It had been eighty-seven days since the Battle of Hogwarts, and closing himself inside the confines of Grimmauld Place was starting to make Harry lose it.
This was better than Diagon Alley. They'd learned that early on, when a visit to the Ministry to try to help them sort out all the messes the Death Eaters had left behind had ended with a mob of reporters, grateful people, and uncomfortably obsessive fans driving them back through the Floo. Even Ron, who'd joked a couple of times that maybe now he and Hermione might get half as much attention as Harry'd used to at school, had been unsettled.
After all that, staying in had seemed like the best choice. It'd be nice to have a bit of a break from fighting or hunting Horcruxes. Maybe do a bit more tidying in Grimmauld, or even remodel. There was plenty they could do without going out into the magical world.
And now, not quite three months later, they'd cleaned as much as the house could take - except in the library, which Hermione had been cataloguing, with frequent breaks to read the more interesting books she'd found - and determined that changing the structure of the house wouldn't be possible without someone figuring out how the wards worked, and gotten to the point where even each others' company was a little too grating. Harry hadn't seen either of the others in a week except in passing. He'd spent most of that time in the attic going through boxes of Sirius's stuff, burying himself in fantasies of a world where everything hadn't gone quite so wrong.
He was tired of drowning in dreams. He had a headache from squinting at faded letters, and it felt like every muscle in his body was stiff from sitting down for too long, and it hadn't occurred to him to use a cleaning charm until after he'd breathed in enough dust to leave him scratchy and dry in the chest. All he really wanted was to do something nice and physical. Like flying, maybe. Get up in the sky and let himself forget about everything. Maybe Ron would leave whatever he'd been doing and come up with him. Maybe they could finally convince Hermione to give flying more than a five-minute unenthusiastic effort Maybe -
- except that the wards on the back garden only went as high as the hedges, which was barely enough room to do anything, and if he passed them any post-owl, Howler, or tracking charm anyone had sent out would immediately latch onto him. Even if they couldn't find the house, they'd know he was somewhere here. No more privacy.
The obvious way to fix the problem would be to adjust the wards. It was something they'd all been thinking about looking into anyway; Hermione had muttered something about checking the library when they'd tried to cut a window in the kitchen wall and discovered it sealed itself back up as they went, and Ron had suggested asking Bill if the wards might be what was keeping Walburga Black's portrait on the wall so effectively. They hadn't, of course. The greater Weasley clan had more than enough to deal with, and anyway building a wall around her and layering it over with silencing spells had worked pretty well, even if it meant the hallway had become uncomfortably narrow.
Really, they could fix a lot of things if somebody actually looked into how the wards worked. But it'd been easier to push it aside early on, when they were all so exhausted that none of them wanted to get anywhere near a project that size. And now...
It was a stupid idea. This wasn't the kind of magic he was good at. Not that he knew much about it, of course, but it seemed like the kind of thing that he'd probably have to study for years to get the hang of. Hermione would probably have a better chance, but he wasn't sure he'd be able to pry her out of the library for long enough to try.
He glared out through the little glass window by the back door at the grey-lit garden. He'd barely gone out there; even Kreacher hadn't bothered trying to tame the garden, which seemed to have absorbed every spare bit of magic the house gave off and focused it into growing into an impassable jungle. Kreacher hadn't been able to keep the glass clear, either. Probably something else to do with the wards, like the fact that every room in the house was a little bit dimmer than it should have been and every set of curtains they put in the second-floor sitting room tried to strangle anyone who came near them. Everything seemed to come back to them.
It wasn't like it'd hurt to look into it. Right? There was bound to be some kind of information about the wards in the library, if only because someone had probably needed to adjust them at some point in the past. And from what Hermione had said a few weeks ago, the Blacks had kept any and every book they thought might be useful at some point, though they'd organised them by appearance rather than subject, shoving the rattiest ones in trunks in a back office and keeping the fancier ones on shelves near the door.
He wasn't quite sure whether he wanted to run into Hermione in the library. They'd already been snapping at each other after spending so much time together - weirdly, the end of the war seemed to have made it worse - and his time tucked away with Sirius's things had left him feeling oddly raw. He didn't know if he'd be able to handle it if she offered him advice, no matter how kindly she meant it.
No. If he let himself put it off now, he'd keep finding excuses. That wouldn't make anything better in the long run. He'd just have to grit his teeth and hope she wasn't there - and she might not be, if the dim greyish light outside was dawn and not sunset. She'd probably be asleep if it were.
And really. How hard could it be?
"... so I found some books about the wards," he said, tipping his head against the armchair's back and staring at the ceiling. "They seemed like they'd be the right ones - one of them was handwritten and kind of ancient, and the other one read like a how-to guide for someone working with old wards. And it wasn't a total disaster - well, okay, it took me ages to work out how to start sensing the wards, and then I did something wrong and knocked - uh, sort of fell out of it and couldn't work out how to get back - now that I think about it, it was kind of like Occlumency?"
"Really?" Hermione said, a tone in her voice he was pretty sure meant she was trying not to laugh at him.
"Yeah, actually." It involved focusing, and doing something that felt like twisting his brain into a pretzel, and he was really bad at it. It seemed like a pretty good comparison to him. "D'you know anything about it?"
"About warding? Not... specifically."
He tipped his head forwards again to shoot a narrow-eyed stare her way. "What does that mean?"
She shrugged one shoulder. The armchair she'd curled up in couldn't have been any more hers if she'd put signs up: every spare inch on the chair itself was covered with blankets and cushions, and it was surrounded by end-tables piled high with books. A cup of tea was teetering off the edge of one table, balancing only thanks to magic.
"I haven't read anything about warding except in passing. The spells I put up around us when we were hunting the Horcruxes were sort of... proto-wards, I suppose? Similar in intent and outcome, but since they were only designed to be temporary the actual method of casting and upkeep is very different. Still, there's enough similarities I might be able to work something out from it. I don't think I've actually seen anything in the library on the topic, actually, though there are quite a lot of books left..." She trailed off as her eyes focused on the air behind him. Bookshelves, probably. "General magic theory might be useful, though, depending on what you're stuck on. What do you understand about the topic from what you've read?"
"Uh." He bit his lip. "Wards are big complicated protective spells that get put over one place. You need runes to put them up properly because if they aren't attached to something magical they'll drop the first time whoever cast them gets distracted, so usually you carve the runes on a rock and then bury it somewhere under the building so people can't get to it to change the wards. Someone who lives in the building and has some kind of ownership over it can change the wards without the rock, so I should be able to do it - okay, I'm not a Black, but Sirius left me this place. That's got to count, right?"
She gestured vaguely. "Maybe? I wouldn't put it past the Blacks to add some kind of stipulation to their wards requiring the official owner to be a blood relative or a pureblood, but since nothing terrible's happened to us all this time maybe not. And intent counts for a lot in magic too."
"Well, I am a Black. Distantly."
"Oh, right." She tapped her fingers against her knee, eyes narrowed. "Well, even setting that aside, I think you're arguably in a position of ownership - certainly more than Ron or I would be, though I suppose in at least some homes it must be possible to adjust the wards as an occupant rather than an owner or Bill wouldn't have been able to do everything he's done at the Burrow."
"Oh. Huh. I hadn't thought of that."
"It's not important, anyway. What spell were you using to connect to the wards?"
"Yes, I - here." He fumbled over the side of his chair for the books he'd left beside it, tossing one over to her. She caught it with an outraged look. "See? No spells at all."
She flicked through it, muttering under her breath. Harry tipped his head back again and did his best not to listen to whatever she was saying; if she was making plans to make him regret treating books cavalierly, he really didn't want to know.
"All right," she said after a few minutes, grimacing. "No spells. Just 'opening yourself up to Magic', which I assume is what you meant when you compared it to Occlumency."
"Basically, yeah. Just in reverse."
"Hmm. All right. So in that case there's nothing you can improve in terms of spell pronunciation or wand movement... It's down to intent, then."
"Well, spells work because you want them to work, you know."
"This feels like a trick question."
Hermione cast a withering look his way. "No, just basic magical theory you ought to have learned at Hogwarts. Spell effects happen because you believe they will. I read this fascinating book a few years ago that argued that there's nothing magical about spell incantations at all - they were developed because it's easier to learn spells if you believe the spell itself has power and don't have to waste time worrying about whether or not you're actually capable of, say, levitating something. The author also suggested that might be why so many spells are made up of a sort of doggerel Latin, because of course there's nothing special about the language and there's no reason spells have to be in proper Latin. It's just, you know, for suggestivity's sake. Someone hears Wingardium leviosa, they think about wings and levitation, and so of course they believe the spell will enable them to levitate something. Do you see?"
"I guess so? Except for the bit where you think everyone'll recognise Latin when they hear it."
"Historically speaking, people who were wealthy enough to get this kind of education would have known it, though. I don't know if that actually describes most young witches and wizards back when these spells were being developed - were wands expensive enough that the only people who actually learned spells were the rich ones? Did Hogwarts have enough money then to support poorer students with wands and a basic education in Latin, or did they end up left out in the cold? - but even these days it's not much of an impediment. I mean, if you know the English language you'll know at least some Latin-descended words."
"Are you sure? What about - I dunno - Sectumsempra? I can't think of any -"
"Secateurs," she broke in flatly. "Section. Shall I go on?"
"Ugh, fine." He frowned. "Where were we going with this again?"
"Magic theory and the power of belief. It sounds like you're going about it the right way so far - inasmuch as there is a right way when the entire subject seems to be woolly... well, I suppose that's unfair. This must have been what magic was like back before spells existed; wards have been around for a very long time, after all. Perhaps even before wands. Magical people have been using foci of various kinds for a very long time, but they weren't always as convenient as wands are, you know."
Harry cleared his throat.
"Oh! Right. What I was saying was that your problem may just come down to uncertainty. You need to believe that what you're doing will actually work."
"I do, though."
"Do you really? None of us know much about warding except that it's a bit esoteric and that proper warders do a fair amount of training. Your only source of information about adjusting the wards is this library, which we already know isn't exactly an unbiased source of information - not that I'm not enjoying digging around in here, but there are a lot of books about dark magic or that support blood purity, and I don't know that the Blacks would've bought a book written by a Muggleborn even if it was generally considered to be the best book on the subject. Which means that the books you're working from might not be the best. You've never been the best at picking spells up the first time you use them, excluding combat spells."
"You know, you're really making me feel better here, Hermione. Thanks ever so."
"And," she went on, cheeks darkening slightly, "it's entirely possible that the house might be fighting back against you. It's certainly been occupied by wizards for long enough."
"You know. Like Hogwarts."
"No! No, I don't know, actually!" He cast a panicked glance up at the ceiling. It didn't look particularly malevolent - well, maybe to Ron, since there were a few cobwebs in the corner. But it certainly didn't look like he would've expected a house that had... what was she suggesting? Sentience?
"Again, basic magical theory you never listened to. Magical plants and animals - including us - shed small amounts of magic constantly, and some of them depend on that sort of... background radiation to survive. It's a large part of the reason that nobody's too worried about a unicorn leaving the Forest and being seen by a Muggle, and that wizards have access to plants you or I would never have heard of before Hogwarts. If a wizard lives somewhere for long enough, especially if they're also doing a lot of magic there, that shed magic can start to absorb into their house and make it somewhat magical too, to the point that it can start giving off its own magical radiation. Think of the enchanted tea-kettle in the kitchen - we don't actually have to do any magic to make it run other than tapping it with a wand to make it start, it just runs off background magic. If we took it to a non-magical home it'd probably go for a little while, but eventually it'd peter out."
"Oh. Huh. So, does that apply to any magical item, or..."
"Most of them. You can buy things with enough magic layered into them that they'll self-enchant - or that you just cast a spell on, rather than depending on background magic - but it's not terribly common except for things that need to work in low-magic areas, and they tend to be expensive. Like proper magical tents - there's a reason a lot of people at the Cup were using obviously pre-used tents. Or brooms. Apparently it takes a lot of time and effort to imbue them with enough magic to make them stay up in any possible circumstance."
"No wonder old brooms are rubbish. They must just be utterly worn out."
"Probably. Anyway, to get back to what I'd originally alarmed you with, a building that's been absorbing magic for a truly long time can eventually become sort of... semi-sentient. I don't know if this place actually is, mind. Hogwarts definitely was, but it's got all those students shedding, not to mention any overflow from the Forest. And it probably has a head start on anywhere else, since it was entirely built with magic. I've been wondering, though, since this place never gets any less grubby. I know we decided it was the wards doing it, but that doesn't actually seem to make much sense - all right, it'd probably stop us from making windows if there's some kind of outer-wall protection built in there, but cleaning? Who'd put something in their wards that'd make sure every bit of glass in the house stayed grimy and the cobwebs never cleared away properly? No, I think it's the house. Something went wrong when it was empty for all those years, and it's sort of... clinging to the grime. Maybe because it's familiar, I don't know."
"Okay." The idea that the house might know they were there was weird and horrifying to Harry, but it didn't seem to be bothering Hermione. Better not to point it out. "But - just to make sure I have this straight - you're not suggesting that Grimmauld Place might attack me if I manage to get into the wards properly?"
"What? No, of course not. I just think it might be a bit set in its ways. More resistant to changing the wards at first, maybe. Nothing you can't work around."
"Yeah. Maybe. It'd be easier to work around it if I actually knew what I was doing, though."
"You'll work it out. It sounds like you're already well on the way, honestly, and you've got a much better chance than Ron or I do. And you need something to do with your time."
"Like you, you mean?" He frowned. "Wait. What's Ron been doing?"
"We went out to Muggle London a few days ago. In disguise, of course." She patted a few of the thicker books beside her. "I wanted to pick up a few textbooks - I was reading a magic theory book about wands and other foci and the Skin Theory, and I had some thoughts about biology. And I wanted to get some paper and pens. Scribbling on parchment just doesn't feel right. Anyway, Ron went looking to see if he could find anything about correspondence chess, since he's more or less out of people who'll agree to play him on our side who wouldn't pump him for information about us, and he's come up with some kind of plan. I have no idea what it is; he won't tell me. Which I expect means that something's going to blow up any minute now."
"But Muggle London's not like the Alley," Harry said, unease stirring in his gut. "You can't just buy ingredients for explosives off the street. Or whatever it is you think he's doing."
"I have no idea, which is why I'm worried about an explosion. And fertiliser is explosive. And so is flour, I think."
"Please don't tell me things like that." Intellectually, Harry knew that she knew that because she'd read it somewhere and tucked the information away in a corner of her brain just in case she ever needed it. Emotionally, he couldn't help but remember how upset she'd gotten about the Ministry a few times lately reading the Prophet and worry that she might decide that she did, in fact, need that information.
Not that he wouldn't be right there with her, of course. They'd gone through too much together for him to abandon her if she realised they needed to overthrow the government. But he'd really like a chance to rest between wars.
"Then don't ask." She picked her book up again. "I think I've given you as much help as you need - or as much as I know how to give, honestly. There's nothing more I can answer. Unless you have a question about wand composition or the skin's role as a barrier between our internal magic and the outside world, because frankly I would love to answer those."
"Is this going to end with you trying to make a wand?" Harry had a horrible feeling he knew what the answer was going to be. That didn't keep him from wanting to hear it.
"Please don't blow the house up. Or - can it wait until I've worked out what I'm doing enough so I can make you a nice blastproof room?"
"Oh, come on. It can't be that dangerous."
"Then how come Ollivander's the only one who makes wands here?"
"I'm sure there are plenty of reasons. Like tradition. Wizards love tradition. I need to do more research first, though - and see if anyone else's talked about the intersection between Muggle biological knowledge and what wizards think they know about skin - so don't worry. It'll probably be a while until I get to it."
"Good." The whole idea was mildly horrifying - didn't people who designed spells die sometimes doing it? Wasn't this basically the same thing, just with volatile half-built wands instead of volatile half-designed spells? - but he bit his tongue on whatever argument was waiting to leap out of his mouth. They'd survived the war. They were allowed to decide to do stupid things. His so-called 'saving people thing' didn't have to apply here.
"Let me know how it goes," she said, clearly already halfway sucked into whatever she was reading. "Whenever you're finished."
"Sure." Who knew when that would be.
He should probably try again, though. He'd been awake for... some amount of time. Longish. Probably not an enormous amount of time, since he didn't feel all that tired, but he'd need to sleep eventually. He might as well have another go at the wards before he did. Considering the weird sleep patterns he'd had lately, there really wasn't any way to know when he'd be awake next, and he might not be in the mood for this kind of magic when he was.
Hopefully it'd go a bit better now than the last two times he'd tried.
The garden was a disaster.
It wasn't really what he should've been thinking about. He should've been trying to clear his mind, or maybe focusing on what he remembered the wards feeling like last time before he'd opened his mind too far, gotten overwhelmed, and knocked himself out. But all he could think about was the way Aunt Petunia had used to sniff at poorly cared-for gardens, and that for once, he agreed with her. He might've hated the sanitised, identical gardens in Privet Drive, but at least somebody had tried.
Maybe once he had the wards fixed he ought to try to sort it out. He could write Neville; he was bound to know useful charms that they hadn't been taught in Herbology, which was mostly focused on caring for magical plants rather than rehabilitating an overgrown garden. And he was probably hiding out from the rest of the Wizarding World the same way they were anyway. He might like a change of scenery.
Harry blew a breath out, turning away from the garden and opening the book in his hand. He had to believe in himself. Right.
Step one was to open himself up and feel the wards. At least he knew what he was doing there this time; he'd felt like a real idiot sitting there the first time he'd tried, waving his wand idly in case it'd help. He'd spent a while sulking that the book hadn't actually explained how to feel the wards, too. In hindsight, that made him feel like even more of an idiot. He couldn't have explained how to do it any better than the book had, and he'd managed to do it twice now.
The wards slowly began filtering into his awareness. The whole process reminded him of smelling Amortentia in sixth year, except more overwhelming; he kept picking up smells and tastes that he knew he wasn't getting from the garden, and the sound of pages turning behind him was so loud he kept thinking Hermione was behind him, even though he knew she was still in the library. Maybe that was why he could hear it. She and Ron had been asleep the first time he'd tried, and it'd been much quieter then.
After a few minutes, when he was pretty sure it'd finished, Harry took a deep breath and tried to expand his focus. That was the next bit in the book, and also where it'd gone wrong the last two times. He was pretty sure he knew what'd happened the first time - he'd tried too hard, overwhelmed himself with the sudden sensory overload, and woken up an hour later with a splitting headache and dirt smeared down his face. The second time had been much less of a disaster, but also just sort of... useless. He'd felt the outer boundaries of the wards. He just hadn't been able to do anything with them.
It'd probably be a better idea to ask someone who actually knew what they were doing. Not that he wanted strangers here - not that he wanted anyone here except Hermione and Ron, even on the days when none of them could stand company and the closest they got to each other was hearing footsteps in the hall - but that wouldn't have to involve a stranger, would it? He was pretty sure Bill knew about warding. According to some of the books he'd found, the kind of tomb raiding Bill did for a living involved a lot of wardbreaking, and it'd probably be hard to learn that if you didn't know how to make wards in the first place.
Not that Bill, who Ron had said had taken over running the Weasley household, would have the time. Not that Ron would want him here. He went to dinner every Sunday night like clockwork, and came back grim and tired and silent. Neither Harry nor Hermione had dared to go along with him. Hermione had said once, as they pretended not to watch the clock and wonder when he'd come back, that she would've gone if she'd been invited; but they both knew how unlikely that was. The Weasley clan had gathered in upon itself after the Battle, and no matter how welcome they might've been at a happier time, nobody was thinking of making them welcome when they were all in the depths of grief.
And when it came down to it, who else did he know? What remained of the DA, as half-trained as he felt sometimes, scattered between homes and Hogwarts and little enclaves of orphans; and the remnants of the Order, mostly half-strangers, mostly buried in work in the Ministry. It was something he felt a sense of creeping guilt about sometimes - shouldn't they have been helping? Didn't he want everything to stay better after they'd put in so much effort? - even though he knew the media attention wouldn't help anyone. Just distract people when they needed to be focused on the future.
For a moment, his sense of the wards wobbled alarmingly. He clenched his fists, nails biting into his palms, pushing the guilt and anxiety aside. He needed to focus. He needed to believe he could do this, because he could, really. He'd done harder things. Hell, he'd beaten Voldemort, hadn't he? What was warding compared to that?
One. Two. It stabilised, the wards spreading around him again. He began opening his mind gently, imagining he was standing in the centre of the house and watching the walls fall away around him. There was Hermione in the library, cheek pillowed on a stray blanket and hair in her face; there was Ron in his room, muttering furiously over a slick-papered Muggle book; there was Kreacher in the kitchen, prodding at an enchanted coldbox that wouldn't freeze anything; and -
He staggered as they opened in their entirety, smells and sounds and sensations drumming against his skull. For a moment he teetered on the edge of losing it again; then everything snapped into place with a near-audible pop.
It wasn't that much different to how he normally felt, really. All right, the constant sensations weren't something he was used to, but they were lesser now. Ignorable. He shook his head hard, settling the last of the strangeness, and paused to think about what came next.
He could read the book again. But it hadn't been that useful the first time, and if what he needed here was certainty, stopping constantly to do research wasn't going to help. Well... He could feel the wards properly now. Maybe he should just try exploring them. Somehow.
They were all around, almost a physical presence. All he had to do was reach out - ah. He stretched out a hand, feeling like an idiot as he did it. But an idiot who believed it would work - and it did. His magic flowed out in that direction, running into an oddly close section of ward. All of it was close, now that he thought about it. Did they give off some kind of aura that extended inside the house? Or...
There were gaps in it, and swung-out sections, and he suddenly realised what it had to be. The walls, and the doors, and the windows; every bit was saturated with the wards' magic, as if it made up only only the outer shell of the house but its skeleton too. They gave off a sense of stability when he poked at them. Perhaps too much. They put him in mind of solid brick walls, but also of painted-shut windows, or a lock gone unusable with rust. And that would be something he could change, surely.
A new burst of magic stirred in his senses before he could try, and he expanded his awareness that direction, barely realising what he'd managed to do. After a dizzying moment, he recognised the room he was poking at was the kitchen, which meant the magic he'd noticed must have been Kreacher. His magic was different to the wards, but there was an odd similarity. Probably because he and his forebears had been with the Blacks so long - and hadn't Hermione said a lot of magical creatures needed to live somewhere that had magic soaked into its very essence? Maybe house elves were one of those species.
The kitchen was almost distractingly magical. There were tangles of old spells in every corner; poking at them, Harry found attempted repairs snarled up with worn-out enchantments, the wards' own attempts to fix everything, and Kreacher's spells. He reached out - hands? He wasn't there, really, just sort of magically floating there, and did they count as hands if he wasn't even sure if he had fingers in this form? - and tugged at the misaligned wards, trying to straighten them out. The Reparos slipped past him, but he could grab onto the enchantments that'd been a part of the kitchen originally. He pulled them free, feeling the wards settle back into place as he did so, and felt them vanish to nothing in his hands. As he watched, the Reparos were neatly shredded by the wards and Kreacher's old spells absorbed back into the whole.
Well. That seemed like more than enough proof that he could do this. He pulled his consciousness back towards the garden, following the thick green scent outside. The wards hovered overhead, gleaming a colour he couldn't have named if he'd tried.
He stared at them. They almost seemed to stare back, smug in the knowledge that he didn't know what he was doing. It was probably his imagination - though, considering what Hermione had said about magical homes, maybe not.
He'd gotten this far, hadn't he? No point in stopping.
He could push them. He'd moved himself around the house with nothing more than thought; there was no reason he couldn't do the same here.
On the other hand, that seemed like it might be a lot of work. And he had magic; if anything ought to make something like this easier, it was that.
He wanted the wards to be taller. He wanted to do it safely, to keep all the protective magic around Grimmauld Place as intact as it was now, just further up than anybody had ever bothered to take them.
He narrowed his eyes at the wards and wanted as hard as he could.
For a moment, he wasn't quite sure where he was. In his body, leaning against the back door's frame and staring out at the garden - or in the garden, eyes fixed skyward - or in the sky, under or in or maybe above the wards, rushing up as they did -
And then he blinked and staggered, and rolled onto the grass in front of him with a curse as he whacked his knee against the door.
Nothing looked different from here. The wards felt higher, but that didn't really tell him how high they'd actually gone; for all he knew, he'd put them up twenty feet up and no further. And he wasn't sure he wanted to try that out-of-body thing again any time soon. His whole body was buzzing, like a mild version of pins and needles, and his mouth was dry and cottony.
He could feel the wards in the wall beside him, though. If he could get close enough to the ones above him...
His Firebolt was still in the broom-stand by the back door where he'd left it after the first time he'd come out here, when he'd realised in a sudden fit of caution he ought to check how high the wards went before he passed them accidentally and then given up when he'd realised just how low they were. He stood cautiously, shaking the twitches out of his body, and summoned it over.
Of course, all this assumed he could manage to stay aware enough of the wards to test it while also flying - but no. He couldn't think that way, not when he'd come so far. He could and he would manage. All he had to was go.
He kicked off gently, drifting towards the sky, his focus on the wards so intense he felt the scenery pass him by rather than seeing it. There went a tangled thorny mass that, for one instant, smelled intensely of roses; now a hulking mass that felt like a barrier, like protection, that must have been the hedge. The wards still lurked far above.
He went higher. The air smelled different here. Less of the wild earthy scent of the garden and an overtone he'd never noticed before, something so ubiquitous in the wizarding world it must have been magic; more like the world he'd grown up in, petrol fumes whipped along by the breeze. It'd fade, he supposed, as the wards settled in. They seemed to have been keeping it all out so far, after all.
The wards were closer now, easing in on his senses like a crackle of static electricity. He slowed further still. Up, and up, and up, until...
There. He could feel it prickling against his face, hot and dry.
He pressed further into the wards, the real world fading even further from his consciousness. It didn't feel unstable, just... strange. Layered? It reminded him of something, tickling at the edge of his brain. Something -
- a girl at school. Before Hogwarts. Folded paper, taking something flat and making it into something else entirely. She'd stopped making them at school after Dudley noticed her doing it, but in that little time before that'd happened, Harry had been enchanted. It'd seemed - as much as Uncle Vernon had hated the word - like magic.
For a moment, he wasn't quite sure why it'd come to mind. It meant something, he knew that - everything he'd heard and felt and smelled while he was connected to the wards had, but most of it had been more obvious than this.
It wasn't to do with the girl, really. The paper, though... folding. Layering, like he'd thought before. What did that mean? Making shapes out of paper, like she had, or -
Making something large take up less space. Folding it in, the way the sides of the wards were, so that nobody in the outside world would notice the missing space. Those parts of the wards had been superseded by the Fidelius, when it'd been up, but they hadn't stopped existing. And nobody had ever bothered to put them over the top of the building. Why would they, when the existing wards didn't go any further up than the back hedge and the house? All the houses on the street were built to the same design; it wasn't as though somebody would be able to look down on them and realise a ball tossed at the space between the houses went somewhere they couldn't see.
Harry opened his eyes cautiously. The wards were barely visible to the naked eye, nothing more than a shimmer of heat-haze trapped in place, but he could feel them echoing around him. He was hovering high above London's rooftops, the wind brushing his face. As he watched, a pigeon curved around the edge of the wards with seeming unconcern. He might as well not have been there at all.
He'd done it.
A laugh bubbled out of him. He turned his Firebolt recklessly towards the ground, tears streaming from his eyes as the wind tore at his face, swooping up at the last moment and scattering fallen leaves across the garden in his wake. His broom rolled as he sped towards the house; he let go, tumbling onto overgrown grass with a thump that rattled in his bones, still laughing.
Everything looked so much better from down here. The plants were green and springing, flowers blooming in the undergrowth; the sky was bluer by the moment. Even Grimmauld Place looked kinder, old and worn but still full of promise.
Maybe he should tell someone what he'd done. Hermione had been asleep, though, hadn't she? He wasn't going to wake her up if he didn't have to; her sleeping habits had been as strange as his lately.
He poked at the little remaining parts of his connection to the wards, waning a little more with every distraction he found. Ron was asleep now too; Kreacher was taking delighted advantage of the kitchen's sudden cooperation with his magic, and in any case he wouldn't have cared about the wards over the garden as long as they hadn't fallen down. No reason to bother either of them, really. He let the connection slip away and tipped his head back, staring at the sky.
He could do other things with the wards too, he was sure of it. Find out why none of their cleaning spells seemed to stick. Remodel. Experiment. And maybe he ought to see who else needed help like this; after all, if he could manage it with only a bare-bones knowledge of how warding worked then anyone could, and it wasn't like he was the only one who'd inherited a relative's house years before he'd expected to with absolutely no idea how to look after it. Probably nobody else's house would be in as bad a shape as Grimmauld Place was, but that didn't mean they mightn't want to change things around. Look what being trapped in his parents' house had done to Sirius, after all.
But that didn't seem worth worrying about right now. He could do that later, once he'd slept and eaten and done his best to explain the whole thing to Ron and Hermione. Right now, though...
He wrapped a hand around his Firebolt, grinning.
Right now, he had three months' worth of cabin fever to work off.
Flying had always felt like freedom to him.