Chapter Eight: Magic is Power
Harry woke. His eyes, lidded with crust, were hard to open. His throat was a desert, as close to waterless sand as human flesh ever got. "Water," he whispered.
He knew he'd survived the rituals he'd needed to perform. He counted that he had the right number of hands, fingers, legs, toes, eyes, and ears. Nothing seemed awry. He felt clean and so did his magic. He felt like he'd been washed free from the burden, the magical burden, he'd been carrying for some time.
He was still exhausted and weak, but he knew he'd recover. He knew he was in good condition once more.
He let out a breath of relief.
It was a moment later when the door to the room opened. Something like a house elf came into the room with a glass.
"Here, Master Potter."
"Who are you? Where am I?" Harry asked. He knew he was in a bed, but which one? Where?
"I am Kreacher. We are at the House of Black. Do you need a healer?"
Harry looked at Kreacher. His voice was different now, rougher and lower. The house elf looked like a house elf now, short and green with thin, long arms and large, almost bulging eyes. He was no longer the tall, blond being Harry had first met.
Kreacher had reverted. The magic that made him look other worldly...it was gone, retracted into a magical preserve.
Harry felt a flash of discomfort. He had done this to Kreacher, taken away the magic that had changed the creature. Harry's compact with Magic, the aspect of Vanity that lived at Ottery St. Catchpole, had done this, retracted back magic once extended out into the world.
Harry didn't even know how to ask if Kreacher minded being returned to his old form. He couldn't ask. There was nothing Harry could do to return Kreacher to his former state. Other than freeing the vanity aspect of Magic, which Harry couldn't and wouldn't do.
"Master Potter, do you require a healer?" Kreacher asked again.
"I'm fine. Just the water."
The house elf placed the glass on a side table. "Could you tell Sirius I'm awake?"
"Master Black will be glad to hear it."
The house elf turned and left the room.
Harry got half the water down his throat before Sirius burst into the room.
"He wasn't lying," Sirius said.
"That damned elf."
"And acts just like he used to."
"He called you Master Black."
"Well, that's one positive change," Sirius said.
Sirius sat down on a corner of the bed.
"It worked? The binding?"
"I don't feel that...thing in my head any more."
Harry took in his godfather's appearance. He had benefitted by what the Vanity aspect had done. It had healed the man's Azkaban-broken body. None of those improvements were gone. "But you don't look broken down any more."
"Hey." Sirius looked down at his torso. "I guess because I swam in that pool those changes are permanent."
Temporary changes for Kreacher. Permanent ones for Sirius. Harry thought he'd get a headache tried to sort one set of changes from the other.
"How long was I asleep?" Harry asked.
He sat up. "What?"
"Have you gone deaf, Harry?"
Sirius was smiling, but Harry could see the ragged nerves as plain as the sun out the window.
"Three weeks," Harry said. He'd spent most of August asleep.
"I had to spell the food and water into your stomach."
"You said it worked? What went wrong?"
"Nothing. Just exhaustion."
"How close was I to death?"
"I don't know. I don't think it would have killed you. But it was a ritual not for the faint of heart."
Harry did smile at that.
"How long until I need to return to Hogwarts?"
"You've got a week, Harry."
Sirius nodded, but he didn't say anything. Sirius not talking, not making a joke. There must be something awful he was trying not to say.
"So?" Harry asked.
"What aren't you saying?"
"It can wait."
"Not if you look like you have to go to a funeral."
Sirius looked miserable a moment. "The Ministry hasn't been quiet."
Three weeks of those idiots doing whatever they wanted. "Oh, no."
"Ask me later. First you need to eat."
Harry considered argument, but apparently what Sirius just said woke Harry's stomach. It rumbled and roared a bit.
"I instructed Kreacher to make some soup."
"I feel bad for him."
"Don't. He's back to the old bad ways. Well, some of them at least."
Kreacher came into the room with a tray. Harry could smell the soup. His mouth watered.
"Enjoy, Master Potter."
Kreacher left the room.
"He's very creepy," Sirius said.
Harry didn't disagree. Instead he started in on the very hot soup. It was slow progress at first. One spoonful at a time, lots of attempts to cool the liquid slightly, and gingerly testing the temperature.
"You call for Kreacher or me when you need to use the loo. I'm going to grab a book and a chair and come sit with you for a while. Be gone five minutes."
"Bring the Prophet instead." He'd been away from things for weeks. He needed to do some quick catch-up.
"I think it can wait until tomorrow," Sirius said.
"Eat your soup, Harry."
Sirius smiled and left the room.
Harry worked on his soup. He also realized just how bad that conversation was going to be. Something had happened and Harry wouldn't have much time at all to prepare for it.
The morning after he woke up from his weeks of coma, Harry finally talked his way out of his bed.
Sirius consented to let him leave, but then banished him to a seat in the library. Not much of an improvement. It was still trashed from the research Harry and Sirius had done on their Magic problem. In the three weeks Harry had slept, neither Kreacher nor Sirius had picked up a thing. Typical.
Harry picked up a book and figured out what shelf it belonged on. He stood up, didn't fall over from lack of strength, and found the book's home. He lost himself for a few minutes reshelving a small portion of the mess.
It felt good to move and stretch.
He touched a volume that stopped him a moment. He'd found the handwritten volume that Dumbledore had given to Hermione, the one that had warned Harry about the Ministry and the Goblet of Fire.
"So much trouble you caused," Harry said to the book.
He flipped through the pages again.
So much wisdom inside. But overshadowed by gross ignorance. The book was titled "Power," but it hadn't once talked about any power other than that used by a witch or a wizard or a group of magicals. It didn't speculate on the origins of Magic – a lesson Harry had begun to learn and would continue learning until the moment of his eventual death.
Harry set the book on the table. He'd need to put this one, and a few others, back into his trunk.
He looked at the rest of the room. All the books in the Black library were worthless. So many words that understood nothing. There had been only the barest hints of what Magic really was, how it really worked.
Harry would need a dozen lifetimes to come up with a true and accurate understanding.
Time he didn't have. Understanding he wouldn't get. A deep understanding of magic, it was fragile; it was nothing like what Dumbledore had thought magic was.
Harry knew more now, for sure. Knew enough to realize that he was ignorant, that he needed to find a way to become less ignorant.
First he could realize that the best place for the books was back collecting dust on shelves. If Harry wanted to understand, he would have to step his way closer to the truth. Perhaps Sirius would help. Or Hermione once they were back at Hogwarts.
Harry returned to his mindless work. He lost track of time until the door to the room opened.
"There you are," Sirius said.
Harry paused and looked to his godfather. "Just seeing about these books."
"In days past I would have said 'leave it to Kreacher.' Now, though, he's back to some of his old tricks. Why don't I help you?"
"Bonding over dusty books."
"There are some things we should talk about?"
"Yes," Sirius said.
"What have they done now?"
"They appointed a new Headmaster."
Harry nodded. He'd gotten a warning on that issue from the departing Headmaster Snape.
Harry nodded once. His mind should have been processing, but it was locked.
"They did this to get at me. Not much safety being at Hogwarts if the danger lives in the Headmaster's Office."
"It's worse. The other appointments..."
It didn't take Harry long. "I need to talk to Hermione."
She would be in danger. Harry, too, of course, but he had methods for taking care of himself.
"Send her a letter. We can't plan to meet up in Diagon Alley, though."
Dumbledore hadn't been dead long, but the world was already a darker place. The Ministry running around unchecked by a known powerful wizard – or by Magic itself. They were busy playing fresh games, deadly games.
"No, nor Hogsmeade. How about a Pizza Hut, nice and dark? Or some place that does a mean spag bol?"
"Well, Kreacher can still cook," Sirius said.
"You'd let her come here?"
Harry nodded. He'd almost forgotten that he could bring people to this place. It seemed more like a haven than a house.
"Let's finish this..."
"Go write the letter, Harry. I think we can use some magic to sort out the room."
Harry nodded. He picked up Dumbledore's book and left the room.
He listened to Sirius cast a spell and then start swearing. Harry had to make an effort not to turn around and see what Sirius had botched.
He had a letter to write.
Everything Harry had done seemed to give him a little relief but a big headache somewhere in the future. Now it would impact his fellow students, his friends like Hermione.
Knowledge was useful, but power was power. Too bad Harry didn't understand what the power was or how to use it safely.
Harry opened the door. "Good to see you, Hermione."
"Harry." She hugged him.
Harry didn't tense up as he was often wont to do.
"Your parents bring you?"
"I took the Tube."
"Ah." Harry nodded. He brought Hermione in and closed the door.
"Come in, sit."
The house, which had once been gleaming, had retreated to darkness in color and mood.
Hermione noticed, but had the manners not to say anything about the creepy place where Harry was living.
"Sleeping. We both had a late night last night."
Fruitless, too. Trying to figure out what to do. The Ministry was sharpening its knives and Hogwarts looked to be an unsafe place for at least the coming year.
So far there were only questions with no answers. All of them along the lines of 'what should we do?' The suggestions to date fell into two categories: come out swinging or hide.
"Your letter was kind of vague, Harry."
"Let's sit down."
"Can I see the library?"
Harry opened the door to a dingy looking parlor. "Let's start here first. You know, talking. Not flipping through books."
Hermione smiled. "I do have some self control."
"Yeah, and Ron can hold himself to just a single chocolate tart."
"I'm not that bad."
Harry pointed out a seat for her. He took the one facing.
"Have you been getting the Prophet?"
"News from anyone?"
"I don't think we can go back to Hogwarts, Hermione."
Her eyes got as big as saucers. "What do you mean, Harry?"
"They appointed Yaxley headmaster."
"Oh." She deflated.
"We have to tell the others. I mean just in our year..."
"I'd prefer if we could come up with something better than just warning people. I thought it would be useful to talk it through with someone else. Sirius and have I have done nothing but discuss this since we found out..."
Harry left out the fact that he'd been comatose from a ritual for so long. He'd get around to telling her later, much later, but for now he wanted to focus on a single issue. Hogwarts and keeping the students safe.
"Isn't there any kind of magic..."
Harry was a wiser soul now. He had once looked for a purely magical solution. However, he had paid for that decision. Harry had also forced others to pay, the Ministry employees who were killed attempting to destroy the House of Magic. The cost of solving that problem was binding himself and his future family to a spot of land in Ottery St. Catchpole forever.
There was the added complication of Hogwarts. It was a site of Magic that had taken on a personality. Dangerous, if the Black Family 'Magic' down in Wychwood hadn't exaggerated.
"No, no magic."
"The only thing they teach us is magic," she pointed out.
"It's hard staring at a big problem and a blank bit of parchment," Harry said.
"Yeah. I wish there were something to start with."
"Let's start with them."
After all, Harry and Sirius had spent the past few days starting with themselves. Their resources, their abilities, their plans.
Perhaps it was more useful to start with the enemy.
"Yaxley and Malfoy. They're terrible people. Beyond that, I don't know all that much," Hermione said, frustrated.
"Malfoy tried to close Hogwarts down, tried to kill people. He's not averse to petty revenges, either. How much time and gold did he spend trying to murder the Hippogryph?"
"Buckbeak. It had to have been a lot. He had the Minister of Magic trailing him around. I guess that can't be free," she said.
"So, we know him to be deadly but petty. A planner but not a particularly good planner."
"So, like Draco."
"The flaws of the one generation breed true into the next."
"What can we do with that?" Harry asked. "He was willing to join with the late Tom Riddle in order to get something."
"A return to prominence...," Hermione started to say.
"How could these pureblood assholes be more prominent? That's what I don't understand about this whole war my parents died in."
"Well..." Hermione trailed off. No one had asked that question of her, apparently. It was enough to stump her, too.
"Yeah. Try to think that through. They're in charge of the Ministry, in charge of the courts. Who are they rebelling against?"
"He wanted power for himself?"
"Does that make sense, though?" Harry asked. "Joining up with a stronger wizard in the hope of empowering his family? He made himself a servant in order to become more powerful..."
"This just proves that wizards have no logic."
"I don't get why he things he's so threatened."
"The Muggleborn?" Hermione volunteered.
"Maybe. If he's just resisting any change at all. If he wants his culture to freeze and never advance at all..."
"Maybe. I've never tried to think like one of them before. It's almost like trying to imagine breathing with just half a lung. Not very doable."
"Are you insulting Draco's dad?" Harry asked, smiling.
"I think I am."
"Good. Yeah, I still don't get it. He went to war for no reason. His family, from everything I've heard, was powerful before Voldemort. It'd be less powerful now save for all the gold he's spending to get his way. He actually went backwards. The grandfather was respected. The son less so. Then Draco is a kind of joke."
"Can we use that somehow?"
"What part of it?"
"Let's assume he was trying to save his culture. All the things he considers precious. Is there something in there, something in the manners and rituals he cares about that will make him act like a better person or at least not a piece of murdering scum?"
"Maybe. You're thinking to make him a pariah? I think he's abased himself so much that there isn't anything he wouldn't do. He doesn't think the way you do or I do."
"I think we could look."
Harry nodded. It was worth a look. Figure out what it was that the purebloods actually cared about. Figure out how to turn it against them...
Harry liked the idea of looking for a trap that few would suspect was a trap. It might be wasted time, but it was better to think of how to repair the situation rather than just despair over it.
"Let's see if we can wake up Sirius." Harry turned toward the door. "Kreacher," he called out.
It felt good to bring a new mind into this. He hoped Sirius would think so.
The fully green and very short elf walked into the room.
"Could you ask Master Black to join us here?"
"I will see if he's accepting visitors."
The elf left the room.
"He's a weird one," Harry said.
She sat with pursed lips, somewhat angry there was a house elf in this particular house. "At least he doesn't look beaten."
She was learning to pick not only her battles but also the sequencing of them. Harry was sure he'd hear more of this at some point.
"What do we know about Yaxley?"
"He's also got that pride."
"I don't know," Harry said.
"Maybe we need to find someone who knows these people better."
"How? All their friends will be tied into the conspiracy, right?"
She had the thinker's look. Harry let the room fall quiet a moment.
The door opened. The elf walked two steps away from Harry and stopped. "Master Black will be down presently."
"Thank you, Kreacher."
The being looked with loathing at Harry before he left.
He was being a proper elf, Harry imagined, but there was hate very near to the surface.
"We need to get back issues of the Prophet," Hermione said.
"You think secret conspiracies make the third page of the Prophet? I admit I don't read it that often..."
"No, they won't report on conspiracies. But these people go about their lives. They go to parties, they donate to charities, they make speeches, right? That stuff might make it into the paper."
Harry nodded. If they could get back issues, Harry saw them spending a lot of time in the library.
"Alright. Maybe Sirius knows how to find that kind of thing."
It was an hour later when Sirius dragged himself into the room. Harry had spent the time extracting a promise that Hermione wouldn't return to Hogwarts until the situation was fixed. In exchange, he had to help her warn off the others they could get in touch with. The Creevey family, for one. Finch-Fletchley in Hufflepuff.
"You need to train your elf to lie better," Harry said.
"I said I'd be an hour. Needed a bath."
Harry smiled. "He said you'd be down presently."
"Ah... Trying to get me in trouble, is he? He lied a lot when I was just a kid, too. He's tricky, very tricky."
"Well, Hermione and I had an idea."
Sirius sat down. "Oh?"
"We need to start with two things. Old newspapers first."
"We want to see what people like Malfoy and Yaxley let make the papers. What do they say? What do they consider respectable? What is the culture they're willing to kill to protect..."
"You want to understand a pureblood mind?"
"You won't get that from a Prophet."
"We started this conversation once, Harry. Remember?"
Harry shook his head.
"You know why. You hung in there and did the right things and it's just gotten worse. The games they enjoy in the Ministry."
That Harry did somewhat remember. "I said I couldn't leave others to suffer for that. People who didn't know."
"What did I tell you then? Why are purebloods like they are?"
"I think you said it was jealousy."
"Yes. That and paranoia. Plus a lot of ambition."
Sounded like the worst recipe Harry had ever heard. Like for a cake that was dense and thick and burned the tongue when eaten and shriveled the skin when swallowed.
"I never wanted you to get involved with this. I never wanted you to risk yourself," Sirius said. "But they wouldn't leave you alone."
"No, they wouldn't."
"Alright. You need to know about this paranoia first."
"What do you mean? Paranoia is like what that fake Professor Moody showed, twitchiness all the time."
Sirius shrugged. "What I'm talking about among the upper crust is a bit different. It's not just having suspicions about other people, fearing a spell to the bad. It's a manic paranoia mixed with strange ambitions. Take my mother, for one bad example. One moment she was planning how to conquer her Society of Witches coven. Like she was the most powerful witch in the land. The next she was raising the siege wards. Nothing had changed except a few moments in time. She just went from one direction to another, swung wildly from one mania to the next. How powerful she was, how powerful her children would be. Then it was how weak and terrified she was, how dangerous the world was. She made no sense to me. Still doesn't."
Harry stared straight ahead trying to get a sense of how this might be useful.
"Did she have real enemies?" Harry asked.
"Of course. A nasty witch like her. I think two different people tried to poison her."
"So it wasn't just paranoia..."
"I wish someone had succeeded."
Harry left off the topic.
Hermione had another way into the question, though. "So your house was protected?" she asked.
"Wards. Standard ones, siege ones."
"Would Malfoy and Yaxley and others in the Ministry have those?"
"All the estates, yes, everyone in society. Wards, then there were the house elves, we used to have more than one. There were even special illusions placed over the windows when my mother hosted gatherings. People could floo here but they weren't able to see through the windows where this home was. Wouldn't know where in London the house was. Showing off, bragging but also hiding at the same time."
"There were lots of guests over?"
"A few when my brother and I were young. Fewer as my mother aged and went crazier."
"Were you taught manners?"
Sirius looked puzzled. "Until my backside was sore. Manners weren't taught. They were beaten in. What do manners have to do with your problem?" Sirius asked.
"We're trying to figure out what this pureblood culture is... The manners Malfoy would know and use. We're looking for a vulnerability."
"Manners are one thing. But you need to understand that meetings between magicals are dangerous. If it happened, it wasn't often in someone's home. My mother was normal in that respect, I'd guess. Family could come but even that was somewhat rare. There were fewer than six public parties I can remember, none after I started at Hogwarts. That was the focus, Hogwarts. It was Hogwarts where you met people and then perhaps shopping in Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. There was also the Ministry."
"Lovely," Harry said. "A whole culture of the paranoid."
"Why would anyone kill to keep this culture alive?" Hermione wondered.
"I kind of think that is the point of this culture. To freeze itself in time, never change, never vary. That is exactly what my mother wanted. To keep it all exactly as proper as she liked. I suppose that's how she managed to talk Regulus, my younger brother, into throwing his life away."
"You said you learned...well, had manners."
"Well, why were house parties rare? Didn't the rules of behavior cover gatherings?" Hermione asked.
"So why were they rare?"
"Everyone knew the right manners. Everyone also doubted that the others would follow them. Paranoid, remember."
"Right," Hermione said.
It wasn't easy to get at the vulnerabilities of a culture. Even with a willing expert to guide them. Harry wondered what other avenues they had...
"You should see some of the cursed books in the library. Someone not a Black trying to open one – you don't want to see what would happen..."
Books, cursed books.
"...it's gruesome," Sirius finished.
Harry nodded. He remembered the books Sirius had tucked away before their major work in the library. He hadn't even thought to ask about it at the time. Now it struck him as important.
"That's legal? Cursing a book that might hurt someone else..."
Sirius nodded. "That's another thing about the Wizengamot. If you read the laws – and I was forced to memorize them back in the 70s – you'll notice a lot of protection for property and belongings and much less so for people."
"Paranoia institutionalized into the laws," Hermione said with some frustration.
"Yes. The heads of houses cared about their estates and less so about their people. Most injuries could be fixed with magic, I guess, but getting stolen items returned was harder. In fact, you could be sent to prison for breaking through a person's wards, but it took casting an Unforgivable against someone to get sent away for causing bodily harm. We've always dealt more harshly with thieves than killers."
Protection of property. Harry began to nod. Protection of books, cursed books, cursing valuable property to protect it from thieves. Harry thought he had an idea. He didn't have long to let it mature, but he had enough time.
His head turned from Hermione.
"Tell me about the curses your mother used."
"On the books?"
Sirius was quiet a while. "Well, she wasn't much of a witch. A lot of that was cursed long before her time."
"But what did these curses do?"
"Some of the books screamed."
"There are books in the Restricted Section at Hogwarts that do that," Hermione said.
"Some do much worse. Why are you interested, Harry?"
"I think I know how to handle part of this problem."
Sirius knew better than to doubt his godson, but he still had a lot to be sold on. "Going to throw a house party, hand out cursed invitations?" Sirius asked.
He smiled and laughed a bit. He was trying to coax Harry into explaining.
Harry didn't laugh. He started to consider. "Maybe."
"An escaped prisoner as host and the most eligible missing young man in the country as guest of honor?"
"What are you thinking, Harry?" Hermione asked.
"I started with the idea of the book. The cursed book."
"And then?" Sirius asked.
"I need a way to get people to come and see my book, consider it, stumble into its curses."
Sirius nodded. It seemed like a promising start to a plan.
"I guess I will need to throw a party."
"How?" Hermione asked.
"Where?" Sirius asked.
"Not here," Harry said. "Hermione, I'm still thinking up the how. Maybe at the Ministry. They're still looking for me?"
"They want you more than they want a sack of gold," Sirius said.
"We'll throw a party at the Ministry, then. For all my best friends, the ones who want to do my the greatest harm."
"Explain," Hermione said. "Now."
"How about I tell you what I'm thinking and you tell me how I'm going to pull it off." Harry now had a grin on his face.
"Start talking, Potter."
"You should listen to the girl, Harry. I think she's serious."
Harry rolled his eyes at the stupid joke.
Much later in the afternoon, Sirius summoned Kreacher. "We will be eating in an hour."
"Yes, Master Black."
"I want you in the kitchen, do you understand?"
"Yes, Master Black."
"No lurking about, no pretending to dust. In the kitchen."
"Yes, Master Black."
"Be gone with you."
The door closed.
"I wish you didn't have to bother with the Ministry at all," Sirius said in an extremely loud voice.
"I'm not old enough. I'm not of age," Harry almost shouted back. "I'm a little prize to be handed out unless we do this just right. I've been thinking about the problem most of the summer."
"The only thing that can screw this up is if the Malfoys find out," Sirius said.
"He's still shivering in his estate, at least that's the way the gossip is running," Harry said. "He won't come out on the first. Not to see his son onto the Hogwarts Express, not even to attend my 'hearing' at the Ministry."
"Oh, Harry, it's so dangerous," Hermione chimed in.
"The first of September is about as safe a date as I can find. Yaxley is at Hogwarts preparing to welcome new students. Malfoy is hiding in his estate."
"The whole thing has to be a complete surprise."
"Even with Malfoy and Yaxley busy, the Ministry will still be looking for me. They're not very competent but they have the virtue of persistence."
"Bunglers. A bunch of bunglers," Sirius said.
"I'll let them catch me, if they're looking, and I'll have a chance to getting a fair guardian assignment. Or perhaps even emancipation."
The room went quiet a moment. Harry looked around.
Sirius looked at a bauble on a table. "The little bastard heard enough. Merlin, it's hard to be that obvious."
"And loud," Harry said. His throat kind of hurt.
Sirius looked at the other trinkets he'd gathered up. "All the good spy toys."
"Of course the Black Family would have trinkets to detect when people were spying on other people," Hermione said.
"Never underestimate the power of paranoia. At least twelve generations deep."
Sirius looked at another trinket.
"The floo's active. I don't know who Kreacher's telling, but I have one good hope."
"Think he'll have any time to make us some food?" Hermione asked. She still had concerns about a servant race being abused, but Kreacher was so unpleasant, she knew not to press her views.
"If he can get the word out," Harry said, "I'll be willing to eat tinned beans."
Hermione shook her head. "Do you think Malfoy will spread the news around? Or hoard it for his own purposes?"
Harry found that an excellent question. A dangerous one, too. If Malfoy didn't do what Harry expected...
"He'll need to tell Yaxley at least." Harry was sure of that.
"Two people is just a start."
"The news will get out. 'Harry Potter will be riding the Hogwarts Express on first September.'"
"Yaxley has a mouth on him. Malfoy has a lot more cunning, usually. If Malfoy doesn't do what we want, Yaxley will."
Harry did. "They'll all be ready for the hearing at the Ministry. Every one of my enemies at the Ministry will come out for this, even the ones I don't know. They'll identify themselves."
"Well, we better get part two of the plan ready. It's no good to have your enemies prepared and not have the trap lined up."
Harry had just the book in mind, something that no one could say wasn't valuable. Now he just needed to figure out what kind of curses to apply to it.
A light curse at the start. Something to make people curious or jealous of the book. Then as the situation got worse, worse and worse curses, layers of them.
"Are you sure this will work?" Hermione asked.
"No," Harry said. "But it has a good chance. You need to work on keeping the other at-risk students away from Hogwarts until we can clean everything up."
"School's important but it's not worth my life," Hermione said. "After all, I can keep up by reading from the books at least."
Hermione was fully briefed on what kind of people Yaxley and Malfoy were. Dangerous when killing Muggles. Evil at all times.
Harry had expected more of a fight from Hermione over this. He hadn't gotten it. She knew to be wary. She was ready not to go to Hogwarts if Harry's plan didn't work out. A big sacrifice for her.
"Read your books? At least one of us can smarten up," Harry said, smiling.
"You've already smartened up," Hermione said.
Harry wasn't so sure about that. He understood, from painful lessons, just how little he understood about knowledge and power and magic. He realized he was stumbling around. That was something, a start. He still felt dumb. "At least this plan revolves around other people doing stupid things."
Knowing where the trap was – that was a kind of power, especially if Harry put the trap there himself.
"They'll do exactly what we expect. The bait is just too good," Harry said. "Me."
"I'm still nervous about that part. You actually expect a hearing?"
"No. I expect never to hear the first word of the hearing. I expect everything to be resolved just after I step into the room."
"If they even take you into a room at the Ministry," Hermione said.
Harry nodded. There was that risk. The bad guys didn't always follow through on what they said they were going to do. He was a fugitive no matter what he did. His summer of freedom had put others at risk, too. He had to resolve this some how.
He needed Malfoy tamed.
He needed Yaxley and the other Ministry thugs out of Hogwarts.
He needed to breathe free air.
"The way they got the information, they'll lap it up. They don't trust each other, but people like Malfoy do trust spies," Sirius said. "Don't ask me why. Can't trust your family but you can trust a stranger with an ax to grind. Purebloods."
"Didn't we just clean this place?" Sirius asked.
The library was trashed again.
Harry nodded at Hermione. Some of the blame lay with her this time. She wasn't really pulling books on curses from the shelves.
She apparently had a running list of books she couldn't find at Hogwarts – some of which she now located here in this library. She delved into the principles of moon phase on the efficacy of potions ingredients.
Harry was glad to let her read. It might have made his eyeballs drop out of his skull.
Harry stood up and fetched down another likely book.
He had found several tomes on curses that could be applied to belongings. But he didn't want the kind that liquefied organs. He wanted something gentle and something a bit firmer. He didn't need to kill anyone, at least not inside the Ministry.
He was really looking for a series of curses that would indebt would person to another. Harry hadn't found the right ones yet.
"This?" Sirius asked. He pushed the book over, his finger holding the page.
"The Jealousy Curse?"
"As the first layer?"
Harry nodded and took the book from his godfather. The description wasn't long. It might just work. No, Harry was sure it would work very well.
He had a different method of enchanting which he could use, a more intuitive form of magic, but his usage of that had created the giant mess with the Crystal Palace, the House of Magic, and all the rest.
Harry was back, for now, with tried and true magic, wand waving and spells in garbled Latin.
"It sounds good. Not hard to cast either."
Harry tore a piece of parchment and marked the spot in the book. He then handed the book back to his godfather and made the man finish skimming through it.
Harry opened a new book.
Then found another book shoved into his hands over top of his existing book. Hermione and her enthusiasms.
"Find something, did you?" he asked.
He did and he smiled.
"We've got it, I think."
"We're not done?" Hermione asked.
"No. We'll keep looking, but we've got two solid items. We've got something. The rest is just cream."
"Good," she said. The stress in her face relented. She took the book back but went to the shelves to select a few more titles. "I think these might be just what you need."
Harry smiled and didn't argue.
He went back to his book and started skimming.
On the first of September Harry didn't even make it ten steps inside King's Cross station before four Aurors detained him and escorted him to a Ministry vehicle. Everyone fit into the expanded backseat and a dedicated driver hit the gas as if traffic didn't matter.
Within minutes, Harry and Company were at an entrance to the Ministry. Once inside he was taken to an elevator and pushed out on a quiet floor. Two of his honor guard accompanied Harry, but not that far.
Lucius Malfoy waited outside one of the doors.
"Wait inside," he said to the pair of Aurors, probably his handpicked favorites. "I would like a word with Mr. Potter."
They opened the door and disappeared inside before Harry could see much of anything. Was his plan going to work? He didn't know. He hadn't expected Malfoy to want a word before the proceedings started. If the berk did the wrong thing now, he could harm himself but leave the others untouched.
"You played us for fools all summer long," Malfoy said.
Malfoy was always a fool, just to slow to understand that. "I had no idea anyone was looking for me," Harry said.
"You've become a convincing liar, boy. But I still smell the truth from you. Who hid you?"
Perhaps Lucius was looking for another name to put on his list of people to 'visit.'
"Friends. I stayed with friends."
"Well, we'll just have to see about friends in the future."
Harry thought this attempt at intimidation was a waste of time. The longer Malfoy preened about how powerful he was, how devious, the more he might screw things up. Harry decided to baffle the man into complying. "I honestly don't know why you consider me an opponent, Mr. Malfoy."
Lucius almost choked. "You don't."
"How am I a threat to anything you plan to do?"
"Are you that naïve?"
Of course Harry wasn't. But he preferred to control the question under discussion. "I'm asking a question. I don't know the answer."
"You stand for everything that's wrong with the decline of the wizarding world."
Harry should have taken offense at this, but didn't. It should have put him in a rage with Malfoy, but the words didn't sting much.
Harry admitted (to himself) he'd made some mistakes. Not that Malfoy knew what they were. But Harry was bright, powerfully magical... Ah, Malfoy only appreciated power he served or that he believed served him.
"I'm sorry that we're enemies, if it makes it any better."
Malfoy looked baffled.
"You shouldn't be sorry. You should be terrified."
"A wise man once wrote, 'The common witch and wizard fear power – and adore it.'" That was from the book Dumbledore had written. The book Harry carried with him. Just his wand and the heavily cursed book.
"Are you claiming you have this power? Are you calling me common?" Malfoy blustered.
"I'm known to be resistant to the Imperius. You're somewhat infamous for being so weak-minded you fell to it. Supposedly."
Harry could see Malfoy's hand twitching toward his wand. The taunt worked. Harry was in control of this conversation. He intended to end it soon.
"You'll pay for that."
"There's nothing you will do to me that I do not permit," Harry said. Boasting and yet not boasting.
Power was power, after all. Magic was all about strength. Strength and will. Harry had known that for almost a year now. Harry possessed Lord-level power. Malfoy was considerably beneath that. Not even a Killing Curse from the man would harm Harry now. Perhaps if the man summoned Fiendfyre or something more indirect...
Harry might be wary of the greater magics, but there was nothing Malfoy could do, not even the Killing Curse, that would hurt Harry. After all, Malfoy was a weaker wizard and Harry's innate magic would overwhelm destructive magics aimed his way.
"Nothing?" Malfoy asked. It was clear he ached to cast something.
Lucius blinked. For a moment he almost thought he was talking with a young Albus Dumbledore, the man who featured in a few of Malfoy's late grandfather's stories.
"You're so sure that you'd let me curse you."
"You survived the Triwizard."
"You won't survive this."
How stupid did the man have to be to make overt threats. Malfoy obviously didn't fear Harry repeating the comments among his fellow plotters. Whatever Harry relayed to them might get some chuckles, not an effort to help Harry avoid this fate.
Harry really wanted to know who was in the room. How many of them.
There were few people in the world Harry could trust. Sirius, Hermione, probably Neville Longbottom, a quiet if solid bloke. Ron was trustworthy for some things, not others. Perhaps Fred and George, too. Not a long list.
On the other side of the equation, there were probably few Malfoy trusted even if he might have a larger social circle. Harry had to hope Malfoy had drug in more than just his most-trusted confidants. He hoped that Malfoy had gone far out in his social web or that Yaxley or someone else had.
Harry wanted the room filled with people. So he could sweep them up all at once. Harry tried to feel better about what was going to happen. Sure he had lured Malfoy out of hiding, but the man had vile plans he wanted to put into action.
"I won't survive this?"
"That's right, Potter."
"How many times have you and yours tried to hurt me?"
"You tried to murder me and many of the people I know in my second year at Hogwarts, Mr. Malfoy. I do not forgive that."
"We'll just see what you can and can't do, little boy."
For a man who claimed to live by guile, Malfoy was a very stupid wizard.
"Shall we go inside?" Harry asked.
"Hold the door for your betters."
Betters. Harry found himself wondering why he felt a bit of guilt at all. He'd laid a trap, left himself as bait, and at least one of the problems presented himself to be punished. Malfoy's inner qualities would lead him to damnation. It wasn't fair, this ambush, but it also wasn't exactly rigged. Harry was about to let Malfoy and all of the people behind the door really act on their inner values.
Purebloods hated thieves, legislated harshly against them.
Harry had set up what was to follow based on that principle. He thought purebloods hated thieves, but were thieves themselves. Given a chance, given the opportunity not to be punished...Harry expected all of them to reveal what they were really worth.
Harry felt preemptive guilt, but also a lot of relief. He would let avarice topple the ones who had it hidden within their hearts.
"The old and worn out can go first. I'm polite that way," Harry said.
Harry opened the door and let Malfoy go in first.
Harry stepped into the conference room reserved for his hearing. He found forty people staring back at him.
It took some effort to keep the uneasy smile off his face. It was a larger haul than he'd expected. By far. He watched Malfoy take one of the open seats near the end of the table.
"Search him," one of the men at the table called out.
It was going as Harry had expected. A bit of intimidation to start things off. All was well.
The pair of Aurors moved toward Harry.
Harry held up his hands. "I protect my belongings, as is my right."
Scrupulously following the law. Harry had to provide a warning. It was part of the magic as described in the book he'd found.
The words unsettled at least one person at the table.
"Hold," Malfoy said. He had a glare and a smile on his face at the same time.
The two Aurors who remained in the room did as instructed. As if Malfoy really were in charge.
Harry finally did sweat a bit. Harry and his big, confident mouth. So sure he had to follow the letter of the spell to make the intent of the spell function the correct way.
Malfoy made no further orders. The people in the room just stared at Harry. Eventually he saw the tactic for what it was. A bit of pre-dinner intimidation, make the main course sweat a bit, tenderize the morsel.
The fear released.
Malfoy looked to the Aurors. "Go ahead. Search him. Be thorough."
Harry let out his breath. He struggled a bit when the Aurors clapped their hands on him. They took his wand from him.
"No need to be gentle," Malfoy said.
Harry found himself desperate that these less than competent servants of the Ministry might show an unusual spark of competence. If they didn't touch the book he carried – if they were as useless and lazy
He supposed he could, in anger, fling the book onto the table and mock the Aurors for how bad a job they'd done.
"Is that all?" Malfoy asked. "Just a wand?"
"We're looking, sir."
The remaining Auror patted him down in a slapdash manner. He barely located the book Harry had on him. The Aurors plucked it away and threw it on the table.
"Just a wand and this book," the Auror said.
One left off after that. Harry was no longer considered dangerous once his wand was out of his hands. The other Auror kept searching. Vigorous, as if for show, but completely ineffective. Harry could have had the Sword of Gryffindor in a scabbard and this dolt wouldn't have noticed.
"Nothing else," the other said.
Harry relaxed finally. He could feel the warm, strong magic emanating from the book on the table.
The curse was active. No one in the room realized it yet, but they had all been cursed, all save for Harry, the moment the Auror touched a possession of the Potter Family.
It hadn't been one of the first curses they'd found in the Black Library, but a more subtle version Harry had discovered.
"What is that book?" Malfoy demanded. "Pass it over to me."
"You shouldn't touch that book," Harry said. His words would do little to keep the curse from having its way inside Malfoy's mind.
"No," Yaxley said. "I'm the boy's headmaster. I will see it first. What has he been reading?"
The fight heated up from there. Harry took a moment to step away from the table and its greedy-eyed occupants. He stood in the corner of the room. He waited to see just how things would proceed.
It wasn't a few minutes later when the tussle broke out over the book. People were up and brawling almost. Someone punched Malfoy in the side of his head to get him to drop the books.
Someone else picked it up.
Everyone seemed to want to have a hand in the struggle over the book. The longer they were in the room with it, the more they had to have it. An effectual, insidious curse. Inspired by a similar kind of curse the goblins used on some high-security vaults. Supposedly.
Wands came out. Curses flew. Several people would up stunned or bleeding on the floor. People withdrew for a moment or reoriented their efforts. Finally Harry watched Yaxley, Malfoy, and a witch Harry didn't know succeed in ripping the book into pieces. From there everyone attempted to get his or her fair share.
Even the folks who were bleeding.
The people in the room didn't feel the second layer of curses settling in, but Harry knew they were. These people had been cursed as harshly as they'd liked planned to do to Harry. As bad as what the Goblet of Fire did, as bad as the most restrictive Unbreakable Vow.
Harry felt the magic of the room. He felt the crescendo until he was sure it was at its peak.
Harry stepped to the head of the table and whistled. The noise stilled the fight in the room. People looked at him, blinking, wondering why they'd just torn up all this paper.
The first layer curse broke just then. The book was destroyed after all. All that was left was bits of shredded paper.
"That was a book dictated by Albus Dumbledore, one of the most revered wizards in the last two centuries. The now-destroyed book contained his wisdom, his interpretations of recent wizarding history. It was one-of-a-kind, a Potter Family heirloom. I curse you, the destroyers..."
A few people knew what was happening. A few people gasped. One reached out for Harry to try to stop him. That one's strength failed him.
The words Harry said now were for show. The curse had already fully settled.
"...of this valuable property. I curse you all."
Harry looked around the horror-struck room. He allowed himself to smile. This might just be one reason most purebloods were so cautious about visiting each other, mingling in one or another of their homes. Merlin only knew what kind of trouble one could get into with cursed heirlooms.
Getting wizards together in one spot – a bunch of plotters, a bunch of people with magic and nasty plans – was always dangerous. Fortunately for Harry, he was now out of danger from this group.
He hated to entrap so many, but the people in this room had come here to harm him in some way. To assign someone like Malfoy as his guardian, accept his gold for this favor. They came to legally torture or kill Harry.
He wouldn't go quite that far in return.
But he would break their influence in the world.
"One by one come here and tell me your names. I will tell you how you may work this curse off yourself and your family line." Harry pointed at the stuffed suit closest to him. "We'll start with you."
"Sit down, Malfoy."
The older wizard found himself sitting.
"Don't speak until I call for you."
The man looked like he wanted to talk. He couldn't. The curse was working.
Harry turned back to the first person he called up.
"Stand. Now, tell me your name."
"I'm the Minister of Magic." He gave his name which Harry didn't recognize.
Harry nodded, half sad and half pleased. A bigger catch than Harry had expected. Still, Harry and Hermione and Sirius had gamed out this remote possibility.
"I accept your service to the House of Potter in partial repayment for the damage you helped commit today."
"I did no such thing."
"The ink on your fingers says otherwise."
The Minister looked at his hands in shock. They were stained.
"Your service to the House of Potter is this: you retire to your home. You do not come to the Ministry of Magic. You destroy all correspondence from the Ministry. You refuse to admit anyone to your home. You do not give advice or order. You do not resign from your position."
"That's insane, young boy."
It was insane, that was the point. A Minister who didn't come into the office, didn't sign orders, didn't keep the bureaucrats busy building something or breaking something. That ought to plug up this sewer of human ambition for a while. No Minister, no decisions, no causing havoc.
The Ministry would have a Minister who wouldn't minister. They'd have to get around to replacing him in order to restore normal operations. Of course, Harry intended to make that a mess as well. The Ministry wouldn't be operating at normal levels for some time to come.
"Arrest this monster."
No one in the room moved to help the Minister. No one could. The man was slow, but not that slow. He recognized he wouldn't get his way in this.
"I can't ever leave?" he asked.
Harry intended to wreck the Ministry for a good long while. At least long enough for Harry to become old enough to have some political strength to match his reputation.
"You can," Harry said. "After fifty years of service."
The Wizengamot might be able to muster a quorum in a few years. But they'd be headless until then.
The old man shook his head. "Fifty."
"Your house elf may fetch food for you. You have an hour to get situated at your home."
"That book isn't worth fifty years of my life."
"Can you replace it? A one-of-a-kind volume from the late Headmaster?"
"No, of course not."
"Then this is what you must do."
"If I refuse?"
"Go to your office. See how you feel in an hour or two. You will repay the Potter Family in one way or another. Magic will see that happen."
Service or death, Harry didn't say. The Black Family didn't mess around with the curses they hoarded.
"This won't stand, boy."
He waved at people around the room. Waved them to their feet.
Three people got up and headed for the door, muttering. They opened the door and collapsed to their knees upon leaving.
Harry glanced at them. He hadn't bothered to mention that everyone was required to remain in the room with Harry until he'd set a punishment. Those almost paralyzed by pain in the hall now understood it. "It might be that kind of pain. It might be worse."
"I'll have the Aurors skin you," the Minister said.
"On what charge?"
"Cursing the Minister."
"Cursing a thief, a property destroyer? The law is on my side. You should know. I believe you and your predecessors have been submitting these kinds of bills for years, centuries."
Harry turned to the people in pain in the hall.
"Crawl back in here before you try to leave. I have to tell you your punishment," Harry said.
"Do you understand yours, Minister?"
"You will pay for this."
"It's possible," Harry said. "You're dismissed."
Harry proceeded down the table. On average he handed out ten years of house arrest. Some got more, like the Aurors in the room.
Harry saved two people for the end.
The aristocrat stood and walked with a sullen, slow pace.
"Well played, Potter."
"I hope that you will attempt to hire someone to break the curse," Harry said. He knew something he wasn't saying, of course. There wasn't a curse in effect, there were layers of curses. One of which wouldn't react well to cursebreaking. No, it wouldn't react well at all.
"Wouldn't dream of it."
The man was seething underneath his well groomed appearance. But he sounded polite. Harry knew that Malfoy couldn't stand to be out of the game for long. He'd do something he shouldn't. The curses would dig in harder and deeper, perhaps fatally so.
That was on Malfoy.
Harry leaned in and told Malfoy what his punishment. There was still another person awaiting judgment. Harry didn't want Yaxley to have a clue.
Malfoy went pale, but didn't say another word.
He nodded once and left the room.
Harry looked at the middle of the table and then said, "Headmaster Yaxley?"
The man didn't even bother to stand. "I suppose I have to resign from your precious school?"
"Stand up. Walk over here."
The magic of the curse forced him. The man fought every step.
"Headmaster Yaxley, how did you decide to get into education?"
"It's none of your concern."
"I think it was all about me. Trapping me in the school if you couldn't find me elsewhere."
"I guess I'm fired?"
Harry shook his head. "No, to the contrary. You are Headmaster. You may not resign."
As of today, the Hogwarts Board of Governors was gutted and left without a quorum of members, the top leadership of Hogwarts was removed, too, along with the Wizengamot. No one resigning, no one able to fulfill their duties. Harry and his advisors had decided to break the system and see if anything better might evolve in the coming years. Perhaps witches and wizards ignoring their institutions and doing for themselves.
"Are you shuffling me back off to my house as well?"
"One hundred fifty years."
Yaxley frowned. That was a death sentence even for the hardiest witch or wizard.
"It's the same as what Malfoy got. Fifty years for the book. Fifty years for Vernon Dursley. Fifty for my aunt Petunia."
Yaxley stiffened, turned, and left.
He was another who would try to unravel the curses laid upon him. He wouldn't succeed.
Harry was done. He felt horrible doing what he had, inflicting so much misery. There was also another emotion, too. He felt somewhat nervous doing what he'd done.
In the past, when he'd been able to hide who was responsible, Harry had produced far more violent solutions to his problems. For example, with the fake Moody, Harry forced the man on a suicide mission and got rid of the fake and that awful Minister Fudge. Two dead problems. He realized he really had racked up a body count in the last year.
Now he'd let this crop of enemies live. He had to. It was too public, this room inside the Ministry, to do anything else.
Some would try to tamper with the curses – that was their own arrogance killing them.
Others, those with the short terms of punishment, might just wait things out before they came for Harry in the future.
He almost wished he had permanently solved these problems.
What a schizoid mind he had now.
Unhappy at causing some harm, also unhappy at not causing enough, permanent harm. Perhaps he'd never be happy. Harry settled on regarding his attitude as a positive. He was somewhat glad that he felt everything, the pain of too much plus the pain of too little. So long as he felt pain, he might come through all this without allowing himself to easily turn into a monster.
If he felt pain for evil or rotten people, he was still possibly a good person.
He hadn't killed anyone today, even though Malfoy and Yaxley deserved death.
He didn't think he woken up a new aspect of Magic.
He had used a bit of cleverness to strike this blow in his war. Harry had turned pureblood culture, their laws on protecting property, against them. He had guessed correctly at some of what would happen today. He had needed the Aurors or someone else to search him and remove the book from his robe. That was it. He'd done something within their stupid laws and now his actions were shielded from formal punishment. Harry would still have to watch out for private vendettas, of course.
Their bad laws were his gain. He hoped to use them again if there came time for another public response to danger. Sure it was out of all proportion, but the laws of the land set no limits to how one could protect property. Harry knew he'd stretched and abused the hell out of the law. Ripped it intention by intention without breaking it.
The wizards wouldn't learn a thing from what had happened.
They wouldn't close up their privileges written into the law. If needed, Harry could so something like this again. Oh, he wouldn't use a book. But something else, change the setting a bit and make the details a bit different and Harry could do the same thing again if he ever needed.
He took another look around the room. The place creeped him out now. He picked up his wand off the table. He vanished all the torn fragments of Dumbledore's book, Power.
He noticed a ripple along the back wall when he was casting magic. He cast a finishing spell. Some obscuring spell dropped. Now he could see several devices along the back wall, things so strangely built only a wizard could have constructed them. Twigs and lumps of gold, one had a beaker of feathers as one of its components.
Harry wandered over to them and passed his wand near them. They resonated of magic.
He cast some of the detection spells he knew. The three objects held powerful enchantments, ones that weren't all that dissimilar from what the Goblet of Fire possessed. Artifacts of binding.
Harry was glad to have taken care of his business in this room early. He guessed these devices had been brought to this room in order to secure his compliance. Hidden with a bit of magic until after Harry was dragged inside. They hadn't planned to make him swear an oath or sign a contract. They were going to use the Ministry's devices to secure his compliance.
Not only give him over to Malfoy but bind him first or some rot.
Harry hadn't asked anyone their plans. He had known enough at a high level. He hadn't really wanted to know the awful details.
He used his wand to sketch a few new, temporary runes on each object. Each one would begin charging from the ambient magic residing in a magical building. In hours or maybe days, the excess energy would crush these devices, somewhat similar to how Harry had overpowered and destroyed the Goblet of Fire. Of course, he wouldn't be anywhere near nor would anyone he knew or cared be hurt by the failures of these enchantments.
The Ministry would be down three of his horrific devices, too. Leaving how many? Harry didn't know.
He stepped back and put some new illusions in place. No one would touch these devices until after they'd gone totally wrong.
All in all, Harry had a heavy heart from his victory. He hadn't attacked first, just prepared for what was likely to happen. A real hearing wouldn't have the young wizard being searched, his possessions violated. A real hearing wouldn't have had dozens of important witches and wizards in attendance, many of whom were owned or controlled by Lucius Malfoy and others of his stripe. They were obviously up to no good.
His soul was tainted from what he'd done, but not very much. Not deeply. He was walking the razor's edge and hadn't fallen yet.
Harry was growing up and he didn't know if he liked it. It would have been better for him not to know the peril he was in from his enemies and from his own choices. It would have been better just to be a school boy.
Too late now.
Harry took one further look around the room. He turned and left. A minute later he used the Floo to the Leaky Cauldron. From there he set out on foot for Grimmauld Place.
It was time to give the all-clear to those Muggleborns who had held off getting on the Hogwarts Express. They were all in London at a hotel room Harry had paid for. Now they could Floo to Hogsmeade if they wanted. Or they could look into other alternatives. Harry had neutered the Ministry for a time. The Ministry shouldn't have the minds in place to make trouble for at least several years. But that might leave some of them at Hogwarts when the forced slumber ended, when dirty people began returning to the Wizengamot or they found ways to appoint proxies.
Calling for a vote of no-confidence in a Minister required forty of the fifty seats to concur. For the next decade, the Wizengamot wouldn't be able to gather more than thirty-four of its members into the same room. If Harry hadn't left any loopholes in what he'd done.
Hermione and the others might be safe if they wanted to head back to Hogwarts. Also might not. The last few years hadn't been safe at all.
He had to pass along the news.
Harry still hadn't decided what he was going to do. Not that he'd told his doubts to Hermione or Sirius. Wherever he turned up trouble seemed to follow.
Sirius and Harry walked into the conference center they'd rented in the Muggle hotel.
Hermione was the first to notice Harry. She dropped the biscuit she'd been nibbling and ran for him.
"It's temporary, but yes."
"I'm so glad."
Harry was swarmed moments later. Colin Creevey took a few photographs – alright, many, many photographs to celebrate another victory.
Harry was forced to tell the story. So he took some care with his words and explained what happened. Leaving a lot out, of course.
Whatever he said within this group would make its way out into the wider world with decent speed.
Sirius, under a glamour, ordered up lunch for the group. To this group, Harry was passing the man off as his legal adviser, Mr. Hacke-Blokely.
They figured the group shouldn't leave until closer to when the Hogwarts Express arrived in Hogsmeade. After all, the folks could wait in this nice hotel room or they could stand around a train station or perhaps get a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks.
No one was up for leaving all that soon.
Many of them were quite nervous, still. Yaxley as the presumptive headmaster. What had people been thinking?
Harry had to go into his theory of corrupt institutions. People no longer thought. They just pursued goals with whatever tools they stumbled across.
What Harry said then didn't reassure many people.
Still, as four o'clock gave way to five, the group of seventeen muggleborns gathered their belongings and began to walk toward the Leaky Cauldron. They were going to Floo to Hogsmeade and join the other students taking carriages to the castle.
All except one.
Hermione tried to tug Harry out the door of the hotel conference room. He stayed in the room.
Hermione didn't take long to comprehend.
"You go," he said. "I'll be here in the summer."
"You need to finish your education."
Harry wished he could. Three relatively carefree years. No Voldemort. No Dumbledore pulling strings. No elder Malfoy. No Ministry. It sounded like a paradise.
"You think I'll be able to study a thing after what I did today. In public?"
"You're going into hiding?"
Harry wouldn't have used that term, but it wasn't wrong.
Harry would finish his education. He would travel with his legal adviser, Mr. Hacke-Blokely. Perhaps find someone to give him formal tutoring in enchanting, after all what Harry knew was an amateur's first cut.
He found he had no appetite for returning to Hogwarts. Because of the building and the secrets he'd discovered about the place, how it was similar to Wychwood or the House of Magic even though it was still used as a school. There was an unbounded Aspect of Magic there.
Harry shivered at the idea of being there with that knowledge.
He was silly, a bit reckless, but he wasn't that reckless, thank you.
"Not hiding," Harry said. "Just a different kind of education."
Hermione wanted to argue. She wasn't much good at hiding the things she thought.
"You go. Finish your exams this year. It's OWL year. If you want, you can come with us on our travels the next year..."
"I might do that."
She wouldn't, Harry knew. Perhaps after she achieved her NEWTS but not before.
They hugged and Hermione left.
"So we're going traveling?" Sirius asked.
"Maybe. If you want."
"Why are you really avoiding that place? Wychwood scared you off..."
"Yes. I try to learn from my mistakes."
"Well, perhaps the best thing is for you to make mistakes in other countries."
Harry took that as agreement and permission.
"She's not wrong, Harry."
"I know. But I can't go back there."
"Well, heal up. We'll travel and relax, perhaps find you a teacher. Maybe you'll send in a note you're taking a one-year sabbatical from school."
"McGonagall would go crazy."
"Better she think it temporary, right?"
Harry thought it through.
"Yes," he said. "I'll send something, some kind of excuse. I don't think I can go back, though. I don't want to do something that will wake whatever lives at Hogwarts. I'm not going to go through that again."
"It's weak, Harry."
It was part of the truth. Not all of it. He wished Sirius were less of an adult than he seemed to be right now. It wasn't all that long ago he was off being a bad, bad doggie.
"Fine. How about I'm tired of classrooms?"
"I think I knew someone else like that," Sirius said. He was smiling.
"I guess it's time to see if I can make any enchanted items that won't backfire on me."
"There's a four decade waiting list for new pensieves. On the black market side of things, there's about a backed-up century of demand for time turners. Take your pick."
Of course Sirius would know just what to say to make it all a bit easier, to make Harry just a touch happier.
Harry didn't know what the future held.
The Ministry would become a problem again in a few years, maybe a decade.
The pureblood culture was even harder. That could last with the witches and wizards who knew of it. With someone like Draco Malfoy, how long might he manage to live? A hundred years.
For now, Harry could breath. For now, he had a bit of choice. He would prepare – to live, to fight again, to survive. He had a few years to get ready. He couldn't waste the time. He had to keep walking the razor's edge. Strength and power without too much strength and power, enough but not too much that he awoke Magic again.
He had a hundred years of it. He had a family to raise. He had children to instruct in how to manage Harry's mistake, the House of Magic. Perhaps he even had a book to write so that no one of his line would ever lose the knowledge Harry had paid so dearly to collect.
Yes, Harry would need to write this all down eventually. For posterity. For the strength of the Potter Family going forward.
He might not be returning to Hogwarts, but he wouldn't have many lazy days in the near future, either. There was too much to do and not nearly enough time to prepare.
A/N: Yes, we've come to the end. Thank you for reading my story. It was a pleasure to write this. It may not have wound up being the story it seemed at the beginning, but it was the meditation on power and abuse of power that demanded to be written.