Chapter 81: Taboo Tradeoffs, Pt 3

In ris­ing half-cir­cles of dark stone, a great sea of up­raised hands.

The Lords and Ladies of the Wizeng­amot, in plum-col­ored robes marked with a silver ‘W’, stared down in stern re­buke at a young girl trem­bling in chains. If they had, in any par­tic­u­lar eth­i­cal sys­tem, damned them­selves, they clearly thought quite highly of them­selves for hav­ing done so.

Harry’s breath was trem­bling in his chest. His dark side had come up with a plan—and then ro­tated it­self back out again be­cause speak­ing too icily would not be to Hermione’s ad­van­tage; a fact which the only-half-cold Harry had some­how not re­al­ized...

“The vote car­ries, in fa­vor,” in­toned the sec­re­tary, when all the tal­ly­ing was done, and the up­raised hands fell back down. “The Wizeng­amot rec­og­nizes the blood debt owed by Hermione Granger to House Malfoy for the at­tempted mur­der of its scion and end­ing of its line.”

Lu­cius Malfoy was smil­ing in grim satis­fac­tion. “And now,” said the white-maned wiz­ard, “I say that her debt shall be paid—”

Harry clenched his fists be­neath the bench and shouted, “By the debt owed from House Malfoy to House Pot­ter!”

“Silence!” snapped the woman in too much pink makeup sit­ting next to Minister Fudge. “You’ve dis­rupted these pro­ceed­ings quite enough already! Aurors, es­cort him out!”

“Wait,” said Au­gusta Long­bot­tom from the top tier of seats. “What debt is this?”

Lu­cius’s hands whitened on his cane. “House Malfoy owes no debt to you!”

It wasn’t the world’s most solid hope, it was based on one news­pa­per ar­ti­cle from a woman who’d been False-Me­mory-Charmed, but Rita Skeeter had seemed to find it plau­si­ble, that Mr. Weasley had allegedly owed James Pot­ter a debt be­cause...

“I’m sur­prised you’ve for­got­ten,” Harry said evenly. “Surely it was a cruel and painful pe­riod of your life, la­bor­ing un­der the Im­perius curse of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, un­til you were freed of it by the efforts of House Pot­ter. By my mother, Lily Pot­ter, who died for it, and by my father, James Pot­ter, who died for it, and by me, of course.”

There was a brief silence within the Most An­cient Hall.

“Why, what an ex­cel­lent point, Mr. Pot­ter,” said the old witch who’d been iden­ti­fied as Madam Bones. “I, too, am quite sur­prised that Lord Malfoy would for­get such a sig­nifi­cant event. It must have been such a happy day for him.”

“Yes,” said Au­gusta Long­bot­tom. “He must have been so grate­ful.”

Madam Bones nod­ded. “House Malfoy could not pos­si­bly deny that debt—un­less, per­haps, Lord Malfoy is to tell us that he has mis­re­mem­bered some­thing? I should take quite a pro­fes­sional in­ter­est in that. We are always try­ing to im­prove our pic­ture of those dark days.”

Lu­cius Malfoy’s hands gripped the silver snake-han­dle of his cane like he was about to strike with it, un­leash what­ever power it kept -

Then the Lord Malfoy seemed to re­lax, and a chill smile came over his face. “Of course,” he said eas­ily. “I do con­fess I had not un­der­stood, but the child is quite cor­rect. But I do not quite think the two debts can­cel—House Pot­ter was only try­ing to save it­self, af­ter all—”

“Not so,” Dum­ble­dore said from above.

“—and there­fore,” in­toned Lu­cius Malfoy, “I de­mand mon­e­tary com­pen­sa­tion as well, for the re­demp­tion of the blood debt owed my son. That, too, is the law.”

Harry felt a strange in­ward flinch. That had also been in the news­pa­per ar­ti­cle, Mr. Weasley had de­manded an ad­di­tional ten thou­sand Galleons -

“How much?” said the Boy-Who-Lived.

Lu­cius was still wear­ing the cold smile. “One hun­dred thou­sand Galleons. If you have not that much in your vault, I sup­pose I must ac­cept a promis­sory note for the re­main­der.”

A roar of protest went up from Dum­ble­dore’s side of the room, even some of the plum-col­ored robes in the mid­dle looked shocked.

“Shall we put it to vote of the Wizeng­amot?” said Lu­cius Malfoy. “I think few of us would like to see the lit­tle mur­der­ess go free. By a show of hands, that ad­di­tional com­pen­sa­tion of one hun­dred thou­sand Galleons would be re­quired to can­cel the debt!”

The clerk be­gan tal­ly­ing, but that vote was also clear.

Harry stood there, breath­ing deeply.

You’d bet­ter not even have to think about this, Harry’s in­ner Gryffin­dor said threat­en­ingly.

It’s a ma­jor pur­chase, ob­served Raven­claw. We ought to spend a lot of time think­ing about it.

It shouldn’t have been hard. It shouldn’t have. Two mil­lion pounds was only money, and money was only worth what it could buy...

It was strange how much psy­cholog­i­cal at­tach­ment you could have to ‘only money’, or how painful it could be to imag­ine los­ing a bank vault full of gold that you hadn’t even imag­ined ex­isted just one year ear­lier.

Kim­ball Kin­ni­son wouldn’t hes­i­tate, said Gryffin­dor. Se­ri­ously. Like, snap de­ci­sion. What sort of hero are you? I already hate you just for hav­ing to think about it for longer than 50 mil­lisec­onds.

This is real life, said Raven­claw. Los­ing all your money is a lot more painful for real peo­ple in real life than in heroic books.

What? de­manded Gryffin­dor. Whose side are you on?

I wasn’t ad­vo­cat­ing for a par­tic­u­lar an­swer, said Raven­claw, I was just say­ing it be­cause it was true.

Could a hun­dred thou­sand Galleons be used to save more than one life if spent some other way? said Slytherin. We have re­search to do, bat­tles to fight, the differ­ence be­tween be­ing 40,000 Galleons rich and be­ing 60,000 Galleons in debt is not triv­ial -

So we’ll just use one of our ways to make money fast and earn it all back, said Hufflepuff.

It’s not cer­tain those will work, said Slytherin, and a lot of them re­quire start­ing cash -

Per­son­ally, said Gryffin­dor, I vote that we save Hermione and then gang up and kill our in­ner Slytherin.

The clerk’s voice said that the tally had been recorded and the vote had passed...

Harry’s lips opened.

“I ac­cept your offer,” said Harry’s lips, with­out any hes­i­ta­tion, with­out any de­ci­sion hav­ing been made; just as if the in­ter­nal de­bate had been pre­tense and illu­sion, the true con­trol­ler of the voice hav­ing been no part of it.

Lu­cius Malfoy’s mask of calm shat­tered, his eyes widened, he stared at Harry in sheer blank as­ton­ish­ment. His mouth had opened slightly, though he wasn’t speak­ing, and if he was mak­ing any pe­cu­liar noises it couldn’t be heard over the roar of si­mul­ta­neous gasps from the Wizeng­amot -

A tap of stone silenced the crowd.

“No,” said the voice of Dum­ble­dore.

Harry’s head jerked around to stare at the an­cient wiz­ard.

Dum­ble­dore’s lined face was pale, the silver beard was visi­bly trem­bling, he looked like he was in the fi­nal throes of a ter­mi­nal ill­ness. “I’m—sorry, Harry—but this choice is not yours—for I am still the guardian of your vault.”

What?” said Harry, too shocked to com­pose his re­ply.

“I can­not let you go into debt to Lu­cius Malfoy, Harry! I can­not! You do not know—you do not re­al­ize—”

DIE.

Harry didn’t even know which part of him­self had spo­ken, it might have been a unan­i­mous vote, the pure rage and fury pour­ing through him. For an in­stant he thought that the sheer force of the anger might take mag­i­cal wing and fly out to strike the Head­mas­ter, send him tum­bling back dead from the podium -

But when that men­tal voice had spo­ken, the old wiz­ard was still stand­ing there, gaz­ing at Harry, long dark wand in his right hand, short black rod in his left.

And Harry’s eyes also went to the red-golden bird with its claws rest­ing on the shoulder of Dum­ble­dore’s black robes, silent when no phoenix should have been silent. “Fawkes,” Harry said, his voice sound­ing strange in his own ears, “can you scream at him for me?”

The fiery bird on the old wiz­ard’s shoulder didn’t scream. Maybe the Wizeng­amot had de­manded that a spell of silence be put on the crea­ture, oth­er­wise it prob­a­bly would have been scream­ing the whole time. But Fawkes hit his mas­ter, one golden wing buf­fet­ing the old wiz­ard’s head.

“I can­not, Harry!” the old wiz­ard said, the agony clear in his voice. “I am do­ing as I must do!”

And Harry knew, then, as he looked at the red-golden bird, what he had to do as well. It should have been ob­vi­ous from the be­gin­ning, that solu­tion.

“Then I too will do what I must,” Harry said up to Dum­ble­dore, as though the two of them stood alone in the room. “You do re­al­ize that, don’t you?”

The old wiz­ard shook his trem­bling head. “You will change your mind when you are older—”

“I’m not talk­ing about that,” Harry said, his voice still strange in his own ears. “I mean that I will not al­low Hermione Granger to be eaten by De­men­tors un­der any cir­cum­stances. Pe­riod. Re­gard­less of what any law says, and no mat­ter what I have to do to stop it. Do I still need to spell it out?”

A strange male voice spoke from some­where far away, “Be sure that the girl is taken di­rectly to Azk­a­ban, and put un­der ex­tra guard.”

Harry waited, star­ing at the old wiz­ard, and then spoke again. “I will go to Azk­a­ban,” Harry said to the old wiz­ard, as though they stood alone in the world, “be­fore Hermione can be taken there, and start snap­ping my fingers. It may cost me my life, but by the time she gets there, there won’t be an Azk­a­ban any­more.”

Some mem­bers of the Wizeng­amot gasped in sur­prise.

Then a greater num­ber started laugh­ing.

“How would you even get there, lit­tle boy?” some­one said, from among those who were laugh­ing.

“I have my ways of go­ing places,” said the boy’s dis­tant voice. Harry kept his eyes on Dum­ble­dore, on the old wiz­ard star­ing at him in shock. Harry didn’t look di­rectly at Fawkes, didn’t give his plan away; but in his mind he pre­pared to sum­mon the phoenix to trans­port him, pre­pared to fill his mind with light and fury, to call for the fire-bird with all his might, he might have to do it upon the in­stant if Dum­ble­dore pointed his wand -

“Would you truly?” the old wiz­ard said to Harry, also as if the two of them stood alone in the room.

The room went silent again as ev­ery­one stared in shock at the Chief War­lock of the Wizeng­amot, who seemed to be tak­ing the mad threat com­pletely se­ri­ously.

The old wiz­ard’s eyes were locked only on Harry. “Would you risk ev­ery­thing—ev­ery­thing—only for her?”

“Yes,” Harry said back in re­ply.

That’s the wrong an­swer, you know, said Slytherin. Se­ri­ously.

But it’s the true an­swer.

“You will not see rea­son?” said the old wiz­ard.

“Ap­par­ently not,” Harry said back.

The gazes stayed locked.

“This is ter­rible folly,” said the old wiz­ard.

“I am aware of this,” an­swered the hero. “Now get out of my way.”

Strange light glinted in the an­cient blue eyes. “As you will, Harry Pot­ter, but know that this is not over.”

The rest of the world faded back into ex­is­tence.

“I with­draw my ob­jec­tion,” said the old wiz­ard, “Harry Pot­ter may do as he wishes,” and the Wizeng­amot ex­ploded in a roar of shock, only to be silenced by a fi­nal tap of the stone rod.

Harry turned his head back to look at Lord Malfoy, who looked like he’d seen a cat turn into a per­son and start eat­ing other cats. To call the look con­fused did not be­gin to de­scribe it.

“You would truly...” Lu­cius Malfoy said slowly. “You would truly pay a hun­dred thou­sand Galleons, to save one mud­blood girl.”

“I think there’s about forty thou­sand in my Gringotts vault,” Harry said. It was strange how that was still caus­ing more in­ter­nal pain than the thought of tak­ing an over-fifty-per­cent risk to his life to de­stroy Azk­a­ban. “As for the other sixty thou­sand—what are the rules, ex­actly?”

“It comes due when you grad­u­ate Hog­warts,” the old wiz­ard said from high above. “But Lord Malfoy has cer­tain rights over you be­fore then, I fear.”

Lu­cius Malfoy stood mo­tion­less, frown­ing down at Harry. “Who is she to you, then? What is she to you, that you would pay so much to keep her from harm?”

“My friend,” the boy said quietly.

Lu­cius Malfoy’s eyes nar­rowed. “By the re­port I re­ceived, you can­not cast the Pa­tronus Charm, and Dum­ble­dore knows this. The power of a sin­gle De­men­tor nearly kil­led you. You would not dare ven­ture near Azk­a­ban in your own per­son—”

“That was in Jan­uary,” said Harry. “This is April.”

Lu­cius Malfoy’s eyes re­mained cool and calcu­lat­ing. “You pre­tend you can de­stroy Azk­a­ban, and Dum­ble­dore pre­tends to be­lieve it.”

Harry did not re­ply.

The white-haired man turned slightly, to­ward the cen­ter of the half-cir­cle, as though to ad­dress the greater Wizeng­amot. “I with­draw my offer!” shouted the Lord of Malfoy. “I will not ac­cept the debt to House Pot­ter in pay­ment, not even for a hun­dred thou­sand Galleons! The girl’s blood debt to House Malfoy stands!”

Again the roar of many voices. “Dishon­or­able!” some­one cried. “You ac­knowl­edge the debt to House Pot­ter, and yet you would—” and then that voice cut off.

“I ac­knowl­edge the debt, but the law does not strictly oblige me to ac­cept it in can­cel­la­tion,” said Lord Malfoy with a grim smile. “The girl is no part of House Pot­ter; the debt I owe House Pot­ter is no debt to her. As for the dishonor—” Lu­cius Malfoy paused. “As for the grave shame I feel at my in­grat­i­tude to­ward the Pot­ters, who have done so much for me—” Lu­cius Malfoy bowed his head. “May my an­ces­tors for­give me.”

“Well, boy?” called the scarred man sit­ting at Lord Malfoy’s right hand. “Go and de­stroy Azk­a­ban, then!”

“I’d like to see that,” said an­other voice. “Will you be sel­l­ing tick­ets?”

It went with­out say­ing that Harry didn’t pick this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment to give up.

The girl is no part of House Pot­ter -

He had, in fact, seen the ob­vi­ous way out of the dilemma al­most in­stantly.

It might have taken him longer if he hadn’t re­cently over­heard a num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions be­tween older Raven­claw girls, and read a cer­tain num­ber of Quib­bler sto­ries.

He was, nonethe­less, hav­ing trou­ble ac­cept­ing it.

This is ridicu­lous, said a part of Harry which had just dubbed it­self the In­ter­nal Con­sis­tency Checker. Our ac­tions here are com­pletely in­co­her­ent. First you feel less emo­tional re­luc­tance to risk your bloody LIFE and prob­a­bly DIE for Hermione, than to part with a stupid heap of gold. And now you’re balk­ing just at get­ting mar­ried?

SYSTEM ERROR.

You know what? said In­ter­nal Con­sis­tency Checker. You’re stupid.

I didn’t say no, thought Harry. I was just say­ing SYSTEM ERROR.

I vote for de­stroy­ing Azk­a­ban, said Gryffin­dor. It needs to be done any­way.

Really, re­ally stupid, said In­ter­nal Con­sis­tency Checker. Oh, screw this, I’m as­sum­ing con­trol of our body.

The boy took a deep breath, and opened his mouth -

By this point Harry Pot­ter had en­tirely for­got­ten the ex­is­tence of Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall, who had been sit­ting there this whole time un­der­go­ing a num­ber of in­ter­est­ing changes of fa­cial ex­pres­sion which Harry had not been look­ing at be­cause he was dis­tracted. It would have been overly harsh to say that Harry had for­got­ten her be­cause he did not con­sider her a PC. It could be more kindly said that Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall was not visi­bly a solu­tion to any of his cur­rent prob­lems, and there­fore she was not part of the uni­verse.

So Harry, who at this point had a fair amount of adrenal­ine in his blood­stream, star­tled and jumped quite visi­bly when Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall, her eyes now blaz­ing with im­pos­si­ble hope and the tears on her cheek half-dried, leapt to her feet and cried, “With me, Mr. Pot­ter!” and, with­out wait­ing for a re­ply, tore down the stairs that led to the bot­tom plat­form where waited a chair of dark metal.

It took a mo­ment, but Harry ran af­ter; though it took him longer to reach the bot­tom, af­ter Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall vaulted half the stairs with a strange catlike mo­tion and landed with the as­ton­ished-look­ing Auror trio already point­ing their wands at her.

“Miss Granger!” cried Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall. “Can you speak yet?”

Much as with Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall, there was a cer­tain sense in which it could be said that Harry had for­got­ten about the ex­is­tence of Hermione Granger, be­cause Harry had been tilt­ing his neck back to look up­ward rather than down­ward, and be­cause he hadn’t con­sid­ered her a solu­tion to any of his cur­rent prob­lems. Though it was hardly cer­tain, in fact it wasn’t at all prob­a­ble, that Harry re­mem­ber­ing to look at Hermione or think about what she must be feel­ing, would have helped any­thing in the slight­est.

Harry reached the bot­tom of the stairs and saw Hermione Granger full on -

Without think­ing, with­out be­ing able to help him­self, Harry shut his eyes, but he’d seen.

Her school robes around her neck, soaked all the way through with tears.

The way she’d been look­ing away from him.

And the eye of mem­ory and sym­pa­thy, which could not be shut, which could not look away, knew that Hermione had re­counted the worst shame of her life in front of the no­bil­ity of mag­i­cal Bri­tain and Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall and Dum­ble­dore and Harry; and then been sen­tenced to Azk­a­ban where she would be ex­posed to dark­ness and cold and all her worst mem­o­ries un­til she went mad and died; and then she’d heard that Harry was go­ing to give away all his money and go into debt to save her, and maybe even sac­ri­fice his life

and with the De­men­tor stand­ing only a few paces be­hind her

she hadn’t said any­thing...

“Y-yes,” whispered the voice of Hermione Granger. “I c-can talk.”

Harry opened his eyes again and saw her face, now look­ing at him. It didn’t say any­thing like what he thought Hermione was feel­ing, faces couldn’t say any­thing that com­pli­cated, all fa­cial mus­cles could do was con­tort them­selves into knots.

“H-H-Harry, I-I’m so, I’m so—”

“Shut up,” Harry sug­gested.

“s-s-sorry—”

“If you’d never met me on the train you wouldn’t be in any trou­ble right now. So shut up,” said Harry Pot­ter.

“Both of you stop be­ing silly,” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall said in her firm Scot­tish ac­cent (it was strange how much that helped). “Mr. Pot­ter, hold out your wand so that Miss Granger’s fingers can touch it. Miss Granger, re­peat af­ter me. Upon my life and magic—”

Harry did as he was bid, thrust­ing his wand for­ward to touch Hermione’s fingers; and then Hermione’s fal­ter­ing voice said, “Upon my life and magic—”

“I swear ser­vice to the House of Pot­ter—” said Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall.

And Hermione, with­out wait­ing for any fur­ther in­struc­tions, said, the words spilling out of her in a rush, “I swear ser­vice to the House of Pot­ter, to obey its Master or Mistress, and stand at their right hand, and fight at their com­mand, and fol­low where they go, un­til the day I die.”

All those words had been blurted out in a des­per­ate gasp be­fore Harry could have thought or said any­thing, if he’d been mad enough to in­ter­rupt.

“Mr. Pot­ter, re­peat these words,” said Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall. “I, Harry, heir and last scion of the Pot­ters, ac­cept your ser­vice, un­til the end of the world and its magic.”

Harry took a breath and said, “I, Harry, heir and last scion of the Pot­ters, ac­cept your ser­vice, un­til the end of the world and its magic.”

“That’s it,” said Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall. “Well done.”

Harry looked up, and saw that the en­tire Wizeng­amot, whose ex­is­tence he’d for­got­ten, was star­ing at them.

And then Min­erva McGon­a­gall, who was Head of House Gryffin­dor even if she didn’t always act like it, looked up high above at where Lu­cius Malfoy stood; and she said to him be­fore the en­tire Wizeng­amot, “I re­gret ev­ery point I ever gave you in Trans­figu­ra­tion, you vile lit­tle worm.”

What­ever Lu­cius was about to say in re­ply was silenced by a tap of the short rod in Dum­ble­dore’s hand. “Ahem!” said the old wiz­ard from his podium of dark stone. “This ses­sion has car­ried on quite con­sid­er­ably, and if it is not dis­missed soon, some of us may miss their en­tire lun­cheon. The law of this mat­ter is clear. You have already voted on the terms of the bar­gain, and Lord Malfoy can­not legally de­cline it. As we have far ex­ceeded our al­lot­ted time, I now, in ac­cor­dance with the last de­ci­sion of the sur­vivors of the eighty-eighth Wizeng­amot, ad­journ this ses­sion.”

The old wiz­ard tapped the rod of dark stone three times.

“You fools!” shouted Lu­cius Malfoy. The white hair was shak­ing as though in a wind, the face be­neath was pale with fury. “Do you think you’ll get away with what you’ve done to­day? Do you think that girl can try to mur­der my son and es­cape un­scathed?”

The toad-like pink-makeup woman, whose name Harry could no longer re­mem­ber, was stand­ing up from her seat. “Why, of course not,” she said with a sick­en­ing smile. “After all, the girl is still a mur­der­ess, and I think the Ministry shall be watch­ing her af­fairs quite closely—it hardly seems wise that she should be al­lowed to wan­der the streets, af­ter all—”

Harry was fed up at this point.

Without wait­ing to listen, Harry turned on his heel and strode for­ward in long steps to­ward -

The hor­ror only he could truly see, the ab­sence of color and space, the wound in the world, above which floated a tat­tered cloak; most im­perfectly guarded by a run­ning moon­lit squir­rel and flut­ter­ing silver spar­row.

His dark side had also no­ticed, when it was look­ing through the en­tire room for any­thing that could pos­si­bly be used as a weapon, that the en­emy had been fool­ish enough to bring a De­men­tor into Harry’s pres­ence. That was a pow­er­ful weapon in­deed, and one that Harry might wield bet­ter than its sup­posed mas­ters. There had been a time in Azk­a­ban when Harry had told twelve De­men­tors to turn and go, and they had gone.

The De­men­tors are Death, and the Pa­tronus Charm works by think­ing about happy thoughts in­stead of Death.

If Harry’s the­ory was cor­rect, that one sen­tence would be all it took to pop the Aurors’ Pa­tronus Charms like a soap bub­ble, and en­sure that no­body within reach of his voice could cast an­other one.

I am go­ing to can­cel the Pa­tronus Charms and pre­vent any more Pa­tronuses from be­ing cast. And then my De­men­tor, fly­ing faster than any broom­stick, is go­ing to Kiss ev­ery­one here who voted to send a twelve-year-old girl to Azk­a­ban.

Say that, to set up the if-then ex­pec­ta­tion, and wait for peo­ple to un­der­stand and laugh. Then speak the fatal truth; and when the Aurors’ Pa­tronuses winked out to prove the point, ei­ther peo­ple’s an­ti­ci­pa­tions of the mind­less void, or Harry’s threat of its de­struc­tion, would make the De­men­tor obey. Those who had sought to com­pro­mise with the dark­ness would be con­sumed by it.

It was the other solu­tion his dark side had de­vised.

Ig­nor­ing the gasps ris­ing from be­hind him, Harry crossed the ra­dius of the Pa­tronuses, strode to a sin­gle pace from Death. Its un­hin­dered fear burst around him like a whirlpool, like step­ping next to the suck­ing drain of some huge bath­tub emp­ty­ing out its wa­ter; but with the false Pa­tronuses no longer ob­scur­ing the level on which they in­ter­acted, Harry could reach the De­men­tor even as it could reach him. Harry looked straight into the pul­ling vac­uum and -

the Earth among the stars

all his triumph at sav­ing Hermione

some­day the re­al­ity of which you are a shadow will cease to exist

Harry took all the silver emo­tion that fueled his Pa­tronus Charm and shoved it at the De­men­tor; and ex­pected Death’s shadow to flee from him -

- and as Harry did that, he flung his hands up and shouted “BOO!”

The void re­treated sharply away from Harry un­til it came up against the dark stone be­hind.

In the hall there was a deathly silence.

Harry turned his back on the empty void, and looked up at where the toad-woman stood. She was pale be­neath the pink makeup, her mouth open­ing and clos­ing like a fish.

“I make you this one offer,” said the Boy-Who-Lived. “I never learn that you’ve been in­terfer­ing with me or any of mine. And you never find out why the un­kil­lable soul-eat­ing mon­ster is scared of me. Now sit down and shut up.”

The toad-woman fell back down to her bench with­out a word.

Harry looked fur­ther up.

“A rid­dle, Lord Malfoy!” the Boy-Who-Lived shouted across the Most An­cient Hall. “I know you weren’t in Raven­claw, but try to an­swer this one any­way! What de­stroys Dark Lords, fright­ens De­men­tors, and owes you sixty thou­sand Galleons?”

For an in­stant Lord Malfoy stood there with eyes slightly widened; then his face fell back into calm scorn, and his voice spoke coolly in re­ply. “Are you openly threat­en­ing me, Mr. Pot­ter?”

“I’m not threat­en­ing you,” said the Boy-Who-Lived. “I’m scar­ing you. There’s a differ­ence.”

“Enough, Mr. Pot­ter,” said Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall. “We shall be late for af­ter­noon Trans­figu­ra­tion as it is. And do come back here, you’re still ter­rify­ing that poor De­men­tor.” She turned to the Aurors. “Mr. Kleiner, if you would!”

Harry strode back to them, as the Auror ad­dressed moved for­ward and pressed a short rod of dark metal to the dark metal chair, mut­ter­ing an inaudible word of dis­mis­sal.

The chains slith­ered back as smoothly as they had come forth; and Hermione pushed her­self out of the chair as fast as she could, and half-ran and half-stag­gered for­ward a few steps.

Harry held out his arms -

- and Hermione half-jumped half-fell into Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall’s arms, be­gin­ning to sob hys­ter­i­cally.

Hmpfh, said a voice in­side Harry. I kind of thought we’d earned that one our­selves.

Oh, shut up.

Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall was hold­ing Hermione so firmly that you might have thought it was a mother hold­ing her daugh­ter, or maybe grand­daugh­ter. After a few mo­ments Hermione’s sobs slowed, and then stopped. Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall sud­denly shifted her stance and grabbed onto her more tightly; the girl’s hands were dan­gling lim­ply, now, and her eyes were closed -

“She’ll be fine, Mr. Pot­ter,” Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall said softly in Harry’s di­rec­tion, with­out look­ing at him. “She just needs a few hours in one of Madam Pom­frey’s beds.”

“All right, then,” Harry said. “Let’s get her to Madam Pom­frey’s.”

“Yes,” said Dum­ble­dore, as he de­scended to the bot­tom of the dark stone stairs. “Let us all go home, in­deed.” His blue eyes were locked on Harry, as hard as sap­phires.


The Lords and Ladies of the Wizeng­amot are de­part­ing their wooden benches, leav­ing as they came, look­ing rather ner­vous.

The vast ma­jor­ity are think­ing ‘The De­men­tor was fright­ened of the Boy-Who-Lived!’

Some of the shrewder ones are already won­der­ing how this will af­fect the del­i­cate power bal­ance of the Wizeng­amot—if a new piece has ap­peared upon the game­board.

Al­most none are think­ing any­thing along the lines of ‘I won­der how he did that.’

This is the truth of the Wizeng­amot: Many are no­bles, many are wealthy mag­nates of busi­ness, a few came by their sta­tus in other ways. Some of them are stupid. Most are shrewd in the realms of busi­ness and poli­tics, but their shrewd­ness is cir­cum­scribed. Al­most none have walked the path of a pow­er­ful wiz­ard. They have not read through an­cient books, scru­ti­nized old scrolls, search­ing for truths too pow­er­ful to walk openly and dis­guised in co­nun­drums, hunt­ing for true magic among a hun­dred fan­tas­tic fairy tales. When they are not look­ing at a con­tract of debt, they aban­don what shrewd­ness they pos­sess and re­lax with some com­fortable non­sense. They be­lieve in the Deathly Hal­lows, but they also be­lieve that Mer­lin fought the dread To­toro and im­pris­oned the Ree. They know (be­cause that too is part of the stan­dard leg­end) that a pow­er­ful wiz­ard must learn to dis­t­in­guish the truth among a hun­dred plau­si­ble lies. But it has not oc­curred to them that they might do the same.

(Why not? Why, in­deed, would wiz­ards with enough sta­tus and wealth to turn their hands to al­most any en­deavor, choose to spend their lives fight­ing over lu­cra­tive mo­nop­o­lies on ink im­por­ta­tion? The Head­mas­ter of Hog­warts would hardly see the ques­tion; of course most peo­ple should not be pow­er­ful wiz­ards, just as most peo­ple should not be heroes. The Defense Pro­fes­sor could ex­plain at great and cyn­i­cal length why their am­bi­tions are so triv­ial; to him, too, there is no puz­zle. Only Harry Pot­ter, for all the books he has read, is un­able to un­der­stand; to the Boy-Who-Lived the life choices of the Lords and Ladies seem in­com­pre­hen­si­ble—not what a good per­son would do, nor yet an evil per­son ei­ther. Now which of the three is most wise?)

For what­ever rea­son, then, most of the Wizeng­amot has never walked the path that leads to pow­er­ful wiz­ardry; they do not seek out what is hid­den. For them, there is no why. There is no ex­pla­na­tion. There is no causal­ity. The Boy-Who-Lived, who was already halfway into the mag­is­terium of leg­end, has now been pro­moted all the way there; and it is a brute fact, sim­ple and un­ex­plained, that the Boy-Who-Lived fright­ens De­men­tors. Ten years ear­lier they were told that a one-year-old boy defeated the most ter­rible Dark Lord of their gen­er­a­tion, per­haps the most evil Dark Lord ever to live; and they just ac­cepted that too.

You are not meant to ques­tion that sort of thing (they know in some un­spo­ken way). If the most ter­rible Dark Lord in his­tory, con­fronts an in­no­cent baby—why, how could he not be van­quished? The rhythm of the play de­mands it. You are sup­posed to ap­plaud, not stand up from your seat in the au­di­ence and say ‘Why?’ It is just the story’s con­ceit, that in the end the Dark Lord is brought down by a lit­tle child; and if you are go­ing to ques­tion that, you might as well not at­tend the play in the first place.

It does not oc­cur to them to sec­ond-guess the ap­pli­ca­tion of such rea­son­ing to the events they have seen with their own eyes in the Most An­cient Hall. In­deed, they are not con­sciously aware that they are us­ing story-rea­son­ing on real life. As for scru­ti­niz­ing the Boy-Who-Lived with the same care­ful logic they would use on a poli­ti­cal al­li­ance or a busi­ness ar­range­ment—what brain would as­so­ci­ate to that, when a part of the leg­endary mag­is­terium is at hand?

But there are a very few, seated on those wooden benches, who do not think like this.

There are a cer­tain few of the Wizeng­amot who have read through half-dis­in­te­grated scrolls and listened to tales of things that hap­pened to some­one’s brother’s cousin, not for en­ter­tain­ment, but as part of a quest for power and truth. They have already marked the Night of Go­dric’s Hol­low, as re­ported by Albus Dum­ble­dore, as an anoma­lous and po­ten­tially im­por­tant event. They have won­dered why it hap­pened, if it did hap­pen; or if not, why Dum­ble­dore is ly­ing.

And when an eleven-year-old boy rises up and says “Lu­cius Malfoy” in that cold adult voice, and goes on to speak words one sim­ply would not ex­pect to hear from a first-year in Hog­warts, they do not al­low the fact to slip into the lawless blurs of leg­ends and the premises of plays.

They mark it as a clue.

They add it to the list.

This list is be­gin­ning to look some­what alarm­ing.

It doesn’t par­tic­u­larly help when the boy yells “BOO!” at a De­men­tor and the de­cay­ing corpse presses it­self flat against the op­po­site wall and its hor­rible ear-hurt­ing voice rasps, “Make him go away.