"I don't think I quite understand," Draco said, frowning. Harry gave him a long look.
"I only said the elves are doing very well at tracking and hunting," he repeated. He turned to Greg and rolled his eyes. Greg shrugged and adjusted his grip on the frame he was carrying through the halls for Harry.
Draco hurried to keep up with them. "Yes, but why are you—I mean, Dobby was one thing," he said plaintively. "The two of you got on quite well, I didn't even really mind, honestly-"
Harry snorted and shook his head. "Draco, when you heard I'd freed him, you threw an actual tantrum," he reminded his friend. "You stomped away and everything. It was very… off putting."
"Yes, but then I thought about it," Draco said in a far more reasonable tone than he had any excuse using, all things considered. "And I realized you needed someone out there with you, and I didn't mind so much. But now… I mean, how many elves could you need?"
"I'm not building an army of servants," Harry said, wrinkling his nose at the thought. "They're becoming free elves because they want to be. Dobby and I are just helping them. Rehabilitating them." He smiled, pleased with his choice of wording. Draco opened his mouth to argue again, but they'd arrived at their destination.
"Hello, Maurice!" Harry said, waving up at the portrait. The little old man perked up when Harry spoke, and peered down at them.
"Oh, hello, my boy! I see you've kept your end up."
"I always do," Harry assured him, stepping back slightly so that Vince and Greg were in better view. "Would you like the gold or green trim?"
Vince and Greg dutifully held the frames up so that Maurice could better decide. He stood from his wingback chair and peered out of his portrait, and the four of them watched as he made his choice.
"The gold is nice, don't you think?" he asked, squinting. Harry glanced at Vince, who hefted it a bit higher.
"I'd say it's dignified," Harry agreed. "Then again, you're the one who has to live with it, so it's entirely up to you."
"The green is a tad more Slytherin than I'm entirely comfortable with," Maurice pondered. Draco cleared his throat pointedly, and Maurice looked up from the frames, realizing his error. "Not, ah, not that there's anything wrong with Slytherin, you understand."
"Of course there isn't," Harry agreed.
"I'm just rather proud of my Hufflepuff roots," he continued hastily.
"Understandable," Harry nodded. Maurice nodded and went back to examining the frames, his eyes returning to Harry occasionally.
"I didn't mean to offend," he offered.
"Of course you didn't," Harry said with a blandly reassuring smile, putting a hand on Vince's shoulder. "We aren't offended. Perish the thought."
"Good. Er, thank you." Maurice hesitated. "…which one do you think I should choose?"
"If you dislike the green…" Harry began, and Maurice hurried to correct him.
"No, no, I didn't mean that I disliked it!" He peered down at it more firmly, and nodded. "I do like it, as a matter of fact. The more I look at the gold, the more I think it's rather pretentious."
"I wouldn't want you to-"
"Oh no, not at all," Maurice said, straightening up again. "I've decided. The green one for certain."
Harry shrugged. "You're the boss." He gestured to Vince, who returned the gold frame to Harry's bag. He then helped Harry guide Maurice's portrait down to chest height in order to move him to his new home. Greg held up the green frame while Harry and Vince settled Maurice inside, and helped Harry remount it on the wall once they were finished. The entire process took about ten minutes, during which Draco started up his non-complaints again.
"I just don't understand the point of it all," he said, watching as Harry, Vince and Greg worked. "Elves don't like being free."
"These elves do," Harry said blithely. Maurice, who had moved into a neighboring portrait to watch the action, made an anxious sound as Greg shifted too quickly and nearly scratched the chair that had been painted in with him.
"Do be careful, dear boy," he admonished, hovering in the foreground of a quiet moor. "That was my favorite chair in life, you know."
"Apologies, Maurice," Harry called.
"Yes, but… I mean… " Draco fumbled, pausing for a long minute to search for an argument. "Harry, you can't just take them from their homes and throw them into the wild and expect it all to work out!"
Harry shrugged. "It has been working out. Yesterday, Elsie caught dinner for the whole group. And of course, they all already know how to cook."
"But you're stealing!" Draco exclaimed, the words almost bursting out of him.
Harry finally gave Draco his full attention, in order to glare at him. "Excuse me?"
Draco crossed his arms with a stubborn set to his mouth. "You are! It's stealing, taking elves from people who bought them. There are laws against it. You could be arrested."
"They're not… they're not broomsticks, Draco, they're people," Harry said, letting Vince and Greg continue the work so he could give this conversation his full attention. "They didn't like what they were doing, so they're not doing it anymore. It's that simple."
"It's not, though," Draco explained, calming a bit now that Harry was speaking to him full on. Behind them, Maurice was directing Vince and Greg as they attempted to center the painting in relation to the ones around it. "That's what I'm trying to tell you, Harry. They're not legally people, whatever you say. They're property, and as far as their owners are concerned, you stole them. If one of them wanted to press charges…"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Who's going to do that?"
Draco shifted uncomfortably. "My father wanted to, actually. Once he realized Dobby'd had an accomplice. Mother only barely talked him out of it because I threw one of those 'tantrums' you hate so much and said I didn't like Dobby anyway and wanted a different elf."
Harry looked at Draco with narrowed eyes.
"He doesn't know it's you that's doing it," Draco added. Harry continued eyeing him.
"It wasn't me, this time," he said finally. Draco made a face and opened his mouth to object, but Harry kept talking. "It wasn't, though. I was here. Dobby and the others freed themselves and each other. That's where he's been all this time."
"Then Dobby could get in loads of trouble," Draco said immediately. "You'd get a fine or something because you're Harry Potter, but there's a whole different set of rules for house elves. They might decide he's gone feral."
"Feral," Harry repeated blankly. Draco nodded.
"Yes," he said, spotting Harry's expression and looking suddenly concerned. "He could be… put down."
"Killed," Harry clarified, his voice going low and quiet. Vince glanced up, saw Harry's expression, and quickly busied himself with the painting again.
"… yes." Draco said, refusing to meet Harry's eye, though his voice was firm. "You needed to know that."
Harry nodded, turning back to watch Vince and Greg continue to attempt to put Maurice's portrait back to his satisfaction. He tilted his head and fastened it into place exactly where it'd been before they took it down, and Maurice went back inside to poke around and examine his new situation. He made a small, pleased sound, and thanked Harry before settling back into his chair. Vince and Greg stepped away, and Vince offered Harry the old frame, which he stowed in his bag next to the gold one.
"Harry," Draco asked, following him as they left the corridor where Maurice was hung and stepped onto a staircase. Harry didn't respond until they reached the fifth floor.
"That won't happen," he told Draco, then turned to look up at another portrait. "Anabelle! I've found you a new frame, if you have those names for me."
"Is it gold?" she asked hopefully.
"I hear you've finally revealed yourself to Professor Snape," Flitwick said one Monday afternoon, during their meeting. Harry nodded.
"I needed to ask him a question," he explained, curling his fingers around his teacup and finishing his drink. "I think he has expectations now."
Flitwick chuckled. "He's requested that you meet with him personally for your Potions lessons, yes."
"Hmm," Harry said. Flitwick set his own empty teacup down on the table, and Harry followed suit.
"He is rather better at the subject than I could dream of being," Flitwick said, tapping his teacup with his wand. It stood up and danced. Harry narrowed his eyes at it thoughtfully, then looked down at his own. It leapt to its newly found feet and joined Flitwick's cup in a jaunty two-step.
"Oh, lovely, Mr. Potter, very well done," Flitwick declared, watching with delight as the cups twirled around on the tabletop, before focusing on Harry's face again. "I'm afraid your skill in Potions can only be truly advanced by someone with a Mastery of the subject. Sending your potions to him for analysis will only give him so much information about your skill level, and though I wish I could, I cannot guide you nearly as far as he is able."
Harry squinted at the teacups. His turned into a small tortoise, and though it looked realistic, he could tell that it was still made of china by the sound of its feet across the table as it continued to dance. He shook his head and tried again, and this time, when Flitwick picked up the tortoise to examine it, Harry knew it was fully transfigured. "I guess that'd be fine," he decided out loud.
"Marvellous," Flitwick squeaked, and if he meant the tortoise or Harry's acquiescence, it didn't really matter.
Harry visited Snape in his office again the next day, around midday. Snape barely glanced at him before looking back at the enormous cauldron, which was right side up now and full of something steaming and purple.
"Pepperup Potion for the hospital wing," Snape told him, shifting slightly to make space for Harry to stand next to him and look into the cauldron. "Madam Pomfrey goes through a cauldron this size every two weeks or so, in the winter."
"Is that the one with the smoke?" Harry asked, peering at it.
"Isn't it supposed to be red?"
The corner of Snape's mouth turned up. "Very observant, Mr. Potter." He picked up a crystal rod and began stirring the contents of the cauldron precisely. "It will be red when I've finished."
Harry watched Snape stir in silence for a while. "Potions, then?"
"Ten fifteen on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday," Snape said without missing a beat.
"Draco will be able to assist you in remembering the time, if you let him know," he added. Harry rolled his eyes.
"Can't we just-"
"Absolutely not." Snape finished stirring and covered the potion, lowering the flame concurrently.
Harry scowled and changed the subject. "If you're going to make an agreement with someone, but you don't trust them one bit, what would you do?"
Snape's eyes lifted from the cauldron and settled on Harry. "Be firm, explicit, and specific," he said. "Ten fifteen, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Mr. Potter. In the Potion's classroom."
"Yeah, yeah," Harry grumbled.
"This is demeaning," Padfoot pointed out. Harry tilted his head and waited, silent. The other elves followed his lead and simply watched Padfoot, alone in the middle of the clearing. "Harry, I'm not going to do it."
"You said you would," Harry reminded him, his eyebrows pulling together in a frown. He'd said it right after the part where he apologized for what he'd said about Harry and Slytherin. "You can't go back on your word now that we're all here."
"I can now that you've introduced me as the cautionary snail," Padfoot snapped, looking around at the surrounding group. "You've even invited the centaurs to laugh at me. You didn't tell me there would be centaurs."
Ruta shifted her bow from one shoulder to the other, glancing at Harry with suppressed amusement.
"I didn't invite her, exactly," he explained, grinning back. "Centaurs are always welcome, you know that."
"Thank you, Harry," Ruta said, and looked back to Padfoot. "I would be honoured to see your demonstration, if you would be so kind."
Padfoot grumbled something under his breath and transformed into the dog. His grumbling continued, unchanged in pitch or tone despite the change in species.
Harry looked to Dobby. "Whenever you're ready," he said, and Dobby nodded. Across the clearing, a bush jolted sharply, and several partridges scattered out from the undergrowth, startled. Padfoot leapt for them, snapping his jaws and chasing after them, barking. Harry unsheathed his bow and arrow and shot one out of the air as it evaded Padfoot's attempts.
"Teamwork!" he declared, delighted with this new idea. Padfoot growled disparagingly as he brought the partridge and arrow back to the group, dropping it to the dirt and standing on two feet again. He dusted himself off with a sullen expression as Harry continued. "Why not? There's so many of us at this point, right?"
The elves nodded along, watching raptly. Libby, who had returned from her mission with another three elves, spoke up. "Libby is wondering if we is each to be given a partner, sir?"
Harry raised his eyebrows, and she backtracked. "Er, Libby is wondering if we is picking a…" she trailed off as Dobby elbowed her and shook his head. She frowned at Harry's chin for a long minute, then tried again. "Libby is… going to be picking a partner…?"
Harry beamed at her and nodded in agreement. "That's a good idea." The elves all looked around, sizing each other up and slowly forming pairs and groups of three.
"Tonight we is going to be needing food, fire, and shelter," Dobby told the small groups. "The shelters is going to be in the trees, now that it is being warmer."
"Do you have a partner?" Ruta asked, shifting to stand next to Harry as they watched the elves divide up tasks.
"Dobby, of course," Harry said. "He'll decide what we're doing, and I'll help."
"It must be different now, with so many elves around," she said. Padfoot had stepped up on her other side, and scoffed.
"Different is one word for it," he commented. Harry glanced at him.
"It's different," Harry admitted eventually. "Dobby and I were fine sleeping under the stars usually, but this forest is rather dangerous and the other elves aren't really comfortable with it at this point. So they build shelters. Dobby and Fink are working out the best designs for more permanent shelters, and me and a few of the others are scouting the forest for an area where we can build them."
"The caves aren't big enough for all of us," Padfoot added. "And making sure everyone has food and water is a logistical nightmare."
"Soon they'll all be able to get their own," Harry pointed out. "That's half the point of what we're teaching them. Most of them are better at it than you are, anyway."
"I'm old and wandless," Padfoot grumbled. "And on the lam."
"The headmaster is old," Harry disagreed. "You're lazy."
Ruta snickered as Padfoot leaned around her to glare. "Speaking of a place to build," she reminded Harry, easily interrupting Padfoot's rebuttal. "The southeast edge of our territory is safe and has access to that stream you like."
"I hadn't wanted to presume to set up too close to the centaurs," he said, sobering. "How are the warding amulets working?"
"As well as can be expected," she said. "They don't stop the dementors, but they do give our guards a chance to get away and warn the rest. It's better than nothing."
"I'm getting closer to having them gone," Harry promised, earnest. "Before the next full moon. Earlier, if I can manage it."
"You didn't tell me that," Padfoot said, stepping around Ruta to see Harry better. "Within the month? Did you speak to Fudge?"
Harry grimaced. He hadn't, because he'd been debating what to say, and how. He'd struggled uncharacteristically with the decision, but this was bigger than his usual boons. It had to be handled very delicately.
"I'm working on it," he said instead. Padfoot looked between him and Ruta, who was looking at Harry with hope.
"I'll let Magorian know," she said, shifting her bow and hugging Harry impulsively. Harry hugged back, surprised. "By the next full moon, they will be gone."
She smiled brightly at them and turned to gallop back into the trees toward centaur territory.
Padfoot waited for her to disappear from view, then turned to Harry and raised his eyebrows. "Well?"
"By the next full moon," Harry repeated. Padfoot crossed his arms.
"Harry," he said, a stern note filtering into his voice. "I want to know your plan."
"I'm going to speak to the Minister and take it from there," Harry said evasively, watching the groups of house elves that had remained near the clearing. Several of them were in the trees, establishing the elaborate warding system that let them all fall asleep twice a night without fear, while the others set up an area for a fire pit big enough to support the rather large cauldron they used these days for soups. "I'll do it soon."
Padfoot followed his line of sight to the elves and watched them work as well. "How soon?"
"I'll talk to the headmaster about summoning him tomorrow."
Padfoot snorted. "Are you planning to Accio the Minister for Magic?"
"I don't know what that means," Harry said absently. Dobby waved him over, and Harry nodded to Padfoot as he left, ready to help put the final touches on the warding and donate any useful supplies to the creation of their meal, in addition to any other tasks Dobby had for him.
The headmaster wasn't doing a whole lot when Harry decided to approach him the next day. He was sitting at the large desk in his office, talking to his bird, who chirruped back occasionally. Harry couldn't decide if this improved his opinion of birds or lowered his opinion of the headmaster.
"I had hoped you would come to visit me again, Mr. Potter," the headmaster said after a long series of chirps from the bird.
"Tattletale," Harry said, disappearing down from his perch on top of one of the higher shelves. The headmaster was watching him with an expression limned with fascination, even as the bird chirped again. Harry rolled his eyes and smiled a little, stepping closer to examine the perch where the bird was settled comfortably.
"Fawkes is an excellent judge of character," the headmaster told Harry, who glanced at him only briefly before looking back at the bird.
The bird tipped his head at Harry, who matched his movements and chirped once, blinking. After a pause, the bird chirped back, spreading his wings and raising his beak to the ceiling.
"He is also a phoenix," the headmaster chuckled, watching the display with a fond expression. "Do you know much about phoenixes, Mr. Potter?"
Harry nodded and examined the bird more closely, barely blinking. He'd heard of them in the forest, of course, and in books. Seeing one in person, though. Harry cawed softly, and the phoenix warbled back, lowering his wingspan and turning his head to look at Harry out of one bright eye. The snake, who had been draped around Harry's neck since before they arrived, lifted his head to hover just shy of Harry's jaw, hissing a wordless question.
"Phoenix," Harry explained, and the bird's eye sharpened, looking at the snake now.
"Will he try to eat me?" the snake asked, retreating to just behind Harry's ear, almost hiding in his hair. Harry looked at the phoenix, who was still watching the two of them. He chirped again, and the phoenix rustled his feathers, his head sinking low on his shoulders.
"I don't think so," Harry said, lifting a hand and lettings his fingers smooth over the snake's scales. "I won't let him, even if he tries."
"Good," the snake said, and continued to hover behind Harry's ear. The headmaster cleared his throat.
"Perhaps I was incorrect, and you came to visit Fawkes?" he suggested with a pleasant smile. "I understand the sentiment. Feel free to have a seat if you wish."
"I'm actually here to see the wizard minister," Harry said, sparing a glance for the desk and the pile of paperwork sitting in front of the headmaster. "If he's around."
The headmaster was visibly amused by Harry's comment. "He doesn't make a habit of spending time at Hogwarts, no," he said. Harry only waited. "What did you wish to speak with him about?"
"I wanted to make that boon," Harry said easily. "It can wait, I guess. Just tell him I said hello or whatever it is you say."
At that, the headmaster stood up and walked to his fireplace. "I will contact him and let him know you'd like an audience," he told Harry, throwing a bit of powder on the fire. Harry squinted at the flames with distaste and watched as the headmaster spoke with someone through them. The person in the flames wasn't the minister, so Harry went back to chirping back and forth with the phoenix. He was much more interesting than most birds Harry had met, and when he spread his wings and cawed at Harry once before disappearing, Harry was intrigued.
He leaned closer to where the phoenix had been standing and breathed in deeply before closing his eyes and trying to follow the trail of magic. He reappeared on one of the turrets of the castle near to the lake and looked around, wondering if he'd managed to catch up. The phoenix was nowhere in sight, and Harry slid down the steeply pitched roof to look over the edge.
"Where did he go?" the snake asked, curious now that the phoenix had proved uninterested in devouring him.
"I don't know," Harry said, fascinated and somewhat disappointed. "I need more practice at that."
The phoenix appeared in a burst of flames at the very top of the turret and crowed at Harry. Harry spun around and laughed as he nearly overbalanced. "Did you do that on purpose?" he called, walking up the roof with the help of his usual sticking charms. "Would you do it again?"
Instead of responding, the phoenix disappeared. Harry managed to reach where he'd been before the trail disappeared and focused intently on the residual magic he could taste. "There," he said, and vanished after him.
He didn't catch the phoenix once for the rest of the afternoon, though not for lack of trying. "He's taking the mickey, I know it," Harry told the snake as they reappeared on the Quidditch pitch. "I'm not good enough at this for him to be playing tricks."
"Maybe he's not, and you're just awful at it," the snake suggested, and Harry shrugged the shoulder the snake was on, which meant he had to stop laughing for long enough to keep himself from falling. Harry gave him a wide smile.
"Either way I'm going to get better," he decided, and when the phoenix reappeared halfway down the field, Harry jogged toward him with renewed determination.
The next afternoon found Harry spending some rare time alone on a low branch of an elm tree, along the edge of the forest nearest to Hagrid's hut. Filch had asked for something to help with his sciatica. Harry had been happy to oblige, as Filch was a useful ally in the castle and more importantly, an irritating foe. He'd set a ball of glass in the air and was melting it slowly over the fumes rising from a small cauldron on the forest floor filled with skullcap and rue when he heard the unmistakable sound of a throat clearing.
"You wanted a word with me, Mr Potter?"
Harry looked up and saw that the headmaster had indeed brought the wizard minister back to the castle for their boon. When the headmaster had started negotiating meeting times through the floo before Harry left, he'd wondered if he was going to get a letter telling him he needed to go to London or where ever it was the minister lived. It was encouraging for his plans that he hadn't.
He left the glass spinning lazily in the heated air above his hands, and jumped down from his branch on light feet to regard the wizard minister with a narrow expression.
"I've thought about your offer and I've decided to accept," he said. The wizard minister straightened, his face lighting up.
"Oh, well, if that—truly, Mr Potter, that is grand news, positively delighted to hear it, let me tell you," he blustered, his bowler hat going slightly askew in his excitement. He cleared his throat, fixed his hat, and nodded at Harry. "I do believe we have details to discuss, if you'd be so-"
"Draco suggested law wizards," Harry interrupted, before the minister could invite him somewhere he'd rather not go. "I think it's a fine idea. That, and writing things down."
The minister opened his mouth and closed it again, thrown. "I… well, yes, we will certainly provide you with a-"
"Draco said he had someone in mind." Harry waved his hand dismissively. "You write your bit and I'll write mine. Once we've finished and we both agree, we'll make the boon."
The minister blinked once, long and slow. "Very well," he said, sounding suddenly more formal than Harry had known he could be. "I will return to Hogwarts in two day's time with a formal statement of o—my expectations regarding our arrangement."
"Lovely," Harry said, nodding. He swung back up onto his branch again and returned to the glass, still molten and spinning in the heated air and fumes. The minister shifted, glanced at the headmaster, and huffed when he realized he'd been dismissed. Harry let the glass stretch and twist as the minister left the trees with the headmaster guiding the way.
"I cannot believe you're actually doing this."
Draco had followed Harry to Hogsmeade to meet with the law wizard he'd borrowed from his father, though he'd done it under protest. The law wizard had done it only for quite a large bag of gold, which Harry had handed over personally at Draco's request. He assumed Draco knew wizard boons better than he did, and hadn't bothered to question the amount. He could make more if he ever needed it again.
They were sitting around a table in one of the pubs, Harry painstakingly reading through each word of the three of them had drawn up.
"It's important," Harry replied, paying him very little attention. "I don't like this bit," he said after a moment, looking up at the law wizard and pointing at a line halfway down the parchment. "It sounds like I'd be willing to compromise, and I'm not."
"Usually in these situations, the person in your position leaves a bit of room for negotiation," the law wizard explained, after glancing over the offending words. "It allows-"
"I'm not interested in all that," Harry said, frowning. "I make deals like this every day. I don't leave room for negotiation. If the other person doesn't want to give me what I'm asking for, they don't get what they want. It's that simple. Especially here, I don't want half my goals fulfilled. I want all of them."
The law wizard huffed irritably, but Harry's stare was uncompromising. He eventually leaned forward and altered the offending phrasing. Harry re-read it and nodded, satisfied.
The wizard minister returned on the day he said he would, after the sun had started to dip toward the mountains to the west, but before twilight. He brought with him two wizards dressed in fancy, uncomfortable looking robes. Harry was on the grounds of the school this time, and invited the wizards to sit with him in the snow-cleared patch of clover and mugwart he'd grown earlier.
The three of them remained standing, and Harry leaned back on his hands to better watch them.
"Mr Potter," the minister said, looking down at him with a slight frown. "I have my request. Have you completed yours?"
"Oh, yes," Harry said, sitting up and crossing his legs as he poked through the bag. Harry had handed over quite a bit of gold for that law wizard's assistance, and he was pleased with the results. He'd brought it to the elves to look over, then Flitwick and Snape, and once they all gave their approval he declared himself satisfied with it. He wanted this done right.
He found the parchment and tossed it in the air. It hovered in front of the minister, who took it and handed it right over to the wizard on his left. The wizard at his right pulled another, thicker roll of parchment from his sleeve and handed it to Harry, who frowned and hefted it.
The parchment unfurled like a flag, and Harry stood and let the wind catch it and unravel it to its full length. It was longer than the headmaster was tall, and went up in flames much more easily.
The minister and his wizards shouted with alarm as bits of ash and flecks of flame fluttered away on the breeze, scattering toward the lake.
"Too long," Harry said, sitting down again and watching the wizard who had unrolled his own comparatively short request. "Mine is shorter than you. I'll ask you to offer me the same convenience."
The minister looked ready to open his mouth and object, but really, Harry knew it wasn't an unreasonable thing to request. He was getting much taller these days, and had even had a growth spurt recently. Frankly, he thought he and the wizard minister weren't too far from standing nose to nose, if the man would stop his posturing. Or if Harry was actually standing up.
The wizard with Harry's request began to mutter as he read it through, his eyes widening. He leaned down to speak in the minister's ear (and really, Harry's parchment had been longer than everyone present, that seemed rude). The minister took the parchment and scanned it himself, eyes bulging.
"Free the house elves?" he repeated, looking up at Harry with blatant incredulity. "That's what you want?"
"No, that's not what it says," Harry said, scowling and crossing his legs at the ankle. "We've spoken about this before. I want Being status for Forest Elves, which are different from House Elves."
"But," the minister replied, stuttering and staring. "You— we've— yes of course, but… I mean to say… you, I understand. You're different from a house elf, but… you already have Being status, Mr. Potter."
"I want it for the other Forest Elves, too," Harry explained. "The ones who more recently decided against being House Elves."
The minister looked back and forth between his two wizards. They both looked as baffled as he did. "Mr Potter," the minister finally said, pulling himself together. "They cannot change species simply because they want to."
Harry had already had this argument with the Granger girl, and so came prepared this time. He smiled up at the wizard minister. "We aren't changing our species, we're changing our categorization. We'll still be elves, after all."
Much like the Granger girl, the minister gaped at Harry's differentiation. Harry privately found himself annoyed that these wizards thought he couldn't pick up a bloody book and look up a definition to prove a point.
"I want a separate category of elf to be recognised under your laws," Harry explained slowly, when no one spoke for a few moments. "We're called Forest Elves. We'll have Being status. We already have territory, and we want it recognized under your laws. It's all in the treaty."
"Treaty?" This from the wizard on the right, who took the parchment back from the minister and began reading it over again.
"Yes," Harry said, satisfied that they were now getting somewhere. "You sign our treaty, I'll complete your request. That's the boon." He paused. "What is your request, anyhow?"
"Your territory is the Forbidden Forest?" the wizard on the right blurted out loud, looking up at Harry and shaking his head. "You can't. Most of it is owned by Hogwarts, and other areas have already been declared as a centaur reserve."
"Keep reading. I'm not stealing centaur territory," Harry said dismissively. "The parts that are theirs are still theirs. But everything southeast of them down to the sea is ours."
The minister looked back and forth between the wizard on the right, who was still reading furiously, and Harry, who was waiting with an expectant, polite expression. "Mr Potter, this is highly unusual-"
"That's fine," Harry said, nodding. "I don't mind."
The minister's face turned a bit red. "I'm afraid I do mind!"
Harry sighed. "Well, what did you want? Was it all that important?"
"You would know if you hadn't set it on fire!" The minister shouted suddenly, and the wizard on his left put a hand on his shoulder and said something urgent in his ear. He visibly reined in his calm, took a deep breath, and continued. "I would like for you to... to vanquish a foe of ours."
Harry cocked his head, interested. This sounded intriguing. "Which foe?"
"You-Know-Who," the wizard minister said, and shuddered slightly. Harry squinted at him, and the four of them stood in silence as he thought and the wizard on the right continued reading. The minister watched him, twisting his bowler cap anxiously in his hands.
"I… yes," Harry agreed, his brow furrowed.
He continued to stare at the minister, wondering what his angle was. If Harry already knew who they were talking about, that left few enemies of the wizards' for Harry to vanquish. In fact, it narrowed things down considerably.
Harry was ninety percent certain the minister was talking about Padfoot. If the wizards were so afraid of him that they would set horrible dark creatures loose on a defenseless forest, and even more defenseless schoolchildren, they must truly want him dealt with. And no one knew that Harry and Padfoot were friendly, Harry had made certain of that.
The situation crystallized itself in Harry's mind, pieces falling into place and finally starting to sort themselves out into a reasonable solution. The minister wanted Harry to resolve the situation with Padfoot. Harry had already made the same deal with the centaurs and with Padfoot himself. Everyone wanted the same thing, as far as Harry was concerned.
Sure, the minister wanted Padfoot captured, but Harry knew from talking to people at the school and in the village that the wizarding public would just be happy to have the dementors gone and the threat removed, just like the centaurs. If the wizards knew Padfoot wasn't a threat, that resolved everyone's problem.
It created new problems for the minister, certainly, but Harry didn't care, as those were very unlikely to be part of the boon. He could vanquish Wormtail publicly, and if he defined 'the foe' as either Wormtail or the fear and unrest that Padfoot's escape had caused, then he would have fulfilled the minister's request.
It was perfect, and as long as the document Harry signed didn't name Padfoot specifically (and Harry doubted it would, with how secretive the minister was acting now), then Harry was in the clear to go forward with his plan.
"I'd be glad to," Harry said finally, nodding. The minister's eyes widened.
"You… I mean to say, you truly would?" he asked, looking suddenly as pleased as he had two days ago when they had first spoken.
"Write out a more reasonable, shorter request," Harry said, granting him a reassuring smile. The minister looked as though all his worries had been suddenly lifted from his shoulders. "I'll sign it, you sign mine, and we'll have a deal."
"Oh, of course!" the minister said, clapping his hands together once and beaming down at Harry. "Mr Potter, this is fantastic news, we will arrange everything immediately, of course." He paused, his delight morphing into curiosity. "But I must ask… you have a plan? How will you manage what no one else has before?"
Harry was amused. Padfoot had managed to build himself up into quite a deadly foe in the wizards' minds, for someone who couldn't even light a fire without a wand. "Probably publicly," Harry decided. "Certainly soon. I'm growing impatient with the whole situation, aren't you?"
"But how will you even find him?" The minister pressed, fascinated. "I hardly believed he was still abroad myself, but Dumbledore is quite insistent, and… well times are strange, I do suppose. I mean to say, look at you! What powers do you have to speak so calmly of his defeat?"
"Elf powers and wizard powers are different," Harry shrugged. Padfoot was definitely better at marketing himself than he was at feeding himself, that much was certain. "I'll find him easily, don't worry about that."
The minister looked ready to push for more, so Harry willed his eyes to go dark and his skin to glow with an eerie, menacing light. It didn't do anything, really, but it looked impressive and had convinced others that Harry had immense power in the past. The minister and his wizards looked suitably awed, so obviously it had done its job.
"I will vanquish your foe." The light faded, and Harry added in a more friendly tone, "Of course, you'll have to get rid of the dementors sooner rather than later, if that's the case."
"Get rid of the dementors?" the minister echoed, frowning.
"Yes," Harry said, gesturing to his treaty. "It's in there already, of course. We won't have them floating all over our territory, or even anywhere near it. We want the dementors removed entirely, and frankly, if I'm to work on vanquishing your foe, I don't need to be worrying about protecting the forest from those…" He shuddered. "Nuisances."
"But they are here to guard and protect Hogwarts," the minister explained fretfully. Harry stood up, dusting off his tunic and considering the balance of power between them at the moment. He decided it boded well for him and pushed further.
"They're unnecessary," he reminded the minister. "I'm here, I'll take care of it. The dementors aren't particularly good guards, as I'm sure you've noticed. I'd like them gone tomorrow, if you could manage it as a token of good will toward our boon. I'll provide you with one as well, of course."
The minister beamed and pressed his hands together, glancing at the wizards at his shoulders with pleasure. They both seemed happy enough, though the one on the right was still reading through Harry's treaty with wide eyes. "Delightful, Mr. Potter, simply delightful!"