Chapter Six: Magic is Temperamental
A/N: I realized after posting chapter five that I introduced a bunch of unexpected complications into the story that I will need to handle. I had previously planned, and posted a note, that chapter six would be the end of this story. I have to retract that comment. There are a couple more chapters to come. (I expect people who've read this far into the story are heart-broken that there will be more on the way.)
The weekend came and Harry ventured through the Forbidden Forest. It was quieter than it had been. Something was shifting in here. Harry wondered if it had to do more with spiders than centaurs. He hoped he wouldn't find out this particular trip.
He made it to the Shrieking Shack, the building he'd turned into something of a jail house. He unlocked the rickety gate and was shocked when he saw dozens of boxes standing on little legs around the well. How did they get inside the fenced, locked backyard?
Magic. Some form of magic Harry didn't know or anticipate. As much as he learned there were still vast swaths he was ignorant about.
He looked at the well where he kept Voldemort. There was nothing wrong with it. Harry tugged at some of the possessions in the boxes. He looked at quite a few and identified things from the Slytherin family and another called Gaunt. Lots and lots of things kept away from a man who later went on to become a dark lord.
He left off his examination of those boxes. He looked at the tilting, leaning building behind him. He wondered about his other guest, the rat Pettigrew.
Harry opened the door to the house and had trouble making it into the basement. There were more boxes on little feet near to where Harry kept Pettigrew.
Harry shouldn't have been surprised that the Ministry stole from even the evil people of the world. It was equal opportunity in how it dealt with everyone; poorly and cruelly.
Perhaps Pettigrew's sister, once the Ministry librarian, had diverted books meant to pass to her 'late' brother. She was the type of enjoy a mean trick of that nature. Perhaps all of her former colleagues were of her caste or worse. Pettigrew or Yaxley or somewhere in between, prerequisite number one to work in the Ministry.
Harry poked through several of the boxes that clustered around Pettigrew's cage where he slept as a rat. More books and magical objects. Harry never saw any gold. The Ministry knew how to spend that.
It was a shame to horde the rest. What the Ministry retained could have been something for a young wizard making his way at Hogwarts, like the young Tom Riddle. Something of a family he never knew, something to give a person a past and hope for a future.
It could have meant a lot to an undecided young man named Pettigrew before he'd tossed his choice to the Death Eaters.
The Ministry had betrayed even them and later had been almost sunk over the rage in the attacks by Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Cause and effect. Harry let the feelings of sympathy for Pettigrew and Voldemort linger a moment before they dissipated. They had been wronged but had done much greater wrongs themselves.
Harry walked out and looked at the well where Voldemort was imprisoned. He'd come here to speak to the one-time dark lord. But Harry had changed his mind. These boxes finding him and Pettigrew now made Harry somewhat more than nervous.
If boxes could find them what about other enchantments? Other spells? Could a Death Eater stumble across this well?
Harry thought the answer wasn't no. It might even be a firm yes.
He hadn't actually been here to talk with Riddle in quite some time, hence why he was surprised by the boxes on little legs. Perhaps it was time to make a permanent end to the dark lord. Harry stood and blinked. He had come here to talk to Voldemort and now he was thinking of how to get rid of him.
Harry shook his head. Where had that come from?
He had no idea. He half thought it wasn't his own idea. No, it had just popped into his head and stuck. Harry was fighting to make the idea go away.
He was sure now. It wasn't his idea to finally take care of Voldemort. The homunculus was completely contained. It would never escape the prison Harry had fashioned. Why did he have this overwhelming urge to do...something?
A force had pushed the idea into his head. A compulsion of some sort.
If there was one thing to make Harry angry it was compulsion and binding magic. His anger spiked and his ability to think crumbled.
He fought the anger down. He took a moment and tried to get his breathing back to normal. Lack of control wouldn't do him a bit of good. He hadn't been cursed. No one else knew about Voldemort in the well, except for Snape who might have guessed. But no one knew. Harry hadn't seen anyone today who could have tampered with his mind...
Now that he had a moment to reflect he had one idea about where it had come from.
Magic. A silly idea.
But he thought of it. It was now an insistent idea in his head. It was almost like the Magic wanted Harry to know, wanted the credit.
Yes, it did want the credit. Harry now understood that clearly. The House of Magic had just made a suggestion in his mind over how to handle Pettigrew and Riddle. This was more than just magic having an active dialogue with him. No, not magic, instead Magic, with a capital M.
It seemed to insist on that.
Very unnerving how it just rummaged around inside his head. Harry had only had that kind of unnerving interaction with the Sorting Hat before. But that time Harry had been able to convince the Hat of what he wanted. This time Magic wasn't taking suggestions.
She – Harry didn't know why he thought she, save for the first appearance he'd seen of Magic's form at the House of Magic – was a lot more demanding.
Once he got used to the idea that he and Magic were speaking, he calmed a bit. He'd just have to be more careful, wouldn't he? What were his ideas? Which were the ideas that came from outside his head? Yes, if he knew that much, Harry could continue to make good decisions.
He considered his Riddle and Pettigrew problem. He considered the requested solution. Harry smiled at the idea, in fact. He wouldn't need to continue coming to the Shrieking Shack if he listened to the whisper in his mind.
He levitated all of Voldemort's boxes, tucked them inside the derelict building near to Pettigrew's. He canceled the legs that could get them up and moving. Perhaps he would just donate all of this material to a good cause. Did wizards have charities?
Harry had no clue. Maybe Hermione would know.
He took his time sealing the house up. It might be some time until he returned. The end of term was almost upon him. Then he'd ride the Hogwarts Express and have his showdown with the bigots and murderers at the Ministry of Magic.
Harry looked at the Shrieking Shack once more. He'd have to come back in the fall to deal with all the boxes, get their contents new homes. He felt a twinge of guilt, that he would be doing to Pettigrew and Riddle what the Ministry of Magic had done to them.
Of course, the feeling passed.
They had cost him his family, his childhood. They were both dangerous wizards who would do more dangerous things if left unchecked. Disposing of their belongings was...well, it wasn't horrible. It was necessary.
That wasn't my idea, Harry thought. Yes, it was, another part of Harry thought. There was a war on in his mind and he was sure he had already lost.
He pulled up the crystal sphere into which he'd trapped Voldemort from the bottom of the well. He let it drain before he clutched it in one hand. He could hear Voldemort choking and coughing and sputtering out swallowed water. Enough to kill a person, not anywhere near close enough to kill a homunculus.
In the other hand he grabbed up the cage in which he kept Pettigrew in his rat form. Harry apparated to the Crystal Tower. The House of Magic.
The intensity of the...suggestions in his mind increased. The House of Magic was quite happy he'd come, quite happy at what he carried with him.
He could feel a pressure in his mind, instructions for how to plant the two new permanent additions to the Crystal Garden. Where exactly they were to stand. None of it related to the magic of making a crystal statue. That the House of Magic would take care of.
Harry looked at the place a moment. There was no one else here. Plenty of evidence lots of people still came, even after the spike of terror at Ministry wizards being turned to crystal.
Harry could see trampled grass and the like.
But for now, for at least a few minutes, Harry had the place to himself. He had the sense that the House of Magic had cleared away the people who'd visited just so Harry could do what the House of Magic wanted. Unease returned to him, but it didn't last long.
It didn't go away naturally, Harry thought. Yes, it did, the other part of Harry responded.
Harry walked to one end of the 'horseshoe.' He set the rat's cage on the ground and opened the door. Pettigrew ran for it. Once his feet touched the ground, two things happened.
His animagus form failed him. He began to grow large.
His skin went translucent with hints of silver and gold.
Half-man and half-rat became a permanent addition to the garden.
The pedestal on which he rested said, "Traitor to Magic."
Harry thought it fitting, but also horrible. At least Pettigrew would never hurt another person. Happiness hummed inside Harry's mind. It wasn't his own happiness, but something alien living in his mind.
He walked, with the crystal sphere in his hand, to the opposite end of the horseshoe.
He set the ball holding the Riddle homunculus on the ground. Before Harry could crack it, the whole thing began to change. The ball broke on its own. The babyish Voldemort grew as he went translucent. He didn't become human, rather a hybrid of man and snake. He looked more terrifying than the drawings Harry had seen of the wizard in the few books that had dared to print them.
The pedestal read, "The Only Magic He Loved Was Death."
Voldemort was defeated for all time. Harry should have been happy. The emotion that lived inside his mind was confusion accented by a small part of glee, savage glee.
Harry was angry at doing all this, at something else dragging him here. It was right that Voldemort was no longer a danger, but Harry hadn't liked being controlled by the Goblet of Fire. He definitely had no love for the House of Magic living partially inside his mind and issuing instructions to him that he couldn't refuse.
He looked the half-man, half-snake. It was awful, the stuff of a nightmare a person would spend years forgetting.
The Magic inside Harry loved it like an artist adores a particularly gruesome, but personal, expression of art.
He had the impulse to head inside the House of Magic. This one he gave into without a fight. He walked inside and felt it was different, far different from the last time he was here, perhaps a week earlier.
He noted that the crystal had begun partitioning itself into different rooms, like a house might possess. There seemed to be chairs growing upwards in different places. Along one wall there seemed to be shelves large enough to hold books. It was a different place, more refined and beautiful.
His anger softened a bit. He also recognized he wasn't softening it. It was that something inside him.
"I've done what you asked," Harry said.
This time there was no human-shaped woman to talk with him. He merely felt a bit of happiness ping a response in his head.
"Why are you talking to me in this way?" It was less insulting to ask that question than 'why are you living in my head?'
"I promise to come visit you here. You don't need to stay with me all the time."
The Magic settled into his mind for a good long stay. Harry received a poke that he should look at everything before leaving.
He felt compelled to examine the emerging shelves flowing out of the crystal. Perhaps that was an unsubtle hint to Harry and the other people who came here. 'I've made the shelves, now bring me the books that will make this place attractive to witches and wizards.'
Harry had the inclination that he would bring the Pettigrew and Riddle books here.
No, he thought. You wanted a charity, here it is, another part of him said.
No. He relaxed. He still knew he was going to donate the Riddle and Pettigrew materials to the place where they were 'buried.' Magic had a charity in mind and it wasn't going to let Harry make a different choice.
He calmed himself. He agreed. He felt the pressure of the Magic relent.
Harry heard people coming toward the area. He was being released from this place. Whatever Magic had done to get the people to leave it had released. People were returning.
He tapped the sleeve of his robe and he vanished from sight. The magic was different from how his invisibility cloak worked, but it was natural enough to him now that Magic told him things, made him do things.
Useful things, horrible things, flashy things.
Before he made it outside the House of Magic, Harry heard a scream. Someone must have found the Voldemort statue. It really was terrifying.
He apparated away and vowed he wouldn't return. He knew it wasn't a promise he'd be able to keep. The Magic inside his mind would have its way again.
The rest of the week passed in an unhappy blur. One thing made it tolerable. If Harry did boring things, the Magic that lived inside him didn't pay him much mind. It was still there, but it's attention went elsewhere in the world. This aspect of Magic was easily bored.
So Harry concentrated on being boring.
He read the books he'd gotten from Dumbledore's portrait. No help. He hadn't even been able to make sense of what Dumbledore had said about intuitive magic. Harry began to suspect that the House of Magic had been helping Harry even before it was a house. It had just been magic and had wanted someone to build it a house.
Harry spent little time thinking about Magic (too irritating) so he'd prepared for year-end examinations.
He still hadn't told Hermione what had happened, what morass of bad luck he'd managed to fall into now.
Perhaps it was time to do so.
How was the question. Would Magic pay close attention if it liked the words Harry used? Did it make a different if Harry spoke about his concerns versus writing them? Would Magic make a second home inside Hermione's mind if Harry opened up the secret to her?
He didn't know.
In all of his agitation, he hadn't even thought of his impending hearing at the Ministry. It wasn't far off now. When he did think of the Ministry, Magic uncurled a bit in his mind. He could feel it was angry, defensive, protective of Harry.
That was a tiny wedge of comfort against a large chunk of anger he felt at the violation.
He looked up and saw Hermione inside mounds of books. He walked over to her and pulled over a chair.
"Trouble with Potions?" she asked.
"I'm doing well with Professor Peele." Snape's replacement hired by Snape but nothing like the old Snape in the personality department.
"So, what has you stumped?" Hermione asked.
"You want to take a break from your books?" Harry nodded to the common room exit.
"A break from my books?" Hermione leaned over her table. "Don't listen to him, my books. I love each one of you. I always will." Hermione patted several volumes and stood up. "I'll return for you. Have no fear."
Harry was glad that Hermione had something of a sense of humor at a time like this. In years past, she was a wreck right before exams. "Not going to pack up?"
"I charmed the books immovable by magic. Unless a person wants to pack them off by hand, these will all still be here when I get back. Considering how lazy most wizards are... They'll be fine. Why don't we take a walk around the castle?"
It was no surprise Hermione could read Harry's mood. He found he didn't mind when she did it. He did mind Magic paying him undue mind.
They made it out of the common room and began wandering. Once they found a corridor that was otherwise unoccupied, Hermione nodded for Harry to start.
"I think I've made a huge mistake."
"Adding Voldemort to the Crystal Garden was dramatic, but I wouldn't call it a mistake. The Prophet still doesn't believe it's him."
Harry hadn't told Hermione any of that, but she still put the pieces together.
"Magic is alive."
Hermione stopped walking.
Harry tried to make himself feel uninterested in the conversation. He needed to keep the Magic inside his mind dozing. "It's alive. It was sleeping before. I think I woke it."
He spoke quickly, ramming his words together.
Hermione looked baffled but she started moving again. "The crystal tower – or House of Magic?"
"How do you know it's alive?"
"It's inside my head..."
"Oh, Harry." She didn't doubt him. She was sad for him, unhappy for him. "One thing after another."
"I think it went back further. I don't know how much further."
"You're saying it put Voldemort in that garden?"
"Worse. It made me put Voldemort in that garden."
"Irresistible compulsion magic."
"You could feel it?"
"Like it's another lobe of my brain."
"It's inside you?"
"It's listening. But I'm trying to make this feel like a boring conversation. It's got a short attention span."
"At least there's one weakness."
Harry heard that and realized it was important. He had to tamp down his excitement. He'd been doing this as a survival technique without realizing it could be more. It could be the way to handle the problem entirely. Just keep his mind on an even keel, keep the magic from finding him interesting. Do ordinary, boring things. Wither Magic by being unmagical.
"Thank you," Harry said.
"Did that help? You already knew it."
Harry nodded. "You gave it the name 'weakness.' I'd been thinking of it differently. You helped."
"Well, words are powerful. What's it feel like? In your mind?"
There was the curiosity he'd come to expected. So he told her about the discomfort of having thoughts in one's mind that weren't one's thoughts. Having something worse than an oath applied to him. Having a greedy force inside him, pushing him, almost mocking him.
Hermione listened. She didn't know what to do and said so. Still they spent the next thirty minutes wandering the castle, talking. Harry came to no great new insights, but he'd also managed to keep Magic at bay. It hadn't found even a spark of interest in what Harry and Hermione talked about.
He couldn't guarantee Magic hadn't been listening, but it seemed a short-tempered thing so far. It didn't seem to be able to plan. It had a notion and then planted it in Harry.
So far nothing. Hermione had helped Harry with no cost to herself. There were small favors still in the world.
The exams were over. Harry had done well, though he heard a lot of grumbling around the Gryffindor table. Harry picked at his sandwich a moment. He kept looking away from Ron. The boy had been at school for four years now and he was still basically unable to eat at table.
He was a good friend to Harry, but Harry wished the boy would learn how not to put others off their meals. There was plenty of food. No one was going to reach over and steal what was on the serving platters. There would be more than enough. Trying to out-compete five older brothers at the dinner table had left Ron needing to relearn a lot, yet unwilling to start.
"There's plenty of food," Harry said.
Harry took that to mean, 'I'm hungry.' Unfortunately there was quite a bit of food in Ron's mouth at the time.
"I'm going to look over here."
It turned out Neville was sitting beside him.
"Good exams?" Harry asked.
"I think so. I actually did okay for Defense."
"Well, I finally got my problems with Potions sorted."
"Not me," Neville said.
Hermione sat down across the table. She was still frazzled from the tests which Harry was sure she'd aced.
"You did fine," he said.
"Maybe. But I'm worried about Arithmancy... Ronald, could you stop trying to shove three chicken legs in your mouth at the same time."
Hermione scooted down the bench so she was further away from the sight.
"I've forgotten all about why I so concerned."
"Like an Obliviate spell," Harry said. "Except you remember him eating."
"Hey," Ron shouted. More than a little food flew out of his mouth.
Then he went back to eating.
Hermione filled her plate. Harry noticed she didn't take any chicken.
Harry let Hermione babble on about several wrong answers she was sure she'd submitted. She was more tense after the exams than before them this year.
She was a funny girl.
Neville tried to reassure her. Harry didn't. He knew Hermione just needed to speak about her doubts and work through them.
Harry realized he was having fun listening to Hermione complain and trying not to watch Ron eat. So ordinary, so simple. Merlin, some days Hogwarts was so wonderful. Harry had come to appreciate these moments more and more.
In fact, Harry would admit he was plenty happy. He hadn't felt fresh urges from Magic in quite some time, more than ten days. He had three days left before he needed to commit to a method for handling the Ministry people after him. Malfoy and Yaxley and their ilk.
Of course, the Ministry was about the least popular institution these days. Harry could almost stand to read the newspaper again. The Prophet couldn't write enough articles about the contents of the walking boxes, what some new family had had returned to them. Who had gotten what? How far back had the thieving stretched. The story still had legs weeks after the mass breakout from the Ministry.
They'd found a vein and were pumping adrenaline right up it.
The general apathy among the witches and wizards of Great Britain had taken some time to dissipate. Now it had, but in a limited way. People cared about boxes of trinkets decades or centuries old. Harry had looked for something to rally people and found nothing, but this he'd stumbled onto. Who knew people could get so angry about a box of old books?
Harry wished people cared more than just about their possessions. He wished they'd extended their anger into some impetus for changing the Ministry. It was still all spouting of anger and steam venting. No one had proposed a thing about the ending or changing the secret practices.
No, their concerns were more narrow. The Prophet reported that people were digging 'probated' wills out of old records and trying to ascertain how much gold the Ministry might have diverted into its own coffers. The official tax rate was very low, but if the Ministry took whatever gold might reside in a dead wizard's residence...well that might just pay for a low tax rate. This unofficial estate tax might just be the biggest secret the Ministry had kept – for centuries. The Ministry had no way to break into Gringotts to do the same, but with the way some families regarded goblins there could have been millions of galleons hidden in homes over the years.
The other major topic in the paper was the back-and-forth about Voldemort and Pettigrew. Someone on the Prophet had dug up the citation the Ministry had made in giving the rat an Order of Merlin. People were actually asking if Pettigrew had even died in the early 1980s. People had even written in to wonder about Sirius Black.
Wonder of wonders. Wizards thinking.
People thought the Voldemort figure might be a statue. Others thought it might be the dead wizards missing body. Lots of letters from every kind of insane viewpoint, none of them as crazy as what the real answer was. That Harry kept to himself.
Visits were up to the House of Magic. That had probably helped Harry out with his mental problems. He had a sense, though he couldn't say how he had the idea, that this aspect of Magic was very...vain. Into itself, its aggrandizement, into people venerating it and visiting it and praising it.
More and more people had gone to the House of Magic. The Prophet had printed a picture of the growing magical library there, people were visiting and donating. People were touring the Crystal Garden, impressed at what they saw. Had they already forgotten they were people? Had they left off their horror so easily? Or was Magic living in more than one skull?
Harry felt some responsibility for that particular horror, the Garden. He had come up with the idea. He had given the House of Magic the idea even if it had already possessed plenty of power to carry it out.
A mistake, a huge mistake. He tried not to think about that. The good he'd done being weighed against the bad. The benefits he'd gotten – his freedom from the Goblet of Fire, for one – versus what price he had paid – the voice of Magic that lived in his mind and sometimes planted ideas and made Harry carry them out.
Harry was glad enough for the Prophet's flip-flopping. Now it was driving people to visit the House of Magic. The vain Magic that dwelled there and in Harry's mind lapped up the attention. He wanted Magic distracted. He wished it were three times as vain.
"Harry, pass me the Brussels sprouts."
He blinked and did what Hermione asked. He looked into the bowl. They were boiled. No thanks. Harry didn't care for boiled sprouts.
"Planning an end of year prank?" she asked with a smile.
"Leave me out of it," Neville said.
"No pranks. Not my style." Just look at how well the Crystal Tower / House of Magic had gone. Harry had unleashed some kind of monster and now dupes of the Ministry were forever turned to crystal.
No, Harry thought he might be out of the pranking business...
Although. He did have upcoming Ministry troubles.
Harry looked at Ron and wished he hadn't.
The boy swallowed. "Potatoes, please."
Harry reached for the bowl and moved it toward Ron. He served himself most of a plateful.
"How do you not weigh twenty stone?" Hermione asked.
"I'm growing. Up, not out."
"You were cursed with a vanishing charm in your throat?"
Ron was already eating again.
Harry transitioned back to asking Neville about his exams. Of course, the more he talked about them, the less confident he felt.
Harry ate a bit and thought of a prank he could play on the Ministry. Not for laughs, but for securing his life.
He felt something waking in the back of his mind.
He turned and watched Ron eat for a couple of minutes. The Magic in his mind went back to sleep.
"Thanks," Harry said.
Ron opened his mouth and some of the potato almost fell out.
"Nothing. Go back to lunch."
"You're strange, Harry."
"Yes, I am."
What kind of prank? Harry tried not to get too excited. He just needed to make a plan without alerting the dangerous part of his mind. Not so easy to do.
Nothing violent, he decided.
Nothing that captured bystanders. He would have to do it on the platform or very early in the visit to the Ministry...if they even escorted him to the Ministry. He couldn't count on his enemies doing what they said they were going to do. So, it had to be the platform at King's Cross. Or perhaps the platform in Hogsmeade if they came for him earlier.
Always be prepared.
There would be families at either site, though more at King's Cross. Younger children coming to help collect their older siblings. Mother, fathers, uncles and aunts who weren't miserable people, grandparents and great-grandparents.
Harry had to be very careful with whatever he did.
In fact, Harry only had a couple of bad choices available to him for when the train arrived on Platform 9 ¾. He didn't like any of them, but he would sooner do it than turn himself over to be tortured or murdered.
He wouldn't be able to unravel the Ministry or its abilities with oaths or its penetration by evil people. All that was a far longer project, perhaps requiring one lifetime or more than one.
"Harry, you've dripped gravy all over your tie. Aren't you paying any attention?" Hermione asked.
"None," Harry said. He didn't think he'd put any gravy on his plate.
She pulled out her wand and vanished the mess. Then she applied a cleaning charm. She was thorough.
"Thank you. Now I was thinking we could go to the library after you're finished pouring sauce over your clothes..."
Harry smiled. Neville laughed. Hermione had the innocence of an angel on her face.
Worry could come later. Now it was time to be ordinary a bit longer. A few months earlier in the year and ordinary would have seemed a let down. He had had missions to accomplish. Now Harry wondered about the costs he was accruing.
No more. For now he was a student. The Ministry and rather pesky Magic could wait for him. It was time for ordinary fun.
"Did you pack?" Hermione asked.
The Hogwarts Express ran the next morning.
"Yes, Auntie Hermione."
"I'd hope I wasn't your aunt. The things I've heard about the one you already had. It's not wonderful to speak poorly of the dead, but I might make an exception in her case. You don't think of me that way."
"No," Harry said. "Just a joke that went splat."
"Well, you push back when I'm being too pushy. Promise?"
There were times when he liked a little Hermione mania.
Harry was feeling even better than he had in the last two weeks. He finally had a solution (temporary) to his Ministry problem. It should be enough to protect Harry and not endanger anyone else, at least not permanently.
"You coming Ron?" Hermione asked.
"I'll be the first one there." He was out the door as the last word filtered back into the common room.
Hermione looked to Harry. "Whichever end of the table he takes, I say we go to the other side."
Harry smiled and nodded. Let someone else see Ron's performance. Maybe the twins, perhaps Fred and George could encourage their little brother to better behavior.
A bunch of people spilled out of the common room but Neville, Hermione, and Harry walked a bit slower than the others. They'd all get to eat at the same time. What was the rush?
"I've never seen the floor look this clean," Hermione said.
Harry looked down. He hadn't noticed before, but, yes, something was different about Hogwarts.
"You should see Greenhouse Four," Neville said. "It's like they replaced all the glass in there."
"I wonder how..."
Cleaner places, more beautiful places, then there was the strangeness in the Forbidden Forest. Harry had an idea, a good idea, where the change was coming from. Magic wasn't just living in the House of Magic and inside Harry's head. She was apparently also spiffing up Hogwarts and the Forest. Merlin only knew what else he/she/it was doing.
Harry kept his realization to himself. He had kept a lot to himself this year. But he had barely scratched the first layer. Harry was having quite a bit of difficulty weighing how to do various things, trying to guess at what might happen if he did A versus B. He didn't want to be a thoughtless Dumbledore, very smart but very stupid. Trampling on people in his attempt to help them.
For now Harry had three things on his list. Get out of the Ministry's trap. Figure out how to quiet or tame this aspect of Magic inside his head. Work on the hearts and minds of the average wizard – or at least the more coercive tools wizards and witches had available. Make people want to be better people.
Not a shy sort of to-do list, was it?
Harry looked at the rest of Hogwarts. He spent a few moments trying to test out the magic of the place. It didn't feel as...musty as it once had.
He nodded. Perhaps Magic lived in Hogwarts, too. He, she, or it was a very busy entity with all too many home.
Harry shivered as he walked.
"Keep up," Hermione said. "Getting lost again?"
"Just looking at very clean stones."
"Yeah, it's pretty strange."
Hermione hadn't, as yet, connected up their conversation about magic being alive with the changes inside Hogwarts. If she didn't make the connection, Harry would clue her in. But after the Leaving Feast.
The sound coming from inside the Great Hall greeted Harry on the second floor. By the time they were at the door, it sounded like the Quidditch World Cup rather than Hogwarts.
Harry wondered why everyone was talking.
Then he stepped inside the room and he knew.
Headmaster Snape was wearing silver and black robes. His hair wasn't greasy. He actually had a smile on his face. Harry was about to point all that out to Hermione but she waved him quiet and moved them down to the end of the Gryffindor table nearest the head table, well away from where Ron would be demolishing bowls of food.
Hermione looked up at the Headmaster. She shook her head. Harry listened to what people were saying around him.
Some of the Ravenclaws were exploring the idea that Snape had been Imperiused. Or that he'd botched a potion and inhaled the fumes.
Harry looked at the man once. For the first time in a public setting, Snape was happy. Visibly and undeniably happy.
Harry wondered if that meant good news or bad for everyone else in Hogwarts.
Eventually Snape stood and waited for the room to quiet. He waved McGonagall back into her chair when she rose to make an attempt. Snape stood and let the noise of the Great Hall ebb and flow, eventually condensing into silence.
He nodded in appreciation. Only then did he address the room. "Thank you for an exceptional year. This is the best possible way I could have ended my association with Hogwarts."
That got a lot of people muttering.
Snape stood and waited them out. Once the room was silent again, Snape said, "I have been asked by the Board of Governors to move onward..."
Louder muttering. Another pause. Another resumption of silence.
"And I agreed with their request. I had the privilege to teach a generation of future potioneers. I didn't possess the teaching skills to match my subject matter expertise, however. For that I do apologize."
Even Harry was knocked back somewhat. Snape happy to apologize for being a bad teacher. Had one of the twins slipped him an experimental potion today?
"If you'll indulge me for a few minutes, I'd like to make one last attempt at this. Potions are demanding and precise, but they are a kind of power in our world that we must have. Our medicine depends upon strong potioneers to repair damage and save lives, our system of laws and law enforcers upon their ability to recognize and neutralize dangers. Our curious potioneers ask questions and experiment in ways that advance magic forward and give us all new opportunities. Please learn the basics of the craft. See if you are gifted and might become an artisan or a master of the potions world. I didn't make it easy, but I hope you will at least pause to reflect now. Those of you in the younger years especially. Those who are older or recent graduates do have other resources for continuing your potions learning. Just send me a letter via owl and I will be pleased to make them available to you."
This time no one was speaking. Harry half thought Snape was being impersonated by someone else. He checked. Both Fred and George were seated at the table. There were no other prominent pranksters known around the castle.
"As for the school, I have been here almost continually since I was eleven years old, as a student and a teacher and now as headmaster. I love this building and what it represents. For the future, I hope they will bring in an outside witch or wizard to help guide the next decade of Hogwarts. Perhaps someone with experience at another of the great schools of the magical world. We all know we have some catching up to do here at Hogwarts. We have a few areas where we could do much better and I know that we can repair this damage with good leadership. This school was always great and will be greater still in the future. I thank you all."
Snape nodded before he sat down. The professors were the first to applaud, though not McGonagall, at least not at first. She had apparently not enjoyed his musing about the school needing an outsider to clean up whatever messes he alluded to. Whether he referred to her as the problem since she was the presumptive next Headmistress or she reacted to his slights against Dumbledore, Harry didn't know.
The food appeared on the table.
There was no announcement of which House won the House Cup.
None of the banners changed.
It took people near Harry a few moments to begin filling their plates.
"What was that about?" Hermione asked.
"He actually grew on me," Neville said. "Once he wasn't looming over my shoulder."
"Neville saying something nice about the Professor, the world's ending," Harry retorted.
Neville blushed and sputtered a bit.
"They just installed him," Harry said. "It hasn't been that many months."
"The Prophet. Lucius Malfoy is still refusing to leave his manor, wasn't that on the gossip page?"
"Skeeter's replacement, Gubbleworm. I thought she'd learned better than that. Isn't her whole column just slander?"
"Some days, yes."
"So we know Malfoy twisted arms for Snape. The way he gloated when he announced Snape had become Headmaster. Then when he's tucked away cowering, he can't bully the rest of the board into retaining Snape."
"Exactly," Hermione said.
"It was disturbing seeing him in silver robes," Neville said.
"And the smiling," Harry added.
"Yes, the smiling," Hermione said.
Harry got back to his meal, roast beef and potatoes and green beans to start, but he listened to the conversations around him.
No one admitted they would be trying harder in Potions. People near Harry were just shocked at the words Snape had uttered without obvious coercion.
Some few mocked the clothes Snape wore. Others, the girls from younger years, thought him handsome. That almost made Harry gag on a potato he was trying to swallow.
Neville spoke about his plans for the summer. The greenhouse he would tend. Hermione was excited about her parents' plans to travel. Harry also had plans, but he didn't share them at the table. Too many inquiring ears.
Harry drug out his meal. He ate slowly and listened. He was turning over what Snape had done and said tonight. It made him begin compiling a few questions. Ones he had just one last chance to ask.
Harry waited until he saw the head table breaking up. He excused himself from Hermione, Neville, and the others near to him and made his way out of the Great Hall.
Harry waited until he saw Snape.
"Professor, do you have a minute?" Harry asked.
"Walk with me, Potter."
Snape led Harry to his office. Harry held his tongue until he was seated and the office door closed.
"You didn't fight?" Harry asked. "The Board when they sacked you."
"Sacked. What I said and implied in my speech was not exactly accurate. I could have retained my position with no problem. I find I am not happy here."
Harry could have told the man that after their first class years ago.
"I apologized to the school tonight. Obliquely. I must now apologize to you, Harry. I am sorry for our years together. I hope you will attempt to make a closer study of potions."
"You're a different person now."
"My oaths were attached to my position teaching potions."
Harry had already guessed at something like that.
"Dumbledore was careless with what he had you swear?"
Snape didn't seem surprised that Harry knew that much.
"The man was willing to do things the wrong way. He hated oaths, but used them all the same. I hope you've learned through the pain you've faced?"
Harry recognized something of himself in that indictment. He loathed binding magic, but had come to rely upon it. He realized anew that he needed a wider base of magic from which to fight his battles. Of course, that assumed he didn't fall into another mess. After all, he had Magic telling him what to do at inconvenient moments. Sometimes his magic just wasn't his own to use as he wished.
"You agreed to Dumbledore's oath?"
"My choice wound up as taking the oath and coming to Hogwarts or making a home with the Dementors. I made the only possible choice," Snape said. "Either Dumbledore plucked me out of the meat grinder or I wound up insane before I died."
Harry had to do better than that. He couldn't treat people that way, making choices that choked others half to misery or death.
"What will you do now?"
"I'm free, Mr. Potter. I will leave. I believe someone ended the threat of Voldemort's return. I wish I could thank the person who did that." Snape didn't even look at Harry as he said those words. "I've felt drawn into the Forest for some time. There are places I would have hesitated to go in there, even as a trained wizard, until recently. Now, I think there is new magic to find. New potions. Or knowledge to reclaim."
Harry was somewhat nervous about that. Perhaps Snape was being poetic. But it was more likely he was feeling the draw of Magic. He might just find himself becoming interesting to Magic and having a little 'voice' inhabiting his head. Snape knew some of what Harry was up to, but far from all.
"Best of luck."
"I believe in a future now. It's been a long time since I could say that, since I was a young student in school perhaps. Your future is less clear for now. They won't ever stop hunting you."
The Ministry, the surviving Death Eaters, now even an aspect of Magic that traveled constantly with Harry. He wasn't yet fifteen and already had an astounding collection of 'friends.' "I think I'm ready for them."
Sheer bravado. They both knew it.
"You won't be. Just stay aware," Snape said.
"Don't let an acromantula sneak up on you. Or a centaur shoot you with an arrow."
"You'll keep what you know about me to yourself?"
"Ah, I should have guessed about why you wanted to speak. Your visits through the Forbidden Forest. The castle wards telling me about your travels."
"There will be a new headmaster or headmistress. I suggest you not have a reason to make trips into the woods before the new term."
There were still boxes and boxes of materials that the Ministry had stolen from Riddle and Pettigrew and that Harry had unknowingly allowed to return. He wouldn't be able to dispose of it all before the Hogwarts Express left Hogsmeade, but he could do something about it this summer.
After all, Harry had no plans to return to Privet Drive, not with all the Dursleys dead. He also had no plans to cooperate with the Ministry and people like Yaxley and Malfoy. The older Malfoy might be hiding behind his wards for now, but that wouldn't always be the case.
Snape hadn't promised anything, just given Harry a way not to be noticed by the next Headmaster. The man had changed, but not entirely. There was still a core of snark inside him.
Harry now tried to determine how to ask his real question. In his conversations with the conquered Dark Lord, Harry had stumbled across the idea of a 'safe list.' Pettigrew had confirmed the idea. Harry had long wondered about the strangeness of Voldemort trying to offer his mother Lily a chance not to be killed.
There was no gentle way to ask the question so Harry just asked. "Did you put my mother on your safe list?"
Snape sat up straight. "Excuse me."
"When you joined the Death Eaters, did you put my mother, Lily Evans or Potter, on a safe list?"
Snape had recovered from his surprise. "I did."
"She had been my best friend before our estrangement. There was a lot of history I wanted to protect. I'm complicated that way. Joining the Death Eaters but trying to save one particular Muggleborn. Voldemort laughed when I asked. He should have killed me for daring. But he needed my skill with Potions."
"He killed her anyway."
The retiring professor nodded. "He died for it, too."
"Not because of his oath to you?"
"No. There was no firm, magical oath to me. All oaths flowed to him." The bitterness hung in the room a moment.
Harry thought back to an earlier comment. "You know about the statue in the Crystal Garden."
"Why do you say Voldemort died for breaking his oath to you?"
"Strange choice of words. I don't know who placed him in that garden, of course." He looked away from Harry. "No one does. Call it wishful thinking, I guess. There's a muggle term. Karma. He hurt so many. Me, for one. You, for another. I think he reaped from what he devastated."
"He did," Harry said.
Harry was confident in what Snape knew. He was also confident Snape would keep his knowledge to himself. That was the last of the things Harry had needed to clear up.
"Thank you, Professor."
"I'm not a Professor any longer."
"Consider it a term of respect."
"Well, perhaps I can do something to earn that. Some day. Good evening, Potter."
Harry left the room. He had the coming day to face, the Ministry gearing up to snatch Harry and make his life a hell. He was ready. He had an elegant temporary solution in mind.
The compartment was filled to bursting at the moment. People were up and out. Snape was a prime topic.
Also the House of Magic along with plans to go and visit it this summer. People were more interested in it than afraid of it, even after the fate of so many Ministry wizards. That was excused by several commenters as the fault of people taking weapons to a magical structure. They attack a tower built by another wizard, they should expect an attack in return.
Wizards, after all. Wizards love their towers.
Harry had come to understand that most anything in the magical world could be explained away with some gesture to history.
Why's the economy so weird? Wizards went to war with goblins. And again. And again. Almost always to a draw. The wars seemed to stretch on to infinity until someone proposed a solution. Give the gold to the goblins to guard and let the wizards muck around with other forms of creativity.
Why's magic so Roman? Native wizards went to war with Roman wizards. The Romans won a few decisive battles. The native magics stopped being taught and the Romanized ones eventually came to be the centerpiece of a school for magic in Scotland.
In fact, why is Hogwarts in Scotland? A wizard built a tower and then three of his friends convinced him to expand his tower into a proper castle. Then the four of them began taking on students. Because the tower came first and then the purpose.
So the answer to history was, often, a wizard built a tower or a wizard got in a fight with some creature or a wizard made a mistake (portkeys and apparition and the floo all had their starts with screw-ups).
Of course, Harry was still learning about the way that history made his friends and fellow students the way they were.
For now he was listening, not saying anything about Snape or the House of Magic. He knew too much not to be careful on those topics.
"You haven't said what you're doing this summer," Neville said.
"Don't know," Harry said. He regretted lying, but he needed this secret to hold a bit longer. "I'm supposed to have a hearing about new guardians."
Of course Harry had no intention of attending the hearing. He had once dreamed of a big solution to this problem, but right now the Magic in his mind was an enemy of big and flashy. Harry had gone for a smaller, quicker fix. Harry had a much bigger problem with Magic taking him over than he did with the Ministry.
Of course, which was Enemy #1 and which was Enemy #2 could change if Harry weren't careful.
For now, one enemy at a time. Especially when his mind was a handicap, when his magic might not respond just how he wanted when he needed it.
"I'd forgotten, Harry. I didn't help you prepare at all," Hermione said.
"I think it will be all right."
"But what if..."
The girl had a morbid imagination. Harry just nodded through her laundry list of all the bad things that could happen.
Harry just nodded. "Any of that could happen."
Hermione paused because of the surety of his tone of voice. She realized her friend had resources she had forgotten about. Skills with magic, for instance.
"Alright, Harry. You just tell me if you need my help."
"Mine, too," Neville added. "My Gran has dirt on just about everyone in the Ministry."
"Given the way it's a jungle now, trees and vines and a little river, I think everyone has dirt on everyone else," Harry joked. "Everyone's just completely dirty."
He wondered now if that idea, making the Ministry into a jungle and a locus of ridicule, had been his own or someone else's. It hurt not to know.
Harry had delved deep into magic, but it was possible he hadn't done any of it himself. He had been corralled into thinking a particular way. It more than bothered him.
Harry looked out the window. He saw they were now in the outskirts of London. He pulled his wand and shrank his trunk and Hedwig's cage. His owl had flown ahead.
He put both his belongings into his pocket. Hermione and Ron looked at Harry with a bit of surprise.
"There's a whole trainload of people. They're not going to pinpoint underage magic to me."
Hermione frowned but shrank down her down trunk.
"How are you two going to be able to unshrink them?" Ron asked. "My mum could help me."
Hermione frowned. She unshrank her luggage.
"Well?" Hermione asked.
"I fully expect I'll be set up somewhere with a magical family."
She shrugged. She looked concerned again, but Harry's calm lent her some calm.
She had decided to accept that Harry knew what he was doing.
"I'm going to go walk around for a few minutes. My legs are sort of stiff."
"Have a good wander," Neville said.
He walked up and down the train once then he took up a position in the second car at one of the windows in the passage. He opened the window just a fraction. Enough to slip out a few sheets of paper. Which was exactly Harry's plan.
As soon as they pulled into the secret portion of King's Cross, Harry could see the gathered crowd. It wasn't hard to pick out the red robes of the Aurors. Harry could even see Yaxley smiling.
He made one final check of the sheet of paper he'd enchanted. It should be just enough, but not too much, to allow Harry to escape.
The train slowed and came to a halt in the station. He let a piece of parchment flutter out of the train car and gently pendulum through the breeze, rocking back and forth, swaying its way to the paving stones.
A bright flash from the floor caught the attention of everyone in the hidden platform.
Harry moved to the exit and was among the first to disembark. He was halfway to the platform exit when he heard the first scream.
The affected people should now be realizing they were temporarily blind. Harry had almost forgotten about this simple trick. He'd used it once on Rita Skeeter. He'd used it to greater effect on a number of Aurors who had come to attack Harry even before Yaxley had become as prominent in the Ministry. Harry had performed an enchantment on anyone holding a wand on the platform. For the next hour their eyes, specifically their lenses, were opaque black. The enchantment would end well after Harry was gone; the vision of everyone effected would return to normal, not one of them the wiser as to how it happened.
A temporary, elegant solution. An hour was plenty of time to make good his escape. Then the Ministry could have as many hearings as it wanted. If they had no Harry they could enforce no decisions. Perhaps they'd try. Perhaps they'd give up for a time. Harry had the summer to plan something more permanent for Yaxley and Malfoy.
Harry heard more screaming. A lot more than he expected. Had there been hidden Aurors on the platform? Many people with drawn wands?
He turned to look and see how many were effected.
He slammed to a halt.
He didn't see people acting like they were blind, some even comically flailing about. He saw...he saw a continuation of the Crystal Garden on the platform. He saw people frozen or freezing into gold- and silver-veined crystal as he watched.
He saw Aurors turned to crystal. He saw fathers in the middle of family groups freezing. Here and there, people were turning solid and unmoving. Harry turned and began to run for the exit. He bumped into a frozen wizard and fell to the paving stones.
The crystal wasn't completely solid nor cold. In fact, it was crystal colored skin. Harry stood up and touched the former Auror. He could feel blood rushing under the man's / statue's skin. He wasn't dead, Harry hoped. He just wasn't alive.
Harry tore out of the platform.
He knew he hadn't botched the enchantment. He knew how he'd given the Crystal Tower the idea to fight back against Ministry wizards. The enchantments he'd prepared for today were far simpler. It had taken him just a few minutes to construct it.
To make an enchantment do what had happened would have taken Harry hours, more than hours.
So...he hadn't done this by accident.
Harry heard more screaming as he disappeared off the platform.
He'd called on magic, but Magic had responded. He'd asked for blindness, but Magic had decided to make a second Crystal Garden. Harry hoped this one would be temporary, just an hour. He had no idea if that would happen, though.
Magic, with a capital M, had been watching all along. She / he / it decided what Harry was planning was plenty fun. She / he / it had added a few personal twists. Apparently, this aspect of Magic enjoyed terror as much as admiration.
Harry stepped out of Gringotts with enough muggle and magical money to last past the summer. He made his way back to the muggle side of the world. He'd had directions from Sirius about how to find a particular house.
This had been his plan for some time. Say no to the Ministry, say yes to a summer with his godfather.
Sirius hadn't promised much.
Harry couldn't even think of a dark, cobwebbed home. He was still back on the platform looking at a young girl scream for her father who was turning opaque and stiff.
Harry realized he was running. He'd almost had a taxi smash into him.
Harry needed to get a grip before he was a smear on the road. The hijacking of his enchantment terrified him, but he needed to get to safety in one piece.
He slowed down. He started breathing more normally.
He made the turns he needed to and was soon looking for Grimmauld Place. The houses here had seen better days.
As soon as Harry walked up the steps to Number Twelve, the door opened and Sirius pulled Harry inside.
"Welcome to the House of..."
"Black," Sirius finished. He paused and looked at Harry. "Did you almost get eaten by a dragon out there? You look like you're dying."
"Can we sit down somewhere?"
"You have luggage?"
Harry took a few shrunken items out of his pocket. Sirius set them on a table. Harry took a bit of a look around. He didn't see cobwebs. He didn't see the promised dust. It looked like an antique, of course, but clean. Sirius had been busy.
A being popped into the room.
It was tall, almost taller than Sirius. It was thin and pale of skin with long, blond hair. Harry immediately thought of Tolkien and elves, the long-lived elves he wrote about.
"Take Master Harry's possessions to his room."
The being, not creature as his name seemed to imply, waved a hand and he and the items disappeared without a sound.
"What was he?" Harry asked.
"That was a house elf."
"I've seen house elves. That, or I should he, was something else."
"I've known Kreacher since I was old enough to talk. He'd belonged to my miserable father even before that. Kreacher is a house elf."
Apparently magic was changing more than Harry, more than Hogwarts. More beauty for the world, even the elves. Two Crystal Garden, house elves taller than humans, a cleaner Hogwarts, and so much more.
What had Harry done? What had Harry summoned into the world?
"I need to talk to you," Harry said.
Sirius pointed to a door. "Sit, let's talk. I've had more than one realization in the last few days."
Harry went into the room, a sort of stuffy parlor. He sat down but Sirius hadn't come into the room yet.
Harry didn't have enough power to fight the fight he was in. He didn't possess anywhere near the knowledge he needed.
He needed to understand this aspect of Magic.
He needed to know his enemy before more people were hurt, temporarily or permanently.
He didn't have even the first clue where to start with an opponent that could hijack or preempt his magic.
Sirius came into the room with two glasses and a crystal decanter of an amber liquid. Alcohol, something strong.
"I think we both need a drink, Harry."
A/N: For those who are following my original stories, I've just posted the second story in my espionage series Green Scale. The new story is called Prisons Forged From Lies. I think it's a lot of fun, full of double-crossing spymasters and lies-packed-inside-lies, plus more than a few plot twists. All the details about books 1 and 2 of the series are on my website (a link to my website is on my FFN profile page). Happy reading.