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Harry Potter and the Last Horcrux [final]
By Mike [FP]
Stories begun in 2006 (post-HBP)
From this chapter through to the end, the contents were in draft and/or outline form at the time of Deathly Hallows' publication in 2008. An effort was made to keep from being influenced by DH; I haven't spotted any serious slips in that regard, but if you do happen to find evidence of said influence... well, it's accidental. This is definitely post-Half Blood Prince fanfiction, and all that entails (Grindelwald's very different history alone should have demonstrated that).
February 9, 1999 Gringotts Wizarding Bank, London, England
Harry ignored the ten halberds held within a foot of his neck and met the eyes of the corpulent goblin that sat before him with something as close to Dumbledore's eye-twinkle as he could manage. “Good morning! How have you been? Business going well, is it?” he said easily.
“How in the Nine Hells did you enter my chambers, Potter?” Ragnok snarled.
Harry said, “Through the door, of course. What did you think, Ragnok – that I dug a tunnel? That's more your line of work.”
“You will refer to me as Director or Clan Chief. I do not permit you to use my name!” Ragnok spat.
Harry said, “That's all right, I gave myself permission. You can call me Harry, if you like.” He shook off the security goblins and took a seat in front of Ragnok's desk.
“Nor did I permit you to be seated,” the goblin added.
Harry agreed, “Yes, and that was rather impolite of you, old bean.”
“You have come into our territory, despite having been duly notified of the consequences should you fail to comply with the Rules of Banishment. I now have every right to kill you myself, or to allow my security staff to do the job in my stead, or to have you imprisoned at my pleasure for the next century,” the goblin leader growled.
“Oh, would you just stop blustering? We've important business to conduct,” Harry dismissed him.
“Allow me to gut this thing for you, my liege!” the chief security goblin barked.
Harry smirked and told the angry goblin, “Shut up and learn your place, minion. The important people are having a conversation.”
“Impudent wizard!” Ragnok shouted.
Harry chuckled; “I do try,” he said.
Ragnok ordered the rest of the goblins in the room, “Leave us. The wizard's fate belongs to me!”
“Hardly,” Harry scoffed; “In fact, they really should stay – it'll save time, and you're rather short on that. Now let's be clear about this much: you and yours won't lay a finger on me, Ragnok. Firstly, the Ministry would take it as an act of war. If that wasn't true, then you would have put a bounty on my head as soon as Voldemort was gone. Secondly, I figure you're aware that I beat Voldemort in a solo duel before I vanquished him? You might want to keep that in mind. Thirdly, the tunnel system where we found the Grimoire was yours, including the warding. I understand pride, but leaving a detectable Gringotts signature on a ward is going to get you in trouble one day. Either those tunnels were extra space that you let to Voldemort or he hired you to dig them. You knew that I needed that Grimoire, and I'm pretty sure that you knew why. Voldemort asked you to help him protect it, didn't he?”
The security goblins hissed as one and Ragnok said, “A preposterous accusation, Potter, and irrelevant now that Ravenclaw's book of spells has passed beyond the Veil.”
“Funny how that's the first time you've used my name, isn't it? Actually, it's the first thing you've said calmly... not to mention that you knew I was talking about Ravenclaw's Grimoire and that it went through the Veil. Well informed, aren't you? Anyway, it doesn't really matter whether any of it's true or not. What do you think will happen when Harry Potter tells the Daily Notice that the goblins actively supported Voldemort?” Harry returned.
Ragnok settled back into the opulent chair behind his desk. “The matter before us is blackmail, then?” he ventured.
“I thought you might appreciate that; it seems like something a goblin would aspire to,” Harry said.
Ragnok steepled his long fingers and said, “You have pushed me too far, Potter, and you have also forgotten that you must leave Gringotts alive in order to speak to the Daily Notice. I have a powerful incentive to assure that these are your last minutes on this earth. We are therefore in an equivalent position, so let us get to business.”
Harry rubbed his hands together excitedly and said, “Oh yes, let's! Here's what you're going to do...
“As you know, my trust vault was emptied long ago – that would be the time when you screwed me sideways on the exchange rate. My family's vault is still here, though, and I'll be wanting that. Oh! Almost forgot this bit: under the Right of Conquest clauses in the Settlement Agreement of 1826 between the United Goblin Clans and the Ministry for Magic of England and Scotland, there are some more vaults I'm here to claim... ended a few family lines along the way, don't you know?” He withdrew a pile of Never-Fill Sacks from somewhere that the goblins couldn't discern, and threw them to the ground one at a time as he listed out, “Malfoy – that would be family and any personal as well... Lestrange – the same applies... Rookwood... Rosier... Travers... Higgs... Crabbe... Locke... Trenton... Macalester... Bainbridge... Terwilliger... and anything accessible prior to July 31, 1998 by Lord Voldemort or Tom Marvolo Riddle. One sack per vault, please. Bring the filled sacks to the entry, where I will collect them and leave. This will be the last time I ever set foot in this place or any other goblin establishment, and I will not speak of this visit or answer any questions relating to it that might be asked by the press or others. Don't drag your heels, though, because I really do need to be on my way.”
The room was deadly silent for several seconds before Ragnok began to laugh; his minions quickly joined in. “Ah, that was enjoyable. I've not heard anything so amusing in many a year. In fact, I think the laughter was worth a full ten Galleons. That is the most you will ever see from the Gringotts vault that was once held by the Potter family but is now wholly owned by the Bank. It is also the best offer you will receive from us. Our conversation is at an end, wizard. May your enemies prevail as painfully as possible,” he said with a sneer.
Harry leant back in his chair and with all the calm he could muster told Ragnok, “Perhaps I should tell a story first? It's positively fascinating... quite profitable, as well. You see, I had something of a happy accident a few months ago. I've been looking at the amplitude of highly energetic curses and charms, and how directed waveform changes could be used to modify spell structure or create spell chains without all the mucking about with arithmancy... well, I suppose I could pass along a portion of my notes if you've an actual interest in this sort of thing? You can owl me later. Anyway, it seems that when you hit a Gringotts galleon coin with a particular chain of curses and charms for a particular period of time, it loses all of its protective charms and curses and then breaks down into a nugget of pure gold and a puddle of dross. You can imagine my surprise! With the Sterling-to-Galleon exchange rate as low as it is, I figured that the actual gold in a Galleon couldn't amount to much more than a few grains of sand. Almost half an ounce of 24-karat gold? Well, I was shocked, I can tell you! Actually putting gold into a gold coin? I know the pureblood hordes would have gutted you otherwise, but still... it was so... honest? Yeah, that's it: unexpectedly honest.
“Now, the Muggles have been paying between £160 and £170 per ounce for pure gold lately, so I've been taking in £80 or thereabout per Galleon. Your exchange rate for years was £5 per Galleon, Ragnok, and you paid out £2 per Galleon for the coinage in my trust vault. You gave less than that for families who had to do a runner into the Muggle world, and blamed me for it besides... bad form, old chum, very bad form. Then you had the nerve to charge £7 per Galleon when people returned after the war? I realise you've been paying off the editorial desk at the Daily Notice to keep Gringotts off the front pages, but did you honestly think no one else would spot this? You must have thought that British wizards are even more foolish than they really are – and only world-class fools would win a dozen wars against the same opponent and keep rewarding the losers with control over their whole bloody economy.
“But then it hit me: the wizards who were really getting it were the pure-bloods! I mean, I have to hand it to you... you bollocked them for three hundred years. Impressive, actually - couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of blokes. It was their gold that held up the system in the first place, of course, because we both know your lot would never accept any actual risk. Then, every time they wanted to pick up some of life's little luxuries from the Muggles that wizards don't produce, like... oh, I don't know... food...? Cotton fabrics...? Anything hard to permanently transfigure...? Every time they converted Galleons to Sterling, you took a half-ounce of gold that was ultimately theirs in the first place, gave them less than a tenth of its market value, and then you went out and recovered the value. It's a nice little game you've played with the wizarding crime lords. Using them as a front to sell your gold to the Muggles was clever, really. It's too bad that you've been telling them that a Galleon contains a quarter-ounce of gold – a crying shame, it is.
“Time's getting short, so let's press on to the blackmail, shall we? The process for removing the protections from a Galleon coin and separating the pure gold from the dross has been explained in detail on four identical parchments that were sealed yesterday inside four separate envelopes that were then sent to four different locations. Those envelopes will be posted... let's check the watch, shall we?... fifty-one minutes from now to the publisher of the Daily Notice; the office of the Minister for Magic of England and Scotland; the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards; and the head of the Karlov crime syndicate in Bulgaria... that is, unless the owls are stopped by a particular person whose identity has been protected by a Fidelius charm – and I haven't been told the name of the secret-keeper, so don't bother asking.
“How long would it take tens of thousands of angry wizards to dig every last one of you out of your holes? I'd wager a hundred Galleons that every goblin in Britain and Europe would be dead or at the very least homeless and penniless inside of a week, except that you wouldn't be available to make good on it. That's nothing compared to what the Karlovs would do; you've cost them millions of Galleons, hundreds of millions in Muggle currency. You probably think you were just leaving out information, not lying or cheating them. Maybe you figure that the fine print will protect you? I doubt that Anton would agree. We both know that your next job would be as a goblin-skin rug for his office floor.”
Ragnok arched an eyebrow; “And how would one such as you come to know Anton Karlov?” he asked.
Harry said nonchalantly, “Oh, we have a few shared interests, some common business ownership as it turned out. The man can certainly hold his vodka, I'll tell you... oh, and did you know that his youngest sister Zhivka is a necromancer...?”
“I did not know this,” Ragnok said with far less confidence.
Harry went on, “I'll collect those sacks in the entry fifteen minutes from right now. If they're one second later than that, then those posts will be on their way promptly at half eleven. If I find that the sacks or any of their contents have been damaged, cursed, charmed, spelled, treated with potions or poisons, engraved with property seizure runes, or otherwise messed about in any way whatsoever, then those posts will be on their way promptly at half eleven.
“In fact, if you don't do everything I've just asked and exactly as I've asked it, then the envelopes will be posted. If you do as I've as asked, then I'll destroy three of the envelopes. If I happen to die from anything other than natural causes – ever – then either the person under the Fidelius charm or that person's successor will post that fourth envelope to whomever can hurt you the most. If I ever get sick and I think you're responsible for it – even if it's just a scratchy throat – then that post goes out. The same applies to my family and friends as well.
“If anyone ever takes so much as a one-pound note from my person, my property, or my accounts without express permission – and electronic theft's no different than pinching it with your own hands, by the way... well... I suggest that you start packing your trunks. Even if you make good on everything, you can bet that I'll still melt down every last Galleon that ever comes into my possession; your approval for that is neither wanted nor required.
“Who knows? In the end, maybe I'll sell you out anyway just for the pleasure of it? Still... I like to think that I'm not the third coming of Voldemort. So, in the spirit of goodwill and all that rot: if I do ever decide to sell you out, I guarantee on my honour that you'll be given at least a ten minute head-start on the angry mobs.”
The security goblins stood as if petrified. Ragnok said haltingly, “After the cessation of hostilities between the wizards, we absorbed the vaults belonging to abandoned and terminated family lines, as stipulated in Gringotts policy per the Settlement Agreement. Your family vault was not properly claimed upon your majority and thus fell under the same policy. Coin was removed and property sold or disposed, and the proceeds were distributed according to the rules set forth in Section CCLXVIII of the agreement. Even if we were to accept your claims, it is impossible to reclaim the coinage on such short notice and some property may be forever beyond our reach.”
Harry snorted at that and said, “Pull the other one, mate. I doubt you've actually touched my family's vault – you're greedy but you're not stupid. If I'm wrong and you did do that, then a mated pair of Nundu will call on you and your bank before the close of business. If you've done that to anyone who wasn't backing Voldemort, then maybe I'll send a Basilisk instead – give you a fighting chance, right? For that matter, if you keep preventing my friends and the other people who I fought for from accessing their vaults... well, it won't be pretty. Now, I do accept that you may have taken the Death Eaters' vaults – can't say I'd blame you there – so I suppose I should offer you an alternative... wouldn't want to be greedy as a goblin, after all. There are nineteen vaults I'm entitled to under Right of Conquest, but I'll settle for the complete contents of my family's vault as it was on my seventeenth birthday plus one million Galleons. Hell, you probably took in twice that much on the Malfoy's primary vault alone. I think it's a generous offer.”
Ragnok's mouth opened and closed soundlessly several times before he managed, “This... this is... you cannot... you are threatening the destruction of an entire race!”
“Certainly not! The Asian and American clans had nothing to do with this and I'll be quite vocal about that. In fact, I'll give a speech to that effect, right outside the doors of this establishment. I'll be sure to have your head on the pike immediately to my left at the time,” Harry said.
Ragnok choked out, “You are The-Boy-Who-Lived and the Vanquisher of Voldemort... you... you are a light wizard. Wizards such as you think revenge to be beneath them. You... you cannot do this...”
Harry very nearly lost it at that; instead his jaw tightened and he said, “Your wards nearly killed my first friend. I had to carry him on my back for a mile while he held his guts inside with his hands. He lost one of his feet. The only reason your curses aren't going to take forty years off his life is because a groedari fell in love with him. Were you aware of the nature of my relationship with Hermione Granger?”
“W-we were aware of Miss Granger... it has long been our business to follow the schooling of young witches and wizards of great talent...” Ragnok ventured.
“You're fishing, which means you don't know. By the definitions in your precious Settlement Agreement, I had claimed her as my consort before her death. You supported Voldemort. Voldemort killed her personally,” Harry told the goblin with as much calm as he could muster.
“Justifiable vendetta,” Ragnok whispered.
Harry leant forward in his chair and said with the casualness of a dinner conversation, “If this was about revenge, I would have come here with a hundred hit-wizards and laid waste to your precious bank. I would have dragged your mates, consorts and children to this room and made you watch while I cut their throats one at a time. I would have had their bodies chopped into pieces, ritually cursed, and buried in salt. Then I would have cut off your head and staked it on a pike in front of what was left of this place. I would have ended my day by dumping ten thousand tonnes of Greek Fire into your caverns and sealing them with limestone. If I wanted revenge, Ragnok, you'd know it.”
“You... you are monstrous!” Ragnok gasped.
Harry sat back, took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “Having everyone you've ever loved killed or maimed will do that to a man. Dumbledore told a wizard or two that he was afraid his meddling might turn me into another Dark Lord someday. I won't give him the satisfaction, and frankly I have better things to do. No revenge, Ragnok, no revenge at all. I'm just doing business, goblin-style. It's now 10:42 AM, which means those four posts will go out in forty-eight minutes unless I stop them first.”; he added with a purposeful sneer, “This is the best offer you will receive from me. I suggest that you take it.”
Twelve minutes and one shockingly simple contract later, Harry left Diagon Alley through the Leaky Cauldron with two sacks: the full contents of the Potter family vault were in one, and one million Galleons were in the other. He took six minutes to leave Diagon Alley and find the nearest secluded spot, and from there apparated to a hillside in Cornwall. He was in an abandoned Newcastle steel mill eight seconds later; an eagle owl awaited him as planned. He closely inspected the sacks and their contents, using a series of spells bartered from an American hit-wizard who made Mad-Eye Moody seem calm and sensible. The eagle owl took the all-clear message with nine minutes to spare. With that done, he apparated to the Rognvald Inn in Kirkwall – the tavern where he and Hermione and Ron had spent that last golden evening together. Two people waved him over to their table. Harry took a chair and set the sacks at his feet.
Anders Twing had a lopsided smirk on his face. “Does this mean that your appointment went as hoped?” he asked.
Harry let out a long breath and sank into the chair. “Only because the two of you came up with an ironclad plan,” he said.
Ginny Weasley grinned at him; she countered, “The plan wasn't that important, Harry. Between killing Voldemort and having too much Gryffindor courage for your own good, they never had a chance.”
Harry gave a nervous laugh. “I was this close to wetting myself the entire time... had to summon my inner Malfoy just to get through it,” he admitted.
Twing smiled at him and said, “Ginny is right: it was never in doubt, my friend. This was the easiest 20,000 Galleons that the Universal Trading Company will earn this year.”
Harry frowned; “Two percent? We agreed on ten,” he said firmly.
Ginny shook her head and said, “We didn't agree to that, you did. Twenty thousand is a lot more gold than we deserve for this. Anders won't admit it, but we'd have done this for free.”
“Fine, nine percent,” Harry said.
Twing countered, “Two and a half.”
“Two and three-quarters.”
“Three, and not a Galleon more. The negotiation is finished,” Twing said.
Harry sighed, “Fine, three percent it is, but you're getting £3,000,000 instead. I won't have any Galleons left, anyway; it'll all be melted into ingots by tomorrow night.”
Twing laughed and Ginny insisted, “Then we're picking up the bill for lunch, and I won't hear any argument over it.”
“I can live with that,” Harry said.
Twing asked him, “Tell me, do you still have a pensieve in your possession?”
“Yes, and I'll never give it up. It's already been a godsend; I couldn't possibly study all of these different forms of magic at the same time without it. Why?” Harry wanted to know.
Twing's smirk grew considerably. “Because I will pay £1,000,000 to see the expression on Ragnok's face,” he answered.
Harry buffed his fingernails against his shirt and said nonchalantly, “I've something better on the way, my friend. The contract between Ragnok and I definitely exceeded expectations. He kept his eyes on the biggest danger and let everything else slip through, just like you thought he would. We did agree that I wouldn't tell people how to get around the protections on Galleons and that I wouldn't publish what they've done with the exchange rate. I can only melt down Galleons that come into my possession... but nothing stops you from putting your Galleons into my possession so that I can remove the protections and give you back the raw gold. Even better, nothing keeps me from telling the Notice that the goblins backed Voldemort – he missed it completely. Maybe we can arrange for a picture of him when he picks up the paper with that headline?” Twing gaped at him.
Ginny gasped, “But... but... that would be the end of the goblins in England! Obviously we were going to hit them where it hurts, but this...! You were planning on this all along, weren't you? I can't believe the two of you didn't tell me!”
Harry went on, “The goblins knew Gringotts was finished as a bank in England the day that Voldemort died. They had already moved most of their own gold abroad, and they were ready to poach the Ministry's reserves in the confusion after the battle but they didn't realise that the ministry-in-exile would get the vault keys automatically as soon as Voldemort's puppet surrendered. Kingsley's not messing about with this any more. He's already drawn the Ministry vaults down to the minimum required by treaty. Amos Diggory and Ernie Macmillan's dad are going to shuttle refugees through Gringotts over the next couple of weeks so that they can empty their vaults, and I've more than enough gold now to cover any losses. There won't be any interfering with it, though; they have too much to lose. The nissens signed off on the contract to open a bank in Hogsmeade, and it's to open on the first of March. The Ministry's current accounts will move there immediately. And now...? Well, thanks to Ragnok, we know what to expect on the Notice's front page a day or two after that.”
Twing fidgeted, which was something Harry hadn't expected; “This is a greater success than expected. We must consider the Karlovs, you know? The impact of this on their finances has been considerable, and may grow worse before it grows better,” he pointed out.
Harry tried to put him at ease; he said, “I'm not stupid, Anders. I know we can't afford to have Anton get burned in all of this – after all, you're in business with the man –”
Twing cut him off, “To me, he is a broker of information; this is not the same as a business partnership. In that sense, you are more 'in business' with the Karlovs than I.”
“Either way, I wouldn't want them angry with me unless there was an awfully good reason for it. I won't convert Galleons to gold for them, though. That would be like giving them money to, you know, run their other businesses.”
“There are several legitimate businesses in which you and Anton both hold interests. You could perhaps sell some of your holdings to him, in order to soften the blow?” Twing proposed.
Harry slowly began to nod; “That could work... right then, how about this? Let's have lunch with Anton sometime during the last week of the month. We'll tell him that Gringotts is about to get some very bad press that will affect his business, and we'll ask him to keep that to himself until after the fact. If he agrees, then we'll sell him the Potter family share of Istinata for 100,000 Galleons,” he decided.
Twing protested, “Are you daft? Istinata is the most-read wizarding daily in eastern Europe, and you hold thirty percent ownership. This is worth a million Galleons at the very least, not to mention that it gives him majority ownership – I understand what you seek to do, but I do not think you understand what you are offering him!”
Harry smirked as he pointed out, “I have been paying attention to your lectures, you know? Even at the best commercial rate, Anton would get £6,000,000 for a million Galleons. On the other hand, there's a lot of gold in 100,000 coins.”
Ginny closed her eyes in thought; “50,000 ounces... that's something like £4,000,000 at today's gold price, but the price has been falling for the last few weeks,” she told him.
Harry said, “So we get a £4 per Galleon exchange rate on the full value of the business? We wouldn't make out better than that with the goblins, especially now. They can bugger all anyway – thanks to your planning, we're ahead of them by £80,000,000. Meanwhile, Anton takes over the biggest newspaper in his country for 900,000 Galleons less than it should have cost him. He can keep himself out of the news whenever he wants, and the extra income should cover the rest of his losses eventually. What am I missing? Do you already have another plan in the works, is that it?”
“No, no, this is a good idea but you should allow me to negotiate with him. Surely you realise that Anton would double the price if you would ask his sister to dinner and dancing?” Twing chuckled.
Harry shuddered; he said firmly, “I have absolutely no interest in that sort of thing, and I'd hex anyone who meddled that way, but even if I did... Zhivka? You can't be serious! Look, she taught me a lot and she does make interesting conversation, but the woman's a practising necromancer! I'll bet that her idea of a hot date ends with the bloke dumped in a #8 cauldron on a high boil. Besides, I've never cared for blondes and those teeth can't be entirely human. No thank you!”
Twing laughed at that but Ginny's expression was serious; she told Harry, “You have that guilty look in your eyes. Are you having second thoughts?”
“You've seen all of the information. There's no doubting what they've done.” Harry said.
She returned, “That's not what I meant, and you know it.”
He let out a long sigh and rubbed at the bridge of his nose; “They've earned it, they really have, but... I keep thinking that there must be goblins here who aren't involved in this mess, who see things differently than Ragnok and his sort. Of course, it's been pointed out to me that goblins don't think or behave like humans – Bill said it was an all-or-nothing choice, and he should know.”
She said, “Hermione won't hate you for doing this, you know? I think she'll be proud, actually. Out of all the big things you've ever taken on, this has been the least impulsive of the lot.”
“It's not just that, Ginny. I'm getting rich from this –” he protested.
She snorted, “Getting richer, you mean?”
“Now who's playing word games? If this was just about Galleons, I'd have stayed in John O' Groats. All I really wanted from them was my family vault, you know? It's all that's left of the Potters. I should just give away the rest,” he shot back.
Ginny quipped, “You're going to give Anders a heart attack saying things like that.”
Twing shook his head; “My father knew how to make money, and I learned well from him. I will gladly take the three percent – it would be foolish to do otherwise – but Ginny was correct: we would have done this freely. Still, you left Gringotts behind with one million Galleons in hand, and you say that the balance should be given away?
“I will accept this, but then I must ask you who should receive the money? The English Ministry? Kingsley is a good man, but who will succeed him: shall it be another Shacklebolt, or another Fudge? To the International Confederation? It suffers the same flaws as your Ministry, but on a larger stage and with even less resolve. Wealth allows a corrupt institution to cause more harm. Would you rather leave a mound of coins in the midst of Hogsmeade? Harry, you are neither a hoarder nor a spendthrift. You do not mind being wealthy but you do not desire wealth. You are thoughtful but a man of action. You seek to do the right thing and pay little mind to anyone or anything that stands in the way. You favour people and institutions who do good works. So, who should have these Galleons, my friend? Who else could be trusted with them? It's hardly a question,” he said.
Ginny grinned, “Too true, dear - too true. So... let's hoist a pint, shall we?”
Twing laughed, “To the love of my life – and I must thank you yet again for that, Harry – to Ginny! It is hard to fathom that only three years ago she was a pure-blooded witch from the countryside, and now she is a ruthless international trader and financier. I do good work, do I not?”
“Oi!” Ginny snapped.
“There was always a lioness in there,” Harry said.
“And so she is a ruthless and increasingly wealthy lioness,” said Twing.
Ginny said earnestly, “I'm rich because I have you. I'll take that over all the money in the world,” and she pulled Twing into a searing kiss.
“Hem-hem...” Harry mocked.
Ginny pulled away, abashed; “I'm sorry, Harry, I wasn't –”
Twing said very seriously, “It will not always be like this, my friend. You will not always be without her. She is here even now, yes?”
“That she is,” Harry said. He appreciated Twing's certainty on the matter more than he could say.
Ginny said, “Absolutely, and I meant it when I said she'll be really proud of you. Maybe she'll be able to figure out how you can pick up new things so quickly now... and don't try to hide it, mister. I saw you with the brief that Anders put together. It took me two hours to plough through that thing. You read it in ten minutes and you understood all of it. You haven't been mucking about with rituals, have you? I know what sort of things you've been reading, and I know that you're trying to do something that's never been done...”
“No rituals,” Harry assured her.
“Then what is it?” she asked.
Harry hesitated before he said, “My magic's changed, and don't ask me to explain that; I'm not ready yet. That's part of it, maybe most of it, but you should also keep in mind that I'm not in this alone. Now that we're finished with all of this business, I can stay clear of the wizarding world and get back to what really matters.” He tapped his forehead for emphasis.
After an awkward pause, Twing said, “Well... well... I believe we were toasting? Let us resume, yes? To the goblins: may they get everything that they so richly deserve!” With that, the three young veterans toasted to dead comrades, once and future friends, the coming demise of the goblin nation, and Harry's greatly expanded fortune.
November 11, 1999 London, Ontario, Canada
“The weather's certainly frightful, wouldn't you say, Mr. Black?” the consular officer said.
“It's appropriate,” he returned. The fellow meant well, he supposed, but hadn't stopped talking since leaving Toronto.
“Well, then... perhaps I might wait in the car?” the man offered.
He sighed, “There's no need for you to stay at all. I can take care of myself and I'm not going to go haring off. I could be here for ten minutes, or I might stay for a week. I told them in Ottawa that I'd be sure to check in before leaving the country.”
The man from the Consulate was the very picture of Percy Weasley as he huffed, “There is no intention on anyone's part to suggest that you aren't free to do as you will whilst visiting Canada, sir – none whatever. The Foreign Secretary's office was adamant that the High Commission provide every assistance and courtesy – ”
“I got to know some of the chaps in Whitehall after the war, but don't work yourself into a strop over it. I'll let the Secretary know that you've gone above and beyond. Now then, it's Remembrance Day, and I'm here to remember,” he said firmly.
“If you should need anything – anything at all – you do have my card. We're largely a trade consulate in Toronto but I can assure you, Mr. Black, that we are fully as accommodating as our colleagues in Ottawa,” the officer said.
“I've no doubt,” he assured the man; after that, he pointedly ignored both the trade official and his offer of an umbrella until the man at last recognised that he'd been dismissed.
It had been very windy on the drive from Toronto. Here, the wind was down but the clouds were low and there was an insistent rain on the verge of turning to snow. It was the same penetrating cold as he'd left behind in John O' Groats. Still, he didn't feel like he deserved a warming charm under the circumstances.
Despite the weather, the cemetery was still filled with mourners two hours after the official 11:11 AM commemoration. Most of them were elderly: the spouses and dwindling friends of veterans from long-ago wars. The cemetery was larger than he had pictured and was surrounded on three sides by a residential neighbourhood. He couldn't imagine living next door to such a place. After wandering for a while, he found a grounds-keeper who directed him to the plot number he had been given.
He was glad that it wasn't amongst the cluster of military headstones. He wasn't there to visit the marker, in any case. She wasn't buried beneath it – she wasn't buried anywhere at all, or properly dead for that matter. He was there to call upon the two people who stood vigil there. Neither of them had an umbrella. It seemed right to be sodden, he thought, and he wondered if they felt the same.
The marker was small but elegant. A likeness of the George Cross was carved into the upper left corner and a stylised phoenix into the upper right, with the words cut into the centre:
Hermione Jean Granger, GC
1979 - 1998
Daughter – Friend – Scholar – Heroine
“Those things which are precious
are saved only by sacrifice”
He knew in his head that it was just a piece of marble, that she wasn't truly gone, but the sight of it undid him. He didn't sob or cry aloud – life with the Dursleys had taught him to suffer in silence – but he couldn't keep his eyes from watering.
“Hello, Harry,” Mrs. Granger said quietly. Mr. Granger's head snapped up from gazing at the marker, and Harry recoiled; the expression on the man's face was a mix of anger and horror and defeat that made him feel unworthy of his own grief.
“You weren't here, not for any of it,” Mr. Granger said.
Harry said, “I couldn't. I'm sorry.”
Mr. Granger said, “It's just as well.”; he waved his hand toward the insignia on the marker and added, “It was hard enough to explain all of this.”
“Everything was handled well, by the way,” Mrs. Granger told him.
Harry wiped at the tears on his cheeks. “Er... sorry?” he said.
She said, “On the phone, it seemed as if you were worried about how it was handled... the notifications and such?”
“I was afraid that they'd treat her like she was nothing,” he admitted.
“Certainly not that,” she said.
“Bloody overwhelming, that's what it was – the Ambassador himself comes to our door... and then those people from the international federation for your lot... and then the Cross and the knighthood – couldn't very well put that on the stone, there's simply no explaining it... and then a bunch of bloody Canadian soldiers come to the chapel with rifles and a gun carriage! The official story is that Hermione was a cadet at Sandhurst. A group of them were lending a hand at a base away from the fighting when it was attacked without warning. Supposedly she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and made the best of it,” Mr. Granger said.
Mrs. Granger pulled tight the collar of her long coat. “The dates alone should have put paid to it: she was only eighteen, for pity's sake. You look like you could do with some tea,” she said.
Mr. Granger said, “It's a short walk – we're just eight blocks to the west. Hell of an irony, that.”
The Grangers had let a modest older bungalow on a small, tidy lot. Mrs. Granger explained that she was on faculty at the local University, and that their home was not far from the hospital where she practised and taught oral surgery. Mr. Granger had never really settled after the move; he worked as a fill-in for a number of dental offices in the area. They planned to return to England in the following summer, after the close of the academic year, and rebuild their home; there had been a “gas explosion” shortly after they left for Canada. Mrs. Granger made small talk while she put the kettle on and continued to chatter as they settled into the sitting room. Mr. Granger said very little. Eventually they all went silent and sipped at their tea.
Mr. Granger set down his cup, let out a long breath and then said, “The last time I spoke with my daughter, I insulted her. We parted in anger, Mr. Potter, and I will never forgive myself for that. Still, it shouldn't be an issue at all, should it? She should be here right now, not wherever the hell she is. I don't know why you decided to contact us after all this time, but we weren't about to miss the opportunity. How did she die? Why was there no body? Something's been off about all of this, and we need answers. That's the only reason I agreed to this, because I had rather hoped to see the backs of you people.”
Mrs. Granger said, “We only spent a few months in total with Hermione once she left for Hogwarts, and much of the time we did have together was awkward. We didn't understand most of her experiences – how could we, really? – and it was obvious that she was hiding things from us, even during the first summer. We had hoped that once she finished at Hogwarts and entered uni, we might have the opportunity to... reconnect, I suppose?”
“It wouldn't surprise me if you thought we didn't care about her at all” Mr. Granger said; “You probably figured that the sort of people who would let her just drift off into a strange new world at the age of eleven were cold or distant –”
Harry cut him off, “Every wizard in Britain and Ireland boards, more or less – the only alternatives are home schooling or apprenticeship. It's been like that for a thousand years, so it's just the way of things, you know? I was so glad to be clear of my relatives that I never gave much thought to how everyone else felt about being away from home. Erm... Hermione never had a bad thing to say about either of you when we were at Hogwarts.”
Mr. Granger said, “I boarded at public school but we were two years older when we started. In truth, we'd already decided that she would attend a day school. The whole idea of Hogwarts – of magic as a whole – was frightening, but the things happening around Hermione were beginning to border on dangerous. She needed what that place could provide. That doesn't mean we liked sending her away, not one bit.”
“We were already driving her away from the very start, weren't we? They were driving her away from us as well – it's what your world does to people like Hermione, to those with ordinary parents,” Mrs. Granger said.
Harry savoured the warmth of the cup in his hands for a few moments as he gathered his thoughts. He started, “I've spent a good portion of the last year in Iceland with some healers and teachers, trying to get my head around all of this. One of the people there... a very nosy old woman... we've talked through a lot of things. I like to think I've grown up a bit, that I've gained some perspective. When you came to the Orkneys, the both of you were scared to death. Mr. Granger, I think you were being... what's the word?... flippant, flippant about what was happening. I think you were trying to get Hermione to see that her life was worth more than a pile of gold, and it just came out all wrong. She was awfully sick, even though she wouldn't admit it, and we had been in a life-or-death situation for eight months. She had it in her head that she was willing to die in order for us to win and she wouldn't hear otherwise, not from me or anyone else. Even if you had said everything in the right way, she would still have been angry.”
“We didn't make any allowances, even though we knew better,” Mrs. Granger said quietly; “We just acted as if another year had gone by. All of the other parents we met in the Orkneys were behaving so matter-of-factly that it seemed like the thing to do. Molly Weasley acted as though... what? What's this about?”
Harry stopped laughing and explained, “I do love Mrs. Weasley – she's been very good to me over the years – but... erm... look, the Weasleys were the closest thing to parents that I had when I was younger, but I wouldn't use her as a model for how to behave. She's bossy, she's smothering, she jumps to conclusions and she can be rather mean-spirited about it as well. Honestly, it's not hard to see why Bill and Charlie took jobs thousands of miles away right after they finished at Hogwarts, or why Percy's such a prig, or why Ron didn't start to grow up until he almost died.”
“Well, I did a smashing job of acting like Molly that night, didn't I?” Mrs. Granger said with a frown.
Out of nowhere, Mr. Granger demanded to know, “Why can't I stay angry with you? I want to be angry with you – logically, I should wring your neck and be done with it – but it just won't stick. It feels like... dash it all, it feels like you're supposed to be here with us. Is this one of your tricks? Did you cast some sort of spell...?”
Harry said immediately, “Absolutely not! I'll take a freely binding oath if you want, and that could kill me if I'm not telling the truth. I would never mess about with someone's feelings like that, especially not yours and not now.”
Mr. Granger said, “I can't explain it, then. It's just...”
Harry felt a brush against his leg and looked down. “Crookshanks!” he exclaimed. The big cat, finicky at the best of times, jumped into his lap and curled up contentedly.
Mrs. Granger sat up straighter in her chair; she said, “That cat has been miserable since the day it happened. It's almost as if he knew when Hermione... well, I don't think he's taken to anyone else since then. He barely tolerates us but we haven't the heart to just give him away. What's going on here, Harry?”
Harry didn't know how to go about turning the Grangers' world upside down, so he just started talking. “He was never this friendly with me before, but I have a fair idea why Crooks is doing this. I asked to visit you so that I could tell the strangest story you'll ever hear. It took me six months to work up the nerve, because I know I wouldn't believe a word if I were you. Before I start, though, there are some basic things you need to know if it's to make any sense whatever – certain things that happened along the way, sequences of events, that sort of thing. Er... where to start... hmm... how much did Hermione explain about what happened at the end of our second year?”
“Do you mean when she was in hospital? It was something to do with sleeping sickness, if I recall the school's letter correctly. We were terribly worried at the time – couldn't imagine what would put a child in hospital for two weeks,” Mr. Granger said.
“I take it this is one of the things she kept from us?” Mrs. Granger asked.
Harry rolled his eyes and said, “The school said that she was sick? For two weeks? She never explained it to you? Well, Hermione can't lie to save her life, but she's always been able to keep a secret. If she didn't tell you even that much, then she must have held back nearly everything. I'll have to tell you our story from the very beginning, then. After that... who knows, perhaps the rest of it won't seem entirely mad?”
Over the next six hours, Harry cleaned up after four spills, repaired two shattered teacups, conjured a box of tissues, and used a charm Sirius had taught him to neatly open a bottle of whiskey. At the end of it, he was spent, Mr. Granger was ashen and Mrs. Granger had filled several pages of a notebook with questions.
Harry was quiet for a few moments before he offered, “I'll tell you anything else that I can, explain anything that I'm able, but I don't have all the answers – far from it. The person who I've studied with in Iceland, she probably knows as much about this sort of magic as anybody on Earth, and even she said from the start that this is beyond her experience.”
“I can't believe this, I just can't... she's really right there? She's in this room?” Mr. Granger said.
Mrs. Granger said matter-of-factly, “This is why you didn't come for the services.”
“I couldn't tell you any of this until I was absolutely sure. I just couldn't do that to you,” Harry said.
“And you're certain that it's actually Hermione? Could they be detecting some sort of... I don't know... an echo? Given what you've said about portraits and ghosts and such...?” asked Mrs. Granger.
Harry answered, “I wondered about that, too. Siggy – er, Madam Gisladottir – she performed all manner of detection rituals on a portrait, on a ghost and then on one of the healers for comparison. There was a big difference between the results – you couldn't miss it. When she performed the same rituals on me, she found two complete... souls, I guess you'd say? They call it the 'insubstantial self'. Apparently everything that made Hermione who she was is in there: memories, emotions, knowledge, opinions, all of it.”
“But no one knows how to... how to put her back into her body?” Mrs. Granger clarified.
“There are fourteen known ways to put her into one body or another, and they're all out of the question,” Harry admitted.
Mr. Granger leant forward in his chair and glared at Harry; “You said that you would do anything it takes,” he hissed.
Harry had been on a razor's edge for a very long time, and some days it was all he could do to keep from falling. He didn't mince words. “Very well, sir. I could use classical necromancy to create a body for her. All I would need is blood forcibly taken from one of her female enemies, a pound or two of freshly-cut flesh from one of her servants, and one of Mrs. Granger's long bones. The body might – might – look normal on the outside, but inside... well, it certainly wouldn't be human.
“Or maybe you'd prefer a spirit transference? I'd have to cut the hearts out of twelve thirteen-year old virgins, put the hearts in a cauldron along with every drop of all twelve girls' blood and some other things even more horrible, bring the lot to a rolling boil whilst stirring anti-clockwise for precisely seven minutes, let it simmer until the peak of the next full moon, and then put another thirteen-year old virgin into the cauldron and hold her under as I perform a Sumerian exorcism chant, which would allow Hermione to permanently possess the soulless body. Or instead, how about –”
Mr. Granger couldn't get a word out. All he managed was to wave his arms frantically so that Harry would stop.
Mrs. Granger stammered, “If... if they... oh, dear God... if those things are written somewhere... that means someone... someone tested them...”
Harry pressed on, “Voldemort used necromancy for himself: blood, flesh and bone. Spirit transference or anything else that uses an actual body has to be performed on either someone who's living and unwilling, or someone willing who is on the edge of death or who just died – and I mean just died; it can't be more than five minutes or so. If you wait too long, then the spirit ends up bound to a dead body. That's another of the options, actually. A good part of the magical world would call it a zombie. Your idea of a zombie, the one from movies, is actually an inferius – a reanimated corpse. A true zombie would be completely aware of what's going on, that she's trapped in a decomposing body that can't be completely repaired. Do you think Hermione would choose any of those things?”
“She'd rather be dead,” Mr. Granger forced out.
“Please, promise me you won't –” Mrs. Granger pleaded.
Harry said firmly, “Never.”
Mrs. Granger tried to collect herself before she asked, “But if you try some other way, some new sort of ritual or what-have-you... there's... there's no chance of those things accidentally happening to her...?”
Harry insisted, “None. I won't attempt anything until I'm certain that there are only two options: either it works, or nothing happens at all. I don't care if it takes five years, ten years, twenty years, or longer. I won't take any chances with this. She's too important to me.”
After a long silence, Mrs. Granger blurted out, “Can she hear us? Can you talk to her?”
Harry thought about that for a while before he said, “I don't know if she can hear us or not. I can't really talk to her, but I can feel that she's there. It's a bit like having someone read over your shoulder, I suppose? Actually, sometimes when I'm reading something really deep, I get this... this sense of excitement about it. It's that hopping-up-and-down-in-a-chair feeling that Hermione got when we were revising in the common room and she happened on some new theory or what-have-you. I'm not a reader by nature – it's something I do because it has to be done – so that's not coming from me, I can tell you.”
Mr. Granger, who had recovered a bit of his colour, asked, “You said you'd give twenty years to this. Do you honestly mean that? What will you do for work?”
Harry said, “I'm from an old family. I took my trust vault out of Gringotts when the war started, and I've a fair bit of gold by right of conquest. I'll never need to earn a wage, sir. This will be my work.”
“In twenty years, you'll be almost forty. Would Hermione still be eighteen?” Mr. Granger asked.
Harry said, “There's no telling, but everything I've read so far would support that. Any sort of light-oriented ritual should recreate her body at least at the same age as when she was cursed, and possibly in exactly the same state as it was at the time. I think I understand what it is you're asking, sir. I won't quit on this if I'm a hundred years old. I'm not doing this for me. I'm doing this for her because it's the right thing to do.”
“None of us are getting any younger, Paul. I think we all want this to be done quickly,” Mrs. Granger said to her husband.
“It has to be you that does this? You can't just hire a room full of experts?” Mr. Granger wondered.
Harry said, “There aren't a room of experts to hire. As I've said, this is a truly unique situation. Also, I was there at the time and I'm carrying her around, so there's a good chance I'll have to be the one who performs any rituals involved.”
Mr. Granger's eyes bore into Harry. “Can you do this?” he asked.
“Yes,” Harry said simply, because Siggy had made him believe it to be so.
“How can we help?” Mrs. Granger asked him.
Harry sighed, “I honestly don't know. There aren't enough hours in the day to find all of the magics that might be involved in this, let alone understand them or figure out how to put any of it to use.”
“What, there aren't spells for making copies of yourself? You'd have all the time you needed then: just send Number 2 and Number 3 off to the library,” Mr. Granger joked.
“It's a shame Hermione couldn't keep that thing that Miss McGonagall arranged for her – a Time-turner, was it? That sounds as if it would be useful,” Mrs. Granger said.
Harry let his mind gnaw on that, and his eyes narrowed; he said, “Supposedly they were all destroyed when we went to find Sirius at the Department of Mysteries. Then again, the Department of Mysteries told us a lot of things that weren't true... at least two of their people were working for Voldemort... they hid entire levels of the Ministry during the War. Well, I know where I'll be going next. They're not going to be happy to see me.”
November 15, 1999 Ninth level, Ministry for Magic of England and Scotland, London, England
As soon as Harry left hospital after the end of the War, peculiar things began to happen. He had stood on the hospital rooftop and wished that there was somewhere he could call home. In a trice, he found himself on the shore in John O' Groats: a 600-mile blind apparation with no conscious deliberation whatever. Since then, he had apparated more than 2,000 miles in a single attempt; his return from Ottawa to the Ministry's English port-of-entry at Bristol came via Newfoundland and Iceland, with only a minute's pause between each jump. The customs officials told him that no one, not even Dumbledore, had ever apparated into the Bristol port-of-entry from anywhere beyond Ireland; they didn't believe him until he abruptly side-alonged a startled Auror back to Reykjavik.
He had been able to wandlessly summon small objects – at least when under duress – since his fifth year and perhaps before, but now books and glasses and biros often came to his hand by simply reaching for them. Beyond apparation and summoning, however, this 'New Magic' had been unpredictable and inconsistent; it wasn't something he had ever counted on in a tight spot.
As such, he was very surprised to walk past the security desk of the Ministry for Magic without receiving so much as a glance, and to move through the corridors and down the lifts stood shoulder-to-shoulder with people who apparently had no idea he was there. He wasn't going to complain about it, though.
Seeing clearly into the hoods of Unspeakables' cloaks was another pleasant and very useful surprise. One Unspeakable seemed to sense his presence for a moment, but immediately lost interest. It took him twenty minutes of wandering through rooms he'd hoped never to see again before he found the wizard who he was seeking out.
“Hello, Croaker,” Harry said.
The old Unspeakable whirled around with an expression of genuine shock; he gasped, “Good heavens! Mr. Potter, how did you identify me through this cloak? For that matter, how did you make your way into this facility? We should have been notified at the instant that you entered the Ministry.”
“You set up specific wards for me? I'm touched,” Harry said with a smirk. He had a fleeting thought that it was getting awfully easy to summon his inner Malfoy.
“Surely you know that you are persona non grata here?” Croaker said.
“I'd be disappointed if it were otherwise,” Harry returned.
Croaker schooled his features and regained the detached and all-knowing persona he had shown in the corridor just prior to the last battle. He said, “There are those amongst my brethren who believe that you should receive the Dementor's Kiss for releasing the magical energies that had been collected here. Had I suspected you would do such a thing, I would never have given aid to you and your company. In any event, the Minister would never countenance your execution, nor would the common folk. I warn you that some of my brethren would be eager to carry out such a sentence of their own accord, now that you have ventured into our territory.”
“This isn't your territory. It belongs to the people of Britain,” Harry said.
Croaker returned with a small smile, “How charmingly naïve of you, Mr. Potter. You are at risk of grave harm in this place. I urge you to take your leave.”
Harry said, “Funny, that. It's interesting that your 'brethren' haven't come to fetch us.”
Croaker's eyes went glassy for a moment before he acknowledged, “It is interesting, isn't it? It seems that they are in a tizzie over my apparent disappearance. They can be contacted by me but cannot locate either of us. Each time that I attempt to give a location, the nimbus of energy that surrounds you shifts very rapidly in my direction and the contact with my brethren is broken. I have experienced that particular magical energy once and have no desire for a second encounter, nor am I under the illusion that we could ever re-capture it. It appears that you are at less risk than I anticipated.”
“I'm not counting on that, so I'd rather not hang about,” Harry admitted.
“...Which brings us to the reason for your visit. Surely you want something. Alas, my brethren would rather give you a rabid crup than any sort of aid. Your adventure with Tom Riddle caused untold damage to this facility. More than that, it brought an intolerable level of scrutiny. That has been disappointing,” said Croaker.
“My 'adventure'? It was the last battle of a war, Croaker. As for scrutiny...? That's your own doing, mate – I'd get used to it if I were you. I don't recommend trying to magically persuade either the Ministry or Her Majesty's government. It won't end well,” Harry said.
Croaker pursed his lips and said, “It is unnecessary to magically persuade Muggles, when one can instead re-write the tapestry of events. There are no exemptions from the Statute of Secrecy merely because one is born to, or in the employ of, the House of Windsor. Wartime exemptions were stricken in 1947, and were not revived by the International Confederation during the recent turmoil. We should not have to demand that the Ministry above carry out its legal responsibilities.”
“Where were you when Voldemort was attacking London with dragons and giants in plain view of five million Muggles? Did you send a paper aeroplane upstairs with a complaint? No? Right, I didn't think so. In any event, my ultimate loyalty is to the Crown, Croaker – so is yours, whether you like it or not,” Harry returned.
Croaker put on a false smile; “You refer, of course, to the current legal fiction that our Department is accountable to the Muggle Queen's Lord Chamberlain,” he said.
Harry laughed, “Legal fiction? Have you triggered any of the minor compulsions yet?” When Croaker flinched ever-so-slightly, he went on, “I'll take that as 'yes'. That 'legal fiction' has been there for five hundred years. It hadn't been used, that's all.”
“You will have this rescinded, Mr. Potter. This is not a request,” Croaker said flatly.
“You'll be needing King Henry VII for that. I can recommend a good Necromancer, if you like?” Harry said with a smirk.
Croaker's reserve cracked; he glowered, “Do not patronise me.”
Harry laughed, “Do you think that I can wave my hands and make a five hundred year old treaty, two Royal declarations and an Act of Parliament disappear? I suppose you could try asking Kingsley, but asking for things isn't part of the Unspeakable code, is it? If you'd just learn to play nicely, Her Majesty wouldn't be so inclined to throw out the lot of you.”
“We would resist, of course, assuming that Her Majesty or any in her government would remember the treaty at all,” Croaker assured him.
Harry snorted, “And then you'd die, either from the contract's magic or from a bullet to the head. I'm a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, Croaker. I doubt you know what that is, but let me be clear about what it means for you and yours: if anyone spells Her Majesty or the PM, then everyone involved will die at my hand.”
“Strong words for a wizard who struggled through Hogwarts and has yet to complete his NEWTs,” Croaker dismissed him.
Harry laughed out loud at that; he said, “Yeah, about that... I was too busy getting rid of this nasty dark wizard. You may have heard about him: took over the government, killed a few thousand witches and wizards, almost destroyed your precious secrecy...? Tends to get in the way of revising, don't you know?”
“Nonetheless... 'all bark and no bite', I believe, is the proper phrase,” Croaker scoffed.
“I just walked around your Department unseen for 20 minutes. A darker sort might have picked you off one at a time. Silencio, Incarcerous, and a knife to the throat... not more than ten seconds each, I expect,” Harry said with far more ease than he actually felt.
“And you dare to criticise our conduct?” he said.
Harry shrugged and pointed out, “I've done nothing. You people committed treason to both the Ministry and the Crown, and at least two murders as well –”
“Obliviators are allowed to defend themselves against hostile Muggle subjects,” Croaker said flatly.
“Firstly, you aren't Obliviators. Secondly, it's hard to justify the Killing Curse as a defence against a Muggle in a body-bind,” Harry fired back.
“Trivialities. We took action when the so-called law enforcement personnel failed to uphold their responsibility. We committed no treason. We protected the mysteries of magic, as is our charge – a charge that transcends mere bureaucracy, a charge that is above the comings and goings of those in the levels above or in the Palace of Westminster,” Croaker returned.
“You could have expelled Voldemort from this building and we both know that. You were collaborators, as I see it, and that isn't even getting into how you people keep perverting the fabric of magic itself,” said Harry.
“So you say. It is you yourself who is a perversion of magic, no matter what you believe you have learned from the cantrips of Nordic barbarians or the nonsensical ravings of Oriental folk magicians. You are in no position to judge what we do or have done. Now then, you will ask for what it is that you want, we will deny your request, and then you will leave,” Croaker said.
Harry laughed, “That was really embarrassing, Croaker. If we had the time, I'd demonstrate how to properly imbue your speech with magic. I learnt it from, what did you call it...? Right... from the ravings of a folk magician...”; before the Unspeakable could get a word out, he went on, “Let's cut to the chase. I think you'll give me what I want, because I've got something you want. You just don't know it yet."
Croaker snorted, “You are of no value to us. We no longer have an interest in your survival of the Killing Curse, we have absolutely no interest in your unnatural relationship with that thing you removed from its cage, and because of your actions we were unable to study Voldemort's necromantic form.”
“Why don't you turn on that magical vision – or whatever it is that you're using to see the grœd – and take a close look at my forehead?” Harry offered.
Croaker's eyes went glassy for nearly a minute before he babbled, “Impossible... that's... soul magics aren't... but... how?”
Harry said, “I've a reasonable theory of how, and I'm working on the means of proof and a way to fix the situation. We both know that you can't capture me alive, not when you can't even track my comings and goings. You bloody well know I'll never cooperate with your lot, willingly or unwillingly. You also know that if I were to die, then that would be the end of it: you'll learn nothing. Soon, I'll have a light-oriented ritual that can re-embody an intact soul, an explanation for how a soul can be disembodied yet remain intact, and all the knowledge that comes with those things. What will you have, Croaker?”
Croaker licked his lips and then let his eyes glass over for several minutes. Finally he said, “Very well. What is it that you require from us?”
Harry relaxed ever so slightly. He said, “I need more time.”
Croaker went quiet, and something in his expression softened. He seemed genuinely concerned when he at last said, “Meddling with time is fraught with danger.”
“I do know the rules, and I promise not to cause any world-ending paradoxes,” Harry assured him.
Croaker shook his head; “Some magics are unnatural by any measure, Mr. Potter, and time-turning is chief amongst those. It is not the world that need be concerned; the danger is to yourself. It wears upon both body and soul. It changes people, brings out their best and their worst.”
“She's worth it,” Harry said.