"I don't know if it's safe," said a woman in front of Harry, a red-haired witch who reminded him for a moment of Molly, bowing her head nervously over her handbag.
"I hear that Harry Potter is here to test it, and that means we can trust it works," said the wizard next to her, stroking his long white beard. And he reminded Harry of Dumbledore, at least from the confidence in his voice. Although he thought Dumbledore hadn't sounded so much like a self-satisfied prat.
"Really?" The woman stopped stroking her handbag. "Then that's a good thing."
Harry grinned to himself and moved on. He was in a hooded cloak at the moment, to attract less attention among the crowd surging through Diagon Alley. He was going to test the Ministry's Lightfinder, but he was early, and he wanted a few moments to himself first.
It seemed so long since he'd had a moment to himself.
He leaned against a wall behind him, the wall of Ollivander's as he saw when he looked, and stared out at the crowd, and remembered.
Everyone at Fred's funeral was a crying, emotional mess.
Harry counted himself in that category, but he wasn't as upset as anyone else. How could he be? He'd really liked Fred, thought of him as a friend, but that wasn't the same as a brother or a son. Or even a cousin, he thought, when he glanced at the mass of relatives the Weasleys had invited to the funeral, red-haired aunts and uncles and countless others that Harry thought hadn't even attended Bill and Fleur's wedding.
Or a twin brother.
Harry stayed with George silently when he could. But sometimes George turned around and wanted to talk, and sometimes he seemed to know where he was and sometimes it seemed like he didn't, and Harry never knew what voice was going to come out of his mouth.
"Where's Fred?" he asked once, when other people were winding flowers around the tall headstone that Molly had chosen for her son. They'd had to work to get all the words she wanted carved on it actually carved, Harry remembered.
"He's going to sleep," Harry said quietly. It was the standard response that the Weasleys had used with George, and most of the time, it seemed to work. George subsided and stared at the headstone again.
"I didn't want to lose him," he whispered next, and Harry took George's hand in his own and squeezed tight.
"I know," Harry said. "I'm so sorry." That was sometimes his mantra, especially when he was talking to Ron. He really didn't know what else to say. He hugged and cried with people, and he talked to them, and that was the extent of what he could do about Fred. It ached in him, all the time, that wound that meant the end of Fred. But at least he could still function. At least he knew where he was, unlike George sometimes did.
"It's like--" George said, and paused.
A second later, Harry realized what he was waiting for: Fred's voice to show up and complete his sentence, the way it always did. Harry grabbed George's hand when he started to point at the coffin, and looked carefully to make sure he didn't have his wand. Hermione had concealed George's wand a little while ago, after some...unfortunate incidents.
"He's gone and it hurts," George said.
"I know," said Harry, and took the flowers from George's hands, floating them over to rest on top of the grave. "I'm so sorry."
Harry shook his head and glanced at the floating stage the Ministry had set up in front of Florean Fortescue's still-empty shop. No one was on it yet, although a few Ministry workers stood below it, floating up baskets of flowers and the small poles that were needed to support the simple equipment for the Lightfinder test.
Harry worked his hand open and out. Kingsley had called an emergency meeting, not long after the end of the Death Eater trials, to deal with what he called "the Voldemort issue." Harry had gone, fearing that they had discovered some piece of Voldemort surviving, and that he would be expected to deal with it.
But that hadn't been what had happened at all.
"I know that you don't want to hear this," said Kingsley, setting his hands on the edge of the table and standing up so he loomed over all of them. Well, at least Harry, opposite him at the odd five-sided table, felt loomed at. "But I'm about to speak ill of the dead."
Harry stiffened, and he knew he wasn't the only one who did. Arthur Weasley was probably the most sensitive person in the room, but even the Ministry workers Harry didn't know well had lost lots of people in the war.
"Please don't, Minister," said Arthur tiredly. "The Daily Prophet does that enough already."
"It's the dead of the early part of the war that I'm going to speak ill of," said Kingsley, and paused and took a breath as if he needed to reassure himself of that, too. "It's Dumbledore."
Murmurs of surprise flitted around Harry. He blinked and focused harder on Kingsley. It seemed weird that Kingsley would need to do that, but he had to admit, he was curious about what Kingsley would say.
Harry himself wasn't as positive on Dumbledore as all that anymore, not after what he had found out, but he would probably keep that to himself for the time being. There were lots of people who still thought of Dumbledore as a hero, and maybe they needed to go on thinking of him that way. Harry himself was trying to outgrow the need for heroes.
"Dumbledore failed to contain an issue that he should have contained," Kingsley said, and his eyes were very hard. "He defeated Grindelwald. He saw the rise of a Dark Lord. And when he recognized what had happened with Voldemort, then he should have engaged in preventive measures that would have turned him back."
Harry stirred. He did feel it incumbent on him to say something now. "We know that Voldemort was working on a way to make himself immortal, sir," he told Kingsley. "I'm not sure that Dumbledore could have defeated him."
"I didn't mean personally duel him," said Kingsley, and his nostrils flared a little. "He didn't break the back of Grindelwald's movement because of that duel, although it helped. He took a lot of measures that prevented Grindelwald from gaining all the support he would have needed to take over Britain. He should have done the same thing with Voldemort. What made him terrifying? Not just himself. His Death Eaters, and the ideas he spread that appealed to some people. When he started realizing that Tom Riddle had gone Dark, he should have stopped him then, and exposed him the way he was exposing Grindelwald's rhetoric, right from the beginning."
Harry hesitated. He wasn't sure that he had to right to talk about Dumbledore's personal history with Grindelwald.
While he was pondering, other people had leaped into the gap. "Are you saying that you have reports of new Death Eaters?" Arthur's hand was tight on his wand. Harry wasn't surprised. He had grown more militant than ever since Fred's death.
"No," said Kingsley. "What I have, according to the people in the Ministry who were working on such a thing between the first and second wars with Voldemort, is a way to identify Dark wizards. Not only that, but the precise degree to which their Darkness of magic corresponds with the evil of their souls."
Harry was still puzzling that through when Mafalda Hopkirk, one of the people who had proved unexpectedly toughest about sweeping the vestiges of Voldemort's takeover from the Ministry, raised her hand with a little gasp. "You mean that they've finally invented some way to distinguish between Light and Dark magic in a wizard's core?" she whispered.
Kingsley smiled fiercely at her. "Yes. It was theoretical for decades--centuries--but now they've done it. And what's more, they can expose it for the whole world to see." He paused, maybe to let the confused noise die down, and then added, "What's more, they've made a device that can expose how tainted the wizard's soul is because of it. A wizard who's strongly enchanted by the Dark Arts shows darker than someone who's only used the Dark Arts once or twice. And someone who's essentially Dark manifests a differently-colored aura around them than someone who's essentially Light."
Hopkirk clasped her hands. She looked like she was in prayer. Most of the other adults appeared to be in something of the same state. Harry asked the question that was confusing him, because most of the adults expected him to be confused by everything anyway. "So someone who cast the Cruciatus once shows up lighter than someone who cast it lots of times?"
"Yes," said Kingsley. "It's based on a principle of the rainbow. Apparently Muggle science knows a lot about this?" And he looked at Arthur, which made Harry snort a little. Arthur had a fascination with the odds and ends of Muggle culture, but he didn't know much about the science, or some of the inventions he tried to make would actually work.
Then Harry winced, and felt bad about his thoughts. Arthur had turned even more to tinkering with things because Fred had died. If it was giving him comfort, then Harry shouldn't make fun of it.
"I don't know the Muggle science," said Arthur, with the sort of sad dignity he had adopted since Fred's death. "But I know the procession of colors in a rainbow. Everyone can see them. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Are you telling me that the Darker wizards show up as the darker colors? Blue and violet?"
"Yes." Kingsley was smiling, a sort of hungry smile. "Green is the beginning of the Dark colors, or the balance between Dark and Light, if you will. Someone who shows green is beginning to feel the taint, or maybe has had to make some corrupt decisions in situations where the use of Dark spells couldn't be avoided." For a second, Harry was sure that Kingsley was trying to lock eyes with him, but Harry glanced casually aside, and it failed. "It depends on how dark the shade of green is."
"I see, I see," Arthur murmured, sounding as if he really did. Maybe some of the Muggle artifacts he'd had to adjust or take apart contained information about the rainbow, Harry decided. "So there's another reason beyond the symbolism for making it the rainbow. Colors come in so many different shades..."
"That it allows us to determine the amount of Dark and Light magic influencing someone's core even more exactly." Kingsley gave them a grim nod. "I want the rise of the next Dark Lord stopped before it starts, and that depends not only on identifying individual Dark wizards, but identifying the ones most likely to give them support."
"And their power level," said Hopkirk. From the faint awe in her voice, that was the part that most impressed her.
Kingsley snapped his fingers. "I knew I was forgetting to emphasize something. Yes, exactly. The depth of the color, and the color itself, indicates where the wizard stands on the Dark or Light spectrum. The intensity of the light reveals their power."
"What about their souls?" Harry asked. He was wondering what would have happened if they'd put Voldemort through the artifact, or test, or whatever it was, with only a shred of his soul in his body. "How does the test track the damage to your soul?"
"The taint to the soul is calculated by the interaction between the intensity of the light and its color," said Kingsley.
Harry nodded, unsure. He was probably only unsure because he knew about Horcruxes, though, he thought. Everyone else seemed to understand it well enough. Soul magic couldn't be that common.
And really, how likely was it that the Ministry would ever test someone who had a Horcrux? Harry was worrying about nothing, a contingency that was unlikely to happen. Since the war, he was doing his best to worry about what was in front of him instead of what he only imagined. That was enough to concern him, anyway.
The discussion swept away into more abstract theoretical concerns that Harry didn't understand and pay much attention to. He thought Kingsley didn't, either, but he must have memorized enough of the information to give soothing answers to the people in his immediate inner circle who did know. They sounded reassured by what he was saying, rather than troubled, and that was good enough for Harry.
He only returned with a snap to the conversation when Kingsley turned towards him and said, smiling faintly, "And, of course, just to make sure that the process is working effectively, we need test subjects."
"I volunteered for this when?" Harry asked suspiciously, but rolled his eyes when he saw the way Kingsley smiled at him.
"Turnus, the item's inventor, is trying to get together wizards of every color and level of power," Kingsley explained. "He's having trouble finding someone that he thinks will blaze an intense red. There's absolutely no doubt of you shining like that, of course. You're our icon of the Light."
"Um," said Harry, a little embarrassed.
"The test will be in Diagon Alley on Monday, December 28th," Kingsley said. "You will be there. Don't be late."
And the conversation swept on, and Harry sat back and shook his head. He didn't think Kingsley would subject him to a difficult or painful test on purpose or anything, but he disliked being volunteered for things without his consent.
Then he shrugged. He supposed that was part of being the Boy-Who-Lived that he really couldn't avoid.
On the stage, the small poles had been set up, and the Lightfinder, a dark silver block with a black stone positioned on top of it, was being laid on top of them. Harry moved forwards. He thought it was time he got on stage.
The pressure of the crowd made it harder to move, though, and so he had plenty of time to study the Lightfinder before he got close enough to mount the steps. The black stone in the center of the silver altar (that was what Turnus called it, and Harry had to admit he could see the reason for the comparison) was perfectly round and smooth. It reminded Harry of what one of Trelawney's crystal balls would have looked like if she had managed to turn it into obsidian.
On the sides of the altar were two places for the wizard's hands to rest, small dimpled indentations. There was a mirror set up on another pole behind the altar, an enchanted one that could reflect the light's color and intensity and hold a perfect image to be called up later, rather like a Pensieve. According to Kingsley, that mirror was the major drawback of the Lightfinder. Each mirror could contain only three memories, and then it would need to be replaced before the tests could continue.
But that was it. Like Kingsley said, it was a pretty simple device to give peace to the wizarding world.
Harry was all in favor, though, and from the slow roar that rose around him when people saw him walk up the steps, so were plenty of others.
Uriel Turnus came to meet him, shaking Harry's hand with one of his own perpetually damp ones. He was a small, squinting, bald man, except for the small fringe of russet hair that dangled down from the sides of his skull, almost hiding his neck. He immediately turned away from Harry to look at the Lightfinder.
"Is that ready, Splinter?" he demanded of one of the wizards fussing around with the exact positioning of the mirror.
"Almost, sir," said that wizard, in a mutter. Harry had seen this wizard, Nathaniel Splinter, before. He seemed to resent Turnus. Harry wondered if Splinter had done some work on the Lightfinder that Turnus had stolen or claimed as his own.
"Good, good," said Turnus, but he waited until the mirror was perfectly in place, and then went over and adjusted it himself, before he faced the crowd and cast the Sonorus. Harry flung back his hood so everyone could see him and gave a little wave.
"As all of you know," Turnus announced grandly, "Mr. Harry Potter has agreed to be our first test subject for the Lightfinder. This is a miraculous device that will tell us the exact amount of Light or Darkness in a wizard's magic, and the intensity of his power, and the corruption of his soul, and that means..."
Harry let his attention wander. He already knew all this about the Lightfinder, and didn't need to hear it again.
His gaze caught on a small group of cloaked and hooded wizards near the stage. They wore silver masks, he saw, when one turned his head. Harry's eyes narrowed. He wondered if Kingsley had been wrong after all about no more Death Eaters trying to take over where Voldemort had left off.
"And that means that Harry Potter has graciously volunteered to go into the Lightfinder, to show you how it's done!"
No time to worry about Death Eaters, then. Harry doubted they would think to attack in a place as public as this, anyway. He nodded jauntily to whoever was behind those masks, and then turned and stepped up onto the tiny platform mounted behind the altar with the stone.
He settled his hands into the indentations, with Turnus fussing around him as if this was an enormously complicated process that Harry would somehow mess up. Harry gave the crowd another smile and tried to listen as patiently as possible to Turnus.
"Make sure the mirror can see you...can reflect you...the stone needs to be under your chin..."
Harry moved his head forwards a little and flapped his eyebrows at the crowd. Several people laughed. If that would disrupt the Lightfinder, Turnus didn't appear to notice, although Splinter, standing over to the side, scowled.
"There," said Turnus, and stepped back. "Now all you need to do is look down into the stone."
Harry did that, his eyes tracing carefully along the smooth, glossy surface. Still he saw nothing that would mar it. He wondered if a flash of light would come out of the surface to take his picture like a camera.
Nothing so visible, he realized a moment later. There was a pull, like someone gripping the skin of his cheeks and tugging. Before Harry could even raise his hands from the places they were supposed to stay to object, the sensation stopped, and a flash of light did cut the air as the aura around his body became visible.
Harry heard the gasps, the growing screams, before he turned around and looked at himself in the mirror.
But that still didn't prepare him for what he saw.
The aura surrounding his body was a deep, royal blue, tinted with black at the edges.
"Draco? What does this mean? Draco?"
It was Pansy's voice, harsh and insistent in his ear. Draco half-shook his head, unable to take his eyes from Potter glowing like a supernova, his face sweating behind the silver mask that allowed him to appear in public unmolested.
But he didn't shake his head because he didn't know the answer to her question. He did, and he used the growing shrieks of the mob to cover his voice as he turned and whispered to her.
"It means we might have a chance, after all."