Title: Black Phoenix
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco, Ron/Hermione, Lucius/Narcissa
Warnings: Violent, some angst, somewhat crackish humor
Summary: Humans weren't the only ones watching the day the world changed, and now Harry is receiving delegations from those magical creatures interested in joining his court. Meanwhile, he's got to deal with the Ministry, the upcoming election, keeping his relationship with Draco secret, and keeping his phoenix from eating people. And that's in his spare time.
Author's Notes: This is the sequel to Easy as Falling, and thus the second prequel to my one-shot "Charming as He Needs To Be." I suggest reading both of those if you haven't yet.
Chapter One—The Inevitable
"The Daily Prophet wants an interview." Briseis swept her braid over her shoulder and consulted the list in her hand. Harry suspected it was a list of names. Or maybe tasks. Briseis was so organized she might have his life planned out months into the future. And if he broke her expectations and did something else, she would just make a new list. This one would probably go years.
Briseis paused and looked at him over the top of her list. She had been a Slytherin, and Harry suspected she did intimidating better as his assistant than she ever had as a student. But Harry didn't have to feel intimidated. He rubbed his knuckles over Persephone's breast feathers instead. Persephone, on the perch next to his chair, reached out with one red foot and repositioned his hand without ever lifting her head out of the feathers of her back.
Harry waited for some feeling to return to his fingers before he attempted to say anything else. "The Prophet wouldn't tell the truth about me no matter what bribes I promised them. And since they'll just print nonsense one way or the other, I might as well choose the option that gives me less work."
Briseis shuffled her papers for a moment, as though considering the validity of his argument, then said, "I wasn't thinking that you should bribe them to tell the truth."
"I don't think I can persuade them, either," Harry said dryly.
"Not that." Briseis looked horrified enough that Harry snickered in spite of himself. "I was thinking of threatening them."
And then there were the times she still managed to surprise him. Harry bit one knuckle and considered her. "They wouldn't print that? And make me look still worse?"
Briseis reached down and picked something up off the little wheeled table she had started taking with her everywhere. "I don't think anything can make you look worse than this," she said, turning it around.
The picture showed him standing in the middle of a burned ring of ground, accepting the oaths of some wizards who knelt at his feet. At his side was a black mass, not really distinguishable from grass in the photograph, and a leash of fire led from his wrist to Persephone, who was picking bits off the black mass. The headline screamed: DARK LORD HARRY POTTER LETS HIS BLACK PHOENIX EAT CORPSES!
Harry rolled his eyes. "That was at least a week ago."
"You need something to replace this." Briseis lowered the newspaper and leaned forwards intently. "Something that can create a new image of you in their minds, something else to gaze at and react to."
Harry turned around again to rub Persephone's breast feathers. They were purest black on top, shading towards midnight blue as they narrowed, and he found them fascinating to touch. Persephone was faint and cold, not at all like Fawkes. "I don't think anything can replace it," he said over his shoulder. "I knew what I was doing when I let Persephone eat Yaxley. Yes, it's disgusting. But it also convinces them as nothing else could."
"Convinces them." Briseis turned that into ice and breathed it back at him.
Too bad for her that Harry was already touching something colder. "Convinces them that I'm a Dark Lord. That I meant what I said about using Dark magic to defend myself. Yaxley's death should have done that, but since it was technically a duel, there are some people who wouldn't think I was frightening."
Briseis laid down her papers, moving with a care that Harry thought meant she was about to crack. Not with laughter, he hoped. "You want to become frightening?"
Harry nodded and finally lowered his hand when Persephone made the little grumbling noise in the back of her throat that meant she would try to take off a finger next second. "Yes. It's the only thing that's left to me, the only way I might have some peace. I can't stop them from printing lies about me. I can't stop them from fearing me, or always thinking I might attack. Even when I made an oath not to take over Hogsmeade and to honor those who wanted to come to my court, some of them refused to believe me."
Briseis picked up a quill and snapped it in two.
Harry picked up the pace. "The only way I can stop some of my enemies from attacking me, and forcing me to use more magic and kill more people, is to frighten them so badly that they won't want to. Oh, there'll still be some people who want to be heroes coming after me, but at least the Ministry should be warier. They haven't sent anyone after me since Yaxley, you'll notice."
Briseis's frown deepened. "We have no proof that that was the Ministry."
"Ron checked for me," Harry said. "He still has a contact or two who will look into the Ministry files for him. Yaxley escaped from the Battle of Hogwarts, but he was one of the first Death Eaters arrested after that. He's been in Azkaban for years. They don't have Dementors on the prison anymore, that's true, but I'm sure the only way he could have escaped is with Ministry help and cooperation. And they must have thought it was a justified chance to take. If he destroyed me, that was a bonus. If he didn't, his death wouldn't cost them much.'"
"But it did." Briseis's voice was so soft, Harry had trouble hearing her.
"What do you mean? I still only destroyed Yaxley." Harry looked out the window, wondering if Ministry people had come to the castle and she hadn't told him.
But no, of course not. He was bonded with the castle, and Hogwarts would have told him the instant there was an intrusion like that. Harry stroked his hand down the side of his desk, and was rewarded with a little purr and wriggle that made Persephone tuck her head more tightly into her feathers. Harry was just glad that, if his black phoenix did get jealous of Hogwarts, there was little she could do to harm it. Harry and the school were too closely conjoined.
"I mean," Briseis said, drawing his attention again, "that it cost the Ministry because they pushed you into a spectacular defiance. You gave them a show. You said that yourself when you told me about how you let Persephone eat his body."
Harry blinked. "Right. But that was a show for the people around me. The Ministry is so stubborn that they aren't going to be convinced by it, just like they aren't convinced by anything else I do."
"Your audience spreading the word." Briseis gave him a small smile. "The conviction in their voices is affecting others." She gestured to another stack of paper she'd carried in, and which Harry had asked her to set down without making him look at it. The letters.
"People are writing me letters about—what? The duel? Persephone?" Harry stared at them.
"Stop acting stupid," Briseis said crisply. "They're writing about what they saw. A Dark Lord who proclaimed himself in fire and light, created a phoenix out of nothing, and then promised that he would never take over Hogsmeade and received some oaths." The knowing look she shot him told Harry she probably suspected a disguised Draco had been one of those people, but until she said it aloud, he wouldn't confirm her suspicions one way or another. "A show is more powerful for some people than anything else. Politics, debate, arguments, newspaper articles, photos." She pointed her chin at the photograph in the Prophet again. "Although you have that, too."
Harry blinked and smoothed his hand down his face. Sure, he'd thought about symbolic things, when he created Persephone and allowed her to eat, but he'd thought that would affect the people there, primarily, and maybe the Ministry. Only later had he realized that it was useless to think of affecting the Ministry, so his only audience was the few people there and those they managed to convince.
"They told lots of people?" he muttered. "And those lots of people found it persuasive?"
Briseis solemnly nodded. "And they like the idea. They're fascinated with it. A black phoenix. A Dark Lord who holds himself in limits. The wizard who could survive the curse Yaxley was carrying." She smiled at Harry. "They found you fascinating when you survived the Killing Curse, after all. Why is this any different?"
"I don't know," Harry admitted, after thinking about it for a bit. "I suppose I just didn't expect those people to be interested enough to propagate it everywhere. I've tried for so long to counter the Ministry, and nothing worked, that I decided this wouldn't work, either."
"You've never done anything as radiant as before," Briseis said, in a voice that made Harry look at her sharply.
She gazed back at him steadily, but with her hands motionless on the stack of papers, and her lips slightly parted. Harry groaned and leaned back in his chair, ignoring the way Persephone shifted. As long as his hand wasn't near her, she couldn't tear it apart with either beak or claws. "You believe it, too, don't you?"
"Hard not to believe it with the evidence right there." Briseis tilted her head at the perch. Persephone pulled her head up, regarded Briseis, and seemed to approve of her, since she went back to sleep.
"But you haven't been a fan before," Harry muttered. "You found me unobjectionable enough to work for, and that's all. I need you to still be as objective as you can, not someone who wants to kneel at my feet."
"Someone usually kneels before her Lord," Briseis said quietly. "It doesn't mean that she can't still offer advice and expect her Lord to listen to her." She hesitated, then added, "I did a moment ago, in fact. You've started something this time—something that didn't start when you announced that you were becoming a Dark Lord, or when you tried to fight back against the Ministry. You're right, they won't learn. But they will listen to their people, and you should try an interview."
"So this is the beginning," Harry said, taking a deep breath, and thinking back to that moment in the collapsed dueling circle when he had thought that. He had hoped it might be the beginning of a change, sure. But he had decided that was foolish. Nothing had changed when he punished Fifernum or Rosier.
Because those weren't public enough.
True, Harry decided slowly. His punishment of Fifernum had been private, and Harry doubted she had told anyone about it. Rosier's punishment had happened in front of the Wizengamot, but they had every reason not to spread it around. No use telling the population of wizarding Britain that a Dark Lord had made one of their members almost have an orgasm in front of the rest of the members.
But this was different. His pessimism had been greater than his optimism, for once.
Then Harry had to grin. But just as wrong.
He looked up at Briseis and shook his head. "It's a good thing you're still here. Otherwise, I might have kept going like there was no big defining moment, and that would be wrong, wouldn't it?"
"It would." Briseis clapped an arm over her stomach and bowed. "And that means that you're more prepared to accept the other news I bring you."
"What news?" But Harry took the letter she held out to him in answer. If she thought he should see something instead of having her tell him about it, then he should.
The letter was smooth and plain, but the hand on it clumsy, and it had no seal. Harry opened it, wondering who would send him one like this. His friends' handwriting would be recognizable, and most of the people in Hogsmeade who had sworn to him were living in the castle now. The Ministry would have gone with a seal and obviously expensive paper, meant to intimidate.
Greetings to Dark Lord Harry Potter.
The centaurs of the Forbidden Forest wish for the safety and protection of his court, in exchange for which they will tell him the will of the stars.
Harry stared at it, then looked for the signature, blinking when he realized there wasn't one. Well, why would there be? The letter itself had already told him who it was from.
He looked up at Briseis. "You knew that the centaurs wanted to swear allegiance to me?"
"It was a centaur who delivered it, this morning." Briseis was smiling at him with a look that made her seem serene, but Harry could see the way her hands clenched in front of her, as if she was having to keep herself from fighting or bolting. "What else can it be but a vow? Or a bargain, perhaps. The centaurs haven't been in touch with the Ministry since the end of the war. They can't believe that one Dark Lord more or less in Hogwarts would make a difference to them, unless they decided he was someone it would be good to seek protection from."
Harry nodded slowly. He hadn't made a vow that he would protect the creatures of the Forbidden Forest, but then again, he hadn't thought he would need to. The magical creatures had separated themselves further and further from humans since the end of the war. With peace won, they just wanted their homes back, which Harry could understand. He would have liked to sink into an obscure life of peace himself.
Persephone made a harsh cackling sound from her perch. Harry stared at her suspiciously. He was never sure how much of his thoughts she could really sense.
Harry turned back to Briseis. "I'm going to accept the offer," he said. "The Forbidden Forest is right next to Hogwarts, anyway, and it won't take much to extend my wards over it. And the centaurs should be left alone."
Briseis smiled. "Good. I suspect they might be bad enemies." She chuckled as she took the letter back, and Harry thought she was laughing at their offer to let him know the will of the stars until she said, "And learning about this will push the conflict with the Ministry forwards further."
"You're going to enjoy this war too much," Harry muttered, and nudged Persephone in the breast. She lifted her head and looked at him.
Harry still hesitated when he met her eyes. He knew how he had created her—pulling and pushing on both his own magical core and the spell that Yaxley had worn, the spell that had almost killed him—and then clapping the whole magical cycle together and outside him, the Darkness he couldn't contain embodied in the shape of a phoenix. But he didn't know yet what it meant that she was made that way. He didn't know how much control he had over her.
Since the day, a week ago as Briseis had reminded him, that he'd created her, he had kept her with him. Persephone didn't seem to mind, as long as he took her outside at least once a day so that she could hunt raw meat, or fed her bleeding tidbits from his plate, and petted her sometimes, and let her alone when she wanted to be.
But Harry knew he would have to test his control over her sooner or later, and he thought this was the best way.
"Go as an emissary to the centaurs," he told her. "Tell them that I'll meet them near the lake tomorrow, at noon." A magical creature sent to magical creatures would give them a good impression of them, he hoped. And Persephone had no reason to want to hurt them, not when they weren't his enemies.
Persephone opened her beak in what could have been a mocking little hiss or a yawn, and leaped into the air. Her wings hardly seemed to beat; instead, shadows flooded out of them and lifted her as if she was borne on them. Then she was gone out the window. Harry craned his neck and watched her swooping and circling towards the Forbidden Forest.
"That's a good idea," Briseis said.
Harry turned around. "What is?" If Briseis had somehow divined his thoughts and decided that Persephone was a good ambassador for the same reasons that he had, Harry was even more impressed with her than he had been.
"Having the meeting by the lake," Briseis said. "That way, you can meet with two delegations at once."
Harry stared at her. "Delegations?"
Briseis picked up what Harry would have mistaken for a vial of a potion if he hadn't known that nothing so simple was going to intrude into his complicated life. "Did I mention that the merfolk also sent a message?"
Harry let his head drop forwards into his hands. So now this was happening, and who knew how big his court would grow before he was done?
I wonder what Draco is doing right now. And if he'd be able to get away sometime in the next day and listen to me complain.