Chapter 2 : Magic Makes the Man

Publish Date: 14 March 2002

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, its characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to. I'm writing it purely for the satisfaction of it, and because several people warned me that there would be dire consequences if I didn't finish it. The resemblance of any character to an actual person is completely accidental. Please don't sue -- I don't own enough to make it worth your while.

Note: This is a Harry / Severus slash story -- and while their relationship is also accompanied by plot, action, and drama, if you seriously object to the slash element -- or to the particular pairing -- then don't read the story!


THE MIRROR OF MAYBE: Chapter 2
-- Magic Makes the Man --

Casually, Harry strolled away from his uncle's car. The last thing he wanted to do was attract attention to himself by running or looking furtive. Of course, in the wizarding world, avoiding unwanted attention would be impossible so long as his face -- whether disguised or not -- continued to display that notorious scar.

So, before he could do anything else, he had to deal with the mark on his forehead that Voldemort had so kindly bequeathed him.

The problem was, experience had taught him that the damned thing could not be hidden by magic. Even when he transformed into his animagus self, it was still there in the form of a stark white lightning-shaped patch of hair on his pelt. Glamours, and the usual cosmetic spells that witches used, also didn't work. It stubbornly continued to show no matter what.

Undercover work had been impossible for Harry until Robert -- Hermione's muggle boyfriend, and later, her muggle magician husband -- had pointed out to him that not everything needed a magical solution. After that, it had been simple.

Harry noted that his musings had now taken him well away from the car and his uncle. The freeze spell would be wearing off about now, and the thought of Vernon Dursley driving speedily away reminded Harry that it was time for him to go as well.

He looked around for a relatively private spot from which to apparate, idly wondering whether he should consider this some kind of symbolic moment -- the 'old' Harry Potter leaving his 'old' life behind. He decided not, since he wasn't really leaving anything but the Dursleys behind, and they had never been part of him any more than he'd been part of them.

//In fact,// Harry chuckled to himself, //give them twenty-four hours and I bet there won't be so much as a spot of ink on the floor to show I ever lived in that house.// But the thought didn't sadden him, since his heart had always belonged with Hogwarts -- and the castle itself would always welcome its 'special' children home.

The street he was on didn't have much available by way of places to apparate from -- at least not without alarming the Muggles -- but the next street over had a gnarled and venerable old tree growing a few feet away from a seven-foot-high brick wall. It wasn't perfect, but it would do, and as Harry carefully picked his way over the broken and root-riddled pavement, he unobtrusively walked between the large tree trunk and the dirty red-brown wall... and vanished.

----oo00oo----

Seconds later, Harry emerged from an alleyway not too far from an old and well-established shopping district. It wasn't anywhere near central London -- the risk of being spotted by a wizard or witch would have been much higher there -- but it was old enough that Harry had been fairly confident it was still here, even thirteen years in the past... or present. Whatever.

He picked out a likely looking store, entered, and went straight to the directory board. //Bingo,// he grinned to himself, //They have exactly what I'm looking for...//, and then he went off to find the cosmetics department.

----oo00oo----

"Excuse me, miss," Harry said politely to the young lady behind the counter. "Could you help me, please?"

"Of course, sir," she smiled. "Which department are you looking for?"

Harry pretended embarrassment. "Uh... this one... actually." The smile became a surprised look -- you didn't often find young men looking for the cosmetics department. "Erm... well... you see," Harry stuttered, "my sister's got this really gross pimple, like, you know -- right here," and he pointed to his nose. "She won't even leave the house! So, anyway... she, um... she sent me to buy something that would.. you know, hide it."

Now the woman smiled knowingly -- such a nice boy, to be helping out his sister like this. Her brothers would have laughed and poked fun at her when they'd been that age. "All right then," she replied, "Do you know which brand and type of makeup she wants?"

"Um... not really."

The woman frowned. "Oh, dear." she said, "without knowing that, I'd have to see what type of skin she has -- colouring and so on -- before I'd feel right selling you anything. I'm afraid some of the better makeups are a bit too expensive to try guessing."

"No problem," Harry grinned, "We're twins you see. I have the exact same skin -- and Mary said if you had anything that could hide this," and Harry lifted his hair to display his scar, "then that was good enough for her."

"Well then," the lady replied -- all smiles again -- "Why don't you come right this way and have a seat?"

Some forty minutes later, Harry emerged from the department store sans visible scar and somewhat poorer than when he'd gone in. The makeup had been moderately expensive, but since the only other thing Harry intended to spend Dursley's money on was food (and coffee), he really didn't care.

But business had to come before coffee -- so Harry quickly found another vacant alleyway and apparated the moment he was out of sight. Even if somebody had been following him -- which was doubtful -- they would have lost him then and there.

He reappeared moments later -- this time at Heathrow Airport. Few wizards or witches -- if any -- travelled by aeroplane, so this was one of the last places he was likely to be recognised -- especially now that his scar was well hidden.

He made his way down the busy rows of shops and eateries until he found a set of public toilets. He murmured a short spell to take care of any nearby security cameras, and then pushed through the door into the men's room.

As with any public facility at a busy place like Heathrow, the turnover of people coming and going was very high. For Harry, this meant that when he entered one of the stalls, all he had to do was wait a few minutes, and nobody who had seen him go in would be there to see him come out. Thus, nobody would know or care if the boy who entered the stall didn't look a thing like the man who left it.

It was time for Harry to give himself a total makeover -- wizard-style!

----oo00oo----

Harry stood in the stall, facing the door and closed his eyes. What he was about to do wasn't all that difficult -- you just had to pay attention to the details.

The disguise he had chosen was in three parts -- the first part was a spell that would alter his appearance, while the second part would be the one to correct his eyesight. The third and final part would then be the spell that modified his voice.

However, it was the first part that would require the most effort.

The first spell -- like his overall disguise -- also came in three parts, and would protect him from three different means of identification, those being: sight, touch, and magic. Thus, the first stage of the spell would create a detailed illusion, while the second would support that illusion by providing tactile feedback. Then the last part would provide immunity to anti-glamour magic and other prying enchantments.

Unfortunately, the last part was also based on a rather peculiar bit of magic that could not be used to create a false appearance. In fact, the only thing you could do with it was provide anti-glamour protection for an illusion that mimicked reality -- which was rather pointless, really. Or so Harry had always assumed up until the day that he and several other high-level operatives were informed by their commander that someone had finally come up with a way to get around the problem. Not long after that, each one of them had been taught exactly how to go about creating a disguise that was completely immune to magical detection.

Which was exactly the sort of disguise Harry needed now.

"So..." he breathed softly, "time to give myself a new look."

Carefully, he imagined every detail of the features he wanted, and -- holding the image firmly in his mind -- quietly began murmuring the first part of the spell.

Harry had learned this technique under Hermione's exacting tutelage and could distinctly remember her telling him that the solution to the anti-glamour problem had been "so simple I'm ashamed I didn't think of it myself!" At the time this had not reassured him since Hermione's definition of 'simple' was not quite the same as his -- or most people's for that matter. But surprisingly, it had been fairly simple and he'd subsequently performed the spell several times in the field by himself.

This time was no different, and the first part of the spell flowed smoothly off his tongue just as it had for him in the Mirror.

The whispered words quickly altered the way light was reflected from the contours of his face and Harry knew that if he were to stop now, with only this much of the spell done, he would already look different.

This fragment of the spell was fairly common, as it was also the scrap of magic upon which most cosmetic spells were based. However, anyone who laid a hand against his cheek would immediately know that what they were seeing was not the reality.

Which meant it was time for Harry to add the second part of the enchantment -- the words that would allow his disguise to fool even a hand on his cheek.

With the same care he'd used before, Harry quietly murmured the words.

Now the spell would also mimic the physical sensations of his new appearance -- and would, incidentally, also allow him to shave his new face without fear of needing a blood transfusion afterwards. In essence, this clever bit of magic translated the sensations from his real skin into the equivalent sensation on the new, magical 'skin'. It would make his new face 'feel' real -- even to him.

Harry opened his eyes, and ran his hands over a stranger's face -- now his own. Everything felt the way it should, and he could tell that the second part of the spell was settling in with easy familiarity. He would, of course, check himself over very carefully in the mirror before leaving the men's room -- it didn't pay to be overconfident, and the only reason he'd chosen a Heathrow toilet instead of a remote mountaintop, was because he needed a convenient mirror to perform that final check.

Absently, he scratched at the stubble on his re-shaped jaw and reflected that at this point only an anti-glamour spell would reveal his true features. But that wasn't good enough. He needed the disguise to be foolproof, even against that.

The next bit of the incantation was meant to 'graft' the finished illusion onto his body so that it actually became part of him, like an arm or a leg. And since all anti-glamour magic assumed that disguising spells were not inherently part of whatever they were attached to, then none of them would work against the complete version of the spell that Harry was using.

But in order to successfully attach itself to him, the third part of the enchantment had to have access to Harry's magic down at the level where his power became inherently interwoven with his physical self -- and that was a level well below anything Harry could consciously control.

However, it was not out of reach for his sub-conscious.

And that was where the problem started.

Somehow Harry had to create a link between the disguise spell and his subconscious mind so that the spell would have control over his body's low-level physical and magical attributes. Then the magic would be able to successfully graft itself onto him, while at the same time subtly influencing his body to accept the illusion as something that was supposed to be part of him.

In theory there were two different ways he could create such a link. But in practice, only one of them was both safe and reliable.

The first option was to use a potion or secondary spell to create the link. But past experiments (mostly by Dark wizards and witches) had all resulted in various degrees of mental damage, physical deformity, and/or loss of magical ability. This was not surprising, since nobody really understood how the subconscious mind worked, and it was anybody's guess as to how a secondary spell or potion would interact with an enchantment that affected your physical and magical body on such a fundamental level. If you then added in the fact that most potions eventually wore off, and a secondary spell could be cancelled using 'Finite Incantatum'... well, it was generally agreed that this method of creating subconscious links was a complete waste of time.

The other way you could do it was by tricking your subconscious into believing that the disguise spell was already part of your body before you cast the anti-glamour section of the spell. That subliminal belief that the illusion was supposed to be there was enough to open a natural link between the magic and the mind. It didn't matter if your conscious mind knew the illusion wasn't real -- just so long as your sub-conscious was willing to accept it.

Thus, if Harry used the first two parts of the spell to create an illusion that mimicked something he expected to see on his body, then the anti-glamour protection would work perfectly.

But of course Harry's new face looked nothing like his real one, and the chance of convincing his subconscious to believe otherwise was virtually nil. It might've been possible with a spell or potion, but the same problems that made them a bad idea for creating subconscious links also made them a bad idea in this situation -- and Harry wasn't about to let some researcher go mucking about in his subconscious unless they could honestly say they knew exactly what they were doing.

At one point, someone had even suggested using muggle hypnosis. But that hadn't worked either since most of their operatives (including Harry) were not trusting enough to relax and accept a stranger's voice telling them what to do or think. Personally, Harry thought the researchers should've known that people who were strong-willed enough to fight off 'Imperio' were never going to be make good hypnosis subjects.

And so, in the end, the anti-glamour section of the disguise spell still wouldn't work on an actual disguise.

This explained why the spell's final section was generally regarded as a useless curiosity. In the present time period, where all three parts of the spell could easily be found in any good wizarding library, few people even bothered to remember that there was a third part to it.

//But necessity is the mother of invention,// Harry grimly reminded himself. It was amazing what people could come up with when they had to stay one step ahead of an enemy -- and the innovative way he was about to use the spell actually turned its weakness into its greatest strength.

In order to get around the problem, Harry was simply going to abandon the current spell without even trying to cast the final section. Then he would re-cast the entire spell -- with all three parts -- for a completely different illusion: one that his subconscious would accept. Once the second illusion was finished, all Harry had to do was tie in the first one so that it was sharing the second spell's anti-glamour protection. That way both spells would be complete, but the second spell would be dominant: overlaying the first one and compensating for its weakness.

//Such a simple idea,// Harry mused. //And yet, it was such a revolutionary concept.// It had certainly managed to keep him one step ahead of the Death Eaters during his time in the Mirror. Now it would serve to keep him one step ahead of Dumbledore and the rest of the wizarding world.

Providing, of course, that he stopped daydreaming and got on with it.

To complete the full version of the spell, Harry knew he could have picked pretty much any feature he liked -- other wizards he'd worked with had used moles, or freckle patterns -- layering the fake features directly over the top of the real ones. Harry could have done that too, but instead, he decided to put back the many scars he remembered acquiring during his years in the mirror.

His shock the previous night upon not seeing those scars, told Harry that his subconscious mind wouldn't have a problem believing the scars were supposed to be there. As well, he knew that a few old wounds would fit well with people's expectations of a War Mage, and several of the scars would be easily visible when he was wearing his habitual workout attire of loose shorts and t-shirt. There might also come a time when he would need the odd one or two truly scary scars to convince a young 'gung-ho' wizard that: "Yes -- you can be seriously hurt, or even killed, especially if you think fighting a battle is 'glorious' or 'exciting'".

It would, incidentally, also put a stop to that ridiculously surprised look on his face when he next caught sight of his body in a bathroom mirror.

He debated with himself about whether to add his tattoos to the spell, but eventually decided that for once, he was going to allow himself the luxury of a purely emotional decision. He wanted his tattoos to be real, dammit -- even if he had to wait a few days to have them put back.

That decided, Harry carefully envisaged the map of hard-lived experience that had once marked his body, and then repeated the first two parts of the spell. He felt the magic take hold, and quickly pulled up his shirt to run one hand over a particularly nasty wound he remembered taking some years ago. It was easily visible, and felt completely real to the touch. //But I sure won't miss the way it used to pull at me,// he reflected -- the one good thing about having scars that weren't real was that he wouldn't feel them when he was working out.

//All right then,// he thought, //back to business -- let's finish it.// and he closed his eyes for a third time.

Quietly, and with great care, Harry whispered the precise and complicated wording that made up the third and final part of the disguising spell. He felt a connection within his mind, and after allowing it to settle for a few moments, mentally 'pushed' at it to see whether everything was working. Sure enough, he felt all the scars tingle for an instant -- which told him the spell had been successful.

It had all worked perfectly.

The complete version of the spell was now layered over the top of the first one, and Harry quickly linked the two together, forcing the more powerful second instance of the spell to extend its protection over the weaker one.

Now his appearance would hold up under the most forceful revealing charms. And since his disguise had, in effect, literally become part of him, even 'Finite Incantatum' would be useless against it. Anyone casting that particular spell would no more be able to end his disguise than if they had pointed their wand at a unicorn and expected it to turn into a horse.

Now all that was left to do was correct his eyesight, and alter his voice.

His eyes took a bit of fiddling to get right, and he would have to test his long distance vision once he was outside, but Harry judged it well worth the effort since he no longer needed glasses, and his new eyesight was just as immune to 'Finite Incantatum' as his new face. In effect, he'd used magic to make physical changes in the eyeballs and the surrounding muscles. Then, once those changes were complete, he'd simply ended the spell himself. Over time, as his vision deteriorated with age, he could either go back to wearing glasses, or he could use the spell again until he was too old for his eyes to accept any more adjustments.

He found it odd, however, that it was actually easier to make physical changes to his eyesight, than it was to cast the disguising spell.

He'd once asked Poppy why, if this was the case, he couldn't simply alter his real face and forego the bother of a disguise at all. Poppy had tried to explain it, but all he could remember was something about fiddling with unknown bits of his genetic code, and potentially serious side effects.

Apparently his eyesight was only easy to adjust because some horrifically short-sighted fellow had once worked out all the tedious details for actually doing it, and had then condensed all that work down into the tried and true spell that was now commonly used all over the world.

Harry had then asked about growing bones back, and being an animagus, and ton-tongue toffees, and...

"Ash, my dear," Poppy had calmly interrupted, "you're an excellent War Mage -- for which we're all very grateful. But you make a terrible patient when you're wounded, and I think it's safe to say that on some level at least, you and the medical field are completely incompatible."

It had taken a minute for Harry to work out that Poppy had pretty much told him to stop asking questions because he didn't have a hope in hell of understanding the answers.

What impressed him was that she'd done it so politely.

Smiling at the fond memory, Harry found himself staring down at his hands and the little bit of wire and glass cradled within them. He could recall seeing them on his dresser at Hogwarts -- uselessly gathering dust. Yet he'd been loathe to throw them away, and content to blow the dust off and occasionally hold them -- just as he was doing now. Such a small reminder -- yet they spoke so eloquently of a time in his life when bad eyesight wasn't a weakness too dangerous to allow.

Gently, he folded them closed and tucked them away in his pocket.

One day they would decorate his dresser again.

But for now, he had one last spell to complete -- and this one was the only part of his overall disguise that was susceptible to 'Finite Incantatum'. Fortunately, it was also the most simple one to cast, and the least obvious should it fail.

After the effort of the first two spells, reciting the words that lowered his voice, was almost too easy.

----oo00oo----

Less than ten minutes after a teenaged Harry Potter entered an anonymous stall in a Heathrow men's room, a very different and much older man walked out.

Casually, Harry made his way over to one of the sinks and washed his hands. At the same time, he very carefully scrutinised his new face in the mirror. The man whose reflection stared back at him appeared to be in his late twenties with non-descript features that looked nothing like Harry's own. Each attribute -- nose, ears, cheekbones, chin, and jaw -- was significantly different from the original, but without being so unique as to appear startling or unusually memorable.

His jaw was more square than it had been -- but not so angular that he looked like a poster boy for the military -- and his new cheekbones were both lower and wider. Although his hair -- now brown instead of black -- was short enough not to be a liability in close combat, he still retained the medium-length fringe as an additional means of covering up the scar on his forehead.

But it was his eyes that reflected the most striking change.

Green eyes were rare enough that Harry could not afford to retain his natural eye-colour. So now his irises were a rich deep brown that almost bordered on black. He had deliberately selected brown because it was so common -- and had chosen such a dark shade because it would assist him in hiding his thoughts and emotions. The dark hue allowed his irises to blend in with their black centres, making it hard to see any dilation or contraction of the pupils.

And finally, he had also changed the shape of his eyes so that they were a little wider, with a slight downturn at the outside of the right-hand one. He had very carefully pictured the tiny difference -- as he'd also done with his ears, cheeks, and eyebrows -- since a few variations from one side to the other made the overall face look a lot more natural.

Nobody's face was ever truly symmetrical.

Eventually, Harry determined that he was satisfied with his new look and moved away towards the exit.

If anybody had been watching him make his detailed inspection, they might have wondered about the careful scrutiny Harry gave himself in the mirror. But as it was -- with the security cameras disabled, and given the nature of public toilets where people paid scant attention and didn't stay long -- there was nobody who noticed, and quite frankly, nobody who cared.

----oo00oo----

Harry now felt far more relaxed about being seen in public. The muggle makeup was doing an excellent job of hiding his scar, and the spells he'd cast were taking care of the rest.

His next order of business was a very simple one -- he was hungry and he wanted lunch.

He unlocked an out-of-the-way airport cleaner's closet with a touch of magic, and once inside, re-locked it before apparating yet again -- this time to central London. He wandered around until he located an eatery that didn't look too expensive, and then proceeded to treat himself to a lavish lunch -- with bottomless coffee.

He read through a couple of muggle newspapers, lingered over dessert, and thought about his next move. The money he'd taken from Dursley was nearly all gone, but the next stage of his plan should make him wealthy enough to last an ordinary wizard half a lifetime. Unfortunately, the plans he would need to put into action after he established himself at Hogwarts, were likely to be very expensive.

Still, the day wasn't getting any younger...

...he needed to see a goblin about some gold.

----oo00oo----

Standing in Gringotts' impressive entry hall, Harry was somewhat aware of his very casual appearance. He couldn't wear his Hogwarts robes, of course, so that left him head-to-toe in muggle shoes, jeans, and shirt. He knew he looked a bit out-of-place, but it couldn't be helped, and in this instance it didn't matter, as he was about to put into practice the old saying that it isn't what you know (or in his case what you looked like), but who you know.

He approached a counter with no one in front of it, and smiled at the goblin, who eyed him distastefully in return.

"Good afternoon," he said calmly, "I'd like to speak to Guilder Gringott, please."

The goblin looked shocked.

"How... you..."

"How did I know the name of the goblin who runs this branch -- the Head Office, by the way -- of the entire Gringotts banking consortium?"

The goblin before him blinked at the confirmation that Harry really did know exactly who he wanted to speak to. Nobody outside the bank was supposed to know the name of any goblin above a certain security level. The policy of blanket anonymity seriously cut down on kidnappings, extortion, and people begging for money or favours.

Harry allowed the corner of his mouth to twitch upwards with amusement. "Sorry... can't tell you," he said, then added, "But I would be much obliged if you'd pass me up the chain of command to your supervisor. It's not you I really want to speak to, and we both know you don't have the authority to deal with the situation I've just created."

After a brief internal debate, the goblin said, "Please wait here," and scurried off to get his supervisor.

A few minutes later, an older and more elegantly tailored goblin appeared with the younger one trailing in his wake. After apparently sizing Harry up for potential threat, the senior goblin offered him the opening: "You have some business with the bank, I understand."

"Indeed," Harry agreed, "but not, I think, business that should be conducted on the main floor."

There was a moment's silence while each side considered the other. The younger goblin shuffled nervously.

"Would my office do?" the supervisor offered at last.

"Perfectly," Harry agreed.

----oo00oo----

Once they were alone in his office, the supervisor took a seat at his desk and waved Harry into the chair on the other side.

Harry sat down, and waited.

Knowing vastly more about goblin etiquette than he had the first time he'd come to Gringotts, he now knew that the goblin -- having invited Harry into his office -- was presently obligated by his own customs to either wait until Harry spoke, or offer Harry his name.

If Harry spoke first, then the goblin would not be compelled to treat him as anything more than an annoying and potentially dangerous member of the public. If they exchanged names, then Harry would automatically gain a certain level of respect, and the supervisor sitting across from him would have to acknowledge that Harry was now his problem and couldn't be palmed off onto somebody else.

There was no doubt in Harry's mind that the goblin was waiting for him to make some kind of threat against Guilder Gringott, or the bank itself -- at which point the bank's private security would rush in, the Aurors would be summoned, and he would be one step away from being thrown into Azkaban.

The bank had never dealt kindly with extortion.

Unfortunately for the supervisor, Harry wasn't here for extortion, and wasn't about to speak first.

The silence stretched.

"Grabble Twovaults," the goblin finally said in a sour tone.

"War Mage Ash," Harry replied, and then had the distinct pleasure of seeing the goblin gape at him like a stranded fish. Although, with a mouth the size and shape of a goblin's, he looked rather more like an attacking shark.

The shocked goblin quickly got himself under control, at which point they did the inevitable dance back and forth about the fact that War Mages no longer existed, and how could 'Ash' possibly expect anyone to believe such an outlandish claim.

Ultimately, Harry ended the argument by deciding he wasn't going to get any further up the management ladder unless he laid all his cards on the table.

"Look," he said with a certain amount of frustration, "I'm here to make the bank a one-time-only offer for a single spell that will significantly increase the bank's chances of survival against Voldemort's forces."

Aside from the double-take that speaking Voldemort's name caused, Grabble's whole demeanour relaxed into one of easy competence as soon as he realised that Harry had just placed the conversation on a purely business footing. This was something the goblin knew how to deal with.

"Why would You-Know-Who attack the bank?" he scoffed.

Bluntly, Harry asked, "What would happen to the wizarding world if Gringotts' Head Office was destroyed -- and access to every vault underneath it was cut off for an indeterminate length of time?"

The goblin visibly paled.

"Exactly," Harry agreed. "It would destroy the magical British financial system, as well as severely cripple the rest of the consortium's branches across the world. There would be panic in the streets -- trade and commerce would fall apart -- not to mention the loss of faith that would occur in Gringotts as a secure institution. It would be a world-wide disaster from which the bank might never recover." Harry paused to let that sink in.

"But when you think about it," he added lightly -- just to grind the point home, "it's almost guaranteed that the bank wouldn't recover -- because Voldemort doesn't like goblins any more than he likes muggles, and the mass hysteria and confusion that would follow in the wake of the bank's collapse would be the perfect opportunity for his forces to march in and take over."

Then Harry added the final twist: "Of course, he'd probably need some kind of bank to finance his new world order -- so if you're very lucky, he might let Gringotts survive ...run by his Death Eaters, of course."

Grabble was actually shaking.

"Are you sure you don't want me to perform that spell?" Harry asked. "I mean... if I could figure this out, then you know it's only a matter of time before one of Voldemort's bright little Death Munchers does too... and after that... well..." Harry spread his hands to indicate that by then it would be much too late.

"Excuse me," Gabble's voice held quavering undertones. The shaky goblin went over to one side of his office where his unsteady hands nearly spilled a glass of water all over the expensive carpet. He returned to his desk and proceeded to drop some kind of tablet into the glass. It fizzed and burbled, and once the tablet was gone, Gabble gulped the whole thing straight down.

After that, he seemed somewhat calmer.

"Well," he began, "...erm... 'War Mage'... admitting that we may need to look at strengthening our defences -- why should the bank hire you when we have some of the finest offensive and defensive wizards and witches -- as well as the best curse-breakers in the world -- already on our payroll?"

"Because," Harry told him, "the only way you're going to survive what Voldemort can throw at you is if an extremely complex and powerful defensive spell is tied in to the Foundation Stone at the heart of the bank." Harry paused. "You do know what the Foundation Stone is, don't you?"

Five minutes later Harry was sitting in the Managing Director's office, facing Guilder Gringott himself.

----oo00oo----

"~May you prosper in your business~," Harry said in passable goblin to the ancient wizened-up being in front of him. He wasn't going to play etiquette games now that he was finally talking to the person he'd come to see. It was strange, though, to be sitting across from someone he'd never met, but whose memorial service he had attended.

"~And may our business together also be profitable~," replied Guilder Gringott. It was obvious the old goblin hadn't expected a human to know the traditional phrase used to open important business negotiations. Courtesy indicated that Harry should now wait for his host to dictate the tone of their discussion.

"You claim you are a War Mage," Gringott stated in the human tongue.

The elderly goblin had obviously decided to take Harry very seriously indeed -- social chitchat would be non-existent. "What I claim," Harry replied calmly, "is irrelevant, except in as much as it indicates my ability to perform the spell I have offered."

"Hmm, yes -- so it is." Sharp eyes weighed him carefully. "A spell you say must be linked to our Foundation Stone. May I ask how you come to know so much about what is purely goblin magic?"

"You may ask," Harry smiled briefly, "but I will not tell you. However, I assure you that I do know what I would be doing, both with the spell and with the Stone."

"The fact that you even know of the Stone's existence, tells me that this is very likely."

"May I make an offer?" Harry asked formally.

"Please," the curious goblin agreed.

"I will perform the spell this evening -- after the bank closes -- and in return the bank will arrange for me to have three free nights' lodging -- with dinner and breakfast included -- at the Leaky Cauldron." Harry steepled his hands in front of his body. "You may then use the entire weekend to have anyone you wish examine the spell and try to duplicate it; nullify it; or break it. If, after that, you decide not to pay me for my services, you will then grant me access to the Stone on Monday morning so that I can remove the spell, and we will part company with no further obligation on either side."

Harry went on to finish with, "If, however, you decide to keep the spell, then you will pay me the sum I require -- in gold -- into a vault here at your bank."

"And the amount the bank would be required to pay is...?"

Harry reached for parchment and quill on the old goblin's desk. He wrote a figure on it and passed it across.

There were several zeros on the end of it.

Gringott's eyes narrowed. "You must think we're made of gold!"

"The price will be significantly higher if you come to me after this offer expires -- and no amount of gold in the world will help you if you wait until after Voldemort has come and gone."

Gringott considered it. "We can have anyone examine the spell...?"

"For two days and three nights," Harry agreed, "and if you decide not to go ahead with it, you'll only be out of pocket for the cost of three nights' room and board."

"What stops the bank from keeping the spell by refusing to allow you further access to the Stone?"

"If you don't pay, you mean?"

Gringott nodded.

Harry pursed his lips. "Would the fact that I had successfully cast the spell be sufficient proof for the bank that I really am a War Mage?"

Gringott inclined his head in agreement.

"Would you really want Voldemort and a War Mage after your blood?"

----oo00oo----

It was a completely exhausted Harry Potter, with one hell of a concentration headache, who collapsed onto his bed at the Leaky Cauldron later that night. //God,// he thought, //I don't think I can move. I'll never make it down to dinner -- think I'll just lie here and starve to death.//

The Foundation Stone for a goblin business was literally the stone upon which the business was built -- both physically and magically. As the business grew in size and complexity, so too did the stone's power, and the number of spells it could sustain.

The Gringotts Foundation Stone was a pivotal node through which the bank's business was channelled and directed. Every branch of the bank had a lesser Stone embedded somewhere within its walls -- and much of the bank's communication streams -- both financial and general -- were channelled through the resulting network of Stones. Indeed, Harry knew that all goblin businesses used Foundation Stones -- and that the bank connected directly with the Stones of most of its goblin-owned clients.

But the Stone here in London was the main one for the entire Gringotts consortium -- and the sheer number and complexity of the spells flowing through it was beyond comprehension. Fortunately, he didn't need to comprehend it to work with it.

Actually, he didn't really need to work with most of it either -- which was a good thing since a very powerful goblin wizard had been called in to seal off the majority of the Stone's functions. They were taking no chances with the possibility that he might try to sabotage the Stone. But even so, Harry knew there'd been a lot of tension over the fact that the bank was letting an unknown mage anywhere near it.

It still didn't matter -- he'd had sufficient access for what he needed to do.

It had taken him just under three hours to complete the spell, and he'd had to stop and rest four times over the course of it. It wasn't so much that the spell took a long time to recite, as it was a matter of working out exactly which words to use. Unfortunately for Harry, the spell changed depending on the circumstances under which it was cast.

Goblin magic surpassed all others when it came to communication, finances, and other business-related applications, but it was woefully inadequate for anything offensive or defensive. This was why Gringotts employed human wizards and witches for skills relating to curse-breaking, defensive magic, and offensive active security.

As it was, Harry was pretty sure that right this second, Gringotts had dozens of goblin wizards huddled over their Stone, trying to figure out what he'd done. They would all be assuming that since the spell worked with goblin magic, then it would have to be a spell that goblin wizards could use -- if they could only figure out how he'd done it.

Unfortunately for them, they didn't have a hope in hell.

By definition, the word 'mage' implied someone who could use more than one type of magic. A 'wizard' or 'witch' -- human, goblin, or whatever -- could only use the magic typically found within their own species.

This didn't mean magic was somehow broken up into bits and pieces according to race. It simply meant that different groups had different ways of thinking, and had therefore developed different kinds of magic. Because a large part of using magic came from the mind -- and the intent of the spell-caster -- it was often difficult, if not impossible, to cast spells developed by any group that didn't think like your own.

Harry's talent -- his 'gift', if you will -- was the ability to understand, a little better than most, the way other people thought. He suspected that this was partially the result of his intense life-long desire to be liked. People tended to be drawn to those in whom they could see something of themselves -- particularly those who were 'like-minded'.

But for whatever reason, Harry had managed to learn enough non-human magic (Heart Magic included) to earn himself the title of 'Mage'. 'War Mage' simply defined his magical speciality -- the offensive, defensive, and occasionally undercover magics that were necessary to survive in wars and battles.

What he had therefore done to the Gringotts Foundation Stone was a blend of complex human defensive magic, and his very simple, low-grade understanding of goblin Foundation Magic. Realistically, Harry's knowledge of goblin magic barely surpassed that of a novice -- and at that, it was probably as much as he ever would understand. But it was still more than most humans were ever likely to achieve.

All of which meant that even if Gringotts was desperate enough to reveal the Stone's existence to another human wizard, unless that wizard was also a mage, and also familiar with the two kinds of magic involved, then they wouldn't stand a chance.

Lying on his bed at the Leaky Cauldron, still fully dressed, and more than half asleep, Harry thought with amused satisfaction that there probably wasn't anybody else in the world who could do what he'd done tonight.

His amusement was short lived however, when the last thought he had before falling deeply asleep was, //God, please don't let them ask me to remove that spell...//

...he really didn't want another headache like this one.

----oo00oo----

The sound of water splashing in the next room woke Harry to the unpleasant sensation of an empty stomach and a full bladder.

He cautiously poked his head into the adjoining room to discover a modern wizarding bathroom, and a house elf who'd just finished filling the bathtub. When she finally noticed Harry, the elf squeaked in fright and disappeared. He felt bad about scaring her, but thoroughly enjoyed taking full advantage of the amenities -- especially the steaming bath water.

He ran a cleaning spell over his clothes before getting dressed again -- having decided not to bother re-expanding his school chest just to find a different set of muggle clothes -- and then went in search of his Gringotts-funded breakfast.

He had a very full day ahead of him.

----oo00oo----

Harry's -- hopefully -- last day as a pauper was spent visiting a variety of places -- both wizarding and muggle. Although he knew there was a chance that Gringotts would choose not to pay him, he also knew the probability was very high that they would.

The Goblin reputation for being tight-fisted did not extend to services they considered essential. If it was important for business -- then it was important to pay for the best. And for this kind of service, Harry was the only game in town.

So Harry took a calculated risk and gambled on the fact that tomorrow he would be a fairly wealthy mage, which meant...

...he spent the day shopping.

More specifically -- he spent the day ordering things that would not be ready until at least Tuesday, or even later, by which time he would (should) have the money to pay for them.

He had a very specific list to get through, some of which could be ordered today, and some of which could not. The list included: 1) silver War Mage cloak pin, 2) battle robes, 3) auror's wand holster, 4) selection of knives in steel, silver, and wood, 5) selection of potions in standardised vials, 6) sturdy leather boots and pants, 7) customised leather half-gloves, arm guards, and belt, 8) .45 calibre revolver with moon clips, ammunition, and loading equipment, 9) quick-release holster to suit gun, and 10) clothing and personal effects.

After Harry had finished writing the list, he'd looked at it for a moment...

//This is my shopping list!?// he thought incredulously. It was a far cry from the books, inks, robes and brooms that had occupied his thoughts as a student.

Part of him was a bit twitchy about what such a list said about his lifestyle, while another part of him couldn't wait to be clad once more in 'proper' War Mage attire.

Sev had once told him that he was of two minds about the whole 'arsenal-as-clothing' thing. On the one hand it was comforting to have a wall of weapons next to you in dangerous situations, but on the other, it made undressing your lover a distinctly perilous business.

But they both agreed the leather was sexy as hell.

----oo00oo----

He decided to do as much of the Muggle part of his list as he could before returning to Diagon Alley for the wizarding items.

His first stop was a muggle silversmith, where he ordered a War Mage cloak pin in pure silver. The so-called 'pin' was actually a disk three inches across, with a regular cloak fastener attached to the back of it. The design on the front was the historically accurate symbol for a War Mage. No muggle would recognise it of course, but many wizards would, and eventually Harry was determined that everyone in the wizarding community would know exactly what it represented. This emblem would be his ticket to ensuring that even the people who didn't know who he was, would at least know what he was, and would then take some care when interacting with him.

He'd agreed to pay double, but it still wouldn't be ready for three days.

After that, he visited a specialist muggle weapons store where he picked out the steel and wood knives he wanted, as well as a good quality whetstone to keep the steel ones sharp. The wooden ones would need a lot of sharpening too, since they were only blunt training dummies, but he would use the steel ones to do that later. The silver knives would have to be made by the silversmith, but first Harry would need to purchase the current knives, and then take one back for the smith to copy.

//Monday,// he promised himself. //It'll be the first thing I do after Gringotts.//

In the meantime the storeowner would hold the knives and whetstone behind the counter for him.

The revolver and its accompanying equipment were going to be a bit trickier. One could not simply walk in off the street and purchase a gun -- at least, not in England. And while he could easily have apparated to some other country, he could not presently prove that he was a British citizen, much less a foreign one, so no foreign dealer would sell him one either.

The conditions under which he'd been given his first sidearm were not ones he particularly cared to repeat, and the strings he'd pulled to legally purchase the subsequent ones were not yet available to him. For the moment, the gun and holster he wanted -- while plainly visible under lock and key in the store -- would not be his unless he stole them -- or unless he went to an illegal arms dealer, but Harry was loathe to encourage those vultures in any way, shape or form.

//I'll give it a few more days,// he decided. //Maybe I can come up with an alternative.//

That decided, he left and went in search of an experienced muggle leatherworker.

The half-gloves -- which left the tips of his fingers exposed for anything that needed a delicate touch, were not hard to order. He could have bought a mass-produced pair from the weapons store. But a custom-made pair would be more comfortable, and the padding he wanted was a little different from that used in gun-gloves because he also had to take into account the grip he used on his wand. Too much padding in the palms, and the gloves would bunch up uncomfortably when he grasped the smaller handle of his wand.

The arm guards were a different story. They had to be custom-made because he wanted them to hold two slender knives each, and the fastenings had to close a particular way to suit his requirements. In the end, he covered four sheets of paper with sketches before the leatherman agreed that he understood exactly what Harry wanted.

The belt, he didn't even mention. He couldn't have that made until he could bring in a sample of the potion vials that were going to go in the small protected sleeves around the outside. The belt would also need a metal insert to support the weight of the gun and holster that he would eventually be adding to the ensemble.

If he'd actually had any money, his next stop would've been the largest muggle department store in London. However, boots, pants, other clothing, and personal effects would have to wait for another day. Besides, he was hungry again, and unless he wanted to skip lunch tomorrow he could only afford a couple of sandwiches with what little was left of Dursley's money.

----oo00oo----

After lunch, and back in Diagon alley, Harry had three stops left to make: one for the potions, another for the auror's wand holster, and the last at Madam Malkin's for his battle robes.

For the potions, he actually had to go to Knockturn Alley. The small standardised vials containing the various brews had a dubious reputation as the bottle-of-choice for assassins -- but only because they were small and easily concealed. Harry would be wearing them on his belt -- all in plain view.

The other reason he had to order them from Knockturn Alley was that not all the potions he wanted were considered strictly above-board. Nice wizards didn't even know some of them existed.

----oo00oo----

Two minutes after entering the darker side of magical London, Harry knew he'd made a tactical error.

Dressed entirely in muggle clothing, he practically had a sign over his head shouting 'Mudblood -- please attack!' Cursing his stupidity, he debated turning back, but it was already too late. Two wizards dressed in dark robes were presently barring his way.

Quickly, Harry muttered the pre-battle spell that would alert him to attacks from behind.

"Lost, are we, Mudblood?" the taller one sneered.

"Why?" he replied calmly. "Do you need directions?"

His lack of obvious fear momentarily confused them. Harry used the pause to add, "Because, if you're not lost, then I think you should know that you're currently annoying a War Mage." He didn't usually offer warnings, but he felt it was only fair, because after all, he wasn't yet wearing his cloak pin with the War Mage insignia on it.

The two wizards blinked. A soft murmur rippled through the crowd that had gathered tightly against the extreme edges the alley -- close enough to gawk, but far enough away to run if it turned ugly.

Harry let his eyelids droop slightly -- it made him look bored, and faintly dangerous. "Well?" he drawled, "Are we gonna do this, or not?" He twirled his wand expertly through the fingers of his right hand.

The shorter one -- watching the wand spin so effortlessly -- was obviously having second thoughts. Harry gave him points for being more intelligent than the taller one.

Then Harry saw the other man's eyes flicker in response to something. Even if Harry's pre-battle warning spell hadn't alerted him, he would still have known what was coming because of that flicker. As it was, Harry's spell told him exactly where the curse had come from and precisely what direction it was heading. He simply leaned to the left and let it pass, while pointing his wand over his shoulder and -- without looking -- casting a tracer spell, followed by a nasty case of sneezing fits, back to the source. The tracer would ensure that the correct person got hit with the follow-up spell.

In the meantime, the original curse had hit the shorter wizard square in the face. //Pity about that,// Harry thought, //I'd rather it had been the other one. Oh, and speaking of...//

Mr 'Tall, Dark, and Stupid' had apparently found his wand, and managed to throw a second curse straight at Harry's chest. It was a medium level hex, and not really a problem. So instead of avoiding it or negating it, Harry decided to take control of it and promptly threw it back -- he was a big fan of letting people enjoy the full consequences of a self-made problem.

The poor fellow immediately fell over and started twitching uncontrollably on the ground. He didn't seem to be in any pain -- he simply couldn't control the spasms in every muscle of his body. He really was quite helpless.

Behind Harry, the sneezing fits continued, and in front of him, the shorter wizard had been unconscious since the first curse had hit him -- but his chest was still rising and falling, so he was still alive too.

It was obvious these idiots hadn't intended to kill him, and Harry was glad they hadn't been competent enough for him to consider killing them either.

In a move calculated to reinforce how completely unthreatened he was by this level of attack, Harry deliberately didn't bother to look and see who had attacked him from behind. Instead, he simply moved forwards and stepped over the two in front of him, silently signalling that he wasn't even going to bother calling for an Auror.

A wave of silence followed him up the street until he entered the shop with the battered sign that simply said 'Potions'.

----oo00oo----

Satisfied that he would be able to pick up every potion he wanted sometime next week, Harry departed the shady, closed-in little shop and made his way back up the alley.

He noted that 'Stupid', 'Shorty', and 'Sneezy' were no longer blocking the road.

He assumed that he now had some kind of 'reputation' in this part of London since nobody came anywhere near him as he made his way back along the broken cobbles. Then again, it could simply be that he currently looked like a very unhappy War Mage.

The potions shop had been unexpectedly depressing.

So far as Harry could tell, the dingy old shop hadn't changed (wasn't going to change?) in over ten years. It was exactly the same as he last remembered seeing it, and after he'd ordered his vials, he found himself absently wondering whether he should pick up some of the rarer ingredients that Sev sometimes had trouble finding.

The acrid-tasting air had somehow become harder to breathe after that, and it was with relief that he finally returned to the brighter paintwork of Diagon Alley.

----oo00oo----

His next-to-last stop was also the most dangerous in terms of his disguise. To acquire an Auror's wand holster, he would need to show his wand to the wizard who was going to make it.

Each holster was uniquely crafted to suit both the wand and the wizard. He couldn't avoid confirming the fact that his wand was made of holly and phoenix feather, if he wanted a decent holster.

Ollivander -- who remembered every wand he'd ever sold -- wouldn't even need to ask. He would recognise Harry's wand the moment he saw it.

This was really the one crucial weakness in Harry's disguise -- there was no way he could alter or camouflage his wand.

However, so long as he didn't mention phoenix feathers, wands made of holly weren't too uncommon. But of course, he was going to have to mention phoenix feathers to the holster-maker. Thus, he would need a wizard or witch who tended to keep their mouth shut -- or who, at the very least, wouldn't be comparing professional notes with people like Ollivander or Albus.

Which meant a trip to see Gerrity.

Gerrity Smythes the Third -- who loathed his last name fiercely -- was a rich genius whose unpleasant disposition ensured he almost never had guests. The man really was brilliant, but treated other people like idiots because of it. He almost never went out -- socialising was beneath him -- and he generally had anything he wanted delivered to his mansion -- since shopping was a waste of his valuable time.

He wouldn't normally give another wizard the time of day -- but Harry knew the man's greatest weakness...

...Gerrity's hobby was the creation of one-off unique masterpieces that nobody else could duplicate -- or in Harry's case, that nobody else would ever have the opportunity to duplicate.

Harry was going to offer Gerrity the chance to make an Auror's wand holster for the only human War Mage in existence. That he also happened to be the first human War Mage in over eight hundred years, and the only War Mage anybody in the wizarding world currently knew about, only sweetened the pot.

All Harry really had to worry about was not punching the snooty bastard in the nose before he got his holster...

...but then again, maybe Gerrity's younger self would be more tolerable...

----oo00oo----

He was wrong.

Harry couldn't believe it -- time was apparently going to mellow the man! The insufferable bastard was currently so obnoxious that Harry seriously wondered whether any holster was worth all the aggravation.

But his persistence and self-control didn't abandon him, and eventually Harry managed to get Gerrity's agreement -- although Harry did have to prove he was a War Mage by reducing a hideous statue in Gerrity's formal garden to a dusty pile of rubble.

The statue -- possibly one of Gerrity's ancestors -- had been charmed by an elven wizard two hundred and fifty years ago in such a way that it couldn't be destroyed. Whether this was because the statue depicted an ancestral hero, or whether the ugly thing was supposed to be some kind of punishment, was lost in the mists of time. All Gerrity knew was that an elf had done it, and since Harry was human, he would have to be a mage to un-do it.

After establishing that Harry was a mage, Gerrity was satisfied to take Harry's word on what type of mage he was.

Harry made a mental note to arrange references from Gringotts so he wouldn't be subjected to this sort of thing again.

As soon as the offensive wizard finished taking all the measurements and notes he would need, Harry grabbed up his wand, and gratefully escaped.

Unfortunately, he would have to return in six days to pick up the holster.

----oo00oo----

His battle robes were the last thing on the list that Harry could have ordered without having to pay immediately, but it was already quite late by the time he returned to Diagon Alley, and Madam Malkin's was closed.

Somewhat at a loss for how to fill in his evening, Harry returned to his room at the Leaky Cauldron.

Bored, and not knowing what else to do, Harry re-expanded his Hogwarts trunk and began methodically altering everything with "H.P." on it to display the War Mage insignia. He then added the name "Ash" below each instance.

It didn't take long since there was no point in altering things that obviously belonged to 'Harry Potter', such as his schoolbooks and clothes. //Hermione would instantly recognise this,// he thought wryly, as he held up a shirt that had been spot-faded by various potions he'd spilled on it. //I'll probably have to buy a whole new wardrobe, just to be on the safe side.// Well, it wasn't like he wanted to wear the things he'd owned as a teenager -- it was just that -- dammit! -- he had no appreciation for fashion beyond leather, cotton, and battle robes.

Hermione -- for all her academic intensity -- had a much better sense of style than he did. Hell, even Ron had better fashion sense -- and that was saying something for a guy whose closet habitually held nothing but Auror's robes.

Suddenly, Harry missed his two friends with all the intensity of the years that now lay between them. Their friendship would never be quite the same -- in or out of that damned mirror.

Alone in his rented and impersonal room, everyone and everything Harry loved suddenly seemed very far away. The Hogwarts term wouldn't start for months. How was he going to make it through the summer?

It was then that he felt a wave of friendship, concern, and worry, warming him from the inside out.

Hagrid.

With heartfelt gratitude for the perfect gift at the perfect moment, Harry sent all his joy and appreciation back.

He'd created the link between them so that he could be there to support Hagrid whenever the Gamekeeper might need him. It had not occurred to Harry that Hagrid would also be there whenever he needed someone.

//I'm such an idiot,// Harry smiled. //It doesn't matter how far away they all are, or whether I can be there with them -- they're still my friends, and I'm not all alone out here.//

It was with a considerably lighter heart -- and a stern warning to himself about wallowing in self-pity -- that Harry went to have dinner. He even lingered in the common room, soaking up the warm atmosphere of the old pub, and chatting with strangers about anything and everything under the sun.

His sleep that night was calm and restful.

----oo00oo----