Chapter Four (Imagination Is Magic)
"I won't say it again, Potter," Headmaster Snape demanded. "Sit down."
Harry fell into a seat in the Headmaster's windowless office, much different from the space Dumbledore used that was still denied to Snape.
Harry had been summoned to this office to receive some sort of bad news. Neither Snape nor the unfamiliar wizard who'd come to do the briefing were in any hurry to break the quarantine.
Snape acted uncomfortable with Harry's confusion. The other man, though, didn't even hide his eagerness.
Finally, the man in the Ministry robes whose teeth were just as rotten as they had first seemed took a spot beside the still-seated Snape. "My name is Vicarius Lord Yaxley. I am a senior investigator for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Do you understand, Mr. Potter?"
The ugly man's voice danced with joy. It was no great stretch of the imagination that the man would gut unicorns and club kneazles if he could get away with it. For the pleasure he took in pain.
"Yes," Harry said.
"I am sorry to bring you this news. Your family has been attacked."
Did Yaxley mean the Dursleys? They were family in a technical sense, not that Harry would go out of his way to claim them. Non-magicals who gave non-magicals a bad name. But also Harry's legal guardians.
"Are they okay?"
Harry feared the worst. He didn't like them, but he didn't want them dead.
"We don't know," Yaxley said.
Harry sat deeper into the chair at the unexpected answer. He half expected to be told his relatives were murdered. But the Ministry was telling him about an attack and then about their unknown status.
Not knowing...it may have felt worse.
"Are my aunt and uncle in hospital?"
"I said, if you'll listen, that we don't know. They certainly aren't in St. Mungo's, of course. We know that much."
The man kept saying 'they.'
"My aunt? My uncle? Both of them?" Harry clarified.
"I believe there was also a cousin listed in your file? We haven't been able to locate the young man."
Dudley wouldn't have been back from Smeltings this early in the spring.
Harry's next question, 'what happens to me,' caused him to stop talking altogether.
That question, 'what happens to Harry Potter,' was the critical point. Wasn't it? Changing his fate was the point of disappearing Harry's family.
Living with the Dursleys had been no great pleasure. Living with uncertainty, with danger, that was worse. What would happen to Harry?
He tried to think through the implications.
They were many, vast. Very few positive, given the sadist with the rotten teeth in a key position at the Ministry.
This was now a dangerous time to be Harry Potter.
In fact, Harry was seated in a chair and not, as he'd feared a minute earlier, in a battle for his life against Snape or this Yaxley. Shooting spells and dodging and shielding.
Except that he was now in a battle for his life. Because of more devious minds, more subtle plots.
He didn't know the ways that laws regarded those still underage, but Harry doubted they'd be structured in his favor.
Harry was sick with anger.
"My aunt, my uncle, and my cousin?" Harry asked.
"Yes, haven't you been listening?"
The ministry man smiled, perhaps proud of his rotten teeth.
"He's trying to understand, Yaxley," Snape said.
Harry thought it might be the first time the man had ever publicly defended Harry. Could the day get any weirder or more painful?
"He's been told. We wasted enough time waiting for him to arrive. I was supposed to return to the Ministry for a meeting about Mr. Potter an hour ago."
The bureaucrat and his power and his meetings. Meetings about Harry that Harry wouldn't be invited to attend.
"Why would you have a meeting about me?"
"The Ministry cares about all of its citizens," Yaxley said without any conviction.
The Ministry only cared about itself, Harry thought.
Harry had been thinking and rethinking his path, this path of power he walked. The violence he'd done. The way he'd used dominance magic against Barty Crouch, Junior, and the Defense teacher, Umbridge. He had fewer qualms now.
Not when this was the face of law and order in magical Britain.
"I understand my family's old home, the one in Godric's Hollow, was also burned down."
"Yes, that's correct. I was at the scene investigating."
"Are the same people involved?"
"The thought never occurred to me. I will look into it." A taunting lilt to his words, bragging and daring and proud.
With that, Harry understood.
The man delivering this news had also been the one who created or participated in both these events. Yaxley had helped to burn the ruins. He had also been to Number 4 Privet Drive.
Harry didn't have a single fact to support that guess. But it felt true.
Even if the man hadn't gone in person, he approved in spirit.
Harry looked between Yaxley and Snape. He focused his magic and pushed. His magic brushed up against them.
They had similar features, similarities in their magic. There was a darkness rotting in both of them. They were of similar magical potential or strength. They were below what Harry now possessed although both likely had far better training and decades more experience.
Harry could crush them from where he sat. He could do it. He could make Snape murder the wizard with the rotten teeth. Harry thought about it.
It was so tempting.
But it was also so obvious. It would be out-of-character for this revised Snape. Someone would look for Imperius. Perhaps even find dominance magic, raw will, lingering.
He was tempted. First they'd burned the ruins at Godric's Hollow, a reminder of the deaths of James and Lily Potter and also of Harry Potter's survival against Voldemort. Now they came even closer to Harry. He'd need new guardians.
Proper wizarding guardians.
Harry could only guess who might be in charge of judging suitability. This man with the rotten teeth? Lucius Malfoy directly? Anyone with a stake in seeing the legend of the Boy-Who-Lived broken?
The Ministry was a stinking cesspool right now. Their building had been overtaken by a waterfall and a kind of jungle environment and new species of animated stone figurines. People were flocking to stare at the Crystal Tower, at a feat of greater magic, at aspiration for something greater than a jug of firewhiskey on a Saturday night.
Harry could picture it in his mind. Snape casting a deadly spell. Yaxley exploding against the wall.
He could do it.
Both Yaxley and Snape were staring at Harry.
Harry scrambled for a sensible question that didn't involve asking Snape his favorite spell for disemboweling people he hated.
"How will you investigate?" Harry asked.
There was no interest.
Harry would have been surprised a year or two earlier. Hadn't Cornelius Fudge once claimed 'he needed to be seen doing something?'
Now the man was dead. That philosophy had also perished.
According to Dumbledore's book on power, the Ministry had existed for centuries by being useful to the masses, making a point of keeping its tax burden low, providing services that people would be compelled to pay for, alcohol and transportation and regulation of sporting events.
The New Ministry didn't even pretend to be useful. It sent out men with bad teeth to cause crime, not solve it. The New Ministry decided upon using fear to cement its worth.
The first lashes of the dying Ministry fell against Harry or, more precisely, the Dursley family. Harry heard from this unreliable source that they were missing. Missing could mean hostages, could mean ransoming, could mean dead and hidden away.
"Your next actions?" Harry pushed.
"Our investigation has been inconclusive."
Of course, you carried it out. That's the benefit of investigating yourself and your friends.
"What do you know?"
"We are quite sure magic was involved. After all, the sensors that monitored the area for underage magic began pinging. You were almost sent a letter expelling you, until a junior assistant realized the letter would be sent to you at Hogwarts. You couldn't be committing a violation of underage magic laws if you were tucked away here."
"You were here?"
"He was," Snape affirmed.
Yaxley hadn't expected a different answer. "There's no blood on the premises. No sign of where they were taken."
"What will you do now?" Harry asked.
"Do? I'm afraid we've done what we can."
They were Muggles after all, the wizard didn't bother to say. Muggles he had a hand in disposing of. A full service Ministry: we murder your muggles and then bungle the investigation into the murder.
"Except for settling your summer arrangements." He flashed his rotten teeth again. "Your temporary custodian and all that."
'Temporary guardian.' Harry now fell into a land of loopholes.
There were probably different procedures if his relatives were known to be dead. Known to be missing...there had to be a reason that people like this Yaxley had taken so much care.
Perhaps this didn't trigger wills and estates.
Perhaps this allowed the Ministry a much fuller voice in what happened to Harry during these 'temporary' times of emergency.
"You didn't think to ask, did you? About what the Ministry will do now that you're temporarily without a guardian."
"No." Harry had been thinking about it. Nothing good.
"Of course, the Headmaster of Hogwarts will serve as his guardian," Snape said. Meaning himself.
No great relief to Harry.
"During term time, yes."
"What do you propose for the school holidays?" Snape asked.
"Well, the Ministry will take a deep interest in the young man's welfare."
Harry had never heard more bland, more chilling words. 'Deep interest.'
"Upon his return to London in six weeks, a Ministry representative will collect him."
"And take me where?"
"To the Ministry for a hearing. We'll assign you a temporary guardian."
Harry bit his tongue. His first impulse had been to remind these people that he had a guardian, Sirius Black. Of course the Ministry would never admit fault in anything. It would rather clean up its messes with a Dementor than an apology.
Harry suspected if he arrived at the platform and went with the Ministry representatives his life would become nasty, brutish, and short. He would be dead or disappeared, too. In the best case, merely signed up to a dozen different oaths that left him able to breathe and use the toilet. Everything else would be based on gaining permission first.
No, Harry thought. He wouldn't let the Ministry do as it wanted. He wouldn't accepted a temporary guardian.
If he had to drown every person who worked in the Ministry, Harry was preparing himself to do it.
At a time of his choosing. Not theirs. He would make sure he left behind no evidence of his involvement.
"Well, that's what he needed to know," Yaxley said. "Do you have any other questions?"
"Please find them." Harry even meant it. It also happened to be the typical, expected response. Useless here because of this man's culpability, but Harry said it because he might be expected to say it.
"Well, we've exhausted all our options."
Harry realized how pointless it was to keep asking questions.
Snape looked between Yaxley and his student. "I'll see you out," the Headmaster said to the ministry man.
"Potter, keep your seat. I won't be a minute."
The men left Harry in the small, cramped office. Snape had his pick of an entire castle and he picked a room without a window. It wasn't even a dungeon room, but it still had no window. As if brewing potions for so many years left him unable to tolerate the sun.
Harry looked at the walls. Unlike Dumbledore's office, there were no portraits on the wall here. There was little decoration as it was.
The door flew open and the Headmaster returned.
Harry stood up.
Snape got behind his desk and looked out at his student. There was no sneer. There was no anger on his face. Harry couldn't tell what the man was thinking.
"I knew your aunt. She was a dreadful person."
Harry didn't nod and didn't say anything. Harry knew better than to ask questions of this man. He was surprised Snape was talking to Harry the same way a person might talk to another person. No looming, no potential violence lingering just below the surface.
"This 'disappearance' won't be an improvement in your situation."
"I realize that," Harry said.
"You have six weeks remaining at Hogwarts this year. I suggest you use the time well."
Get a mind, Potter. Get a plan. Get a clue. Harry could read the words this polite Snape wasn't saying.
"Yes, sir." Harry took the comment as dismissal. He stood.
"You have no way to know this, but I have changed how the wards analyze the castle and the grounds."
Harry shook his head. He had no idea what Snape was trying to say.
Snape eyed the student under his charge. "I'm aware of your leaving the Hogwarts grounds."
"The castle wards watch you and any others who venture into the forest."
All those times Harry felt eyes on him. He'd felt the Hogwarts wards trying to protect him?
"Did Dumbledore do the same?"
"I couldn't say what the...Headmaster did, how he had his wards arranged. I chose to batten them down, as if a storm were coming."
Snape was a very different person since his promotion. Harry chose to sit and listen.
"The world is changing. Traditionalists, such as someone who would introduce himself as a Lord as this Yaxley just did, his family were hedge wizards just one generation back. No lords from such poor stock, in galleons, in brains, in magic, in nobility of purpose. Traditionalists won't sit for the changes they can see coming – or the fear they have boiling inside them for the changes they suspect lurk in the future. They are terrified. Those in terror react in predictable ways. Some pretend it isn't happening. Some flee. Some try to make some advantage of the terror they know that they and others feel. They push past their fear to inflict more fear, more terror, in the hopes of profiting by it."
"This Yaxley is a hungry man. I won't say that I don't know him. I do, a bit. Not well. But the only characteristic that I remembered about the man was his aggressiveness and ambition. He sees something in you or the legend of you that he can profit by. You will do well to remember that magic can make good things better, Potter. It can also make bad things much worse. Yaxley falls in the much worse side of the line."
"I understand, sir."
"Take care if you venture into the forest again. We haven't yet dealt with the acromantula problem out there. It's planned for this summer."
"Thank you for telling me."
Harry waited. Snape said nothing else. Harry got up and left the room.
He walked slowly down the hall. Harry had the impression Snape knew something of what Harry was doing. That the man approved. That the man wished Harry to go even bigger. He was trying to get Harry to go big game hunting.
He took a turn and another, walking in circles, turning every leaf of the conversation over. The man with the rotten teeth. What he said, what he implied.
The Dursleys might be missing, but they were also certainly dead.
Just legally held in limbo to give the Ministry more claim to Harry.
By the time he got to the portrait guardian of Gryffindor Tower, Harry had a sketch of a plan in mind. He would go hunting. Very big game.
Harry looked around the common room. He saw Hermione reading. He walked toward her. He must have made some noise.
Hermione looked up. "You're late."
The room was full enough, loud enough, to have a brief conversation with his friend.
"The Headmaster needed a word."
"Have you been put into perpetual detention until you graduate?"
Harry smiled a little. "No, the Headmaster is a different person from the arse they had teaching potions here."
Hermione shrugged, not agreeing.
"There was this horrible man from the Ministry present. He came to tell me my relatives have been attacked..."
"...and have disappeared." Harry was almost whispering the last words.
Hermione had a tear roll down her cheek.
"Don't cry for them."
"I'm not. I'm crying for you, Harry."
Hermione always had been smarter than anyone Harry knew. She understood at least some of what Harry had spent some time guessing.
Hermione pushed some of her books to the floor and pulled Harry onto the couch. She didn't try to hug him or cry on him. She just sat next to him. She cried. He sat stony faced. Still, he didn't get up. He didn't move away.
He sat and listened to Hermione cry the tears that he couldn't.
"It's okay," Harry said.
"I should be comforting you."
"I'd accept it if I stubbed my toe. But...the Dursleys..."
The only reason Harry was as upset as he was: 'what happened to Harry.' This Ministry plot to gain control of Harry.
His words, his lack of concern for his aunt and uncle, all that Hermione could imagine about their treatment of her friend (and maybe more someday) just made Hermione cry a bit harder. He let the moments slip past them. Eventually the tears receded and the discomfort Harry felt retreated.
"I might need your help," he said.
"I need to get off the grounds. I need someone to cover for me while I'm gone."
"Where are you going?"
She hadn't said no.
"I need to see it."
Hermione nodded. Her head slowed before it stopped moving. Harry recognized this as how she looked when she was thinking deeply, completely.
"Might this be an ambush?"
Harry paused and turned the question over a few times. It could. Yaxley could be waiting at that perfectly ordinary, perfectly beastly little house.
"You still need to go?"
"Let's talk it through. What could an ambush look like? How can you prepare? How can you respond?"
The girl needed to know everything about everything. Harry found, in this case, that he didn't mind.
She was concerned for him.
He humored her. He also sharpened his own wits before walking into something dangerous, a place wizards with decades of experience might just be waiting.
Still, Harry needed to see. He needed to have a chance at being close to what had happened.
He stayed longer with Hermione than he needed to.
Some closeness just then suited him fine. It was...nice.
Harry arrived and crouched on the grass a moment. He patted himself down, counting fingers and ears and wiggling his toes inside his shoes.
His first experiment with apparating went fine. No splinching.
He moved rapidly to some hedges a few doors down from Number Four. He waited and he watched. Could the Ministry trace his apparition?
He didn't hear anyone else apparating in.
Were there people already here, waiting for Harry? Hermione's ambush hypothesis.
Harry sat and watched and listened. Cars moved around the not-too-busy street. People were outside talking, a few with grills. Harry got a bit hungry from the smells.
As the last strains of the daylight vanished, Harry felt more confident. He hadn't heard any sounds he associated with wizards.
Unless, of course, the ambush had been set up before Harry arrived.
He waited until the night was firmly in control before he stood up and walked down the sidewalk. He took a slow pace toward the house. He walked around it once. Nothing to see.
He peered in a window at the side.
There were still lights on inside, the collection of appliances in the kitchen with little lights or clocks. The television with a red power light. Harry did see much, but what he did notice suggested nothing out of place in Petunia Dursley's perfect little sphere.
Harry stepped into the backyard again. Even though the attack had to be hours or days past, Harry thought he could still feel magic all around him.
He pushed out with his own.
He felt the lingering magic more intensely.
He thickened the magic he sent out.
He felt an inclination to form his magic in a particular way. He'd never used this arrangement before. He wasn't even sure where the idea came from. It was just a sense Harry had, like some kind of magical sensor informing him of things. Perhaps it was his magic itself trying to give Harry the information he wanted.
A wonderful and terrifying concept that Harry's magic was trying to talk to Harry.
Harry reformed his magic. He pushed outward again. Light appeared from inside the house.
He saw a ghost figure inside. An apparition. Harry looked in the window. His Aunt Petunia, a color washed, flickering, translucent Aunt Petunia, slaved over the cutting board. He watched her make herself a salad while turning four pork chops over in a pan on the hob.
Harry stepped back. Looked at her from a different angle. The resemblance was shocking.
The whole experience, even for a boy who was around ghosts many times a month, was hair raising.
The 'how' boggled his mind. He'd just pushed his magic into the lingering traces of the attack. How was he now seeing what non-magical people had done?
The only thing that he could think of was this: magic persisted. It had a memory. It remembered. It wanted to speak to those who wanted to ask it questions. All Harry had to do was to form up his magic in the correct configuration.
He didn't even know this was possible.
Harry had heard none of that in the drips and drabs of magical theory he'd gotten from his classes. Nor from the hand-written volume Dumbledore had gifted Hermione and him. Nor the books Dumbledore left for Harry in his will.
This was magic beginning to tell Harry how to do magic.
He shook his head. He'd have to consider this later. Perhaps he'd first have to talk one of the Weasley twins into selling him some firewhiskey. He might just need to be a touch tipsy to really think this through.
Harry returned to his earlier vantage. He watched ghost-Petunia some more.
Eventually the food made it to plates. The salad and one chop to one plate. A few pieces of cut tomato and three chops on the other. Harry could guess who was to receive which.
The ghost-Petunia called out and ghost-Vernon appeared. They sat at the table and didn't speak to one another. Vernon worked double-time with his fork and knife, slamming through chop after chop. Ignoring even a few bits of tomato.
He was almost at the end of his third chop when he slumped forward into his plate.
Harry had an idea of what was coming, but he still jumped a bit. He looked around. He was along. This entire experience creeped him out.
Harry watched Ghost-Petunia open her mouth to scream before she slumped forward.
A moment later a ghost-Yaxley followed by a ghost-Malfoy and two other translucent figures entered the kitchen.
Just like that.
They'd walked right onto Privet Drive and into the house.
Even with all the assurances of the late Dumbledore. It had been so simple for these men to arrive.
The ghostly attackers proceeded to use spells on the stunned Petunia and Vernon. Harry saw a vague purple color to the spells. He watched their bodies mummify, water pulled out of the tissue moment by moment, killing the still living in the worst way possible.
Harry had to look away more than once.
The process wasn't instantaneous. It took minutes to do what deserts took months or years. The magic was fast, yes, but it was gruesome to behold.
The kitchen emptied for a few moments save for the mummies at the table.
The four returned.
They'd been searching the house, Harry assumed.
Malfoy said something. Harry couldn't hear the words. Then Ghost-Malfoy vanished the remains. Then did the same at the plates of food. He sent cleaning charms, shocking that he knew any, at the area where Petunia had prepared the meal.
Leaving no evidence whatsoever.
Malfoy had some experience doing things like this. Harry wondered how many people had disappeared just this way during Voldemort's first rise to power?
Harry watched the men. The four wasted little time once the kitchen was clean. They left and the vision ended.
Harry looked at the table. The table where they'd sat eating dinner. Vernon and Petunia were dead before they'd known a thing.
It was something close to what Harry expected.
It was horrible to witness, but it was final.
Harry only had to wonder about Dudley. He supposed there was Aunt Marge as well.
Harry didn't know what to do with them.
But Yaxley, Malfoy, the others. He needed something spectacular for them. Awe-raising and memorable and permanent. Painful was good. But something that wouldn't be forgotten for decades. Something to make Malfoy a reminder about the penalties of evil.
Harry had been a fool in his early years in the magical world. He was no longer anyone's fool.
By the first of June, the Ministry employees had become inured to their working conditions. New spaces had been found for most of the staffers whose work was on the bottom two floors. Of course, much of the material in the Department of Mysteries was still below water so there wasn't much work for the Unspeakables to perform, except for attempts to reclaim their domain.
Magical pumps failed. Manual pumps couldn't keep up. They'd even run in electrical lines so they could use Muggle pumps. But the traditionalists had thrown a fit at the only thing that really seemed to work.
The Ministry was still a humid pool and there was nothing likely to change that.
At least that was how Philip Greengrass looked at the situation. He was still manning the security check in the Atrium. That is, when he wasn't fighting off the damned animated rock gnomes that would occasionally steal some visitor's wand.
He had survived the inquiry into That Day. Constance Pettigrew, who'd gotten her position from the influence of a relative who once ran the Wizengamot, a man long since dead, had not survived. Tossed out. The Ministry had cleared out the woman's Gringotts accounts, too, to help pay for some of the damages.
The woman had spent much of her life angering people.
When her fall came, many wizards and witches enjoyed helping to jump on her neck.
Since then, policies were tighter.
Greengrass sat at his desk and wished he were permitted to read the Daily Prophet. Instead, he was supposed to be vigilant for his entire six-hour shift. Not supposed to look away or let his attention wane or appear bored.
In short, the policies were fantasy. Philip was considering looking for new work. The constant rushing of water was beginning to weigh on him.
He looked at the one functional floo when Amelia Bones, the former director of magical law enforcement, stepped through. Upon Cornelius Fudge's assassination, she and several others had taken the blame. Even though Fudge had handled all his own security arrangements and prohibited others from assuming any control.
The common guess was that the man didn't want anyone seeing just how he conducted his business affairs. Strange how his widow left Britain with more than three million galleons to her name. The Fudge family, until they stuffed an idiot into the Minister's office, had never been a wealthy one.
So Fudge had been the one who made it easy to kill him.
But he'd been dead at the time people needed to assess some blame.
The blame couldn't accrue very well to the dead. It was left to the still living to feel the stabbings. Like Amelia Bones.
"Ms. Bones?" Greengrass addressed his one-time superior.
Technically she was a citizen and allowed into the Ministry. However the terms of her parting meant that she had almost no privileges to enter or move around the building.
"I'm not going past your desk, Greengrass. Just waiting for one of the Aurors to bring me a box of my things."
It had taken them two weeks to go through her possessions and decide what to return to her. If anything.
Philip doubted much would make it back. Perhaps photographs of no particular value. Any other personal items had probably been parceled out. Philip had taken a ruler that had once belonged to Constance Pettigrew. Not the he needed one. Just that it was a reminder of what happened to foul people.
Bones stood and waited.
"What time was your appointment?"
"Five minutes from now."
Greengrass nodded. They'd keep her waiting some time. If for no other reason than because she now lacked power after wielding it for so long in her climb up the promotion ladder.
He sat and looked and waited for anyone else braving the Ministry. Fewer did these days. People seemed to be far more interested in the Crystal Palace. Free liquor, a beautiful view, stop by and chat with the Lovegoods or the Weasleys, too. Not that a Greengrass would do such a thing.
Philip had taken Polyjuice before he made a visit.
A most impressive structure. He just wished he understood what it was for. When a wizard built a tower, he usually meant it as a fortification. This one had no door, just an opening that anyone or anything could use. No living spaces. No furniture. It was just a beautiful structure.
"You can conjure yourself a chair, Ms. Bones."
"I don't mind standing."
"As you wish."
The squeak of a cart interrupted the day. Philip looked behind him. Norton Banglehuss was pushing his cart. Norton was the last remaining wizard in the mail department. He'd been there at least sixty years, if not longer. He'd been the last remaining wizard in the department for at least forty five years.
They'd tried to phase the man out many times, but they never seemed able to fire the man. Guilt about letting go such an old wizard? No, probably not. No one who climbed that high in the Ministry suffered from guilt.
Norton was a collector of secrets. The only mail guy in a building this monstrous would come across many. Secrets about a person, his wife, his parents, perhaps even his grandparents. The man had perfect job security until the day he became a ghost and haunted the place. He'd probably even be able to keep the necromancers far from him.
"Anything good?" Greengrass asked the mailman.
"Didn't care for it?"
"I counted nine lies on the first page."
"Lower than last month."
The man handed over the newsletter and the rest of Greengrass' mail. Things that were too large or bulky to be folded and sent flying under a bit of magic.
Of course, Norton probably had something to do that. Keeping his own job intact.
"Has this package been through a security check?"
"They handed it to me."
Norton Banglehuss turned his cart around and returned to the one elevator they'd managed to get working again. He disappeared off the floor.
Greengrass pushed the package away from him. He remembered That Day when Constance Pettigrew opened some prank item and did thousands or tens of thousands in damage to the Ministry. Greengrass opened no packages in this building now.
He hated his job, but he needed one to keep receiving his Greengrass Family stipend. So he'd sit and serve as a security wizard, no great strain on his mind or his magic. His nights and weekends were for pleasure.
Greengrass tore into the rest of the mail he'd just received.
A letter from the Payroll Office?
He tore into it. He pulled a piece of parchment out and was too slow to notice when a ring fell out of the envelope. It plinked against his desk and skittered toward the floor.
Greengrass had a paranoia about packages in the Atrium. Like wrapped books that began crumbling when a sacked former librarian opened them. He leaped across his desk and wound up merely sprawled on the surface.
He watched the ring hit the floor, roll through a thin slick of water, and continue rolling. Speeding up, even.
It only stopped once Amelia Bones stepped on the ring.
Philip waited. Nothing strange, or stranger, began to happen. He remedied his awkward position and chased after the ring.
"Might I have that back?" Greengrass asked.
Bones smiled. Not a happy one. "Perhaps I should take a few weeks to examine it?"
"I think I might have to call the Aurors."
"That's fine." She lifted her foot. "You think Norton has blackmail. You should see what I know."
"If that's true, why did they sack you?"
Bones laughed. "It plays as a sacking."
"That's the story."
"They paid me a million galleons to leave."
"The Ministry doesn't have a million galleons."
"So you just lied to me."
"The late Cornelius Fudge had a couple million galleons."
"I heard three."
"By the time we were done with his estate, his widow had about fifty thousand. I got the bulk. I knew the most that could hurt her."
"You have to be kidding."
"Part of the deal was they could label it how they wanted. The Widow Fudge is now a millionaire while I'm thrown out on my badge. Not the truth, but it sounds good."
"That can't be..."
"People do some horrible things sometimes. Enough to get an entire family proscribed. A million galleons was cheap for the widow Fudge."
"Can you keep their secret?"
"I wrote the agreement. Bound them to pay. Didn't bind me to keep quiet. Did you know I did time as a Ministry oath writer a long while back?"
Greengrass nodded. He knelt in front of his ring and picked it up.
As soon as he did, the gold began to flake to the floor.
"No. No, I didn't mean it," he shouted.
He didn't even know what 'it' was.
"Get out of here," Greengrass yelled to the room.
He threw the ring and where it landed in some water it quickly dissolved.
Greengrass wasn't fast enough.
A tree began to grow at a furious pace. Up to the level of the Atrium ceiling, past it. Up and up, through level after level. The foliage on the tree produced tiny flowers. The flowers unfurled and then the petals fell. A small...yes, it was a piece of fruit began to grow where each flower had been. They looked like tiny apples.
The apples began raining down.
Amelia picked one out of midair. She looked at it. Sniffed.
"I wouldn't eat it. Crabapple."
She dropped it. She also noticed that the apple exploded when it impacted the floor. Into some kind of dust.
She'd keep her part of this mess to herself.
The floor heaved. Philip and Amelia Bones crashed into each other before they both landed on the floor. The walls bent inward at impossible angles. The entire building shook as though a volcano were underneath, a very angry volcano seeking a few simple paths upward so that the magma had somewhere to go.
Amelia disentangled herself first and ran for the side of the Atrium.
Apples continued raining from the sky. Some of the stone in the ceiling worked itself loose and joined the apples in reproving the principles of gravity. (Not that a wizard would know.)
Moments later all the elevators engaged, even the ruined ones. The floos that had been clogged with plant material cleared themselves and green flames lit inside each.
The building continued to rumble and jostle and then a vibration joined into the terrifying mix.
Greengrass looked across the room. There was a box at the staircase, next to the elevators. Then a dozen. Then they formed up into a line. Finally the boxes began to walk across the Atrium. None of the apples or falling bits of stone impacted into the boxes. They just walked, sometimes detoured around a large piece of fallen stone.
More joined from the stairs that came from the upper floors.
Finally boxes began to disgorge from the elevators.
Some of the boxes – with legs – were wet but the water poured off of them. There was every kind of material inside. One box contained a half-dozen brains. Another was filled with vintage stuffed animals, several that waved as their box-transport passed by Philip Greengrass and Amelia Bones.
A mirror, also on animated legs, emerged from the elevator.
A collection of desks made their way carefully through the carnage.
Every item or device under the sun emerged from an elevator or walked off the stairs.
Amelia pushed herself against the still rumbling walls of the Ministry. She watched the procession. She cataloged some of what she saw. Chairs with legs. A massive box with five oversized, talking portraits. Glass-fronted cabinets crammed with books. A bed frame, no mattress, that was swirls on top of swirls of iron.
Amelia eventually turned to see where they were going. The answer astounded her: into the green flames of the floo. Where could they be going? What could be driving all of this?
She watched and wondered until a box crossed the Atrium and stopped at her feet. Its little legs disappeared and became just a box.
She took a step away. The box didn't follow.
She took a careful inventory and immediately recognized several of the items. Things her father had crafted and enchanted. Things willed to her. Things retained by the Ministry. They were now resting in front of her.
She snatched up the box and began digging through it.
A necklace that enabled one to get into the second, deeper level of Bones Manor, a space that had been lost to her since her father's death and the Ministry rabble came for his possessions.
She, herself, had joined the Ministry in order to see how she might recover some of these possessions. Of course, her good intentions died as she got deeper into her work and higher up on the ladders of responsibility. But she had wanted all of this back.
A second box stopped at her feet. She set down her father's belongings to look in the new one.
Her things from her office. What the Aurors were supposed to have delivered ten minutes ago. All her office belongings including several rare tomes she'd had on her shelves. Her picture of her niece, another of her late brother and parents. The frames in silver and gold filigree, quite valuable heirlooms. She'd expected that all of it would have disappeared on her.
She waited until the exodus of boxes and items on animated legs ended. The building gave one more tremendous rumble.
She stacked one box on top of another and made for the still-functioning floos.
Philip Greengrass could hear people yelling on the higher levels. Through the hole the crabapple tree had made he could see people from above looking down on the Atrium. He could feel more rumbling throughout the building.
He wasn't taking the blame for this. No way.
"I quit," Philip Greengrass said.
He walked to the Floo. Tomorrow he'd go and apply for the most worthless job he could find on Diagon Alley. Let the Ministry fall to pieces. He was tired of being hit in the head by crabapples and chunks of stone bigger than bludgers.
At the end of dinner at Hogwarts an odd thing occurred. A box full of books and fancy quills walked into the Great Hall and made its way over to the Slytherin table.
It plopped itself down behind Draco Malfoy. The boy was slow to catch on but people sitting next to him pointed out the new arrival.
Malfoy twisted and stared into the box. "My grandfather's quills."
The boy then proceeded to loudly describe each one of them, when his grandfather had purchased it and where. What kind of animal it had been plucked from. No one sitting near the blond was listening.
Harry did, for a while.
He supposed he should have known that his actions would benefit people he didn't like.
Harry didn't like the little Malfoy. However, it was the older one – the leader of an assault on the Dursley house, for one crime he'd committed – who Harry was ready to battle.
It was a good evening's work. The Ministry further battered in a very public way. Its theft ring at least temporarily ended.
The public return of all of the things the Ministry collected would cause an uproar. Individuals knew things had been withheld from them. How many guessed at how systematic the theft was? Now they would know. Each box or large item walking on little legs through the floo to its rightful owners.
All the chances of muggles seeing boxes walking on legs was going to keep the Ministry tied up for a day or longer. They wouldn't have a chance to keep people from talking about this feat of magic or the acts of theft that necessitated it.
People would get what they were owed under wills and testaments. Years or decades late.
That might just drive Yaxley and Malfoy and that collection of the rancid leavings of society to do something more toward inflicting fear on the society.
Harry had little at risk now. He hoped their anger wouldn't fall too hard on another person or family. He wanted the Malfoy-Yaxley group to expose themselves, their whole organization, so that Harry could scrape up as many of them as possible in one instant.
Not let them recede back into malignant hiding.
Harry watched more boxes walk in. Then a few pieces of furniture. Some to Hufflepuff, one to Gryffindor, three to Ravenclaw. If his plan was right, they'd exited the Floo in Hogsmeade and made the walk up to Hogwarts.
Harry wasn't expecting a box for himself. Two arrived for him.
He looked down, ignoring Snape's impromptu speech urging calm and quiet. Harry dug through one box. None of it was his. Especially not the wand at the top of the items. Harry had his wand on him. But there was a wand in the box. Another in the other box.
Tears sprang into his eyes.
A box of James Potter's belongings held back by the Ministry. Another of Lily Potter's. Both of which were meant for Harry. Both of which had been denied him without his even knowing.
Harry was a lot more interested in these boxes once he placed the contents. He took care and some reverence looking through them.
He finished a survey of both boxes before he looked up. The walk ways between the tables were clogged with walking boxes and furniture. The area around Slytherin had more gold leaf than the other tables. But each table had a shocking amount of items being returned.
Harry hadn't expected this when he'd built his enchantment. He hadn't known how deep the theft went, for how long. He was sad. He was angry. He had also never been quite so happy.
Things owned and treasured by his parents.
Another box stopped in front of him.
Five minutes later, two more.
He got up from his seat and moved to the back of the room. The boxes regrew legs and followed him. God he loved this enchantment. He thought the leg-growing ability might just last for weeks, if not two months. If only people realized they could think a command to the boxes and make them follow along.
Magic was excellent.
He was less enthused as the night wore on. Harry was collecting a stack of the boxes. A very large stack. It seemed that every twentieth box through the door sought Harry out.
Belongings from his grandparents. Great-grandparents. Great uncles. Second cousins whose names weren't even Potter. All of this now came to him because Harry was the last of the line.
He walked outside the Great Hall. His boxes trotted behind.
A few others, like Neville Longbottom and Susan Bones, were forced to do the same. Harry had a sizable stack of materials coming his way. He was already back to belongings from people who died in the 1720s.
He was trying to get things in some order. Harry was the new owner of at least nine pensieves, the construction of which Uncommon Magics said was incredibly taxing. No wonder they were rare these days. The Ministry must have been sitting on a thousand of them. Unable to sell them, unable to use that many. It was just some damaged bird that flew after every bit of sparkle, dragging every glint back to its nest, never letting a bit of it go.
Harry saw a line of desks enter the castle. Two of them broke out of line and began heading to Harry.
It was going to be a long, wonderful night.
He was going to bring down every brick of the Ministry, too. But on his schedule. When it would hurt them the most.
That weekend Harry did his walk through the forest. Sirius was waiting for him at the Shrieking Shack.
"Do you know how insane my family is?" Harry asked.
"Hello to you, too."
"I'm talking insane."
"I knew your father and grandfather. That's all," Sirius said. "They were good people."
"Okay, let's talk five generations back."
"Well, I can say for sure that they didn't invent time turners."
"That's good. Right?"
"No, they got interested in them after the first models were crafted. I own seven second generation models and four third generation time turners."
"That's a bit much." Sirius grinned. "I had quite a few of those walking boxes track me down. I was under wards when they almost crashed through the door. How did you design your tracking component?"
"It's not a spell."
"They found me just fine."
"It's a desire," Harry said.
"You've explained all this before. I still don't understand."
Sirius stuck out his tongue. "A better answer?"
"That's the best I can say."
"Well, could you have left the boxes after boxes of house elf heads in the Ministry? Apparently, the House of Black only bothers to mount the very best ones. The rest get bequeathed."
Harry squirmed at the idea of a box of elf heads. Why the House of Black would pass them on? Why the Ministry would hold them back? This hoarding mentality wasn't just the exercise of power by a bunch of the weak who feared everything outside of themselves. There was something else going on to make sense of all this thieving.
All these magical items...
Perhaps the weak were simply afraid of magic or magical items in any form? Did stealing magical items also steal magical potential in some way?
Harry would continue to think it over, just as soon as he managed to stop pondering boxes and boxes of house elf heads.
"What'd you do with them?" Harry asked. He thought this might help put the image out of his head.
"Buried them. What do you do with your house elf heads?"
"I didn't get any." The Potters were crazy about time turners, not about chopping off the heads of their dead servants. Harry preferred his family's kind of craziness if those were the only two options.
"I thought they were all buried."
"I might have gotten tired after box seven."
He and his godfather set to walking inside the fenced yard of the Shrieking Shack in Hogsmeade.
"Anyway it was great. I can't imagine how loud they must have screamed there."
"It's fun to fight terror with whimsy," Harry agreed.
"You've used enough magic to dig a new Ministry building in this whimsy. It's serious magic, Harry."
"When it's this fun, it's hard to think of it as work."
"They'll be angry about this wizard they can't find. You're a person, but you're also a symbol."
"I know what's coming."
"Assume it will get worse."
"Yes, I had an ulterior reason asking you here."
"Would you mind returning to Ottery St. Catchpole?" The location of the Crystal Tower.
"In my dog form, you'd be shocked by how much liquor I can tolerate."
"Try to stay sober a bit. You'll want to watch."
"If you say so." As if watching a feat of greater magic wasn't worth laying off the pool of free booze.
"What will this part do?"
Harry weighed how to explain this to Sirius. "You expect them to attack me?"
"I think they'll also get around to the tower itself. This is some incentive to do that."
"It also gives the Tower...let's say, some defenses."
"Remus was cagey like this whenever he contributed something impressive to a prank."
"This is more than a prank."
"What is it?"
Harry wouldn't answer the question. Not yet.
"Can you go today?"
"Well, in between my busy social engagements... Yes, I can go today."
"I think the Ministry just might pay the location a visit. They'll be nervous."
"About something that walked from the building?"
"No. The items still there."
In Dumbledore's handwritten book, there were several references to objects of power. Objects of binding, like the Goblet of Fire. Also objects of compulsion. Objects of restraint that might be used on prisoners. Objects designed to break wards, others designed to bring down the walls of castles.
Harry expected that those objects, built by Ministry workers over the centuries and paid for by Ministry galleons, were still under Ministry control. For now.
But they'd be worried, Malfoy and Yaxley and the others. The new question: Would these precious enchantments also grow legs and toddle off?
Someone somewhere was making the decision to use these weapons before they lost these weapons.
It was a good part of the reason Harry had settled on looting the Ministry. Returning everything to the people who deserved the items was just a wonderful bonus.
"You're not going to say," Sirius said.
"You want information, get your canine self a good viewing spot."
"Fine. Another goblet?"
Harry pulled a piece of parchment from a pocket.
Sirius snatched it away. "House of Magic?"
That was the only thing written on the parchment.
"Just slap it onto the structure. Outside, inside, it doesn't matter."
"But what will it do?"
"Be sure to stick around. I expect a full report."
Harry turned and began walking back to the forest.
Harry just laughed.
He knew his godfather would get him back, but that was a bit of fun for the future.
He was still trying to guess about Malfoy and Yaxley. What, where, who, and when. The why was clear enough.
He tried to enjoy the walk back, but the trees couldn't compete with the things on his mind.
When he burst onto the grounds, Harry was slow to notice.
Also slow to see several Aurors on the grounds. And one familiar face. Yaxley, the man who'd murdered the Dursleys, stood near a tree, between Harry and the castle. He lit up when he noticed Harry. He raised his hand and waved Harry over.
"Mr. Potter, I am glad to run into you. Do you remember me?"
Murdering Petunia Dursley. "Yes, I do."
Harry thought the battle had come much earlier than expected.
A/N: Yes, another cliff hanger.