand up and figure out where he was. But he clunked his head against a wooden beam and then felt tremendous pain. Slowly he crawled his way out of wherever he was.
The where was a mystery for a few seconds. But then it made some kind of sense. Draco was standing in a partially completed building on the Malfoy grounds. The manor's remains had been cleared away.
Was this something Harry had done? Had he started on a small place where Draco could live while the Manor was rebuilt?
It seemed like that. Draco pulled out his wand and began casting to see what sort of wards were in place. Voldemort and the Death Eaters had utterly destroyed the last ones. Draco spent ten minutes analyzing them, as a Malfoy was taught to do, and realized he had never seen anything better or stranger. He didn't recognize any of them, but they were tightly roped over each other, like an unbreakable web. The magic sustaining them wasn't from ruins or a keystone either. In fact, the wards seemed to be coming directly from the earth. Draco wandered the grounds for the remaining two hours of daylight and tried to determine what they were grounded to.
And wards grounded to nothing were not only impossible. They were also impossible to break.
With that last thought, Draco turned his mind to restoring the Malfoy name. He was the last of them now. The interrogation had confused the hell out of him, but it had definitely knocked him free of his pity and self-sorrow. Draco was still angry. Angry and completely invulnerable behind these wards.
Draco began to rebuild his life. The questions that Harry had asked began to replay slowly in his head.
He called for his house elves. They were all still alive, it seemed. Draco set them to tasks, mostly finishing the small thatched house he would live in until the Manor was rebuilt. He determined that the elves had actually managed to salvage many of the precious Malfoy heirlooms. And one of them told him that the Malfoy vaults were still intact underneath the manor.
It was only after all this, as night had fallen, that Malfoy walked toward the family cemetery. He saw at once there were two new graves in place. It seemed that Harry Potter had even managed to bury his parents for him.
Draco was completely confused. But it was a good kind of confusion.
Draco Malfoy spent two days working on rebuilding Malfoy Manor before the first Death Eaters showed up. His little thatched home was complete. He had arranged for tons of stone, brick, wood, steel, and other materials to be delivered to the site. All that was left was constructing the manor. Draco had three dozen house elves at his disposal and the original plans for the manor. He'd even hired a wizarding architect to help oversee improvements to the original construction.
When the Death Eaters showed up, a half dozen of them, Draco ordered the Malfoy house elves to continue their work. He pointed the architect inside the small thatched hut. Then Draco walked toward the edge of the wards. The Death Eaters were lurking there, mocking and taunting Draco.
"You look healthy enough to torture again, Malfoy."
"You're a proper lord of a manor now. But whatever happened to the manor?"
"You'll be ground up into dust like your worthless parents."
Draco stopped three feet away from where the wards started and smiled at the people on the other edge of the protective webs. From their voices and their shapes under their robes, Draco had a fair idea of who was here.
His uncle was here. He sounded the angriest of any of them, particularly given that Draco had killed the man's wife, Bellatrix.
"Would any of you care to step inside. My elves can make a wonderful cup of tea, you know."
Draco's voice was completely even, which infuriated the people on the other side of the wards completely.
"I should give you fair warning, I suppose, Rodolphus, considering I did kill your wife, that you will all be dead on August first. You might suggest to your master that you pack it in, enjoy the last few weeks you'll have. I guarantee I'll enjoy watching every minute of it."
Draco turned around and walked back toward his thatched hut when one of the Death Eaters tried to push his way through the wards. His hand and foot disintegrated the moment he touched the wards. He began howling in pain and the other Death Eaters began throwing curses and hexes toward the wards. All of the spells were absorbed and the magic protecting the Malfoy estate grew stronger.
Draco brought out the architect and they went back to work while the Death Eaters hammered away on the wards. At first, the wizard architect seemed quite concerned. "Are you sure we're safe?"
"They're indestructible," Draco said. "I don't know how. But they have no focal point, no stone or rune to run them. They just exist. I wouldn't have the first idea about how to change them, even."
"Interesting," the architect said, before tuning out the disturbance and returning to his work.
The Death Eaters left after an hour. An hour before dusk, a larger force returned. They began pummeling the wards with every ounce of magic they possessed. But the wards just swallowed everything.
For the next few days, the Death Eaters returned again and again. One time they brought Muggles with them and attempted to execute them in front of Draco. To torture him as they had done before by killing and dementor-kissing his parents. The wards just stopped the magic cold even though it wasn't directed at the wards. When the Death Eaters tried again, all of the Muggles just vanished.
Even Draco had been surprised at that. It took him a whole three minutes before he recovered his Malfoy composure. He returned to work, though. The three levels of basements were nearly cleared out so that they could be reconstructed. Plus Draco would have access to the family vault buried under all that rubble. Many of the magical paintings that had graced the manor had been safely tucked away in the vault before the fires destroyed everything.
Then the teams of elves would begin moving everything into place after Draco and a few other select individuals cast preservation charms on every piece of material used in the new manor. The new building would never burn nor crumble from magical means nor admit inside its walls someone considered an enemy of the master of the manor. These spells had all been called for in the original plans, but had apparently not been carried out. Or not been renewed often enough.
The next day burned bright. It was past noon when the Death Eaters showed up with brooms. They began flying around the entirety of the estate, casting spells at the wards. They were trying to locate a vulnerability, a tiny seam that they could tear open. Draco knew they wouldn't find anything.
He turned back and watched one of his elves use his magic to lower monstrously outsized stones into the bottom of where Malfoy Manor would be rebuilt. There were thirty-seven keystones. It was common for wizard homes to use one keystone. But thirty-seven was unheard of, ridiculously expensive and redundant. It was very hard to break the protections granted by a single stone. But breaking thirty-seven of them in consecutive order, without stop, was impossible.
That was why Draco had chosen thirty-seven. It was a magical number, as all prime numbers were, but especially important in arithmancy.
The rest of the Manor went up very quickly. House elves possessed very powerful magic. They could move massive pieces of stone into place without even the slightest effort. And each of them was proud to be building the home they would soon inhabit. Draco kept busy enchanting and protecting each piece of material that would make up the Manor. He was triply paranoid: he didn't know how long the Death Eaters would keep attacking, he didn't know how long the wards would continue to function, and he didn't know what Harry Potter was planning to do. He wanted security over his life in his own hands.
It was the end of June when the last stone were in place. The glass and doors of the manor would be installed the following day. The interiors the day after. Draco would begin living in his new home that day.
The Death Eaters, a small contingent, were on hand to watch. Today they were trying to lob rocks through the wards. They'd tried everything magical, so now they resorted to the commonplace. Draco thought it was really pathetic. He turned his back and went back to supervising the day's work. He had already spelled everything that was being placed on the roof of the three story building. He knew he should be working on bespelling the doors and windows now, but Draco wanted to watch the manor come together.
Over the course of the day, more and more Death Eaters arrived outside the wards. They were making another attempt to bring down the wards when all hell truly broke out.
Harry Potter had been watching the reconstruction of Malfoy Manor a few times a week. He'd seen some of the stunts the Death Eaters had pulled. Harry was very glad that the wards were as rock solid as they were.
This gift he'd given to the Malfoys was a test case. He wanted to see if the free magic would consent to something permanent like this. It worked wonderfully. Instead of wards bound to a single stone or to a series of runes, these wards were bound to the earth, to the air, to the river running two miles away to the east. They could absorb a nearly infinite amount of magic by simply converting any attacks into free-standing magic, much of which went into further strengthening the wards.
But Harry Potter no longer just wanted to witness the wards and to ensure that they were strong enough. It was time to test out other of the gifts he was receiving. It was time to begin the final war with this first, very simple skirmish.
Harry moved silently out of the covered forest he usually stood inside. He walked quickly to the mass of Death Eaters. He got within seventy feet of them before someone finally noticed his presence. Then he had two dozen wands trained on him and the curses began to fly. Cutting hexes, binding spells, pain curses, the whole works. But nothing actually left any of the wands pointed at Harry. Nothing.
The next volley of curses began. Stronger curses. Avada Kedavra was attempted by four people, even though Voldemort wanted Harry Potter for himself. Nothing.
Before the Death Eaters could start a third volley, Harry held up his hand and everyone stopped moving. They were trying to speak, but the words weren't coming out. They were completely at Harry's will.
"I have a message for each of you," Harry Potter said. "I can remove your Dark Marks from you if you prove to me that you repent of the things you've done. The process is very painful, I assure you, but it works well. I have already removed Draco Malfoy's mark. That is my offer to you. Now, I will also make a promise. The first one of you who hexes me after I restore your magic will have his magic bound. The second one will lose his magic completely, forever. The third one will cease to exist. I offer this demonstration to you so that you know I am serious. I will be ending this conflict between Voldemort and the rest of the wizarding world in a few short weeks. Be sure you're on the right side of it, hmm?"
By this time, Harry not only had house elves watching him and Death Eaters, but also Draco Malfoy. This demonstration of power was also for Draco's benefit.
Harry released the magic restraining the Death Eaters and then began to wait.
Mulciber was the first one who cast a curse. The spell crossed half the distance between them before it just flickered out. He cried out in pain and had to drop his wand. A magically bound soul couldn't bare to touch anything magic. The pain that resulted was part of the binding.
One of the Carrows cast the next curse, the Killing Curse. It too dissipated in midair and then that Carrow began to scream. Her magic was truly gone, as Harry had promised. It would never return.
Fenrir Greyback raised his wand and also cast the Killing Curse. At the same instant the green light dissipated, Fenrir faded out of view. He didn't even have time to scream. He just ceased to exist.
"I expected to have to prove my promises. When you see me next time, either accept my offer to leave the Death Eaters or prepare to die. You may all leave now."
Harry brought his hand down to his side and every one of them popped away, even the newly made Carrow squib.
Harry felt as the free magics purred with eager appreciation. They truly did enjoy being used. And in ways that preserved choice. Harry had framed the situation perfectly, at least as far as the free magic was concerned. Attack me and you'll receive a severe punishment.
Harry realized that the magic was just as unstable as he was. The second he believed himself master over the magic, it would turn on him or simply refuse to function. But if it was asked, praised, and well treated, it would always enjoy putting on a good show.
And what better show was there than defeating two dozen Death Eaters without even raising a wand.
Harry turned to the still shocked Draco Malfoy, bowed his body slightly, and then disappeared. There was still much to be done before the final skirmish of the battle. He had gifts to understand. He had people to observe. He had an entire network of Death Eaters and supporters to mark. And he had to find someone strong enough to help Harry if the worst happened.
If Harry went completely insane once Voldemort was dead, Harry needed someone to stop him, to put him down like a rabid dog. He had only a few candidates left to examine. All of the earlier ones Harry had already discarded as inadequate.
Harry arrived at the Burrow and sat in the bushes watching the Weasleys. Just being here made him feel almost normal. But it was all he could feel at the moment. So Harry just watched and collected more information.
There was much to be done. But everything had a particular time and place.
Harry sat outside the Burrow and listened to the beautiful strains of their voices in the mid-afternoon air. They were getting ready to have a late lunch. Harry decided to join in the eating. He asked the free magic for some food and water and the free magic smiled at Harry.
Harry sat and ate while he listened. The residents of the Burrow, including his friend Hermione, had just finished an impromptu Quidditch game and they were all complaining of aches and bruises.
The only time when Harry considered revealing himself was when Mrs. Weasley brought out a treacle tart for dessert. But he sat in the foliage and continued his observation. He was waiting to hear something interesting.
Soon enough, the conversation turned to a rehashing of the Daily Prophet. Arthur Weasley, who worked for the Ministry, offered his insider's scoop when he could. But none of it was very relevant.
He heard about the wedding preparation for Bill and Fleur's celebration. He heard about the latest Death Eater raids. He even snippets of what sounded like the agenda for an upcoming Order of the Phoenix meeting. Harry decided that was useful news.
He also heard about himself. Ron was angry that Harry hadn't responded to any letters. Harry thought for a second where Hedwig might be. Maybe he could ask his favorite owl to retrieve the letters people were sending him.
Hermione suggested that Harry just needed to grieve in private. Of course, the suggestion just made Ron angrier. It was Ginny who finally had to punch her brother in the shoulder to stop his fuming.
Harry finished his meal and banished his plate and glass back into the free magic. He found he was beginning to really enjoy the strange food that the free magic provided. It was vegetables and weird seasonings and mosses and grasses and tender bark. There was never a hint of meat or cheese or eggs. Harry found he didn't miss them as much as he'd suspected he would. He felt thinner, but stronger, than he'd ever been. This was another part of the gift he was receiving, but he didn't understand it yet.
Harry decided that the Weasleys needed stronger wards. But they had to be less imposing, less destructive, than the ones he'd created for Draco Malfoy. Harry stood up, dusted off the seat of his pants, and began to communicate with the free magic. He asked it questions for a few minutes. He was trying to decide the best way to make the wards invasion proof… but to still allow the kind of lifestyle that the Weasleys enjoyed. Malfoy was in danger, was very formal, and was an unpleasant person so Harry had just thrown something up to keep any kind of danger out. But the Weasleys had a wider network of friends. Hell, one of their sons worked with dragons, another worked with goblins. These wards would have to be more relaxed, more giving.
Harry communicated his ideas to the free magic. The magic disliked many of the options but eventually cottoned on to three of them. The new wards would prevent anyone from gaining entrance who had hostile magic inside his body. Hostile thoughts, of course, led to hostile magic. The new wards would dissipate any offensive magic used inside them. It wouldn't affect shields or cleaning charms or even most of the stuff Fred and George used to get up to. But it was enough to stop an attack. And, in the last resort, the wards would forcibly expel anyone who attempted a serious physical or magical attack against anyone inside the wards. The new wards seeped upwards from the ground and wove themselves into the Weasley's current wards.
The new configuration wasn't as secure as what the Malfoy Manor had, but it would work. And the new wards would never collapse. In fact, because they were interwoven with the older wards, it was close to impossible that anyone could ever bring any of the wards down. The Weasleys weren't as secure as Gringotts but it was now a close tie.
Harry walked around the forest and examined the new wards from a dozen different angles. He wondered how long it would be before one of the Weasleys noticed the new threads. Harry decided it was better to inform than to let them stumble across them. They certainly wouldn't understand why they were there or what they did.
Harry asked for a piece of papyrus, as parchment came from the skins of animals, and then filled the sheet with some explanations. He wrote for Arthur and Molly, for Ron and Hermione, for Ginny. He tried to explain everything, but knew his words wouldn't say enough. He promised to attend the wedding in four days' time.
He used the wind to lift the papyrus out of his hand and to settle it inside the Burrow's kitchen. He didn't want the letter to be discovered for a little while. Instead, Harry wanted to hear more news. What he eventually discovered, listening to Arthur and his son Bill, was that Dolores Umbridge had finally annoyed her new patron. She was being shunted off to a minor office of a minor department. She was to have the authority to oversee the importation of magical potions ingredients, like French veela hair or German bucephalus root.
Harry decided that Dolores Umbridge would make for a good interrogation. Harry remembered every word of what Draco Malfoy had told him. He knew that Dolores had answered to Lucius Malfoy as much as to the Ministry itself.
Harry bowed briefly to the Weasley's and their home and then disappeared.
He found Dolores Umbridge cursing in her high-pitched, very proper voice. She was standing outside her new office deep inside the Ministry, far away from any avenues of power or influence.
Apparently whatever had kept her in place in the Minister's office had now thoroughly crumbled. She had been returned back to do work that she might, theoretically, be capable of performing.
Harry felt that even in this place there were pools of magic. The magic here was very bored, though, and it went positively wild when Harry began to ask it questions. The free magic here was desperate for attention. Harry was glad to oblige.
"Madam Umbridge," Harry said, "if you could step into your office."
The stout, short woman swiveled around and almost fell over when she saw who was talking to her. Her face turned red almost instantly and her hand drew out her wand. She was uncoordinated and slow. Harry knew that she wouldn't last three seconds with a Death Eater.
"I think you'll find that your magic won't cooperate with you, Madam Umbridge. Step inside, please, we have much to discuss."
Umbridge, of course, tried cursing and hexing Harry Potter four ways to Sunday before she finally gave up. Her wand hadn't done a single thing.
Then she felt pulls and tugs on her body. She was going to be inside her dank, little office whether she wanted to or not.
The door closed firmly and silently behind her. Harry Potter asked for a chair and then sat down. Umbridge refused to sit on the floor, couldn't seem to conjure a chair with her wand acting so strangely, so she remained standing. Strangely enough, her head was now at eye level with the seated Harry Potter.
The foul woman was muttering under her breath, plotting every sort of torment and torture she could envision.
"Let's get started then, Madam Umbridge. Tell me everything you know about the late Lucius Malfoy."
Umbridge froze for a second when she realized that Malfoy was dead. Then she snarled at the whelp who wanted information from her. But the longer she stood snarling, the greater a pain became inside her chest. Soon her snarls were tears and she wanted to speak. She wanted to tell everything she could about Lucius Malfoy.
"He was Cornelius' advisor," she wheezed out finally. "He told the Minister a lot of things, advised him on every major decision he made. I listened to him, too, when I started on my different plans."
"Were you in communication with him while you were at Hogwarts?"
"Yes," she hissed.
"Did he provide you with the blood quill you had me use on myself?"
"No," she said. "It was in my family's treasury."
"Tell me everything that Lucius Malfoy advised you to do at Hogwarts."
And she did. Her mouth, once started, couldn't stop. Malfoy had been the one to conceive of the Inquisitor's role for Hogwarts, Fudge had merely signed the paper. Malfoy had advised her in a number of other areas, but none as vile.
"And the Dementors you sent against me?"
"No," Umbridge said. "That was my conception. Long before Lucius took an interest in my plans."
"You wanted me soulless, then?"
"Yes, you horrid boy. Your lying, your mucking in my Minister's business. You were trying to make a fool out of him. You just wanted attention and praise. You wanted to ruin the Ministry, I know it. Your plots and plans are obvious to even a child. You're evil, more evil than any Voldemort."
Harry held up his hand and Umbridge's mouth ceased speaking. He had let her go on for so long because he had never seen what a person's magic looked like when it was being used to lie. It flickered in and out in a violent, colorful protestation. Magic abhorred lies, it seems. It could detect them easily. That was another piece of the puzzle that Harry had now solved. Even this horrible Umbridge was teaching him about his new gifts.
He had to choke back a small laugh. It was, in fact, the first thing he had learned from her, even though she had been his teacher for nearly a year's time.
"You don't even believe the things you're saying, Madam Umbridge. You're lying to me clear as day. I'd suggest you stop before I get irritated."
Harry put his arm back down and the woman was able to speak again. But she prudently stayed silent.
"Tell me everything you know about the Wizengamot."
Harry stared at Umbridge for more than a minute before the pain inside her body forced her to speak. And then she told Harry everything he needed to know. The woman wasn't a good teacher or administrator by any stretch of the imagination, but she was a political animal and could recognize who controlled what happened with the Ministry. By the time Umbridge was done, Harry had a list of twelve Wizengamot members who were hardly neutral parties trying to fairly decide judicial matters.
"Tell me about the Floo office, the people who work with creatures. Tell me about everyone who isn't completely loyal to the Ministry."
Umbridge, for all of her seeming incompetence, knew a good deal about the Ministry and why it's people did the things they did. For nearly thirty minutes, she outlined the people she knew of in the Ministry. She, of course, raised more questions than she could answer. But it was all valuable to Harry. He began to realize that the Ministry was far more corrupt than he had first envisioned. There were very few who worked here because they valued their jobs or liked the work they did. Arthur Weasley, lover of all things Muggle, was one in a dozen.
"How does Azkaban work?"
The questions Harry continued to ask on through the night. For all that he learned, he realized most of it confirmed what Draco Malfoy had told him.
Harry continued his questions long past Umbridge's point of exhaustion. She looked ready to drop the minute his eyes turned away from her. Strangely enough, Harry wasn't tired. He was angry.
"Madam Umbridge, from your testimony this night, I find you guilty of crimes against the wizarding world. I sentence you to make a full confession of them to the editor of the Daily Prophet this morning. In three hours you'll begin telling everything you know. And if you are arrested and prosecuted, you'll tell everything again. One lie or omission of fact will result in the loss of your magic. A second lie or omission and you will cease to exist. Do you understand me?"
Madam Umbridge looked like she'd finally woken up. In fact, her massive, squat body began to wobble violently in anger and fear.
"I did nothing wrong," she said.
And with her first lie, all the magic held within her body slid out of her. She spent the next three minutes screaming in pain and horror.
"I said that any lies or omissions would be punished, Madam Umbridge. Be sure to take the blood quill with you when you make your confession. You have three hours to set your affairs in order. I suggest you make good use of your time. The magic of your punishment is probably even more suspicious of you than I am. I'd be very careful not to say anything that will offend it."
Harry stood up, the chair vanished from the office, and then Harry was gone.
Umbridge finally made it out of her office a half hour later. She'd written letters to the people who needed to know. She'd resigned her position with the Ministry. Obviously a squib couldn't work in a place full of magic. She walked out to face her fate. The credible threat of an instantaneous death sentence had certainly revised her view of the world.
Draco threw himself a small party when he walked into the completely rebuilt Malfoy Manor. There were only house elves and himself in attendance, but something this important should be celebrated. Draco drank down the mulled wine one of his elves have procured and looked through the new rooms. Many of them were still empty. It would take years to fill them. But, Draco now had years. He had time, and money, and the anger to restore the Malfoy name to glory.
He walked through the first basement then down another two levels. Then he tapped on the stones on the floor in the northwest corner of the house. A set of stairs formed and dropped toward the fourth basement. The family's vault was housed there. It was the only part of the original Malfoy Manor that hadn't been destroyed.
This was the first time Draco would ever set foot inside it.
He'd heard Lucius talk about some of the items inside, things that were more precious than galleons. He'd wondered if some of the stories could be true.
He pricked his finger with a small dagger he carried and flicked a few droplets of blood against the wall of the vault. After a few seconds where nothing happened, the wall vanished. Draco stepped inside the cavernous room.
It was filled to the brim with beautiful baubles and other worthless junk. There were hundreds of suits of wizarding armor, the wands of every dead member of the Malfoy family, and darkly magical devices of every conceivable design. There was a small area cordoned off filled with crowns and jewels of every color. Another area had handbound journals that were too precious to be stored with what had been the Malfoy library. Very few of those books survived. Another area was filled with cabinets of legal documents. Another was filled with records of bribes paid and received stretching back nearly eight hundred years. Another was filled with body parts claimed as trophies from people that Malfoys had killed in battle. There was a small shelf filled with a half dozen items that had belonged to Lucius' exploits. Scalps, a few severed hands, and one shattered wand.
The further Draco walked into the vault, the more it hurt. But he had to see everything, all his family's history. Everything they had done and would keep doing down through time. He had an elf bring him food. He resolved to stay down here until he had seen everything.
He knew that he had been inside at least a full day. His elves had brought him food several times. Draco was currently sorting through the documentation about how the family had sabotaged the Wizard-Goblin Peace Conference of 1385. Of course, that action had resulted in the Goblin Rebellion of 1386.
Draco kept pouring over dusty records, over severed limbs, over all the truth there was inside this vault. The family had earned its name and been proud of its destructive force in the world. It had nearly destroyed the French Wizarding society four times and come close in England twice. It had given money to support forty-three Dark Lords throughout history. It had been defeated forty-two times, to date. Did no one learn from history?
Draco plucked a blood stained, but preserved, cloak from the wall. It held the Malfoy crest on it, but the small plaque next to it explained everything. "Gift to Rubicon Potter, Minister of Magic, by Vibraxas Malfoy in 1412. Worn by the Minister of Magic when Vibraxas and eleven others slew him on a battlefield. Goblins received the blame, but Malfoys always know the truth." This was what the name Malfoy had meant: treachery, deceit, bad faith. Killing the people who had received its gifts, sowing discord through every fiber of the world.
"Enough," Draco said. His voice was hoarse. He had now seen everything he needed to. The old Malfoy family was dead. Its traditions were dead. Draco would begin by forming a new Malfoy family.
He sealed the vault, but knew he would be back soon to begin clearing it out. He walked up to one of the few furnished rooms in the Manor. He pulled out parchment and quill and began writing invitations. He sent them to all his one-time friends. He sent them to all his father's and mother's friends. He sent them to everyone of importance in the Wizarding World. He was going to have a memorial service for his dead parents and for the Malfoy traditions which were now going to be forgotten.
Harry Potter arrived at the Burrow thirty minutes before the Weasley/Delacour wedding was scheduled to begin. Since he hadn't talked to anyone all summer, it was a tremendous surprise that he showed up. No one knew what he'd been doing. No one knew that he'd been busy. And no one could make heads or tails out of the formal robes he was wearing.
"They look alive," Rita Skeeter said. She was the first one to cotton on to Harry Potter. In fact, she had only decided to invite herself to the wedding in order to see if Harry showed up.
He decided to humor the vicious reporter for a few minutes. She had just added herself to Harry's list of people to 'talk with.'
"I believe they are," Harry said of his dress robes. "Spider silk, and the thinnest leaves, and every kind of flower that grows in the forest. Gold, silver, gems. Everything the earth can provide."
"Put that way," Rita said, "you'd expect them to be tacky, flowers and gold and such. But what you've got on is hardly tacky." It sounded like the old female reporter was beginning to crush on Harry Potter. "It shows just every curve of your body. It's molded to you."
Harry's eyes went wide and then he backed away. "I'm sorry, Madam Skeeter. I'd like to talk with my friends."
When she woke up out of her lust-induced haze, she tried to start writing some kind of vicious story. But her Kwik-Kwotes Kwill just wouldn't work. She looked put out as she had to dig in her purse for a real quill and had to actually attempt to write a real story.
Harry moved through the crowd in his newly silent, graceful way. He was stopped dead before he could get inside the house. Apparently Rita's earlier questions had let more than one person know that Harry was here. Hermione grasped one of Harry's arms and Ginny grabbed the other. They pulled him away from the house and sat him on a tree stump before they began their interrogation.
"Where have you been?" Hermioned started.
"And why haven't you answered any of our owls," Ginny continued.
"They finally noticed you were missing last week," Hermione said.
"Your relatives are stupid, but even they noticed you hadn't eaten anything in a month," Ginny said.
"Then Moody and Tonks and Shacklebolt have been out searching for you like crazy," Hermione said.
The interwoven interrogation continued for some time before either woman would allow Harry to comment.
"Well, it's nice to see the pair of you, too." Harry shot the words out in a brief silence.
The frustration on Hermione's and Ginny's face just turned to embarrassment while Harry stood up and walked back to the wedding. "Don't want to miss anything. We'll have time for questions later, I think."
Of course, Harry knew they wouldn't, but he relieved that everyone was acting according to their normal habits. He saw Ron standing next to Bill. Ron's eyes went wide and his jaw dropped. The wedding was to start in minutes, but it was only Bill tugging on his brother that kept Ron in place. Mrs. Weasley saw Harry and she was only just able to keep herself from leaping from her seat and squeezing the black-haired until he gave her some answers. Mr. Weasley was only a touch more restrained.
Harry sat down in a chair near the middle of the seating area when Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour apparated in and began his slow, shambling walk to the front. He seemed to be the one tapped to preside over the service, only fitting as he was a kind of Minister.
He, too, stopped when he saw Harry Potter sitting outside the Burrow. The Minister tipped his head for a moment and then continued in his slow, deliberate way.
Bill had never looked so handsome, even with the disfiguring scars on his face. Harry wondered if the gift he intended was still appropriate. He decided that it was Bill's obvious happiness that overrode the disfigurement. His quarter-veela wife, Fleur, looked enchanting. Of course, she had more than her fair share of the males in the seating area looking at her intently. Ron was particularly blatant in his stares at his brother's wife.
The ceremony was both dignified and light hearted, both of which were hard to accomplish in the middle of a war. After the Minister's last words rung out over the gathering, Bill and Fleur shared a chaste kiss. Harry was out of his seat just moments later. He had a few people to speak with and not a lot of time.
He found Remus Lupin first. His father's friend was looking the worse for wear. Harry reached inside his unusual robes and pulled out an envelope. After greeting Remus, he thrust the envelope into the werewolf's hand and then continued his way through the gathering. He figured he had a few minutes while Remus digested the contents of the letter.
Harry moved through the people and greeted and smiled at everyone he saw. He gave encouraging, noncommittal answers to any questions he received. He knew he was behaving like the worst kind of politician, but he needed people in a certain frame of mind before the rest of the day's events occurred.
He could see the magic flickering and flaring around him. He was causing frustration and curiosity in the people he saw. He was causing some anger, some fear, and a lot of unhappiness. People couldn't understand him. That wasn't a surprise. Harry couldn't understand himself either.
Finally he found Ron and had a brief, erratic conversation. Ron was jealous at Harry's new robes (not even pausing to wonder how someone could craft robes from such unusual materials), but glad that his friend was present. He was also curious beyond belief at what Harry was doing.
"Are you looking for them," Ron asked. Harry realized Ron was referencing Voldemort's horcruxes. There were still four fragments of Voldemort's soul out in the world. Their presence kept Voldemort's final horcrux, the fragment of soul within his body, from being destroyed.
"I know where they all are," Harry said. Ron's jaw dropped again. "And I know how I will destroy them."
"How? What?" Ron was turning pink and white in his frustration at not knowing. "Who are you and what did you do with Harry? When I last talked to my friend, he didn't have the first clue what he was doing."
"Harry has changed." He didn't enjoy speaking about himself in the third person, but it did seem kind of proper. Harry wasn't really Harry any more. Whatever this gift was as he approached the date of his magical inheritance, it wasn't doing Harry Potter's fractured sanity any good.
Ron prepared to launch into more questions when Harry felt Rufus Scrimgeour's hand on his shoulder. Harry said, "Your new robes look very nice," before turning to meet the Minister's gaze.
"Minister," Harry said.
"Walk with me," the former Auror said.
With a practiced movement, a handful of Aurors at the gathering created a wide swath of area devoid of people. Scrimgeour set off on a slow pace and Harry followed behind. He was curious what the Minister wanted to speak about. He had more than one idea, but wasn't sure what would be top of mind for the aging man.
"I wonder if you saw the newspapers recently?"
Harry shook his head. "No, sir."
"Hmm, interesting. I don't suppose you have any idea why Dolores Umbridge confessed to thirteen years worth of major and minor crimes, particularly some vile ones performed on you? Blood quills, dementors, Unforgivable curses?"
"I know why, sir. But the less said the better, I think."
"So, why have ten members of the Wizengamot become squibs? And another two died outright?"
"I would suggest that they lied and paid a price for it."
"Lied? What, I don't understand."
"I understand that various newspapers will be publishing more stories like that from Umbridge."
"More corruption," the Minister hissed.
"Plus I think you'll need to find quite a few new people to work in the Floo office, the Department of Creatures. You'll need some new Aurors and most of the prison guards at Azkaban have proven unreliable. The stories will be coming out soon, I expect."
The Minister was now apoplectic.
"How? How did you know? How are you turning wizards and witches into squibs?"
"I'm asking people to tell the truth, sir," Harry said. He was glad that Scrimgeour hadn't turned immediately to what these revelations would mean for his political career. When Harry had sentenced Fudge to tell the truth, the former Minister had killed himself before uttering a full two sentences, trying to salvage his own reputation. "I'm trying to clear out the tangles in the Ministry before even more drastic changes occur."
"Everyone has a right to an uncorrupt government. Everyone has the right to equality before the law. These newly made squibs chose to lie rather than accept their punishment. I asked them all only to confess in a public, and not all have lied, not everyone has become a squib. Several have revealed everything and kept their magic, of course, they've committed crimes they'll need to be charged for. But these people did these things to themselves. It's the choice they made to corrupt the government. It's the choice they made to lie about their corruption. They're killing themselves. They're making themselves into squibs."
The Minister's body looked almost deformed as he tried to comprehend what was happening.
"Do you have any more questions for me, Minister? I suspect that we may not speak again until the final battle is completed."
"Final battle… No, tell me how you are doing this, Harry."
Harry nodded his head. "I'm coming into my magical inheritance soon, Minister, my seventeenth birthday. Some of the gifts allows me to compel people to speak the truth. Other parts allow me to bind people to continue telling the truth outside of my presence on the pain of losing their magic or their lives. I've decided it's a good idea to use these gifts. I have more people to visit, of course, people corrupted by Death Eaters, like Umbridge was, or corrupted by other wealthy families. I may not catch everyone, but I will get as many as I can."
Harry turned away. One of the Aurors reached for Harry to keep him from leaving, but the man, was it Proudfoot?, just stopped dead when his hand was an inch from Harry's robes.
Harry returned to the festivities and few had noticed his absence. The Aurors had to have cast various charms to keep the conversation private and unnoticed.
Harry walked to where Fleur and Bill were standing. On the way, he passed by Charlie Weasley and noticed a massive present sitting on the gift table. It had been wrapped with a ribbon, but was otherwise completely on display.
"What do you think, Harry, a beauty," Charlie said, pointing toward the massive crystal vase. It was easily worth five thousand galleons or more. What's more, it had the Weasley and Delacour coat of arms cut into it. It had been crafted specifically as a gift.
Charlie smiled mysteriously and then plucked the envelope off the present. He neatly tore into it and then his face dropped.
"It's from Malfoy," Charlie said, his voice full of hatred. He appeared to be one second from pulling his wand and destroying the gift.
Harry put his hand on Charlie's wand arm and then looked at the gift again. It didn't have any kind of magical signature to it. It didn't have anything beyond crystal inside it. No poisons, nothing devious at all.
"I'll guarantee it's safe, Charlie."
"How do you know?"
"I'd bet my life on it. Malfoy's changed, I think, since his parents were killed."
"They're dead," Charlie said.
Harry just nodded. The whole story was too gruesome to tell at a gathering like this.
"Put the card back. There's nothing but crystal in the vase. I'll tell Bill."
Harry moved through the gathering and then stood in line for a brief moment to congratulate the couple. When it was his turn, he kissed Fleur on the cheek, grasped Bill's hand, and smiled at both of them. He mentioned the Malfoy gift and then he surprised both of them.
"I will probably have to leave soon, Bill, but I wanted to offer you my gift before I did." Harry turned to Fleur and smiled. "I'm sorry, Madame, but it's mostly for Bill's benefit, although you might enjoy it as well."
With that, Harry brought his hand to Bill's scarred face. Bill flinched and then whimpered in pain as Harry's hand became very hot to the touch. After a few seconds, Harry pulled away, but Bill's face retained the heat. The deep wound tracks began to close in on themselves as Fleur and Harry looked on. Within a minute, there was no trace at all that Bill had ever been injured.
Harry smiled broadly, offered a small bow to both of the speechless newlyweds, and then walked off to the edge of the Weasley property. He arrived at the edge of the wards a few seconds before the first popping noises shot through the air.
He had known that Death Eaters would be coming. He had known where they would come and when. Harry had been noticing that his gift was giving him bizarre ideas over the last few days. These ideas, however, had the unusual quality of coming true.
Precognition. That was the name of this form of knowledge. Knowing before knowing was possible.
The guests at the wedding party hadn't even noticed the new arrivals. Harry intended to keep the peace. He intended more than that.
Harry stepped through the wards and examined the gathered Death Eaters. There were ten here, enough to cause a disturbance, but not enough to take out a party as large as the Weasley/Delacour wedding.
Harry was the first to speak. It seemed like no one knew he was there until he opened his mouth.
"Have any of you come to accept my offer? I repeat, I will remove the Dark Mark from anyone who proves their peaceable intentions. Anyone, just repent your crimes and we can begin the reformation."
Instead of a verbal answer, Harry received magic in response. Four people fired off stunners, three more fired cutting hexes. The two people who had previously heard Harry's offer blinked out of existence. The spells from the others simply disappeared.
"No one seems to believe me. Any of you who attack me after having heard my offer will cease to exist after attacking me. I am not kidding. The deaths of two of your number should be proof, I think. Consider my offer. I will remove your Dark Marks if you are willing to repent. It will be painful, but you will survive. Any who stand against me on August first will die. There is no other possible outcome."
He gave the Death Eaters a moment to consider what he'd said before he banished them hundreds of miles away.
After ensuring that no one at the party saw what happened, Harry disappeared, too. He arrived in a familiar portion of forest that was close to Riddle Manor.
He had very few days remaining until his seventeenth birthday. He didn't understand why he felt the anxiety to be done with this whole task so quickly. But he knew there was a reason. The magic was compelling him to finish as close to his birthday as possible.
Harry gave this a moment's consideration before he moved on.
"Bring me Peter Pettigrew," Harry said to the free magic.
Peter Pettigrew appeared in the small clearing in the forest where Harry Potter summoned him. His face showed utter confusion and then it quickly turned to terror. His first instinct appeared to be running, but Harry didn't let him get far. The free magic in the clearing was purring with contentment. It knew it was going to be doing some very good work soon.
Harry requested two chairs and then they appeared. Harry sat down and a minute later, his chest almost bursting in pain, Pettigrew sat down as well.
"I need not remind you that you are under a life debt to me, Pettigrew, for when I saved your life in the Shrieking Shack. You have betrayed me once since then and you will not have another chance. You will answer some questions and then we will deal with your disposition."
Harry's voice was incredibly cold when he spoke the word 'disposition.' Pettigrew's sallow flesh turned even paler.
"What d-do you w-want to know?"
He even sounded a bit like a rat.
A shiver ran up and through Pettigrew's body. The Potter boy had steel in his voice than was even more terrifying than the Dark Lord's. But he obviously wasn't a boy. How had Potter brought him here? One minute Peter had been preparing a sandwich for dinner. He'd been staying in a heavily warded home. The next, he was in this damned clearing.
"Start by telling me the names of everyone you've ever seen at a Death Eater meeting."
Peter resisted for a whole minute before the pain welling up inside of him overcame his reluctance. The rat knew that divulging this kind of information to the enemy meant his death. But he still had to speak. It took him many minutes to detail all the names he knew. Some of them Harry Potter had never heard of. But he noted them and pushed forward.
"Tell me all the sources of Voldemort's funding."
This was what the rat really knew. He'd become the unofficial treasurer of Voldemort's army. It made sense at the time. Pettigrew couldn't be seen out in public, lest the Aurors or the Ministry catch on to his deception. He also happened to be fairly dexterous with numbers, although not much else.
The story that Pettigrew told over the next hour revealed the depth of corruption that pervaded the land. Although Harry had assumed that Lucius Malfoy and other Death Eaters were the largest source of Voldemort's funding, it turned out the picture was more complicated. Each family, of course, had a levy to pay. But the bulk of the funding came from other sources, like business paying bribes to avoid raids on their establishments. Other funds came from the illegal importation of potions ingredients. But the largest source of funding was through illegal slush funds that existed within the Ministry. Some of them had been in place for decades and it was Voldemort's network of contacts that allowed him access. Some of the funds had been freed by Fudge; other of the funds had come from other Ministry contacts.
"…so the Ministry is both funding the Dark Lord and paying the salaries of the people hunting him," Pettigrew wheezed out, clearly enthused at the idea. "In fact, it seems that the tax paid on every imported cauldron is paid directly to the Dark Lord."
Harry was impassive externally, but inside he was seething. If the entire Ministry was fundamentally broken in this way, it wouldn't be enough just to get rid of the traitors inside it. Harry had to destroy the whole Ministry, from the bottom brick all the way to the Minister's office.
Instead of letting the new task distract him, Harry asked for a piece of papyrus and a quill. Everything rested on a small table along with two glasses of water. Harry pushed the papyrus toward Pettigrew.
"I want a list of every bank and vault number. For private vaults, describe where they and what safeguards are in place. If you leave anything out, I will know. Get started."
Harry drank his water slowly while he watched the rivulets of sweat pour off Pettigrew. It was a small pleasure to watch the wretched human pondering his own fate: he'd be hated by the Ministry if discovered, killed by Voldemort, and he was currently at the mercy of Harry Potter, whose parents Pettigrew was responsible for betraying.
Pettigrew filled one side of the papyrus and then Harry handed him another. It was thin stock and wouldn't bear up under writing on both sides.
Harry took the first papyrus back and examined it. There were a dozen vaults at Gringotts, vaults at banks in France and the dwarven bank in Ireland, and hidey holes in two dozens different manors throughout Scotland, England, and Wales. And that was only on the sheet Harry had in his hand.
The second sheet detailed the other places where the Ministry had stashed money for Voldemort's use. There weren't a lot of them, but Pettigrew's directions for finding them were very involved.
A third parchment was filled with bank details in America and a half dozen other countries.
A fourth parchment was filled with the traps and tricks in accessing the vaults inside Riddle Manor. It was the last of the information.
"Why did no one catch on when Voldemort disappeared for all those years? Why was all this money still sitting around? Why weren't the taxes diverted back to other uses?"
Pettigrew shifted with a nervous twitch. "At the time, Voldemort was the only one who knew all the details. A few of the vaults were raided when Voldemort fell. The thieves are all dead by now. But I saw that the Dark Mark hadn't completely vanished. Voldemort was defeated, not dead. I didn't go after the few bits of money I knew about. I knew he was coming back."
"How could no one inside the Ministry notice all this missing money? They had entire taxes where the money disappeared inside a black hole?"
Pettigrew shrugged. "It wasn't anyone's job to notice. The taxes went where they went. It was bureaucratic inertia plus a whole bunch of fiefs. No one liked anyone else peering over their shoulder too much, especially not for the Minister of Magic to go mucking around."
"Not that Fudge would," Harry said, pausing for a moment. "Now we have harder questions to discuss before we can return to Voldemort. Tell me about my parents, James and Lily Potter."
It was late at night at the Burrow. Nearly all the guests had left. But in between people working to take down the decoration and to stack the chairs, the Weasleys and the others were commenting on the events of the day.
Bill and Fleur had already left to begin their honeymoon at one of the Delacour homes in France. More than one person had commented on Bill's repaired face but still hoped their children would take on more of Fleur's looks than Bill's.
No, people were gobsmacked primarily by three things: a Malfoy sending an impossibly expensive gift to a Weasley wedding without cursing it, a Minister of Magic who appeared to be in mid-stroke when he apparated away, and a Harry Potter who looked like a wood sprite, danced the political polka, and deftly deflected every question he'd received.
It was like the world had turned upside down.
A fourth topic came about when Ron walked back into the gathering.
"Anyone lost a wand recently? I found two of them at the edge of the wards."
"No one leaves their wands lying around," Hermione said, her body bone weary from a long day.
"Well, explain how I found two of them, huh?"
He thrust the offending items into the air. Nymphadora Tonks cast a few spells on each of them. Then she used the ownership spell. The resulting names shocked her metamorphmagical hair white.
"Death Eaters," she said. "Powerful ones, experienced enough not to be dropping their wands."
Molly immediately melted down. "…at my son's wedding, Death Eaters! Death Eaters…"
Tonks secured the wands and apparated away. This was some kind of news. An attempted Death Eater raid at a place where the Minister of Magic had been. But it obviously hadn't come off for some reason.
Fred and George, still enjoying their day away from their store in Diagon Alley, sent sharp looks to each other. They hadn't tried to talk with Harry Potter today but they had been keeping close tabs on their benefactor.
Fred asked his brother Ron where he'd found them. George had only nodded at the answer. Two of the Weasleys had some understanding why the Death Eater raid had failed, but no one else had cottoned onto the truth yet.
Ginny, Ron, and Hermione sequestered themselves in the living room and tried to loudly talk over each other.
"…what next, Snape in a dress doing the two step? I mean, Death Eaters here? Plus Malfoy giving a gift? Has the world gone wonky…"
"…if they came, why did they leave? No one noticed them at all, no one said anything? The wards are good, but good enough to keep out Death Eaters? I don't think so…"
"…why didn't Harry stick around? What's he been doing? I know he said it'd be dangerous if we kept seeing each other, but I just don't understand him…"
That was the truth, of course. No one understood Harry Potter any more, least of all himself.
"If you were such a good friend, Mr. Pettigrew, why did you betray them and me to Voldemort?"
The man-rat began to splutter. He wasn't used to answering direct questions. Pettigrew was a good bootlicker, but Harry wanted none of it. He wanted truth.
Harry stared at the pitiful excuse for humanity. He didn't make any movement. He just stared, waiting for the other man to crumble. It was a tactic that never failed.
"I al-always went along w-with the biggest b-bully, wher-wherever I was. At H-Hogwarts, I went along with James and Sirius. In the r-real world, I s-sided with V-Voldemort. He said he valued me. He said he understood me. He said he'd help me get my vengeance."
"Vengeance against whom?"
"Against everyone," Peter moaned. "Against my former friends who didn't value me enough. Against the people who couldn't see that I was powerful and useful and worthwhile."
"Did he promise to spare your family?" Harry was trying to find at least one redeeming quality in the man in front of him.
"My family? What? No, I destroyed my own family after I left Hogwarts…"
Harry listened to the rest of the rat's boastful confession and felt nauseated. Harry learned only one thing: Peter Pettigrew was more insane than Harry Potter would ever be. It made Harry's plan for retribution against Peter all the more difficult. He'd have to modify his plans.
But first, he needed every ounce of information from the man-rat.
"Describe Voldemort's current plans."
"Describe the layout of Riddle Manor. The number of rooms, the number of floors, where everything is located."
"Tell me the structure of the Death Eaters. Who holds what positions? Who is the heir apparent to Voldemort himself?"
"Tell me the nature of Voldemort's alliances abroad and with creatures inside Britain."
"When he's at full fighting strength, how many does Voldemort command? How does he organize them for battle? Does he have his Inner Circle each lead a team? Or are they all one force?"
"Who are the best trained Death Eaters? The most magically powerful? The most feared?"
"Tell me the names of Voldemort's spies within Hogwarts. Tell me who he plans to mark from among the students. And from the others there?"
"Tell me the names of Voldemort sympathizers within magical Britain. How many in Hogsmeade? How many elsewhere?"
It took more than a full day's worth of time to answer all of Harry's hundreds of questions. But Peter answered every one.
Harry paused for a moment before moving on to the last order of business with Pettigrew: his disposition. He'd planned to have the man-rat make a full confession as the other traitors had, but the depth of his vileness had caused Harry to rethink. His knowledge of financial transactions also made Harry uneasy with a completely full confession. Harry needed to attend to the money matters before that knowledge could become public. And four large sheets of papyrus would take a long time to unwind.
"Peter Pettigrew, I sentence you to clear Sirius Black's name with the Ministry of Magic. You will make a full confession to the Ministry about how you became a follower of Voldemort's and how you led your master to my parents and me. You will tell them what you did to escape from Sirius Black and how you framed him. You will tell him how you escaped attention all these years as a rat in the Weasley household. You will tell them everything up to and including the resurrection of Voldemort. Beyond that point, you will say no more and nothing that you know about the Death Eater's finances. Any lies or omissions will result in your immediate death by heart attack. The Aurors will complete your sentencing. Azkaban, I'd expect. Do you understand?"
The man-rat gulped but nodded.
"Do not lie and you will survive in a wretched life. It's only fair, for it's what you condemned Sirius to experience." Harry shot his most disgusted look at Pettigrew. "Be gone."
Instantly, Peter Pettigrew was transported to far inside the Ministry of Magic. And he did exactly what he had to do.
Remus Lupin arrived home. It was the first home he had known since he was a young man. But now this was a home.
He broke down in tears. He was still clutching the letter that Harry Potter had thrust into his hands at the Weasley wedding. It had been impossible to believe the letter true. Remus had gone to Gringotts this morning to be sure. Then to the Ministry to make even more sure.
The trust fund that Harry had created was real. A werewolf couldn't have a bank account or own property because of Ministry laws. But a trust fund created by a wizard could bestow gifts on anyone the wizard chose.
Harry chose to give Remus a new life.
The werewolf looked around the decrepit rooms of 12 Grimmauld Place and could see only beauty. It was dirty and dingy and unmaintained. But it was now Remus Lupin's home. His home and a home for any other werewolves Remus should care to invite to live with him.
A final gift that Sirius hadn't thought to give. A gift that the baby Prongs had decided to make. There was no finer wizard alive than Harry Potter, Remus knew.
He walked inside to the main hall and smiled. He would have a lot of cleaning to do. But Remus had a few friends he knew would be willing to help. Some wizards and witches, some werewolves. It was the start of a glorious new day.
"Whatever possessed him to do it, I wonder…"
Draco Malfoy had an enormous grin on his face. Perhaps a quarter of the people Draco had invited to the memorial service for his parents had arrived. And nearly all of them had been welcomed through the house's wards. Draco was very glad to be able to have friends, to be able to rebuild his life.
But what had him smiling were the people the wards kept out.
"Let me in," Goyle hissed. Pansy Parkinson and Crabbe were standing next to Goyle. None of them could come in.
"They obviously think you mean me harm," Draco said. "I didn't make them. I don't know how they work exactly, but I wouldn't try coming through if you value your body."
Draco turned away. Loyalty wards. He'd heard of them, but never seen them. They were bloody impossible to construct. But Draco had caught a glimpse of a Dark Mark on Goyle's left arm when he'd been storming about being kept out.
Harry Potter had given Draco an even more extravagant gift than he'd known. These wards were keeping his life intact every second of every day.
Draco walked over to where the others had gathered, all thirty of them. None of them were Death Eaters, but all had known Draco or his parents for years. Draco began the service by explaining its purpose.
"…and my parents gave their lives to a Master who treated them badly. I could tell you all what really happened to them, but I would prefer that you remember them as they were when still alive. Tonight, as we approach the dusk, I wanted to allow each of you to say something to them, about them. I'll perform the Invocation of the Dead and we will have their spirits to talk with, to celebrate, for an hour. Then, after they've returned to the Beyond, we can begin the second part of this little celebration."
Draco hadn't told anyone his plans. In fact, he now had three of his house elves maintaining an Invisibility Charm over the massive pile of items from the family vault that he had assembled where the gardens used to be. Draco was planning a hugely memorable, symbolic reformation of the Malfoy family.
But first, the invocation. Draco stepped to where his father and mother were buried. He lowered his head and began to chant.
"Invoco per noctem. Invoco animae mortu. Invoco Lucius Malfoy. Invoco Narcissa Malfoy. Invoco ex filius. Invoco per noctem."
The spectral Lucius and Narcissa arrived a few minutes later. Draco waited until everyone else had taken their moments to bid them goodbye.
Then Draco stepped to them as the others stood back.
"You broke this family," Draco said. "You and hundreds of years of Malfoys had almost ruined us. But I will not let us flicker out like an insignificant moth, no damnit. We are too important. But we will have new reasons to live, new purposes. You broke us, Lucius and Narcissa, and I will find a way to fix us. I have been relieved of my false impressions of Voldemort. I have even been relieved of that ghastly Dark Mark. And now, I will begin to rebuild us all. The Manor is new. The gardens will start going in in a few days. This is a new home for a new family with nearly a thousand years of shame to overcome. I send you back. Rest but watch the ways I rebuild us. I do not fool myself into thinking you will be proud. But I do think you will be surprised and shocked and overwhelmed. Go now."
And the spirits faded away. They had wanted to address their son, to express their confusion. But Draco didn't want to hear it.
"Now, let us move on to the refounding of the Malfoy name. I found out the disgraceful truth of my family's role throughout history. Tonight I end it."
The house elves concealing the massive pile of Malfoy treasures released their magic. The huge pile, even in the semi-darkness, was remarkable. Especially once Draco lit the whole thing on fire.
The suits of armor blazed with magical fire. The weapons and the old victory clothes and the disgusting trophies of people killed, severed hands and head, all preserved through time. Everything started to burn. It was visible for kilometers in every direction. The fumes lofted upwards a thousand meters in the air.
The onlookers were shocked, some were pleased, some were dismayed at the destruction of millions of galleons of treasures. But all of them were curious. What did this new Head of the Malfoy family mean to do?
Draco had definite plans, but he wasn't speaking. Well, he was accepting congratulations for a wonderful show, but he wasn't explaining what came next.
Harry Potter walked into Gringotts and made his way to the ugliest, oldest looking goblin teller. He needed someone with the authority to negotiate. This wasn't going to be an easy morning.
"My name is Festerrot. What business do you have with Gringotts?"
"I need your help in closing some vaults."
The goblin looked angry now. No one closed vaults at Gringotts.
"I have none. The vaults I want closed belong to the Dark Lord Voldemort and I want to close off access to them. He's using them to make war on innocent people."
The goblin flashed his row of razor sharp teeth in what be considered a smile.
"No key, no access, wizard."
"Let me talk with someone able to negotiate, then."
"Wizard, you have not said anything interesting enough to merit a supervisor's attention."
Harry did not let his gaze drop from the goblin's eye. He noticed that other goblins were listening in. And others were clearing the room of other wizards. This was going as expected. Harry had caught enough of Professor Binns' lectures to know that goblins only respected strength and victory.
Harry was prepared to do whatever was necessary.
"Let me say a few things, a few interesting things. The wards you use to protect the vaults are quite rudimentary, very simple goblin magic. The only reason it actually works is that no wizards actually understand goblin magic. And I am less than impressed that you've tied all the banks wards into a single keystone. That's hardly safe or secure."
Festerrot looked almost ready to attack. But Harry hadn't yet pushed him over the edge.
"Your keystone is almost directly underneath me, maybe forty-five meters down. And I know how all your wards work." Harry asked the free magic to sever one of the less necessary wards, one of the spying functions.
A tremendous alarm sounded throughout Gringotts. Festerrot and three other goblins leapt toward Harry. A pile of heavily armored goblins poured in from small doors that were easy to miss. But Harry knew they were there.
Festerrot and his companions hung in mid-air. The spears that the armored goblins threw got within three meters of Harry before they also stopped in midair. More and more goblins lunged at Harry, at his legs, his arms, his neck. The goblins intended to use their teeth and severe fingernails as weapons.
There were nearly forty goblins suspended in midair around Harry and more than 200 spears when another small door opened. A very old, very ugly goblin stepped out and began speaking in Gobbledygook to his subjects. For some strange reason, Harry understood every grunt, click, and growl.
And then Harry shouted back in the goblin's native language.
"I have come to negotiate. Are you the one with the authority?"
The ancient goblin looked shocked and appalled that a human, a wizard, could speak the Goblin tongue without flaw or inflection.
"Goblins do not negotiate," the ancient goblin said.
Harry asked the free magic to begin destroying the rest of the Gringotts wards. One by one the thin filaments of magic disappeared. More and more alarms filled the bank's massive counting room. The ancient goblin appeared more and more angry. Finally the elder raised his hands and began to chant in his grunting and clicking tone.
But nothing happened.
He tried again. Then with another set of incantations. The ancient goblin magic refused to function.
The ancient goblin tipped his head and then every goblin who protected Gringotts poured into the counting room. They leaped at Harry or sent their weapons against them. Everyone of them, save the elder, was immobilized instantly. Then Harry turned off the alarms and severed every other ward protecting Gringotts. It took a few seconds for the goblins present to understand the new noises they were hearing.
It was, of course, the sound of eight hundred nineteen vault doors opening. Without keys. Without the use of goblin magic.
Harry looked at the barely visible elder. There were too many goblins suspended in midair for Harry to have and unobstructed view. But, he caught a part of the elder goblin's face and ear. "I came to negotiate with you, Gringotts goblins. But you refused to listen. Now, I have defeated you in armed conflict without spilling a drop of blood. I have earned the right to all the money in all the vaults I have seized. I have earned the right to dictate terms. But I choose none of this."
The elder hissed out, "What is it you want, Wizard?"
"I want the vaults controlled by the Dark Lord Voldemort emptied and closed. I will distribute the monies to help Voldemort's victims. I do not want it for myself. I have no need of gold, silver, and bronze."
"Wizards lie," the elder hissed. "I do not think someone who can defeat hundreds of goblins singlehandedly is so generous of heart. You covet what we have. You want to control us."
Harry dropped every suspended goblin to the floor. There were goblins stacked on top of goblins. Hundreds of spears dropped to the ground that instant and made a resounding, defiant crash.
It was enough to break the scowl of the elder. For the first time, he seemed to sense that this wizard was powerful, but that he wasn't using his own magic to do these things. No, this wizard was using goblin magic and other, foreign magic to do it. The small whelp of an infidel hadn't even drawn his wand. And wizards were useless without their wands.
But not this boy.
The elder fixed his eyes again on Harry Potter and wondered how he could negotiate with such a one. He knew the goblin tongue. He knew goblin magic. He had severed the wards connected to the keystone and hadn't been anywhere near it. This wasn't a wizard. This boy was something else entirely. The elder tried to consider what he knew of wizards. Then he tried to consider what he knew of goblin prophecies and lore.
When the boy spoke again, the goblin was still puzzling over his situation.
"You have decided your fate, elder. I am ending the goblin monopoly on banking in Britain."
The groans that filled the counting room were the first honest expression Harry had ever seen from a goblin. It was fear and anger.
It was also awe.
Their conqueror hadn't killed any of them, but he was punishing them with an appropriately harsh fate. Sure, it wasn't being speared and spitted and burned in front of an audience. No, loss of their banking monopoly was almost worse.
This wizard knew how to inflict pain. Goblins loved it, even when the pain was theirs.
The elder looked at the conqueror in shock. Of anything he could have said, the elder hadn't expected that. A shiver went down the ancient creature's back. He suddenly remembered the tale of how the goblins had won the monopoly on handling precious metals in Britain. His entire body erupted in pocks of fear.
This wizard wasn't human. This wizard was indestructible by any and all means. This wizard was a master of all magic or was well on his way to it. The truth of what this wizard was becoming hovered at the recesses of the goblin's consciousness, but he couldn't bring himself to recognize the word. It was terrible and wonderful and completely unexpected.
The elder bowed deeply from the hip. Any more of his anger and this conqueror could become a destroyer. Nothing any of the goblins did could stop it. The wizard tried to make the appropriate gestures now.
"Goblins stay out of human affairs, wizard…"
"…you're interested only in bronze, silver, and gold. I will defeat Voldemort soon, but I will not leave this money lying around for the next Dark Lord wannabee to capture and use. What if I were to take that away from you, huh? All the gold? Any ability to be near it, to guard and protect it?"
The elder shivered again. This particular wizard could do that if the ancient stories were true. This wizard knew no bounds to what he could accomplish.
"…but I wanted to say that you have defeated us, so we will accept your verdict. We will surrender the vaults controlled by this Dark wizard. We will accept your verdict of the loss of our monopoly."
The gasping from the rest of the goblins seemed to indicate they were all dying. Close. Severe shock is very close to death sometimes.
"I am glad to hear that," Harry Potter said. "But you would have no choice in any case." Harry was quiet for a moment, then he snapped his fingers for dramatic effect. A small group of dwarves appeared inside Gringotts.
The gasping and hissing drowned out noise from the outside world now.
Dwarves and goblins hated each other. They competed for gold and precious stones. They competed to open and control banking institutions. Now Harry Potter was bringing them together.
"This is my justice, rebel goblins. You will treat with the dwarves. They will either share in the running of Gringotts or they will open a competing bank. I will witness the final treaty you prepare. If it isn't to my satisfaction, then I will dictate terms that I am sure the goblins will not enjoy. The wards will not be restored until the treaty is approved. You will allow no wizards inside the bank until then. I will handle the closure of Voldemort's vaults. You have other things to do, like place your guards on duty down below while the wards are suspended. If you disobey these rules, I will banish all goblins forever from Britain and I will ensure that any goblin touching gold or silver will become fatally ill."
Before the elder could say anything else, Harry Potter left. He had felt his precognition. He had had to conclude his initial negotiations very quickly. Death Eaters were attacking in three disparate locations simultaneously.
But the goblins didn't see this as rude. They saw it as worthy of a conqueror.
"He's a very good negotiator," seemed to be the consensus opinion. The goblins hadn't gotten into a rebellion in a hundred years, but it had been a spectacular one. They always lost, of course. But this time they had been defeated inside twenty minutes by a single wizard. It was truly a remarkable day.
The elder shivered as he dispatched five of his goblins to begin 'negotiations' with the dwarves. He continued shivering until the dwarves were out of the room. Then he attempted to recall his magic, to restore the wards, for several minutes. Nothing happened. It was like goblins had been stripped of all their magic.
The elder barked and clicked at all his armed goblins. They were to begin patrolling near the vaults. They were to loose the dragons and the other creatures. Only goblins were to survive. The elder assumed the conqueror would able to work even around angry goblins and inflamed dragons.
The precognition had told Harry that Voldemort was considering twelve different scenarios. He knew where all of them were and what they entailed. The reason he knew they weren't yet happening is that six of them used Severus Snape at the same time. But while he was dealing with the goblins, Harry felt the twelve possibilities coalesce into three. This time Severus Snape was sent to only one of the locations.
It was real, Harry realized.
When he arrived on the scene after leaving Gringotts, Harry had the strangest sensation. He could see all three places at the same time. He could see all three situations.
Harry was in three places at the same time.
He was standing inside a Muggle home where a small crew of Death Eaters were attacking Muggles and their witch daughter. She looked just young enough to have received her Hogwarts letter for next year.
He was also standing outside the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade where a number of Death Eaters were attempting to kill and maim passersby. One had set to burning down Dervish and Banges.
Harry was also standing in Diagon Alley as the largest crew of Death Eaters were attempting to destroy every building they could and kill everyone in sight. The only ones fighting back were Fred and George Weasley.
All three Harry Potter's said, "Stop." All the magic in those places stopped. Harry bound all the Death Eaters. None of them appeared to have been previously invited to leave the Death Eaters. So Harry began by repeating his offer. When no one took him up on it, Harry turned to their punishment.
"Innocents shall not die in this war. I have now modified your magic, every one of you, any offensive spell against another person, creature, or object shall not hit them. Instead you shall feel it. Cast the Cruciatus Curse and you will feel the pain. Attempt an Imperio and you will simply go insane. Cast a cutting hex and you will bleed for it. Repair the damage you have done and then leave. The next time I see any of you, you had better accept my offer to remove your mark or you shall surely perish."
It took the free magics a long time to compel all the Death Eaters to undo the terrible things they'd done. Luckily none of their victims had died. But the ones were cut were healed. The scorch marks and damage was repaired. Fires were extinguished.
Harry fully released everyone magic then. The Death Eaters could feel it flood back into them. It didn't take them long to test Harry's ultimatum.
Severus Snape cast a cutting hex. His arm began to bleed.
Two different Death Eaters cast Killing Curses and then promptly fell to the ground, dead.
Others tried different pain hexes or impediment jinxes. All felt the effects themselves. Still others tried to cast Dark curses at him, some designed to shrivel Harry's wand arm or to cause itching so severe it would drive a person insane eventually.
It didn't take long but the other Death Eaters realized that they were unable to fight. Most of them disapparated quickly from the scene. Death Eaters were smart enough to preserve themselves whenever the odds turned against them. They'd have no problem ganging up on Muggles or having twenty-to-one odds against opponents in Diagon Alley. But they'd never engage in a fair fight or one that was unfair in the other person's favor.
Harry kept Severus Snape from escaping. Instead the three Harry's disappeared and merged back together in a forest near Hogwarts. Harry realized that they were near the acromantula colony that Hagrid had unintentionally begun. Harry called Snape to him.
He had many questions for him and a not inconsiderable amount of justice to bestow upon his shoulders. Harry was so interested in interrogating his new prize he didn't even stop to consider how he'd managed to be in three places at the same time.
Rufus Scrimgeour was up to his neck, literally, in angry letters. The Howlers kept detonating in the other room where Rufus had locked them up. But he was trying to sift through the rest of this mess.
The ongoing revelations from the Daily Prophet were destroying his Ministry brick by brick.
"No," Rufus muttered themselves. "The ministry was already dead with all these traitors inside it. It's crumbling by itself now."
Rufus was trying to read the advice in the few letters that seemed sane and sensible. Actually, he was sifting to find people who were sane and sensible. He had entire departments to reassemble. A quarter of the Wizengamot was gone, either as traitorous squibs or outright dead. The prison guard ranks were decimated. The Aurors needed a severe overhaul.
That department made Rufus feel the worst. He'd been the Head Auror for a long time and he hadn't even noticed the corruption inside his closest colleagues. Five of them were now gone, only fifteen remained.
He needed tons more Aurors, more Hit Wizards. He needed people to work in the Creatures department who actually understood creatures. That Death Eater Macnair had only enjoyed beheading them.
Scrimgeour had settled on reorganizing the Ministry with a far smaller force, a more honest force. He'd reshuffle the deck, put good, honest people in places where they could do some good. Rufus would shutter any functions that were unnecessary or redundant. He seemed disgusted there was an entire group of wizards and witches devoted to monitoring trade, not encouraging it, just monitoring it. Like measure the thickness of cauldron bottoms.
There were forty witches and wizards involved in that ridiculous games and sports department. Let the damned Quidditch teams monitor themselves. The Ministry didn't have to employ the referees the professional teams used. If he folded that group into another department he could get maybe three good Aurors and five new Hit Wizards. Plus people to fill in other more critical jobs, like the Floo office. He'd force people in part-time jobs to split their time between departments. The wizarding examiners only spent time in June conducting examinations at Hogwarts and spent part of April and May preparing them. The rest of the time they could be working in other departments.
It was the start of a plan.
Rufus set more intelligent letters into a deep bin and started pulling out uncategorized letters. He needed good people. No more nutters. He needed people who would work and be honest.
He started reading a letter explaining the case for a smaller, more nimble Wizengamot. One that didn't have members who served for life. "Ten year terms, hmm." Rufus thought this might be a hard sell, but the writer was a thoughtful person. The letter went into the stack for further consideration.
So went Rufus Scrimgeour's day and week. He cancelled every ceremonial duty and dealt with his constituents first. He had four different secretaries recording responses to the letters he'd received. Every letter, even the most insane, got a response.
Now Scrimgeour had to figure out where to start. Harry Potter hadn't given him any notice, but it seemed the worst was over. It was time to put the bricks back in place. To keep working. Scrimgeour was a work horse if nothing else.
Ron and Hermione had argued for days before they finally came to the following compromise: if Harry Potter wouldn't tell them where he was going, they would follow him.
"…the Dursleys didn't know anything…"
"…the tubby monster kept wailing like I was about to eat him and his dinner…"
"…and he said nothing at the wedding, nothing at all, the prat…"
"…but those robes were bizarre, was he hanging out in Neville's greenhouse or something…"
"…and Voldemort's you-know-what's, Harry said he'd found them…"
"…he did? Why didn't he say anything to me at the…"
And on and on the neverending conversation went. When they weren't arguing with each other now, Ron and Hermione were usually swapping spit. It was kind of a spectacle. But walking down this road, they had settled into argument.
When they arrived at the entrance to the cemetery, their harsh, rapid words petered out. It was a very small graveyard and their target was obvious.
The graves of James and Lily Potter were at the far edge. But it seemed like they were enveloped in life. There were the greenest grasses and a small tree growing to each side of the graves. There were hundreds of different flowers laying all over the place, growing in intricate patterns.
It was like an angelic arbor, like the place where heavenly beings would come to take a load off their mind. It was so strangely beautiful that even Ron was quiet for a few minutes, just taking it all in.
"He's been here," Hermione said. "It looks just like his robes looked, beautiful, full of nature, but also other worldly."
Ron goggled for a moment. "Where do you come up with these ideas, 'Mione? Other worldly. I've never heard half of them before."
Hermione sniffed. They left the graveyard after walking over and examining the Potter graves.
They walked to what they expected to be ruins of the home where Harry had spent the first year of his life. But it was an even more beautiful display of foliage. The wrecked walls were now dozens of tiny trees growing out of the earth. The roof was made of mosses and vines. The windows were spider webs. The pair walked inside. There were stones taking the place of destroyed stairs. Large sturdy vines made up the railing of the stairs. There was grass as carpeting and colorful plant petals forming the decoration of the walls.
"Now I see what you meant by other worldly, Hermione," Ron said. It was quite a spectacle.
They walked inside and just stared at everything. Their quest to find Harry was long since forgotten. They spent hours wandering through the house trying to absorb what they saw. The entire house was alive.
"It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," Hermione said.
"It's an incredible memorial. My friend never knew his parents, but he still did this for their memory."
The overwhelming emotions had actually improved Ron's ability to speak clearly and intelligently.
Harry Potter was very interested to speak with Severus Snape. For one, Snape had a lot to answer for. Also, Snape was the only extremely powerful wizard Harry hadn't yet tossed off his list for consideration as a potential safeguard against his own looming insanity. Harry still needed a backup plan if he unraveled as he expected to do after the confrontation with Voldemort.
Harry was considering trusting Snape with his life.
Harry didn't like the idea, but circumstances had left him with very few choices. But even Snape was barely worth consideration.
Harry asked for two chairs and then pointed to one. "Sit, Snape."
The confused, infuriated man looked like he wanted to punch Harry. Instead he sat down and turned his head away.
"You're a prisoner of war, Snape, and I recognize your rights as such. I have the right to question you, of course, and also to see to your proper handling and care. I promise to treat you better than you or your master would have treated me."
The potions master tensed in his chair, knowing that the Potter brat would inflict as much damage on Severus as he had tried to inflict.
"Tell me about the night you killed Albus Dumbledore. Leave nothing out."
It wasn't a lecture. It wasn't screaming. It was a voice colder and harder than the Dark Lord's. Snape sat up and tipped his head toward his captor. This boy sounded more fiercesome than his former master. What had changed in the weakling?
Harry just sat there, not reacting.
"It's my right as a prisoner of war to say nothing."
Unfortunately, Snape couldn't stop talking. He felt the pain increasing in his chest. He felt compelled to tell the truth, every bit of it.
"No," he screamed.
Harry sat impassively in his comfortable chair. He'd spent many days in this chair or one very like it. He could wait for more days. The free magic was positively enjoying its torment of Severus Snape. It was humming in excitement. It enjoyed being put to good use. There wasn't much better than extracting information from the noxious Severus Snape.
But it would be a battle of wills. Snape didn't seem to want to crack as easily as Umbridge or Pettigrew or the others. Harry was prepared to wait. He'd waged war against goblins today. He could lay siege to Severus Snape.
Patter Thunderrage sat at the table inside Gringotts and kept his thoughts to himself. It had been a shock to be summoned away from underneath the Pyrenees mountains without any notice. It was a shock to be inside the goblin bank and not be under attack. It was shocking that he was leading the third day of negotiations against goblins for a war he hadn't fought in.
Patter had to keep a tremendous smile off his face, lest he destroy the glory of this day. Treating with defeated goblins, getting a banking franchise in England after no effort of his own. Patter had never seen a single wizard defeat an entire clanmok of goblins. Nor a wizard defer his rightful reward. Nor a wizard ever give the dwarves such a valuable gift. This 'Conqueror' had changed everything.
A pity that the goblins hadn't bothered to ask the name of the wizard who'd defeated them.
Patter listened to the drivel from the other side of the table. It was enough.
"No, no goblin elder will be the figurative head of the banking combine. The leader will be this wizard you call 'Conqueror' or someone he appoints to do the work."
The goblins, and a few of the dwarves next to him, were shocked. A dwarven chief had actually proposed that a wizard be the leader of their banking enterprise. No human had ever been that involved in goblin or dwarven affairs.
"Goblins do not trust dwarves. Dwarves trust goblins even less. We remember all the wars, every one of them. But we have never seen a human like this one. He defeated and then spared every one of your kind. He has power and mercy. He is the one to mediate."
The room seethed and grumbled and debated for the next hour. By then, the goblins had acquiesced. It just fell to making sure that the Conqueror would agree.
Patter then turned to where the dwarves would construct their bank. "Knockturn Alley," was the first proposal from the goblins.
Patter didn't bother restraining his laughter.
"I think not. The bank is for everyone, not just those brave or dark enough to go there."
The next four hours were a raucous debate about the finer details of the banking combine. It had been the large details that were easy to solve in the first day of negotiations. The goblins couldn't stand for dwarves to help run Gringotts, so another bank was necessary. But peace had to remain somehow, hence the governing combine. Three goblins, three dwarves, and someone to lead them all.
But all these picky details had filled the last two days. Patter was ready to club a goblin to death just to get some order.
Patter Thunderrage leaned forward in his seat. His quiet anger silenced the rest of the room fairly quickly.
"I have one thing to suggest. When the Conqueror returns, and he did not give us a date when he would do so, he will want to see a treaty for signing. He will not care that we have argued every point endlessly. He will want to see a treaty that makes his dissolution of the goblin monopoly real. I, for one, prefer not to stretch the Conqueror's mercy. He spared the goblins in the Rebellion of 1997, but I hate to think what he might do if it appeared the goblins were still in rebellion. Even after being ordered to sue for peace. So, let's get through the details, let's write the thing. Then we can purchase property and begin constructing our bank. The Conqueror appears to appreciate results, not talk."
The mood inside the room was subdued. No one wanted to see another display of the Conqueror's power. No one expected to see another display of his mercy.
The negotiations finally got started then. Within twenty-four hours, a simple, far-reaching peace treaty was ready for signing. It was elegant and flexible and binding in every way. The goblins had squeezed out every dwarven loophole. The dwarves had kept the goblins honest in return.
The wizarding world wouldn't know what to think when this treaty was announced. The dwarves and goblins had never been at peace with each other. Ever.
Draco Malfoy stood up and walked to the door of Malfoy Manor. He opened it and smiled at the Minister of Magic standing in front of him.
"I'm so pleased you accepted my invitation, Minister."
"Never had one quite like it, Malfoy," Scrimgeour said. "Never from a wanted criminal. Never with the promise to help the Ministry defeat Voldemort. Aren't you marked?"
Draco lifted up his left sleeve and showed unmarked skin. "I was, Minister, but that's part of the story I want to tell you."
The Minister seemed stunned. No one had ever been marked and had it removed to his knowledge. And Scrimgeour knew a lot about Dark wizard hunting, he'd been an Auror for forty years.
"Actually, I am glad to see you made it through the wards. Anyone wishing harm to me would be prevented or even hurt. Would you like to come inside?"
Scrimgeour shook his head. Malfoy stepped outside and lead the Minister on a slow walk. Draco began a full explanation of events up until the present moment, how Draco had betrayed Hogwarts and left Dumbledore open for attack, how the Dark Lord had tortured Draco through his parents, how Harry Potter of all people had rescued Draco from himself, and then how Draco had newly dedicated his family to being a new kind of Malfoy.
"Pretty words, young Lord, very pretty."
"I have more than words to offer, Minister. I have information. I have resources." Draco meant money. But it wouldn't be the strings-attached kind of money Lucius had offered to the Ministry. It would be money to hire Aurors, to repair the damage that Fudge and his father had done.
"It appears most of your leaks inside the Ministry are gone. But I have documents going back hundreds of years describing how the Malfoys have shaped and perverted the Ministry, things that are relevant even to this day."
"A Malfoy can apparate anywhere inside the Ministry he or she wants to. It was a reward for a donation in 1821. The wards were crafted to permit Malfoys at any time. They will resist any attempts to change or restrict Malfoys."
That surprised Scrimgeour. It explained something of how that fiasco in the Department of Mysteries had happened a year earlier. It also pointed to the truth of this young man's offer.
"There's more of that poison in my Ministry?"
Draco nodded. It would take Scrimgeour and his people a decade probably to fully unwind the Malfoy treachery from the building, its institutions, and its practices.
"Malfoys have the legal right to borrow indefinitely any artifact located in the Department of Mysteries, ruling in 1637. Malfoys have the legal right to assassinate any member of the Wizengamot who defames the Malfoy name, 1789. Why do you think the Dark Lord wanted me or my father to kill Dumbledore? We could do it completely legally. There's tons of this crap. It's buried in the Ministry's rules and regulations so deeply you'd never find it unless a Malfoy needed to use some of it. But I have clear notes and explanations for all of it."
Scrimgeour looked completely shocked now. Ministerial rules, laws of the Wizengamot, all of that was corrupted by the Malfoys? And going back hundreds of years?
"I would appreciate that, Mr. Malfoy." The Minister's tone was a lot more subdued and more respectful.
"I don't even understand some of it. I only found it out after I rebuilt the Manor." Scrimgeou's head dipped toward the house. It hardly looked new. It looked as solid as if it had been there a hundred years. "But it made me ill. This and other material. My family has done some horrifying things over the years. Let me tell you, I did not rebuild the two levels of dungeons when I put the Manor back together. No, I'll use those levels for other projects."
Dungeons? The Minister didn't want to know.
"And resources? You said something about extending resources to the Ministry?"
"And more information," Draco said. "I know useful things about the Dark Lord I can share with you. Of course, his headquarters are under the Fidelius Charm, but I can tell you which town they are located in and a search of historical records will point you in the right direction."
The conversation continued on as their walk progressed. The new gardens were being designed now and house elves were placing the first plants into their new homes.
It took a while, but the Minister was able to regain control over the conversation. He'd been sifting and weighing what Malfoy had told him for some time. He had questions about the story, about what it implied.
"So, Malfoy," the Minister had decided that Draco deserved to be treated as an adult, even if he was technically a wanted criminal, "why did Harry Potter save you when you jumped?"
"I don't know," Draco said. "He never said and I never asked. I wasn't in the state of mind to ask a lot of intelligent questions at the time. But, the next time I see him, I will ask."
"And why did you think I would come if you invited me? I'm supposed to be arresting you, not chatting."
The pair were quiet for a few moments before the conversation started up again. Scrimgeour had more questions. Draco had some answers. A half dozen pairs of eyeballs were trained on the pair. The Aurors were very frustrated that they couldn't penetrate the wards. The Death Eaters were nervous and upset that Draco was talking with the Minister. This seemed like bad news to everyone concerned, aside from a rapidly plotting Minister of Magic.
"Why don't you just kill me and be done with it? Why go on with these questions? I'm not going to answer a single one of them, no matter if you crush my chest with your fancy magic."
"Snape, these are the easy questions. You'll be exhausted by the time we get to the harder ones if you keep struggling."
"Kill me, Potter."
"Snape, I believe in the possibility that people can change. Dumbledore believed it, too, perhaps mistakenly in your case. But I will not use a permanent solution until I am all too convinced it is the only solution."
Harry sat in his comfortable chair and listened to the sounds of nature. He wondered if this had been a mistake. He didn't feel anger toward the man who'd killed Dumbledore. Nor rage nor fury nor hatred. He felt like Snape was another thing to be examined and then handled. The man had tortured Harry for years, but Harry was completely cut off from his emotions.
Harry was more disentangled from reality than he'd suspected. He was unraveling very quickly now. He might not make it until August first with his sanity intact. But everything he knew screamed for him to await his magical inheritance, whatever it might be.
The other truth Harry now understood was that Snape was not a strong person. He couldn't look him in the face and tell the truth in the way the Umbridge or Pettigrew or even Draco Malfoy had. Snape was a bully and a coward.
Snape was not the one Harry needed behind him, ready to save the world from an unleashed Harry Potter if the situation came to it.
Harry had no one left in his candidate list. He closed his eyes, cleared out his frustration, and then turned toward Snape.
"You need more time to consider what you did. You will speak with me, Snape. You will answer every question I want answered. And, if it takes time to convince you, then I grant you time."
Harry wished Snape to be inside the golden caverns. Snape was gone. Harry stood up and the chairs vanished from the forest. Harry would give Snape a few days of thirst and hunger and the magics working him over before he tried again. He'd left Snape with his wand, but the thing wouldn't work inside the golden cavern. Harry wondered how long it would take Snape to realize that.
Time. A funny thing.
There were two weeks remaining until the first of August. Harry had dealt with most of Voldemort's financial assets. It was time to land the first blow against Voldemort himself. An angry madman was not a clear-thinking madman.
Harry felt the coldness and rationality emanating from every strand of his soul. He didn't feel human any longer. It was the perfect frame of mind to deal with Voldemort, who definitely was less than human.
Harry transported himself to Little Hangleton and Riddle Manor. Three Death Eaters immediately went for their wands. Harry knocked them all unconscious with barely a glance.
"I wield power no one knows of," he said to the empty night. "I don't even understand it." Harry felt neither proud nor ashamed. He didn't feel anything.
He walked toward the manor and incapacitated every Death Eater he saw. Harry walked inside the dilapidated building and walked into the basement. He remembered what Peter Pettigrew had told him of the vaults here. He asked the free magic to reveal the vault and then disable the wards around it.
Within seconds, piles of golden galleons laid on the dirt floor. Harry banished them all to a safe place.
Then he moved to the other corner of the basement and opened another crawl space filled with galleons. There were many of these caches throughout the Manor. Voldemort trusted no one. Well, he'd trusted Wormtail, but that had been a mistake.
Harry walked upstairs and cleaned out every cache Wormtail had described. Then he walked through the second floor. It wasn't until he arrived at the third floor, and the final two caches, that Harry found Voldemort, asleep of all things.
Harry captured one cache and then returned to Voldemort's sleeping chamber. He unleashed the protections around the final vault before he woke up his nemesis.
Voldemort was furious when he woke up in his canopied bed and found he couldn't move. He knew someone was in his room. He knew it wasn't a Death Eater, they all knew their lives were forfeit for such an intrusion. Voldemort only got three good hours of sleep per day. He couldn't waste it on Death Eaters waking him.
His glowing serpentine eyes surveyed what he could see of the room. In the dim light, he caught only the glister of gold. The cache. Someone had opened the cache and bound him to his canopied bed. Voldemort didn't know how it was possible someone had snuck into the manor and disarmed him like this.
'Was it a betrayal? Had one of this loyal followers decide to reach for the throne?'
His mind turned over the names and attributes of his followers. Pettigrew had been captured by Aurors and had made something of a public confession. Bella was dead. Lucius had been kissed. Snape. Snape was still 'missing' from a raid. Perhaps Dumbledore's assassin was still working on Dumbledore's behalf. Hard to believe. Or perhaps the Potions Master had found a way to immobilize his Master in order to further his personal agenda.
"Snape, show yourself," Voldemort hissed.
Only laughter answered him back. It sounded like death to his ears. And it didn't stop for a long time.
"What do you think you can buy with galleons if you're dead, Snape. I will have your beating heart in the palm of my hand. I will watch it whither away. I will feed you to sirens in the last seconds of consciousness. I promise you on my magic, you shall feel pain as no one ever has."
One of the galleons flew across the room and struck Voldemort in his head.
It only infuriated him more. "…and I will open a book of human potions. I will turn your lungs and your liver into a curse that will keep your head from ever perishing. I will keep the tiniest part of you alive forever. I know all about immortality, Snape, and I know its most unholy secrets. I can keep you in pain for generations, until the walls of Hogwarts have crumbled and every wizard in England follows me or is dead."
Another two galleons flew across the room and struck Voldemort's forehead. He was feeling the pain almost more than the anger.
Voldemort was preparing another stream of invective. It was all he could do as the wandless spells he knew weren't doing a damned thing to free him.
But he didn't have a chance.
"I thought you'd understand that you should stop talking, Tom. I thought chucking things at your head was pretty clear." The voice from the shadows wasn't Snape's. Voldemort didn't recognize it at all. And none of his Death Eaters would address him as Tom.
"I've come to tell you how your time will conclude, Tom Marvolo Riddle. I'd suggest you listen carefully. In two weeks, on the first of August, I will meet you in battle on the fields outside Godric's Hollow. You and all your Death Eaters will face me alone."
Him, and his followers, against a single person? Not even Dumbledore would have been so oblivious. It must be Potter.
"Harry Potter," Voldemort lisped.
But then he found he couldn't speak.
"Think well of what you would like to happen. The battle, I fear, will be short and decisive. As prophesied, Tom, one of us will die that day. Perhaps you can kill me. Perhaps I shall kill you. But, you will do nothing but prepare for that day. I have bound your magic and that of all your followers until the morning of the first. When the first rays of dawn emerge, you will have your magic back. Then you and all yours will apparate to the field of battle. And we will be done with this."
The passionate boy's voice sounded cold, Voldemort thought, and he was unable to keep the chill from stealing down his skin. Potter scared Voldemort at this moment in time. The power to bind magic? Not possible. Only certain relics and magical devices could do that. They were rare. Not even Voldemort had managed to get his claws on one.
But Voldemort's magic certainly wasn't working right now.
Potter had found something rare. He was using it as a weapon. Voldemort had a small spark of respect for the boy he had attempted to kill many times. He was very clever. A sneak attack. An offensive strike like this. Wonderful. But why give advanced notice of the battle on the first? There was more to this than there seemed. This was another piece of cleverness, although Voldemort could not understand it yet.
"I have bankrupted you, Tom. I wouldn't want you to do anything rash in the next two weeks. All your galleons are gone, even the ones at Gringotts. The goblins wound up being very helpful in closing your vaults…"
Those were the last words Voldemort understood for a while. How had this whelp brought goblins into the war? They had stayed neutral for nine hundred years of conflicts. That was why Voldemort had felt safe leaving the bulk of his wealth there. Goblins never interfered.
The boy had to be lying.
"…the wood in the home is quite vulnerable. You'll need to find a new headquarters soon, I fear. Enjoy Muggle transportation for the next two weeks. Or perhaps you can find a cave to reside within."
Then Harry stepped for a moment out of the shadows and Voldemort knew real fear. He couldn't touch his own magic, but he could feel the power in the room responding to the boy. Then all the golden glister disappeared. The boy hadn't raised a wand or said a spell. It had just disappeared.
It had to be another trick. But then the boy disappeared from the room without a popping noise. He was just gone.
In another few seconds, he felt the room feeling lighter, as if it had less substance. He felt the bed he was immobile upon begin to sag and crack under his weight. It felt like the house was falling apart.
And, indeed, that's exactly what happened. Every piece of wood seemed to rot from solidness into flecks of dust in less than a minute. Voldemort fell sixty feet and landed with a tremendous thump in a massive pile of wood dust.
Riddle Manor was gone.
Voldemort's entire body lit up in pain even as he found he could move again. But the pain was now restraining his motion.
Eventually all the Death Eaters on duty there would discover that their wands had disintegrated as well. No one had ever seen magic like this. Fear settled into every mind. And it stayed.
Vernon Dursley woke up in his home at Number Four, Privet Drive because of an overwhelming coldness and a terrible stench that filled his nostrils.
"What in the ruddy world is this," he bellowed into the night.
His wife, Petunia, awoke with a shriek and then felt for a lamp. If she was going to be up at this time of night when the sewers backed up, she'd at least want to be able to see the telephone when she called to complain.
But there was no lamp.
Vernon piled out of his cold bed and his feet sunk a couple of inches into a freezing, wet carpeting.
"How the blast did water get up to the second floor? The freak's been gone for weeks."
"Magic lingers," Petunia shrieked. "It's him. I know it's him."
They sloshed around their room and went for the door. Only the door wasn't wood and metal any more. It was vines and it had no door knob. Petunia shrieked again and ran to Dudley's room. The massive young man hadn't noticed that he was lying on a massive, wet pile of leaves and roots.
Soon all three of them made their way downstairs. The stairs were unnatural. The walls were composed of some kind of seeping sludge. Vernon couldn't decide whether to bellow or to flee. His entire home was destroyed, transformed into something vegetal, something like a bog or a swamp.
Indeed, when Vernon stepped off the last stair, his foot landed in a pool inches deep of slimy, thick water. Like swamp water.
He groaned, thrust his hands out for his wife and child, and pulled them through the ruins of their home.
In less than a single night, the very ordinary, perfectly proper home at number four, Privet Drive had become a freak show. Vernon dragged his family from the home onto the lawn. But the lawn wasn't grass any more. No, it was composed of a solid field of mournful flowers. And there were a dozen massive trees, huge sycamores, growing at the edge of the property. It made this place feel old, dying, like the site of a hundred neglected tombs.
"What happened," Dudley squealed.
"Potter." Vernon and Petunia spat back.
And, in a way, they were right. For there was, inside all this swamp and pain and blackness, a single white rose growing in the space that had formerly been the Cupboard Under the Stairs. It was the only bit of color in this entire mausoleum, this memorial to the nearly dead Harry Potter, that the free magics of the world had composed.
Vernon, Petunia, and Dudley wailed at their misfortune. But the free magics continued marking this place of shame. They didn't know that they were ruining a perfectly normal home for a very normal family. They only painted the feelings that lingered in this critical place.
At Hogwarts, the free magic had turned the Quidditch pitch into a ferociously colorful jungle of towering trees and multicolored bushes and vines. It looked as though the vines were swooping and dodging and playing in the night breeze. A golden ball of free magic swayed and jumped around in the night.
Inside the Gryffindor common room, every chair, every seat had become a shock of beautiful plants. The dormitories where Harry Potter had lived, which meant all but the seventh year boys room, erupted into solid profusions of red and gold plant life.
The Great Hall and the Gryffindor table, in particular, became as the deepest parts of a forest. The table was now a thousand vines that molded against each other into a solid. The stone flooring had become alive with a thousand different kinds of flowers, golds, and greens, purples and blues, every color flowers could imagine.
There were going to be some severely confused House Elves in the morning. Then the few staffers would wonder what the hell had changed. But not matter who tried or what they tried, nothing would change. Gryffindors would have to get used to eating off of vine tables. They would have to get used to sitting on flowers in their common rooms and the boys would have to get used to positively floral sleeping areas.
The free magics ensured that their memorials would last even longer than the stones of Hogwarts.
Harry felt the pull of his precognition. So instead of waking Snape and beginning another interrogation session, Harry took himself to Gringotts.
There were five dwarves and five goblins waiting for him in the counting room.
"Have you been waiting long," Harry asked.
"No, we just finished drafting the final copy of the treaty, Conqueror," one of the goblins said. The elder was nowhere in sight. Neither was Festerrot.
The trembling goblin thrust two massive pieces of parchment toward Harry Potter. He didn't touch them. Instead, the sheets just hung in midair so that Harry could examine them.
He read over the details once and then a second time. The counting room was completely silent. No one understood the Conqueror but they could feel the magic in the room excited at his presence, joyous even.
"It is a simple solution you propose. Two banks, one board to sort out conflicts. But why would you have a human preside over the board?"
It was a dwarf who spoke this time. "It was a human who won the battle. It must be a human to settle any conflicts."
Harry nodded absently. "I will be unable to preside and I can't think of any other humans you would accept. How about we make the board balance with magic? I shall imbue a painting with the ability to tell absolute truth from any sort of lie. It shall be the arbiter you require."
The ten representatives of goblin and dwarven kind sighed in relief. That had been the hardest part of the treaty and the Conqueror had proposed his own solution. Everything else would work, assuming this painting was as good as the Conqueror said.
Harry touched the parchment and it instantly began to rewrite itself, to reflect the new reality of a magical painting. Then he touched the parchments again and they became solid sheets of metal, hardest steel.
"The treaty is accepted. The goblin monopoly is broken and a substitute is established here. I will restore your magics and repair and strengthen your wards, goblins. Dwarves, you may begin building your bank. If I am available, I may help you with your security if you desire. I leave it to all of you to handle the public revelation. I'm sure people have been uneasy why Gringotts has been closed for so long. Handle all of this as you will. I shall enjoy hearing the mayhem this announcement creates."
Harry paused for a second while he considered what his next steps would be.
In that second of contemplation, a goblin stepped forward and asked the simplest question. "Conqueror, may we ask you your name?"
Harry looked at the goblin for a moment. He didn't know? Well. Without thinking, Harry said, "I am the wizard who was once known as Harry Potter."
The goblin was confused and shot out another question before his good sense overwhelmed him. "If you were Harry Potter, then who are you now?"
"I don't know." He conjured up a portrait of his godfather, Sirius Black, and imbued the prankster to have the good sense to tell truth from lie, but to always give his interrogators a difficult time. Harry Potter mounted the portrait over the head teller's desk in the counting room. It was the only portrait in the room and the only human at all in the entire bank. "Sirius will be your arbiter. But his words will be tricky and mischievous, like an oracle drunk with the beauty of his own words. You'd best pay attention. Sirius possesses some considerable forms of magic that you don't want to discover. If Sirius is ever moved against his will, the treaty is broken. Goblins and dwarves will find themselves banished from these lands, their magic broken. Treat him well."
Harry felt good that at least some people would revere Sirius Black. He restored the goblins' magic, shuttered all the vault doors, and reestablished the wards governing the building. Then he asked the free magic to establish a truth compulsion ward. The goblins would speak only the truth. Their customers would do the same. No one would be able to steal without admitting it freely and proudly.
And then the wizard once known as Harry Potter, who would always be remembered that way by wizarding kind, left the bank. He would never again set foot inside the building and would only visit the new dwarven bank a single time.
Goblins and dwarves both would refer to Harry Potter only as the Conqueror. For millennia to come, that would be the only name they'd need. Every child, every elder knew who the word referred to.
Draco Malfoy was stooped down, planting seedlings in the new Malfoy gardens. He'd complained bitterly in Herbology lessons about getting his hands dirty, but Draco now found he somewhat enjoyed the solitary life in the garden. It wasn't like he could go out and about now. The Minister had accepted Draco's help without promising him a pardon, but he also hadn't attempted to arrest Draco either. Scrimgeour knew that Draco wouldn't be leaving the wards of the Manor in any way, shape, or form.
It was as good as house arrest, actually.
So, now Draco read and worked in the gardens and wrote letters to people he thought he might be able to help. He'd kept back any offers of financial assistance so far. He wasn't going to be his father, using only the strings of his purse as weapons in a war. Draco had a mind, a fine one, and he was willing to use it to help.
Once in a while, Draco actually received a visit from a friend. What happened that bright morning in the garden wasn't exactly a friendly visit.
Draco felt that someone was watching him. He turned around, looking for a nervous house elf. Then he peered past the wards, looking for someone lurking in the treeline. Nothing.
He got a few more cuttings into the ground before he knew he was being watched again.
Draco cleaned off his hands and stood up.
"Okay, whoever you are, I'm not playing games. If you're here for me, and I don't know how with the way these wards are, then come and get me."
He'd pulled his wand out. He was ready.
"Manual labor agrees with you, Mr. Malfoy," a cold, even voice said. When Draco found its source, he couldn't connect up the face he saw with the sound he heard. It was Harry Potter, but it didn't sound like Harry Potter. The voice was disconnected, almost inhuman.
Like the Dark Lord, actually.
"I'm glad that pulling you out of that river was the right decision, Mr. Malfoy. I see that you've begun to turn things around. I can sense that you've destroyed an extraordinary amount of powerful Dark artifacts, too."
"W-what? How could you know that? It was suits of armor and baubles…"
"…which contained some very powerful enchantments and blood memories. Trust me, you did well," the voice said. "Then there were truths you gave to the Ministry. You gave up a lot of leverage, you know, to start clean again."
"I'd have given up pretty much anything. As it was, I lost my parents and my home and most of my freedom to move about the world."
Harry nodded. "You'll get your freedom back and you've rebuilt your home nicely. As for your parents, you have the good memories to balance out the awful ones. It's more than I ever had, Mr. Malfoy, treasure it."
Draco Malfoy swallowed and then remembered who he was walking to. The message wasn't subtle in the least, but it was effective, like a ring of fire to kill off a single ant.
"What did you come here for," Draco asked. "Do you have more questions?"
Harry shook his head. "Actually, I came to collect on your life debt and to ask you for a favor?"
Draco was confused now. What did he have that Harry Potter needed?
"For your life debt, I need your assistance in persuading someone you know to speak of the things they know."
Draco became curious and interested immediately.
"That will come later. But, first, I need to tell you a story and ask you for a favor. Hold out your hand so we can swear an Unbreakable Vow. I need this story never to pass your lips. Whether you agree to it or not, it has no bearing on the vow."
After a moment's hesitation, Draco pushed his hand forward. His life was Harry's life to command because of his foolish attempt at suicide. Harry had the magic to compel Draco to do as Harry wanted, but he'd come to ask for a favor, a voluntary action.
"Do you swear an Unbreakable Vow to keep secret all the information and conversation we will have over the next hour?"
The magic set in. Harry didn't wait for pleasantries or preliminaries after that. He leapt into his story. Draco Malfoy could hardly believe what he was hearing.
"…the colors or fabrics of magic that people wear, I can see what they're thinking, what spell they're preparing to use, whether they're telling the truth or not… the deaths of Cedric, Sirius, and Dumbledore have ripped open my head, leaving not a lot of control and sanity left… when I kill Voldemort, I fear and expect the rest of the sanity to crumble, I expect to be as insane as he is, but thousands of times more powerful… I need a backup plan, I need to ensure that everyone is safe after I finish my work, even if it means my death…"
The chilling logic, the desperate plea, it was all overwhelming. It was like Harry didn't even value his own life any more.
"What do you want me to do?"
"If I slip, if I turn into something insane and evil, I need you to kill me. Use your wand, use a poisoned dagger, anything. But don't fail. When I'm done with Voldemort, I should be alive but weakened. If I need to die, that will be the time to do it, Draco. If you wait too long, you'll never get another chance. I'll see you coming a mile away."
Draco spent the rest of their protected hour trying to understand how Harry could be so sure of what he was saying.
Then Draco remembered the impossibly strong wards in place around his house, the rumors of Voldemort's headquarters being destroyed, the rush of bizarre, damaging confessions that had filled the newspapers. Harry had done all this.
"I don't think you need a back up, Harry, but I will offer my wand. I will be there if you need me when you defeat Voldemort."
Harry tipped his head in thanks.
"Now, I still need you to fulfill your life debt. Help me and we'll be square…"
Draco listened intently for a few minutes as he felt surprise for the second time, severe surprise.
"You captured Snape and didn't kill him on sight?"
"…he's not saying anything yet. I need help to pry the truth out of him. I won't just read his memories. He invaded my head that way. I won't pay him back in kind."
The magical portrait of Sirius Black awoke several days after it was created. By that afternoon, the goblins of Gringotts knew truly what a powerful and vengeful conqueror they had allied behind. He was so much more devious than the goblin mind could comprehend. Goblin councils were convened to consider the deification of the devious Lord Conqueror.
For Sirius Black, a prankster at heart, now had the mantle of truth telling and justice on his shoulders. And, even though he was a magical portrait, an echo of a person who once was, Harry Potter had gifted the portrait with extraordinary powers.
The morning of his awakening, Sirius was bored so he listened in as a goblin spoke with a wizard. The goblin attempted to offer the wizard a loan the wizard obviously couldn't afford. The goblins were eyeing some of the wizard's property, the portrait of Sirius instinctively knew. So Sirius bellowed and the loan agreement erupted into flames.
Minutes later, Sirius found a goblin snarling at another patron. The goblin was instantly transfigured into a furry bunny rabbit for a few minutes.
Sirius found he could walk from portrait. And even portraits inside family vaults. He found he could walk into Hogwarts portraits and into portraits inside family manors. Sirius was dead, but he certainly had a lot of freedom of movement.
For the most part, he stuck close to his goblins. He caught their petty dishonesties. He caught their attempts to undermine the new dwarven bank. And Sirius had a lot of fun repairing every slight, every twitch he caught. The goblins loathed his portrait, more than his mother had loathed Sirius. But it was so much fun. Sirius knew his portrait was invulnerable. It couldn't be moved or shunted from place. And Sirius could have as much fun as he wanted.
Sirius spent some time chatting with Peeves, Hogwarts' poltergeist. He also found time to talk with Fred and George Weasley and the Bonne Quartet, a group of mischievous students currently at Beauxbatons.
The longer he was awake, the more inventive, the cleverer Sirius felt. God, if he'd been like this at Hogwarts, he'd have blown the roof off the place without trying.
The goblins loathed him more and more, but respected their Conqueror the greater for their continual humiliation. A strange race, Sirius thought, before turning back to his pranks with a vengeance.
One thing troubled Sirius. This was the greatest prank the Marauders had ever pulled, but he hadn't been able to thank Harry for this gift. He hadn't seen Harry at all.
Snape felt like he'd been sleeping for days. In fact, he had.
He would have continued sleeping until Harry and Draco Malfoy, Snape's godson, woke the Death Eater up. Hours, days, weeks. It wouldn't have mattered. The golden cavern disliked most living beings and put them to sleep in defense of itself.
Snape looked up and around. He saw the brilliant light everywhere, light that had no source, no beginning or end.
Then he saw Draco.
"I'm dead," is all that Snape managed to say before he fainted away.
Harry woke the Potions Master up and then left Draco to begin talking sense into the man. But it didn't work. Snape put up the same barriers and defenses he had when Harry had tried before to interrogate Snape.
Harry let Draco keep trying.
Snape kept moaning for someone to 'kill him.' He wouldn't speak. He wouldn't answer questions.
Finally, Harry had his limit. For the first time in a long time, he felt anger. He was mad at the man who's tormented him, who tortured his godfather when Sirius was confined to Grimmauld Place, who'd actually killed Albus Dumbledore.
"Enough," Harry shouted. He stalked over to Snape as Snape floated up into the air and hung immobile.
Harry's body transformed into that of Professor Dumbledore. "Will you tell me the truth if I look like this?"
Draco and Snape both gasped in horror and pain.
Then Harry transformed into a woman only Snape recognized, one whom Harry had never met. "Severus, you will tell me the truth."
"Mother," Snape said. The woman was the spitting image of the long dead Eileen Prince. But Snape also knew it was his mother.
Then Harry transformed into Tom Marvolo Riddle, not the inhuman version of the present, but the one who had seduced Snape into the Death Eaters so many years ago. "Or me? Will you tell me, Severus Snape, what you've been doing and why?"
Finally, Harry was back in Harry's body.
Snape was on the floor of the cave, in tears. His hatred broke. His mental shields broke. Everything that kept Severus Snape contained broke down in those few seconds. His calm. His sneering, disdainful manners. Severus Snape ceased to have any defense mechanisms.
Showing Severus Snape the three most important people in his formation had broken him down. Now Harry was resolved to learn what he needed to know.
"What happened the night Albus Dumbledore died? Tell me everything you know."
Snape didn't hesitate. He began to speak even before the free magics had a chance to work on him.
"I knew Draco had been tasked with killing Dumbledore." Draco gasped. "His mother and aunt came to me and we eventually swore an Unbreakable Oath that I would protect Draco and complete the mission. When I told Dumbledore about it, he seemed resigned to his fate, but he still wished to offer Draco an opportunity out."
Harry closed his eyes. Dumbledore had known then. He knew what Draco was, he knew what Snape was. But why play such a dangerous game with his own life?
"His hand was already withered. He was dying from some curse I'd never seen before, slowly, very slowly. He explained a little bit of what had happened to him, but he kept back most of the story, I think. When the students showed up that night to tell me there were Death Eaters in Hogwarts, I knew that Draco had succeeded. But I didn't know how. I knew I had to get there. Draco couldn't do the work the Dark Lord had asked of him. He was clever, smart, but he wasn't hardened. He was a snot, and a snob, but he wasn't a killer. But I was. I am."
Harry remember the potion he had forced Dumbledore to drink which had weakened him further. Dumbledore knew he was dead. He even picked out his executioner. That didn't mean Harry had to agree with Dumbledore's choices. Dumbledore had been wrong keeping back information, wrong to sacrifice himself so Snape could save himself.
Harry listened to more. What Snape had been doing since then, what Voldemort was doing.
"Were you always loyal to Voldemort," Harry asked.
Snape closed his eyes. "Yes."
"Were you ever loyal to Dumbledore?"
"Why did you pass any information at all to the Order of the Phoenix? Why tell Dumbledore anything at all?"
"The Dark Lord wanted to control Dumbledore the same way he controlled you, Harry. He wanted to be able to pass true and false information. Some of it was designed to see if the Dark Lord had other Order spies penetrating his Death Eaters. Some of it was merely for his sadistic pleasure. He wove plots within plots. For me, he wanted me to be safe from recrimination if he ever lost his body again. I was taught the rituals to bring him back once more. I needed deniability. I needed to be free of Azkaban if he ever fell again. He told me his body might die but his soul never would."
"Severus Snape, for crimes against Wizarding England, you will pay the ultimate penalty," Harry said. "On August first, you along with all other unreformed Death Eaters will die on the field of battle. There is no appeal to your sentence. Your magic is stripped until the morning of your execution. You are banished to the wilderness unless I recall you. You may commit suicide if you wish to avoid this sentence." Harry snarled. "Go away."
Draco was almost in tears when Snape vanished. The hateful truth of his godfather's life was more than he could bear. Harry asked the free magic to help. Suddenly Draco felt calmer. He felt like he was strong enough to bear his family's shame, to bear his godfather's duplicity, to bear the impossible task that Harry Potter of all people had asked him to perform.
"You'll be okay, Draco Malfoy. I will return to collect you from your Manor before the sun crests on August first. Prepare well, we'll both hope your services won't be needed."
Then Draco was back at his Manor. His mind was whirling in every direction. Eventually he realized there was nothing he could solve in this confusion. He returned to his plants even though it was the middle of the day and the sun was quite hot. Sweating was good for the soul.
The dwarves were falling all over themselves to get their new bank built. But they also devoted considerable numbers of their race to missions to the other races. They had to find out more about this Conqueror who had so greatly benefited them.
They sent their largest missions to talk with the centaurs. Dwarves and centaurs had held neutral relations for hundreds of years. But when the dwarves mentioned they were interested in Harry Potter, the centaurs had begun talking about the relative positions of various stars. It was their typical tactic when an uncomfortable topic came up.
"I don't care if Mars crash lands into Jupiter," the dwarf said. "I just want to know what you know of this wizard. He defeated an entire clanmok without assistance. You and I both know how fearsome goblins are in battle. I've heard of a single clanmok slaughtering two thousand wizards in past battles. One? How could one do all this?"
"Mars is redder than usual, but the other planets are calm," the centaur said. "I believe the upcoming war will be short and decisive. This conqueror of yours will then sue for peace. That is all the centaur race knows."
"Knows? All it knows? Or all it is willing to share?"
"All it knows. The future is still undecided."
The dwarf snorted. The meeting was over.
In other parts of the world, the goblins were having the same difficulties. Their Conqueror, and that blasted magical portrait, had every goblin available researching goblin lore going back thousands of years. No single wizard had ever defeated a clanmok before. It wasn't possible. But it had happened. A wizard now controlled Gringotts, but even there he had delegated his duties to a truly cruel and vicious taskmaster. There was a snippet of a legend in the goblin lore, but it wasn't detailed enough to predict what was now happening.
Goblins needed information.
One party of emissaries went to the merpeople for assistance. While they knew the lore of the waters, they had very little interest in the land.
Others went to the centaurs and the thestrals. Nothing.
The most important mission was to the dragons. Few knew that dragons had their own language and oral traditions going back before the first written languages. But the goblins discovered that the dragons knew of something, but they weren't saying. Nothing the goblins offered was worth enough, the dragons said. Nothing would be valuable enough to risk the wrath of the magic.
The goblins had been utterly confused.
The dragons knew quite a lot, but were refusing to speak because of the magic? What could the magic do? It served goblins, dragons, even wizards…
The defeated missions returned and more minds attempted new plots to secure information on their Conqueror.
But no one thought to send emissaries to the house elves. They were the ones who knew and would be willing to speak. But the house elves had already planned out their approach. Their best emissary would present what they saw as the truth of the situation to the one who needed to know.
They were sending the house elf Dobby to meet with Harry Potter the next day.
It was a few days before Harry Potter's birthday when Dobby the house elf finally located his mission. Harry was standing inside a forest near the largest accumulation of Dark Magic in England.
Dobby was glad that Harry was safe. In the weeks since Dobby had received his task to speak with Harry, the wizard hadn't been locatable very much. House elf magic was very old magic, the closest of any magical system to the raw magic that ruled the world. But whatever Harry had or wherever Harry went, his magic was untraceable almost the entire time.
"Harry Potter," Dobby said in a low, but excited, voice.
The wizard turned his head and then looked at Dobby. A small smile creeped across his face.
"Dobby, how are you?"
"Harry Potter – so kind," Dobby squeaked. "Have information for a great wizard."
Harry turned his whole body and looked carefully at the house elf. Dobby felt like his entire soul was being appraised and judged. Finally Harry nodded.
"What did you want to tell me, Dobby?"
"I saw the rooms in Hogwarts, Harry Potter. I saw the Great Hall and the new table. I was the first to see the Gryffindor tower. I know what's happening. The elven legends tell us."
Harry shook his head. "I don't understand. Legends? What's happening at Hogwarts?"
"The raw magic, the world's magic is paying tribute to a great wizard. The tables have transformed into – elven things, magic things. The magic is claiming you, Harry Potter. The magic is making you its heir."
To say Harry was confused would be understating the situation. Magic had heirs? It was claiming him? None of this made any sense at all. Aside from the fact that Harry could see magic, ask it to do things, break every rule in wizard spell casting… Harry pondered what he knew. Then he looked at Dobby again.
"How do you know any of this?"
"Elves have eyes, Harry Potter. We can see the raw magic. We can see it dancing around. And we have our legends. Elves do not write, but we have our legends kept by the elves with the best memories. We know what happened to two of our number hundred and thousands of years earlier. They became."
"Became free elves, completely free, Harry Potter. They weren't elves any more. They were magic."
"How can someone become magic?"
"Legends are truth, but they aren't full of detail. Great house elves were selected by the magic, became heirs of the magic, became free elves. Centaurs have too. At least one dragon."
"Your legends record dragon events?"
"Everyone rejoices when the magic selects an heir, doesn't matter if wizard, elf, or other, Harry Potter."
Harry turned to consider what Dobby had said. He had heard crazier tales, but the house elf seemed so sincere, so eager for it to be true. Harry, at least, knew he had a source of information other than Dobby.
"I will consider all you've said, Dobby, thank you."
The house elf bowed deeply, his large ears scraping the grass in the forest. Then he disappeared, his mission accomplished.
Harry turned to look once more at Riddle Manor before he sat down and began to ask the free magic some questions.
'What am I?'
'You are ours,' the magic proclaimed.
'We invite many to become ours, young one, but very few pass all the tests.'
'Every day has been a test. Every day of your life you could have rejected the increasing influence of the free magic. You fought against it once you received your wand and stopped used the free magic. Lazy wizards with their wands. But you didn't reject the magic. You didn't close off from the Light or the Dark. Your enemy chose the Darkness before he could even sense his gift. Your departed mentor got the briefest taste of his gift before he rejected it." Harry could see images in his mind, young wizards named Tom Riddle and Albus Dumbledore. He saw more and more images of wizards he knew, the red hair of Bill Weasley, the beautiful cruel image of Bellatrix Black, the fine golden hair of Lucius and Draco Malfoy. There were hundreds of other wizards he saw but didn't recognize. "And, the final tests, once you began to receive your gift from us, you began to use it, to understand and appreciate it. Hundreds of thousands have been invited, ghosts, goblins, wizards, dragons, centaurs, and every other creature. But you will be only the sixteenth ever to become our heir.'
'Why didn't you tell me this?'
'Knowledge is the final gift. You must first learn to handle the gift before you can be told of it. You have proven yourself capable of wielding this gift. You understand it, but you don't covet it. You will use it, but not to inflict needless harm or pain. You understand that you are magic and that magic must consent to the things it does. You know now that only you can kill yourself.'
'I've always been marked, then, as yours? Is that why I survived the Killing Curse?'
'Yes. You were attacked and the magic responded. The curse would have normally dissipated. But, because you were attacked by one who had refused to become an heir of magic, the magic was angry with your attacker. The curse rebounded. Only that evil one's compact with the Dark saved his soul.'
'Can I be killed?'
'Through magical means, no. Never. Injured, bleeding, in pain, yes because you are still mortal. But, dead, no, the magic wouldn't permit it. Through physical means. Yes, you can, up until you receive your full inheritance. Then you are no longer flesh and bone and blood. You are magic, of the magic, by the magic.'
'When I am an heir, what am I expected to do?'
'What are my obligations?'
'You have none.'
'Then why does magic have heirs?'
'Because the 'free magic' as you like to call it, is interested only in itself. It ignores the happenings around it most of the time. Having heirs allows for sentient, moral beings to use magic in the world in appropriate ways. We wish that the tests weren't so difficult. We wish we could have more heirs. You will be the first in seven hundred years from any species, the first wizard in two thousand years, as you reckon time. Most of the heirs get lonely and go off to pursue their own studies. Your compassion, young one, leads us to believe you may not just fade away as the other heirs have chosen to do.'
'And the insanity? My loss of connection to human emotions?'
'It is you becoming of the magic, and not of the human flesh. It is painful, we know. But it is necessary.'
'How long has the transformation been occurring?"
'It begun at birth and has never stopped, young one. It has sped up in recent years, though. The last days will be the most dramatic. On the final day, I advise you to confine yourself to a remote place…'
'…yes, the cavern would be appropriate. When you become an heir, every magical creatures, everything tied to the 'free magic' of the world is notified. It will be quite the day for them, but it will require rest and concentration for you. You will acquire the full catalog of memories of each of the fifteen heirs who have come before you on that final night.'
'I'll know what's it's like to be a dragon?'
'After the gift is given, you may choose to live as a dragon. Or as a wisp of wind. Or a shadow or a wizard who looks incredibly different from yourself. You will have access to all the magic of the world so long as you treat it well. You, and only you, can choose when to take your final moments. So far, none of our heirs has ever ceased to exist.'
The strangeness of thought stole over him. Immortality. Harry Potter would never die, but he would have to watch everyone he knew age and eventually die.
'Can I appear to age?'
'You will be magic. You can do as you wish. Many of the heirs chose to live for entire normal lifespans as different kinds of magical creatures before starting over as another type of creature, though none have done so for hundreds of years. Perhaps you can find other potential heirs and encourage them in their tests.'
'So, I will become an heir? There are no final tests?'
'You have just passed it… You had to realize what you would become. You had to begin learning your heritage. On the date of your birth, you will receive your inheritance, young one.'
'Thank you. It is an honor to have such power and no responsibilities. I will try to do the best I can with it.'
The cool winds provided a response as they wrapped themselves lightly around Harry's body. The free magic really was ecstatic.
Harry was preparing to give them a marvelous show. There were still a few details to contend with. Harry knew that he would win the war. But how would he win the peace?
It was July 30th and the Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour, was in his office long before anyone else at the Ministry showed up for work. Most of the things he was working on now, like unwinding the Malfoy influence from the building and its institutions, had gone well. But he had to keep dismissing people. He was almost ready to order everyone to take a Veritaserum interview to figure out how many spies and plants he had working for him. Voldemort people, Order of the Phoenix people (tolerable), secret sources for foreign wizarding governments, secrets sources for various wizarding publications, people accepting bribes for consideration, people embezzling the Ministry's funds, the perfidy didn't end.
He turned to another stack of reports on corruption.
"I'm down to a quarter of the original staff," Rufus said.
"It's worse than that, Minister," a voice said.
Rufus looked up and saw Harry Potter – Harry Potter of all people – standing in his highly secure office inside of a highly secure Ministry building.
"What… How… No, just explain."
Harry blinked one, then turned his head to examine the room. "I think we've got to get you a better place to work, Minister." Harry pointed to one of the walls. "Death Eaters and Voldemort have listening charms in here." Then Harry pointed to the desk. "Your ashtray sends every word and every paper that touches your desk down to the Unspeakables." Then Harry noticed a portrait on one of the walls. "That one is a direct line to the Daily Prophet. Did you never have this room checked for this kind of thing?"
Scrimgeour was now panting in anger, not at Harry, but that his office was more public than the loo downstairs.
"Don't worry, Minister. These are very difficult methods to detect, the ash tray in particular. My congratulations to the Unspeakables. The Death Eaters used a particularly vile form of Dark magic I think, required blood from a unicorn and a muggle child."
Scrimgeour still hadn't figured out what he could say.
"Would you like me to get rid of all this?
The Minister had the good sense to shake his head. The ashtray disappeared, the portrait glowed white for a moment before returning to normal, and a small shout of pain came from the portion of the wall Harry had pointed at.
"What are you? No wizard can do the things you do…"
"All will be revealed in a few days' time, Minister. I beg you to have some patience. I have been preparing for the final battle and have very little time to spend with you now. I will be of no use tomorrow and the final battle is the day after."
Harry's confusing honesty left the Minister befuddled. Damn, he felt like Cornelius Fudge for a few moments, perpetually confused.
"What have you been doing? Preparing for wha…"
"I have a few things to tell you, Minister. Please listen as I need your help." Harry took a deep breath before he continued. "The Ministry of Magic ends on August Second at dawn. The building will collapse at that time. All the rules and precedents will be gone. All that will remain will be a blank slate."
"Wh… Ho… I don't understand…"
"I have the power and the incentive to do this. You've seen for yourself exactly how worthless the Ministry has become. Your attempts at cleaning from inside are noble and appreciated, but the whole thing is rotten. Even if you were to find good people to fill in the slots, the way this place functions would enable them to go corrupt within a dozen years. The idea has to be rethought, every compromise has to be renegotiated. On the morning of August Second, I will open a peace conference. All wizards and witches, light and dark, innocent and criminal, are invited to attend. The conditions will be highly secure, no one will be able to magically harm another. Each attendee should bring shelter, food, and drink. It could be a long negotiation."
"Negotiating what, Potter…"
"Your world is ended, Minister. Your title, then, will be an honorific. The wizards and witches present will have to reform their world. Only those who attend will have a say. Those who sit out the conference will have to live with what everyone else agrees to. You don't believe me now, but start watching the building for cracks on August First. By August Second, this building will be no more. Today is, in fact, the last safe day to be here. I'd recommend you tell all your employees to take home their personal possessions today."
"Reform the world? You can't mean negotiate with Death Eaters?"
"I assure you, every Death Eater still marked will die in the battle. Every one. We will readmit common criminals into society and give them a second chance. Plus any of the Death Eaters who have proven worthy to have their marks removed by me…"
"The Dark Mark can't be removed, Potter… I was an Auror for too long to fall for that nonsense."
"I have removed the Mark from seven people, Draco Malfoy is the most prominent. But, I am out of time to debate you. Please bring my message to everyone in the wizarding world. In two days, the Dark Lord Voldemort falls. In three days, the Peace Conference begins. This picture will show you where to come."
"…I've never seen this place in my life…"
"I haven't created it yet, Minister. Good luck. I hope you have listened to what I've said today. I will also be using other means to get this message out."
With that, Harry was gone. The only proof Scrimgeour had of his presence was a missing ashtray and a picture of what looked like a massive mountain range and a valley carved inside it. The Minister blinked once or twice and tried to figure out what to do. But even then, he realized he wouldn't be able to speak of much that he knew. He knew there was some kind of magical binding limiting what he could say or otherwise communicate to others.
He blinked hard. This was going to be a long day.
Voldemort didn't enjoy being a temporary squib. Nor did he enjoy knowing that all his material wealth had fallen into the hands of his enemy. Nor did he appreciate having to find a new headquarters.
Nor did he like that thirty Death Eaters had abandoned him after what Harry Potter had done.
People were terrified now, but they were terrified of Potter, not Voldemort. And that just wouldn't do.
So, the entertainments he'd staged for his Death Eaters had been one attempt to set things right. Public executions, after all, were fun and educational at the same time. Five of the traitor Death Eaters, the attempted defectors, were flayed alive before other horrible punishments were inflicted on them. All Muggle style tortures, very messy but effective.
It was good for the Death Eaters to have shared experiences.
After the tortures were concluded, Voldemort pulled his new Inner Circle to him and they began planning for this final battle, as Potter had called it, once their magic was restored.
"One whelp. Two hundred seventeen Death Eaters. I like our odds."
The forced laughter showed how nervous the Inner Circle was. The numbers, theoretically, were in their favor. But this new Harry Potter had done things they'd never heard of or seen before.
The council of Dark wizards began planning out their strategy. Several concentric circles of wizards surrounding wherever Voldemort and Potter wound up. To watch as Voldemort and Potter dueled. To watch as Harry Potter died.
The first ring was to cast confusion charms on Potter.
The second ring of wizards was to cast impediment jinxes on him.
The third was to hold the anti-Apparation and anti-Portkey spells in place to ensure Potter wouldn't leave once the battle turned to Voldemort.
The fourth ring was to deal with anyone else who might stray onto the field of battle.
When they finished planning, Voldemort was pleased. Harry Potter would pay for all his crimes.
The day of Harry Potter's 17th birthday was extremely unpleasant. He woke from a deep sleep in the golden cavern the moment his inheritance began.
He felt his skin being pulled from his body. After writhing in pain for what felt like an hour, Harry saw that the skin covering his body was gone. Every trace of it. Then he felt the pain resume. His muscles were next, then each of his organs felt as though they were dying. Then his bones were dissolved.
'What is this?' Harry finally realized he could speak with the magic in the cave.
'Your mortal body is dying, young heir. It is painful, but necessary.'
Harry had felt all sorts of pain his entire life, but nothing compared to when his organs began to fail. His lungs stopped first and it felt like Harry was truly dying, no breathing, no oxygen moving anywhere. Then his kidneys and liver. The pain was his body screaming as it died. His other organs continued in their horrifying protestations as the magic killed and dissolved them. The magic attacked Harry's heart and brain last. Harry's last conscious thought was, 'what have I done?'
When Harry awoke in his golden cavern, the pain was gone. He felt – well, perfect. He opened his eyes, but realized he didn't really have them any more. He wasn't flesh and blood. He just was.
He saw his body still looked the same, except for a single difference. He was translucent.
Harry sat up from the large stone tablet on the floor of the glowing cavern, the same place where Draco had recovered from his injuries. He gradually returned to looking opaque, rather than ghostly and ethereal. Then he noticed his consciousness – no longer a brain, was it? – had more inside it. He knew what dragons were, how they spoke. He could even feel a dragon mind in parallel with his own.
'Why do I have more than one consciousness?'
'Young heir, you are part and parcel of the other heirs. You know what they know. You see what they do. As they know and see through your consciousness.'
Harry now had sixteen minds to deal with. It had been a challenge when it was just his mind and Voldemort's connected together.
But it was also comforting. He could feel the reassurance of fifteen others telling him about their inheritance, about the moment when they ceased to be flesh and blood and bone.
He knew the history of goblins now and the lives of merpeople, centaurs, and unicorns. Harry knew.
It was like there were no limits.
But Harry still had one problem. He was newly born into the magic and he had arranged for a duel to the death on the following day, in a few hours as wizards reckoned them.
First Harry checked to be sure he still had the use of the magic inside the golden cavern. Without even a conscious thought, it did as Harry wished. Of course, Harry should have realized that. Harry was magic now. He was without mass, without size or shape or limit. Harry was pure energy now, energy with consciousness, with a free will.
As he poured through the memories of the other heirs, Harry realized he needn't take any form at all. He could spread out to encompass the entire world or remain as compact as the head of a needle. He could be Harry Potter, a dragon, anything.
But Harry saw the memories, he saw what the other heirs did. They had lived their lives, most of them, in whatever form they'd been born before they'd taken to the full use of their magical gift. Harry decided that this was something he could do for himself. He'd be around now longer than any of his friends, longer perhaps than even Sirius' new portrait. But, as far as he could, Harry would lead a human life.
He would keep the full extent of his gift to himself. People would never guess at what had happened. They would chalk it up to more of the Boy-Who-Lived nonsense. Harry would even let the prophecy be known, call this the power the Dark Lord knows not.
Harry began to play with his new magical form. He still looked human. He could still bleed. (He conjured a knife and slit his skin to see what would happen.) He could still sense the feeling of pain, but it wasn't overwhelming or debilitating any longer. He looked, sounded, and acted like a mortal.
Until he transformed into a Grim-like dog. Then he felt precisely like a dog. Harry tried a dozen different forms. He even experimented at just being a pocket of pure magic, with no form, no purpose. It was completely relaxing.
Harry reached out and communed with the magic surrounding Hermione and Ron and dozens of others. He was magic now, he flowed into their bodies, saw as they did through their eyes, and experienced life through the consciousness of dozens of other wizards.
It was terrifying and exhilarating. He now knew Ron and Hermione. He hadn't searched their memories, but he saw how their worlds looked, how they thought, how they coped. If that was all someone knew about another, it was enough to be them, to replicate their every decision.
Harry reached out to Voldemort and studied his magically bound enemy. He searched out Voldemort's plans and considered whether they would work against a normal wizard. Yes, they were bold and lethal. But Voldemort didn't know what he was facing. No magic, nothing of any kind, could now harm Harry Potter.
That thought amused Harry.
Voldemort had become a freak of dark magic, cobbled together with moldy soul fragments and the darkest of dark potions. But he had also been on the path to being an heir of magic. He had turned the opportunity down before he was even eight years old.
Had he not, Voldemort could be truly immortal and with the full force of magic behind him. He would have been unstoppable.
But the tests worked. The unworthy and the unwilling hadn't become heirs of magic. Voldemort was a single step beyond mortal, but Harry now saw the self-proclaimed Dark Lord's many weaknesses. His love for spectacle, for shock and awe, would fail him in a spectacular way come tomorrow.
Harry decided to make the following day's battle something to remember for all eternity.
On the morning of August First, even before the sun had risen, Draco Malfoy was flying on a broom a few hundred feet above what was supposed to be a field of battle. Harry Potter had come for him twenty minutes earlier, told Draco that his task in extremis wouldn't be needed, but still invited Draco Malfoy to observe.
"You'll be the only one there to survive it, Draco," Harry had said. His former enemy was back to his normal self. His coldness, his eerie similarities to the Dark Lord in voice and manner were gone. Harry Potter, innocent of the world, had arrived this morning. And Draco had followed along.
When Draco had asked what the plan was, this purified Harry Potter had just smiled and said, "I think you'll enjoy it. But stay away until you know it's safe. It'll be pretty obvious."
Draco stayed hovering in the air. Harry was already standing on top of a very small hillock. He looked tall and confident. But where were the Death Eaters?
Harry had done everything he could to provoke this attack, this 'final battle' of his. So, where was the other half of the battle?
Draco flew up and down the field to keep the boredom away. He saw a small house at one edge of the field they were on. It looked like it had fallen into ruin. Not a very picturesque spot for a decisive battle against Voldemort. But, Draco wasn't in charge of planning. Come to think of it, Draco wasn't in charge of anything any more. Harry was normal again, no more of his insanity talk. So, there would be no 'Harry the victor' having to be put down.
Draco turned on his broom so he could see the coming sunrise. From this height, it was a spectacular sight. As soon as the first rays graced the land, Draco began hearing a few popping noises, then a positive symphony. The barren plain was now filled with black robes. Draco saw that Voldemort had taken the center position, standing meters away from Harry Potter.
Draco could see hundreds of spells all aimed at Harry. He saw the green, terrifying light fly out, pass through Harry – through! – and strike a black-robed man. Then it happened a second time and a different Death Eater died, not Harry. The Killing Curse couldn't kill Harry Potter. Instead, Voldemort was killing his own men.
Draco was so shocked at what he saw that he almost fell of his broom. But a bit of talent kept him alive. He wanted to fly lower down to observe the battle, but Draco hadn't seen any signal that it was safe yet. It certainly didn't look safe for Harry.
The Dark Lord was bellowing in anger. He'd been enraged that his magic had been withheld from him for so long. Then he'd hated that he was at this place, the site of his greatest failure. The little home the Potters had owned at Godric's Hollow was just visible. It was where the Dark Lord had lost his life in 1981.
Voldemort's plan had begun perfectly, too. The different rings of spell casters had done their work. Potter wasn't moving at all. It was all perfect. Until Voldemort raised his wand.
He cast the Killing Curse but it just missed the boy completely and killed a Death Eater. A second shot had the same effect.
"Why won't you die," Voldemort yelled in hatred.
"I should ask you the same thing, Tom. But I guess it's not really a secret now. Horcruxes do prolong life, but they pervert and destroy what's human about you."
At the word horcruxes, Voldemort began firing dozens of curses at Potter. None of them connected. The Death Eaters in the first two rows had stopped their spell casting as it appeared that their Lord was attacking them. Voldemort had now killed five of his own people and permanently maimed another four.
Voldemort shouted, "You know nothing. I am immortal, Harry Potter, and I will crush your bones into powder for my potions. You could have been great, at my right hand. I would have denied you nothing. All the knowledge, all the secrets of the Dark. You could have possessed it for yourself. But, you refused – and now you die."
The calm looking Harry Potter just smiled. "Tom, you misunderstand. What you have done to yourself…you have cheated yourself from immortality, trust me. But me, I have not become a gross violation, a monster like you. Let me show you something of what I can do, Tom."
With that Harry held up his arm. The Dark Lord jerked his head up to see what he could. But it was his ears that told him the story. His Death Eaters were screaming in fear and pain.
The Dark Lord turned away from Potter and saw that the Death Eaters were running. Their organized circles were broken. But, why?
What were they running from?
In the distance, where the furthest Death Eaters were supposed to be standing was a row of stones, dark black, massive. Then the Dark Lord looked more closely. Not stones, exactly. Statues. Statues of people in robes. And they were behind a heavy red glow. It wasn't light. No, the red glow was the blindingly obvious presence of magic. Magic that was so strong it could be seen without aids or tricks.
A small smile crossed Harry Potter's face when the Dark Lord turned to face the boy again.
"They're all going to go that way, Tom. From flesh and blood and bone to solid stone. Not petrified, not reversible. Every one of your Death Eaters will die within the next five minutes."
The Dark Lord began casting curses as fast as he could toward the red glow transforming and killing his Death Eaters. He ran toward the light, but nothing he did could bring down this killing magic. Voldemort got within a few feet of it and then reached out with his hand. He wanted to know if Potter was telling the truth. Could it actually kill him, Voldemort, the Immortal?
The Dark Lord screamed as two of his right hand fingers turned to stone.
He flew back in a rage toward Potter, toward the small hill he was standing on top of. As he leveled his wand at Potter, the Dark Lord felt a wash of horrifyingly pure magic wash over him. When it left, the Dark Lord noticed he felt different, lighter, less burdened.
It didn't matter.
Harry Potter felt neither pleasure nor pain as he looked over the Death Eaters who had perished already. Voldemort's own spells had killed Severus Snape and several other loathsome people. Harry's use of magic would be responsible for the rest. And for Voldemort.
But, before engaging with the self-proclaimed Dark Lord, Harry had to complete his Horcrux quest.
He looked at Voldemort striding across the field of battle, coming back to Harry, to complete his battle. Harry saw all the varieties of pulsing magic around him. With his full inheritance, he understood every strand, every bit of the magic he saw around him.
Harry now understand the web of matte gray magic that pulsed everywhere around Voldemort. That was his connection back to his Horcruxes. Examining the magic, Harry understood what a Horcrux really was. It wasn't just a receptacle for a soul fragment. No, it was an anchor of the soul. The soul stretched between the anchoring horcrux and the body it was binding. If someone succeeded in killing Voldemort, the gray magic around Voldemort would summon the dying soul back to a safe place, back to a horcrux.
But Voldemort was always in contact with his Horcruxes, he was connected to them. And Harry could manipulate any form of magic, even the magic of a soul.
Harry gently loosed the web of Horcruxes attached to Voldemort's magic. He brought the entire web to his own magical core. The Horcruxes resisted, they didn't want to be bound to Harry. But Harry's magic was far too strong.
Then Voldemort's next Killing Curse streaked through the still darkened sky. As Harry intended, the Curse struck Voldemort's network of Horcruxes. In that moment, the web designed to salvage Voldemort's soul collapsed and vanished. As Voldemort had cast the curse, the Horcruxes had recognized that they were rightfully banished. None of the toxic, cruel countermeasures Voldemort had protected his soul stones with were activated. Each trinket resumed its normal form and purpose.
Voldemort was mortal again, but he didn't know it yet.
"Tom, you will die today. But I want to talk with you first."
Voldemort began to cast another curse before he found his wand had stopped working. Again.
Voldemort lunged for Harry, drawing out a poisoned short-blade from a scabbard on his back. The blade pierced through Harry's chest. He started to bleed but he wasn't screaming. In fact, he was laughing.
Voldemort pushed away from Harry's body before Harry pulled the blade from his chest. As Voldemort looked on, the wound healed itself. Even Harry's clothing seemed to mend itself. Harry threw the blade far away into the field, near where some of the Death Eaters had been transformed into frozen statues, black stone replacing the blackness of their hearts.
The red aura of magic had come within five meters of where Voldemort and Harry were standing. Every Death Eater had been transformed into a statue. Every one of them was dead.
Voldemort seemed to snap then. He called upon every ounce of magic he knew and performed his animagus transformation. Harry hadn't prevented that kind of magic, so suddenly the terrified Voldemort became a giant vulture, one large portion of his right wing was stone. His wings spread wide and he attempted to take to the skies. But there were no winds, dead calm. The vulture couldn't leave the ground.
"It's always a good tactic to have some surprises held back, Tom, but you could have tested to see if you could take off within five meters of space. Bad birdie."
The massive red curtain of magic began to collapse then just at the same moment that Harry asked the earth to begin rising around them. He wanted this battlefield to be remembered. He was going to encase this space inside a valley, an enchanted valley, the Valley of Peace. No one would ever forget what happened here today. It would be a sacred space for as long as Harry Potter, heir of magic, chose to live.
Voldemort returned to his wizard form.
"How did you do that? Control who can use magic? Control the wind?"
Voldemort was terrified now, but also curious. He knew he was losing, but he still wanted to grasp for a victory.
"Tell me why you started torturing children, Tom, even when you were a child? Tell me your secrets and I'll share mine with you."
"You know nothing," Voldemort shouted.
"I want to know why you turned the way you did. All this killing, all this evil – and you never had a plan, other than revenge and power. Why not try for a cause, Tom… I agree that working inside the system doesn't work, but you could have done wonderful things with your mind and your power."
"I did wonderful things…"
"No, you did monstrous things. Your creation of Horcruxes led you to take innocent lives, yes, I know all about them. Cold blooded killing, innocent lives, sundering of the soul. But why not a more interesting path? For me, I will use my magic to collapse the Ministry of Magic building first thing tomorrow morning. I'll be recrafting the wizarding world into what I'd like it to look like…"
"Impossible, I tried a dozen times…"
"You won't be around to learn anything. Just know I did this to end hundreds of years of persecutions and corruption within our own society, Tom… You could have been a savior of the wizarding world, but now you'll only be a footnote."
Voldemort began shrieking when he felt the tendrils of magic rising through him, as though they came from the earth itself. His feet and legs turned to stone. He could feel himself calcifying as he stood. Then the magic moved further up his body.
"You could have been great, Tom. Now you're just another statue in my Garden of Peace, an object lesson to the next would-be Dark Lord. I'm sorry for what you did. I'm sorry it had to end this way, Tom. You could have been an interesting person. I even managed to help salvage something human out of Draco Malfoy of all people…"
By the time Harry spoke those words, Lord Voldemort was no more. And a lone rider on a broom swooped down and observed the field of battle.
"…I resent that," Draco Malfoy said. "I've always been human, although some of my ideas were less than modern."
Harry turned around. He had defeated hundreds of Death Eaters with magic Draco Malfoy had never seen before or even heard of. He wasn't sweating or nervous or even particularly happy. He was just Harry Potter.
"What are you, Harry?"
"I'll never tell, Draco. I don't think anyone would ever believe. But, don't forget what happens tomorrow in this very space. Stand at the entrance over there," Harry said, pointing to the narrow entrance, "and I think you'll have a lot of people joining you. At dawn, then."
With that, Harry Potter vanished. Draco stood and observed the newly transformed field of battle for a long time. He saw Snape's rocky corpse. He looked at a number of the other Death Eaters he knew. Harry had told Draco that only a few Death Eaters had chosen to have his Dark Mark removed. Every other marked combatant was Death. Voldemort was dead. And this flat plain was now encased in small hills, like a valley.
Harry Potter was no ordinary wizard.
Draco smiled as he thought to what tomorrow would bring. What kind of chaos would ensue? And how could Draco ensure that the Malfoy family had a fair shot at proving its new beginnings?
Rufus Scrimgeour was the last wizard to approach the entrance to the newly formed valley. He arrived just after dawn broke.
"Well," asked one of the former Minister's allies.
Scrimgeour nodded once. "It came down just a few seconds ago. I felt the wards begin toppling yesterday. It felt like the whole place went from being stable to being weaker than a rotted wand. It's all gone."
Scrimgeour had kept the details of Potter's visitation to himself. He'd blamed his order for evacuation on a 'weakening of the wards he could feel.' He wanted to measure and test this Potter. He wasn't a normal wizard, not any more.
Harry Potter was watching all of the wizards as they gathered. He was also observing all of the centaurs, goblins, dwarves, werewolves, vampires, and other sentient creatures as they gathered further inside the valley. Harry Potter, Heir of Magic, figured that the wizards and witches gathered here, only more than a hundred and from fewer than a third of all the wizarding extended families, would need more convincing than the other creatures. Their pride and arrogance was even greater than the centaurs; their greed even greater than the goblins. It seemed that the humans had very few positive characteristics at the moment.
Harry Potter made himself corporeal and visible. He stepped out from the shadows at the appointed time and then walked to the assembled wizards and witches. "Please follow me," he said. "We need to step inside the valley to begin…"
"Begin what…" "Who the hell are you to order us around like this…" There were many other kinds of grumbling going on this day.
Harry held up his right hand and they all, mostly unwillingly, fell silent. "I am the one who destroyed Voldemort yesterday."
That was enough to shock everyone into compliance for a while. "The act unleashed some very powerful magic, magic that has chosen to create and live in this new valley. We will need to step inside the valley before we can talk about what we're all doing here."
For the next ten minutes, Harry Potter had to continue saying variations on what he'd already announced. He'd had to prove a half dozen times that Voldemort was really dead.
"…if you step inside the Valley, you can see for yourself. There's a monument to record the truth of what happened yesterday. The magic released yesterday turned him and all his followers into stone statues…"
More shouting ensued.
"But how do you know about the magic of this place, if it's so new…"
"I consulted with the goblins and the centaurs…" Since Harry was the technical ruler over the goblins, he knew they wouldn't be able to dispute any explanation Harry offered. "The goblin cursebreakers told me of places even they are unable to enter, places where the magic transcends anything that human or goblin can understand. They identified yesterday afternoon this valley as one of those places."
"But it was flat land just yesterday…"
"What did I not explain? When Voldemort died, the magic unleashed then was incredibly dark and vile. It felt like he was about to try to flee again, to become a ghost spirit, but then magic I had never felt before poured into the place. The earth's magic, perhaps. It was overwhelming and it punished Voldemort's soul. I'd killed him, but this other magic – strong enough to build hills from nearly barren plains – it kept him from the immortality he'd somehow set up."
It was a masterful half truth. It was true and not true at the same time, since Harry was describing his own powers as having come from another source. It was also true about the Horcruxes being destroyed. Voldemort wouldn't be coming back, but Harry wasn't about to utter that word 'horcrux' ever again. No, instead, Harry decided that he would use his power to uninvent the concept of horcruxes, of every kind of dark soul magic.
Harry turned, stopped answering questions, and walked into the narrow valley entrance. People either stood stupidly in his wake or started to follow behind him. Halfway through the entrance, people felt the warm embrace of powerful magic. Stronger than the wards at Hogwarts. Stronger than any magic they'd ever felt before. But the ones who'd started their journey into the valley kept on walking.
Soon they were inside. Scrimgeour spotted the first Death Eater statue. He limped his way over to it. He looked at it with awe and fear. There was no magic he knew that could do such a thing. The limits of magic ensured that transfigurations were generally safe. Animals could be turned into other animals. Inanimate objects could be turned into insensate animate objects: a pincushion into a porcupine. But magic could not be used to turn a true animal into a permanent inanimate object. Person into stone was a curse of medusas and other creatures, it was not within human spellcasting.
"What did this…" he muttered. But there was no one near to him to answer the question. For only two people had the slightest idea: Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. Draco had been present, although disguised, within the group. He wanted to really see what Harry was doing. He was keeping his mouth shut until he knew what was what.
Harry led them all to the center of the valley, to the small mound where Voldemort's statue was standing. Already, in the day that had passed since the creation of the valley, the magic had begun to work. In the north part of the valley, small trees were growing at the rate of a few inches an hour. In the east, a small spring had popped up and was now supplying water that would cut its way into a stream for the whole valley. The grasses were growing tall. Everything was alive here.
The witches and wizards all stared at the mound, while Harry walked up and stood next to Voldemort. Then some of the other creatures began to come into view. Harry waited patiently while everyone assembled. He blocked out the muttering and the murmuring.
"Let me tell everyone of a vision I experienced in the days before I killed Voldemort."
The murmurs got louder. Harry was proclaiming himself to be some kind of seer. This was news of some sort, probably bad news.
"I saw a gathering in this place. I saw creatures of every sort, creatures like centaurs, wizards, and every other kind." The wizards and witches didn't like being referred to as creatures. Well, tough.
"I saw a conclave to decide upon a way forward…"
"We already have a way," Scrimgeour said.
"…no, sir, you had a way. But it was so entwined with the corruption, with Voldemort, that it collapsed the moment Voldemort died. The magic of this place is a response to his unchecked evil, to the wizard world's complacency, to the insularity of the other creatures. You had a Ministry of Magic, sir, but it only protected witches and wizards. My vision told me that the new Ministry of Magic must benefit every kind of magic: magic of places like this, of vampires, wizards, sirens, elves, and every other magic user."
The creatures before him were all skeptical or angry. It didn't matter, though, because Harry knew far more about this valley than he had explained yet. It could take months or years, but his own personal vision of the future of magic would come to pass. Harry could actually just force it into place, but he preferred a process of negotiation. It was possible that desperately wanted Harry's vision would come up with better ideas than he could.
Unlikely, but possible.
Still, the magic of the valley would ensure the best possible compact. When Harry, Heir of Magic, had created this place, he'd thought ahead to all the reasons he'd need it. Now it was time to start outlining the incentives these people and creatures had to negotiate with one another.
Harry sat down on the ground near where Voldemort's statue stood.
"Let me tell you what I understand of this place. It was the site of a great battle, one never to be replicated, I should hope. It was also the unleashing of a great power, the power the Dark Lord knows not. That power is still here, as the goblins can tell you, but in my visions I have seen what else it can do. It can compel everyone here to participate in this peace conference…"
"Peace conference…" "Compel, I won't have it…" The murmuring crowd was back, but Harry didn't let it stop him.
"…let me explain exactly the terms you accepted when you walked into the Valley of Peace. Your magic is suspended until the conclusion of the treaty…"
Here the wizards and witches were screaming, almost as if they were being tortured.
"You are all free to leave, but your magic will never be returned to you if you do. You are welcome to invite other people inside to participate. Other families who should be here; other races I may not know of. Or you may ask for observers from the press or from foreign governments to wait outside for news of your progress, if you wish. House elves will also have their magic bound if they come here, so do not invite them to be your servants. You will cook and clean after yourselves while in the Valley of Peace. You may send owls or other nonmagical animals out as messengers. You may have them deliver supplies. But, know this, only the creatures in this valley may influence the crafting of this treaty. If someone writes with advice, their magic will also be bound although they will not have the option to have it restored. Anyone who wishes to participate must come here. Anyone who merely wants news of the proceedings may remain outside…"
The whinging and general hand wringing from the wizards was quite spectacular, while the other creatures merely looked on in amusement. They could sense what this place was even before they stepped inside it – they'd bothered to actually look. When the first wizard pulled out his wand and attempted to throw a flame curse at Harry Potter, they'd all looked on in amusement. For nothing happened. Except shock and awe rippling through the other witches and wizards.
"That's enough of that, Mr. Greengrass, although it was an inventive curse."
"As I was saying, take the first week to get used to being here, to get used to each other. I'd suggest you have tents shipped in or something similar. Just remember that none of your magical enhancements will work here. Get your food situation worked out. The trees over there should begin bearing fruits of different kinds in a few hours. I'd let them go at least until tomorrow before you try any of them. In the meantime, begin thinking over what your goals for this treaty should be… And not selfish goals. The magic of this place will ensure that no one represented here loses more than he or she gains. So this will be a balancing of inequity. Let me tell you specifically what it will prohibit: you will not be able to merely recreate the old Ministry of Magic with its discriminatory laws. The treaty must ensure that the new government fairly represents all forms of magic, that it remains responsive to all those whom it serves, and that the people have a method to place checks against possible tyranny. I am appointing Remus Lupin, wizard and werewolf, to head the proceedings…"
And here, a cloaked man appeared from seemingly out of nowhere. He tugged down his hood and a tired, but happy, man appeared. He'd known some of what Harry was about to do. Hell, he'd already spoke with Sirius Black's portrait inside Gringotts and had a fair idea that the world was about to change. Remus was glad to be of help.
But no one else was happy about this development. Not at all. Even the goblins were put out.
Still, Harry moved on. "I advise you to consider this as the minimum I will accept when I approve your treaty…"
Scrimgeour finally lost his temper. "You? Who gave you any right to do this? I am the Minister of Magic, child…"
Harry turned his head and looked at the old lion-headed Auror. "Then do some magic and prove me wrong, Rufus. Otherwise, shut up, listen, participate, and perhaps you might regain some influence in the new government…"
Here the former Minister of Magic threw himself at Harry Potter. His wand might not work but his hands were surely still strong enough to throttle the lad.
But Rufus Scrimgeour didn't get very far. In fact, he was just a few feet from where he'd been standing. But now he was suspended in mid-air. He was frozen, somehow, and pretty much unable to move.
"…I guess it wouldn't be much of a Valley of Peace if people were allowed to physically harm each other, would it? So, Mister Scrimgeour, remember this lesson well. You have no magic and no physical attacking capacity while here. The magic of the valley will ensure it. What you do possess is reason and words and persuasion. Those are your tools, your only weapons. Use them well."
Just then a massive flock of owls and other birds descended into the valley. "Use these fair avians to make your plans. As long as you treat them well, they'll be glad to help in the Valley of Peace. Abuse them. Well, you don't want to know what would happen. I should also remind everyone that I am the final signatory to the treaty. Since I killed Voldemort and unleashed these magics, they will only consider the process completed upon my concurrence."
With that, Harry Potter transfigured himself into an animagus stag and trotted off toward the tasty looking grasses near the trees. The entire crowd of creatures looked at him like he was insane.
It was nearly hour before the first person thought to send out an owl looking for assistance. It shouldn't have been a surprise that Draco Malfoy was the first to recover his wits after seeing all that he did. Because he was the only living wizard to have witnessed the real battle. He was the only one who understood how very little Harry Potter was telling everyone about what was really going on. But in this vacuum of knowledge, Draco was glad to step forward. Not to sabotage the effort, not by any means, but to begin to help it along. If he wanted to restore the Malfoy name, he could think of no better way than being one of the leaders of this peace conference.
He'd ordered tents for one hundred and food to last ten days. He had some resources left and planned to use them now. Plus, Harry Potter had gifted Draco with moneys specifically for this purpose.
Draco was smiling. He wondered when the others would recover from their stupor. He also wondered when his lunch would arrive. Draco was feeling hungry at the moment.
At the same time the stag Harry was eating grass, another version of him was standing in the long sealed Potter Manor creating two magical portraits. Then he created a third picture, a landscape, a perfect place for magical portraits to gather and converse. Then he sent off a brief flash of a signal to let Sirius know where he could be found.
The last step was the most difficult. He used his inherent connection to the magic to perform some high-level necromancy. He summoned the souls of his dead human parents, Lily and James Potter, and offered them a home within the two magical portraits he'd created. Like Sirius's portrait, these new portraits contained actual souls. These weren't wizarding portraits. They were soul paintings.
This version of Harry forced himself into the landscape and waited for his parents' portraits to awake and for Sirius' to arrive. It took only minutes, but it was nerve wracking. He hadn't seen his parents in any form since that bizarre occurrence in the cemetery in his fourth year at school.
Then he felt his mother's soul reaching for him. She was awake. She was also crying, and hugging him, and laughing. All at the same time.
"You're a hellion, my son. I saw what you did just now. You'll have the whole world whipped into shape in a couple decades, I think."
Then Sirius showed up. And it was a group hug of epic proportions.
If Harry hadn't been composed entirely of magic, he might have suffocated from a lack of oxygen. And it only got worse when James Potter woke up. All three of them hung onto Harry for a very long time. They'd been watching him. They'd seen his gradual transformation into an Heir of Magic. They knew he was just as immortal as their own souls were now.
"How," Harry asked.
"A soul is allowed to remain in this world if it is forcibly removed from its body. A suicide, a murder, a gruesome accident. All the other souls go somewhere else," Lily Potter said. "We don't know where. But we'll be here as long as we want to be. As long as you are."
They chatted for hours before Sirius finally asked, "Don't you have to be somewhere else right now, Harry?"
This version of Harry just shook his head. "No, Padfoot, I am everywhere I am needed. I am doing everything, every place, I am needed. This part of me is just for you three. But, you, Sirius, have to return to the bank now and again."
Sirius slapped his forehead, then ran out of the frame for a few minutes. Harry and his parents noticed the antics and smiled indulgently.
At the same time, fifteen versions of Harry were visiting with the other Heirs of Magic. And a few hundred versions of him began to visit with other potential heirs, with sirens, goblins, a few wizards, three dragons, centaurs, pixies, and many other creatures. At the same time, more versions of Harry were scouring the Earth looking for horcruxes or other vehicles of soul magic that other Dark Witches and Wizards may have left behind. With a well-hidden horcrux, a witch or wizard could remain in spirit form for hundreds or thousands of years before attempting a rebirth. The world, it turned out, was swimming in resurrectable Dark Lords. The very last one Harry killed was actually the one who had taught Voldemort how to make Horcruxes.
"Why did you trust that boy, that Tom Riddle?"
The spirit replied, "He promised he would help to resurrect me."
The spirit was glad, truth be known, when Harry destroyed his tethers to the earthly realm. He'd been here too long, been lied to far too often.
Still other versions of Harry sought out Dark Witches and Wizards who were attempting to learn of horcruxes and other soul magics. Every one of them awoke with a vast blank section in their memories.
Other versions sought out the writings that explained Horcruxes and Soul Magics. Each one burned crisply and completely.
One final version of Harry journeyed to the golden cavern and began the process of destroying the capacity of magic to splinter the mortal soul. If a soul couldn't be split, then it couldn't be used for soul magics, even if the practice was reinvented.
The magic consented to obey. It was glad that this abomination within magic was now gone.
Weeks passed and the delegates at the Peace Conference grew in number and rancor. They could finally feed and water themselves. But they hadn't come close to even beginning the proceedings.
The smarter ones pleaded with the stag to return to his human form and help end the problems. Remus Lupin had a continuous smile on his face even while everyone else bitched and moaned about everything presented for consideration. They hadn't started negotiating the treaty yet. They were still debating the proper way to debate so that they could open the negotiations.
The stag Harry was content to watch, listen, enjoy some fresh grasses, and smirk in his stag-like way. Remus snuck over, usually late at night, to offer his impressions of the day. The man was truly the smartest of the Marauders.
Hundreds of versions of Harry Potters crisscrossed the world meeting with various Dark Wizards. Harry used the perfect disguise for each occasion. What he wanted to know is what these Dark Wizards planned to do. The ones who wanted to commune with the dead, or to gain power in order to merely have power, he left them alone. Some he even helped. The ones who wanted power to hurt or control others, those found their powers vastly weakened or their plots entirely forgotten. The ones who planned for conquest found themselves attempting rituals that left them little better than Muggles. The Dark had a place in the world, just as much as the Light. But true evil had no reason to exist. Evil was not a synonym for dark, never was, never will be. Harry Potter and the other Heirs of Magic understood this.
Other versions of Harry did the same with Light wizards. There were numerous rituals and spells that Light-inclined wizards could use to gain in power or to unduly influence others. These wizards found their memories holey if they were tempted too far into evil ways with their Light rituals.
Other versions surveyed the governments of the wizarding world, every country in it. He wanted to understand what other people wanted. He wanted to understand the level of goodness and corruption that existed. He was appalled but not shocked at what he found. The rot was pervasive and it was everywhere.
Wizards and witches thought too well of themselves and too poorly of Muggles and magical creatures.
But there was a way to remedy this. There was always a way.
The negotiations finally started a month and a half after Harry Potter had brought everyone into this valley. Draco Malfoy still attracted a lot of animosity from witches and wizards, but he'd become quite well liked by a variety of magical creatures.
He'd managed a spot on the 'forms of governance' subcommittee. Nearly all of the old pureblooded families had taken a seat on it. There were two goblins and a werewolf and forty-seven wizards. The purebloods wanted to protect their interests.
"…the Wizengamot was a good and fair system…"
"…yes, the oldest families must be represented in this new government…"
"…and the Minister must be able to appoint good representatives to it, you know…"
The other species were very cross by this point. Draco decided to interject. "I hate to remind you of the instructions we received, but we're not supposed to be recreating the old Ministry. It was unfair to the younger families and to the muggleborns…"
Here the other witches began to laugh. A Malfoy as a defender of other people's rights? Mudblood rights? The boy had a seriously bizarre sense of humor.
"…so if you want to see him reject the treaty out of hand, go ahead and try this. But, even if you convince every witch, wizard, and creature of your idea, Harry Potter will reject it."
The grumbling eventually abated and the conversation continued on. Sure, they agreed to a modified Wizengamot. One hundred seats for witches and wizards; two for each additional species.
When the treaty was approved months later with these flawed beginnings, Remus took it to the stag Harry. Harry Potter read the first two paragraphs, then burned the parchment it was written on. "I'll say this again," his massive voice boomed out, "you are to create a fair compromise. It cannot favor witches and wizards over the other species. Stop wasting time."
He retransformed and left the hundreds of creatures in the valley to wonder. The centaurs and goblins had gone along with the daft first proposal just to see what Harry Potter would do. Now that they were surer he was on their side, the more crafty groups prepared to launch their plans.
Harry Potter loved spending time with his parents and godfather. But today was a sort of maudlin day. His mother, Lily, had finally come to the realization that her son would never be able to grant her grandchildren to look over.
"…oh, I'll have children of a sort. But not the kind you would expect. I'm mentoring quite a few who could become Heirs of Magic, mum. I guess I could consider any of them to be my children in spirit…"
"…but it's not the same thing, Harry. You've given up so much to have this gift. And now." She just dissolved into tears.
"Mum, I never expected really to survive this thing with Voldemort. No one ever really trained me and I wasn't particularly great or gifted in magic. It was only this gift that allowed me to survive, I think. But maybe I can adopt some children, orphans. I'd love for you to have grandchildren…"
Lily Potter shrieked in joy. James just held his head. Sirius had left hours earlier when the maudlin day began. He was a working portrait with a serious job to do. So he said with a straight face.
After Harry offered to adopt, it was all Harry could do to keep his mother under control. She wanted Harry to pack up her portrait and take her on a tour of orphanages. She already had plans for Harry to adopt at least thirty children in the very near future.
Lily Potter never set low expectations.
The second and third treaties were rejected nearly as quickly as the first had been. "You're trying to recreate what didn't work. There will be no hereditary bodies of any kind. Juries in trials of all sorts will be pulled from the general public, not from a rarefied group. No one will hold any office longer than five years. More time than that is a sure invitation to corruption. And there will be no single ruler. Think of a committee of different species with a rotating chairman. Or something else in that realm. The people who write the laws, by the way, will be different from the people who enforce them or interpret them. And the people will have the right to pull any official out of office for corruption or other criminal activities. If they pick someone whose incompetent or unskilled, too bad. But it they're criminal, then let the magic take them…."
So, Harry Potter had a house full of children. Many of the rooms in Potter Manor were now overrun with them. He had elves of every kind to help out – all free elves who consented to help out. Lily had her grandchildren. And Ron, Hermione, and many other of his friends popped in and out. None of them could figure out how Harry was in the valley and also here. Harry just smiled, turned to one of his children, and began a conversation of some sort. Harry loved every one of his children.
He had two children from Romania, a boy and a girl. He had children from Costa Rica and Peru and Nigeria and nearly every country in the world. All of them were squibs or magical. And, to the extent he could, he loved every one of them. And the children knew it. He had ages from two to fourteen. Lily and James Potter took to starting up classes for the ones who needed some education. Harry went out and found some other people to help tutor. Firenze the centaur moved in as did Dobby the house elf. Firenze taught history and divination. Dobby taught domestic classes…and even the boys had to learn to do their own laundry and to cook. Harry knew it wouldn't be much longer before the house elves were freed from their involuntary servitude to the wizarding world.
Harry found other tutors for the children, goblins to teach physical defense, wizards to teach the wizarding way of magic to those children able to use a wand. And Harry himself taught a heritage class to the older children. He taught them each their special duty: to love each other, to do good things, and to have and adopt children when they grew older. From the massive Potter and Black fortunes, Harry arranged for every one of his children to have funds for their educations and their future business interests. But he insured that none of them could spend the money in a frivolous way. There would be no flashy brooms or ridiculous rooms of never worn clothing.
Harry Potter's children were taught honest, hard work…they were taught love and respect…and they were taught magic that none but the Heirs of Magic themselves knew.
The fourth treaty attempt was only narrowly rejected. It specifically included language to give them greater rights over any other group, but that language was hidden deep within the treaty. Harry had actually planned to approve it until he read the second to last page.
That made him angry. Lying, bullying, and duplicity were the three big crimes one could commit in Harry's eyes. For all Voldemort's bluster, he'd merely been an overgrown, murderous bully. Bullying was at the root of what he did; murder was just one of the tools he'd used.
So Harry decided to make an example out of the handful of pureblooded families who'd thrown that language in. He banished seventeen witches and wizards outside the valley using a needlessly long and impressive sounding ceremony. Of course, Harry didn't need any kind of ceremony, but he liked the symbolism. Now each of those duplicitous purebloods would remain squibs for the rest of their long lives.
Remus Lupin had a wide, happy grin on his face. This whole diplomacy thing was actually a lot of fun for him. Especially since he hadn't had a single painful transformation since he'd entered the valley. None of the werewolves had. They still transformed, but without pain, without the bloodlust.
Remus continued to speak with Harry every night. It felt nice to get to know his honorary godson. Harry would only transform back into a human when Remus was around. That feat showed everyone exactly how strong a wizard Harry was. Wormtail had only managed it by sneaking off for long periods of time to transform into his human self. If Remus had to guess, this Harry could go for years, if he wanted, without having to transform back into his human self.
"That was a nice bit of ritual today, Harry…"
"Liars and cheats make me angry, Remus. I won't let people do that here. This is too important to sabotage."
"I've noticed that Malfoy actually seems to be participating, not trying to steer it to his own purposes."
"Oh, he is trying to steer it," Harry said. "But not in any detrimental ways, I think. He was actually at the final battle, you know, Remus. He saw what happened. He knows the magic of this place, so it could just be simple fear keeping him in line but I think at the end of the day, he's actually a decent person trying to erase nearly two decades of horrible training. It's a terrible stain on his soul, you know…"
Remus was shocked at the assessment of Malfoy. He decided to give the young man a more important position in the next round of treaty talks.
"This one was pretty close, I think, except those last two pages. Remind them to keep it shorter. The treaty should be short and free from loopholes. And you can work on a basic law from there. What the rules are, what the penalties are. But, and keep this to yourself, Remus, the laws adopted here will be enforced by magic…"
Remus felt dizzy at the implications. "I don't understand…"
"It's one of the features of the Valley of Peace. A treaty negotiated here will be enforced by the magic of the valley. If the basic law outlaws murder, and determines that a murderer should be killed, then a cold-blooded killer will simply die for the crime. So be sure to write the basic law very carefully, Remus. Anything written there will be enforced. This won't be like the Ministry of old where it only enforced the laws it wanted to and when it wanted to. You know, charging me with ridiculous crimes when it'd let any pureblood use a wand for anything short of an Unforgivable. There will be completely equal justice under the law…"
Harry spent a lot of time working with one of the potential Heirs of Magic. A dragon by the name of Neirth was within two years of reaching the end of his testing. And Harry had never met a more open and giving spirit. When with Neirth, Harry appeared as a dragon, a kind that hadn't been seen in thousands of years. But Harry enjoyed being a rare dragon far more than being the Boy-Who-Lived. And he particularly enjoyed spending time with Neirth. Of all the potential Heirs, Harry thought Neirth had the best chance to follow through on the path.
But the tests would get harder. And Harry wasn't betting everything on his friend Neirth. His other forms continued to visit the other Heirs, at least until they failed their tests. There was one potential or another nearly every three days who failed. It was such a fine line to walk. And to keep an open mind at all times, to let the magic work through you without trying to gain the upper hand, all of this was far more than the average child or teenager could manage.
To be sure, it was a fairly cruel process to become an Heir. It was almost impossible, but perhaps that's why it was successful. Someone gifted with the true and utter power of being magic had to be tested in every way possible. Once made an Heir, there was no reversing the decision.
The fifth treaty was two thousand forty-seven words in total. It was a nearly perfect expression of equality. And once signed by an Heir of Magic, it wouldn't be possible to overturn it.
The government would be a simple, almost elegant one. An executive composed of eight members, seven voting and a non-voting chairman. No more than three could be of the same species. Any treaties, any appointments, any laws would have to be approved by a majority of the voting members. The non-voting chairmanship would rotate month to month, so each one could have numerous opportunities to put forth their pet causes. Two executives would be elected each year and each would serve for four years. The executive branch was designed to be small and to provide regulations so that independent businesses could provide services that the government had previously controlled. The Floo system would be rolled off as a business as would portkey creation.
The legislature would be a single body, two hundred members in total, no more than thirty from a single race. The legislative branch would propose laws and expenditures; it would keep the basic law current and relevant. It would approve or disapprove of the nominees to serve on the judicial branch. Fifty would be elected every year; each would serve for four years. The legislature would meet for a single day every week of the year
The judicial branch would provide the judges to ensure fair treatment before the law. Of the dozen initial judges, no more than two could be from the same species. And no defendant could be tried by a member of his own species. Judges were nominated by the executive branch and confirmed by the legislative branch for five year terms of office. Each one would have to swear on their magic to set aside bias or to recuse themselves from a case. A provision established that in any case where all the judges recused themselves, the legislative branch as a whole could hear the case.
Harry smiled as he read the document. Then he looked closely at the document. He could see bits of who had crafted it. Remus was here in spades, but so was Draco Malfoy, two or three goblins, and a pack of werewolves. There were a few others who'd made a difference, too. But it favored no person, or subset, over any other. It was simple and elegant. It allowed a possibility of a unified government that might work. It didn't ensure it would happen, but it provided the chance.
"I'll sign it. This is very good, but I want the basic law in my hand before I sign this. And, once I do, then the valley will begin enforcing it, everyone will have their magic back, and we can all leave this place…"
"It's been a year and a half, Harry, people are tired…"
"Remus, people shouldn't have been so stubborn for so long. This could have been the first draft very easily. It's a lot simpler than what you've given me before, you know."
Remus shrugged and left to give everyone the good news. Now it was time to start on the basic law.
Harry took his two oldest children to the golden caverns shortly after they turned sixteen. He wanted them to truly understand their heritage, to understand and begin working with free magic. They would never be Heirs of Magic, but they could ask the magic to do things for them, to help them, to always keep them safe.
He'd also brought them so that they could meet Neirth, and so that the dragon could meet his children. Neirth was more than a little surprised at seeing his mentor's original form, but he took it in stride.
Neirth actually took to Harry's two children very well. He even asked them, through Harry as an interpreter, to climb on his back. The cavern was large, but not big enough for Neirth to fly, so the children just got to see the world from a dragon's back. And then Harry told all three of them about his becoming Magic's Heir. Neirth had heard parts of the story, but even he was absorbed in the telling.
This was the final lesson of Harry's course in Magical Heritage. It allowed his children, and his friend Neirth, to begin truly connecting into the free magics of the world. Of course, if all went well, Neirth would pass his tests and become an Heir himself. But a little training never hurt anyone.
Harry smiled as the Valley of Peace hummed in happiness. He'd officially read out the treaty between all the magical races resident in England. Then he'd read out the third attempt at a Basic Law. He pricked his finger, as the Destroyer of Darkness, and dropped blood onto both documents. Then the magic in the valley flooded into the documents. The parchment turned into solid diamond. The rules were made impervious and eternal in that second.
They were also made immediately enforceable.
When the magic was restored, some wise individual from one of the Darker families present decided to test it out. The forty year old man drew out his wand, cast a Killing Curse at Harry Potter, and promptly keeled over dead before the spell could leave his wand.
"Very good wording of the Basic Law. I'm impressed."
Harry pointed at the dead would-be assassin and banished the man's body. It was a pointed lesson to everyone present. Lethal spells no longer had a place in their world.
"Well, the interim committee has a lot of work to do," Harry said. "There are elections to open next week and a lot of education to do. I also expect all the journalists camped outside the valley would like to know what we're doing…as would the diplomats."
The next years passed quickly. Scrimgeour managed to become one of the executives, but he didn't distinguish himself nearly as well as the goblins and vampires on the panel. Vampires don't sleep so they have a lot of time to think and accomplish interesting things. Draco Malfoy actually wound up becoming a wonderful, impartial judge. (He was renominated to his position fourteen times during his lifetime.)
Neirth passed his tests and became the seventeenth Heir. Harry adopted more and more children. He also kept up with visiting the other potential Heirs, but they continued to fail at the rate of one every three days. It was disappointing.
Lily, James, and Sirius loved watching and teaching the newest Potters. And, eventually, Harry realized the depth of affection he held for Neirth. They agreed to become partners of a sort on the fifth anniversary of Voldemort's demise.
And so, a world was reborn from what could have been cinders. And the Potter line became immense and even more wealthy. Brilliant minds freed from conventional constraints of magic began to revolutionize the magical world. Harry adopted a vampire, the first time a wizard ever did. The species began, slowly, ever so slowly, to draw closer together.
And, then, Harry dropped his largest bombshell.
He was seated in front of the seven executives for England, plus their chairman, and he asked them to accomplish the impossible. Spend ten years preparing to reveal the magical world to the Muggles. Not just in England, but throughout the world.
Harry promised the support of the Valley of Peace. He'd make magical creatures impervious to all muggle means of killing – so long as the magical creatures didn't attempt to harm any muggles.
Harry had planned out a full-scale revolution. And it was fun to be in the shadows watching it happen from every possible direction.
In the final analysis, Harry, Neirth, their family of children, plus the souls of Lily, James, and Sirius really loved the world they were in. It wasn't perfect. But it was becoming as close to perfect as was possible.