Actions

Work Header

On Your Best Behaviour

Chapter Text

 

But I keep you on your best behavior
Honey, I can't be your savior
Love you to the grave and farther
Honey, I am not your martyr

 

Savior, St. Vincent

 


 

PROLOGUE

 


 

1943

 

A young, dark-haired boy knelt down in the middle of the large, cavernous chamber. The position was one of reverence; the boy was facing the tall, proud statue of a man dressed in gratuitous, flowing robes. When the boy spoke, the words that poured forth were not English, but something much older. 

 

Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts four.

 

There was a hissing noise as the base of the statue shifted in accordance with the command. Then, slowly, the shadowy form that lurked within the statue came creeping out.

 

The boy raised his hand as Slytherin’s fabled monster drew close, pressing its nose against the boy’s palm, as though it was a dog called back to its master.

 

“You’ve done well,” said the boy, this time in plain tongue. “But now it is time to put you back to sleep.”

 

The Basilisk, in its incomprehension, merely withdrew slightly, now awaiting its instructions.

 

Drawing his wand, the boy began to carve large, glowing runes upon the floor. It was difficult, precise work. The runes had to be angled correctly; one false rune could lead to disaster once the spell was cast upon them. The boy continued, sweat forming on his brow as he painstakingly outlined the runes required to put the Basilisk to sleep.

 

There was no manual on how to train a Basilisk, even one that was bred to obey you. The boy had suffered through much trial and error in his attempts to bring the creature to heel. Things had gone too far. A girl had been killed, and the Board of Governors had threatened to close Hogwarts. New steps had to be taken to prevent the closure of the school; a scapegoat for the blame and a cessation of the Basilisk.

 

Scowling fiercely, the boy traced the final rune upon the ground of the chamber, then stepped back to examine his handiwork. These runes would put the Basilisk to sleep for approximately fifty years. When it rewoke, it would be prepared to serve its heirs once more.

 

The boy raised his wand a final time and began to chant a long, complex spell in Latin. The runes began to expand, their glow burning brighter as the spell continued on. The Basilisk lifted its head up, then, examining the proceedings with interest.

 

Then, at last, the burning runes lifted from the ground, hovering in the air. The boy was panting now, but he held his wand aloft, pouring his magic into keeping the spell alive.

 

The runes floated over to the Basilisk, which gazed steadily back as the runes touched what it believed to be its nearly impenetrable skin. The magic disappeared as it made contact; one by one the runes vanished against the scaly skin of the serpentine creature.

 

Slowly, slowly, the great Basilisk lowered its head to the ground, its eyes sliding shut.

 

The boy, still on his knees, looked exhausted as the spell completed. The Basilisk, now motionless, lay curled upon the floor in front of him. On shaking legs the boy stood, stepping towards the creature. He laid a hand upon the side of its head, as though to bid it farewell.

 

“Fifty years,” said the boy, now breathless. “By then I will have paved my way to greatness.”

 


 

1978

 

A tall, arrogant man in luxurious wizard’s robes was seated at the head of the table. There was a small, leather book in his hand—the name embossed on it on gold script read ‘Tom Marvolo Riddle’. He gently released it, watching curiously as the book hung in the air before him.

 

“Lucius,” said the man. “Come here.”

 

Another man, this one with long, blond hair, hesitantly approached from where he had been waiting by the door. He then knelt down before the arrogant man, awaiting his instructions.

 

“You and yours have served me faithfully,” the man began. “Therefore I have decided to reward you with a great honour.”

 

“Yes, my lord?” Lucius’s eyes flickered upwards, just briefly, towards where the leather book now hovered.

 

“This,” said the man, gesturing to the book, “is an artifact of great importance to me. It contains powerful dark magic within its pages. I would ask you to protect this artifact as you would protect your own heirs. This secret is not to be revealed to anyone, and this item is never to leave your hands.”

 

“I am… to carry it with me, my lord?”

 

The man gave his servant an impatient look. “Crucio,” he snapped.

 

Lucius fell to the ground, screaming in pain. The spell held for ten seconds, then twenty seconds. Then the man lifted his wand, and the torture stopped. Lucius lay shivering upon the floor for a brief moment. Then, with huge effort, he silently pulled himself back up to kneel at his lord’s feet.

 

“You are to carry it at all times,” the man continued, as though nothing unusual had happened. “You will never open it. You will never take a quill to it. It must not leave neither your sight nor your person.”

 

“Y-yes, my lord.” Lucius bowed his head deeply, fearfully, so low that his forehead was nearly touching the ground.

 

“This item is vital,” the self-proclaimed lord continued. “And you will shield it with your life if need be. Is that quite understood, Lucius?”

 

“Yes, my l-lord. It is an honour t-to serve.” This response was firmer, though Lucius was still shaking with the lingering effects of the Cruciatus.

 

“Very well.” With a lazy sweep of his hand, the man directed the little book to descend to where his servant knelt. “Do not fail me, Lucius, or there will be grave consequences.”

 

“I will not fail you,” whispered Lucius. His trembling hand grasped the journal, which he then proceeded to tuck into his robes. “Thank you, my lord.”

 

The man smiled cruelly, then. Though Lucius, who still had his head bowed low, could not see the smile, a shiver ran down his spine anyways, as though some primal sense inside of him had recognized that he was in imminent danger.

 

“Don’t worry, Lucius,” crooned the man. “I will not be taking such chances. Obliviate.”

 

Nine complex Compulsion Charms later, the man was satisfied that not only would his servant have no recollection of receiving the diary from him, but he would also be compelled to carry it around on his person, believing it to be an extremely essential possession of his own.

 

Lucius straightened, looking mildly dazed, and left the room without needing to be dismissed. The diary was still tucked into the inner pocket of his robes, and it would remain insidiously close to him for the next twenty years, even long after the Compulsion Charms had broken.

 


 

1993

 

Fifty years later, a different boy stood tall in the Chamber of Secrets. He, too, had dark, black hair, but he was much younger than his predecessor. This boy also had no parents, and he also was able to speak to snakes.

 

The sword in the boy’s hand was soaked in blood, and the now-silent Sorting Hat lay at his feet.

 

Before him, the large, hulking form of the dead Basilisk lay upon the floor—its yellow eyes had been stabbed out by the Phoenix that was now perched upon the boy’s shoulder.

 

There was a long tear in the boy’s robes where the creature’s fang had stabbed him. But the wound was gone now, because the Phoenix had cried upon it. So the boy no longer felt any pain, only a bone-deep tiredness that reached every atom of his being.

 

He thought of his friend, Hermione, who was lying frozen in the Hospital Wing. He thought of Ron’s sister, Ginny, who was also frozen and lying next to Hermione. Not to mention Colin Creevy, Penelope Clearwater, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Nearly-Headless Nick, and even Mrs. Norris the cat.

 

They were safe now. They were all safe.

 

Hogwarts would not have to close, Hagrid would be proven innocent, and Professor Dumbledore would return to the school as Headmaster. The monster of Slytherin had no master actively controlling it—it was merely a violent, carnivorous thing that had finally woken after fifty years of slumber, determined to complete Salazar’s work for him.

 

The Phoenix on the boy’s shoulder cawed softly, its voice echoing into the damp air around them. He and the bird were the only two living things in the Chamber.

 

“It’s over, Fawkes,” said the bespectacled boy. He knew that Ron was waiting for him, with Lockhart, just outside the Chamber door. It was just a matter of leaving this place and finding a professor.

 

But, looking at the dead body of the giant snake that he had just slain, Harry Potter couldn’t help but feel that he had missed something vitally important.

 

Chapter Text

Present Day — 1998

 

“You’d think,” Harry said, “that after I defeated Voldemort, they’d stop doing hack jobs on me in the papers.”

 

Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance, as though debating between themselves who was going to respond this time.

 

The headline written across the front page of the paper that Harry was holding read: BOY WHO WON: UNCHECKED, UNTAPPED POWERS?

 

“The Daily Prophet’s untrustworthy, Harry,” Hermione said, after a pause. “Most people know this by now. Think of all the horrible Pureblood propaganda it put out during the war! I’m sure no one reads this and takes it seriously.”

 

Harry cleared his throat and began reading. “‘Harry Potter claims to have killed the wizard known as the Dark Lord Voldemort by using soul magic. While this soul magic claim has not yet been verified by Ministry officials, many fear what other powerful magic Mr. Potter may know. Others ask themselves, is it is wise for one so young to be so unrestricted in the usage of such abilities?

 

“‘Soul magic, which has been banned from proper society for decades, is commonly known as a marker for dark wizards, due to its volatile and dangerous nature. One wonders where Mr. Potter learned such arts, and if the defeat of Voldemort is merely a stepping stone toward a larger, more ominous goal.’” Harry paused for breath, eyeing his two best friends over the top of the newspaper.

 

“It does sort of make you sound like an aspiring Dark Lord,” Ron admitted. “But no one who knows you is going to believe that. You saved us all from Voldemort, Harry. People are going to be real grateful once it sinks into their skulls properly.”

 

“Yeah,” said Harry, now staring dully down at the headline. “I sure hope so.”

 

“Cheer up, mate,” Ron said, patting Harry on the shoulder. “Voldemort’s dead now. Don’t listen to what those stupid journalists have got to say. You should be doing something fun, not sitting around here reading their lousy articles. Come on, Hermione and I have got this dinner reservation, and you should come with us.” Ron stood up, nudging at Hermione as he made his way over to the door.

 

Harry offered Ron a poor attempt at a smile. “Really, Ron, it’s fine. I don’t need to be cheered up, I’m just a bit annoyed is all. It’s nothing I’m not used to; remember in my fifth year?”

 

“Harry,” Hermione said, her tone exasperated. “You don’t have to downplay everything that happens to you.”

 

“I’m not,” Harry said hotly. “Listen, it’s fine. I really couldn’t care less if they all think I’m some nutter now. Voldemort is dead, we killed all the Horcruxes, and that’s what matters. You two go out and have some fun together, really. I don’t need to be coddled.”

 

“You spend all your time shut up here in Grimmauld Place,” Hermione said. “And don’t tell me you have Kreacher for company, because he’s not the same as a person, Harry.”

 

“Kreacher’s great,” Harry said defensively.

 

“Yeah.” Ron snorted. “I’m sure you have real intellectual conversations together.”

 

Harry sighed. “Just go enjoy your reservation, alright? I told you that I’m not upset, I’m just a bit annoyed. I promise I’m not going to die of misery before I see you both again.”

 

Kreacher ambled into the dining room just then, and his arms were carrying Ron and Hermione’s coats. He handed both articles of clothing directly to Ron, then stalked off again. Kreacher still had difficulties with looking Hermione in the eye at times, but he was grudgingly polite to her when Harry asked it of him.

 

Ron and Hermione glanced back at Harry again, clearly hesitating.

 

Harry raised his eyebrows at them. “Go on,” he said, making a ‘shoo’ motion with his hand. “I spent about two years waiting for you two to finally get it together, so I feel like I’m also entitled to tell you both to get lost and go on a date.”

 

That comment made Hermione smile, which in turn made Harry feel a little better.

 

“We’ll see you soon,” Hermione promised, and Ron nodded in affirmation.

 

Once they were gone, Harry looked down at the article again. His friends meant well with their reassurances, but Harry knew better than to be lulled into false hopes. These articles were only the beginning of what was bound to become another smear campaign against him.

 

Snape’s words from Harry’s first year at Hogwarts echoed loudly in his mind— clearly fame isn’t everything.

 

Harry wished that people would just leave him be. He hadn’t asked to be the Chosen One, and he certainly hadn’t asked to be the one who had to defeat Voldemort. And now, even though he’d finally gone and done it, he was still trapped in the limelight, his reputation forever hinging on whether or not it was politically convenient to support Harry Potter.

 

It wasn’t as though Harry cared for politics—although he had originally thought that Kingsley would have been a given for Minister of Magic, apparently that had not been the case—but people wanted his opinions on things anyways. The main problem was, it seemed that if Harry didn’t give opinions, then people would simply start to make them up.

 

Harry had been continually bombarded with questions about this or that, and eventually he’d grown tired of it. This, of course, had only led to more rampant speculation. Speculation had only led to demands for more answers. And all of that had, quite clearly, led to the article he was now holding in his hands.

 

It should have been easier than this, he thought. It all should have just ended with Voldemort’s demise.

 

There were still a lot of on-going issues with the reconciliation between the Ministry and the Muggleborn community. People were demanding reparations from a government that did not want to claim any responsibility for its actions. It was Voldemort, the Ministry said, who had controlled everything—nevermind the dozens of Ministry employees who had also been willing Death Eaters, and therefore eager participants in the torture and execution of Muggleborns. There were names and faces in the papers that Harry knew were guiltier than their placating words would suggest.

 

But Harry had done what he could; he had advocated for the Muggleborns and said that he believed they were owed for the suffering they’d undergone. People had then accused him of seeking compensation. Not outright, but it had most definitely been implied. It was after that that the press had taken to hounding him wherever he went, so Harry had then decided that showing his face in public was more trouble than it was worth, and started to hole himself up in Grimmauld Place.

 

It wasn’t as though he was the only one getting negative press, either. Ron and Hermione had certainly gotten their own share of slander—although it was a lot less, which Harry was glad about. Ron and his family had lost Fred, and Hermione still had yet to secure the travel documents needed for her to go and restore her parents’ memories. They had enough to deal with without Harry adding his own problems to the list.

 


 

When Kreacher delivered the Daily Prophet the next morning, the headline was not any better. Harry read it quickly, then dumped it into a pile along with the rest of the papers he had collected. A headache was starting to form even though it was only ten in the morning. Harry had trouble sleeping most nights—anxiety from the negative press and lingering nightmares from Voldemort prevented him from catching more than a few hours at a time.

 

“Thanks Kreacher,” said Harry, as the elf poured him a steaming cup of coffee.

 

Kreacher bowed low, Regulus' locket bouncing on his chest as he did so, and then scampered off. Grimmauld Place was a lot cleaner lately, Harry had noticed. And Regulus’ room, where Harry had been sleeping, was always spotless.

 

Harry sipped at his coffee. The caffeine probably wasn’t very good for his sleep habits, but he liked the feeling of being awake too much to give it up. There was a certain safety in being awake, in knowing that he had control over what he did during his waking hours. He didn’t think the desire for sleep was going to overpower his urge to avoid nightmares anytime soon.

 

Ever since the so-called Battle of Hogwarts, Harry felt as though he was sitting precariously on an edge, about to plummet into the ocean and drown at any given moment. Somehow, though he never actively tried to picture it, he continually found himself imagining the oceanside cliff where Dumbledore had taken him to the find the locket horcrux.

 

His drifting thoughts concerned him more than his nightmares did, yet he did not feel comfortable enough to broach the topic with Ron and Hermione, not with all of the ‘Dark Lord Potter’ campaigning that was going on. They would probably insist on spending more time with him and coddling him, which was the last thing Harry wanted.

 

Admittedly, the isolation was starting to get to him, but Harry didn’t want to subject any of his friends to more bad press if he could help it. Ron and Hermione were one thing; he would be hard pressed to get rid of them, and he would never want to. But everyone else he could shield with whatever protection his absence from their lives could grant them.

 

Ginny, Neville, and Luna all wrote him regularly, and Harry did his best to respond in a timely manner. It was not as though he had better things to do. Kreacher had already suggested bringing Harry to the Black family library—it was an offer that amused Harry far more than it should have, for he did not doubt that the library was full of books on dark magic.

 

“Does Master Harry want breakfast?” Kreacher prompted, startling Harry from his thoughts.

 

“Ah, sure,” Harry said, biting down on the ‘thanks’ that he knew Kreacher would not want to hear. Harry would have probably forgotten to eat at all if it wasn’t for Kreacher.

 

He watched as the old elf tottered towards the kitchen. Kreacher was Disapparating less than he had used to; Harry had only recently realized that the landings from reappearing were probably hard on Kreacher’s creaky knees. He resolved then to see if there were any healing potions that would be safe for elves to drink. Kreacher deserved to be comfortable if he was holed up in here with Harry all the time.

 

When Kreacher returned, it was with a plate of diagonally-cut toast, some thick slices of ham, and a bit of scrambled egg.

 

Harry ate mechanically, though the food did taste very excellent, and polished his plate off in record time. Kreacher, who had been watching closely to make sure Harry finished everything (when had that even started happening?), then snapped up the dirty plate and utensils for washing, floating them away from the table. Harry noted that Kreacher must have also refilled his coffee at some point, because the liquid was steaming hot again.

 

Taking a careful drink of his coffee, Harry sat back in his chair. The headache was still there, although it was less painful now that he’d had the coffee.

 

Maybe Hermione and Ron were right—he was spending far too much time inside Grimmauld Place and some fresh air would do him some good. But how to go outside without being followed around?

 

He could use his Invisibility Cloak, but walking around in that seemed to defeat the purpose of soaking up the sunlight.

 

Harry frowned. There had to be some other way for wizards to go about unnoticed, a method that did not make use of Polyjuice Potion. He was sure there was; he just couldn’t quite recall it. He’d have to ask Hermione the next time he saw her—she would definitely have the answer.

 

Kreacher came back into the room again, this time with a small stack of letters. “Master Harry has messages from his friends,” said Kreacher. “Would Master like to read them now?”

 

“Yeah, you can put them on the table,” Harry said.

 

The letters flew up and onto the table, and then Kreacher walked out again.

 

Harry eyed the pile. There was a letter from Neville, a letter from Ginny, and then a third letter with no name on it. It would have been more suspicious if Harry was not reassured that his mail had been very thoroughly screened by the wards of Sirius’ ancestral family home. Kreacher had explained to Harry, as best he could, just how the wards worked. Aside from being under the Fidelius, Grimmauld Place was safe from messages of malicious intent being delivered.

 

Only those who were both included under the Fidelius and innocent of ill intent would be permitted to pass letters through the wards.

 

So Harry felt relatively safe in opening the unknown letter. Perhaps Luna had simply forgotten to put her name on it? That seemed like the type of thing she could possibly do.

 

He went and opened the letters from Ginny and Neville first, pushing his curiosity aside for the time being.

 

Ginny was currently studying to pass her NEWTs at Hogwarts, though Harry knew she had plans to go professional with Quidditch once she graduated. Her letters were upbeat and cheerful, something that Harry was grateful for. It was always nice to hear funny stories Ginny had to share from her classes. She was Quidditch Captain now, too, which meant he also got to hear how Gryffindor was doing in the school rankings.

 

Neville was also back at Hogwarts, though he was only taking a select few courses. He was still mostly undecided on what he wanted to do following his graduation, but Harry suspected that Neville would likely end up as Hogwarts’ newest Herbology professor, given that Professor Sprout had been dropping hints about retiring soon.

 

The third letter, as noted, did not have a sender’s address written on it. There was only Harry’s name scrawled in elegant calligraphy across the front. Harry had the nagging feeling that he ought to recognize the handwriting, but he wasn’t sure where.

 

Harry J. Potter

 

Harry had certainly never been able to write his own name that neatly before.

 

Opening the envelope revealed a plain card with a time, a date, and a location written on it. Flipping the card over, Harry stared at its blank backside for a few minutes, his mind churning. It felt like a trap, like he ought to just throw the entire thing away and forget about it. But there was a part of him that wanted to know just exactly what he had received an invitation to.

 

The date listed was not for another three weeks. He could let the note simmer until then, probably.

 

So Harry opened up his mokeskin pouch and dropped the card inside. The pouch swallowed it eagerly.

 

Gingerly picking up the envelope again, Harry gazed down at the looping cursive of his name. Then he drew his holly wand, aiming it at the envelope and promptly casting Evanesco, vanishing the paper from existence.

 


 

The next time Ron and Hermione came by to visit, Ron was sporting a swelling eye while Hermione fussed over him. The two of them were having a muttered argument as they entered Grimmauld Place.

 

“What happened?” Harry demanded, his wand already drawn despite the fact that they were standing alone together in his entrance hall.

 

“Nothing,” Ron said, “it was nothing.”

 

“That doesn’t look like nothing,” Harry said furiously. “Were you attacked by Death Eaters or something? I swear I’m going to go to the Ministry and—”

 

“It wasn’t Death Eaters,” Hermione said hastily, and then she bit her lip.

 

Harry stared between the two of them.

 

Hermione slowly removed her coat, then Ron’s, and handed both of them off to Kreacher, who had waited silently by the coat rack to receive them.

 

“Then what happened?”

 

Ron winced as Hermione gingerly felt around his cheek with her fingertips. “Listen, Harry, it’s not a big deal, alright?”

 

Hermione was now aiming her wand at Ron’s face as she muttered a healing spell—immediately the swelling seemed to dissipate and fade away, leaving nothing but faintly pink skin behind.

 

“Someone was going on about those articles on you in the papers,” Hermione said finally. “So Ron punched him in the face.”

 

Ron winced again. “You could have said it more nicely, Hermione.”

 

“Then maybe you should have thought it through a little better!” Hermione huffed. “It makes us all look worse, Ron.”

 

“I know and I’m sorry,” Ron said, sighing. “I know I shouldn’t have done it, but you heard what that bloke was saying about Harry, I couldn’t just let him get away with that—”

 

Hermione had driven her elbow into Ron’s side, effectively cutting him off in the process.

 

“Anyways,” Hermione said loudly. “It won’t be happening again, so there’s nothing to worry about.”

 

Kreacher ambled back into the hallway, then bowed in Harry’s direction. “Kreacher has served tea in the drawing room for Master Harry and his friends.”

 

So they settled in the drawing room together, and Harry listened to Hermione as she talked about joining the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures after she finished her NEWTs at Hogwarts.

 

Hermione was attending classes sporadically, and so she was mostly living in her childhood home, saying that it didn’t feel right to leave the place empty while her parents were still stranded in Australia. Harry knew that Ron was worried about her living alone like that, but his parents weren’t about to let him move in with Hermione while they were so young.

 

Ron plopped into one of the armchairs, making himself at home as Kreacher handed him a cup of tea.

 

“Hermione,” said Harry, “I wanted to ask you something.”

 

“Oh?” Hermione leaned forward, interested. It was probably the first time in weeks that Harry had shown an inclination towards something that wasn’t sticking around Grimmauld Place.

 

“Yeah, I was wondering, is there some kind of way for wizards to walk around undetected?” Harry asked. Then he hastily added, “Not like with the Invisibility Cloak or Polyjuice Potion, but a way someone, maybe a Death Eater, could be hiding themselves in public areas.”

 

Hermione looked thoughtful for a moment. “There is the Notice-Me-Not Charm. It’s dependent on the power of the caster, and it only works if you’re in a place where people are not expecting you or deliberately looking for you. So, in a public area such as Diagon Alley, a wanted criminal might be able to get by on it without being spotted, so long as there was no one near them who was paying close attention to their surroundings and recognized them.”

 

That seemed pretty ideal to Harry, who only wanted to be able to walk around Muggle London without being harassed by reporters.

 

“I think that might be what I’m looking for,” Harry said. “I don’t suppose you have a book on how to do it?”

 

“Well, not with me at the moment,” said Hermione. ‘“But I can send it to you once I’m back at home—why do you need to know the spell, anyways?”

 

Harry hadn’t thought that far ahead. “Ah—” he said, fumbling for an excuse.

 

“You’re not going to go out looking for Death Eaters, are you?” Ron interjected, looking upset.

 

“No,” said Harry. Then, more defensively, “No, I’m not. Why would I do that?”

 

Hermione tapped a finger to her chin in an exaggerated manner. “Maybe because you have a saving people thing?”

 

“I just want some fresh air,” Harry said testily. “Alright? Or is that too much to ask?”

 

“Harry,” said Hermione, disapproval in her tone.

 

Kreacher came back in again, this time with a plate of tarts. The selection was not varied; they were mostly Harry’s favourite, treacle tart, with a few small raspberry jam ones wedged in between.

 

Ron took two at random and started eating. “I think it’s a great idea,” he said between bites. “Harry can walk around without getting bothered.”

 

“Avoiding the problem doesn’t make it go away,” Hermione said.

 

“No, but eventually it has to die down, right? And once things are back to normal, then it won’t matter as much anymore!”

 

Harry chewed slowly on a treacle tart as they continued to argue back and forth on it. When the debate finally wound down, it seemed as though Ron had succeeded in convincing Hermione that no harm could come of letting Harry wander around London with a Notice-Me-Not Charm plastered to him.

 

“Besides,” Ron concluded. “Even Harry would have difficulty running into trouble in Muggle London. How many Pureblood swots d’you suppose know how to work the London Underground?”

 

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Ron, you don’t even know how to get on the London Underground.”

 

“I’ve been before!” Ron said, offended.

 

“Yes, when you had someone to tell you where to go,” Hermione said. “But I suppose you’re right in that it can’t be too dangerous. Although,” she added, this time to Harry, “I would feel better if you only went out with one of us.”

 

“I’m fine, Hermione,” Harry said, relieved that the argument was over. “Voldemort’s dead—nothing’s going to happen to me.”

Chapter Text

Hermione sent him the book by owl later that afternoon, only a mere hour after she and Ron had departed Grimmauld Place. Harry wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been the first thing she’d done once she’d gotten home.

 

The Notice-Me-Not Charm seemed straight-forward enough; the main problem was that the spell was non-verbal, and required the caster’s confidence to power its strength. Harry had some practice with non-verbal spells from Hogwarts, and had picked up a lot more out of necessity during their Horcrux hunt. But unfortunately for Harry, even that was not enough to instill confidence in his ability to cast the charm successfully.

 

But Harry practiced the wand movements diligently in the study room while Kreacher periodically bustled in and out, trying to convince Harry to eat more snacks. Hermione had even written out some helpful notes on the spell for him to look at, so he hoped it would be enough.

 

Atque Occultatum,” said Harry.

 

Kreacher had stopped to watch him this time, his tray of tea things hovering just off to the side.

 

Deciding it was a good a time as any, Harry said, “Kreacher, I’m going to try a new spell on myself. Can you tell me if you notice anything different?” It would be better to embarrass himself in front of the house-elf rather than any of his friends, or worse yet, to go outside only to find the spell hadn’t worked after all.

 

“Yes, Kreacher can watch young Master,” said Kreacher, bobbing his head. With a snap of his fingers, the tea tray floated to a nearby table and settled there.

 

Harry took a deep breath to steady himself. “Confidence,” he said to himself, and then he ran his wand through the movements outlined in Hermione’s book, thinking Atque Occultatum! as hard as he could. There was a sort of tingle in his wand hand, and then there was a familiar wash of magic over his person, just like with the Disillusionment Charm.

 

Then he stood there, waiting to see if anything had happened.

 

Kreacher still standing in the doorway, blinked at him.

 

So Harry said, awkwardly, “Can you still see me?”

 

“Yes, Master Harry. Kreacher can still see Master.”

 

Well, so much for mastering it on the first go. Harry sighed inwardly. “Alright, that’s all, then. You can go, if you like.”

 

Harry sat around for a bit after that, mulling over the spell, debating if he should try casting it again. Then he decided to perhaps give it another go tomorrow, seeing as his failure to cast it would probably be detrimental towards having enough confidence to try it again.

 

He wandered downstairs into the kitchen, where Kreacher was preparing dinner. The wizened elf was bustling about quite a lot considering he and Harry were the only two people in the house who needed to eat.

 

Usually Kreacher didn’t like it when he hovered, but Harry planted himself against the counter anyways, watching as the elf worked. It still felt strange to let Kreacher do all the cooking and cleaning for him. Harry tried his best to leave as little mess as possible in the house; he made his own bed in the morning and kept his dirty clothes in the proper hampers. It was a far cry from what he was used to at the Dursleys, but he supposed it was most similar to what he’d experienced at Hogwarts.

 

Kreacher tottered by in front of Harry, seemingly focused on gathering ingredients for the soup he was making.

 

Harry was reminded of his plans to research healing options for House-Elves. He really should have asked Hermione when she’d been by, because it was something she likely already knew, but it had slipped his mind.

 

Kreacher walked by again, this time with a handful of freshly peeled carrots wrapped in a cloth, and Harry was struck with the notion that perhaps House-Elves had their own types of healing methods.

 

“Kreacher?” asked Harry.

 

The house-elf startled, and his bundle of carrots dropped onto the floor, where two of them escaped their wrappings and began to roll away.

 

Noooo,” Kreacher moaned, scrambling to pick up the vegetables. “Kreacher is sorry, Kreacher is—”

 

Panicking, Harry said in a rush, “No, it’s fine, it’s fine Kreacher, do not punish yourself, it was a mistake, I shouldn’t have startled you like that—”

 

Kreacher had already dumped the carrots into a colander and begun to rinse them vigorously in the sink. “Kreacher will fix this, Master Harry,” said the elf furiously.

 

At a loss, Harry stood there a moment longer, just to make sure that Kreacher wasn’t about to hurt himself. Nothing further happened, though, so Harry decided that he was probably better off just waiting in the study until it was time for dinner.

 

He turned and made his way back upstairs. The tea tray was still there on the table, so Harry cast a non-verbal Water-Heating Charm on the pot, which let out a shrill whistle as it boiled instantly.

 

As he poured his tea, he went back to thinking about the Notice-Me-Not Charm. He reopened the text that Hermione had given him, glancing once again at the passage that outlined the theory. In this section, Hermione had underlined the words ‘deliberately seeking the caster’.

 

Harry blinked.

 

Just then, Kreacher bustled back into the study, his beady eyes narrowing in on Harry.

 

“Dinner is ready, Master Harry,” said Kreacher.

 

“Right, th—” Harry cut himself off from automatically thanking Kreacher. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

 

He looked at the passage again, trying to organize his thoughts. There was a theory solidifying in his mind, and he wanted to test it. But how to do so? Harry rubbed at his forehead, at the scar that would never fade.

 

There was one easy way to find out.

 

Kreacher would be expecting him downstairs shortly, which ruled out that as an option, so Harry stood up and Disapparated with a crack.

 

When he reappeared, it was in an alley just outside the Leaky Cauldron. Harry took a moment to sort himself out and quell his nerves. The autumn air was bitingly cold against his skin. He hadn't thought to bring a coat with him. Hoping his jumper would suffice, Harry shook himself of the chill and left the alley he was in, making his way over to the Leaky Cauldron.

 

It was busy on the street just outside the Leaky. People were either coming here or going to Diagon Alley for a place to eat. Harry’s stomach rumbled, adding its own opinion to the mix. Taking a few more steps and brushing past a few witches gathered on the pavement, Harry reached the door and pushed his way inside.

 

If Harry had to make an estimate, he would have said that there were approximately fifty or so people in the pub. The mood of the patrons could best be described as ‘drunkenly cheerful’. There was much chatter and general merriment going on. Harry checked his watch—it was half past eight in the evening.

 

Then he stood there for a moment, feeling like an idiot. How was he supposed to be able to tell if anyone could see him?

 

At the back of the Leaky, Tom the barman was serving drinks to a crowd of rowdy wizards. Harry made his way over, looking for a seat. But surely a bartender would be expecting patrons? So maybe it still wasn't the proper type of test. Someone got up from the bar, so Harry sat down in the newly vacated space. The noisy wizards continued their demands for more drink while Harry watched them.

 

He sat there for a while, minding his watch. Five minutes went by, and still no one approached him. Harry hesitantly turned around on his stool and glanced around the bar. Maybe the spell had worked after all.

 

Deciding not to push his luck any further, Harry stood and made his way back over to the entrance, keeping his head tucked down as he did so. This position, however, led him into an unlucky collision with someone who was coming into the pub.

 

Whoever it was must have recognized him, because their torso jerked backwards in surprise. Harry paid them no mind, muttering a quick “Sorry,” before he fled the scene, heart beating fast. As soon as he was far enough away from the door, he Apparated back to Grimmauld Place.

 

An irate Kreacher was waiting for him in the dining room.

 

“Dinner is cold,” Kreacher muttered upon seeing Harry. The elf snapped his fingers, causing food to appear on the table. It was steaming, though Harry assumed it was because Kreacher had reheated it for him.

 

“Sorry,” Harry said, stumbling into the chair Kreacher had pulled out for him. “I didn’t mean to take so long.”

 

Kreacher shot him a baleful look, and continued to mutter as he trudged away, “Kreacher does not complain, no, not when Master leaves the house without telling Kreacher. Kreacher takes good care of Master Harry, Kreacher keeps Master Harry fed when he forgets to eat. All without complaint, Kreacher does. Master Harry is a most stubborn child, just like Master Regulus.”

 

Gulping down a spoonful of the soup Kreacher had prepared, Harry pondered over Kreacher’s behaviour. Harry had never thought he’d feel guilty about being rude to Kreacher, of all people, but it was happening nonetheless.

 

“Kreacher?” he called.

 

The elf turned around and took a few steps back into the dining room. “Yes, Master Harry?”

 

“I wanted to ask you something,” Harry began. Then he paused, so as to better organize his thoughts, because he wasn't exactly sure how Kreacher would react to being asked, however abstractedly, about his own well-being.

 

“Are there any kinds of potions or spells that wizards can use to help… prolong the lives of their house-elves?” Harry asked. “Or, I don’t know, anything to just help reduce pain?

 

Kreacher’s form went rather still, though his eyes were fixed on Harry’s face. It made Harry worry that he’d gone too far, that he’d upset Kreacher somehow, only he wasn’t sure how he’d gone and done it, and therefore he was at a loss as to how to apologize for it.

 

“Master Harry will finish his supper,” said Kreacher, eventually. “And then Master Harry will call upon Kreacher again, but only when he is finished eating.” Then he vanished with a loud crack, leaving Harry with the distinct feeling that if he did not finish eating all the food on his plate, Kreacher would not respond to his call in a very friendly manner.

 


 

Following dinner, Kreacher had directed Harry upstairs to the Black family library. Apprehensive but curious, Harry allowed himself to be shown into what was probably the darkest remaining room in the house. During previous purges of Grimmauld Place, Sirius had kept them all away from the library, saying that only heirs of the house would be allowed past its wards. Harry knew that Sirius had intended to clear it out eventually, but never had either the inclination or the chance to do so…

 

“Master Harry asks about how to care for House-Elves,” Kreacher said, gesturing at the shelves. “Kreacher brings Master to the Black library for answers.”

 

The Black library most closely resembled a cross between a shop in Knockturn Alley and the Restricted Section at Hogwarts’ library. The books quivered whenever Harry looked at them—some of the books were even probably looking back at him. There was a thick, heavy feeling in the air, like the atmosphere just before a large storm rolled in.

 

“Are there books here on the subject?” Harry asked dubiously. Somehow, he doubted that a family with house-elf heads mounted on the walls actually cared much about its house-elves.

 

Kreacher snapped his fingers, and a book emerged from one of the shelves, floating over towards Harry. It was a relatively thin book with a raw-looking leather cover. The title read ‘Wizardkind’s Most Faithful’. Harry plucked the book out of the air gingerly, wondering if it was going to bite like the ‘Monster Book of Monsters’ did.

 

When the book failed to do anything spectacular, Harry flipped it open and noted immediately that most of the pages had writing on them. This only served to further intensify his unease as he was inevitably reminded of Snape’s old potion’s book.

 

“What is this book, Kreacher?” asked Harry. While he didn’t think Kreacher would willingly give Harry anything that could hurt him, he did know from experience that House-Elves’ ideas of what constituted as ‘safe’ could vary wildly.

 

“This was Master Regulus’ book,” Kreacher croaked solemnly. “Master Regulus talked of helping Kreacher with this book.”

 

Admittedly, that was as good of a reason as any to look at it. Harry was fairly sure that Regulus had been genuinely fond of Kreacher, so the book was presumably a decent one.

 

“Alright,” Harry said finally. “Are there any other books on the topic, while I’m here?”

 

Kreacher shook his head.

 

So Harry left the library quickly, trying to disperse the strange chill that the room seemed to have drenched him in. He took ‘Wizardkind’s Most Faithful’ with him into the study and dropped it upon the desk. Kreacher had come along, too, to make sure that Harry treated Regulus’ possession with respect.

 

Harry began to read. The book was clearly written decades ago, as a good deal of the language was beyond Harry’s current vocabulary. However, the parts of the book covering spells, potions, and rituals involving House-Elves were very explicit indeed. Harry started to skim over those, so as not to make himself sick. He started to flip through it faster, stopping only whenever he caught sight of Regulus’ familiar handwriting. Regulus was clever, based on his insightful notes scribbled into the margins. Harry supposed that you had to be clever to trick Voldemort, of all people, so it made sense that Regulus was smart.

 

Then, finally, Harry reached a page that not only had Regulus’ remarks scrawled all over the place, but also had an additional page of separate notes taped to it.

 

“Master Regulus’ notes for Kreacher,” said Kreacher, from where he had remained standing by Harry’s elbow.

 

“This is a dark ritual,” Harry said, his eyes scanning the instructions that Regulus had written out. Regulus had altered the original directions from the book to suit his own agenda, but Harry knew the classification of the ritual would still be considered dark by any type of wizarding standards.

 

Kreacher said nothing in response to that. The elf was used to casual applications of dark magic, Harry guessed. So the idea of using a dark ritual on Kreacher was not troublesome to Kreacher in the slightest.

 

“I’ll have to see if I can do this,” Harry said at last, not looking Kreacher in the eye.

 

“Yes, Master Harry. Master Harry will inform Kreacher if he requires any specific ingredients for the ritual.” Then Kreacher tottered away and down the stairs.

 

Sticking a bookmark in the page so he could find it later on, Harry closed ‘Wizardkind’s Most Faithful’ and put it into the warded drawer of the desk, so that Ron or Hermione would not happen upon it accidentally. He’d hate to see what Hermione would think of the existence of a book like this, let alone its contents.

 

His other book, the one containing the instructions on casting the Notice-Me-Not Charm, was still sitting open on the desk. Harry reached for it, tugging it back to the center of the desk. It was grounding to reread Hermione's prose, to hear her voice in his head as her words filled his gaze. It helped to clear his mind of all the horrible things he’d just read.

 

Of course, Harry still wanted to help Kreacher, but he genuinely was not sure he’d be able to bring himself to do the ritual required. It was the sort of thing he could picture Malfoy or Dudley doing and enjoying, which meant that the entire thing did not appeal to Harry much at all. But he would, nevertheless, think it over and give it his best efforts, because the last thing that Harry wanted was for Kreacher to suffer.

 

There were already times when Harry was reminded of Dobby while watching Kreacher work, and the pain of missing his old friend could only be worsened by the loss of Kreacher, who Harry had also grown rather fond of.

 

Harry told himself that he would figure it out. Magic was capable of incredible things as well as terrible ones. Surely there would be a way to help Kreacher that did not involve dark magic.

 

Looking back at the textbook Hermione had lent him, Harry tried to refocus his attention on the passage she had highlighted. He had already read it multiple times, but perhaps another go would reveal something that had not made sense to him before.

 

His head was starting to hurt again, but he ignored it. He would go to bed earlier tonight, and perhaps that would help ameliorate the situation.

 

Hermione had written that the charm typically lasted anywhere from one to two hours before it required a recasting, and how long it did last depended on the strength of the caster. Harry looked at his watch again—it was now close to ten in the evening. When had he cast the charm originally? He couldn’t quite remember, but it must have been some time after seven, because he had not arrived at the Leaky Cauldron until just past eight. Then he’d come back here, to Grimmauld Place, except Kreacher had been expecting him to show up for dinner, so that wasn’t an accurate measure of when the spell had faded.

 

Maybe there was a way to test how long a spell lasted, either with a different spell or a potion. Harry tapped his fingers on the desk impatiently. He needed to learn more spells. Which was convenient, he supposed, because he now had all the time in the world to do so.

 

He was no longer interested in joining the Ministry—not since Kingsley had been replaced as Minister for Magic by a wizard named Darnall Burke. So then there had been no point in returning to Hogwarts to complete his NEWTs, either. The idea of becoming an Auror had always been about defeating Voldemort, for what better place could there have been from which to combat the world’s most feared Dark Lord? Perhaps it had been naive of him, even then, to think that way. Hadn’t Umbridge’s continued avoidance of prison proven that the Ministry would forever be built upon the backs of nepotism and bigotry?

 

Harry would have paid good money to see the ugly toad rotting in a cell somewhere in Azkaban, all of her happiness drained out of her. Truthfully, he doubted that she had any good memories in her that weren’t tied to the torture of innocents, which was all the more reason to remove the memories from her brain altogether.

 

The fact that she still existed was a thorn in Harry’s side. The excuse of simply doing as she was told was beyond despicable, let alone that she’d avoided any proper consequences for her actions.

 

Still, the point was that working for the Ministry was no longer an option that Harry wished to pursue. So he had decided to settle for a nice, quiet life: living off of his inheritance, engaging in charity work, and supporting his friends in their career aspirations. He would have been content if the press had left him alone for the rest of eternity, but that was mostly wishful thinking on his part.

 

Clearly, in order to have the kind of life he wished to lead, he needed to improve and expand his skills. People already thought he was some kind of power-crazed maniac anyways, so improving his spellwork couldn’t possibly make things any worse than they already were. Harry decided that he would cast the Notice-Me-Not Charm again tomorrow and attempt to visit Diagon Alley to purchase some new spellbooks. If the trip failed, then he would settle for using Flourish and Blotts’ owl-order service instead.

 

Plan made, Harry shut the book and stretched, leaning back in his chair. Perhaps it was time for bed. He got up and trudged to his room—Regulus’ old room. There was something comforting about the room that Harry couldn’t put his finger on. Maybe it was simply because it was as close to Sirius as Harry could get without the too-familiar feelings of guilt and grief twisting up his insides.

 

Kreacher had already set Harry’s slippers and nightclothes out on the bed. While the bed looked comfy and inviting, Harry couldn’t bring himself to be truly excited to sleep in it. With sleep came nightmares, and with nightmares came the horrors Voldemort had wrought upon his life.

 

Ever aware of what Harry was doing, even in sleep, Kreacher had suggested Harry take Dreamless Sleep Potion. But Harry knew from Hermione’s warnings that excessive consumption could lead to permanent insomnia, or worse, narcolepsy. So he’d dutifully avoided ingesting it, and had even gone as far as to order Kreacher to never give him any, just to be safe.

 

But as the days wore on, a night’s sleep without dreams was looking more and more appealing. Which was not to say that Harry would succumb to the temptation of the potion, but rather he had been considering staying up long enough to make himself pass out into a deep sleep from sheer exhaustion.

 

Tonight, however, he was feeling brave enough to give an early bedtime a proper shot. So he washed and changed for bed, tucking himself into the blankets and pillows with a weary sort of resignation. As his eyes slid shut, he hoped that tomorrow would bring better success than his nightmares were likely to show him tonight.

Chapter Text

When Harry woke the next morning, even his eyeballs were tired. The effort it took to open them, to allow the morning sun to so much as touch the parts of his eyes that were protected by his eyelids, was ridiculous. Resisting the urge to roll over and bury his face into a pillow, Harry forced himself to lie still and stare up at the ceiling.

 

Once he was reasonably certain that he wasn’t about to fall back asleep, he worked his wand out from where he’d left it under his pillow and cast the Tempus Charm. It was half past six in the morning. Groaning, Harry sat up, stretching his arms and back.

 

Kreacher came into the room then, bearing a cup of hot water, which he set upon the bedside table for Harry.

 

“Good morning,” Harry said, stifling a yawn.

 

“Would Master like his copy of the Daily Prophet?”

 

Harry thought about it. Perhaps it would be best to save the paper for after he returned from Diagon Alley. That way, he could live in blissful ignorance for a few more hours.

 

“I’ll read it once I’m back,” Harry said. Then he added, “I’ll be headed to Diagon Alley today, Kreacher.”

 

Kreacher eyed Harry speculatively. “Will Master Harry be requiring lunch?”

 

“Er, I don’t think so. I’ll just get something to eat while I’m there.”

 

“Very well,” Kreacher said plaintively. Then he stalked over to Harry’s wardrobe, where he began to pull out clothes for Harry to wear.

 

Harry stood up next to the bed, watching for a moment as Kreacher busied himself with Harry’s robes and trousers. Had it been that long since Harry had left the house properly? He couldn’t quite remember. After the reconstruction at Hogwarts had finished, Harry had moved directly into Grimmauld Place permanently, and he’d been here at Grimmauld when the rumours and the press slander had started, too.

 

It had only taken a few months before people began to call him dangerous and unhinged, just like they had in his fifth year. Admittedly, Harry thought that ‘dangerous’ was likely accurate. Being called ‘unhinged’, however, still rankled.

 

Hermione had theorized that during his battle against Voldemort, Voldemort’s death and the subsequent removal of the Horcrux in Harry’s scar had resulted in an ancient transfer of magical power. She had called it a sort of ‘magical right of conquest’, saying it was similar to how Muggles claimed spoils of war.

 

So for whatever reason, even without the use of the Elder Wand, all of Harry’s magic was more powerful than usual. And that had been fine—it had been useful, even, when they’d been putting Hogwarts back together following the destruction that Voldemort and his Death Eaters had wrought upon it. It was more the aftermath of utilizing such power that had resulted in negative consequences.

 

Kreacher shook a pair of trousers in Harry’s field of vision, pulling him out of his thoughts. Harry got dressed, brushed his teeth, and half-heartedly ran a comb through his hair. 

 

Pulling out his holly wand, Harry turned it over in his hand a few times. He hadn’t noticed any differences since it had been repaired with the Elder Wand; it felt as connected to Harry’s magic as it ever had. 

 

“Does Master wish for tea or coffee before he leaves?” Kreacher asked. 

 

“No,” Harry said, once again biting down on his reflex to thank Kreacher. “I’ll be fine until I get back.” 

 

Kreacher gave Harry a strange look, then left the room. Realizing he didn’t have any more reason to stand around in his bedroom, Harry followed. Kreacher was holding a thick black cloak out for Harry to put on. 

 

“This isn’t mine,” Harry said, looking at it. “Where’d you get this from, Kreacher?” He had thought most of the expensive belongings at Grimmauld Place had either been tossed out or stolen by Mundungus. 

 

“This was Master Sirius’,” Kreacher said slowly. He did not look pleased to be saying Sirius’ name, but he gave the cloak he was holding another shake. “Cloak will help keep Master Harry safe.” 

 

Harry eyed it uneasily, looking for the catch. He’d learned to expect weird things from wizards; experience had taught him to ask questions first. “What does it do, exactly?”

 

“Master Sirius’ cloak has charms and enchantments,” Kreacher said. “It can only be used by true heirs of House Black.”

 

Harry couldn’t help but think that Kreacher was still trying to mold him into a ‘proper’ Pureblood heir, only he was doing it in such a way that Harry was hard pressed to say no, because if the cloak had belonged to Sirius, then it was something that Harry wanted.

 

Just to be sure, Harry withdrew his wand and gave the cloak a tap. “Specialis Revelio.”

 

The cloak glowed white for a moment, signifying its status as an item free of malicious charms or spells, then shimmered like a Shield Charm usually did when it had been hit. Perhaps this cloak was similar to the hats and cloaks that Fred and George had made.

 

Reassured, Harry took the cloak and put it on. The material felt more expensive than his typical cloaks and robes did, but it was very comfortable. “This cloak isn’t a dark artifact or something, is it?” Harry asked suspiciously. Just because it had belonged to Sirius, that didn’t mean it was perfectly clean. Harry was well aware that if it had been left in this house, either of Sirius’ parents could have perhaps tampered with it at some point.

 

Kreacher shook his head.

 

“Do you know what kinds of spells are on it?”

 

Kreacher produced a smile full of sharp, yellowed teeth. “Kreacher knows books on such spells—”

 

“Are in the Black library,” Harry finished the sentence, his voice heavy.

 

Harry reached down and felt the hem of the cloak with his hand. There didn’t seem to be any residue of dark magic on it. In fact, Harry could even see Sirius’ initials, S. B., embroidered underneath the Black family crest.

 

“This cloak won’t do anything to me?” Harry asked, just to be sure.

 

Kreacher shook his head. Harry couldn’t quite think of any more reasons not to wear it, but it still did not seem like a good idea. “I think,” Harry said, “I’ll wear it next time I go out. I don’t want to draw attention to myself today, and I’d feel more comfortable in my own clothes.”

 

“Very well,” Kreacher said. He took the cloak back as Harry handed it to him. The elf didn’t look too offended at the refusal, so hopefully Harry’s agreement to wear it next time had soothed Kreacher’s delicate sensibilities for now.

 

Holding out his wand once more, Harry cast the Notice-Me-Not Charm. Then he checked his mokeskin pouch to make sure that his Invisibility Cloak was still inside, just in case. Reassured that he had a contingency plan in case things went horribly wrong, Harry closed his eyes and turned on the spot.

 


 

Harry landed in an alley just off the left of the North Side of Diagon Alley. As it was a bit early, it seemed that only some of the shops were open. Walking out, Harry located the closest tea shop that was open and headed towards it.

 

There was the tinkle of a bell as Harry passed through the doorway. The inside of the shop was tastefully decorated, nothing at all like Madam Puddifoot’s in Hogsmeade. The atmosphere of the shop was very rustic and homey, which Harry liked.

 

A witch was in the middle of magically floating a large tray of pastries into the glass display on the counter as Harry stepped up to the register. He tapped the little bell on the countertop to get her attention, then felt a bit bad as she noticeably jumped.

 

When her eyes landed on his face, she gasped. Harry was glad she’d put the tray down, because she probably would have dropped it in her shock.

 

“You’re Harry Potter,” she said.

 

Harry grimaced.

 

“Just a regular coffee, please,” he told her. “Lots of sugar and cream.” Anything to drown out the bitter taste of the coffee beans. He had enough of bitterness going on in his head, he didn’t need the flavour of it on his tongue, too.

 

After paying for and receiving his drink, Harry went to sit down in the corner of the little tea shop. He could see the witch behind the counter on his right, and he also had a clear view of the large glass pane that looked out at the alley.

 

Taking a sip of his frothy, sugary caffeine, Harry watched the shop owner as she worked. Every so often she would glance in Harry’s direction.

 

Harry hoped she would forget about him soon. It was uncomfortable to be gawked at like a zoo exhibit.

 

After some minutes passed, another patron finally came into the shop. The bell above the door chimed for the second time, causing the witch at the counter to look up again. She took the wizard’s order, then set about making it. Once it was done, she handed over the drink, and the man left the shop without so much as a glance in Harry’s direction.

 

Harry waited to see if the witch would look back over at his corner, but she didn’t, so Harry took his time in finishing off his coffee. Checking his watch, he wondered if Flourish and Blotts would now be open. Perhaps he ought to wait until more people came into this tea shop.

 

So Harry sat around some more, idly wishing he’d thought to bring something with him to read. Eventually, though, more people started to drift into the tea shop, and Harry thought it was probably safe to leave it without attracting too much attention.

 

Standing, Harry left his empty cup and saucer on the table and made his way over to the door.

 

Diagon Alley was fully awake now. There were peddlers on the streets with their stalls, and groups of people walking up and down the North Side as they went about their business. Harry stuffed his hands into his robe pockets and made his way over to Flourish and Blotts.

 


 

The Alley’s largest bookshop wasn’t very busy, likely because people usually didn’t shop for books first thing in the morning. Harry pulled the door to Flourish and Blotts open. There was no bell on this door, thankfully, which meant that Harry could probably get away with a bit of browsing before he was interrupted by a salesperson.

 

Making note of the section headings posted above the various bookshelves, Harry tried to decide what to look at first. Books had always been Hermione’s area of expertise, but if he was being honest with himself, he and Ron had rather taken advantage of Hermione’s encyclopedic knowledge of everything. It wouldn’t hurt for Harry to do some of his own research for once. He had the time for it, and Hermione probably had better things to do than to mind Harry’s little side projects.

 

Walking over to the section labelled for books on healing, Harry started to look at the book titles. Some of them seemed to be very basic; the kinds of household charms that Mrs. Weasley probably knew how to cast for minor scrapes and hurts that children frequently got in a rowdy home.

 

There were other books that were on specific kinds of healing, like treatments for dragon pox or cures for plant-induced injuries. Harry skimmed past those subsections, feeling a bit lost as he continued on. He should have been expecting a broad selection. Something as complex as healing was bound to contain dozens of books on all kinds of minor topics.

 

Eventually, Harry was able to narrow his focus down to a smaller subsection dedicated to the healing of magical creatures. This time, Harry did end up finding something similar to the ‘Monster Book of Monsters’, because there were furred books, scaled books, and even one very strange book with a white leather cover that shook violently when Harry looked at it. Continuing down the row of titles, Harry settled upon a few books that looked both suitably promising and visually non-threatening, pulling them off the shelf.

 

“Did you need a basket?”

 

Harry looked up to see the placid face of a shop employee—a short young woman with a pixie cut.

 

“Erm, thanks.” Harry took the basket from her, dropping his selections into it.

 

The witch walked away without a second glance. Harry supposed that most hired employees in a shop probably didn’t want to see customers to begin with, so it made sense that she hadn’t recognized him.

 

Books on healing procured, Harry straightened up and angled his head, searching for the section on defensive magic. He didn’t see it anywhere here, meaning it was probably on the second level. Harry made his way over to the rickety, curved staircase that led upstairs.

 

The upper floor of Flourish and Blotts was perfectly deserted, much to Harry’s delight. He could take as much time as he wanted without worrying about interruptions. Setting his basket down upon on a little table that was sat next to a comfy-looking armchair, Harry started a slow walkabout so he could map out all the sections.

 

In the past, he’d only come to Flourish and Blotts, given his booklist to a harried shop worker, and left with his purchases. Now, though, Harry planned to take a proper amount of time to look over the vast selection of available books. He would learn the things that he would have learned in his seventh year at Hogwarts. He would learn things that he might have learned if he’d decided to join the Aurors as he’d originally planned. There was nothing stopping him from improving himself on his own.

 

There was the section on defensive magic, as expected, but there were also sections on warding, potions, and wizarding history. History had never appealed to Harry at Hogwarts, but Binns had been the driest, dullest professor in the entire school, so perhaps he ought to give the subject another try.

 

Harry pulled out books here and there, reading the back covers and opening them up to their table of contents. Some of the books written by relations of Pureblood families like the Notts and the Lestranges he avoided looking at. No matter what information they contained, he didn’t think he could bring himself to trust them.

 

In the end, Harry found himself with maybe two dozen books total on a number of different subjects. He hadn’t been looking at the prices when he’d picked them out, but he thought he probably had enough money on him to cover them. If not, he could always call Kreacher up to bring him some.

 

Stacking all his books neatly into the basket, Harry picked it up by the handle and carried it back down to the ground floor. Halfway down the steps he paused to check his watch. It had been nearly two hours since he’d originally left Grimmauld. Hopefully the charm was still holding enough for him to leave the shop and Apparate home.

 

Approaching the empty counter, Harry placed his basket down and looked around for the shop witch.

 

He waited a few moments, but she did not miraculously reappear, so Harry was forced to tap at the bell on the counter. There was a muffled shout from a backroom behind the counter, and then the witch from before reappeared.

 

This time when she looked at Harry, her brows rose. But, thankfully, she didn’t comment as she rang up his purchases and wrapped them in paper.

 

Harry counted out the appropriate amount of galleons, sickles, and knuts from his pouch, handing them over. The witch passed him his package, which had been magically charmed to a lighter weight, and wished him a good day.

 

Eager to leave, Harry made his way over to the exit—

 

—and was greeted with the familiar sight of reporters just as he stepped outside the door. 

 

For one stupid moment, Harry stood there, dazed by the flash of cameras and made deaf by the sounds of shouting. His next thought was to wonder why they had waited until he’d left the shop to accost him, but then he realized that perhaps the insides of the shops were considered private property. Or maybe they hadn’t been sure if he was inside the shop or not.

 

Shoving all that aside for now, Harry turned on the spot, intending to return to Grimmauld Place.

 


 

As Kreacher took his cloak and coat, Harry thought back to the shop girl at Flourish and Blotts. Had she noticed him that first time and gone to tip off the media? It wouldn’t have been the first time such a thing had happened, but Harry hadn’t thought that she’d recognized him.

 

Walking into the dining room with his package of books, Harry sat down mechanically at the table.

 

“Kreacher?” he asked.

 

“Yes, Master Harry?”

 

“Could you get me a glass of orange juice?” Harry’s throat felt suddenly dry; all he could taste now was the bitter remains of his morning coffee.

 

Kreacher disappeared into the kitchen as Harry stared at his carefully wrapped stack of books.

 

By the time Kreacher returned, glass of juice in hand, Harry felt a bit more like a person again, and the weird spots from the flashing cameras had faded from his vision. It was worse with glasses, because they always caught the glare at weird angles, meaning you could never see his eyes properly in photographs, even wizarding ones.

 

Harry took a long sip of his juice. The cold liquid was like a balm on his throat and his nerves.

 

He’d been too overconfident in going out, clearly. One simple spell wasn’t enough to protect him if he was going to go anywhere in the wizarding community. He would be safer in Muggle areas, where no one would recognize him. And he would take additional precautions, like maybe wearing the cloak Kreacher had tried to give him. He could send the cloak to McGonagall and see what she thought about it. That seemed like an infinitely sensible thing for him to do, like the sort of thing Hermione would tell him he ought to do.

 

Tugging at the twine that was holding his package together, Harry asked Kreacher to bring him a quill and some parchment so he could get down to work.

Chapter Text

Later that evening, Harry remembered that he had yet to read the day’s edition of the Daily Prophet. Shoving aside his stack of notes for now, Harry looked up at the clock on the wall. It was now nearly six in the evening. Time had slipped through his fingers without him even realizing.

 

“Kreacher?” Harry asked to the empty air.

 

Kreacher popped into existence next to him. “Yes, Master?”

 

“Could you bring me today’s copy of the Prophet?”

 

Kreacher snapped his fingers. After a second, the paper materialized upon the table. “Does Master Harry need anything else?”

 

“No, that’s all.”

 

“Dinner will be served shortly.” Kreacher eyed the mess on the table, then ambled off in the direction of the kitchen.

 

Embarrassed, Harry tried to pile his things a bit more neatly. Then his eye caught on the headline of the Prophet, and he nearly knocked his entire heap of books over.



RETURN OF THE MUGGLE-BORN REGISTRATION



Harry grabbed the paper up and started reading, a feeling of dread building in his stomach as he skimmed through the article. The Ministry wasn’t advocating for the same process as before, obviously, but according to the article, the registration of Muggleborns would help the Ministry protect them from discrimination. Still, the fact remained that the registration was mandatory, that there was no way out of it, especially for new students that wanted to attend Hogwarts.

 

The sad thing was that Harry had already been expecting this to happen. Their new Minister who’d been touting traditionalist ideals for some time now, so it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. But seeing it happen was still somehow very jarring. Harry hadn’t really thought it would happen so soon, to be honest. He’d thought there would be time for people to recover, time for them to work on initiating proper change.

 

Truthfully, Harry was very worried about the treatment of Muggleborns. Voldemort’s temporary reign had validated many terrible people in their bigoted ways, people who now felt a lot safer in voicing their disgusting opinions because of the fear-mongering climate Voldemort had encouraged.

 

Even if the Prophet continued to slander him, Harry felt it was his duty to at least try to do something. It wasn’t in his nature to stand by when he could be out there making things happen.

 

It didn’t matter if his friends thought he was being idiotically selfless; Harry still wanted to help. A continuation of the Muggleborn Registration, under any guise, would only spell disaster. Any number of Death Eaters who were still at large could get access to that information with the simple use of the Imperius, and then Wizarding Britain would be thrown back to the horror of Voldemort’s rule.

 

Newly-elected Minister Burke had led his campaign with promises to return Wizarding Britain to its old ways, with promises that they would go back to a time of peace and prosperity, a time when magic and Muggle had been separate. Most people had been only too glad to hear something familiar; Kingsley’s promises of reform and change had fallen on deaf ears. People coming out of a war wanted stability, familiarity. Even if that meant they were submitting to an old, decrepit wizard who still held the belief that Muggles were lesser creatures.

 

Harry didn’t understand it. He could see their flawed reasoning, but he didn’t get it. Why couldn’t people exercise some critical thinking and see that they were putting their faith in the wrong person all over again? It was frustrating for Harry to be able to see the situation so clearly and still fail to convince other people of his point of view.

 

Countless times Harry had tried to give his opinion—before the press had started up their campaign against him again, he’d written letters (with Hermione’s help) to the Prophet. Some of his letters had been published purely because they were tied to his name. He’d even gotten some positive responses, but that was all he’d gotten: responses. No one was willing to actually do anything or stick their neck out to make a difference.

 

Harry often felt like it was just him and his friends against an ever-rising tide of antipathy and antagonism. A losing battle no matter what.

 

It was getting harder and harder to remember why he ought to be keeping his temper in check. What Harry really wanted to do was write a really scathing letter that just utterly destroyed all of the arguments people tried to use against him.

 

People who called him selfish? How about the time he’d tried to die at Voldemort’s hand so that everyone could be free?

 

People who said he was dark? The Patronus Charm was one of the purest light spells there was, and he’d cast it repeatedly.

 

People who thought he was power-hungry? He had quite literally turned down an offer to join the Ministry’s ranks, though he supposed people might say he was simply unsatisfied with the position of Junior Auror that they had offered him.

 

Harry was tired of being stereotyped, of having his reputation thrown around for the sake of other people getting a leg up on him. Fighting Voldemort had swallowed up his entire youth; his childhood to his teenage years, all of it had been lost to the war.

 

Never in his life had Harry asked to be lauded as a saviour, to bear the responsibility of being a hero. But he’d done it because it had been the right thing to do. He’d done it because even if there hadn’t been a prophecy he would have done whatever necessary to keep his friends and chosen family safe.

 

Harry would have given his life if it meant that the people he cared about could enjoy the rest of their days without fear of danger or retribution.

 

It was a choice he would still make now, if there was the option to do it.

 

Harry looked back down at the article. The mere idea of Hermione having to submit herself for inspection to a Ministry that had once wanted her dead made him sick to his stomach. He couldn’t allow it. He had to do something about it.

 

Kreacher came back into the room with Harry’s dinner. The smell of roast lamb and some steamed vegetables wafted towards Harry, and Harry was suddenly reminded that he’d forgotten to eat lunch at Diagon Alley, even though he’d told Kreacher he would.

 

Guiltily shoving the newspaper aside, Harry pulled out a fresh sheet of parchment. He would eat while he wrote. He wanted to get his words down on the page while he was still coherently angry enough to convey his thoughts properly.

 

Quill in hand, Harry started a list of all the points that he wanted to address, starting with what had happened on the day of the Battle of Hogwarts. He would talk about what had happened in his duel with Voldemort, leaving out as much about the Horcruxes as possible.

 

Once he explained himself, people would read it and then they would have to understand. Even though Harry didn’t particularly want to relive that day, perhaps the act of writing it down could also help give him some closure.

 

With his free hand, Harry absently stabbed at a piece of carrot, stuffed it into his mouth, and started chewing. If he didn’t eat, Kreacher would give him a look full of undisguised disappointment, and Harry wanted to avoid that if he could. Eating was important; he wouldn’t be able to focus properly on what he wanted to say if he was hungry.

 

After summarizing the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry would move on to discussing what Hermione had told him about the magical right of conquest stuff. He wasn’t some power-crazed maniac, he was just constantly being saddled with things he hadn’t asked for.

 

Although, maybe writing about how he’d absorbed some of Voldemort’s magical power wasn’t the best idea he’d ever had. Frowning, Harry cut himself a piece of lamb to eat. Perhaps he could outline that bit, and then leave it off later if he wanted to.

 

Harry continued writing throughout his meal. When he was finally finished—meal and letter both—he sat back in his chair. He felt drained. The act of putting his thoughts onto a page had been cathartic in a way, but reliving his experiences was far from comfortable.

 

Looking over the paragraphs he’d written, Harry decided that he would send this off for Hermione to read, and then he would go visit Luna and see about publishing it.

 


 

The next day, Hermione’s response came back mid-afternoon. She had approved. Somewhat. She had sent back Harry’s roll of parchment with red marks all over it. Harry had taken this in stride; years of Hermione helping him with his classwork had desensitized him from her criticisms, which were almost always valid and intended to be helpful.

 

After going through and making most of the corrections she’d suggested, Harry gave his letter a final readthrough. He felt as though he’d covered all the points he wanted to make, and he had written everything in such a way that everyone ought to be able to understand his point of view.

 

Hermione had also advised him to leave out the paragraph on magical conquest, stating that it would likely detract from the other points he was trying to emphasize. The focus ought to be on Voldemort: what he had done to the people of Wizarding Britain, and what would happen if they continued down the path that he had started.

 

Though Harry was nervous about publishing his writing, he believed this was the right thing to do. He had a duty to all the people who looked up to him. He had to protect them if he could. If that meant putting himself out there to prove a point, he would do it.

 

Gathering his things up, Harry tucked everything into a folder, which he placed into his rucksack. He would go and see Luna today. Waiting around did no one any good, and the longer he sat on this, the more likely he was to chicken out of it.

 

Harry told Kreacher he would be home in time for dinner, then Apparated directly to Ottery St. Catchpole. He had only been to Luna’s house a few times since the war. Once to help rebuild it, and a couple of times after that to visit Luna for tea.

 

Luna had chosen to forgo the rest of her Hogwarts education in favour of running the Quibbler. Her father, Xenophilius, had not been quite the same since his run-in with the Death Eaters. Quiet and subdued, he made for poor company, but Luna was determined to see her father’s return to the vibrant, quirky wizard he’d once been.

 

When Ottery St. Catchpole swirled into focus, Harry took a moment to gain his bearings, then pulled the Cloak of Invisibility on. He had no desire to be hounded by anyone today. He was here for two reasons: to see Luna and check in on her, and to hopefully have his letter published in the Quibbler.

 

Luna’s house was a short distance away from where he’d landed. Harry could see the shape of the giant chess rook a bit in the distance. Harry took his time approaching the fence, which had been broken even before the entire house had gotten blown apart, but now the fence was whole, and so Harry had to unlatch the gate in order to pass through.

 

Harry traversed the zig-zag path that led to the front door, his eyes wandering over the various oddities that were growing in the Lovegood’s garden. A tiny bush of Dirigible plums sat just under the windowsill next to the door.

 

Once he reached the door, Harry knocked twice and waited. The door swung open not a second later, revealing Luna, who was wearing a large smile on her face. She was wearing a pale blue dress patterned with moving clouds, and her hair was pulled up into large, stiff curls all over her head.

 

“Hello, Harry,” said Luna. “I thought you might be coming by soon.” She took a step back from the door; Harry noticed she was barefoot.

 

“Oh?” Harry said. “What made you think that?”

 

They walked into the kitchen. A pot of something was bubbling on the stovetop. A quick glance revealed a dark purple mixture that periodically hiccupped as they continued into the living room. Luna settled down into a rickety wooden chair, and so Harry also sat down, making sure to check that the seat was clear of things before he did so.

 

“Just a feeling. Your letters seemed to be leading up to it.”

 

Harry tried to recall what he’d written in his last letter to Luna. It had been maybe two weeks ago, which was before the entire mess with the strange invitation and the Notice-Me-Not Charm. “Right. I hope you don’t mind that I dropped by unannounced.” He hadn’t thought Luna would mind, and as she hadn’t replied to his last letter, he’d simply assumed she was too busy to talk to him.

 

“Oh no, it’s perfectly fine. Did you want some tea?”

 

“I’m fine, thanks. How’s your dad doing?”

 

Luna smiled. “Better than before. He’s taking a nap right now, but I think he might feel up to writing some articles soon. There’s a new variant on the Gurdyroot that I’ve been trying to tempt him with.”

 

“That’s really great,” Harry said. “I’m glad that he’s doing better.”

 

Luna only hummed in response. They sat there a moment, with Harry wondering if he ought to bring up the other reason for his visit, when the pot from the kitchen suddenly emitted a loud burping sound.

 

“Excuse me,” Luna said, “I should go check on that.”

 

“You go do that,” Harry agreed readily. “Erm, what is it, exactly?”

 

“Just a little experiment,” Luna said, standing up and drifting towards the kitchen.

 

That statement sounded a little worrisome, but Harry wanted to believe that Luna knew what she was doing. “It’s safe, right?”

 

“Of course it is,” Luna called back. Harry could hear the mixture hiccupping again, the noises now pitched like a baby’s squeal.

 

A minute passed and the sounds stopped. Luna returned to the living room, a plate of biscuits and two glasses of milk resting upon a tray in her arms. “Have something to eat, Harry.”

 

“Thanks.” Harry picked up a biscuit, examining it. The biscuit looked perfectly normal, so he took a hesitant bite. It tasted buttery, which was nice.

 

“Have you given any more thought as to what you want to do?” Luna asked.

 

That brought Harry up short. “I don’t really know,” Harry said. “I mean, I want to help people, but I’m not really sure how to do that when the Ministry is… the way that it is, you know? I guess I always thought that after the war, all the problems would just go away. But the problem it’s—it’s bigger than just Voldemort.”

 

“I think everyone expected you to become an Auror,” Luna said mildly. “But that’s not what you really wanted to do, was it?”

 

It was surprising to hear such a truthful statement about himself coming from someone else. Harry hadn’t expected to be read quite so thoroughly. “You’re right, honestly,” Harry said. “But I don’t know what I want, Luna. Being an Auror just felt like the proper thing to do at the time. At least, better than any of the other options. Plus,” he added, a smile curling his lips, “it really ticked off Umbridge.”

 

“You like to help people,” Luna said, nodding. “And you’re just not sure what the best way to do that is.”

 

“Actually,” Harry said, shifting his rucksack around, “there is something I wanted your help with, if that’s okay. Have you read the Daily Prophet lately? They’re bringing back the Muggleborn Registration.”

 

“I have.” Luna’s usual cheerful expression fell away; it was replaced by a somber, more serious one.

 

Harry pulled out his letter and handed it over to her. “I do want to do something about it,” he told her. “I was wondering if you’d be alright with publishing this for me.”

 

Luna took the parchment from him and began scanning the first page. “I trust you, Harry,” she said. “Of course I will.”

 

Harry drank his milk and helped himself to another biscuit while he waited for her to finish reading.

 

When she was done, she set the stack of papers on the table next to her, retrieving her wand. With a gentle tap of the tip of her wand, the pile of papers duplicated. She gathered up the papers and handed a copy back over to Harry. “I think it’s very brave,” she said. “What you’re doing. You don’t owe anyone any explanations, but you’re doing it anyways.”

 

Harry was relieved to hear her support. “Thanks, Luna.”

 

Luna’s eyes were still very serious as she pulled her own copy back onto her lap. “I will publish this for you if you want me to, Harry. But I only wonder if it will give you the results you want.”

 

“What do you mean?” Harry asked.

 

“I mean,” Luna said, “change is in the air, can you feel it? Wizarding Britain is about to shift into a new era. Things will only change for the better if the right person is leading us. You’re one of the few who are willing to take a stand for what is right, Harry, but I don’t think enough people are willing to follow you. They’re too fixated on the past, too afraid to move into the future.”

 

The pessimism felt harsher coming from Luna. Luna had always been willing to see the best in any situation, and now she was telling him that she thought his efforts would lead nowhere.

 

“So you don’t think I should do it?” he asked.

 

“What I think is irrelevant,” Luna said. “You have to do what’s right for you, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Your message is important; it comes from a place of goodness. And that is why people should hear it, even if they don’t understand why they need to.”