Chapter 4: Rebuild
Alexandria in Springtime is very warm and pleasant, at least by an Englishman's standards for Springtime. Tracey and I weren't the only English there, by far. Not that I spent much time talking with my countrymen. I was too busy sleeping in the sun for that. A lot of sleep, a lot of sun, some swimming lessons, some touristing about, and a lot of exercise at night. Not only private exercise, but dancing. I discovered that dancing can be fun if you have a fun partner. And there was no discussion of my plans or my problems or my to-do list, enforced by Tracey's unique carrot-and-stick method.
When we got back I found that the world indeed had not ended. The Decent Folk Bank of England was running just fine. Walsh was showing that he deserved a partnership if he wanted it. And Gamp had even managed to convince some senior ministry officials to put a hold on my arrest-on-sight orders until there'd been an honest investigation into my so-called crimes. All it had cost was a few loans at lower interest rates than we'd normally charge. Not exactly above-board but not exactly bribery, either. Par for the course in Wizarding Britain.
Not all was peaches and cream. Right when Tracey and I returned to the Black Summer Cottage, Mr Davis was complaining about a handful of new laws – at least another six in just a week. The Wizengamot was apparently happy to destroy the economy so long as its members personally benefitted. I'm sure not all Wizengamot members were corrupt and self-serving, but any notional honest members were unable to stop the train wreck in progress. The only bright side about this is that most people had taken to ignoring the ministry as much as they could. Easy to do, when the laws were not published. And even easier to do, when the DMLE was suffering a severe staffing shortage.
The other bad spot was no one's fault but my own. Well, mine and Tracey's.
"Harry! Tracey! I missed you! Mommy said you'd bring me back a present. What did you bring me?"
We'd been gone a week and it hadn't even entered my mind to buy souvenirs. It would have been better to miss my girlfriend's birthday (August 6; I needed to mark that on my calendar) than to completely forget a six-year-old.
"Instead of bringing back just one small present from Egypt, how about we take you to a toy store and a book store and buy you two presents? Does that sound like a good deal for a young lady?" I was very tired after dual apparating two people two thousand miles, but I wasn't going to let the little girl down.
A week later, once we'd caught up on our work and rested up from our vacation, Tracey and I made a date for a nice, quiet dinner. Given the way our previous two dinner dates were disrupted, we took the safe course by getting all dressed up, meeting in my entry hall, and walking to the dining room. The household's three elves pulled out all the stops to prepare a swank meal. Tracey's family had been asked to leave us alone and the elves were the very soul of discretion.
"So, Tracey, what have you been thinking about?" Something had been on her mind since the start of our vacation. I didn't pester her about it last week because of the horrific threatened penalty for conversation more serious than "what should we do after lunch?"
"A lot of things. The world, you, me. Us."
Well, that narrowed it down. "We haven't yelled at each other at all for weeks. Well, except for you screaming, 'Oh, Harry!'" As usual, I was unable to dodge her swat. I'll have to ask around to see if it's normal that men are unable to avoid their wives' and girlfriends' swats to the shoulder. "So is it too much to hope that this is not a break-up speech?"
"No, that's not it at all. I've been thinking about what I want and how to get it. And how to help the world, the whole wizarding world. And about us.
"And I realized something. You're almost everything I wanted, Harry. Money so I'll never have to worry about doing without. Power to knock down the rich families who kept my family from getting ahead. Power to keep me and my family safe. And you make sure to keep me, ah, satisfied."
I wasn't too happy with that litany. Being interested in me for my money was as bad as being a Boy-Who-Lived fan-girl. The last part of her list was ok; I worked hard for that.
"That's what I was looking for since I was little. Well, not that last one. You know. But the thing is, it's not enough. Everything I just said is just things for me. Selfish things. I've been watching you since we were in school and even more for the past year. You work so hard and spend so much of your own money to help others."
Traci took my hand and looked deep into my eyes. I braced myself for the "But".
"And I really admire that. I liked my part in setting up that first market. It was better, more fulfilling, than working in the shop, sweet-talking a vendor into a better price. It was exhausting but worth it. I would love to be able to do more of that. And you set up the market and the food give-away before that. You did it to help people even though you didn't have to and you don't even like most of the wizards you meet. You did it because you really are a good man, Harry.
"The point is, after my mother and grandmother made me sit down and think about it, I do want to be with you, Harry. Like Daddy said before, I can almost see being with you for the next fifty years."
"The only problem I have with you, Harry, is you're starting to use killing as your first response to a problem, not your last. It's changing you, Harry. You don't smile much any more, you never laugh. And I get the idea you're always thinking about how to kill someone.
"And it's bothering you, too. I can tell. Every time I spend the night here, you have nightmares. Ah, no, that didn't come out right."
"Haha. But you're right. They're worse when you're not with me. I barely sleep now if you're not here."
"Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful you stopped Malfoy. I was so scared. But only for a little while. I knew you would protect me.
"But, Harry, don't you see? You're getting harder. Darker. You're not the likeable man I fell in lo– got a crush –. You're not the likeable man I fell in love with. And even if you don't care about that, it's tearing you up, Harry. I can't let you do this to yourself without trying to help you."
Except for the declaration of love, this is almost the same conversation we had late last year. Maybe that is because we were interrupted and never did finish it. Or maybe she's right and I'm going further down the wrong path.
"So I was thinking, maybe we could work together. I could help you find ways to solve problems and annoyances without killing everyone. And stop you thinking all purebloods are incompetent, greedy inbreeds."
She might be on to something. Sleeping with Tracey helped with the nightmares. It would be better to get rid of them altogether. I never remembered enough to say what they were about but it was a good guess my conscience was beating me up. Cutting down on my body count would be a good step, so long as I could still achieve my goals.
"I like what you're saying. But what about you, Tracey? You told me how you want to help me, but what are you getting out of this? Aside from spending time with my wonderful self, of course."
"Oh, amazing Harry Potter, what more could any girl ask than to spend time with your wonderful self?" Tracey giggled, a welcome break from the heavy conversation. Though to be honest I didn't care much for giggling. It was a girlish habit and my life was too much for a girl. But that was kind of the point of this conversation and maybe I needed to lighten up.
"My family isn't that successful. I'm sure you've seen that. We're doing ok, but one little setback and we'll lose everything. It was worse when I was younger. That's why the Hat put me in Slytherin instead of Hufflepuff. I wanted to be successful enough that I'd never have to worry about being poor. And then as I got older and saw more of how the rich, powerful families kept families like mine from really getting ahead, I wanted to do something about that.
"Harry, don't take this the wrong way, but if I'm with you I can do all that. Even with everyone acting against you, even with all your gold being lead, you still found a way to rebuild your fortune. And even if that went away, you've got your Muggle properties. Your family will never go hungry."
I frowned inwardly as Tracey stopped to draw breath. She routinely talked more than I did – much more – and I was used to it. But at the moment her mouth was digging her into a hole.
"And to turn around your question a minute ago, what will you get out of being with me? Aside from continuing to be blessed with the presence of a prime specimen of young womanhood, of course." Tracey copped an exaggerated model's pose. It was good to know she wasn't taking herself too seriously. But she made a good point. Rather, a couple of them. I'm not so shallow as to let large breasts overwhelm all of my good sense, but neither am I so foolish as to not appreciate what's right in front of my face.
"Seriously, Harry, if I'm with you and you let me, I can help you think of ways to deal with problems other than killing everyone. Oh, I don't think you've ever actually said you killed those aurors or Lucius Malfoy. Not when you were awake. And don't worry. I've never repeated anything you said in bed.
"Oh, and one other thing you'd get from this. You keep your temper better when I'm nearby than when you're not. My mother mentioned that. If I'm around I can help you with that.
"And I can help you with a few other things. Teach you to act more politely, maneuver people to get what you want, that sort of thing. Things we had to learn from Day 1 in Slytherin House."
Finally she seemed to have run down. "Tracey, I have two questions. First, you've talked for thirty minutes about how you'll change me to make me a better person. That's not how you put it but it's what you meant. What changes are you willing to make, to make yourself a better person?"
"Ah, um… I hadn't thought about that."
"You need to grow up. I don't mean to be cruel when I say that, but you still look at the world like it's the way you think it should be, like I don't need to fight back when I'm attacked. I don't know how you kept that attitude through the war and killings and what Snape turned Slytherin House into. Maybe that's a good thing, especially in a teenage girl, but it won't work for anyone who's going to be with me.
"I think you need to get a bit harder and tougher. You're right, I've taken it too far, but if you're going to be in my life you'll have to set childhood behind. You said it yourself a couple of months ago: I'm always fighting. I don't look for it, but that's the way it is. And there are still problems in the world. You and a lot of others have been pushing me to fix things. If I'm going to stay here I'm going to fix them and that will make me more enemies."
I drew a breath to relax a bit. Mild irritation had been growing for the last half hour and had carried me through that last rantlet. I had to set that aside for the next.
"And second, we've been talking about what we will do for each other and how your family can benefit. A lot of what you said was long-term plans for being together. A lifetime. Tracey, are you proposing marriage?"
"Ah, um…" Tracey couldn't meet my eyes. "Not yet. And it wouldn't be proper for me to ask you. But if you propose in a few months, I won't say No."
Tracey's duties of working with me on non-lethal approaches to enemies began with the Wizengamot. If they had just stayed out of the way of the people who were just trying to live their lives I probably would have left them alone. The extortion that Mr Davis had mentioned was just a fraction of their manipulation. It's possible that these paragons of pureblood pride didn't understand that they were ruining everything for everyone — in case I've never mentioned it before, wizards are stupid and purebloods are thumb-chewing morons. But it's also possible that they thought that things were crashing down and they wanted to get while the getting was good.
Either way, we'd be better off without the Wizengamot.
By and large we'd also be better off without the ministry.
It just so happened that the Wizengamot met in the ministry building.
It just so happened that a large natural gas line ran very near the ministry building. And Dobby and I could tap it and send new lines into the ministry offices. And I knew how to make mechanical timed igniters. And Dobby could put them in place with no one the wiser. And it would be deliciously appropriate to kill them with a natural gas explosion, considering how often that excuse was used to explain away destructive magical battles to the muggles.
And it just so happened that my newly-acquired conscience came with great tits, killer legs and a pretty face. It's not easy being a teenager.
Rather than let me kill everyone, at least without trying other approaches, Tracey suggested a campaign of terror. Oh, she phrased it as "warnings", but the idea was to frighten the geezers into acting right.
The elder Davises were helpful in letting us know whom we should leave alone and who needed the most attention. All we had to do was ask a few leading questions when we talked about the news of the day. The Davises' friends-of-friends network kept them plugged in to the news and gossip. I'd been distancing myself from them because I was still angry about the way they'd taken the money to pay for the markets and because of disagreement over what I should be doing to help people and make the world a better place. But this was a way for us all to work on something together even if they didn't know it.
Dobby snapped a few wands while their owners slept and left the pieces on notes that said, "I could have snapped your neck." Tapper used a trick that, oddly, he had seen in a movie: he left the head of one old witch's favorite horse in her bed. (It occurred to me afterward that I must never tell Tracey or Natalie that we had hurt a horse.)
And I hit them where it hurt. I robbed the Fudge-Yaxley Bank, where most of them kept large vaults. "Robbed" may not be the correct word. "Destroyed", that's the word. It took more effort to find the place than it did to bring it down. Their security was pathetic: an above-ground stone building with wards to keep unwanted wizards out. A pair of golems stomping around at night. Nothing else that I could find. Pathetic. I didn't have to come even within their detection perimeter. I circled the grounds on my broom casting Juggernaut's Inferno toward the building. This fire is like Fiendfyre in that it can't be put out, but it doesn't need to be constantly controlled. It will burn everything until it reaches the sea or another wall of Inferno. The bank was nothing but rock ash and metal flakes by the time Dobby came back from keeping an eye on the fire.
But Sukki came up with the nastiest idea of us all. Three of the most venial Wizengamot members had small grandchildren or great-grandchildren living at the family manor. All three of them lost their children one night. It's not as bad as it sounds. My elves disabled the houses' elves, gave the children sleeping potions, and carried them outside to me. I apparated them all to St Mungo's. No harm done and some of the children probably slept until they were back home. But the message was clear.
Amazingly, a number of the most venial, most corrupt, or most bigoted members refused to moderate their stances despite threats and losses. However, enough changed their ways to make the Wizengamot as a whole less venial, corrupt, and bigoted. And most of the worst members' seats ended up going to new blood over the next few months.
It would be a gross exaggeration to say the Wizengamot became honest or competent or progressive, but they backed off some on the extortion and the interference. About as good as we could hope without killing the lot of them. And that gas line was still there, in case I ever needed that option.
While we'd been on vacation an idea started percolating through my head. Tracey was right: I'd been getting burned out and using up my energy pointlessly. While in Egypt, I didn't spend any effort pushing these ideas, as I had better things to focus on. Nevertheless, they were there in the back of my mind.
One of the ideas concerned money and keeping things going on the non-magical side of things. I needed Muggle money. The entire wizarding world needed Muggle money if we wanted to keep eating without stealing the food.
Judging by my findings at the market when I made the big announcement about the lead coins, a quarter or a half of the older coins are real gold. The problem was in identifying the real gold coins. Breaking the enchantments on a single coin so I could cut it in half didn't take too much time or energy. Breaking the enchantments on close to ten million coins was another matter. So what I needed to do was figure which coins were real gold. An even sixteen troy ounces of gold was well worth the effort of breaking a coin's enchantment.
Some of the enchantments masked the weight, or the density, of the coins. The Archimedean method of spotting counterfeits wouldn't work here.
I checked for odors given off. The fakes should have a trace of lead. No dice. It seemed that the charms which prevented wear and tear had the side effect of preventing stray molecules from being knocked off.
Putting the coins in the anti-magic cells in the dungeon didn't help. (And working out a method of safely locking myself in a cell so the anti-magic field would kick in, but I'd be able to get back out, was a several-hour challenge in itself.) After bringing other types of items into the cell I determined that I wasn't able to use enchanted items but the enchantments remained in effect on the items. I'd have to think about how that might be a weakness in my cells, as well as how I could make use of it if I were to find myself in someone else's cell.
In short, I spent part of every day for a week, testing the Gringotts coins every way I could think of to sort the gold from the lead.
In frustration I went back to the gold dealer who got me started on discovering the lead galleons.
"It's thirty years' experience, young man. It wasn't a real coin, I was pretty sure, because I didn't recognize it. It wasn't solid gold, I could tell by bouncing it in my hand. That doesn't mean much, though, because most 'gold' coins are alloys. The surface didn't feel quite right under my thumb, I couldn't scratch it, and there was something about the way it reflected light that didn't look quite right. I'd have measured and weighed the coin to make a guess at the alloy, but my new, electric scale chose that moment to stop working. I'm not an old stick-in-the-mud, but there's something to be said for the old-style sliding weight balance beams."
I had to suffer through a rant on the problems that come with "electrifying" everything. I'd bought the man coffee and scones as the agreed-upon cost of the lesson, but the real price was listening to the traditionalist rant.
After most of another week, largely spent re-doing the previous week's tests and picking Tracey's, Walsh's, Marie's, and even Natalie's brains for ideas, I finally noticed that one line of writing was different on each coin. A serial number, of course. Long story short, the third "letter" showed if the coin was fake. Problem solved.
Well, one problem. Sorting that huge pile of coins was going to take a while. Elf magic wouldn't do it. Developing a charm to separate the coins based on that one letter was beyond me. "Beyond me" wasn't saying too much, but a charms master I consulted set a price higher than seemed reasonable. Muggle technology might be able to do it, if it weren't for the electronics jamming effect. Bottom line, the coins were going to be sorted by hand and eye.
Tracey and I made a "family" activity of it, going through the coins in the evening as we chatted. It would take years to go through the mountain, but we were hoping to have years together. (Not just hoping. We were planning and working hard for it.) In days of yore, people would occupy themselves with knitting or snapping peas or sharpening tools in the evening, so this was something like getting in touch with our roots. Who says I'm not a traditionalist?
And the final problem came up. We didn't have nearly as many gold coins as I'd expected. Based on the market, I'd been hoping that a quarter, even a third, of the coins were real. I'd have been happy with a tenth. What I actually got from my mountain was a little better than one in a thousand.
After I thought about it, that made sense. The goblins had been stealing the real gold coins. They'd have made sure to comb through the piles in the Gringotts vaults, leaving nothing but lead for the wizards to draw out. Only the gold coins that stayed in circulation, in the public's hands, without passing through Gringotts would have remained un-snatched.
Still, a thousandth of ten million coins was nothing to sneeze at. I wouldn't be able to buy myself a country, but I didn't need to work for the rest of my life. Neither would my children, even if I had the dozen that the old lush predicted that one time.
Breaking into the Daily Prophet was difficult, or at least more difficult than breaking into several Death Eaters' houses had been. Between the reporting side, the business office, and the printing operation, the building was always occupied. If I'd been raiding a Death Eater that wouldn't have been a problem, but here I needed to not be noticed because I wasn't planning on killing everyone I met.
In a bit of a turn-about, I was acting as Tracey's conscience. Normally she was the one to help me find alternatives to killing. But the Prophet had gored her ox and her level head went out the window. Penniless pureblood pretender insulted her family and had her grinding her teeth. We can only hope the ministry will seize Potter's possessions before the gold-digging bitch can get her paws on them had me casting a muffling charm on Natalie's ears as I hustled her away from her big sister's filthy mouth. But I will give them a small amount of credit: they were somewhat even-handed in passing around the insults. …so desperate as to chase after a wanted murderer living high on his ill-gotten gains.
Mixing a few drops of veritaserum into every pot of ink in the reporting and editorial offices took all night. My original plan had been to do something to the presses to keep them from printing lies. Well, that's not quite true. My original plan had been to pull the arms off of the editor and the articles' authors. But Tracey quickly pulled herself down from her mad, remembered her promise, and worked with me on a less satisfying response.
Alas, I could not figure out a way to filter the presses' output. A test at The Quibbler's print shop (with a fake article asserting that Fudge was the most honest politician of all time) showed that I could not make the press "smart" enough to prevent a lie from being printed onto the papers. But a bit more experimentation showed that veritaserum mixed into a pot of ink would keep Tracey or me from writing a falsehood with a quill. At that point it was just a matter of providing a discrete brewer with gold and a few hard-to-find items that the Davises imported for me.
The morning's Prophet came out, as full of lies as ever. Naturally. That edition had already been written and was being printed as I made my raid. The day after, it didn't come out. I wish I'd thought to leave a listening bug in the offices.
This wasn't much more than a prank, but it should give us a few days' relief while I thought of something else. And, while I was thinking, I should also think about the best way to use "Veritasink": sell it or use it surreptitiously. Tracey would have some ideas once she calmed down more.
And it was indeed only a prank, and gave us only one day's relief. The following morning's paper was rather on the thin side, but all the most offensive "reporters" had twice as much material as usual. Of course. Quick-Quotes quills are self-inking, so they wouldn't have been affected by the Veritasink.
The Prophet's next attack was under Gladys Gladhand's byline. It seemed that she and Skeeter were taking turns. This was an "in depth" look at the Davises' business, playing up the claim of my girlfriend being a gold-digger.
Tracey had mostly calmed down but this latest had her wanting to go into the newspaper's office with guns blazing. She muttered something about me giving her Gladhand's head gift-wrapped in a box. But instead she took it out on a pile of conjured dishes, flung against a wall.
The next day's Prophet was blank. "The most truthful edition they've ever put out," more than one person observed.
I couldn't prevent lies from being printed, but I could prevent them from getting to the readers. Fading ink looked perfectly normal when the papers were fresh off the presses, but within three hours after being exposed to air it was paper-colored.
That was probably the last time I'd be able to break into the Prophet's office. They'd increased the guard staff to the point that I had trouble doing my mischief without having to hurt someone. That was ok. Ever-more security on payroll played into my next line of offense. Assuming they didn't knock it off with the attacks and stick to straight reporting of the news. Yah, right.
The disappearing ink was nothing more than another delaying tactic. We had major lines of attack. The first was a long-term investigation into links between the ministry and the newspaper. "Follow the money", but also follow the paper trail. It seemed that magical reporters were like their non-magical counterparts, never throwing away any notes or first drafts. If the ministry was telling the Prophet what to print, there should be records somewhere.
… Assuming my spy was honest, competent, and actually working for me. This was my (and Tracey's) first experience with hiring a spy, er, covert investigator, and she may be playing me for a fool.
The second was a look at the Prophet's star "investigative" reporters. Skeeter was an unregistered animagus, which she used to spy on meetings and people. Gladhand probably had something equivalent. So far as I could tell, the wizarding world didn't have anything resembling thorough, logical investigation, in the DMLE or anywhere else. It was possible that Gladhand had picked up techniques from muggles, but it seemed more likely that she had some cheat. We had people looking into ways to knock both of the nuisances out of the business.
Our third approach wasn't quite as upright and honest as paying someone to dig through old records or to look for blackmail material. I wanted to put the Prophet into such financial trouble that I could buy a major interest in it. To this end I was interfering with their production and deliveries when I got the chance. Industrial sabotage. I'll be honest with myself even if my methods had Tracey's approval and we were keeping it quiet.
The Prophet's office was warded against howlers. Not surprising. And just as well. I'd found, when I created a few test howlers with intent, that they were loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss… to people in the next room. The recipient wouldn't have to worry about his ears because the howler's detonation was like a hand grenade. But, as I said, it's just as well the offices were warded against howlers. This was the kinder, gentler Harry, the one who didn't frighten his girlfriend by doing things like shred people who told lies about him.
But kinder, gentler Harry, the public-spirited philanthropist, had a public service announcement to make. And Harry the businessman had something to sell.
"Rita Skeeter is an unregistered beetle animagus! No one's private life is safe as long as she's able to sneak around. You can buy these anti-animagus wards to put in your windows and doors, five for a galleon."
Digging into Gladhand's secrets didn't reveal much, and nothing we could blackmail her with. All I was able to get was a bit from her estranged husband about how she was honest, single-minded, and relentless once she got an idea in her head. Not a sleaze like Skeeter, writing any outrageous lie to sell copy or for her own sick amusement, but a True Believer who had come to truly believe that I would be the death of the wizarding world. That didn't explain the viciousness of her attacks on Tracey and her family. However, Tracey was pretty, and growing beautiful as she matured, whereas Gladhand… In the non-magical world I'd have said she'd been cursed with ugliness. In the magical world, that might not be just an expression. Anyway, it could be simple jealousy of a woman who might be using her looks as a path to wealth and power. That seems too easy an answer, but no one could come up with any other explanation.
Not having any blackmail material on Gladhand left me unsure of what to do. Kinder, gentler Harry wasn't going to feed her to pigs, though resisting that temptation was hard, very hard. In the end I decided that the line was publishing my home address or the Davises' address. If she didn't cross the line I'd ignore her like a yapping dog.
Tracey and I complained about it to each other when it became especially wearisome. The nonsense printed in the Prophet was annoying but easily ignored through the simple expedient of not subscribing to or reading the paper. But the ordinary people who read the Prophet… what was wrong with them? How could they take their opinions from a rag whose lies changed from day to day? Either there is something wrong with wizards' brains or these people never learned skepticism and logic as children.
"Next is Natalie Davis. Natalie, come up here and tell us about your guest and then he can talk."
I was here in Nat's first grade classroom, standing against the wall rather than folding myself into the pint-sized chair next to the teacher's desk. Nat had asked me to come in so she could let everyone see her favorite thing. Show-and-Tell Harry, lined up with hamsters and tattered books, no doubt. Why not? I took it in good humor. Nat didn't even have to use puppy eyes to get me to agree.
"Harry is lots of fun and he always pushes me on the swing and chases me around and he took me to the amusement park and my sister lives with him so I don't have to share a room. He has a big house and lots of houses and a bank and other stuff. And he's a good cook, too!"
"Hello, everyone. As Natalie said, I'm Harry. I'm her sister's boyfriend, and when I'm around Nat I play with her so she doesn't feel left out." Let's just slide around the "lives with" part while we're in a first grade classroom, shall we?
"Mr Potter, can you tell the class about yourself? Natalie said you have lots of houses. You're a landlord?"
"I'm a businessman. I own a bit of property and rent it out. I started a bank last year and it's doing well. And I do a few other things here and there."
"How did you do all that? You're hardly old enough to have finished school, let alone start businesses."
"No, I never finished school and I didn't learn anything useful past primary school. Ah, listen up, kids. I got my start in business because I inherited the money and property to get started. I never finished school, and if it hadn't been for my parents I'd probably be washing dishes for a living. Unless your parents are really rich, you need to stay in school and study hard and learn everything you can so you can get a good job."
Aside from describing the hundred tasks a landlord does, that was about all there was to the Show and Tell. But it got me thinking.
The destruction of the Fudge-Yaxley bank had several unexpected effects. Well, one that I'd somewhat expected and several others which I hadn't. The bank's little mishap greatly affected the wizarding economy. It's not that F-Y coins were predominant or especially desired, but the ministry continued to deal only with that brand of lead galleons. That's it for what I'd expected.
Now, with the surprise loss of their vault at F-Y Central, the ministry was in a cash crunch. Payday was coming and the employees weren't going to be put off with IOUs as they were last time. Neither were the ministry's suppliers, and this time the ministry didn't have the brute force to force the issue. Yet another benefit of my defending myself from the ministry's goon squad. If they'd spent more time hunting Riddle and his playmates and less time shaking down honest citizens, maybe more of them would be alive today. And if snorkacks crapped gold, we wouldn't have had an economic meltdown last year. (I wonder what Luna's doing? She left school at the same time I did, right after her OWLs, and reportedly left the country. I always knew she was smart.)
So the ministry needed money right away. The F-Y bank wasn't officially out of business, but they had only small amounts available and limited capacity for making more. Not enough in the time needed. The Greengrass (formerly Malfoy) bank had folded months ago. Their coins traded on par with old goblin galleons, which is fair because they were nothing goblin galleons with a new bank's name stamped on top. And now that I thought about it, I should look up whoever did that work and see how he did it. He didn't entirely break the goblins' anti-tampering charms, but bypassed them somehow. Maybe I could use that technique to go through the rest of my mountain of galleons.
So, to return from yet another digression, the ministry needed money and they needed it quick. Walsh quite correctly passed the buck to me. Partner or no, this was beyond his ability. He and Gamp joined me on my side of the table for the confrontation, er, meeting.
"Potter, we've come to offer you a deal. You're in a lot of trouble with the ministry, both criminal trouble and other legal trouble. I don't think I need to waste all of our time reciting your list of crimes. It's enough to say that you would never leave Azkaban and everything you own wouldn't cover the fines. But to save the trouble and expense of the trials we're willing to make a deal. You give the ministry the money to cover expenses for the next six months and we won't bring you to trial so long as you keep your nose clean. Do we have a deal?"
I'd prepared myself with a calming draught, expecting to need to keep my temper under control. The potion also damped my laughter down to two whoops and a few giggles, er chuckles. "No deal. I'm not going to voluntarily subject myself to trial by the thieves and extortionists on the Wizengamot. I doubt you can drag me in for a trial. You're having a bit of a staffing problem, aren't you, what with people not wanting to slave away for lead? And that was even before your pet bank went boom.
"I'll make you a counter-offer. If you can provide enough security, backed by oath to honor the debt, I'll open a ministry account and loan you enough money for operating expenses. Mr Walsh and Mr Gamp will work out terms and the security.
"Criminal charges and probation are not a part of this deal. First, I've never been informed of these so-called charges. It's interesting that the aurors, the dark wizard catchers, were ordered to arrest me without knowing why. They themselves are breaking the law every time they try. Second, I frankly doubt your entire auror force could bring me in. Do you think I've shown you all of my tricks? You don't even know where I live. Third, if there's a move to arrest me or to try me in absentia or to close my bank, I'll close my doors and make sure everyone in Britain knows that the ministry did it. What do you think will happen to the economy when the only remaining bank closes? Here's a hint: More than a quarter of the magical families and more than half of the businesses now have accounts with me. And fourth, if anything happens to me, certain photographs, certain documents, and certain memories will find their way to the newspapers and a few honest Wizengamot members. On that topic, give this envelope to the minister. He'll want to open it in private." That was nothing but negotiating bluff. The envelope had only a note expressing hope that the ministry and we could work together for mutual benefit.
"Gentlemen, now that the true balance of power has been disclosed, I'll leave you to work out your deal."
The rest of that tale is really Walsh's story, not mine. We made a bundle. It wasn't so much the terms of the ministry loan, which were very generous by any standard. No, it was the fact that the Decent Folk Bank now had official ministry imprimatur that got us more business. And, though it took the F-Y bank only a month or so to "rebrand" enough goblin galleons for the next month's payroll, the ministry met with a bit of resistance when it tried to force the staff to take the worthless lead. Who would have guessed that ordinary people preferred money that was worth something? Well, who besides me.
Getting the ministry's business wasn't the last ripple effect of the Fudge-Yaxley bank fire. I wore myself down to a frazzle, making more of my coins with the correct magical signature. Most of the new business, like most of the old, would be done with accounting entries, but we needed to put thousands more coins in circulation and I had only a week to make them.
This led me to form another company and hire a number of researchers. One was experienced in "normal" spell crafting and ward development, but she were there mostly to show how not to go about it. Mostly what I was looking for was a questioning attitude toward what everyone else accepted as the unquestioned foundations of our world, along with wild creativity. It was these traits, not any prejudice I may have against purebloods, that resulted in my team members all being muggle-born. Some weren't even magical. I'd hired an engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician who each had a magical sibling or child.
"Gentlemen, ladies, welcome. I told you a little of this when we interviewed. Now that we're all together I'll tell you my goals and then set you loose.
"I want to overturn the way magic is used. I want to overturn the way magic is viewed.
"Scientists in the muggle world have figured out a lot of how the world works, from chemistry to electricity to thermodynamics. And engineers have taken that and figured out how to make things better for everyone. Look at the chairs you're sitting on: plastic and metal made on an assembly line. An engineer designed the chair and the machines to make the chair, and then a man with no education can run the machines and make a thousand chairs a day.
"I want you to study how magic works so we can do some of the same thing magically. I want to harness magical energy so we can make machines to make things so that someone other than a transfiguration master can make consumer goods. I want a magical clothes washer that costs less than six months' salary because we don't need charms masters to make them and I want potions mixing machines. I want to be able to make a thousand portkeys in a day without exhausting a hundred wizards.
"And here's my ultimate goal: I want magical devices that muggles can use. I want Joe Average to walk into his house, flip on the electric lights, knock over the knickknack he got on vacation, and use a reparo-in-a-box to fix it like new. Or he can take a portkey and go get another. If we can let muggles use magic or at least take advantage of it, we can bring down the wall between our worlds.
"So there's my dream. I don't expect immediate results. If you're still interested, work for a year and we'll see where we are then. I'm rich enough to pay for my dream for a long while before it has to pay for itself."
"Hey, Sweetie, you're missing supper. You don't want to make Tapper upset after he made roast beef and Yorkshire pudding just for you, do you?" Tracey had been working long hours lately. I knew vaguely what most of it was: helping in her parents' business, working with me on dealing with problems, and working with a few others on a couple of charity projects like feeding poor children. (A cynical reading of recent history would suggest that the well-intentioned feeding of poor children would lead in a few decades to even more poor, hungry children. But I kept my peace and helped fund her charities.)
We'd both cut back where we could. The elves now did all of the cooking except once in a while when the two of us would cook for fun together to relax. I'd hired several people to sort the gold galleons from the lead; our time was too valuable to spend that way. People now accepted that Walsh was a partner in the Decent Folk Bank of England and no longer insisted that I be present in the meetings that had been eating my days. And I was helping Tracey with her charities. It was very impressive, watching her set a goal and then go after it energetically and relentlessly. I had provided Tracey with a downtown office suite and a couple of assistants to do the scut-work, freeing her up to drum up support and get volunteers and what-not.
Despite this, Tracey had been working long hours, skimping on sleep, and even missing meals. This would not do! I pulled her out of her office. "Planning for the fund-raiser will keep until after supper. You don't want to pass out from hunger. And smeared ink stains on your face would make you look Goth, and that's just not you."
After a delicious and filling supper — more filling for her than for me, as I'd instructed Tapper to keep her plate filled — I brought up her many activities.
"Tell me, Tracey, how is it you're so driven now? When we got together, you were just drifting, trying to figure out what to do with your life. You said it yourself. But now, you're something else." I meant that as nothing but praise. She kept me on track when I was getting lost in details, inspired me when it all seemed pointless, and helped me find non-lethal ways of dealing with problems.
"Oh, Prince Charming, before you came along my life was meaningless."
"I see. So you were just waiting for the right man to make everything all right. You know, if either of us said that out in the Muggle world today, we'd have to run away from a lynch mob. Really, though, what's changed? I liked having you around when you were just a nice and pretty girl, but now I really like being with you. You're more… inspiring. I dream bigger and work harder because I'm trying to match the example you're setting."
Tracey was looking pleased and flattered as I spoke, but looked startled and started giggling after I finished. "Oh, Harry, that's so funny. I'm dreaming bigger and working harder because I'm trying to match the example you're setting."
"We're quite the pair, aren't we?"
We laughed at ourselves a moment before I asked, "So, should we each keep working hard to keep up with the other, or should we both step back and relax?"
Tracey leaned back and regarded me over her wineglass. "You can be great, Harry. Not ordinary 'save the girl from the monster' great but 'your name going down in history' great. Just trying to live your life, you've shaken wizarding society. What can you do if you set your mind on making the world a better place?"
It was my turn to sit back. "That's tempting. Not the fame, but making things better. But I'm not sure I trust my judgement. Or anyone's judgement. Look at Dumbledore. I truly believe he thinks he's doing the right thing – working on the side of the Light, he always said – and look at what he's done for his Greater Good."
"Behind every great man –"
"– is a woman rolling her eyes?"
"No, you goof. Behind every great man –"
"– is a woman checking out his butt?"
"No! Will you stop it? I'm being serious here. Behind every great man is a woman keeping him on track. Dumbledore didn't have anyone, did he? That's why he went off track."
"You might be right. I'd had the same thought a couple times when I was trying to figure out what's wrong with him. I don't think he's evil and I don't think he's senile. I think he just got used to being the only one he could trust to work toward his Greater Good."
Tracey's eyes half closed in what I recognized as an idea being born. I pulled out a journal and worked quietly. Experience suggested the idea was worth waiting for.
It's obvious you're not going to leave me alone. Unless you are obsessed with my young, fit, male body, it must be because you're afraid I'll turn into another dark lord.
Let me assure you, I have no intention of becoming a dark lord. Despite your best attempts to turn me into another Tom Riddle, I do not wish to rule anyone. I merely wish to get on with my life. Doing well by doing good, so to speak.
As tempting as it is to see which of us would come out on top in an all-out war, that would be too destructive, to us and everyone around us. Instead, I propose an exchange of oaths: I will swear to work for the betterment of the magical world and you will swear to cease operating against me and trying to control me.
Perhaps we can come to another mutually beneficial agreement. We have each done things, some legal, some not, which would not withstand public scrutiny. If you exert your influence to prevent any prosecution or harassment for any of my questionable acts, I will prevent the publication of the wills, pensieve memories, notarized testimony, and other materials I have gathered over the years. I believe it is for the Greater Good that all of the potential unpleasantness be kept under covers while the magical world is in such disarray.
Contact me at your convenience. An owl to my bank is your best bet.
Regards, Harry Potter Vanquisher of Tom Riddle, Feeder of Hungry Children, Restarter of the British Wizarding Economy
And just like that, my biggest problems were gone. Well, not "just like that". It took weeks of back-and-forth to negotiate the wording of the oaths. I spent a good amount of coin on wizarding solicitors, an arithmancer, and even a magic-aware muggle solicitor. Money well spent: the old bastard's first offering had no fewer than four loopholes that would have left him free to act as he wished. A sharply worded rebuke and a sharp cutback in what I was offering to swear to made him realize I was serious.
But eventually we mashed together an agreement that gave me everything I wanted. Mainly, Dumbledore would not interfere with what I was doing. He could be assured that anything I did would be for the betterment of all wizard kind. My oath wouldn't let me do otherwise. Oh, I had a bit of wiggle room: I could become as dark as I wanted, I just couldn't act on any of my new inclinations. I could also leave and not come back.
Dumbledore would ensure that the ministry's and Wizengamot's complaints against me would be dropped. I can't say that the charges would be dropped, because no charges had actually been filed. This was more than I had originally asked, but he needed to be punished for attempting to jerk me around with the oaths. On my side, I declined to press charges against the ministry for persecuting me without following their own legal requirements.
And finally, Dumbledore would sponsor me for a Wizengamot seat as soon as I was old enough, 25. Many seats had come open recently and the oligarchic families and groups, which normally kept every seat to themselves, had suffered many losses in the past year. Frankly, I wasn't sure I wanted it, but it would be good to keep my options open. The cost for this sponsorship was me telling him how I defeated Riddle. I have no idea why the old man was so interested in learning this, but I'd gladly use his obsession against him.
Dumbledore might be a manipulative old coot, far too full of his own legend and probably well past the point at which he should have retired to write his memoirs, but it seemed he really was light-sided in his goals. Not so much in his methods, but who am I to talk? "I had to destroy this society in order to save it," to paraphrase from a war from before I was born.
I could finally admit that I wouldn't be able to fix everything wrong with society in a few months or a year. Probably not in my lifetime, even if I didn't get myself killed young. It was time to set things up so improvements would continue without me shepherding them.
Now that people were eating and commercing and questioning the status quo and not needing me to wipe their runny noses, it was time to look to the future.
The biggest problem with wizarding society is that wizards are stupid. Maybe I'm biased. Dumbledore, the ministry, and the purebloods had an unhealthy interest in me. They were most of the people causing me problems. Purebloods, most of them. Hogwarts graduates, all of them. And stupid, almost all of them. Maybe the former didn't cause the latter, but what if it did?
I'd take a wild stab and say that Hogwarts makes wizards stupid. If I were a scientist, I'd design a study to test family influence, school influence, and career choice after graduation. And I'd have to define an objective measurement of stupidity. But I'm not a scientist. I'm a problem solver. It seemed to me that most Hogwarts graduates are stupid, whereas most of the sensible wizards are from other schools.
So, what about spending seven years at Hogwarts makes a wizard stupid? Let me count the ways.
Reliance on memorization and on following instructions by rote. No time at all is spent on developing new spells or potions or on encouraging the students to find creative solutions to problems.
Too few teachers for the number of students. Incompetent or biased teachers who interfere with learning.
Hands-off and biased teachers who encourage bullying by teaching bullies that they won't be punished and by teaching the victims that the authorities won't help them. In fact, the victims are usually punished if they fight back.
House divisions which go well beyond healthy competition and into armed conflict.
Text books and library books with contradictory "facts" and outright nonsense, but treated as unquestionable truth merely because it was in print.
And finally: Dumbledore, the previous generation's savior who has his hands in everything but doesn't seem to do much. Everyone relies on him to fix every problem and then gives up on doing anything themselves when he doesn't. He has so many balls in the air that he lets things drop all the time.
I'd have to take a lesson from that last one: decide what's most important and focus on that. Unload or delegate everything else. If I was going to be overturning the world, I didn't need to be unstopping a toilet because one of my tenant's toddlers had flushed a wash rag.
And another lesson from Dumbledore: don't let the world dump everything on my shoulders. That wasn't much of a problem, as I'd been rejecting savior-hood since forever. Just something to keep in mind.
Regarding schools, like it or not, most of Wizarding Britain's future movers and shakers would be attending Hogwarts. To make the future a better place, it made sense to turn Hogwarts into a better place.
"Dumbledore, have you thought about some of the problems with Hogwarts? Graduates have practical wand-waving skills but no ability to reason or research or think." I laid out the things I thought were wrong with the school, trying to be somewhat non-confrontational about it.
Non-confrontation is not one of my skills. Dumbledore seemed to take the shortcomings personally. "Harry, I'm afraid that you lack the experience and wisdom to have an informed opinion on these matters. While your oath ensures that you do your best for our world, your best is not necessarily good enough. I suggest that you stick to your little bank and leave education to the professionals."
Flat failure. And my poor approach combined with Dumbledore's ego and elephantine memory pretty well guaranteed that coming back in six months wouldn't fare any better.
Plan B: Find a different school. If necessary, fund an expansion or improvements to increase its prestige. Use my own prestige to attract students likely to become the next generation's leaders.
I thought briefly about starting a school of my own, but I was already stretched pretty thin. Tracey, too. And Dumbledore was right about one thing: no matter how many flaws I could point out with Hogwarts, I was in no way qualified to found or run a school.
I also thought about bypassing formal schooling entirely and hiring tutors for any children I might have. But I felt resistance to that idea, coming from deep inside. While my oath did not absolutely require me to do everything in my power to fix every problem in the wizarding world, it seemed to make me uncomfortable when I thought about things that would benefit myself but not the rest of the world. Rather annoying, actually.
But one thing was set in stone: There was no way Lily Marie Potter would attend Hogwarts while Dumbledore was still there.
We needed to get started on this soon. It would take months or a year to canvas all of the various schools and pick the best. Assuming the best didn't meet all of our desires, it would take more time to buy our way in and begin the improvements, and years to make the school the new standard for wizarding education in Britain.
In pillow talk one night a couple of months ago, Tracey had told me of her cunning plan to help her family and friends as well as herself. She'd noticed that, even though I had several businesses and was dealing with more and more people — non-lethally, I might add — I had been avoiding any kind of emotional or other commitment.
"Harry? I'm still worried that you might leave at any time. 'One more insult and I'm out of here,' I heard someone say once. I'd hate to leave my family and friends, but if you ask me to, I'll go with you. But I'm worried that Dumbledore will do something or the Daily Prophet will say something and one day I'll come home and you'll be gone. Except maybe Nat and me, you don't have any ties to our world. And if you leave, I'm worried that things will go back to the way they were, or even worse, and I still care about my family and friends.
"Harry, it took me a long time to think of a plan to give you ties to Wizarding Britain. It's a very cunning plan, if I do say so myself. But I know you hate to be manipulated, so I couldn't just carry out my plan without telling you.
"It's been a month since I took my contraceptive potion. There's still some in me, but a fertility charm would clear it away.
"Harry? If I tell you that I want to stay in Britain but that I want your baby, will that keep you here? Will you put one in me?"
I thought things through. Only for a few moments. Tracey's request came as a surprise but it wasn't too far from something I'd already planned for. There could be only one answer.
Nevertheless, Tracey looked worried when I didn't roll on top of her right away. And she grew downright distressed when I rolled out of bed and walked over to my discarded clothes and other gear. "Harry? I'm so sorry…"
I grabbed Tracey's left hand. "I won't 'put a baby in you' without a ring on your finger. Would an engagement ring be enough of a commitment for you, or do you still want the baby tonight?"
She got her big, round mouth and eyes under control, except for the huge smile. "I have to hear the words, Harry."
"Tracey, you came into my life as a beautiful damsel in distress. You helped me, I helped you, and we've done many things together. Since then you've grown into a wonderful, adult lady. You've helped me grow up, too, and you've driven me to accomplish great things. Would you stay with me for the rest of my life? Will you marry me, Tracey?" It's a good thing I'd rehearsed that. I'd expected to say it after a dinner date, probably with an audience. It's harder than you think, saying something as corny as that with any sincerity when you're kneeling next to a bed, naked.
Lily Marie may well have been conceived that night. Tracey showed me the fertility charm; her hand was shaking too much to cast it. Or maybe it was the unaccustomed weight on the one finger.
I worked in my office while Tracey and Lily slept, finishing up the paperwork to close another year. The bank was doing well, having settled down into a steady, reliable money maker with no surprises, exactly what a bank should be. My research institute had the beginnings of an automated assembly line and were making other progress. They weren't making a profit yet, but that wasn't their purpose. The Wizengamot and the ministry, well, they weren't honest and they weren't competent, but they were much better than they had been. Tracey and I had found a tiny mom-and-pop school whose focus was on building practical skills on a basis of skeptical inquiry. We were funding a great expansion; they already had plans in place but lacked the capital.
Without the ministry and Dumbledore actively blackening my name, most of the magical population was in love with me again. Teen Witch Weekly had again declared me the World's Most Eligible Bachelor and had requested a current photo "just to update their records". You could practically hear the wailing of a thousand young witches across the nation when the requested photo included my beautiful, glowingly pregnant wife.
So, at 21 years old I was rich, successful in both magical and muggle business, the acknowledged vanquisher of a dark lord, the unacknowledged reformer of the ministry and the Wizengamot and the world, the philanthropist who fed the children, happily married, and still the lust object of much of the youthful witch population.
All that and modest, too.