Chapter Seven: Magic is Boundary
Harry sat on a formal, uncomfortable chair inside the House of Black and told his story to Sirius, all of it. He focused on the last ninety minutes, how he'd planned a temporary prank on the Ministry wizards and witches designated to fetch Harry for his 'custody hearing.' How it had all gone so wrong with quite a few wizards turning to the same kind of crystal that the House of Magic was made from.
Sirius blinked at the last detail. "Turned to crystal?"
"Yes. Yes, crystal."
"Was it really the same as your..."
"House of Magic, yes."
Sirius took another drink of the amber alcohol.
Harry had only taken a sip before he put the tumbler down. The burn in his throat had warned him off. Now he wished he liked whatever it was Sirius had given him.
"What does this magic in your mind feel like?" Sirius asked.
Harry found it difficult to put the sensation into words. He tried. He recounted where he'd noticed the effect. He just couldn't make himself clear. How does one describe the base components that might otherwise be paranoia? 'I felt this heaviness.' 'I wasn't making my own decisions then.' 'It was all mind control, I swear.'
"That's good enough, Harry. I understand."
Harry wished that were true. "You don't. You can't."
"I'm pretty sure I have that oddity living inside me, too."
"I have since I swam in that pool inside your Crystal Palace. Gave me back a healthy body, but it added a little something extra, too."
"Oh. In your mind? Are you sure?"
"I'm so sorry..."
"You didn't know. I didn't either." Sirius turned his head toward the door. "Kreacher."
The very creepy being that Sirius called Kreacher walked into the room. Harry just didn't believe it could be a house elf. The thing was blonder and paler and taller than a Malfoy, not green and short. Perhaps magic had been dabbling, perhaps Harry was hallucinating. It was a very significant change.
"Bring the Wizarding Wireless into this room, please," Sirius said.
Kreacher nodded, turned, and left.
Harry, however, went from morose to angry in just a moment. "The Wizarding Wireless?"
"You need to listen to some bad music now?"
"No, I want to listen to the news."
Harry clamped his jaw shut. A blush appeared on his cheeks, embarrassment. "Sorry for leaping to a conclusion."
"You don't have to apologize to me for being rash. God, I'd owe a hundred apologies a day for doing or saying...ill-advised things. I'd have at least twenty years of apologies to make good on. If you pretend I'm not rash, I'll pretend you don't have your moments, alright?"
Kreacher returned with the wood and brass device. He set it on a table that looked like it could have been created just for the purpose of holding a Wizarding Wireless. Why the actual enchanted device had been stored in another room was probably a Black family quirk.
"The news channel, please," Sirius said.
Kreacher turned the dial and flicked a switch. A moment later the room was filled with a low crackling noise.
"...and Three-Quarters," said the female voice from the enchanted object. "I repeat, everyone who was temporarily petrified has been restored to life. Approximately one hour after they were turned to a translucent stone, the thirty-seven affected wizards all returned to, well, to normal."
"Thank Merlin," Harry said.
"The victims of this malicious attack are now being tended by Ministry wizards and staff from St. Mungo's..."
"One hour. The prank I was going to play was supposed to last an hour."
Harry had intended to blind the people who came for him for an hour, more than enough time to slip through the crowd, make it to Diagon Alley and Gringotts, and get into the safety of Sirius' home. Of course, whatever aspect of magic had decided to take up residence inside Harry changed something about the plan and Harry had had no clue.
"So the...thing that lives in your head, and my head, changed up the prank."
"We're waiting for a preliminary report from Ministry investigators," the voice from the Wizarding Wireless continued. "The trouble is that so many Ministry and DMLE employees were among the affected. It's taken some time to find Ministry investigators who weren't among..."
"Turn it off Kreacher," Sirius said.
"...the victims of this malicious..."
The room returned to silence.
"Thank you, Kreacher. You may return it to the basement."
"Very good, Master."
The odd being carried out the wood and brass box.
"It unwound whatever chaos it started," Sirius said. "Unpetrified these people."
Sirius couldn't be trying to say it wasn't something to worry about. "It's still a problem."
"There's still the chaos in my mind. I can't trust in my magic," Harry said.
"True. Magic is a problem."
"It's always been a bit fickle for me, especially the greater magics the Marauders once attempted. I had a hell of a time becoming an Animagus, let me tell you. Then there was... Well, that's a story for later."
That wasn't what Harry had meant about magic being a problem. He didn't think it was always a problem, just since the Magic took up residence.
Harry tried to think through what Sirius had just said about his troubles with magic. Something didn't add up the right way.
"You spent years as a dog to avoid the effects of the Dementors, how was that hard for you?"
"Learning to be an animagus was hard. Once I had it down, I could do it with little difficulty."
"But for the big stuff..."
"Right. A cheering charm was fine. A levitation, nothing troubling there. But combat magic beyond stunners? Yeah, it can be a problem for me. You know a lot of people feel that way. That's why, even though we're magical, most of us don't actually do much magic."
Harry shook his head. "I see adults do magic all the time."
"Yes, Mrs. Weasley..."
"Let me guess. She uses magic to cook?"
"I haven't been in her house in more than a decade. If I remember correctly, she used more enchanted objects than she did wanded spells."
Harry couldn't say that Sirius was wrong. "It's still magic."
"But adult wizards and witches, qualified magicals, are still somewhat nervous around magic. Now you have one dramatic experience why. Things can go wrong."
"I know that."
"We claim to study magical theory. We even clean to teach it in our schools. To be honest," Sirius said, "we don't really know why this or that works. Why this or that fails. The potioneers don't even know why formula A with a set of five ingredients turns out something useful and formula B of the same five turns out a poison. Other than saying it was all experience, trial and error. Magic is all art, not a lick of science."
"That doesn't make me feel better."
"It should make you more cautious."
"But...we both have problems that we should be able to fix with magic."
"I know what my problems are. Tell me yours."
This Sirius was different from the last few times Harry had met him. Magic was changing him, Harry realized. He could see the man was far more mature mentally than he'd ever been before.
What Harry couldn't see was just how magic was changing Harry Potter. He guessed he was more timid, more fearful. Beyond that he couldn't tell. He needed Sirius to help. But Sirius was a fellow victim, perhaps even part of the problem.
Harry decided to try to explain it all. The clearest statement he could make on his fears. "I had thought my enemy was the Ministry. But then I realized how could I do anything against them if I couldn't even trust my own magic. I even think of it as my magic. It thinks of itself as something else. Not so easy to plan when the plans can shift without any warning."
Sirius nodded. "That's what I was saying. We teach magic as a firm set of commands in school. By the time someone is thirty or forty, they realize it doesn't work quite that way. Perhaps at Hogwarts it does. Perhaps in Diagon Alley it does. Go out into the countryside and play with magic. It's a bit different. I know. I hid out in a couple of caves for a while. Magic varies, in part based on where the magic is performed. Some things are easy in some places, but harder in others."
Harry had taken the school lessons as truths. Magic was magic; it was the expertise of the wizard or witch that mattered. Now Sirius was adding this complexity into the formula. The place really mattered, too? "What are you saying?"
"Magic is something we use without understanding. There is no one formula to predict what it will do when you call on it to do something important."
Harry could agree with that, disconcerting as it was.
"That means I have no idea what we can do about our problems with magic. About this thing that lives in my head, it's changed me, I know, but it's also remade the inside of what I remember was a much darker, more foreboding home. Then what it's done to Kreacher and to those people on the platform. I don't know how to perform any of those 'spells' myself. I don't know how to reverse any of it either."
"We shall have to see if we can use magic to solve these problems."
"Or if we're stuck," Harry said. "I had no idea. All the magic I've done at Hogwarts and in Hogsmeade..."
"Yes, it's very stable. A perfect place to teach young learners. The world outside is a wilder place and we don't know why. Or we weren't taught why."
"Where do we start?"
"We'll get this, Harry."
"It won't be easy."
"No. It won't. It also won't be much fun. I'd far rather be in some sleazy bar right now. Have you ever been to one?"
Harry smiled. There was the Sirius he knew. "No."
"Some other time, then. Maybe when you're thirty."
"We've got some books here."
Harry also had another cache of books in his trunk. Then there were the ones the Ministry had kept away from Riddle and Pettigrew.
"Fine. We'll lose our eyesight in the library."
"We're not going to read everything. We're going to skim to find the handful of books that might be useful."
"Can't we just read the spines of the books?" Harry asked.
"Some of these are very old. Or hand-pressed volumes done in very limited runs. No titles on spines, I'm afraid."
Living with Sirius was a thousand times better than being saddled with whatever murderous plot the Ministry had been simmering for him. Harry needed to handle his enemies in order. First, get his magic back in some semblance of order. Then consider what to do with people like Yaxley and Malfoy.
Even if it meant he lived in the library.
Anything was better than being betrayed by Magic again.
Harry wondered if his fingers were permanently stained purplish-black. They'd been through the Black books. Harry had let Sirius skim the special volumes he'd collected. They'd also done a midnight trip to recover the Pettigrew and Riddle books from the Shrieking Shack in Hogsmeade. All of those volumes were now in the library waiting for a skim.
Harry looked for another book to dig through. Something small and thin.
"Travelogue to the Black Forest in Germany?" Sirius asked.
Harry looked across the table. "Any interesting magic?"
"The wizard who wrote it likes to make trees talk. Apparently he enchanted an entire grove. Some recite poetry. Others give speeches on how to be a good king."
Sirius barely restrained a laugh.
"Pass," Harry said. "You screwball."
"It was too weird not to mention."
Harry picked up another volume buried a third of the way down the stack, the slimmest one he could see. He started reading it. It felt like a children's book, but the plot appealed to Harry's current needs.
It was after all a struggle between a witch and some dangerous kind of magic.
Harry hit one line and read it again and again. He decided Sirius had to hear it, too. "'The mother cried about the loss of her youngest child and magic woke up and began to talk to her.'"
Sirius put his new open book down on the table. "Interesting."
Harry nodded as he continued reading ahead.
Finally there was another paragraph that made Harry stop and read it again.
"'In the winter time, when magic came to take its price, the mother asked magic to sit at the table and stay a while. The mother offered bread and soup for a meal. The magic accepted. The mother offered to tell a story. The magic accepted. The mother began to speak, the tale long and full of curves. Eventually the story and the heavy weight of the food lulled the magic asleep.'"
"Does magic have a stomach?" Sirius asked.
"I don't know. But I want to find out," Harry said.
"It could be part true and part fancy," Sirius cautioned.
"Let me finish reading this."
"'Once the magic slept on the floor of the house, the mother took her knife and cut open the bulging stomach of the magic. Out spilled the soup and bread along with the mother's missing, but not dead, young child.'"
"Definitely taken some license there," Sirius said. "Weren't there children's books that featured you wrangling dragons when you were six?"
Harry shot Sirius a poisoned look. "Weren't you listening?"
"I'm still stuck on the idea of magic having a stomach."
"Not that part, the lulling of the magic to sleep."
"I heard it."
"The Magic told me it didn't want to sleep again. That was one of the earliest things I learned about...her."
Sirius nodded. "Yes, that's right. You had mentioned that. That little detail does match up. Interesting. You should read the whole story."
"I did. I read aloud the most descriptive parts."
"Fairly vague. Skim through everything else in that book."
"Then we'll need to see if there's anything useful at all."
"I don't think you should equip yourself with soup and a knife, Harry." He was smiling at his little joke.
Of all the times for Sirius to get his true personality back. "I get that. But this is still the first thing in a week that alludes to magic being alive."
"It's something. It's just not an instruction manual."
"Yeah. Even if it gives us an idea, there's lots of trial and error to follow," Harry said, his tone just a bit less eager.
"You got it. Keep reading," Sirius said.
So Harry did. The next story and the next, like darker versions of Grimm's, one of the few references Harry had growing up in the muggle world. The Queen and some fairy tales and sounds of shows he was never allowed to watch plus a zoo and many, many hours in a school he hadn't loved. That was Harry Potter before he'd entered the magical world.
Now he half wondered if he'd have been better off going to a comprehensive and trying for a place in a decent university somewhere.
The coward's way. Harry really noticed how craven he was becoming, how afraid.
It bothered him. It more than bothered him. His mind was changing and he had no say in what was happening or how.
He needed a solution fast. Before there was no way for Harry to return to who he was before this latest thing had happened.
When Harry woke that night well after midnight he had a sense of what would happen. He dressed himself and found himself making his quiet way down the stairs and out the front door. Once more he apparated to near Ottery St. Catchpole. Once more he stood inside the House of Magic.
Once more there was an otherworldly avatar waiting to talk to him. Harry had been summoned and had had no way to refuse.
Harry felt himself moving to one of the seats, in crystal, that had grown up out of the ground. He sat and the avatar walked toward him. She stood a few feet away.
"Why won't they come here any more?" she asked.
They? Harry wasn't 'in' on this conversation yet. "Who?"
Harry looked around. The House of Magic was far cleaner than the last few times Harry had come. But in this case he suspected the cleanliness was more because of disuse than of someone's efforts tidying up.
Harry wouldn't come back to this mistake of his unless he were dragged here. He had a good guess why the others, all the others, felt the same way.
"Scared of magic?"
The entity sounded shocked and exasperated. Incredulous.
"What happened on the train station platform, it scared people," Harry said.
The avatar, while lacking the fine detail of a human face, appeared to be three seconds away from a full snit. Eventually the tension released.
"I don't understand. They liked it when I made the Crystal Garden."
No one had liked it. It had also been frightening. But people had been curious about it, too.
"They were in awe. The building defended itself." Witches and wizards could understand what had happened, cause and effect.
Which was different from what happened on the platform. People couldn't tell themselves a sane story about what turned more than thirty people into crystal for an hour. Why this person and not that one? Why for an hour? What if the change had been forever?
People couldn't make a coherent story out of what happened. They couldn't just say 'oops, one of those things.' The fear had settled in, it was there to stay. Not that Harry was volunteering any of his thinking. He didn't want to receive a tantrum from Magic.
"They should be in awe over the beauty I gave them where they all stood. There aren't many places in the world where lots of witches and wizards gather."
Harry puzzled over the words. He had the sense he was talking to something very old, very wise, but also impossibly immature. It wanted to attract more people to visit it, admire it. So it had decided to advertise. Transforming temporarily some people into crystal so others would come to see the permanent exhibit. Something like that.
It was strange, but Harry knew at once that he'd made an important discovery. He'd known this being, this aspect of magic was concerned with the beauty of things. But the vanity went deeper. Anything that deep could be a weakness. Harry couldn't see how to turn it into victory, yet, but there had to be something to this.
First, beauty was what it looked for. The uninteresting, unbeautiful was what it avoided.
Second, it wanted admiration. It wanted praise and attention and love of people it had no problem turning to crystal. A very strange manifestation.
"Has anyone come here since you showed them what you can do at the train station?" Harry asked.
Never was a word more filled with pouting and anger.
"I don't think I like fear," the avatar said. "How do I make it go away?"
Harry couldn't believe this being was asking him for advice. She was imprisoning him, at least the true qualities of his mind and personality, and now she wanted his help as well.
For an ancient, wise being, this avatar was also fairly stupid.
Harry didn't say that. He sniffed an opportunity for sabotage. He could plant a seed...but for what?
"You don't understand witches and wizards."
"But you want to."
"I want them to come here again. I don't want to go back to sleep."
Harry had to keep from smiling. There it was. The avatar's true weakness and greatest fear – along with a roadmap of how to make it a reality.
If this aspect of magic kept scaring people, hopefully in temporary, if terrifying, ways, people would stay away. If they forgot her / him / it, the avatar might just return to sleep. It knew that and was already scared of the possibility.
One always knew one's own vulnerabilities. The incautious couldn't help but dwell on them. Harry was glad for the clues.
Harry didn't know how to use the information.
He didn't have time to think it through. Wait a bit, head back, and wait to be summoned back. This hadn't happened often to him and not on some kind of schedule he could predict. He had to try something now.
"You want them to admire magic?" Harry asked.
"It is the most beautiful thing in the world," the avatar said. "The most important thing. Belief in the beauty of magic."
Harry didn't agree, but he had a plan to try. "Then you must keep showing them magic."
"I have made some of the elves more beautiful. I am growing the trees in a forest bigger. I am cleaning the castle where you live much of the year. Is that not enough?"
"Those are bits of small magic. Witches and wizards admire great magic."
"Like my house?" the avatar asked.
"Yes. What else does the world lack? What else can you do to make it more beautiful?"
"Something for Hogsmeade? Old wooden buildings, some of them falling down? Couldn't they be made of crystal for a week?"
"Oh, that would be beautiful. So beautiful."
The avatar was beyond happy. So was Harry.
"The stones in Diagon Alley are rather worn and dirty. Perhaps you could shift them to crystal for a few days."
"I would like to feel that place as well."
The crystal was not just something she admired. It also gave her / him / it a foothold. Harry wondered if he had a little crystal sphere living in his brain just now.
"There are great summer parties at some of the magical estates, aren't there?"
Harry was making that up. He could imagine Draco Malfoy inviting people to his family estate, the right sort of course. The question was, how many qualified as the right sort. A handful of people inside a vast mansion wasn't much of a party.
"I should like to go to a party," the avatar said. "I must go to a party."
"Perhaps some redecorating..."
"Fences of crystal," the avatar said, already dreaming.
"Perhaps the stone of the house made more beautiful."
Should be enough to terrify everyone. Keep this corner of Ottery St. Catchpole deserted, starve this aspect of magic back into a long, deep slumber.
"I would love it."
"They would, too."
Eventually the avatar shook her / his / its head. "No, I don't think I can do that."
"You don't want to?" Harry asked.
"I do, more than anything."
"You don't know how?"
A spike of pique. "Of course I can do it."
"I don't like this fear. I think my coming to their parties would send them more fear."
Alright, magic wasn't stupid. It could dream, but it could also reason.
Harry wasn't content giving up. He'd introduced the idea. Hesitation had slowed it. But that didn't mean the idea was dead.
"Beauty is important in the world," Harry said.
"You were very helpful. Beauty is important, we both agree. But I'll have to think of something else. You can go."
Harry stood up.
"Best of luck," Harry said.
He hoped the avatar would do something big. Something that really put the fear of magic into people. He didn't know if this reticence from the avatar would change to desperation and some ill-advised action. He could only hope.
Harry walked out of the House of Magic. He noticed the avatar had disappeared. Harry walked a distance away and apparated back to Sirius' home and a no-longer warm bed.
Breakfast the next morning involved a good deal of shouting. Sirius wasn't angry with Harry being kidnapped – at least not angry at Harry for his involuntary trip – and his older personality, impetuous and emotional, shone out for a few good minutes. Sirius was just plain angry.
Eventually the statesman inside Sirius returned. He calmed down and tried to eat something. In the quiet moments he turned over what Harry had said. "So sleeping is the answer. Putting the ancient baby back into the crib."
"I think so."
"It was a good idea. A very good try what you did."
"It didn't work."
"Well, there is that. But it was also a dangerous idea."
"I don't think she would have hurt me."
"I meant the people in Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley."
Harry hadn't even thought of them. "I think it would have surprised them. I don't know how it would have turned dangerous..."
"Unless the avatar decided to take a reasonable suggestion and make it unreasonable. We've seen that before, haven't we?"
Harry had done several dangerous things in the last year without thinking them through. How he destroyed the Goblet of Fire, for one. How he defended his Crystal Tower against the Ministry, for another. Both had solved messes and made fresh ones.
"Right," Harry said.
Sirius pushed a platter of toast across the table. "Want an egg or something?"
"I think we both agree it's better if Kreacher does it."
"Two fried eggs, I guess."
Sirius summoned the 'house elf' and gave the orders.
"Can you pass me the Prophet?" Harry asked. He pointed to the end of the table.
"You don't want to read it."
"Front page is about the Ministry's search for you."
"Damn. They weren't disorganized for as long as I expected."
"Nice fat quotes from your friend Yaxley. They need to find you 'for your safety.'"
For all definitions of 'safety,' including the ones where Harry died of safety.
"He was one of the ones turned to crystal, wasn't he?" Harry asked.
"The paper mentioned it."
"He learned nothing from the experience."
"If one has no mind, just a pit of violence, one can't learn," Sirius said.
"We can't wait out the House of Magic."
"Says the man who waited for the Ministry to give him a trial."
"Still waiting. Much better waiting in this house than in my previous accommodations."
Harry was sure that much was true.
"I think I liked you better before magic got her claws into your mind," Harry said.
"I think I preferred that, too. I was a lot more fun. Now I'm too much an adult."
"I suppose I should read the article," Harry said. "If it's about me."
"Eat your breakfast first. You don't want to curdle your appetite."
They passed the next few minutes eating and thanking the oddly graceful elf / house elf / being that made them breakfast. Harry wound up eating four eggs and a considerable amount of buttered toast.
"Someone's about to get taller," Sirius said.
"Merlin, I hope."
Harry pushed the plate away and collected the Prophet. He read the article on the front page and frowned. It seemed to imply that Harry was about six and in need of serious nursing, rather than a rising fifth year student at Hogwarts. Could wizards remember and apply a single fact? Like, say, how old a Hogwarts student might be.
Harry turned the page and read the article on the 'stalled' investigation into what had happened at King's Cross Station.
Magic had happened, Harry thought. As if it'd never occur to witches and wizards. Real magic, greater magic summoned not by a witch or wizard but by an aspect of magic.
"Your frown is going to break your face," Sirius said.
"They're not going to wait for my handicap to go away."
"I can't rely on magic right now."
"I also agree on that."
"What are we going to do?" Sirius summarized.
"That means neither of us knows. I was raised as a wizard. Magic is about the only thing I know. Even if I am cautious around it for non-routine things."
"I spent some years on the other side, but I feel the same way," Harry said. "I don't know what to do."
"Keep playing nice with that avatar if you're summoned again."
"Back to the library?"
He had to put in the hours if he wanted results. But no one was waiting for him to get his plan in order.
Enemies weren't considerate enough to wait when their opponent was hobbled. Go figure
Harry didn't trust enough in magic to develop a magical plan. He also didn't have the experience or the time to develop something else. He needed to clear the way to use magic again.
Easier thought than done. He was sure that his problem with magic was harder than his problem with the Ministry. So how could he clear up his harder problem in order to handle his easier one?
He couldn't. He had no time. He also had no real clue where he could get started on his problems.
Back to the library. Back to sifting through what other people had known, had described.
Back to waiting for a white knight to save Harry.
He almost wished Dumbledore were still alive, the man who had such strong values and then proceeded to break them whenever it was convenient. But the old liar had had years on his side and hidden sources of knowledge. He had the appearance, if not the reality, of being a white knight.
Harry suspected – no, he knew – he would have to stumble on a way for saving himself and Sirius.
When or where that would happen, he had no clue. Just massive anxiety.
Harry put the book back on the table. He was fairly sure his eyes were bleeding now. He noted Sirius was asleep, his head resting on top of his particular pile of books.
They were keeping busy but they weren't making any progress.
There were hints in the books, little stories here and there. The most useful material was in fairy tales, nursery tales.
The one Harry clung to now – even though he knew it was likely more imagination than potential roadmap for what to do – was a war between magic, which was how some stories explained the differences between light and dark magic.
"Sirius, read this."
Harry's godfather snored.
Harry picked a book and lofted it at the sleeping man.
It clipped Sirius on the shoulder. Sirius sat up, blinking.
"I have a book you should read."
"Give me a moment, alright?"
Harry went back to the book that had almost seen him falling asleep. Sirius made a show of stretching and yawning and being ridiculous. He was so serious sometimes, a gift from the vain magic living inside him, but there were moments when he was still himself.
Harry closed the rather tedious book of stories and passed them across the table. They weren't much worth reading, save for the fact that they discussed a war within magic. Harry couldn't imagine any child enjoying these tales one bit. Perhaps they'd been written as punishment, to be read to a misbehaving child or one who refused to go to sleep at night.
Sirius picked up the book. "Ah, this font. It makes my eyes water."
Sirius began reading all the same.
"The battle between good and evil. I think I've read that somewhere."
Harry laughed. "But this story is about the formation of light and dark magic."
"It's even gauzier than a lot of the other stories we've found."
"I hate that we have to dig out true magical theory by surveying ancient fairy tales," Harry said.
"Witches and wizards don't have as much curiosity as they should."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked.
"Most people who specialize don't wonder why. They wonder what can I do. Can I transfigure gold? No. Can I transfigure food? No. Very few, if any, ever do investigation into why. Too damned scary perhaps."
Harry pushed over a stack of books. Some landed on the table, some on the floor. "There's nothing we can do about the You-Know-What in Ottery St. Catchpole."
"Nothing we know of, yet," Sirius said. "Kreacher."
The being opened the door and strode into the room. He refused to 'pop' into a space where his 'master' was. He seemed far happier arriving just outside the room and walking in. Merlin only knew why.
"What does Master require?"
"Can you make Harry and I some sandwiches?"
He turned to leave.
"Hold. Are there any other books in the house?"
The being turned around but was silent a moment.
"Only the ones in this room, Master."
"I wish we knew more about magic, why it does what it does," Harry said.
Kreacher took an involuntary step back.
Sirius noticed. "What do you know about magic, Kreacher?"
In all their time researching they hadn't broached their subject with the being that shared the house with them.
Harry wondered if it wasn't Kreacher's secret. "What does the House of Black know about magic?" Harry asked.
Kreacher shifted from one foot to the other.
Harry looked at his godfather. Sirius nodded.
"You can tell me the secrets of the House of Black. What do we know about magic? What secrets?"
This time Kreacher had to answer. "The Blacks have studied magic for centuries."
"Yes," Sirius agreed.
"They own part of a forest."
Sirius nodded. "There are many holdings. What is special about this forest?"
"Magic comes from magic places."
Harry looked baffled. He'd only just discovered that, or something like that.
Kreacher had known it all the time. The House of Black knew that? Why wasn't it taught? Why wasn't it in these damned books?
"Which forest contains this magic, Kreacher?" Sirius asked.
"The House of Black holds a major portion of Wychwood. It's kept under wards so that Muggles and others cannot find it."
"So, how does this forest enter into the family's knowledge of magic."
"There is something powerful and dangerous that lives there. The source of the greatness – the former greatness – of the House of Black. All the important family magic is done there. Although not in recent times."
"I've never heard that," Sirius said, finally admitting his ignorance to the family retainer.
"Master Sirius might be head of the family, but he was never taught to be head of the family."
Harry wondered about his own family. What had died with his parents and his grandparents? What might Harry never know about his own situation? It was a question he would need to dwell on later.
"And none of this was ever written down?" Sirius asked. "My family's relationship to Wychwood?"
"My paranoid family."
"The Heads of the House of Black feared the outside world, of course. But they feared their brothers and cousins and uncles more," Kreacher said.
"More hoarding of knowledge," Harry said.
"It kept the lord of the family alive longer," Kreacher said.
Harry realized the being would only respond to Harry when he wasn't betraying family secrets. Good to know. Even better that Sirius could make Kreacher explain himself.
"Do you know any of the family stories about Wychwood?"
"It is a dark place, master. Massive compared to the parts the Muggles had destroyed."
Harry took that as a 'no.'
"A dark place for rituals?" Sirius asked.
"To talk to magic? Do any of the stories about the Heads of the House talk about them talking to magic?"
"I cannot say."
Which felt like a 'yes' to Harry.
"Were you sworn not to talk about it?"
Harry nodded. Every time he heard more about the Black family, he increased his understanding of their vast, and deserved, paranoia.
"But you can tell me how to get inside the wards?"
Kreacher tightened his pale face. "I can."
"Harry? What do you think? Would you like to see what this kind of magic might know about our problem?"
Most of the troubles of the world might be solved just by the right person asking the right question at the right time. Too bad the timings rarely lined up.
In this case, Harry wouldn't turn down any help he could get. Yes, if they were incautious they could make their problem worse. But...what if they could find a solution to one or the other of their problems?
Just by visiting a hidden part of a forest?
"Hold on, I'm thinking," Harry said.
"We both know we have to do this."
That Harry did know. A place where magic was strong. A place where it might even make rituals work better. Hadn't the avatar at the House of Magic claimed that as a benefit to that space? Perhaps there were more places like that. Harry had no expectation that a place beloved of the House of Black would be gentler.
"Does the magic serve the House of Black?" Sirius asked Kreacher.
"I have heard so."
"We have to go. We have to try it," Harry said. "But not until we understand at least a bit more."
"Very good. We're both thinking more. A bit of caution is quite useful. Kreacher, grab us up those sandwiches and return. We're going to have a nice, long lunch meeting. All three of us."
The being was unhappy but it nodded. It walked out of the room.
"It's all a question of dragging it out of him," Sirius said.
"Asking the right questions isn't easy," Harry said.
"No, but we have some ideas now."
Harry pulled a roll of parchment over to him and began a new list. 'Things We Need to Know About Wychwood.'
"If another aspect of magic lives there," Harry said. "Can we use one of them to fight off the other?"
"Write that down. We're not going to find a book on that, but there might be a story we can dislodge from Kreacher."
It wasn't going to be easy to use Magic to restrain Magic. But they had to try. The Ministry was up to its tricks again. Yaxley and perhaps even Malfoy were moving around causing problems, causing disappearances, causing death.
They needed to prepare, but they also needed to be daring once the planning was done.
They also needed not to die if they got in trouble in the Black Family forest.
Four days after Kreacher cracked open an unexpected Black Family secret, Sirius and Harry apparated to Milton-under-Wychwood, the village closest to the only entry through the Black Family wards covering their part of Wychwood. Sirius suggested they eat something so they took thirty minutes. They didn't talk much and didn't eat much either. Nerves for both of them.
They had what stories they could get from Kreacher. They had a plan. They expected they were underprepared.
Eventually Sirius tired of stalling. He followed a copy of an ancient map out of the village. Milton-upon-Wychwood was almost on top of the Black Family holdings. It was probably still a village, unable to grow, because of the confluence of the wards. Muggles who were somewhat sensitive to magic had to find the village rather disturbing.
The pair could have easily gotten lost in the forest save for the irony that the secret Black Family path to their ward line had become something of a touristed trail. Harry and Sirius saw a half-dozen other people out and about in the summer morning.
The hike into the forest took them an hour, but at least half of that was unwinding moments spent getting lost. The hiking trail varied from the path for the last third of the map's path and it had taken them some time to determine they had veered from the correct course.
Finally they arrived at the only clue the Black Family left regarding the wards. It was a stack of stones, eight stones in all, that had thick Muggle-repelling wards plastered all over them.
Per what Kreacher had told them, Sirius took out a silver knife and nicked the tip of one of his fingers. Once he got the blood flowing, Sirius daubed a bit on each of the eight stones. Then he healed the cut and tucked the dagger back away. It was a moment before Sirius, but not Harry, could feel a difference. It was almost a minute before he could see anything that looked different from just more trees.
"There," Sirius pointed.
"I don't see anything," Harry said.
Sirius took Harry's hand in his own. "Ah."
There was an arch of stone that now stood perhaps ten feet from the eight stacked stones. It definitely hadn't been visible to them before. The forest they could see through the arch looked similar to what they could see otherwise, but they could also feel the flows of magic inside.
Beckoning, welcoming. Rather unlike what Harry thought about the House of Black from Sirius' stories.
"Ready?" Sirius asked.
"We need something," Harry said. "Yes, let's go."
Together they walked toward and under and through the arch. A few feet inside, Harry knew he was in a truly magical place.
This felt ten times more magical than Hogwarts or even the House of Magic.
It didn't feel dark as he'd expected.
In fact, if anything, Harry felt a lightness he hadn't felt in some time. He could see why the Blacks might have treasured a space like this. Why they would have gone to enormous lengths to hide it.
Harry wondered why Kreacher had said it was dangerous. So far it felt wonderful.
"You are late," a voice boomed.
Sirius and Harry turned and twisted. A pile of rocks, looking more like a stone troll than anything else, shambled through the trees toward them.
"A decade late. Explain yourself, Head of the House of Black."
The magic was still comfortable, wonderful, but both Sirius and Harry were frozen in fear.
"The agreement between us is almost broken. Another year or two... Begin your explanations now," the being demanded.
Harry put his hand on his godfather's shoulder. It did enough. It didn't calm Sirius, but it did help to focus him.
"I apologize. I knew nothing about you."
"I have no defense other than that. I learned about this forest four days ago. We..."
"You should have come immediately."
Sirius nodded. "I see that now. We were trying to determine how best to come here, learn the lore of this place. Unfortunately the House of Black is much diminished."
The being came within twenty feet before it slowed and stopped.
"It's obvious you know nothing. Sit, you and your companion, sit both of you, we have much to discuss."
Harry wasn't going to argue with something that was so eminently magical. He lowered himself to the ground, but found there was a stone seat waiting for him. He sat on the stone and found it oddly comfortable. Then he tagged on the jacket Sirius wore. His godfather lowered himself to his own stone chair.
They hadn't been attacked, except with harsh words. In fact, Sirius at least had been expected.
"You have both been touched by Magic, but not mine. You will explain."
Sirius looked to Harry.
He took a moment. "It's my fault."
"Is it?" the stone construct asked.
"I think so, yes."
"Tell me the story, young wizard. But start with your name. You aren't a part of the House of Black, I can tell, but the Head of the House of Black has brought inside the boundaries of this place."
"I am Harry Potter."
"The Potter Family has no agreement with me."
"I am now becoming aware of that."
"Continue," the being demanded.
"I had thought to...inspire my fellow witches and wizards with a bit of a great magic, as we sometimes call it. I created an enchantment that constructed a tower out of crystal, silver, and gold near where several other wizarding families lived."
The being looked at Harry but was silent for some time. It gave Harry a chance to look at the jumble of animated stones. The stone that took the place of the head had no eyes, no lips, no mouth. The sound wasn't coming from the 'body' but from elsewhere. What a mystery – why did the magic do such a thing. To put Sirius at east. Rather, the stones were more terrifying than anything in the first moments.
"It took on the name of House of Magic?" the being asked.
Harry had no idea how the being knew that. Unless it could read minds.
"It has killed witches and wizards?"
"Attacked others without killing them?"
"It is good you found me, then. You started something far beyond your skill to handle."
"There is a cost to be borne for what you've done. Will you pay it?"
Harry took a breath. Could he ask the cost? Was it a cost in magic or blood or even his life?
"You hesitate. At least you have wisdom enough for that even though you started this problem. The price will be paid in homage and time. Can you pay this price?"
Homage and time? What did that mean?
"Yes," Harry said.
The being turned to Sirius. "I would have thought you'd both be aware of this 'lore' as you call it."
"I apologize, but no," Sirius said.
"I sense both of you spent time in one such magical place. Years of your time."
The only place Harry had spent years of his life was at Little Whinging and Hogwarts. There was but one choice.
"Do you mean Hogwarts?" Harry asked.
"Yes. It wasn't the first such...eruption of the wild magic to take on a personality, but it was the first to be tamed with an agreement between wizards and the magic."
Tamed? That sounded like just what Harry needed.
"What do you mean by personality?" Sirius asked.
"That aspect was one that treasured wisdom. Hence why a school for the young was part of the agreement, why four powerful wizards and witches bound themselves to a single place for much of the rest of their lives. They were forced to give up their wandering ways. The tower that was built there first was inadequate to the purpose so it was expanded into a castle keep. You didn't know, did you?"
"No," Sirius said.
"While people may forget, magic does not. We remember the agreements we make and the ones that bind us."
Taming? Binding? These words would have horrified Harry if they were applied to him. But now...it almost sounded wonderful. Harry had had no idea that magic might consent to be bound. He had heard none of this, read none of this. So many books on magic and none of them touched on a lick of truth.
He had thought he would have to fight magic without the benefit of magic, something impossible. Now there was this other option, perhaps forging some sort of bargain with magic. For 'homage and time,' whatever that meant.
"The longer I'm in contact with you the more I know about you, even the things you do not wish to tell me. You're afraid of this agreement, young Potter."
"Let me tell you the story of another young wizard I once knew. His name was Hydrus Black."
"I know that name. I had to learn about him. He was my great-great-great uncle or something," Sirius said.
"He was curious about the world. He began performing his experiments in this forest. He did enough magic in one place that...well, I bubbled up."
"What kind of magic?" Sirius asked.
"If you have to ask the question, you don't want to know."
"You seem very unlike the stories I've heard about Hydrus."
"I am not him. I am an aspect of magic."
"Of what temper?" Harry asked.
"I represent guile."
"A pile of stones doesn't make me think guile," Sirius said. "Hydrus was known more for his cruelty. Are you sure you don't represented strength or darkness..."
"You question me?"
"Yes," Sirius said.
The being of stone was quiet a moment. "I cannot lie to the Head of the House of Black."
"The stone? Why choose stone?"
"It got rapid compliance."
It had at that. It scared them into listening.
"You tricked us into thinking you violent?"
"I cannot attack the Head of the House of Black. However, I am not required to correct his misconceptions, either."
Sirius laughed. "We might get along well."
"It's part of our obligation to each other."
"Because of Hydrus?"
"You made an agreement with him?"
"Eventually we came to a compromise."
Harry was sure there was a story there, one he'd likely never hear.
"What name do you wish me to call you?"
"I have never had a name. I do not wish for one, either."
Sirius agreed. "Fine. Now tell me the story of you and Hydrus."
"No. I will tell you of our agreement."
"If that's the most important thing," Sirius said.
"He agreed to homage and time. We would stop our hostilities. The House of Black would protect this forest with its magic, such as these boundary lines."
"That is the word you use, yes."
"What do you mean by homage and time?" Harry asked.
"Very good, young Potter. These are things you both must know. The House of Black to meet my agreement. The House of Potter to handle its own problem."
"Homage requires a ritual donation of your magic to the entity or aspect you have made an agreement with."
On the surface that didn't sound impossible to Harry.
"My family has done rituals here for your benefit, not our own?" Sirius asked.
"If done correctly, it should benefit both sides."
"I owe you several years of homage, don't I?"
"You will be making the first catch-up payment before you leave today."
Ah, that was the reason the entity was so helpful now. It was explaining but it was also teaching for a more immediate purpose. A more selfish purpose.
"What does the other part of the formula mean? 'Homage and time.' The time part?"
"The agreement will last for at least one hundred years. You and your family after you are obligated to continue the ritual."
A hundred years? Harry could barely think of the coming school year.
Still, he nodded. He'd heard nothing to make him refuse the offer on the table. This being's help...
"Will I owe homage and time to you? Or to the House of Magic?"
"Good question. To both."
"For how long?"
"To me, one hundred years. To the House of Magic you created, forever unless you wish the agreement ended."
Harry couldn't see any good ever coming of letting that vain aspect of magic loose again. He wasn't just committing his family, which he didn't yet have, to a hundred years. He was binding them forever.
"There will be time for more questions. But now I must instruct the Head of the House of Black on the ritual."
Sirius looked stunned a moment. Then he nodded. "Was the agreement between you and Hydrus ever written down?"
"What does magic need with writing? No, it was never a signed agreement. It was an agreement in and of magic."
Harry realized Sirius was beyond nervous. He was trusting this aspect of magic, of guile, to be honest now. Still, he wouldn't turn some kind of independent source, like a contract. Unfortunately, trust was all he had.
"Tell me what I need to know," Sirius said.
Sirius slept on a bed of stone after the ritual. He was tired and his magic was exhausted. He also looked to Harry more healthy. Perhaps there were benefits that extended both ways.
"May we speak now?" Harry asked the entity.
"I had hoped so. I was very rude before."
Now it was a charm campaign. Harry was alert but suspected he'd succumb any way.
"You had been ten years..."
"Without the ritual. Were the wards, the boundaries in danger?"
"Yes." The entity waited a moment. "Ask your questions."
"What did I awaken?"
"The aspect used that term? Waking up."
"Not exactly. Just a fear of going to sleep or going back to sleep."
"I understand. Let me see what I can explain to you. She's just a baby, to use genders and terms you would understand. She has no perspective, no patience, little curiosity. Just hunger for what she considers beauty. She lives for admiration or screams, she lives for attention."
"Yes. You'd already guessed?"
"Yes. How can I..."
"You do not have the strength to negotiate at this time. However, you have agreed to my price. For that I will make her agree to what we've discussed or I will lull her back to sleep."
"You have the strength to do that?"
How had Hydrus Black bargained with this entity to bind itself? A trick played upon an entity of guile? What a mind Hydrus must have had. He probably would have been unpleasant to know as a wizard.
"Will she...mature?" Harry asked.
"Will it take a hundred years?"
"I'm sorry for what I did," Harry said.
"Greater magics done by wizards or witches always possess risk. The effects are impossible to predict."
"I didn't know."
"Especially difficult if you are not warned about the greater magics, about awakening beings you may not wish to give personalities to."
Harry needed to think on that before he was ready to speak to this being more. But he had another question in line with his attempt to clear his messes.
"Can I help the men I or she turned to crystal?"
"I'd be willing to pay..."
"That price would be much higher. A massive cost to all of us. One you may be willing to pay, but I am not."
Harry nodded. He had helped to end the lives of people who were doing evil but who may not have been evil themselves. Witless dupes.
It would have been easier if all of them were like Malfoy or Yaxley. People who deserved an irreversible punishment.
"Why were you willing to make a deal with me?" Harry asked. "You didn't have to offer."
"We must have these boundaries or we must sleep. Two choices only. Do you understand that now?"
They were so dangerous, so powerful. Even a matured avatar could recognize that. Now Harry could, too, if too late.
"I do," Harry said.
"This place is fragile. Your people are even more fragile. We must live inside a safe space or we must sleep. We don't like to, but those of us who have matured realize the necessity. There are some who have conformed themselves better to the world. They can remain awake."
"Like the aspect of wisdom, yes."
"Will the ritual I do for you be like the one Sirius did."
"For me, yes. But not today. Not until we have created boundaries around the tower you helped create. That ritual is different. You must be healthy for it. You must be very strong."
"How dangerous is it?"
"Can you die? That's the question you should ask."
He had no options but to move forward. He had summoned this mess into the world. Now he had to seal it away. Perhaps it was true that his family would benefit over the decades for the mistake. But now there was only cost and risk and danger.
"What must I do?"
"You must hide the House of Magic as another family has hidden me away. The ritual will take three days during which you may not eat or drink. I will assist you. I will help you tap into the magic that lives within the earth. For those three days, you will be a mortal using supermortal energies. You may be lost to the feeling, to the power. If you do not return, your body and spirit will be lost. Your agreement will not hold. The aspect of vanity will be free once more with no one to bargain with me for assistance."
Harry wondered if he could have asked another of these aspects, like the one that lived at Hogwarts.
"You do not want to go exploring the older parts of that castle," the entity said. "You do not want to go looking for an entity that is no longer bound, just content with the status quo. If you had to make a new bargain... It is better that you found me, already bound."
Harry found this entity was now able to read what Harry thought. He now had two such entities living somewhat inside him.
He shivered but pushed forward.
"Can you help me prepare?"
"I will. But listen to the rest. You must keep the secret in your family. You must develop a method so that there is never a break in the line as there was between the last and the current Head of the House of Black."
"I may need help."
"Finally, after the boundaries are raised, you must, and your successors must, make an annual trip to the House of Magic to complete the ritual you've already seen. Can you make that promise to me?"
"There is also the debt to me and this place."
"I and my successors will pay it."
"You are fully informed and we have accord."
Harry was exhausted. He was terrified, but not just a little curious as to what might really happen. He had a solution to one of his problems.
This was a being that understand magic because it was made of magic. He couldn't pass this opportunity up. Perhaps he could solve both of his problems.
"Can you tell me how spells are made?" Harry asked.
But it didn't agree to say anything.
"Can you tell me how to unmake them?" Harry asked.
"For what reason? Magic wants to grow, not diminish."
"There are types of magic that wizards abuse."
"It is the wizard you must fix. Not the magic."
Harry knew that was the right answer. It was also the harder one, perhaps the impossible one.
"But there is a way."
"None I will share with you."
Almost daring Harry to try on his own. He just might have to.
"Harry?" Sirius called out.
Harry turned to look. His godfather blinked and tried to sit up. He couldn't.
"I'm here." Harry went over to him and helped him up.
"I don't think I can apparate."
"You are welcome to remain overnight," the entity at Wychwood said.
"There isn't a penalty?" Harry asked.
"You are a cautious one. Now, at least. Good. There is no penalty."
A/N: A quick note. I've put together a mailing list for folks who might want alerts about my new original fiction, mostly mysteries and suspense tales with a dash of espionage and crime. There's a link on my FFN profile. Happy reading.