Title: All the World
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Harry Potter
Relationship: Ragnok/OFC, Harry Potter/Hermione Granger, Sirius Black/OFC, OMC/OFC, OMC/OMC
Genre: Time Travel, Fix-It, Canon Divergence, Romance, Established Relationship, Fantasy
Warnings: Explicit Sex, Discussion-Child Abuse, Discussion-Murder,
Author Notes: I’ve replaced the goblins in HP canon with the dverger. Some magical people call them goblins which the dverger consider a slur. The dverger are, in fact, a dwarf species (a la The Hobbit, LOTR, etc). I first used this connection and term in Small Magic which is not currently available online. Crucio means ‘I torture’. Cruciatus takes its name from the Latin word for “pain” or “torture,” the root of which can be seen in other words such as “excruciating” and “crucifixion.”
Summary: The corruption of magic leads Ragnok Windrider, Chieftain of the Dverger Horde, to choose a path into the past. Saving Harry Potter from himself and Dumbledore will alter the fate of his people and the fabric of the magical world.
July 19, 2004
Ragnok pushed his hair back from his face and stared at his reflection. The mirror was kinder than he had the right to expect, considering the lance of pain that drifted through his mind and magic. His species were uniquely sensitive to the magical currents that moved through their world, and he knew that he had no choice but to face the fact that decisions he’d made in the past regarding the neutrality of the Horde had not served magic or the dverger. It hadn’t served any magical creature—in the end.
He lifted his head at the sound of his son’s voice and cleared his throat before pulling on a robe. “Give me a moment, lad.”
“Yes, sir,” Razel acknowledged.
Ragnok left the bath and quickly located his son in the outer chamber of the suite. Razel was sprawled on a sofa staring at the ceiling with a frown. “Lad?”
Razel straightened and cleared his throat. “The renewal spell failed.”
Another failure on his head, Ragnok thought. “How long before the wards start to crumble?”
“Perhaps a year or more if we don’t rebuild them in ritual,” Razel said. “And we don’t have the resources…without sacrifice…to accomplish that. The barrier between this world and Agharti will fail completely within the next fifty years.”
The very idea of their realm being exposed to humans was so appalling that he could barely keep his dinner down. He walked out onto the balcony and looked over the valley their mountain was nestled in. The biggest community outside of the mountain was in sight, and many more villages spread out over his territory. There were other mountains, standing strong and tall in the distance that housed other clans. His ancestors had carved out a life for their kind with both magic and their bare hands. The ancient magic that protected Agharti was being corroded from the outside.
At first, he’d thought that the wizards had decided to no longer honor their treaties, but a careful investigation had proved that false. A wave of green magic lit up the ritual circle his wife favored, and he wondered what Lenore had discovered in her wanderings through the feral magic that embraced her as fiercely as he ever had. He counted her love amongst his true blessings in life. Ragnok had met her before he could even call himself an adult by any measure and had been enthralled. She’d thought him an uncultured idiot. She hadn’t been wrong, so he’d corrected himself as quickly as possible.
“What will we do?”
“Blood and magic built our world,” Ragnok murmured. “That ancient magic will not be satisfied with anything less in the months to come. Your mother is seeking answers even as we speak, and whatever path she picks will be the one that I walk.”
“Just like that?” Razel questioned.
Ragnok hummed under his breath. “She is pure of heart and thought—there is a reason why she’s never ventured from our realm, Razel. Most believe that I’m overprotective and foolish to confine your mother here in our safest place, but it was never about her physical protection. It would be a rare wizard or witch indeed that would pose a threat to her.”
“You were sheltering her magic from their influence,” Razel murmured.
“Humans focus too much on the wrong things—they ignore the flow of magic around them to the detriment of everyone,” Ragnok said roughly. “In all honesty, if Agharti could be sustained without the human realm’s connection with wild magic, I would have our kind retreat entirely. Their wars and corruptive magic users have made living amongst them a burden I never would’ve foreseen.”
Razel leaned against the stone wall that skirted the balcony and focused on his mother’s circle. They both watched magic arc repeatedly around the area. “She’ll catch a lot of attention.”
“Everyone was told to stay clear of her this night. I sent out messages to the villages earlier in the day,” Ragnok murmured. “I need…” He closed his eyes. “Razel, tell me truly, are you ready to stand in my place as chieftain?”
His son’s ragged intake of breath almost hurt, but they couldn’t afford to mince words. “I…magically…yes, but I don’t have your patience with humans. If I lose you because of their corruptness, I can’t say how that might impact my dealings with them in the future.”
“I don’t want you to spend the rest of your life at war,” Ragnok said roughly. “You’ve yet to even marry.”
“I barely have time to eat and sleep,” Razel protested. “If Falco isn’t trying to shove decades of political history down my throat, then Sharprock is doing his damnedest to maim me for life in the training yard.”
“You do well in your duty,” Ragnok acknowledged. “But no one would think poorly of you if you took the time to seek a mate. Your mother worries that you’ll never give yourself time for it. I know your bed is rarely empty, but that does nothing to warm your heart.”
“My heart is fine,” Razel muttered. “Warm and beating as fierce as a dragon.”
“As you say,” Ragnok murmured, and his gaze drifted once more to Lenore’s circle. It was glowing, dark green now. “She’s ready for me, I should think.”
“Whatever path she’s chosen, I don’t know that I can accept it if it means either one of you sacrificing yourselves in ritual to protect our realm,” Razel said roughly. “I don’t expect to have to attend your funeral rights for centuries, Adad.”
“I certainly don’t plan to die any time soon, lad, but I must balance the protection of our people against my personal desires. That has always been the case.”
“The burden of leadership,” Razel said.
“Indeed,” Ragnok agreed and untied the belt of his robe. “Go tell Falco that I will have need of him within the next two hours.”
Ragnok dropped the robe as his son left the balcony, shifted into his animagus form. As a raven, he sailed off the mountain and flew across the valley to his wife’s circle. The wind was bracing around her circle but not violent, so he had no issues landing on one of the low stones that marked the circle. Her gaze connected with his, and she held out one hand where a glowing palantír perched on nimble fingers.
“Good evening, husband,” Lenore said as her magical aura flared. “Which would you like first—the bad news or the wretched news?”
His wife had a terrible sense of humor. He croaked at her, which caused her to smirk.
“Magic on Earth is damaged beyond repair,” she said frankly. “Tom Riddle did something…very foolish, and it tore the very fabric of magical existence. Those tears were filled with darkness, greed, and destruction. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it happened in the last few months of the last war between magical kind. Magic on Earth suffered a terrible wound in that year, and Death himself grew so furious that the ley lakes quaked.”
“I remember it,” Ragnok said as he transformed. Though they still had no bloody idea what the humans had done to accomplish it. Pissing off Death was the sort of folly that his kind had a hard time fathoming. “We traced it back to Dumbledore, but he died before we could figure out what he’d done.”
“It involved Riddle as well,” Lenore glanced his naked form over. “Fresh from a shower, dearest?”
Ragnok shrugged and looked out over the valley. “Who is left to get information from?”
“Harry Potter,” Lenore said simply.
Ragnok grimaced and shook his head. His relationship with Potter was overtly hostile, and there was no need to kick that hornet’s nest. The young wizard didn’t trust the bank or the dverger and never would again due to the fact that they’d allowed the ministry to destroy much of the Potter legacy. Some of it, he could admit, was petty revenge for the fact that the kid had broken into and out of his bank. Shacklebolt had immediately pardoned the three of them for every single crime they’d committed during the war, including violating the bank’s security, leaving the Horde no recourse for legal punishment.
But Shacklebolt hadn’t been in power long and the wizard who’d come after him, a man named Amos Diggory, had done his best to ruin Potter. He’d started by confiscating everything he could from the Potter estate for reparations. No one had bothered to stand up to or defend Potter in the situation. Ragnok regretted that, but he had little recourse—too little, too late.
“I doubt he’d be willing to set foot in the bank,” Ragnok said roughly.
“Within a hundred years, the damage done to our protections will be so profound that dark magic will corrupt the very heart of us,” Lenore said roughly. “We’ll become creatures better left to legend—the foul little goblins of the past we barely remember. Our magic will fade, our intellect will shrink, and at the end of it, Ragnok, our son will be nothing more than a greedy beast bent on destruction.”
“Shall I have Harry Potter kidnapped and brought here?” Ragnok questioned. “Will that work? What crimes can I get away with? Shall I dose him with potions and curse him beyond reason so that we can interrogate him? You said he’d suffered enough.”
“And he has,” Lenore agreed. “More so than he probably really knows. His so-called family uses his own magic against him to power a loyalty charm so robust that it followed him into his second death.”
“Second death,” Ragnok repeated.
“Or third,” Lenore considered. “It depends on how one counts such things.” She placed the palantír on the pedestal in the center of her circle and joined him, her pale linen dress drifted in the wind and brushed against his skin. “He is the key, but there is another way to get the information we need.”
“Hermione Granger-Weasley,” Ragnok muttered. “She works some dead-end job in the ministry that doesn’t begin to meet her potential. I tried to get Bill Weasley to recruit her to the bank, but apparently that twat she’s married to won’t have it.”
Lenore hummed under her breath. “Let’s invite her to tea.”
“I don’t want to have tea with a witch, not even the brightest one of her age,” Ragnok muttered.
“I want to have tea with her,” Lenore said.
“Because we need all the information we can gather before we…” She took a deep breath. “The only way to fix this in the past, Ragnok.”
“No!” The denial was visceral and immediate. It burst out of him like he’d been punched. “That’s…Lenore.”
“There is no other way,” Lenore said. “I’ve searched for a different answer for months, and the only thing that is utterly clear to me is that we only salvation we have is in the past. I trust no one else but us with this duty, Ragnok. Our people expect—,”
“I will not risk you in such a way,” Ragnok hissed. “The only ritual available to us for that will kill us both!”
“We were always meant to walk all paths together,” she said simply and smiled when he glared at her.
Her peace and acceptance of their potential deaths was no comfort at all. Ragnok turned from her and focused on their mountain. Generations of his clan had lived and worked in it, and he could trace his bloodline all the way back the founding chieftain. Though their clan had been small, then and the horde divided into many different factions by geography, politics, and blood ties. He wondered if Ragenor saw what would become his legacy and that his many greats grandson would stand as chieftain over every dverger alive.
Her hand settled on his bareback as she leaned against him. “Ragnok.”
Ragnok took a ragged breath. “Is this the price I must pay? For stubbornness? For foolishly clinging to neutrality while Grindelwald and Riddle rampaged through Europe?” He swallowed hard. “I’ll do it alone.”
“Together,” she hissed. “You promised my parents that you’d stay at my side until death takes you. You swore your sword and magic to my defense, your heart to the loving of me, and your body to the pleasuring of me.” She shifted around and stood in front of him. “What am I?”
“My wife,” Ragnok murmured as he cupped her face. “My queen.”
“Then we go together,” she said. “We live together, and we die together. All roads you travel, I will be at your side. I will accept no other circumstance.”
Ragnok sighed. “You’re a deeply unreasonable person. I blame that ancestor of yours that shagged the high elf. Their offspring were beasts.”
“One man’s beast is another’s hero of legend.” She smiled and casually untied the front of her dress then shrugged it off. It pooled at her feet, leaving her naked. “I’ve prepared the circle for a renewal.” She wet her lips. “A personal one.”
“I can’t say I’m opposed,” he admitted though it had probably been a decade since they’d indulged in such magic in an outdoor ritual circle. “But I was informed many years ago that my wife deserves better than to be taken on the ground.”
She huffed. “I had sand everywhere.”
“I did, too,” he admitted with a sigh.
Lenore caught his hands and pulled him toward the low altar that dominated the circle’s inner layer. “But the ground would not serve us this night.”
The stone of the altar was smooth and spoke of the kind of comfort that could only be achieved with advanced charm work. “Planned ahead, I see.”
She grinned and pushed at his shoulders. Ragnok gamely allowed himself to be placed on his back and just hummed under his breath when his wife slid astride his thighs. Lenore shook back her hair—red as the day he’d married her—to reveal gently pointed ears. The first time she’d ever revealed her ears to him, he’d been gobsmacked, and if he hadn’t already been determined to marry her, her magical heritage would’ve sealed the deal for him.
Lenore settled on his thighs and swept one arm out from her body as a stave appeared in her hand. “Magicae miscerique!”
Her magic heaved around them, and Ragnok relaxed on the altar as she stored the stave and focused on him. Lenore quirked an eyebrow at him and wrapped a hand around his cock. He’d been hard since she dropped the dress and he sucked in a deep breath at the knowing touch of her hand. Ragnok’s hands trembled as he stroked her thighs and caught her hips gently.
“I knew the moment I met you,” she murmured. “I knew you’d be everything I could possibly need for the rest of my life. Fortunately, no one in my family tried to tell me no. I’d have hated to have to kill them all in combat.”
He didn’t consider it fortunate since he hated most of her family. “Your sister is great.”
Lenore laughed. “Shut up.” She lifted up and sank down on his cock with a pleased shudder. “Do you ever wish you hadn’t waited for marriage?”
“No,” he murmured and planted his feet flat on the altar so he could thrust up into the grind of her body against his. “It pleases me, deeply, to have never known any other lover but you. And to know that no one else has seen or touched you like this is the most precious gift in my life. We were made for each other.”
She braced her hands on his chest and dug her nails into his skin. “You remember that when you even try to think about leaving me behind.”
“You’d still be my wife in the past,” he pointed out, and her nails broke his skin.
“She’s his wife—the one you’ll replace. I’m your wife, you idiot male.”
He rolled her over on the altar, put her on her back, and briefly buried his face against her neck. Deep down, he knew that even traveling back as far as a year would result in a slightly different version of his wife than he currently had. But they’d have no choice to go back much further than a year, and that meant he really had no choice. He didn’t want to face those kinds of circumstances with a younger version of his wife, who hadn’t seen the magic of the world start to turn and curl in on itself.
Because he couldn’t bear the thought of it another moment, he let his mind clear as the magic of the ritual started to seep into them both. The pleasure of being in the tight clench of his wife’s warm and willing body was only matched by the embrace of wild magic she’d called forth to commune with them. Her nails raked down his back, drawing more blood but he didn’t mind, pleasuring Lenore of the line of Durin had never been anything less than a mixture of extremes—love, lust, and pain mixing together in a heady combination that had been leaving him breathless for over 80 years.
She urged him to give her more—harder and faster—with her hands, her body, and soft moans that she couldn’t contain. Ragnok granted her every wish until she was coming apart under him with a throaty purr. Her cunt clenched hot and tight around him, forcing his own orgasm far before he wished it.
He rested on her as magic moved on and in them. “You’ll be the one to tell our son.”
She pinched his ass.
– – – –
I would be pleased if you would have tea with me on Thursday, the 22nd, at 2 PM for a personal discussion. It would be a favor if you would come alone.
Chieftain of the Horde
Hermione put the letter down on her desk and stared at it. She’d never heard of anyone getting personal correspondence from the goblin chieftain. She bit down her lip as she considered her schedule. It would be easy enough to take off and have the meeting, but Ron might notice. He might even demand to go with her, and it was clear that Ragnok expected her to arrive alone.
She couldn’t imagine what sort of personal discussion he wanted to have with her. The bank had accepted her apology for what happened during the war, but their continued animosity with Harry had made it difficult for anyone in the family except Bill to even do regular business. She’d only been in the branch on Diagon Alley twice in the past three years, preferring to use her key impression for purchases.
Ron went all the time because he didn’t care about being glared at by the goblins. Hermione was pretty sure the war had given her husband a false sense of prowess that not even failing to be a good auror had dented. She glanced over the parchment one more time and put it in her burn tray. It went up in flames immediately, and the ashes swished away afterward.
The owl that had delivered the invitation hadn’t waited for a response. Not really a surprise, she imagined that Chieftain Ragnok was not used to being told no. Hermione had no reason to decline and a few hundred to say yes. Making a friend as powerful as Ragnok would only serve her, and perhaps it would allow her more freedom than she currently had. She frowned down at the simple gold band she wore and twisted the metal. Resentment settled in her gut when she gave it a little tug, and it clung to her finger.
She’d been enamored with the idea of a magical marriage and had embraced the tradition eagerly not realizing until it was too late that such bonds were permanent, and Ron didn’t deserve that sort of commitment from her.
She looked up and found Harry standing in the doorway of her office. “Come in.” She waved him in and noticed the tense lines of his face. “What’s going on?”
“Ginny.” Harry exhaled sharply and slouched down in the chair in front of her desk after closing the door. “She’s pregnant.”
“I thought…” Hermione trailed off. “You were going to wait until next year—that you needed the money from her playing quidditch to pay off the cottage.”
“I thought we’d agreed on the same,” Harry said and shook his head. “But apparently, Molly’s opinion on such things is more important to Ginny than mine. She stopped taking her potion three months ago without even telling me.” He rubbed his face. “I don’t…we’re barely making ends meet, Hermione. I told her that, and she just shrugged. She said we could move into the Burrow if we lose the house.”
Hermione couldn’t help but make a face, and her gaze dropped to his wedding ring. Harry was just as trapped as she was. They’d discovered a year ago that they were both laboring under permanent loyalty charms keyed to the Weasley family. They were so ingrained into their magic that even testing them had been extremely painful. The magic had kept her and Harry both out of the Department of Mysteries. Harry had been furious and hurt. Neither one of them had been able to even question Molly and Arthur about it, though.
“The Chieftain of the Horde invited me to tea for tomorrow.”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Did you start a rebellion all on your own?”
She laughed. “I wish.” Hermione sat back in her chair and bit down on her lip. “I’m going to go. I’ve decided not to tell Ron. Can you help me run interference?”
“As much as I can,” Harry agreed. “Lately, I’ve noticed that he’s pretty good at activating the loyalty charm when he wants something from me. I think Molly told him about it, or maybe he’s always known and has gotten better at manipulating it.”
“I noticed, too,” she said. “Sometimes, I wish I didn’t know about the charm.”
“It was easier to tolerate him,” Hermione admitted reluctantly. “Now I just sit here thinking about killing him, knowing that I’ll never be able to act on it. Hell, we probably couldn’t even act against them in self-defense.”
“One day, we might have to test that,” Harry said grimly. “I did go to St. Mungo’s and get a birth control spell placed. One that won’t expire for a few years. I don’t intend to tell Ginny about it. I think if Molly finds out, she’ll probably order me to get it removed.”
“Ron told me last month that he thought it was about time we had children,” Hermione said. “I told him that the only way that was happening is if he jerks off in a cup.”
“I haven’t let him touch me since I found out about the charm,” Hermione said. “And take a flushing drought every single day to make sure he doesn’t sneak some kind of potion into my system.” She waved a hand. “He told me I had a marital duty to him. I told him he was born with two hands.”
Harry nodded. “There’s always an impotence charm. I’ve found I can hit Ginny with anything that is considered generally harmless. Last week I put a repelling charm on myself that kept her from sitting in the same room with me. She ended up sleeping on the couch.” He shrugged when she laughed. “It’s the little things. I won’t keep it up while she’s carrying my kid, but I can’t stand her ass, so I consider her fair game.”
“A repelling charm is brilliant,” Hermione said wistfully. “I’ll have to try it. Maybe for dinner because I hate to eat at the table with him.” She paused. “Why are you still having sex with her?”
Harry shrugged. “She’s a good a hole as any and I can’t cheat. I’ve already tried.”
– – – –
The witch showed up thirty minutes early and patiently waited on an uncomfortable bench in a private waiting room space. Ragnok had often wondered if Muggle-borns were more polite because of how they were raised or if it was fear. Hogwarts only taught them about the goblin rebellions. As insulting as he found the word goblin, he’d never really considered it much of an insult coming from a Muggle-born. They simply didn’t know any better, and his kind couldn’t be fucked to teach them.
Lenore wanted to meet Hermione Granger-Weasley, and he had no real reason to deny that. The young witch had easily surrendered her wand for the meeting so she’d be easier to contain in Agharti if things got out of hand. And perhaps, exposing the young witch to their realm would press upon her the seriousness of the situation.
Ragnok canceled the monitoring magic and opened the door to his office. He inclined his head as the witch stood. “Ms. Granger-Weasley.”
“Oh, please, call me Hermione, Chieftain Ragnok,” she murmured, and her hands curled together in front of her—a picture of polite innocence—he thought. Though he’d rarely met an innocent adult human being in his entire life.
He inclined his head but didn’t offer her the same. It would be suspicious, and he didn’t want the witch’s guard to go up so early in their conversation. “Come with me.” He pulled his office door closed and motioned her toward a narrow hall that led away from the public part of the bank. “Did you tell anyone that you were coming here today?”
“Just my best friend, Harry Potter,” she admitted in a hushed tone as they walked. “He…supported it.”
“Did he?” Ragnok questioned in amusement. ‘The last time I crossed paths with Potter, he told me to go fuck myself.”
“Yes, well.” Hermione sighed. “I can’t even pretend to apologize for that.”
“It’s unnecessary at any rate. Potter had a right to his anger. I did him an immense disservice. I could’ve used at least ten different banking regulations to protect the Potter estate, and I didn’t because I was a petty arsehole,” Ragnok explained. “I can’t take it back, and he’ll never trust me enough to…”
“That’s why I was invited here instead of him,” Hermione said. “I did wonder, you know. I don’t have a powerful position in the ministry, and I’d already turned down an apprenticeship with the bank. My apologies for that. The half-arsed wizard I’m married to was immensely jealous that I received such an opportunity and ordered me to say no in such a fashion that I couldn’t ignore it.”
“I can see the behavior modification magic on you,” Ragnok said roughly. “What is it? Can you tell me?”
“Albus Dumbledore essentially cursed Harry and me to be loyal to the Weasley family during our sixth year at Hogwarts. By the time we discovered the so-called loyalty charm, it had become entrenched in our magic. They were subtle about the use of the magic at first, but as the years have gone by—it’s gotten much more blatant. As much as Harry hates the fact that the ministry took his estate, it does please him a lot that he isn’t forced to share it with his wife’s family.”
“It’s the little things,” Ragnok muttered.
“Harry said the same thing,” Hermione admitted as they approached a magical lift. “Oh, thank Merlin. I hate the carts.”
“We have similar lifts everywhere,” Ragnok confided. “We only put your kind in the carts out of spite.”
Hermione snorted. “I’ll never tell.”
He knew that already. He had a healer on hand to deal with memory charming the young witch after their conversation. It had been a small matter before, but now that he knew her to be cursed, he had no choice but to have the memory of their meeting removed and replaced with something less dangerous to him and to magic.
The lift went down, then shifted left abruptly. The girl’s breath hitched, and she took a deep breath.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“Somewhere your kind has never stepped foot in,” Ragnok explained. “When the doors open, you’ll be in the heart of Agharti, the dverger realm.”
“Dverger?” Hermione questioned.
“That’s what our species is called, lass,” Ragnok said roughly. “Goblins are extinct species of vermin—souls corrupted by dark magic and left to destroy anything in their path.”
“My apologies, I had no idea,” the witch said faintly.
He glanced her way and found her cheeks had flushed a dull red. “Your ignorance isn’t willful or discriminatory. I’ve never felt that you offered me a single insult.” He paused. “Except that time you broke into my bank, stole a dragon, and broke back out.”
She huffed. “I apologized!” The doors opened, and she took a deep breath. “Are you sure?”
“My wife wants to have tea with you,” Ragnok said dryly. “And what my wife wants, she gets.”
“That’s charming,” Hermione said and smiled when he glanced her way. “How long have you been married?”
“We celebrated 85 years of marriage during Yule last year,” Ragnok said roughly.
Hermione stepped out onto the shining granite floor of the large receiving hall of his mountain, and the dverger in the room all stilled. It was no surprise that the witch had been invited, but most believed she’d refuse to come so far into their realm without a wand. She moved a few feet forward then turned in a very slow circle, her face bright with wonder and curiosity. “Oh, it’s beautiful.”
“Thank you,” Ragnok said gravely. “Lenore awaits us.”
– – – –
Hermione rarely counted her petite stature as an asset, but it certainly made her feel less awkward as she was motioned to sit at a table with the Lady of the Horde. She knew enough about the Horde to realize she’d been granted two very incredible boons. No wizard or witch had ever been introduced to Lenore much less been allowed into Agharti. She didn’t know what she’d done to deserve such treatment.
“I’m Lenore,” the female dverger announced. “Wife of Ragnok and High Priestess of the Horde.”
Hermione wet her lips. “I was once given a briefing on the…dverger by the ministry. They referred to you as the Lady of the Horde.”
“That is a title humans felt most comfortable with,” Lenore said and motioned to the smaller teapot on the table. “I had tea made for you, Ms. Granger-Weasley, as our brew would be far too bitter for your palette.”
“Thank you,” she murmured. “And please, if you’d like, call me Hermione.” She glanced around the room. “Is this your private salon?”
“Yes, I come here to plot against my husband,” Lenore said and grinned when Hermione laughed abruptly. “The politics of my position are a nightmare. I’d wish on it no one. I’ve had to defend my marriage three times in the last decade.”
“Defend your marriage?”
“Yes, some tart from another clan thought she’d make my husband a better wife since I only birthed one child. She’s challenged me to single combat three times.”
Hermione quirked an eyebrow. “You can’t just kill her?”
“What sort of lesson would that teach anyone?” Lenore questioned. “I cut off her wand hand during the last challenge. The healer put it back on, of course, but I believe she’s learned her lesson. I’ve been more than patient.”
Hermione nodded. Ragnok was very attractive so she could see why he’d be sought after. “What would’ve happened if you’d lost the challenge?”
“I’d have cut that tart’s head off,” Ragnok said dryly from his place by the fire.
Lenore turned to stare at him. “Husband, if you can’t stay out of my conversation—you can just take yourself out to the training yard until I have a need of you.”
Hermione bit down on her bottom lip as the chieftain picked up a book and opened it. She focused on Lenore. “What did you wish to speak of, High Priestess?”
“Lenore will do, lass,” she said as she picked up a biscuit and dunked in generously in her tea. “I wish to speak of magic and Tom Riddle.”
Hermione’s stomach dropped. “Lenore, I…Harry and I decided years ago that it’s best if we never spoke of such things again…I can’t discuss this with you.”
“Tom Riddle’s resurrection and subsequent activities damaged magic, Hermione,” Lenore said. “Within the next decade, the magic that protects Agharti will be so corrupt that our realm will be utterly exposed to magical and Muggle alike. Thereafter, our control over the ley lines will be tenuous at best. Magical enclaves all over the world will slowly be exposed to Muggles.
“Within a hundred years, magical species will go extinct due to either the corruption of magic or exposure to Muggles. I’ve seen it—the chaos, the destruction, the mass executions by magical governments as they struggle to protect themselves by placating the Muggles. Magic won’t die, as it is an endless force in the universe, but it will grow darker until there is no light left amongst us. War will be waged for decades on all sides, and for many death will be a mercy.”
Hermione brushed tears from her face and took a shuddery breath that ended in a soft sob. She pressed her fist against her mouth and shook with horror and grief for several moments. Her magic was resonating with the truth of Lenore’s words. She’d read report after report at the ministry where people were complaining about small issues with their wards and Muggle repelling spells.
“I can swear this is true on my magic,” Lenore offered.
“No, please,” Hermione said hoarsely. “I know it’s true.” Her breath hitched, and she closed her eyes. “I wish Harry was here.”
“Not your husband?”
“I’d set him on fire if I could,” Hermione said crossly and took a deep breath. “My apologies.”
“No worries, lass, I’ll be happy to send a few hit wizards to kill your husband for you,” Lenore said and plucked a bunch of grapes from the fruit bowl between them. “Considering the magic smeared all of your aura, maybe more than one Weasley.”
“I think you could kill about half the ones left,” Hermione muttered and blushed. Her magic shuddered in her core. “But the stupid loyalty charm on me is going to make me beg you not to if you continue this line of conversation.”
Lenore smirked. “We’ll just stop talking about it then.” She paused and stared for several moments. “We could invite Mr. Potter here right now if you believe that he’d be able to handle the conversation without losing his considerable temper.”
Hermione bit down on her lip and shook her head. “I can’t guarantee that. Harry is cursed and trapped just like me. It’s like Dumbledore took the most admirable trait we had and weaponized it against us. If I had the funds, I’d hire a necromancer to dig that old bastard up so I could kill him properly.” She paused. “Several times over. Maybe like a hundred.”
“Goals are good for your constitution,” Lenore declared. “Are you ready to tell me about Tom Riddle?”
“What can you do about it now?” Hermione questioned. “The damage is done.”
“Here and now, yes, the damage is done.”
“Here and now,” Hermione murmured, and her stomach lurched. “Oh.” She blew out a bit of air. “You’re going to memory charm the fuck out of me, right? I need so much memory charming after this conversation. Time travel is as illegal as any of the Unforgivables. If you get caught, the whole Horde could be punished. It might even lead to a worldwide conflict.”
“A little rebellion is good for the constitution, too,” Ragnok muttered.
Lenore glared briefly at her husband before she focused on Hermione. “Yes, you’ll be thoroughly memory charmed. You’ll have fond memories of seeing Agharti and meeting me, but the conversation will be silly and mostly center on politics and relations between our two peoples. We’ll also probably talk about having a better relationship with Potter since he might expect to be mentioned, and there’s no need to increase hostilities there.”
Hermione put one trembling hand on the table and nodded. “I’ll help—but I have—one condition.”
“What is that condition?”
“I don’t know when you’ll end up, but if you could find some way to save Harry and me from being cursed by Dumbledore, or at least see it lifted before it’s entrenched…I don’t know how much longer we can live with this, Lenore.”
Lenore’s mouth tightened, and her eyes darkened. “There is no greater crime among the dverger than the destruction of free will, Hermione Granger. I’ll see you both free if you’ve already been cursed. And I’ve already decided that Dumbledore should die sooner rather than later.”
Hermione put some biscuits on her plate and poured herself some tea. “I actually have a list of people that should probably get killed as soon as possible. Method of your choice, of course, but they proved to be a real problem during the war and frankly afterward as well.”
“Amos Diggory being the first on the list,” Lenore said wryly.
Hermione shrugged. “He’s just a grieving old man using politics to punish the world. We can fix that situation without a hit wizard. Rita Skeeter would be an excellent comrade for that. She’s an unregistered animagus, so I suggest you invite her to the bank and blackmail the shite out of her first thing.”
Lenore smirked. “Oh, dear, what a thing to be told. Did you know it’s illegal for an undisclosed animagus to enter the bank at all? It’s a violation of the last treaty we signed with your government.”
“I wonder how many times she’s entered the bank the bank over the years,” Hermione said and shook her head. “I should feel sorry for her, but I don’t because she basically called me a gold-digging whore when I was fifteen and a virgin. I’d never even seen…well.” She blushed. “You know what I mean.”
Lenore nodded. “Your only condition is keeping you and Potter safe from Dumbledore’s curse?”
“Past me would be an asset if approached correctly. She’d be over the moon and halfway to Mars to meet you and learn from you. If that’s possible? Harry had no support, and by the end of fifth year, he had little to no respect for the adults that were supposed to protect us.” She focused on Ragnok. “He’s never had a steady, good male role model. Harry has the heart of a lion, Chieftain, and he’s been spent his whole life wrapped in chains. He deserves better.”
“Why?” Ragnok demanded. “Why does he deserve better? Because his parents were killed? Because he grew up with small-minded Muggles?”
“Because all that crap the Prophet printed about a prophecy and Harry being the chosen one is true,” Hermione snapped. “Harry’s Riddle’s equal, and the only one who can defeat him.”
“Son of a bitch,” Ragnok muttered. “Looks like I’m going to be adopting Harry fucking Potter.”
“It’s fascinating,” Hermione admitted as she trailed a thick lay line across the map of Europe spread out before her. “You can see where magical enclaves have come and gone over time. The ley pool under Hogwarts is immense.”
“There was a time when that particular pool was called Hekate’s Lake,” Lenore explained. “The taint there is the worst in all of Europe. Terrible things happened there that we can’t understand.”
“People died,” Hermione said with a pensive frown. “Is that not enough?”
“Death is a part of life,” Lenore said dismissively. “Nature and magic accept it and give him his due as they should. What happened here is much different. The taint is immense.”
Hermione took a deep breath. “I made Harry a promise once, and I’m going to have to break it today. It hurts to do this, Lenore.”
“I know, lass.”
“We have so little between us because of the way we were cursed. I can’t even…think about my feelings for him without my magic hurting since the curse apparently considers that disloyalty.”
“Are you in love with him?” Ragnok said roughly.
Hermione shuddered. “I can’t say it, sir.”
“Can he?” Lenore asked curiously. “His magical power is profound.”
“And in turn, the loyalty charm he is forced to fuel is just as robust,” Hermione murmured. “The one time he tried to tell me how he felt—he passed out from the pain it caused. We’ve never discussed it again. We don’t even touch anymore because it hurts. I don’t know which is a greater agony on some days—seeing him or not seeing him.”
“I ought to cut out Dumbledore’s heart for that shite,” Ragnok muttered. “To be denied love of all things…” He focused on the map. “Go ahead then, lass, break your promise and get over the worst of it.”
“Tom Riddle made horcruxes,” Hermione blurted out, and tears slipped down her cheeks. She hurriedly brushed them away. “In the end, five of the seven we destroyed were destroyed at Hogwarts. The locket was taken care of in the Forest of Dean.” Her gaze drifted to the forest on the map. “It is also tainted but far less so.”
“With good reason,” Ragnok said harshly. “A horcrux is a crime against magic!”
Hermione nodded. “The first to be destroyed was the diary of Tom Riddle during our second year—near the end in 1993. Harry also killed a basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets.”
“In the bowels of the school,” Lenore murmured. “Very close to the lake.”
“We also destroyed Hufflepuff’s cup down there,” Hermione admitted and winced when both dverger glared at her. “Sorry.’
Lenore sighed. “You couldn’t have known.” She frowned. “The others?”
“Tom Riddle made Harry one the night he tried to kill him in 1981.”
“Bullshite,” Ragnok muttered. “There’s no bloody way that kid survived more than a decade with a horcrux attached to him. He might have lasted half that time due to his magical power. Tell me about the destruction of the diary.”
“Harry used a basilisk fang—he stabbed the diary and prevented Riddle from being resurrected through it.”
“Then that is when he became a horcrux,” Lenore said. “The fragment of Riddle’s soul would’ve latched onto Potter in an act of self-preservation.”
“Are you sure?” Hermione questioned. “Harry had a connection to Riddle as far back as he could remember.”
“The Killing Curse is a soul violator,” Ragnok explained. “But it doesn’t violate the caster’s soul, Hermione. There are no accidental horcruxes—the process of creating one is complicated and obscene. Based on what we know of the events of Godric’s Hollow Riddle didn’t have time to make a horcrux and the backlash of his curse on Potter couldn’t have created one. What do you know about that night?”
“Harry doesn’t discuss it often,” Hermione admitted. “Once, after the war, when he was quite drunk, he told me that he remembers his father yelling for his mother to take him and run. But she couldn’t leave the house for some reason that his memory can’t articulate. Lily Potter begged Riddle to spare Harry and to take her instead even after he told her to step aside. We’d later find out that Severus Snape had asked his Dark Lord to spare Lily. Riddle agreed to Lily’s bargain and struck her dead. Then he tried to kill Harry.”
“Magical contract perhaps,” Lenore said. “I wish we could study the memory of that event. We’ll have to work to retrieve it in the past.”
Hermione considered that. “Harry will want to trust you. Dumbledore isolated him a lot and never told him all he needed to know. How far do you plan to go back?”
“Based on the arithmancy I’ve done, I don’t think we can go past the resurrection,” Lenore said. “The further we go back, the less valuable your information will be.”
She nodded. “That summer, the ministry launched a smear campaign against Harry that honestly lingers on him to this day. He’ll be easy to…” Hermione sighed, “Manipulate, but that’s all Dumbledore ever did to him, so I can’t advocate that.”
“There is no need for manipulation,” Lenore said. “We will merely offer Harry Potter exactly what he needs—safety, honesty, and training. I believe he will respond well to us if we are as honest as possible with him. There are enough issues in the past without recreating the hostility that currently exists between the Horde and Potter.”
“It’s not merely about the Potter estate,” Hermione admitted reluctantly and folded her hands in front of her on the table. “Griphook betrayed us. He knew how important it was for us to get into Lestrange’s vault and take the horcrux she had there—”
“There was a fucking horcrux in my bank?” Ragnok demanded in a shout.
Hermione flinched back from the chieftain, and that earned Ragnok a glare from Lenore. “Yes, Hufflepuff’s cup was given to Bellatrix Lestrange for safekeeping. I’m not sure when it was placed in her vault, but it was there. Griphook helped us break into the bank on the promise we’d give him the Sword of Gryffindor. But he turned on us and betrayed Harry’s trust. If Griphook had done as he promised, then you’d have probably never known about the break-in.”
“No part of that is comforting,” Ragnok admitted sourly.
“Harry had already been betrayed so much then Shacklebolt lost the election, and Diggory set out to punish Harry for the death of his son.” Hermione rubbed her face with both hands. “And you know the result of that.”
“Yes,” Ragnok admitted. “Diggory destroyed the magical legacy of the House of Potter, but he wasn’t the only one to take in such a fashion from Harry Potter. Did you ever wonder, Hermione, why Harry Potter was allowed to use the Sword of Gryffindor?”
Hermione frowned. “Because he was…sorted into Gryffindor?”
“No, it is an entailed artifact. There are many who can claim a tertiary claim to the Gryffindor family, but Harry Potter’s claim is much more direct through his mother.”
Hermione’s mouth pinched together. “How direct?”
“Direct enough that he could’ve claimed the role of patron for the Horde. We would’ve been obligated to defend his interests.”
“Son of a bitch,” Hermione muttered. “Why didn’t…” She glared at him. “Another way to punish him for embarrassing you? You let his mother’s legacy languish and expire?”
“Yes, I did,” Ragnok admitted. “After the war, I couldn’t see how Harry Potter could stand as our wizarding patron. On any given day, I can’t decide who hates who more. It did expire, by the way, roughly a year after the war. The legacy-claim faded due to our animosity and my lack of interest in engaging with him.”
“Did it please you?” Hermione demanded.
“Yes, at the time, I was very pleased,” Ragnok admitted and shrugged when she crossed her arms and sat back from the table. “Honesty is all I have left to give in this situation.”
Hermione left the table and turned her back on them to stare out a window in the large room they were in. A beautiful green valley spread out in front of her. She could see a village in the distance. It looked quaint and otherworldly—but not quite like the magical enclaves she’d visited in Britain or Paris.
“I have a list of the horcruxes and what I know about the retrieval of each,” she murmured. “One is special, but Riddle either didn’t care or didn’t know what he was desecrating with his foul soul.”
“What is it?” Ragnok questioned.
“The ring of the House of Gaunt,” Hermione said. “Dumbledore retrieved it from a Gaunt property sometime in 1996 and used the Sword of Gryffindor to destroy it in his office. I suppose he also descends from Godric Gryffindor?”
“Far too distant to be considered a relative of Potter, but he is related to the family. Potter’s closest living magical relatives are actually the Blacks through his paternal great-grandmother and the Longbottoms, through Gryffindor, but even they are far removed from Gryffindor. Godric’s direct line fell to squibs five hundred years ago,” Lenore explained. “What’s special about the ring, lass?”
“It had a Deathly Hallow set in it,” Hermione said and finally turned to face them. Both dverger were pale. “The Resurrection Stone to be exact. The cloak has been passed down through the Potter family for generations.”
“And the Elder Wand?” Ragnok demanded. “Who carries the Elder Wand?”
“Harry does, at least, he does now. It’s disguised to look like his holly wand, but he found he couldn’t part with it after the war. He made Ron and me believe he’d destroyed it at first, but I realized the truth sometime later. As to who carried it in the past, Albus Dumbledore took it from Grindelwald during their final duel.”
“And Dumbledore used the sword to get rid of the horcrux in the ring,” Ragnok said flatly. “The stone?”
“When we finally saw it—it appeared damaged but whole. I have no idea what it looked like before Dumbledore cleaved the horcrux from it.” She paused. “If the horcrux in the diary ended up in Harry, where did the others go?”
Ragnok flicked a hand over the map. “Magic appeared to be trying to mitigate Riddle’s damage. She absorbed the rest of them in defense of her children and is tainted beyond repair because of it. The complete annihilation of a Deathly Hallow would’ve caught the attention of not just Death but Lady Magic as well. Dumbledore’s ham-handed approach to dealing with the horcruxes is the root of our ruination. The day it must have happened, Death himself came onto our plane and made his immense displeasure known.”
“The stone wasn’t destroyed though,” Hermione protested. “Harry used it to talk to his parents the day of the final battle.”
Ragnok shook his head. “No, if the horcrux was driven from the stone, then it destroyed its magical properties when it left. What your friend saw, at most, was a very elaborate enchantment that showed him exactly what he expected to see. Dumbledore probably took an opportunity to manipulate the man some more while he was at it. We mustn’t forget, Hermione, that Albus Dumbledore is a powerful and talented wizard. We cannot ever underestimate him.”
She nodded and frowned. “Make sure to tell past-me that because she was addicted to rules and followed Dumbledore’s instructions to the letter.” Hermione returned to the table and, with a flick of her wrist, pulled a journal from her dimensional store. She put the book down on the table in front of Lenore. “I had to keep a record of what happened and how. I’ve never shown anyone that journal, not even Harry, because he didn’t want anyone to have information on horcruxes. I never researched how to make one, but you apparently know how to already.”
“They were common in the past,” Ragnok admitted. “But once the price the ritual exacted on the mortal soul became known, the practice became abhorrent to anyone who knew of the magic. We find them occasionally in tombs across the globe. There are ways to destroy them that won’t taint our world, but Dumbledore probably never once considered coming to the Horde for help.”
“What about the one Harry carried for years?” Hermione questioned.
“It will be the work of an afternoon to remove it from him and place it in a proper vessel for disposal,” Lenore explained. “And that will be done as soon as we can. The longer he suffers with that thing, the more damage he will suffer. Moreover, leaving it in place gives Riddle too many advantages. He probably used Potter’s magical strength to regain enough of himself to perform the resurrection ritual. That’s certainly why he used the boy’s blood for it.”
“Dumbledore believed he used Harry’s blood to circumvent the protection Lily Potter’s sacrifice gave Harry. Also, perhaps he thought that no other blood would do since fate and prophecy had told0 Riddle that Harry was his equal.”
“Do you know the exact wording of the prophecy?” Lenore asked
Hermione motioned toward the book. “It’s on the first page. I thought it complete drivel the first time Harry shared it with me, and I can’t say, even now, that I believe it entirely. I find divination appalling. Arithmancy has its appeal, of course. I enjoy using math and magical instinct to create predictive models. It makes sense, but the rest of it…” She flicked a hand. “Woolly, as Headmistress McGonagall would say.”
Lenore shook her head and shared a look with Ragnok that told Hermione that she’d probably just said something very insulting. She winced and took a deep breath.
“Relax,” Lenore said. “I’m sure what you were exposed to at Hogwarts was, indeed, quite woolly. Moreover, it shouldn’t be taught to individuals who have no gifts for it. You clearly don’t. At most, the subject at Hogwarts should be treated as an independent study course for those who test positive for various gifts in the field of divination.”
“Are you gifted that way?” Hermione questioned.
“Extremely so,” Lenore admitted. “My ancestral line has high elf blood, and we are gifted with a variety of magical talents that most dverger are not.”
Hermione barely kept her mouth from falling open. “But…high elves…left our plane forever many thousands of years ago.”
“Yes,” Lenore nodded and casually pulled her hair up into a bun, which revealed her delicately pointed ears. “The blood of high elves is potent, however, and my ancestor was of a royal line among their kind. His father was a king and very gifted magically.”
“Consider my mind blown,” Hermione said wryly. “I trust your vision of what is to come regardless of my feelings about divination. I’ve never heard anything that felt so true in my life. My magic saw it as truth.”
“You should trust your magical instincts more,” Lenore said. “It would’ve served you well in the past.”
“I didn’t start to recognize it for what it was until after the war,” Hermione admitted. “Perhaps you can teach me how to recognize that earlier.”
“Perhaps I will,” Lenore said with some amusement. “What’s the best way to approach the fifteen-year-old version of you?”
Hermione wet her lips. “Protect Harry Potter, and she’ll trot along after you eagerly. At fifteen, he was the center of my world, and I would’ve done anything to keep him safe. Every single bit of knowledge I could gather was done on the assumption that I needed to learn everything I could to help him. Give her a reason to distrust Dumbledore, and she will. She finds him vexing, but he’s an immense authority in her life. Remove that and give her knowledge. Give her goals. Show her that there is a world much larger than what she’s been exposed to. Show her that she can be everything Harry Potter needs because she doubts that so much.” She cleared her throat. “Be honest with her because even at 15, it won’t take me long to figure out that you’ve time-traveled.”
“Perhaps you can write yourself a note,” Ragnok said dryly. He drew his stave and made a duplicate of the journal. He picked up the original and stored it. “Take the copy so you won’t miss it. It’ll last long enough a few weeks, which is more than enough time.”
Hermione picked up the duplicate and put it in her dimensional store, then picked up a quill and pulled a blank piece of parchment from the stack of paper she and Lenore had been using all afternoon. “I know you’ve already agreed to keep us from being cursed, but if I could spare my younger self what I’ve had to endure in my marriage, I would like to.”
“Does he hurt you?” Lenore questioned.
Hermione shook her head as she considered what to write. “Not physically. He doesn’t respect me, and I’ve had to turn down educational opportunities repeatedly because he hates how smart I am. If he could, he’d turn me into a clone of his mother, and that’s disgusting enough on its own. Honestly, there have been times when I’d have rather he just slap my face and walk away.
“But he doesn’t—he just talks at me like I’m the problem. Like it’s my fault he’s lazy and dumb.” She shuddered as the loyalty charm shifted inside her and offered her a soft rebuke for her words. “I want too much, apparently. I want to know too much, as well. I should be satisfied with the small, unrewarding life he wants because what I want is arrogant, and I don’t even deserve it because I’m a Muggle-born and…” She huffed.
“What happened this time won’t happen again,” Lenore said simply. “And I’ll have him murdered in the street if your younger self even briefly considers him as a romantic possibility. You have my word.”
Hermione’s shoulders relaxed. “Great. Thanks. I really appreciate that. Also, if the ritual fails—what would Harry and I have to do to be free?”
“The ritual won’t fail,” Lenore said simply. “But I’ll leave instructions with my son to see you and Potter free of those loyalty charms no matter how many people he has to have killed to accomplish it.”
“I probably like you more than I should,” Hermione said. “I mean, you’re really bloodthirsty.”
Ragnok snorted. “You should meet her mother—that woman’s practically a dragon.”
Lenore huffed. “I’m telling her you said that.”
“You and I both know she won’t be insulted,” he said and shrugged when Hermione laughed. “Write your note, lass, and we’ll bring in a mind healer to deal with the memory charms.”
– – – –
“This is madness,” Razel protested and blushed furiously when Lenore glared at him. “Amad, surely you realize…”
“It’s illegal, of course, and it should be,” Lenore said. “It’ll be decades before the humans realize how far gone the state of magic is, and by then, the fabric of time will be too rigid to go back far enough to change anything. We had a choice to make, and we made the best one for our kind and for Lady Magic as well. I’ve left extensive notes about what must be done if we fail to accomplish the ritual.”
“You won’t fail,” Razel said and took a deep breath. “And you know it. I would go with you.”
“No.” Ragnok paused in his carving of the ritual stone container they were going to use for the foundation of their personal circle.
Razel walked across the room and knelt opposite the box. “Adad.”
“I’ll accept not a single argument in this, Razel. You are my heir, and I will take no risks with your life.” He huffed. “Besides, your mother and I already empowered the circle with sex magic.”
Razel made a face. “Ugh.”
Ragnok laughed a little and focused on his task. “You have a duty to our family line and all of our kind to stand in my place should I die in this ritual. You see your legacy as a burden. It’s a folly of youth, but you will come to appreciate what magic and genetics have gifted you within time.”
Razel’s gaze dropped to the stone box. “Have either of you considered the fact that this could just be our fate? The fate of all magical kind?”
“If it is, Zir will strike us dead for our impudence,” Lenore said simply. “And we will accept that punishment without rancor.”
“I will have plenty of rancor for all three of us,” Razel said hotly and frowned when both of his parents laughed at him. “If this kills you, Adad, Falco will dedicate himself to marrying me off so I can produce an heir. He won’t even care who it is. I might end up married to a centaur.”
“Surely not a centaur,” Ragnok said with some amusement. “He has a second cousin, by the way, that he mentioned bringing to Britain to be introduced to you.”
“The half-fairy,” Razel said. “I couldn’t be less interested. She doesn’t even have a craft and no ambition. Her only desire is to marry well. Seriously?”
Lenora laughed. “Her wings are apparently adorable.”
“I heard all about her, Amad,” Razel muttered. “Can we not? You two are going to try orphan me in a few bloody hours.”
“I thought you were confident of our success.”
“The worst part is that I am,” Razel said. “And that means the younger version of me is going to have even less ability to get away with a damn thing. You’ll know about my shenanigans before I even get a chance to think them up.”
Lenore smirked. “What makes you think I don’t already?”
“Divination is the actual worst,” Razel declared and stood. “Are you going to eat before the ritual?”
“No,” Ragnok murmured. “I’ll need you to stand guard over us the entire time, lad, so eat and rest if you must.”
“No one would dare interfere,” Razel protested.
“I think you’d be surprised who might actively work against me on any given day,” he said and watched his son absorb that. “Perhaps I’ve been remiss in this. Falco is more concerned about historical data than the day-to-day operations of the Horde.”
“I must protest this line of thought on behalf of my younger self. He has enough work to do.”
“Yes, but perhaps it’s not the right work,” Ragnok murmured. “I will think about it and your protests as well.” He grinned briefly before he started to carve the runes for the outer circle. “Perhaps I’ll invite that half-fairy to live in the mountain. Maybe your mother could use an assistant.”
“Adad!” he said aghast.
“I’d like to have grandbabies with wings,” Ragnok continued, and his son squawked like an indignant hippogriff.
“I’m going to go get a sword out of the armory,” Razel decided. “Might as well arm myself as thoroughly as possible.”
– – – –
Lenore ran her hands over the magical repository—her husband’s work as a runemaster never disappointed. In fact, it was his craftwork in Runic Magic that first caught her eye. She couldn’t have cared less about his future role for the Horde. A future chieftain was of no importance to her, but his magical craft called to her, enchanted her, and had at times left her breathless. After a century together, he no longer surprised her, but he remained talented and deeply magical.
She looked up and found her husband in the open doors that led out to the balcony. “It’ll do.”
He quirked an eyebrow and joined her outside as she opened the box. Hermione Granger’s journal, the letter the witch had written, and an accounting ledger were added from Ragnok’s dimensional store. Lenore added all of the arithmancy work she’d done and several letters to her past self in case only the repository made it into the past.
“Can you set aside how you feel about Potter?”
“Presently, he’s an arsehole,” Ragnok said roughly. “A bitter, emotionally devastated young man that will probably get himself killed on the job to avoid the family he was forced to marry into. I can’t say I like him at all, but I understand how he came to be where he is. In the past, he’ll be a fifteen-year-old boy who grew up in an abusive home. He’s being manipulated by Dumbledore, and he’s probably already been cursed with that stupid loyalty shite.” He took a deep breath. “I can keep them separate.” Then he shrugged. “Unless he tells me to go fuck myself again, then I might punch the little git in the face.”
Lenore sighed. “You had that coming, and you know it.”
“Whatever,” Ragnok muttered. He pulled his dimensional store from his wrist and dropped it into the box.
“What do you have stored in there?”
“You’ll have stuff in the past,” she pointed out.
“It won’t be the same stuff,” he argued. “Besides, I saw you putting your new dress in your store earlier.”
Lenore blushed and retrieved her stave from her bracelet then dropped her own dimensional store in the box. “Shut up. I had to wait three weeks for it to be made. Sourcing that much acromantula silk is difficult since the ministry destroyed the colony in the Forbidden Forest.”
“We’ll remove them the forest this time and give them a home here.” Ragnok looked out over the valley. “Far from the villages, though.”
“Very far,” she said dryly. “We’d have to ward their habitat from the inside and the out to prevent issues, but it would be a lucrative business for the Horde.”
“Ready?” he asked.
She nodded. “There’s no reason to put it off. The longer we linger, the more we hurt our son.”
“We’ll succeed, right?”
Lenore offered him her hand, and he took it quickly. “We will, and this timeline will wash away, leaving a future we are better prepared to fight for. Razel won’t be without us for more than a few moments. In fact, it might happen so quickly that he won’t notice.” She laced their fingers together and summoned the repository with a flick of fingers.
It lifted off the table, shrank down in size, and landed in her palm.
“You think I coddle him.”
“He’s your only child, of course, you coddle him,” Lenore murmured and smiled.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You wanted many, and I couldn’t give them to you.”
“I wanted to make a family with you, and that is exactly what I did,” she said and looked out over the valley. It wasn’t the first time he’d apologized for their unexpected fertility issues. “Besides, you put adoption on the table.”
“I wasn’t serious about that,” Ragnok protested. “I mean, I’m not opposed to adopting from amongst our own kind but not bloody wizards, Lenore. I have my limits.”
She laughed and apparated them from the balcony to the ritual circle where their son already stood. Razel had pulled his hair back and had, indeed, retrieved a sword from the armory which he had strapped on his back. Lenore released her husband’s hand and walked to the center of the two roughly drawn circles. The runes lit with her magic as she silently called the four corners. In her youth, she’d gloried in the pageantry of ritual magic, but she was beyond such things now.
Lenore placed the repository on the altar that still glowed faintly with sex magic and offered Ragnok a little grin. He just lifted an eyebrow in return, which looked like amusement, pride, and a promise of another more thorough fuck in the future. She made a mental note regarding this silent promise as she took her place in the circle since she was more than willing to collect that debt in the past.
She pulled her athame and watched Ragnok do the same from his place opposite her. “Ready?”
“In this, wife, wherever you lead, I will follow,” he said quietly. “May your death be swift and painless.”
Her stave shifted on the altar, lifted into the air and lit the sky above them with dark green magic as she reached out for it. “Non quaerere ad magica exonerant nivium. Reducite!”
Lenore pushed her athame into her body, and her eyes met Ragnok’s. She didn’t even try to look down to see his own athame in his chest. The shock and pain in his eyes were enough to tell her that he had, indeed, followed her. “Meto anima.”
“Meto anima,” Ragnok repeatedly hoarsely and closed his eyes.
Their end in the future had been so sharp and painful that he expected the landing in the past to be quite violent, so it was startling to wake up as if he were dreaming. Ragnok shifted under the heavy duvet and turned toward his wife. The warmth of her body was a relief, so he pulled her into his arms as she started to stir. Lenore buried her face against her neck, and her breath hitched harshly.
“Love,” he murmured against her hair.
“You died first,” she whispered fiercely. “You terrible son of a bitch.”
He smiled against her hair and refrained from flinching as her nails clenched on his back. “My apologies.” His gaze drifted across the room to settle on the clock. “We have an hour before we’re expected anywhere unless we’ve landed on a leisure day.”
“Those days were few and far between in 1995,” she said. “Especially after the resurrection and the ministry was a nightmare that summer because of Fudge’s stupidity.”
“True.” He trailed one hand down her bare back and cupped her arse.
“You think we have time for that?”
“I think,” he began, “That I should certainly apologize for dying first.”
“If you do all of your apologizing with your cock, we will have more than words, Husband.”
“I am Chieftain, I’m only required to apologize to my wife,” he murmured and grinned as she laughed. “I need something from you.”
“You’re clearly about to get it,” she said as she wrapped a hand around his cock.
He groaned and shifted to give her better access. “It’s not…well, yes, definitely that, but that’s not what I meant.”
Lenore lifted her head and focused on his face. “What?”
“Don’t let me…” He took a deep breath. “Don’t let me lose sight of what matters in the days and years to come. My pride already brought me low once.”
“Did it really?” she questioned. “Were you not justified in your anger toward Potter? He did nothing but disrespect you after the war.”
“It’s rapidly becoming clear that he had little to no agency, Lenore,” he murmured. “And maybe he hadn’t since he was little more than a child. No matter what he did or said, I played a heavy part in the animosity between us. Hell, he was just twenty-four fucking years old. That’s not even an adult amongst our kind.” He dropped down on his back when she released him, clearly startled by his anger. “I think that wizards push their children to grow up too fast. Muggles do the same though it used to be much worse. What right did Dumbledore have to push that boy into war?
“Hermione’s journal made it clear that even in his first year, Harry Potter wasn’t safe to be a child.”
“I didn’t realize you’d started reading the journal,” Lenore said.
“I read through what she wrote regarding events up through the tournament and Riddle’s resurrection. I wanted to know what her headspace looked like specifically during this time period. We need to check the date. I want Potter off Privet Drive and in our care before the ministry tries to kill him with a dementor.” Ragnok took a deep breath. “In reading that journal, I came to realize that I was just one more person in Potter’s life to abuse him when he was little more than a child.
“In the months to come, I will be forced due to circumstance to manipulate and guide him down the path that best suits magic. In that, I’m no better than Dumbledore.”
“You are worth more than twenty of that foul bastard,” Lenore hissed. “Stop berating yourself for circumstances you didn’t fully understand. Since when do we care for the matters of wizards and witches?”
“Since ignoring them almost destroyed us,” Ragnok murmured and pulled her close. “We must forge a new path for our kind, Lenore. We must look past our grievances and their petty discrimination to find a solution that protects the purity of magic. That our ritual was successful speaks to the faith and trust Zir has placed in us to do the right thing for all of his wife’s children.”
Lenore frowned and lowered her chin to his chest. “Harry Potter.”
“Harry Potter,” Ragnok agreed roughly. “But enough about that little git.” He shifted and rolled them over so he could slide between her thighs.
“We barely have any time for you to do this properly now,” she complained and laughed when he growled against her neck.
“Let’s see about that,” Ragnok murmured and slid downward.
He spread her thighs with both hands, then licked her from hole to clit. Her legs clenched on his shoulders, and she fisted one hand in his hair as a throaty purr rumbled through her chest. Lenore’s pleasure was intoxicating, so it was easy to get a little lost in her musky scent and sweet taste. She came gratifyingly fast under his attention. Ragnok moved upward then pushed his cock into her with one slow thrust.
“Hmmm, we’re going to be late for everything today,” Lenore announced with a pleased tone as he started to move.
He laughed against her throat even as he settled into the slow roll of her hips up against his.
– – – –
The girl was in an unplottable location. It was a vexing development. A quick check of the journal told him she was with the Order of the Phoenix, but the address was obscured in the journal. Indicating that she was in an unplottable location. Perhaps a Fidelius as well, which only added to Ragnok’s displeasure. The details were entirely missing from the girl’s account, which spoke to advanced charm work since he clearly remembered the section of the journal being quite long in the future. The details were missing from his own mind. He loathed such magic.
“She has an account and a small vault,” Lenore announced as she entered his office with a light blue ledger. “She doesn’t have enough gold, yet, for an account manager, but that will soon be rectified considering your plans for the Lestrange vault. Hermione’s a smart girl, so she has her key with her.”
He couldn’t track her, but he could track her key’s magical signature if it came down to it. “Good.”
Lenore placed the ledger on his desk and leaned against the corner. “Razel is looking at me like I’m crazy already, so we need to have a discussion with him posthaste before he starts testing us both for polyjuice potion. Of course, he’s not the only one. I’ve been getting looks of shock and awe wherever since I left the lift and entered the bank proper this morning.”
There had been no choice really about ending his wife’s seclusion in Agharti. He needed her with him and close at hand as they navigated their new circumstances. Shielding her magically would be more complicated outside of their protected realm, but he’d already started working on several additions to the wards in his head regarding the bank’s non-public areas.
“We’ll have a discussion with Razel at lunch. As to the rest, they will have to get used to your presence in the bank. I’ve never needed you more than I do now, Lenore.”
She sighed. “What will you tell her girl to lure her out from Dumbledore’s little hideaway?”
“I’m going to invite her to tea,” Ragnok said. “It worked on the older, more jaded version of her with no issues. I suspect her curiosity will be all I need to get her through the doors. The other option is to send Bill Weasley to retrieve her. In the journal, it’s clear she’s staying in a location with that family this summer. He certainly knows where his parents are. His oaths to the bank will ensure he follows my orders.”
Lenore nodded. “Perhaps we should go that route from the start. Have him take her the invitation, and he can soothe any fears she might have about it. There’s no need for Dumbledore to realize we can use vault keys to circumvent his security. He’d make sure that bit of information spread like wildfire, which wouldn’t work in our favor right now due to the return of Riddle.”
“No, he’d definitely seek access to that magic,” Ragnok murmured. “Very well, Bill Weasley is about to get an unexpected career boost.” He sighed. “I don’t know much about him. Do you?”
“He works as a curse breaker and prefers Egypt though he’s been spending more and more time in Paris where he’s currently romancing a witch named Fleur Delacour who is also in our employ. I’ve seen a few objects cross my desk from expeditions he was involved in. His craftwork is on par for his species, perhaps a little advanced in some areas due to our training, and I suspect if he’s exposed to the right projects going forward that he would be an immense asset for us.
“We know, already, that he is a light wizard and a courageous one when the time calls for it. He fought against Riddle and even stood his ground against Greyback per the girl’s journal. That says more about him than whatever work he’s done for us so far. Perhaps it’s time he is assigned a mentor within the bank. Another human to start, Armand Deering, comes to mind.”
“A taskmaster,” Ragnok said. “We’ve lost several potentially good employees because Master Deering found them intolerable.”
Lenore grinned. “Perhaps they would’ve been better served under a more lenient master, but do we really want such weakness in our bank, even in the humans we employ?”
“Eh,” Ragnok said and shrugged. “None of them are all that strong…” He trailed off and sighed. “I need to work on myself, clearly.” He rubbed his face. “Would you have Falco find Bill Weasley?”
“I will then I’ll be in my own brand new office preparing several scrying rituals in regards to Potter. I need to know what to expect from him at this age. The visions were quite dire in the future. Here’s hoping I don’t have to watch the little git die repeatedly, again.” She strolled out of his office with a little huff under her breath.
He wrote a simple note for the Granger girl and wasn’t all that surprised to find Bill Weasley hovering in the doorway of his office just twenty minutes after his wife left him. Ragnok motioned the wizard in and pointed him toward a seat.
“Good morning, Chieftain,” Weasley murmured.
Ragnok took note of the young man’s pallor, which was quite pronounced even for a redhead. He set aside his quill. “My wife says that your craftwork is quite good for a human.” He paused and winced internally. He really needed to stop being an arsehole. “In fact, she’s suggested that perhaps you’re ready to be mentored within the bank for further career and educational advancement.”
“I would be honored, Chieftain,” Weasley said immediately. “Shall I prepare a mentorship petition to be reviewed by the committee?”
“No need, you’ll be under Master Deering starting today,” Ragnok said and withheld a grin when the younger man flinched. “He doesn’t bite, despite the rumors you might have heard. He’s the most talented wizard to work for the Horde in over a hundred years, so I expect you to perform to his standards with no issues.”
“I would be honored with his attention.”
Ragnok grinned then and looked up from the letter he was still crafting. “You’re petrified. Good. You should be. Failing to meet Master Deering’s expectations will not go well for you. But if you work hard and meet his requirements, then you’ll be set for life either with the Horde or elsewhere should you choose.”
“I have no desire to leave the Horde’s employ, Chieftain,” Weasley said in a rush. “Working here was my only choice when I left Hogwarts. I was honored to be chosen.”
“We had our eye on you after you took your OWLs,” Ragnok admitted. “Speaking of, there is a second reason you are here. I need your help with a small task. I’ve been reliably told that you’ll be able to handle it for me, but if it stresses the loyalty you have to your family in any single way, I will not require it of you.”
Weasley’s eyes widened slightly, but he nodded. “I will do my best, sir.”
“Hermione Granger.” Ragnok watched a small bit of relief settle over the younger man’s features. “You can relax, as talented as the twins are, I have no interest in tolerating their shenanigans in my bank.”
Bill sighed. “They are very talented, sir. I just wish they’d…be less of a mess.”
“I have heard a lot about them,” he admitted. “I appreciate their innovative spirit and can see the Horde contracting with them in the future, but they would not ever be welcome to work here.”
“Hermione Granger is a good friend to my youngest brother,” Bill said. “She is staying with my family this summer, but I’m not liberty to say where.”
“You may have heard that my wife has taken up an office in the bank proper.”
Bill chuckled. “Sir, that’s the single biggest piece of news running through the bank this morning. It’s probably already hit the other branches.”
“Lenore has expressed interest in meeting Hermione Granger,” Ragnok said and watched Bill process the information.
“She’s reported to be quite bright,” Bill said. “I’ve only had a few interactions with her, but she was polite and thoughtful in her conversation with me. I believe she would certainly be able to conduct herself properly in the High Priestess’ presence. My father told me that he expected that she would do very well on her OWLs.”
“That’s the expectation of a great many people,” Ragnok said. “There are learned individuals all over Britain waiting for her to leave Hogwarts so they can offer her mentorships. There will certainly be international attention as well.”
Bill swallowed. “Is she being evaluated to apprentice with the High Priestess?”
Ragnok inclined his head. “My wife’s interest is not idle. If the girl proves to be pleasant company, I do believe Lenore will offer her tuition. If it goes as far as apprenticeship, I would not be overly surprised.” He folded his letter and sealed with his magic. “Will you take her the invitation to tea?”
“Of course, sir, I’m honored to work on your wife’s behalf,” Bill said. “I will impress upon the girl how important this is to her future.”
“See that you do,” Ragnok said quietly and offered Weasley the parchment. “Sorry to use you like an owl.”
Bill grinned. “I’ve have been put to much worse use, sir.”
– – – –
“Come play chess with me.”
“I’m reading,” Hermione said absently and glanced only briefly at Ron before focusing on her book.
“Come on, ‘Mione, all you do is read. Why do you have to be so bloody boring?”
Her first inclination was to ignore him. It worked most of the time at Hogwarts, but Harry wasn’t around to distract Ron from her, and it had quickly become apparent to her that Ron’s own family really didn’t like him much either. Sure, they loved him, but not even Molly went out of her way to spend time with him. Fortunately, Ron was too dense to even notice.
“Chess is boring to me,” she said flatly as she focused on him. His surprise was sort of galling. She’d never once, in four years, pretended to enjoy chess. “I only know how to play because of my grandfather, who loved that stupid game as much as you do. Magical chess is just the worst, honestly. I hate the way the pieces boss me around, and sometimes I make terrible moves just so the most vocal ones get beat up, which makes me feel cruel and unreasonable even if they aren’t real. Quidditch is boring, too, by the way, so I don’t want to talk about that either.”
“You attend the matches at school.”
“Only when Harry’s playing,” Hermione said tartly. “I only care about Gryffindor winning because it makes Harry happy.”
His whole face darkened. “It’s always about Harry.”
Hermione shrugged because that was true, and she saw no reason to let anyone think otherwise. “He’s my best friend. His happiness is important to me.”
“Then, what am I?” Ron demanded.
Hermione paused as she considered that. “We’re friends, Ron, but we don’t have any common interests, so talking to you is kind of…boring, honestly. Trust me, I find you just as irritating as you do me. At the very least, you seem to enjoy irritating and upsetting me, so maybe I find you more irritating than you find me.”
Ron leaned forward and hissed in a low tone, “Sometimes I wish that troll had killed you.” He straightened away from her when the door to the kitchen opened.
Hermione swallowed her shock and focused on Bill Weasley, who had entered the room removing his cloak. “Hello, Bill.”
“Just the witch I was looking for,” he said cheerfully. He hung up his cloak. “Let me have that chair, Ron, I need to speak with Hermione about a matter at the bank.”
Ron glared at him but left the chair across from Hermione. “Whatever, maybe you won’t bore her. Her expectations are high.”
“Well, she’s the brightest witch of her age,” Bill said evenly. “I would expect her to be discerning regarding her entertainment.”
Hermione swallowed a laugh as Ron stormed off and left the kitchen. “He’ll pout about that the rest of the day, you know.”
“He’s always been high on drama and low on everything else,” Bill said. “My mother spoiled him and my sister rotten.” He pulled a piece of parchment from his pocket and took a deep breath. “First, what do you know about the bank?”
“It’s owned and managed by the Goblin Horde,” Hermione said. “They hire a variety of magical beings and creatures to work for them.”
“They are called dverger,” Bill corrected gently. “Goblin is a slur that wizards forced on them after the first rebellion. It was even put in the last bloody treaty that they can’t officially take offense at the word’s use. Goblins are actually an extinct species of magical vermin. I don’t often take the time to educate other wizards and witches regarding this topic as it does no good, but today has led me to special circumstances.”
Her mouth dropped open, and her cheeks darkened. “Oh. I’ve…used that term in the bank. They must think I’m a terrible person.”
“No, in fact, they are the most forgiving when it comes to Muggle-borns since they know you aren’t taught anything of substance about the Horde or their culture.”
The door opened, and several members of the Order trailed in with Molly Weasley.
“Bill, I didn’t know you were here! It’s time for lunch.”
“I can’t stay, Mother, I’m actually on the clock,” Bill said and returned his focus to Hermione. “I’m here delivering an invitation to Hermione from the Chieftain of the Horde.”
Hermione blinked in surprise and ignored the shocked noises from the people around them. “Hmmm, what?”
“Shortly after my OWLs, I was invited to the bank to speak to a dverger named Sharprock. He would be the first of many teachers I would have at the bank. When I left Hogwarts, I was honored with a position at the bank, and there were only ten slots available that summer. Ragnok would like to meet you, now, Hermione, and that says a great deal about the potential they believe you to have. I’ve only met the chieftain twice in my entire career at the bank, and today was the second when he asked me to personally deliver this letter.” He offered her the parchment.
Hermione took it with a trembling hand.
“She’s not going to the bank to meet with that creature,” Molly said hotly.
Hermione frowned at her. “With all due respect, Mrs. Weasley, you’re not my parent and have no right to make such a decision for me. My career after Hogwarts is very important to me, and being offered such tuition would be life-changing.” She opened the letter while the woman sputtered.
“Your parents aren’t here, so I am going to make this decision!”
The hell she was, Hermione thought and focused on the letter.
Through various sources, I’ve come to hear a great deal about you and potential. As you enter your OWL year at Hogwarts, you will start to think about your career options after Hogwarts. Gringotts would be honored to be considered as a choice for future employment and education.
If you are amendable, you’re invited to tea today at 2:00 PM. Bill Weasley has agreed to bring you to the bank and can vouch for your safety if you are at all concerned.
Chieftain of the Dverger
Hermione took a shaky breath and wordlessly passed the letter to Bill. He read it quickly and swallowed.
“It would be an immense insult to tell him no, right?”
“Very much so,” Bill admitted. “He could take official insult, and that would get back to the ministry. I think we can all agree that you don’t need that kind of attention.” He shot his mother a look who huffed dramatically. “They’re already trying to ruin Harry’s life. Making Hermione a target would just increase stress around here. Fudge can’t stand Ragnok or the dverger, but he would certainly be pleased to tell practically everyone that Hermione Granger, a Muggle-born, single-handedly soured relations between the ministry and the Horde by refusing to have tea with the chieftain.”
Hermione turned her head and found Dumbledore standing in the doorway. “Good afternoon, Headmaster.”
“Miss Granger, may I read the letter?”
“Of course,” she said.
Bill stood and handed the older wizard the letter. Dumbledore read the note from Ragnok without a change of expression. Hermione found that ability to be quite vexing, and it spoke to a level of occlumency that was frankly a little off-putting. She wondered how deeply the headmaster buried his true self on any given day. Everything she’d read on the discipline indicated that true masters of the art often found themselves entirely divorced from both empathy and compassion if they weren’t careful. She saw a lack of both of those in Albus Dumbledore.
“I agree with young Bill,” Dumbledore said finally and passed the letter back to Hermione. “It would be a grave and unnecessary insult to refuse the invitation, Miss Granger. Ragnok is a political creature—quite savvy for a goblin.”
“Dverger,” Hermione corrected and raised an eyebrow when Dumbledore focused on her. “The word goblin is a slur, sir. Surely it would be best not to use it at all to refer to Ragnok or the rest of his kind. I’m startled and, frankly, appalled to have not been taught that at Hogwarts. No wonder relations between the Horde and us are so fractious.” She picked up her book and clutched it to her chest. “I should go find a proper outfit to wear for tea.”
“A nice dress will suffice,” Bill said. “And a day robe, if you have one. The dverger are a hardy species, and their private spaces are quite cold when compared to our own. You might need an extra layer or two to be comfortable.”
“I have a dress and matching robe,” Hermione said. “My parents purchased it for me on Diagon when we went book shopping in June. I suppose it was their way of apologizing for abandoning me all summer for a married-couple retreat.” She took a deep breath. “Bill, this is a big deal for you, right?”
“Being trusted with the chieftain’s personal business is…a rewarding development in my career path with the bank,” Bill admitted. “I’ve also been singled out for extra tuition with one of the most educated wizards at the bank. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to study and earn a second mastery under him, which will double my worth to the Horde, and my earning potential will skyrocket.”
She nodded. “I will endeavor to be very respectful. I wouldn’t want my behavior to reflect on you due to my association with your family. I know you’ve worked very hard to get where you are already.”
“Thank you, Hermione. I’ll be ready to leave when you are.”
Hermione nodded and rushed out of the kitchen before Molly could engage her in another round of disapproval. As it was, the older woman’s protests to Dumbledore and Bill followed her halfway up the stairs. She really wished Molly Weasley knew the difference between an inside and an outside voice.
– – – –
Hermione took a gasping breath as Bill steadied her. Her first time apparating hadn’t been the thrill she’d expected.
“My apologies, apparating through dverger war wards was probably not the best first apparition experience ever,” Bill said wryly.
She huffed a little and patted her stomach. “I think I’m okay. It’s normally not that tight, right?”
“Right,” Bill said. “I’m actually adept at the spell, so normally side-apparating with me is barely a squeeze at all.”
“Practice or magical power?”
“Both,” Bill said with a grin. “I’m beginning to see why my brother is so intimidated by you.”
Hermione smirked. “Which one?”
Bill laughed outright. “Ron but surely Percy as well. Neither are particularly secure in their abilities or inherent talents.” He grew serious and glanced around them. “Listen, I’ve rarely had an opportunity to be alone with you, but…I’d be remiss to ignore this opportunity. Ron thinks he has feelings for you, but what he doesn’t even know who you are.
“Honestly, Hermione, he is not the sort of wizard a witch of your caliber should waste her time on. He has no drive, no desire to improve himself, and would only drag you down to his level with his…inferiority complex. He won’t be happy with you if you’re more successful than him. Ron’s probably stewing in his room right now about how you don’t deserve this opportunity and how it should be him that is here taking tea with what is essentially the king of the dverger horde.”
Hermione’s face flushed. “I know he has a crush on me, but I’ve been doing my best to ignore it. He’s just not…” She shrugged. “You know.”
“He’s not Harry Potter,” Bill said wryly. “I saw the way he looked at you—that night in the infirmary after the third task. You were the only comfort he had in that room, and frankly, you were all he wanted as well. Ron saw it, too, so he can expect him to work to drive a wedge there. Probably with Harry since he’s unfortunately very loyal to Ron. He doesn’t deserve it—not after he behaved about the whole tournament.”
Hermione nodded. “I was seriously bummed when Harry forgave Ron so easily, but Ron’s his first friend, and Harry is far more loyal than he should be to some people.” She bit down on her lip. “Do I need to curtsy or anything when I meet Chieftain Ragnok?”
“No, they don’t do that sort of thing,” Bill said. “Meet his gaze, don’t flinch away from him if he offers his hands in greeting. Step forward with confidence and take both with a firm but respectful pressure. He’ll expect you to sit first at the table despite his rank because he’s a gentleman. Your youth and gender work in your favor in this circumstance as he often much more patient with both children and females.”
“I’m not a child,” Hermione protested.
“Hermione, Ragnok is 174 years old.” Bill grinned when her eyes widened with shock. “I’m still a child by his standard. They don’t even count their children to be adults until they’re seventy-five years old. He won’t treat you like a child, but do keep in mind that he’ll think of you as unspeakably young.”
“All right,” Hermione murmured. “I’ll be fine, I think.”
“You will,” Bill assured and offered her his arm.
Hermione let herself be lead from the apparition point through the lobby of the bank and through a door marked private. The aesthetics of the bank changed gradually—until the halls gave away to roughly carved stone, and the carpet disappeared in favor of slightly abraded granite. The air got a bit thicker and cooler as they turned down a second corridor.
“This area is heated by the forges, but they are several floors down. If you need a warming charm, it is perfectly okay to ask Ragnok for one. You know, of course, not to draw your wand in his presence without permission.”
“Good.” Bill paused in front of a large door. “Any final questions or concerns?”
“No, I don’t think so.” She bit down on her lip. “Will you be staying for tea?”
“No, I wasn’t invited, but I’ll stay outside the door here in case you need me.”
“I…wouldn’t want to waste your time like that, Bill.”
“It’s no waste,” Bill assured. “I’m your escort until Ragnok releases me.”
Her fingers clenched against his sleeve briefly then she released him. “Your Fleur is a lucky witch, you know.”
“I’m the lucky one,” Bill assured than he grinned. “But if you were older and I’d seen you first—I have a feeling I’d have been chasing a different witch around Europe.”
Hermione felt her face heat in a blush, and she rolled her eyes. “You’re no Harry Potter, either.”
Bill laughed and knocked on Ragnok’s door.
– – – –
The difference between Hermione Granger and Hermione Granger-Weasley was so startling that Ragnok barely refrained from gaping at the girl. The young witch, untainted by war and Dumbledore’s curse, was fresh-faced, bright-eyed, and innocent. Her clear fascination and desire to know was still very much present, so that was a relief. He decided, immediately, that he never wanted to see that jaded, bitter version of Hermione ever again.
He walked around his desk and offered both of his hands. “Miss Granger, I’m pleased you were able to accept my invitation to tea.”
“I’m honored, sir,” she murmured as she took his hands. “Though Professor Flitwick told me once that I wouldn’t be able to stomach the tea he preferred. He poured me some flowery concoction instead.”
“Filius was quite right to assume it would be far too bitter for you,” Ragnok said pleased with her firm, confident greeting. He released her hands and motioned her toward a door near the back of his office. “My staff has set the table for the three of us.”
“My wife will be joining us.” He watched shock flicker over her face. “Is there a problem?”
“I’d heard…that Lady Lenore never leaves Agharti.”
“Professor Binns is still trying to force my wife to wear that Muggle title, I see,” Ragnok said dryly. “Formally, she is High Priestess Lenore, lass, and is true that until today she’d lived her entire life in Agharti. But circumstances have made that decision difficult to adhere to.”
“Is this about Tom Riddle?” Hermione questioned. “I’m not sure I’m the best person you could’ve have invited to have tea with if that’s the case.”
“This is about you at the moment, and perhaps later it will be about Harry Potter. Tom Riddle is certainly on my list, but that will also come later.”
Ragnok opened the door and beckoned her forward. To her credit, she took the invitation immediately and walked confidently into the room. Lenore was already seated at the table with a book spread out in front of her.
“Miss Granger had time for tea,” he announced, and Lenore looked up from her book.
He watched his wife smile and rise from her seat with all the grace benefitting her station and glide across the room in a manner that she rarely bothered with. Her skin had a gentle glow of magic, and she’d put her hair up so that her delightfully pointed ears were clearly displayed.
Lenore offered her hands. “Miss Granger.”
Hermione huffed a little. “I know I’m not supposed to curtsy, but Merlin, you make it difficult.” She took Lenore’s hands with trembling fingers. “You have…high elf…I mean…ears….wow.” She bit down her lip. “I’m normally quite articulate.”
Lenore laughed. “I have several high elf ancestors,” she explained. “The first became something of a legend. Perhaps one day, I’ll tell you his story and how he came to fall in love with a dverger much to the shock and displeasure of his father.”
“I’d love to hear it,” the girl said in a rush.
“Come, we have cake and tea and coffee if you’d prefer.”
“I’d love some coffee,” Hermione admitted and let herself be led to a chair.
Ragnok waited until both females had gained their seats before pulling out his own chair and joining them. “Fortunately, you’re quite short for your species. The last human I had at this table bumped his knees repeatedly.”
Hermione laughed and briefly covered her mouth with her fingers. “Yes, well. I don’t expect I’ll grow much more than this. My mother is only 5’1.”
Ragnok watched her accept the coffee Lenore poured for her and doctor it liberally with sugar. “I’ve had several conversations with myself about how to approach this situation, Miss Granger.”
“Oh, please, call me Hermione, Chieftain Ragnok.”
“Then you must call me Ragnok.”
Her eyes widened. “If you insist.”
“He does,” Lenore said. “And I’m just Lenore. On either side of it, my title is a mouthful.” She pushed a plate of biscuits the girl’s way. “You’re an incredibly bright young woman, Hermione, so I can imagine how unchallenged and unrewarding a traditional learning environment is for you.”
Hermione’s cheeks darkened further, which Ragnok found more charming than he should.
“Yes, well, I was told during my orientation that Hogwarts was really the only choice I could make if I wanted to stay in Britain. Moreover, it was made clear to me that as a Muggle-born that learning opportunities during the summer would be few and far between.” She picked up a biscuit and broke it in half. “I have to rely on books to further my education, and often I feel as if I’m being…held back. It seems like there are resources that are being hidden from me, and that’s probably silly.”
“It’s not silly,” Ragnok murmured. “I believe you would find, if you looked, that large portions of various bookstores in Britain are warded in such a way that underage witches and wizards can’t see them. The ministry is very concerned with controlling what you learn, and they do this by restricting your access to materials both in the library of your school and in the locations where you can readily procure knowledge. They teach you the bare minimum at Hogwarts, Hermione, because that’s all you need to function in the society they have created and wish to maintain.”
Hermione frowned. “That’s indoctrination.”
“It is,” Lenore agreed. “They’re especially interested in keeping Muggle-born witches and wizards as ignorant as possible of the magical world.”
“So you won’t want to stay,” Ragnok said roughly. “And if you do—you won’t be a threat to their status quo.”
“Are other countries the same?” Hermione questioned.
“Most are much more liberal in their education policies and their approach to magical advancement,” Lenore said. “Italy is the home of the International Academy of Magic and is very advanced in that regard. The US and Canada are less rigid than Britain but not by much.”
“Japan is lovely,” Ragnok said roughly. “Magical and Muggle alike. Australia is also progressive, and the magical communities there are far more integrated than not.” He pulled a piece of parchment from his vest and placed it on the table in front of her. “I decided before you arrived that there was no need to beat around the bush.”
The girl touched the parchment then carefully picked it up. “Is this going to destroy my world view?”
He wondered if she was joking, but he responded honestly. “Yes.”
Hermione took a deep breath and opened the letter without another word. Her eyes watered. “This is my handwriting.”
“Yes, though we don’t know the content,” Lenore murmured.
The girl took that for the hint that it was and cleared her throat.
It’s very weird to write myself a letter, but there’s nothing for it. Trust Ragnok and Lenore—they’re working on behalf of Lady Magic, and you can trust them with Harry’s life.
Dumbledore is a dark, unrepentant bastard. Trust him with nothing.
You deserve better than what is planned for you, and so does Harry. You needn’t ever settle, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
-The Future Mrs. Darcy”
Hermione laughed briefly, but it was caught up in a sob. She set aside the letter and took a deep breath.
“I don’t…understand the Mrs. Darcy part,” Lenore admitted.
“My favorite book growing up was Pride and Prejudiced,” Hermione murmured. “The male lead was named Mr. Darcy—he was very attractive. I use to tell my mother I was going to marry a man just like him. She used to call me the Future Mrs. Darcy as a joke.” She cleared her throat. “It isn’t something you could possibly know. A way of telling myself that the letter was genuine, it seems.”
Ragnok watched her pick up her coffee and take a sip.
“How far back did the two of you time travel?” she asked. “How much damage did Riddle do before he was defeated if he was defeated?”
“He was defeated,” Lenore assured. “But the cost was the purity of Lady Magic herself. The taint of his obscene existence would’ve seen the end of us all eventually. The ley lines were already starting to strain under the filth of his legacy, and we were starting to have issues hiding from Muggles.”
“At least you know how to defeat him,” Hermione said pensively. “Did Harry survive it?”
Her shoulders slumped with relief.
“But not without…sacrifice,” Ragnok murmured. “Too much sacrifice. Neither of you came out of the war unscathed. You were both cursed by Dumbledore to keep you close to the light, perhaps or at least to the Weasley family. You both ended up marriages that didn’t serve you in any single fashion that you could not escape because the curse was entrenched by the time you found it.”
“Dumbledore,” Hermione said. “I’m not surprised—really—that he would curse people to make them follow his vision. He’s very controlling and manipulative. Most people willfully mistake his actions as care, but it’s clear that Harry is no more than a weapon to him, and I don’t know why exactly. I knew something was dreadfully wrong when Dumbledore acted like he couldn’t get Sirius Black a trial. He was Chief Warlock. If the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot can’t force a trial through in Britain, then who exactly could?”
“It’s certainly in his power to call for a hearing,” Ragnok agreed. “Do you know where Sirius Black is?”
“I do, but I can’t say,” Hermione murmured. “I don’t know…if he can be trusted honestly. He’s severely damaged by his time in Azkaban and appears to very loyal to Dumbledore. All of the people in the Order of the Phoenix are…troublesome in their desire to follow the headmaster’s lead. It’s very much like a cult. You should tell Bill that he can’t join that nonsense. I don’t know if Dumbledore is charming or cursing them as they join or what but I wouldn’t risk a valuable employee to that mess unless he’s going in as a spy and has some kind of protection against getting cursed silly.” She huffed and shoved half a chocolate biscuit in her mouth.
“Is something wrong?” Lenore questioned.
Hermione swallowed and rubbed her face. “I learned early on in my life that talking too much or revealing all that I can see is not good. My parents made it clear that I had too many questions and required too much attention. I was a surprise-not-all-that-wanted baby, but they were both raised Catholic, so abortion was out of the question. They both sought out medical procedures to prevent further accidents, which is also a violation of the church’s teachings, but I guess that was a lesser sin in their minds.”
“Your thoughts and questions are welcome here, Hermione,” Lenore said. “We need your perspective as we move forward. We’ve brought with us a journal that your future self wrote. It details the war and the defeat of Riddle. It’s a difficult read, and at this point, I’d prefer not to share it with you.”
“I don’t think I’m ready,” Hermione agreed. “I can’t go back to where I was staying.”
“I don’t think that would be wise.”
“No, I mean, I literally can’t,” she repeated. “Dumbledore is accomplished legilimens, and he’ll make sure to find out the content of this meeting the first chance he gets. Severus Snape also has access to the location and would do the same—either for Dumbledore or his Dark Lord. Who knows, but I can’t be alone in the room with either of them until I can defend my mind.”
“We don’t have the time or the inclination to teach you occlumency,” Lenore said. “It’s not something that our species excels at any rate. We use magic and charms to defend ourselves mentally from wizards. Ragnok will craft an amulet for you to wear to defend your mind. No wizard will be able to penetrate the protections. We use such devices to protect our employees that work in the public part of the bank.”
“We’ll have Bill retrieve your things,” Ragnok said.
“Wait,” the girl murmured as he started to stand. “Can you…just give a moment?”
Ragnok nodded and watched the girl pick up another biscuit. She was clearly thinking through various scenarios and discarding them left and right. Her face was animated and very easy to read since she was mentally engaged in a complicated thought process.
Hermione wet her lips. “We need to get to Harry before Dumbledore does. He lives in at Number 4 Privet Drive in Surrey. Can you have him retrieved without anyone noticing? If I stay in the bank, Dumbledore might start to ask questions. He might retrieve Harry earlier than planned, and I won’t be able to see or talk to him until September. There’s no telling what Dumbledore might curse him with before then.”
“I’ll have my son retrieve him immediately,” Ragnok said and stood. “Write the boy a note, Hermione, something that will make him trust Razel enough to pack everything he owns and runaway with a dverger he’s never met before.”
Hermione huffed. “No pressure!”
The pop of apparition was a welcome surprise, so Harry rolled over on his back, expecting to see Dobby and got a face full of goblin dressed mostly leather with a sword strapped to his back. Harry stumbled off the narrow, uncomfortable bed with a hiss of shock, his wand snapped into his hand where he’d left it tossed on his trunk.
“Easy,” the goblin said hurriedly, held both hands out in supplication. “I might have been…a little zealous about my arrival.”
“A little?” Harry questioned. “You didn’t even knock.”
“I was excited,” the goblin said with a huff. “I’ve never been to the Muggle world before.” He looked around the small room and grimaced. “I expected it to be nicer.”
“Some parts are, and some are worse,” Harry muttered but kept his wand pointed toward the goblin. “Who are you?”
“Razel Fireborn, son of Ragnok of the Blacklock clan at your service.”
“Ragnok,” Harry squinted at him and snatched his glasses up from the window ledge. He shoved them on his face. “The goblin chieftain?”
Razel made a face at him but nodded. “Yes.”
“What does the bank want with me?” Harry asked.
“I’ve brought you a letter.”
Harry watched Razel rummage through the pouch tied to at his waist and pulled out a folded piece of parchment. He took it after a few moments of obvious hesitation and opened it. “This is Hermione’s handwriting. Why are you delivering a letter from Hermione Granger?” His wand started to glow at the tip.
“If you’d read it—all would be clear,” Razel said dryly.
Harry glared at him. “If she’s been hurt…” He focused on the letter but kept his wand pointed at the goblin.
I’m sorry for the lack of warning regarding your visitor. I’m kind of hoping he scares the crap out of your relatives. He promised to wear his big sword! His name is Razel, and he is the son of Chieftain Ragnok of the Dverger Horde. Please don’t call him a goblin; it’s a racial slur! I had no idea until Bill Weasley told me. Why didn’t anyone ever tell us?
I’m at the bank, and I’ll be staying here with the dverger for the rest of the summer. I’ve been given leave to invite one friend to join me so, of course, I chose you. I know you hate being at that house, and Dumbledore doesn’t plan to remove you until he has no choice this year. I don’t know why but it is very vexing! I’ve been trying really hard for weeks to get someone to make him see reason, but no one in the Order understands. Or they don’t care!
Regardless, please come quickly. I’ve missed you very much.
Harry flushed and cleared his throat. “Hmmm, sorry about calling you a goblin. Apparently, that’s ugly?”
“We don’t blame the uneducated for their mistakes,” Razel said. “I was instructed by my father to bring all of your things as you won’t return here this summer. He’d honestly prefer you never return here, but he knows he can’t control that at present. He’d like to because he’s used to being the boss of everyone and everything around him.”
Harry laughed a little at that, and Razel just shrugged. “I…Dumbledore won’t like this at all.”
“Dumbledore can kiss my arse,” Razel said. “In fact, there is a whole bunch of dverger at the bank waiting to line up so he can kiss their arses, too.”
Hedwig barked from her cage.
“Your owl agrees with me.”
“She’s got an attitude problem from way back,” Harry said roughly and slid his wand down into the holster Hermione had charmed into the seam of his jeans.
He pulled up the floorboard then removed his album and cloak. “Can you tell my trunk to pack, or would it set off the ministry’s alarm?”
“Those alarms can’t track wandless magic unless the caster purposefully sets them off.”
Harry huffed and figured that Dobby had done exactly that before his second year. He watched the dverger flick his fingers toward his trunk, and everything started to sail into it—including his album and cloak. It snapped shut when it was finished, lifted off the floor, shrank and size and dropped into Razel’s hand.
Razel passed the trunk to him. “Nothing you can’t learn if we can break the condition the school has worked into your brain regarding the requirement for a wand. They work hard to make you think you need a wand.”
“But we don’t?”
“It’s just a focus,” Razel said. “Which is required for higher magical arts, but the magic comes from you, not the wand, so why would you need it for the small stuff?” He offered his hand. “Have you ever apparated?”
“No, but it can’t be any worse than the floo,” Harry said but frowned at his hand. “I’m not sure…”
“I swear on my magic that I will take you from this room, straight to the Diagon Alley branch of the Gringotts where Hermione Granger is waiting on you,” Razel said, and the oath settled with a flash of golden light.
“Thank you…I’m sorry.”
“You were tortured by Voldemort a few months ago, kid, I would be appalled if you weren’t a little leery of everyone and everything around you.” Razel paused. “But you’ve got an excited little witch waiting on you at the bank, and I would hate to disappoint her.”
Harry swallowed hard because he really wanted to see Hermione. He’d missed her so much since they’d parted ways on the train platform. Finally, because of the oath, he could really find no reason not to take Razel’s hand, so he picked up Hedwig’s change and wrapped the trembling fingers of his free hand around the dverger’s palm. The apparition felt sharp and so tight that he was breathless as they reappeared in a bare stone room.
Razel released his hand and patted him on the shoulder. “Thanks for not throwing up.”
Hedwig barked sharply in what was probably fury. Harry winced and shrugged at Razel.
“I came close with the portkey last summer, but this wasn’t bad.” Harry looked toward the door. “Where’s Hermione?”
“Probably with my mother,” Razel said as he opened the door and motioned Harry to follow him. “They were discussing dinner options when my father was giving me instructions regarding your retrieval. Despite Hermione’s preferences, it was decided that I shouldn’t interact with your Muggle relatives if it could be avoided.”
“They aren’t worth meeting anyway,” Harry admitted. “When I was younger, I was pretty sure that I would want to curse them silly after I turned seventeen, but now I realize they aren’t worth my magic.”
“You’ll find that few people are,” Razel said. “I’m not sure what my parents have decided about your lodging for the summer, but I can take you to a place where you can dress for dinner.”
He really didn’t have much in the way of clothing to meet that burden, Harry thought, but then considered the dress robes he wore to the Yule Ball. At the very least, the shirt and trousers would be appropriate. Perhaps the vest as well but not that silly bowtie. He sighed.
“Is there a problem?”
“I don’t have much in the way of dress clothes,” Harry admitted. “Most of my clothes that aren’t uniforms are cast-offs from my cousin, and he’s three times my size.”
“I’ll mention that to my mother—she’ll arrange for a tailor,” Razel said and opened a heavy wooden door. “Do the best you can, lad, and my mother will appreciate the effort. You can use magic here without the ministry noticing, if that is a concern. But do not draw your wand in my father’s presence without his permission.”
Harry nodded and took a deep breath as he was shut inside the room. He placed Hedwig’s cage on the empty desk, and she chuffed at him then turned her head. He put his trunk on the ground, and it resized with a flush of magic. In the end, he wore the slacks from his dress robes, a button-down from his school uniform, which he color-charmed to a black, and a jade green jumper that Dudley had hated and thrown in Harry’s room earlier in the summer that he sized to fit.
His tailoring charms normally lasted about six hours, so he figured that was plenty enough time for dinner and whatever conversation he was in store for. The dress shoes from the ball pinched a little, but the loafers from his school uniform had grown with him all year, so they fit well.
A quick little knock on the door knocked him out of his worry regarding his charm work. “Come in.”
The door opened immediately, and Hermione darted in. She glomped onto him like she always did, and he accepted the embrace far more quickly than he ever had before. No matter what else was going on, Hermione had gotten him out of that terrible house on Privet Drive before his birthday, and he was so relieved.
“Harry,” she whispered against his cheek and stepped back a little to focus on his face. “I’m so glad you came.”
“You asked,” he admitted and felt his face heat in a blush when she smiled brightly. “I don’t have a lot of clothes—will this be okay? Your dress is pretty.”
“Thanks. You look fine,” she assured. “Is this a new jumper?”
“Not really, Dudley gave it to me when I came home because he hated it. Not sure if he ever wore it. I sized it to fit.”
“Great charm work then,” she said and smiled at him like he’d just gotten an Outstanding on a test. Hermione took a deep breath. “Things are going to be…hard, Harry. You’re going to have to make some pretty big decisions very soon. I’m not trying to scare you, but I need you to make really careful choices and not lose your temper.”
Harry took a deep breath but nodded his agreement. “That bad, huh?”
“Probably worse than you can imagine, but right now, we’re both very safe. No one, who is a threat to us, knows where we are. I saw Sirius, and he’s in pretty good shape. I’m sorry you can’t be with him right now, but you’ll understand pretty soon why.”
“Dumbledore is keeping us apart so he can control me,” Harry said flatly. “I know that already, Hermione. He uses me and a potential relationship with me to manipulate Sirius and allows us minimal contact as a reward for us both. Whatever Dumbledore is up to requires money, and Sirius can access money from the Black estate.”
Hermione blinked in surprise. “I…”
“I’m not actually an idiot, you know.”
“I’ve never thought you were dumb,” Hermione protested. “Sometimes, you let Ron’s laziness infect you, and I hate that, but it’s not because you’re dumb. Honestly, Ron’s such…it’s easier to give into him than endure his temper tantrum when you don’t. I know. I do it as well.”
Harry’s stomach lurched a little at the way her eyes brightened with tears. “What did he do?”
“Oh, he was just himself,” Hermione said with a huff. “He got really mad at me because I wouldn’t play chess with him and said I was boring so I told him how boring I thought all of his…life…is and he told me he wished that troll had killed me, but then Bill came in and Ron went off to pout.”
“He actually…” Harry trailed off as fury made his chest tighten. “Remind me to send that git a howler after dinner.”
“Oh, he’s not worth the time it would take to create it,” Hermione said. “It’s hardly the first time he’s said something ugly to me like that. He’s very jealous of you and anyone else who exhibits a single bit of…” She huffed and waved a hand. “I don’t know.”
“Potential,” Harry supplied. “Ambition. Talent. Ability.”
Hermione laughed weakly. “Yeah, exactly, all of that. It’s pitiful actually, but I don’t pity him at all, and I’m not sure I can ever have anything to do with him ever again.”
“What else has he done?” Harry questioned. “Or was the pseudo-death threat your final straw?”
“It really should’ve been,” Hermione admitted. “There’s something else, but we don’t have time to talk about it, and I don’t know enough to really explain it, so we should go to dinner and let Chieftain Ragnok and High Priestess Lenore explain. Don’t bow, they don’t do that sort of thing. Take their hands firmly if they offer you a greeting, make eye contact, and be respectful.” She paused and sighed. “Right, you’re not Ron, so you wouldn’t act like a bigot anyways but…sorry. I’m nervous. Things are really kind of tenuous right now, and you know I ramble.”
“It’ll be fine,” he said and took her hand. “Do you know what’s for dinner?”
“No clue, but I was promised that we’d be able to recognize it.” She blushed. “I mean, I don’t know if the dverger diet is all that different of our own despite their terrible attachment to really bitter tea.” She swallowed and motioned toward the door. “Let’s go—just please trust him.”
Harry nodded. “If you think I should, then I will.”
She gave him that same bright smile he’d been gifted with earlier. “You shouldn’t give me that kind of power. It’ll go to my head.”
“You’ve pretty much always had that kind of power over me,” Harry admitted and flushed when she gaped at him. “What? There’s no one I trust more than you, Hermione, and it’s not all to do with your brilliant mind.”
“Harry Potter,” Hermione said and shook her head. She pressed a quick kiss to his cheek and pulled him toward the door.
– – – –
Ragnok took the glass of wine his wife poured him with a sigh. He didn’t know if he was entirely prepared to see Potter, but there was no putting it off. His son entered first, and the two humans followed. Razel had taken the news of their time travel about as well as could be expected—a mixture of shock, horror, and no small amount of fury. Fortunately, Razel’s temper was more like Lenore’s than his own. It burned quick and hot, but he also calmed down quickly enough. His son inclined his head just slightly as he went to greet his mother—no issues in retrieving Potter then.
Ragnok sat his glass down on the table and focused on Harry Potter. The boy was thin, and his magical aura was resonating with pain. It brought him up short. He pushed deeper with his mage sight, but there were no obvious physical injuries other than a recently healed cut on his arm. It was healed enough not to be responsible for the pain the kid was in. He shared a look with his wife, who was regarding Potter with intense concentration.
He offered the boy his hands. “Mr. Potter, Miss Granger speaks highly of you.”
The boy’s cheeks flushed as he released the witch’s hand and stepped forward to greet him. “Chieftain, it’s an honor. Thank you for inviting me despite whatever you might have read in the Prophet.”
“I have someone read that trash for me,” Ragnok said. “Then I get a report on anything true. It’s usually only about ten inches long.”
The boy laughed briefly. “I’m surprised it’s even that long, sir.”
“The classified section is fairly large,” Lenore said dryly. “Mr. Potter, we’re pleased with your trust. Your position in the magical world is quite precarious.” She offered him her hands in greeting.
“I was told once that the bank was the most secure place in Britain,” he confessed as he took her hands.
Lenore’s fingers whitened as she clenched on Potter’s hands, and she frowned. “You were crucioed?”
“Yes…yes.” The boy nodded. “Can you feel that?” He tugged at his hands. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know it would hurt you.”
“You’re not hurting me,” Lenore said tartly. “But my magic is telling me that you’re in a great deal of pain. Why weren’t you treated for the curse?”
“Harry,” Hermione whispered in shock. “You were cursed during the third task.”
“I told you,” he said and relaxed only slightly when Lenore released him. “I don’t know how many times he…I don’t know. Madam Pomfrey took care of the cut on my arm that Pettigrew did, but Dumbledore said I would have to let the curse effects of the crucio run their course.”
The girl’s face was a dramatic shade of white as she turned to Lenore. “That’s not true, is it?”
“Treating the damage would’ve been beyond the skill of the mediwitch at your school. He should’ve been sent to St. Mungo’s and placed under a healer’s care.”
“It’s just a headache,” Harry said quietly. “The tremors and the muscle pain were gone before I left Hogwarts.”
“It’s not just a headache,” Ragnok said. “Your magical channels are damaged, and it’s merely manifesting as a headache.” He shared a glance with his son. “Razel, retrieve him a pain potion so he can enjoy his meal at least.”
“I wouldn’t want to be trouble,” Potter protested.
It was night and day, Ragnok thought, and he felt all the more guilty for it. He wondered how many terrible things had to have happened to Harry Potter to turn him to the bitter little arsehole he’d known in the future. He watched the boy retreat to Hermione’s side, and his hand slipped back into hers. Maybe just one, he considered.
“It’s no trouble, Mr. Potter, you’re our guest for the rest of the summer, and we’re due a very stressful conversation. It’s best for everyone if you’re clear-headed during it.” Ragnok motioned them to the table. “Please, everyone sit, and dinner will be served.”
He noted that Potter pulled out Hermione’s chair, which was better than he expected since he knew he hadn’t been raised properly, and Hogwarts didn’t offer any sort of instruction on basic manners. Razel took the seat across from Potter after getting his mother settled at the table, and Ragnok sat last.
He sat back with his wine and watched both humans closely as the food was magically delivered to the table already plated. He refrained from laughing as they both looked on the baked chicken with relief.
“You should tell them about the resurrection, Harry,” Hermione announced as she buttered her dinner roll.
Harry raised an eyebrow. “That’s not exactly great dinner conversation, you know.”
“Honestly, Harry, it’s probably going to be the most pleasant part of the evening.”
He huffed a little. “Wow.”
A member of staff entered the room then and placed a small vial by Potter’s plate without a word and left. Ragnok watched the boy exchange a look with Hermione, who gave him a sharp nod. Potter took the potion without any discussion. Ragnok wondered if Dumbledore had any clue at all how much power Hermione Granger had over Harry Potter. Maybe that was the root of their being charmed into compliance in the other timeline. Dumbledore probably didn’t want anyone influencing his weapon more than he did.
“My first year, I met Voldemort.” Harry focused on Ragnok then. “We fought over the philosopher’s stone, and when I touched the person who was hosting his spirit—he burned alive. Dumbledore told me that it was my mother’s protection working to protect me. Protection I was granted because of her magical sacrifice.”
Ragnok couldn’t help but make a face at that. “Did he really?”
“I asked him then why Voldemort tried to kill me when I was a baby and why he hated me so much. He told me I was too young to hear it.”
“You were almost twelve,” Ragnok murmured. “It could be said he was merely trying to protect you.”
“But you don’t think so?”
“I think Dumbledore is very enamored with the idea that he knows best, and no one is entitled to know more than him about anything,” Ragnok said dryly. “He has a history of such behavior, Mr. Potter.”
“Please call me Harry, Chieftain,” Harry said and focused on his chicken. “During my second year, there was an enchanted diary at Hogwarts—Tom Riddle’s diary. I didn’t know who Tom Riddle was when I had the diary. Eventually, the spirit in the diary convinced Ginny Weasley to help him out of it. When I got down into the Chamber of Secrets—Riddle was almost solid. There was a basilisk that I had to kill, and I eventually used a fang from the creature to destroy the diary, which caused the spirit to disappear.”
Ragnok glanced toward his wife and found her pale. She was clearly furious to hear about the events from Potter’s perspective. They’d read about the events in Hermione’s journal, but her telling had more of an overview with an intense focus on the diary, and it’s properties as a horcrux.
“You skipped the part where the basilisk bit you, Harry,” Hermione said and touched his arm. “And Fawkes.”
Potter made a face. “It’s not all that important in the big scheme of things, Mi. I survived.”
“Getting bit by a thousand-year-old basilisk is a fairly important part,” Hermione protested with a huff and stabbed her chicken pointedly with her fork.
Potter winced and focused on Ragnok. “The giant snake bit me, and the headmaster’s phoenix cried in the wound. He also brought me the Sword of Gryffindor, which I used to stab the basilisk in the mouth.”
Ragnok smiled into his wine glass as the girl huffed again. “It’s certainly one of the more interesting parts. Do you know what a pensive is, Harry?”
“Yes, sir, the headmaster has one in his office.”
“I’d like you to share your memories of Tom Riddle with me, so please consider it and give me an answer regarding that in the morning.” He held up a hand when Harry started to respond. “Memory sharing is a very intimate thing, Mr. Potter, so please consider it until morning.”
Harry nodded and focused on his plate. “In my third year, near the end, I met my godfather, Sirius Black, and I also met the man he was accused of killing—Peter Pettigrew. I discovered that Pettigrew was my parent’s Secret Keeper, and he’s also a Death Eater. He’s the reason that Voldemort was able to come to our home in Godric’s Hollow and…do what he did. Pettigrew got away, and the minister didn’t believe me.
“In May, Peter Pettigrew murdered Cedric Diggory and resurrected Voldemort using my blood.” He touched his arm. “I barely managed to escape that with Cedric’s body. The minister called me a liar and attention seeker. He’s spent most of the summer telling everyone I’m crazy because he’s a coward and refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned.”
Ragnok couldn’t disagree with the boy’s opinion regarding Minister Fudge. “It’s been my experience that politicians are far more interested in lining their pockets than actually serving their people.”
Potter nodded and frowned. “Did you…” He frowned. “Did you lure Hermione here because of me? People in the magical world see me as…this famous thing they should be able to use ever how they wish to further themselves. Dumbledore has plans for me; Fudge would certainly like to gain control over me. I’m not sure if it’s about Voldemort or about my parent’s money…regardless…I can’t control any of that, but I’m not going to tolerate anyone using Hermione to get to me.”
“Harry.” Hermione put her hand on his arm, and her fingers clenched on his sleeve. “It’s not like that.”
“No, it’s not,” Ragnok murmured. “But he’s not wrong to question it, Hermione. His fame is obscene, and there are plenty of people who would certainly use you to get to him if they knew how much influence you have over him.” He watched emotions flicker over Potter’s face. The boy hadn’t yet learned to hide a damn thing from the world. “Fudge is working to destroy Potter’s political and social worth as a method of control. If only he’d known all he had to do was take you into custody and use you as leverage to have Potter comply with his agenda. Or, alternatively, he could’ve gone completely off the rails, making it even easier to convince everyone he is crazy and a liar.”
Potter blew out a surprised breath. “I can’t say I would’ve behaved well in such circumstances.”
“Hermione says I should trust you, Chieftain Ragnok,” Harry said. “So, I will.” He sat back in his chair.
“But?” Ragnok questioned.
“No buts,” Potter said simply. “In the end, if you betray me in word or deed—you won’t even be the first to do it this month. I can’t even say I’ll be particularly angry about it because I’m used to it. I’ve rarely met an adult in my life who had my best interest in mind. But hurting her won’t end well for anyone. I don’t suspect you’d be an exception.”
Ragnok couldn’t help but grin. “I agree to your terms.”
Harry turned to Hermione. “Is he patronizing me?”
“Surely,” Hermione said. “He’s probably forgotten more magic than either of us will ever learn.”
“Yes, but Adad’s never killed a thousand-year-old basilisk,” Razel offered cheerfully from across the table. “That’s some outrageous shite. I hope you share the memory because I’d love to see that.”
“It wasn’t all that fun in the moment,” Harry said. “But it’s not the worst memory I have all things said and done.”
“Your friend has a better grasp of his personal power than you do, Hermione,” Ragnok said finally. “Right now, the wizarding public doesn’t know what to think of their Boy-Who-Lived due to Fudge’s smear campaign, but we both know that perception will shift and change with the wind due to Riddle.
“Riddle will reveal himself and those sheep currently wondering if Harry Potter is crazy will turn to him, and they’ll start to recognize the truth Harry has carried in him for years.”
“What’s that truth?” Hermione asked.
“Riddle might fear Albus Dumbledore, but he’s only ever known defeat at the hands of one.” Ragnok saluted Harry with his wine. “So, yes, young Harry, I was a little patronizing, but I would be remiss to ignore how much damage you could do to the Horde if I made you an enemy.” He sat down his wife. “After all, I’ve already experienced it.”
He watched the boy frown and exhale.
“I don’t understand,” Potter admitted. “I’ve never…” He pursed his lips. “I’m always very polite to Griphook when I come to my vault despite how…surly he is in return.”
“Ah, don’t take anything Griphook says seriously, he’s just peeved to still be on cart duty,” Razel interjected.
“There are…less than satisfactory members of every society,” Ragnok said. “Dumbledore removed the account manager for the Potter accounts shortly after your parent’s death using his power as the executor of their will. Your accounts have been in limbo ever since. However, you’ll turn fifteen in just a few short days and will be able to claim them all in full. Your spending will be limited per the terms of your trust, but we’ll be able to start investing on your behalf again and assign you a new account manager.”
“Is the account manager my parents used available?” Harry questioned.
“No, he’s retired, but his son is available and was groomed to take his place with the Potter account,” Ragnok explained. “We’ll arrange for you to meet him.”
“Is that how my fame was used against you? Dumbledore and the account manager thing?”
“People were put off by it,” Ragnok said. “But it spoke more to his own disapproval than anything else. Dumbledore doesn’t trust the Horde. He believes us savage little creatures who don’t show him the respect he believes himself due. What do you know about time travel?”
“I’ve seen a time turner,” the boy said hesitantly. “And Hermione told me once that ritual time travel is illegal. I told her I wished I could go back in time and save my parents. She said the event was too far in the past, and even if we could do it—it would require a sacrifice which made it dark magic.” He pursed his lips. “I don’t suppose I’m too bothered by the dark magic part of it, but I wouldn’t want to kill anyone if I could help it.”
“What she neglected to tell you is that it can be self-sacrifice,” Ragnok said and raised an eyebrow when Hermione huffed dramatically. “Honesty is our only recourse in the days to come.”
“He’s hard-headed and prone to going off doing things without even thinking about it,” Hermione said hotly.
“In 1998, Harry, you defeated Tom Riddle in a duel on the grounds of Hogwarts,” Ragnok said simply and watched the blood drain from the boy’s face. “For a bit, everything was just as it should be. A good wizard became the Minister for Magic, and he started to make sweeping changes to create a better society for all magicals in Britain. Unfortunately, there were far too many purebloods who wanted no part of his agenda, and he was ousted from office and replaced by a man named Amos Diggory.
“Diggory hates you, even now, for the death of his son. When he became minister, he dedicated himself to ruining your life. He passed laws just to make your life more difficult and used magical contracts to force you to work for ministry until the day you died. He stole your entire estate, and to my shame, I allowed it.”
“Why?” Harry asked.
“During the war, for reasons unknown to me until recently, you robbed my bank. I was…vexed.”
“Does that make us even or do I owe you an apology?” Harry questioned and winced when Hermione huffed.
“You were both insufferable,” Lenore announced. “It ruined a relationship the Horde had enjoyed with the House of Gryffindor for thousands of years.”
“House of…” Harry trailed off. “I don’t understand. I ruined your relationship with my Hogwarts house?”
Ragnok laughed a little. “No, lad, your mother descended directly through a squib daughter from Godric Gryffindor himself. Godric was our wizarding patron—he worked on our behalf the world over. His line followed suit until they fell entirely to squibs, and we have languished without a patron since. Your birth woke that legacy, but we chose not to seek your mother out due to the war. It is unclear if Dumbledore knows about your heritage, but if he did, he would do everything in his power to prevent you from accepting the role of patron.”
“Why?” Hermione questioned.
“Because it would give me allies he can’t control, Mi,” Harry said roughly. “If the war was won, why did you kill yourself to time travel?”
“Because the cost was obscene,” Ragnok said after a moment. The boy had better intuition than he’d thought, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did give him cause to rethink several of his opinions about Potter. “Dumbledore put you on a course, Potter, that tainted Lady Magic herself beyond repair. While she certainly would’ve survived, the darkness Riddle left behind was spreading like a virus, and it would have eventually exposed the magical world to Muggles.”
“I can see that evolving into another world war,” Harry said. “Many Muggles hate what they fear or don’t understand—just like purebloods. Of course, the Muggles have weapons the likes of which a magical person could not fathom.”
“I saw an immense explosion,” Lenore interjected. “In my visions—fire, smoke, and a dark cloud that lingered high in the sky.”
“Sounds like a nuclear weapon,” Hermione said. “Whatever they used it on, in your vision, would’ve been utterly destroyed. The fall-out would’ve tainted the ground and life exposed to it for hundreds of years after it was detonated. The Muggles have many of these weapons across several countries. There have other weapons as well-biological agents that can be used to poison the air and water. There are laws against their use, but I think if exposed to giants or dragons—those laws would no longer hold a lot of weight with them.”
Potter was frowning and staring at his plate.
“You have a question, Harry?” Ragnok prodded.
“I guess…I don’t understand why I didn’t apologize for breaking into the bank. I’m sure I had a good reason because I wouldn’t do something like that if I didn’t.”
“As it turns out, you had a very good reason,” Ragnok agreed. “You couldn’t have won the war if you hadn’t. Though I didn’t find that out until shortly before Lenore and I time traveled.”
Harry frowned at him. “You let your wife kill herself in a ritual?”
Ragnok frowned right back at him. “One day, you’re going to realize that marrying a woman in no single way gives you power over her. You asked that question like I even had a choice in the matter.”
“Don’t pout, Husband,” Lenore said serenely and refilled his wine glass. “It’s childish.”
Ragnok took a long sip of wine and wondered if he should seek therapy. He didn’t even know how he’d accomplish that considering the secrets he had to keep.
“Shortly after you married, in the other timeline, I invited you to the bank to apologize for your behavior. Miss Granger had already graciously done so and even offered money for the repairs if needed. You came with your wife, and she was…furious that I would dare ask you for an apology. After all, you’d defeated Riddle, and I should be grateful for that. She called me a foul, ungrateful creature and demanded to leave.
“In retrospect, I should’ve realized something was wrong, but I didn’t. You didn’t argue with your wife, and when I threatened to close your accounts outright, you told me to go fuck myself.”
Harry’s eyes widened in shock.
“Harry Potter!” Hermione said in a huff. “Your language.”
“That wasn’t…I never…that’s really unfair, Hermione. I’ve never said that to anyone ever. It’s not my fault future-me was being…lead around by the…nose by the witch he married.” He slouched back in his chair. “Who is this terrible person, by the way? I’d like to avoid them.”
“Ginny Weasley,” Hermione said flatly. “And she did more than lead you around by the nose, Harry. Dumbledore charmed us both, probably sometime before or during sixth year, to be loyal to the Weasley family. We were both manipulated into horrible, abusive marriages as a result. By the time the future version of myself found the loyalty charms, they were entrenched and couldn’t be removed.”
Potter scooted back from the table abruptly and left it. He walked over to the one window in the room. The lights from Muggle London flickered across his face.
“Do you remember the traps protecting the stone, Hermione?”
“Yes,” Hermione said. “Of course.”
“Traps so easy get through that three first-years did it,” Harry murmured. “Surely, they offered no protection against Voldemort.”
“It has recently crossed my mind that he….” The girl trailed off with a frown.
“Dumbledore was testing me, or perhaps he was testing my mother’s protection to see if Riddle could kill me.” Potter exhaled sharply. “During second year, Dumbledore let things spiral completely out of control to see what I would do. Also, are the twins just really totally uninterested in their younger brother to the point where they never noticed he was sharing a bed with a dead man?” He turned and faced Hermione. “The map showed Peter’s name, Hermione. How long did they have the map? Did they have it during our second year when their sister was regularly visiting the Chamber of Secrets? Did Dumbledore charm them to ignore things he didn’t want to be seen? Did he know about the diary?”
“I have to think Dumbledore has always known more than he was willing to share,” Hermione said.
“Yes,” Potter murmured. “Just that—more than he’s willing to share. I’m not sure if it’s a power play or something else entirely. His desire to control events borders on some kind of psychological problem.” He cleared his throat. “So, which one did you end up married to?”
“Of course,” Potter muttered. “The brightest witch of the age marries the laziest wizard to ever live. I can just imagine how that was going.” He rubbed his face. “I really need some time to myself, Mi, before I break that promise about not losing my temper.”
“You will be seen to your rooms then,” Ragnok said and stood. “In the morning, we will endeavor to ruin breakfast by discussing more terrible things from a future that will no longer be.”
Potter nodded. “Sounds great.”
She couldn’t sleep and wondered if Harry was suffering from the same anxiety. Perhaps the events of the evening had been enough to exhaust him, but that didn’t strike her as likely. Disillusion and anger weren’t great bedfellows. Hermione sat down on the small sofa next to her fireplace and absently stroked her hand through Crookshank’s fur. The cat stirred briefly, yowled then closed his eyes. He clearly still wasn’t thrilled regarding his apparition to the bank, but there wasn’t anything she could do about that.
With a disgruntled sigh, Hermione pulled on her dressing gown and pushed her socked feet into slippers. She gave herself another warming charm and resolved to ask if there were more robust charms she could use on her clothes to keep warm.
Harry’s room was across the hall from hers. As far as Hermione could tell, they were both being housed deep within the bank that were designed for visiting humans. Perhaps employees from other countries though she’d not seen a single human since Bill had returned with her things. He’d passed the trunk to her with wide eyes that spoke to shock and some worry. Hermione hadn’t known how to reassure the older man, and Ragnok hadn’t given her much of a chance since he’d dismissed Bill very quickly.
She crossed the hall and knocked on the door. It opened immediately, and Harry motioned her in with. “Are you okay?”
“I’m furious,” Harry said flatly. “And probably hurt, but I’m too mad to even feel it.” He threw himself back in a chair by the fireplace, which was lit with a bright fire. “You?”
She took the chair across from him, kind of cross that she hadn’t thought to light the fireplace in her own room. “I…” Hermione took a deep breath. “I guess I’m relieved.”
“Relieved?” Harry questioned.
“Yeah. I mean, the future was horrible, Harry but it won’t happen again. Ragnok and Lenore have the potential to be amazing allies for us if we can meet their expectations.” Hermione pulled her legs up into the chair. “Though perhaps considering the circumstances, it’s more about you meeting their expectations.”
“I’m used to that,” Harry muttered and turned to stare at the first. “But mostly I’m used to failing at it. Dumbledore has never been the mentor I needed, and maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal if I didn’t have a homicidal arsehole trying to kill me on the regular. When I woke up in the infirmary after the incident with Quirrell and the stone, I thought about never coming back to Hogwarts. I figured my relatives would be overjoyed to enroll me in Muggle school and get their year-round slave labor back.”
Hermione frowned. “Is it really like that at the Dursleys?”
“Before Hogwarts, I did the majority of the inside and outside work for the house—including cooking meals that I barely got to eat. Dumbledore never much cared how well I was treated on Privet Drive. I asked him to find me better arrangements, but he was more concerned about the wards that don’t actually do much of anything to protect me. I mean, if they did, wouldn’t things have worked out differently when Pettigrew kidnapped me?”
Hermione’s gaze narrowed. “It does seem like it, yes. I’ll ask Lenore for information regarding blood wards tomorrow, and we’ll figure out exactly what they do and how they benefit you.”
“Considering Voldemort is running around with my blood in his body, I would imagine they do little to nothing now,” Harry said and exhaled sharply. “I’d really like some hot chocolate.”
Dobby popped right into place between them. “Harry Potter wants hot chocolate?”
Harry smiled. “Hi, Dobby, I didn’t know you could pop into the bank.”
“Dobby go anywhere Harry Potter be,” the elf announced proudly. “Miss Mione want hot chocolate, too?”
“Yes, please,” Hermione said and bit down on her lip when he disappeared again. “We should probably tell Lenore and Ragnok that Dobby can pop this far into the bank.”
The elf appeared with cups for them both then popped away before he could be thanked. Hermione took a sip and laughed. “He stole this from Hogwarts, you know.”
“The cups kind of gave it away,” Harry agreed. “A cup of hot chocolate is the least the school owes me, honestly. I’ve spilt enough blood on the grounds to have earned a daily cup.”
“Surely,” Hermione agreed. “You know in the thick of things, the stuff we had to do never seemed unreasonable. But looking back on it, it was terrible that the three of us were the ones to figure out that the stone was in danger.”
“We weren’t the only ones,” Harry assured. “In retrospect, it’s beyond insane to think that Dumbledore didn’t know about Quirrell, Hermione. I don’t know how the other teachers missed it either. Maybe he’s manipulating them as well, but we aren’t in any sort of position to do anything about that.”
“Granted,” Hermione murmured. “Did he really let Voldemort teach us for a whole year?”
“It’s galling, right?” Harry said. “Worse, outside of Lupin, I think he was the best teacher we’ve had for DADA.” He waved a hand. “Even with the garlic and the stuttering.”
Hermione laughed briefly and shook her head. “Harry.” She sat back in the chair and concentrated on her hot chocolate. “How can we ever…there’s no rebuilding the trust that’s been taken from us, you know. What was done to us was unforgivable, and even if he never gets the chance to do it again—I can’t forget it.” She pulled the letter from her future self out of the pocket of her pajama bottoms and offered it. “I wrote myself a letter.”
Harry took the letter with a frown and set aside his cup. He read it quietly, and near the end, his hands started to shake. “God, Hermione, I’m so fucking sorry.”
“Language, Harry,” she admonished then sighed. “It wasn’t your fault, you know, what happened to the other-us.”
“How is it not?” Harry demanded. “Do you honestly think Dumbledore would’ve bothered with you at all if it weren’t for me? Being my friend ruined your life!”
“Yeah, well, being you didn’t do you any favors either,” she said hotly and huffed he when refolded the letter and passed it back to her. “It won’t happen again. Lenore and Ragnok told me that they would prevent it from happening again.” She shoved the letter in the pocket of her dressing gown and focused on the fire. “It could’ve been worse.”
“How?” He demanded.
“They could’ve used love potions,” Hermione said flatly. “We were clearly manipulated into relationships that didn’t serve us, but at least it wasn’t…that.”
Harry slouched down in his chair and picked up his cup. “In the end, they destroyed our free will, Hermione. So it doesn’t matter to me, at all, that love potions didn’t play a role. I understand that it’s a comfort to you, and I don’t begrudge you that, but I have to wonder…if that didn’t make it worse.”
“I don’t understand,” Hermione murmured.
“What’s worse?” He questioned. “Being forced to remain married to someone you loathe because of a loyalty charm or being forced to stay in a marriage with someone you think you love?”
Tears welled in her eyes. “God, Harry, I’m not…”
“No, you’re right—I don’t know which is worse, to be honest, and I guess we shouldn’t dwell on it because it was a betrayal, but it wasn’t one we suffered personally. We’ll just have to…figure out how to keep each other safe from Dumbledore and the Weasleys now and in the future.”
Harry frowned and focused on the fire. “In the end, I think I’m only safe from Dumbledore and Riddle if they’re dead. They’re both clearly determined to control and eventually destroy me.”
“Future-me gave Ragnok and Lenore a journal,” Hermione said quietly. “I haven’t seen it, but Lenore said eventually she would give it to me since it’s mine. It apparently details all your interactions with Riddle, your defeat of him, and how we were charmed by Dumbledore.”
Harry nodded. “Is it terrible that I don’t want to read it?”
“I don’t want to read it either,” Hermione said. “It’ll make it real, and maybe I’m not ever going to be ready for that.” She brushed tears from her face. “I thought, despite everything, that Ron was at least your friend.”
“He’s always been a jealous, fickle little bastard,” Harry said darkly. “It’s good that I won’t see him for a while because I can’t guarantee how I’d respond to him. I never should’ve forgiven him last year after he decided that being my friend was a good idea after I won the first task.” He rubbed his face. “I should probably be checked for curses and charms.”
“Do you have any desire to see Ron and apologize for how much you want to kill him?” Hermione asked.
“Not yet,” Harry reported. “I’ll let you know.” He wet his lips. “I can’t return to Hogwarts, Hermione.”
“I know.” She took a deep breath. “We won’t be safe there.”
“Maybe you would be without me,” Harry said. “Your education is important to you.”
She glared at him briefly but then turned toward the fire. “My autonomy is more important, Harry. I’ve fought my parents tooth and nail since I was eleven years old to make my own decisions when it comes to my education as a witch. There are other options, and I will explore them. More importantly, I’m not going anywhere without you.” Hermione focused on him when he sighed.
“What did I ever do to earn your dedication?” Harry asked quietly.
She smiled, and her cheeks heated. “Did you know that you’re the first and only person to ever stand up for me? I was bullied mercilessly in primary. I hoped it would be different at Hogwarts, but it was more of the same but also worse because I had no refuge at all. At least before Hogwarts, I could go home, and the bullies wouldn’t follow me home. Ron was terrible to me until…the troll.”
“He was a different brand of terrible after the troll,” Harry clarified. “He’s never been all that kind to you, and I’m sorry I tolerated it.”
Hermione nodded and finished her hot chocolate, then stood. “You saved me, Harry. From the troll and honestly, from myself. Ron has spent years trying to change and mold me into someone he can tolerate. I guess I was doing the same to him. You accepted me for who I am and never made me feel like you were making a sacrifice to do so. You’re my very best friend, Harry. And I’d rather not ever know a day without you in my life.”
Harry exhaled but stood. He took her cup and placed it with his own. “We’ll figure it out together, then.” He took her hand and squeezed gently. “You should sleep. I expect the dverger start their day quite early.”
Hermione let herself be lead to the door but paused as he opened it. “Don’t dwell on things we can’t change, Harry. It’ll just make you bitter.”
“I’ll try if you will,” he said with a soft smile.
“Deal.” She pressed a quick kiss to his cheek and left before he could question it. Physical affection always left Harry baffled, but that was a problem for another day.
Hermione heard Harry call for Dobby as she shut her own door. She pulled her wand and started a fire in her own fireplace, wiggled out of her dressing gown, and burrowed into the big bed that took up most of the room.
– – – –
A selection of breakfast food had been placed in the middle of the table, similar to how their meals were served at Hogwarts, which Harry was grateful for. It was familiar and a comfort despite their circumstances. He poured himself some apple juice and settled in at the table beside Hermione, who was nursing a cup of coffee like it was her lifeblood. She had a bit of food already on her plate, which she hadn’t touched.
“Are you going to drink your breakfast?”
“I might,” she muttered but picked up her fork. She took a stab at a piece of sausage and put it in her mouth. “How did you sleep?”
“Not all that great,” Harry admitted. The chieftain and his family joined them at that moment. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” Lenore said with a smile. “Did you sleep well?”
“As much as I could, ma’am,” Harry said and took a deep breath. “The headache potion helped a lot. I should’ve asked for some to take with me. Though Madam Pomfrey isn’t fond of doing that. I half think she enjoys watching people take disgusting potions.”
“It’s the little things,” Razel said cheerfully as he filled his plate. “Your disappearance made the front page of the Prophet.”
Ragnok cleared his throat. “Let the lad get some food in his stomach, Razel.”
“Ah, sorry.” Razel plucked four pieces of toast from the rack and added jam to all of them.
“It’s fine,” Harry said. “What else is there to discuss that is more pleasant?”
Lenore sighed. “True enough.” And just shrugged when Ragnok offered her a look. “Honestly, dear, the Prophet is the least offensive thing about our current circumstances.”
“And that says a lot,” Hermione muttered. “I’ve been wanting to find their building and burn it to ground since that Skeeter woman called me a gold-digging tart.”
“I’ll be happy to provide you with their address,” Ragnok said gravely then smiled when Hermione laughed. “But in the scope of things, Lenore is right. The coverage of Harry’s disappearance in the paper is the least troublesome topic we have on the table. Sometime during the night, Dumbledore or one of his lackeys realized you were missing from Privet Drive. It somehow got back to the DMLE, though I’m not sure that was Dumbledore’s choice.
“The Prophet waffled between speculating that you are kidnapped and pondering whether not you’d run away because of all the lies you told about Voldemort. Though they were careful to never use his name. The minister has expressed his deep concern regarding your mental health and has asked everyone in the magical world to keep an eye out for you for your own good.”
“Is the DMLE looking to arrest me?” Harry questioned.
“No, but there is talk of releasing the dementors to search for you,” Ragnok said. “Which is basically a death threat as far as I’m concerned. I’ve heard through several different contacts that Amelia Bones and Minister Fudge have been arguing since the middle of the night about your disappearance. She’d like to treat it as a kidnapping, and she’s questioning the events of the third task despite Fudge’s insistence that you’re insane.
“They’re investigating Cedric Diggory’s death, finally, and it’s become clear he was killed by a Killing Curse. Amos Diggory has publicly accused you of murdering his son to win the Triwizard Tournament.”
Harry nodded. “I’m honestly surprised it took this long for that accusation to surface. When I realized Fudge was going to deny the return of Voldemort, I knew that Cedric’s murder would either fall on me or be outright ignored by the ministry. You said that Mr. Diggory hated me in the other future and basically did all he could to ruin my life.”
“Yes, but he certainly wasn’t content with robbing you blind. He would’ve liked to put you Azkaban for the death of his son, but you were exonerated repeatedly. You even testified in an open hearing under vertiserum regarding the circumstances of the murder.” Ragnok cleared his throat. “I’d like to contact the World Court of Magic and arrange a hearing regarding the resurrection of Voldemort. It’s a highly respected body amongst wizards, and not one anyone could successfully argue against the findings. It will do a lot to clean up your reputation.”
“Is that something I should worry about?” Harry asked. “They love and hate me by turns, and sometimes I can’t figure out which is going to come my way.”
“Your fame can be used as a weapon,” Ragnok said. “Currently, it’s being used against you. If you learn nothing else from me, Harry Potter, you will learn to wield the weapons life gives you. Controlling your public image will give you power, and you can use that power to protect yourself and others.”
The Chieftain’s gaze flicked toward Hermione, and Harry’s gut tightened. He nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Good.” Ragnok sat back in his chair with a cup of tea. “I had the wards evaluated on Privet Drive. There were blood wards there at one time—established by your mother. It was clearly meant to be a place of refuge for her if things went terribly wrong. There were several hidden trunks in the attic that belonged to your parents. They were brought to the bank and will be delivered to you once you settle into more comfortable accommodations. The blood wards collapsed shortly after your mother’s death when your aunt failed to welcome you properly into the home.
“Whatever protections you carry from the sacrifice your mother made never had anything to do with the wards on that house. Moreover, the current set of wards are intent wards—they keep away wizards and witches who have ill-intentions. That’s it. There weren’t even fire prevention wards in place. We updated the wards for the house—fire prevention, parasite control, and structural protections.
“My people went unnoticed by the people Dumbledore have watching the house, but we did leave a letter for your aunt assuring her of your good health. The wards were also explained to her. The ward stone has been hidden with dverger magic, and Dumbledore won’t be able to access them again.”
“Thank you,” Harry frowned. “Though I’m not sure they deserve it.”
“They don’t deserve it at all,” Lenore said. “But they are your relatives, and making the appearance of meeting your duty to the family you have left, no matter if they are Muggles, will reflect well on you.”
“Reputation,” Harry said and glanced toward Hermione, who was picking at her eggs. “Mi?”
“I…” She frowned. “I want to burn their house down, too.”
Harry laughed. “In the scheme of things, they don’t really matter anymore, and we should focus on what’s ahead versus what we’re leaving behind.” He turned to the chieftain. “And on that subject, sir, we both reached the conclusion last night that we cannot afford to return to Hogwarts. The situation is too dangerous by far. We’re open to suggestions regarding our future education.”
“We’ll educate you for your OWLs,” Lenore announced. “I’ll meet with you both later in the afternoon to discuss which subjects will serve you best. You’ll take the international tests in Rome next summer. At that point, you’ll also be able to tour the International Academy of Magic, which would be a very good choice for your NEWT studies. Ragnok will certainly have this whole mess with Riddle dealt with by then.” She turned to him. “Right?”
“Of course, Wife,” Ragnok murmured. “As you say.”
– – – –
Ragnok checked his watch as he walked toward his office. Lenore had corralled both Potter and Granger into a room for a brief first meeting with a tailor. Neither were properly outfitted for life in the bank or Agharti. The decision to invite them into the Horde as citizens was one he’d have to play off carefully in public. He answered to no one regarding leadership—there hadn’t even been a formal council in years, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have detractors or enemies. No one in his own clan would challenge his leadership or his decision, but he could see clan leaders of both the Longbeards and the Ironfists challenging him if they thought they could get ahead by doing so.
He activated a charm that would let his admin know that he was ready to see Bill Weasley. He’d known the curse breaker would be sent to the bank to inquire about both Granger and Potter. It was time, Ragnok thought, to test Weasley’s loyalty. He figured that Dumbledore was doing the same.
“Good morning, sir, thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”
He motioned Bill forward from the entryway. “I assume that Dumbledore is complaining about Miss Granger’s arrangements for the rest of the summer? I doubt I could pry her and Lenore apart at this point, so there’s nothing I can do about that. Though why he’d care how an upcoming fifth-year student spends her summer is beyond me.”
“He is concerned about the instruction she’s been offered here,” Bill admitted then frowned as he sat in the chair Ragnok pointed him to. “Sir, he’s furious, and I don’t get it. It’s an amazing opportunity for Hermione, and she certainly deserves it. He briefly considered lodging a complaint with the ministry but seemed to realize that it wouldn’t work out in his favor since the minister is blaming him for the disappearance of Harry Potter.” Bill paused. “I’m supposed to ask if he came here to withdraw money from his vault. I told Dumbledore that getting that information would be a violation of client privacy and that it could see me fired and even banned from Gringotts for life. The old arsehole just shrugged it off like ruining my life was worth knowing if Harry Potter stopped by to get a sack of galleons.”
“You may tell him that Harry Potter has not visited his vault,” Ragnok said. “You may also tell him that Hermione Granger has accepted an apprenticeship with Lenore, the High Priestess of the Horde. They’ll be discussing contract terms in the coming week, and his input is neither required nor desired.”
Bill winced and exhaled sharply. “I…I can’t imagine how he’s going to respond to that. He seems to think that he needs Granger to deal with Potter once the kid is located. My mother said that Ron and Ginny can offer Harry whatever comfort and companionship he needs after running away. I have to think she’s deluding herself on that front. The twins told me that Potter really doesn’t trust Ron the way he used to and has barely spoken a hundred words in Ginny’s direction.” He waved a hand. “Pardon me, sir, you don’t care about any of that. Dumbledore’s people are going to be watching the entrance of the bank, so if the kid manages to get through the doors with that invisibility cloak of his—he’ll need to be told they have orders to take custody of him even by force if necessary.”
“If Harry Potter seeks sanctuary with the Horde, it will be granted without stipulation or hesitation,” Ragnok said. “And you may tell Dumbledore exactly that. I happen to believe that Voldemort has returned to the flesh, and my wife has made it clear that Potter is key to the Dark Lord’s defeat. Her visions have grown dark and troubling of late. So much so that in the next week, I’ll be sending out new security protocols for every bank branch on the planet. As of today, no one bearing the Dark Mark is welcome on my land.”
Bill’s eyes widened. “Your neutrality on such matters has come to an end, then?”
“Lenore makes it clear that neutrality is no better than surrender when it comes to Voldemort, and I’ll surrender to no one, lad.” Ragnok glanced up and found Thaddeus Banner standing just outside the privacy veil that covered the entryway to his office. “My next appointment is here, Bill, so I must bid you goodbye. I trust that in the days and weeks to come that you will remember your duty to the bank. Dumbledore’s agenda doesn’t serve you or your future. I think you know that.”
“I do know that,” Bill assured and stood. “Moreover, I don’t think his agenda is all that honorable. My brother, Ron, told me a few stories about Harry Potter last night. I can’t believe some of the things that kid has been through, and I blame Dumbledore for nearly all of it. I told my parents that I don’t think Hogwarts is safe enough for my siblings to return to, but neither would listen to me.” He grimaced. “Have a good day, sir.”
Ragnok nodded as Weasley left quickly. He motioned Banner forward. “Master Banner, thank you for rearranging your schedule to see me today.”
“My day is yours, sir,” Banner said. “I only had a few research projects on the table at any rate. We’re still clearing objects we pulled out of that nearly destroyed vault. I don’t think you fined the patron enough for the mess they left behind. And my report will reflect my desire, once again, to put powdered erumpent horn on the banned substance list.”
Ragnok pressed his lips together to keep from laughing. “I’m leaving the bank today and going into the Muggle world.” He watched Banner’s mouth drop open in a dramatic fashion. Banner had been employed by the Horde since he’d left Hogwarts in the 70s. He’d been a stoic beast the whole time, so it was amusing to see him gobsmacked. “Specifically, I’m traveling to a place called Little Hangleton. I have two purposes there—I want to see the cemetery the Potter kid was taken to during the third task so I can review what’s left of the resurrection ritual. And I want to investigate a shack that belonged to the Gaunt family. It won’t be without risk, Master Banner, as I’m fairly certain that Voldemort is staying in the area in a house that belonged to his paternal father, a Muggle named Tom Riddle, Sr.”
Banner blinked and slowly sat down in the chair. “Sir.” He cleared his throat. “Please give me a moment to process all of that.”
“Take your time,” Ragnok said. “Lenore is going to pack us a lunch, and if I left without it, she’d be cross.”
– – – –
Little Hangleton was bleak, and there was a layer of disquiet lingering over the small Muggle village that made him want to draw his sword. Banner shifted on his feet beside him, and he focused on the wizard.
“This place reeks of dark magic, sir.”
“Yes, but there is something else here. We should check the Riddle Manor first as a security measure. If Voldemort is here, he has the place warded as heavily as he can muster on his own, which will be quite robust for a human.”
“Certainly,” Banner agreed and pulled his wand. “Proximity first?”
He cast a few charms himself and found little magic at all in the area—beyond the dark magic residue that drifted in the air like ash. There were a few Muggles but none close enough to be seen physically.
“You have no doubts regarding the resurrection story, sir?” Banner questioned.
“I know for a fact the kid was tortured and used in a ritual to resurrect Tom Riddle Jr.,” Ragnok said roughly. “He’s in the bank, Thaddeus. Unfortunately, I can’t hand him over to one of our own for healing without permission from a family member due to the treaty, and I’m not sure I can trust him with a single human Healer we have on staff due to Dumbledore.”
“Son of a bitch,” Thaddeus muttered. “He’s fourteen!”
“Soon to be fifteen, but yes,” Ragnok said. “He’ll be applying for sanctuary with the Horde, and it will be granted in a public petition. I’ve already started preparing invitations for the clan leaders.”
“And the girl?” Banner questioned. “There has been some discussion about her being Lenore’s apprentice.”
“Yes, she’s part of the Potter package, as it were, but Lenore is enamored with training the witch. I’ve learned long ago that arguing with my wife will never work out for me, so she’ll get her way on that subject. I suspect no one else will be willing to argue with her either.”
“No,” Thaddeus said with a laugh. “I don’t imagine anyone will say anything untoward to the High Priestess regarding her plans.” They paused at the entryway of the cemetery. “It’s worse here.”
“Much worse,” Ragnok agreed. “Voldemort didn’t bother to cover up his tracks at all regarding the ritual. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. He’s clearly allowing Fudge to cover up the resurrection, and that’s to his gain. He has time to build his forces, make plans to take the ministry, and curse whomever he needs to curse to gain power.”
“It’ll be a short road in that place,” Banner muttered. “It’s corrupt from the ground up. I’d not trust a single employee.”
“I was considering contacting Amelia Bones.”
Banner frowned. “Would you be willing to allow me to investigate her first?”
“Of course, Banner, add that to your list. Also, I have a personal favor to ask of you and your wife.”
“Yes, sir.” Banner turned to face him.
“I’m going to house Potter and Granger in a cottage in Agharti. They’re humans, so I think living in the mountain would be detrimental to them long-term. They need sun and the like,” Ragnok explained as he walked around the open grave of Tom Riddle, Sr. “But they’re quite young and should not live alone.” He focused on Banner. “So I was hoping that you would agree to relocate to Agharti to help with Potter’s training and act as a chaperone. Your wife and child are welcome to join you. The cottage is quite large.”
Banner took a deep breath. “Sir, please, will you tell me what is going on?”
“Yes, but that is a discussion that will have to wait until we return to the bank. Your decision can certainly wait until then as well.”
“The answer is yes regardless of the circumstances,” Banner interjected. “The safety Agharti would provide my family has no equal, and Voldemort’s return puts us all in grave danger.” He walked away from the grave and stood near a patch of dead grass. “The ritual itself took place here. Perhaps, a large cauldron of some sort. There are only a few rituals that would eve work. Did he take blood from the boy?”
“Bones from the father,” Banner muttered. “Flesh from a servant?”
“Peter Pettigrew performed the ritual,” Ragnok said.
“The boy has been open with you about that event then,” the wizard said as his gaze drifted around the dismal little cemetery. “What took place here was a crime against magic in more than one way, sir. Dumbledore should be drawn and quartered for what he allowed to happen to Potter.”
“Allowed,” Ragnok repeated.
“Even if I bought that he didn’t notice that a man he’s known for decades was replaced by a polyjuice Death Eater, and I don’t, Potter wasn’t magically bound to compete in that tournament until he actually participated in the first task. None of the participants were bound until they actually began competing. Moreover, how was the Triwizard Trophy turned into a portkey on Hogwarts’ grounds without Dumbledore’s notice? It had to have been done after it was placed in the maze since that was the only time Barty Crouch, Jr. would’ve had appropriate access to it.”
“Plus, it was created to activate on touch alone,” Ragnok said. “Which means it was altered after it was on the pedestal. You’re right—there’s no way Dumbledore should’ve missed a portkey being created on the school grounds. So either he didn’t notice, which means the wards for the school are severely damaged, or he did notice and just decided to let things play out. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s done that as it relates to Potter and Voldemort.”
“If I could take about thirty minutes to create a full report?” Banner questioned. “If we wait much longer, it won’t be as detailed as needed for future reference.”
Ragnok nodded. “Yes, good idea. Go ahead and set up the documentation protocol, and we’ll eat our sandwiches while it works.”
– – – –
The Gaunt shack looked worse than he expected, which was saying something considering how explicit Hermione Granger had been about her opinion about the shack which she had visited after the war. Part of him did wonder if the girl had considered a time travel ritual of her own due to how detailed the journal was regarding events that concerned Riddle and Potter.
“The wards are geared toward Muggle repelling,” Banner reported as he holstered his wand. “The older warding and charm work on the structure is keeping it erect, and it was clearly refreshed in the 70s. It’s all blood-based, which isn’t a surprise for the Gaunt family. Not unexpected since blood magic would be the easiest for a near-squib to manage.”
“None, but I can tell that several of the protections were created in parseltongue. Master Deering believes the Gaunts lost their parselmagic more than ten generations back. They faked it with snake-tailored beast speaking rituals. I’ve heard more than once that Voldemort delved deeply into those rituals in an effort to awaken parselcraft in him. I doubt he was successful no matter his propaganda.”
Ragnok nodded. “There is a horcrux hiding under the floorboards of this shack. It’s heavily warded and cursed. Tell me truthfully, Thaddeus, is there a deceased person in your history that you would be desperate to connect with?”
Banner paused and considered it. Finally, he shook his head. “My parents were killed during the war, but I have living portraits of them, so I have all the closure on that front I’ll ever have. Why?”
“Because the horcrux was put in the bloody Resurrection Stone.”
Banner exhaled sharply and rubbed his face. “Sir, with all due respect, I’ve reached my limit on surprises.”
Ragnok laughed sharp and loud despite his intentions. “Let’s see how well Voldemort managed to fake parselcraft.”
Banner nodded and drew a stave from a dimensional store. Ragnok followed suit, and they cast a series of ward penetrating spells that quickly created a hole in the decaying wards that they could walkthrough. Once inside the shack, Ragnok cast a curse revealing spell that highlighted areas on the wall and a section on the floor. Banner used a hissed spell to lift the floorboards up and out of the way to reveal a gold box.
“Pretentious bastard,” Banner muttered.
“It’s clear why he refreshed the Muggle repelling charms,” Ragnok said. “I believe this to be the second horcrux he created, so it houses a large portion of his soul.”
“The second?” Banner demanded. “Sir?” He cleared his throat. “How many?”
“He split his soul into seven pieces,” Ragnok said. “Once we retrieve this one, I’ll have three in my possession.”
“Do you know where the others are?”
“I believe so, yes, we’ll certainly know for sure in the weeks to come.” Ragnok lifted the box out of the hole, and it hovered between them. “There is a compelling charm on it.”
“Yes, but it’s fairly easy for me to ignore,” the wizard said. “Someone who isn’t trained in curse-breaking might be unable to resist the pull.” He wove a spell in the air silently around the box. “I heard you’ve sacrificed Bill Weasley on Master Deering’s altar.”
“He did me a personal favor,” Ragnok explained. “Master Deering is a difficult man to please, but I don’t believe Bill will have a hard time meeting his expectations.”
“No,” Banner agreed with a sigh. “I just had my eye on him myself.”
“My apologies then, Thaddeus,” Ragnok said and, with a push of his stave, opened the box. “But both the Horde and Lady Magic, herself, would be greater served if you give your attention to Harry Potter in the years to come. I did consider Armand for the role, but…” He drew a moleskin pouch out of his dimensional store, drew the ring out of the box, and placed it in the bag. “Armand’s personality would be too much for Potter at this point in his life. He needs a…”
“Father figure,” Thaddeus supplied.
“Since the birth of your son, your paternal instincts have been evident,” Ragnok said as the box snicked shut under the prodding of his magic. Banner lowered the box back into the hole and covered it back up. “I certainly don’t expect you to adopt the boy, but he could use the attention of a good, mentally sound wizard that is in his father’s age group. You were my first choice, but I will make another if you feel I’ve exceeded your boundaries.”
Banner stowed his wand and focused on Ragnok. “Why does he need this attention?”
“Because he’s prophesized as Voldemort’s equal and he stands between us another world war. If Tom Riddle, Jr. is allowed to move through this world unchecked, again, we all eventually be destroyed. His horcruxes are only half the problem.”
“It is my honor to be in your service, sir,” Thaddeus said. “I will do everything I can to prepare Harry Potter to meet his destiny. And until the day comes that he’s ready to do so, I will stand in his defense as James and Lily Potter did before me.”
Ragnok smiled. “Thank you, Thaddeus.”
Harry couldn’t ever bring himself to pay attention during history class at school, he had read his books for the subject cover to cover all four years he’d attended Hogwarts. Fortunately, the books did more than drone on about the “goblin rebellions”. The books, however, had never mentioned the term dverger or explained their home Agharti. In fact, the implication all along in the wizard-written textbooks that the “goblins” were a strain on magical society who hoarded gold and made life difficult for wizards by rebelling every single time any magical government on the planet tried to exert any sort of control over them.
“What is Agharti?” He questioned and tried to avoid flinching when Lenore focused on him.
“There as a time when wizards were rare in this world, and they were more of a supernatural force,” Lenore began. “There were large populations of humans, dverger, and elves. There were also creatures called hobbits. The hobbits realm was secluded by the being who is now called Zir many thousands of years ago. He deemed them basically defenseless against the threats that were looming large over Earth. He saw a horrible future for them if they remained part of us as they were children of the earth and due to their size utterly unprepared for large scale conflict.
“Magic started to grow on Earth, so much so that wizards and witches began to be born amongst humans. The dverger began to evolve as well—we’d always been gifted with runic magic, but the magic that had seeped into humans seeped into us as well. Magical creatures began to appear, perhaps drawn to Earth by magic, or maybe they were placed here by Hekate. It is unknown and perhaps, at this date, not all that important.
“Soon, the humans that were not gifted with magic began to resent witches and wizards. That resentment spread to the dverger and eventually magical creatures. The clan leaders of the dverger came together and invited the most powerful magical users amongst the humans to join them in a discussion regarding the safety of magical kind. The end results are the hidden magical enclaves that you enjoy even today.
“Privately, the dverger clans decided to come together to create a protected dimensional space outside of our physical reality. This magic is used on a small scale for wand holsters and dimensional stores. It took several hundred years to carve out the dimensional space as it was built on blood and the sacrifice of those who were near the end of their lives. Even today, when one of our kind is allowed to die naturally, as magic intends, they enter a ritual circle and add their magic and life force to the magical construct that houses Agharti.”
“Wow,” Harry said. “How many dverger live in Agharti?”
“Nearly a million,” Lenore said simply. “The exterior wards that shield Agharti are fueled by wild magic that is released onto this world by Zir when he moves amongst us, which he does far more often than any of your kind would expect. Of the biggest issues that exist between magical humans and the dverger is the fact that we refused to share Agharti with them upon its completion. In the past, we offered to help your kind build such a place, but they didn’t want to do the work or make the sacrifices to accomplish it.”
“That’s not surprising at all,” Harry admitted. “What are the ramifications of inviting Hermione and me to live in Agharti for the next year?”
“Immense,” Lenore admitted. “You’ll be among the first humans ever allowed live in the realm. We’re also going to ask a wizard that works for us to relocate his wife and child to Agharti to act as chaperones for the two of you. We’ll have no choice but to eventually reveal to the Ministry of Magic that you’ve been granted sanctuary within our realm due to the resurrection of Voldemort. No one will be able to successfully argue that you’re safer outside of Agharti. No wizard or witch would survive trying to force their way into our realm due to the wards and security magic.”
“I meant—for your people. Will other dverger be angry or upset with Chieftain Ragnok for his choices?”
“The other clan leaders will be witness to your petition, speaking of which, you’ll need to add Miss Granger to your magical house.”
Harry’s mouth dropped open. “Pardon me?”
“She’s not a target for Voldemort—not as an individual. But it can be argued, successfully, that he did make war on the House of Potter. There are several ways to bring a woman into your magical house—the first is marriage, but you’re too young for that. The second is a betrothal, which would be difficult to accomplish since you’re both underage, and her parents are unlikely to sign it anyway. The third is a declaration on your part—you’d declare her a protected and precious member of your house. This is a privilege afforded to you because of your father’s magical legacy. The House of Potter is considered an ancient house within wizarding law.”
“Is it anything special? To be an ancient house?”
“You’d be able to join the Wizengamot later in your life if you wished,” Lenore stated and waved a hand. “But that body is largely symbolic at this point. They’ve ceded most of their power over the years to the minister’s office.”
Harry nodded and stared down at the tea she’d poured when he’d first been escorted into her private office. It still steamed gently, so he took a sip. “Right, I just…is this the best option for her? I mean no offense by this in any single way, High Priestess, but will Hermione get the education she deserves? I don’t want her studies to suffer because of me and this situation with Voldemort. I don’t know the exact circumstances of her previous fate, but I don’t believe she was…she clearly wasn’t happy in the letter she sent herself. Moreover, I doubt Ron encouraged or even allowed her the success that should’ve been hers.”
“She admitted as much, yes,” Lenore said. “I will see that Hermione Granger is given every single opportunity for education that she desires. She will be thoroughly prepared for her International OWLs and will be very welcome, as a result, to the International Academy of Magic. You will suffer the same circumstances.”
Harry laughed and nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” He paused. “And my circumstances with Riddle will be enough for the other clan leaders?”
“Honestly, lad, my husband has been Chieftain since he was seventy-five years old,” Lenore said. “He’s been challenged only once for the position, and he maimed the challenger for life. The matter with Riddle compiled with my visions and your status as our future wizarding patron will be more than enough for the other clan leaders to be mollified by the choices we make regarding your magical house.”
“Would it serve anyone or anything for me to assume the role of patron now?”
Lenore raised an eyebrow. “Your age would be a detriment, but no one can fault your magical combat experience. Would you be willing to share the memory of your fight with the basilisk?”
“I would—in fact—I will share all the memories I have of the House of Potter standing against Riddle, starting with the night he murdered my parents.”
“Oh, lad,” Lenore murmured with a frown. “You remember that?”
“Yes, ever since I encountered a dementor during my third year.” Harry concentrated on his tea so he wouldn’t have to see the pity on her face. “I’ve heard the whole thing a few times, but I’ve only seen in the once—with the dementor on the train.”
“We will work on retrieving the memories for your petition to the Horde. Due to the content and my own testimony, the event will be remotely viewed by every dverger old enough to comprehend.”
“The kids…some of the events are quite graphic.” Harry looked up and found her looking at him fondly.
“Were you not quite young when they happened to you? The dverger don’t shelter their children, as humans do. Though, to be fair, our kind does not reach adulthood until the age of seventy-five.”
“I respect that, but I would feel more comfortable if parents were warned in advance as to the content,” Harry murmured.
“Certainly,” Lenore agreed.
“Is Chieftain Ragnok available? Or the account manager I’m going to be assigned?” Harry questioned.
He had questions about his money, and moreover, he needed to make sure he had enough gold to support them in Rome for their NEWT studies. He really didn’t know if the Grangers could or would support Hermione going to the International Academy of Magic.
“Ragnok will be back within the hour,” Lenore reported. “Do you have some concern I can pass along to him?”
“I just don’t know what my financial status is,” Harry admitted frankly. “I want to make sure I have the gold to take care of Hermione in Rome if her parents aren’t willing to support that goal for her. She’s sacrificed so much for me already, you see, and I don’t…want her to worry about money.”
Lenore’s face softened, and she smiled. “I believe you will find you have more than enough to pay for whatever the two of you might need in Rome, but I will tell Ragnok of your concerns so he’ll be prepared to answer all of your questions regarding your accounts once he’s returned to the bank.” She checked her watch. “I’ve sent for several textbooks for you both to study. They should be arriving momentarily, so if you’d go retrieve Hermione?”
“Yes, of course.” Harry stood. “Please charge my account for those purchases.”
“Certainly, Mr. Potter,” Lenore said and offered him another bright smile.
Harry didn’t think he’d ever get how women worked, regardless of their species.
– – – –
He’d cleared his afternoon as he hadn’t known how long the trip to Little Hangleton would take. But the moment he returned to his office, his diary started to glow, letting him know he had several requests for meetings. Ragnok sat down at this desk and opened the book with a little frown. He set meetings for the next day for several of the requests, added Razel, Sharprock, and Potter to the three slots he had left. The notification system would send memos to each of them, so he closed the book and pulled out the moleskin pouch.
He had nearly twenty-five minutes before Razel was due in his office. Ragnok spilled the ring onto the blotter and stared at the ring. He wasn’t sure which Gaunt family member thought it was appropriate to stick the Resurrection Stone in a ring, but it was clear they had no taste and were quite stupid. Considering the amount of inbreeding in the family, the lack of intelligence was no surprise at all. The ring was a gaudy, clunky thing that offered no aesthetic appeal whatsoever.
“Can the horcrux be removed without damaging the stone?”
He looked up and found his wife lingering in the doorway of the salon attached to his office. “I’ve not started my review of it. The magic of the stone is robust, but the taint is also quite…intense.” He frowned as he sat back in his chair. “If he’d known what he possessed, he’d have never risked putting a horcrux in it. Who would willing put a part of their soul in a Deathly Hallow?”
“No one, Death is clearly furious, already, with his presumption. Though Death has never been fond of those who would dare split their soul.” Lenore leaned a hip against his desk and focused on the ring. “Do we risk having Potter interact with the ring?”
Ragnok grimaced. “There could be information gained from such a thing, but I don’t know if the boy could handle it. Moreover, I’m not sure the information is valuable enough to risk the delicate balance that currently exists in Potter with the horcrux he currently carries. Did you give him more headache cure?”
“Yes.” She crossed her arms. “Though Mistress Omis would like him in her care sooner rather than later.”
“That will have to wait until he’s granted sanctuary officially per the treaties. He’s a minor, and his guardian isn’t available to approve healing. Once sanctuary is granted, he’ll be a member of the Horde, and I won’t need anyone’s permission to see him medically evaluated and treated.” Ragnok focused once more on the ring. “Beyond Death’s fury, is there another reason you’d see the stone saved?”
“I believe it is important that Harry Potter become the Master of Death. I think it’s both a matter of fate and duty,” Lenore said quietly. “The mantle is clearly meant to be his, Ragnok.”
He nodded, opened his desk drawer, and pulled from it a delicate copper wand. “I’ll do my best to move the horcrux from the stone without damaging it. I’ve ordered a vault from the Stone Master’s Guild to hold the horcruxes we gather so that when the time comes—Death may have all of Riddle’s soul.”
“I thought perhaps you might build it yourself,” Lenore admitted.
“I wish I had the time, but I trust Master Raddoc’s work with stone and Master Oram from the Rune Guild will handle the carving.” Ragnok just shrugged when she quirked an eyebrow. “I have to delegate something, and I’ve impressed upon them both that the vault will be used in a very important endeavor that will have far-reaching consequences for the Horde.”
“Your logic is sound,” she said in an amused tone.
“Why did you put Sharprock and Potter on my schedule?”
“I briefed Sharprock in case I didn’t return from errands in the mountain before the meetings. Harry has expressed concern about his ability to provide for himself and Miss Granger. Her future education is a priority for him. I don’t know enough about his accounts to answer his questions, so I put him on your schedule. This is one instance where you can soothe him far better than anyone else. Sharprock is reviewing everything he can get his hands on currently regarding the Potter estate and Harry’s status as Sirius Black’s heir. Speaking of, I believe that resolving that issue without getting that crazy wizard killed would do a lot to create trust between you and Harry.”
“Sirius Black is on my list for more than one reason,” Ragnok said roughly. “We could be making money off that wizard right now in investments if the ministry weren’t going about being as corrupt as humanly possible.”
Lenore hummed under her breath. “True. I think I’ll write Rubeus Hagrid a letter about his little colony of spiders.”
Ragnok refrained from pointing out that there was nothing little about that colony as the proximity charm on this door chimed gently to let him know someone was approaching. He looked up just in time to watch Razel lean against the wall in front of his door. He motioned his son forward, and Razel strolled in.
“You look exhausted.”
“I’ve found over a hundred banned objects,” Razel said wearily. “That Lestrange witch doesn’t have enough gold to actually cover the fines related to the mess in her vault.” He put a moleskin pouch on the desk and slouched down in the chair. “One defiled cup. I imagine Helga Hufflepuff would be incandescent with rage.”
“Yes,” Ragnok said. “I believe she would be.” He picked up the pouch and flicked it into his dimensional store. “And the rest?”
“I’ve already moved all of the darkest objects into the curse-breaking department. I don’t think much of it can be cleansed properly, so it will have to be destroyed. Lestrange had a little over eighty thousand galleons in the vault. I’m having it scanned and cleansed since it was housed with all that dark crap before it’s put in a new vault for Miss Granger. Though…I don’t know how to word that particular transfer in the records.”
“Officially, all of her funds will be taken to cover the fines,” Ragnok said. “List the transfer on the new vault as a…scholarship. I’ll handle giving it to Miss Granger. If I could, I’d spread the money out to Lestrange’s other victims, but it would raise too many questions. It would be easy to manufacture any number of Muggle educational funds that were transferred into the bank for Granger. I doubt anyone will even question it due to her intelligence. Moreover, since that dark witch is no longer allowed to enter the bank, she’ll never know her money is gone if she manages to get out of Azkaban. Speaking of, do you know the status of the new security charms?”
“Last I heard, Master Deering had agreed to find a test subject for the repelling charm as it relates to the Dark Mark,” Razel reported. “Master Martok is not asking any questions about that.”
“Good,” Ragnok said. “But let Master Deering know if that he could acquire Peter Pettigrew, it would make my month at the very least.”
“I will let him know,” Razel agreed and stood. “If there is nothing else?”
“You’ve not had much to say about everything,” Lenore said.
Razel made a face. “I’m furious with you both, and I’m glad I don’t have memories of you killing yourselves in a bloody time travel ritual. But you have to know that the moments my other self had left before the ritual set and the timeline washed away were the worst and most heartbreaking of his life.
“I understand why you did it, and intellectually I even approve of it, but I’m still just very angry, which is unreasonable, so we shouldn’t discuss it further.”
“Very well,” Ragnok said before Lenore could say anything. “Return to your task and pass along the fines to the accounting department for assessment and notifications.”
“Be prepared, there are going to be a lot of angry wizards and witches to deal with. Many of them work in the ministry. Fudge’s undersecretary had four blood quills in her vault—all dverger made—and all four have had their pain relief charms removed.” Razel shook his head. “A government official found to be in violation of an international treaty is going to get ugly.”
“In the other timeline, she forced Potter to write with them repeatedly during his fifth year. In fact, it happened so much that he was permanently scarred,” Lenore murmured. “I’d be interested in knowing where she got them from, so please make sure to research their provenance thoroughly.”
“Of course, Amad,” Razel said and, with a nod toward them both, left.
“Was it a mistake to tell him about the ritual?” Lenore questioned.
“No, love, we had no choice. The betrayal of keeping such a secret from our son would be insurmountable. He’s hurt and angry, yes, but that will fade in time.” Ragnok reached out and curled one hand around her hip. “Come here a moment.”
She slid into his lap but kept her gaze averted. “It’s difficult.”
“Very,” Ragnok admitted. “We’ve both invested ourselves in his happiness since his birth. Perhaps we both knew that he’d be the only one.”
“Delco didn’t suffer enough for what he did.”
Ragnok hadn’t allowed himself to think about his half-brother in many decades. Though, to be honest, he’d rarely thought about his father’s bastard son even when he’d been alive. Delco had resented the circumstances of his birth, and more importantly, he’d wanted to be their father’s heir. Due to blood claim, Ragnok hadn’t much of a choice regarding his own heir choice until he fathered a son. Delco had responded to his marriage to Lenore by using lead to poison him. It had caused severe issues with conception, and they’d been lucky to create Razel. Unfortunately, the damage was done long before they found it, and Ragnok could no longer father children as a result.
Delco had been put on trial for his crime and sentenced to death per the laws of the Horde. It was the only execution that had taken place since he’d ascended to chieftain, and he’d been unable to stomach attending it. Lenore had overseen the process in his place.
He pressed a kiss against her jaw, and Lenore turned her face so she could tuck up against his neck.
“I couldn’t look at him when I did it,” Lenore whispered. “I never thought I’d see a circumstance where I would be willing to leave our boy that way.”
“He’s here now,” Ragnok said and combed his fingers through her hair. “And his soul has no memories of those terrible moments where we died in front of him.”
“I have too much to do to indulge in this sort of silliness,” Lenore announced and slipped from his lap. “It’s charming that Potter wants to provide for her—he clearly has no idea why, though—so you should enjoy that conversation immensely.”
“Should we encourage that?” Ragnok questioned. “They might feel pressure based on our future knowledge.”
Lenore shrugged. “It’s clear they already have feelings. Razel told me that Potter basically threatened to murder him if Hermione had come to harm in the bank.”
“If only he’d been more concerned about her welfare in the other timeline,” Ragnok muttered, then huffed at himself and raised a hand. “Unfair, that so-called charm on them would’ve prevented him from acting in her defense when it came to the Weasley family.”
“Have you wondered why Dumbledore did it?”
“The ring curse was killing him,” Ragnok said. “Per Hermione’s journal, at any rate, he knew he had a finite amount of time to put Potter on the path that served his agenda best. Arthur and Molly Weasley were clearly trusted to continue that agenda forward. I think, in the end, Hermione Granger was just in the way, and they sacrificed her in a marriage to their lazy son to make sure she didn’t distract Harry Potter from their daughter.”
Lenore pressed her lips together. “I wish we’d questioned William Weasley’s role in that family.”
“There’s no telling what magic he might have been influenced by either, which is why I’ve assigned him to Master Deering. Armand Deering wards his apprentices and monitors them carefully for behavioral modification.” Ragnok looked up as the visitor chime activated. Sharprock was waiting patiently in the place Razel had previously slouched. He motioned the dverger forward. “Good afternoon, Sharprock.”
“Chieftain,” Sharprock said roughly. “High Priestess, it’s ever an honor to be in your presence.”
“Thank you, Master Sharprock. I shall let the two of you have your meeting.” Lenore glided out of the room, and Ragnok sighed.
“Lucky son of a bitch, that’s what you are,” Sharprock said.
“Truer words, cousin,” Ragnok said with a wry grin. “Lenore tells me that you prepared an overview of Potter’s accounts?”
“The kid hasn’t gone near the main vault since his return to the magical world,” Sharprock began. “I’d question the level of respect he has for his magical house if I’d not been briefed on his upbringing and circumstances. Griphook, despite his disposition, has guarded the boy’s possessions quite diligently. Molly Weasley has removed several amounts of money on the kid’s behalf, but Griphook counted it down to the last sickle and forced her on more than one occasion to return to the bank with receipts and the change.” Sharprock’s lips quirked slightly. “She finds him very disagreeable and lodged several complaints with the floor manager. She lobbied to have him replaced with a human actually—her son specifically. Young Bill was quick to let her and everyone else know that he has no interest in being trained in banking.”
“As if we’d allow it anyway,” Ragnok muttered. “Griphook’s diligence is no surprise—after all, his fee is based on the percentage of the kid’s overall wealth. If he let someone steal from Harry Potter, it would’ve cut into his bottom line. I’ll have him moved to another appropriate account so you won’t have to work with him personally. I know he vexes you.”
“He vexes everyone,” Sharprock muttered. “Make him handle the ministry account and Fudge’s.”
Ragnok grinned. “Good thinking, and if Fudge wants an account manager, Griphook will finally get that promotion he’s always wanted.” He sat back in his chair. “The Potter accounts?”
“Stagnate but robust,” Sharprock reported. “The boy has never retrieved his account ledger, so it’s clear why he has no real idea of his financial picture. I took the liberty of retrieving the vault keys that were in circulation. There were four, and the kid didn’t have a single one of them.”
“Not a surprise if he’s been letting Molly Weasley do his shopping,” Ragnok said. “I’m sure it was couched as a security measure.”
“Surely,” Sharprock agreed. “Regardless, I’ve performed an audit, and outside of the investment situation, Potter’s accounts are as they should be. Mostly.”
“Well, the will of James and Lily Potter was never executed, so the Muggle guardians were never given the stipend they were due for taking care of the boy. The High Priestess assured me they didn’t deserve it at any rate, so that isn’t much of an issue. The real issue, of course, is that neither Petunia or Vernon Dursley was on the approved list of guardians. They left a list of wizards and witches they approved of—some of whom did survive the war—so there was no need for Dumbledore to make the choice he did.”
“Unless he wanted the boy to be raised by small-minded abusive Muggles,” Ragnok said. “Just imagine how grateful little Harry Potter was to be rescued from his horrible relatives by magical people?”
“Dumbledore needs to be set on fire,” Sharprock said. “Or ripped limb from limb.” He paused. “Or both.”
“Both,” Ragnok agreed. “I’ll be sending for Potter shortly. You won’t be able to meet with him officially until after his birthday, which is in a few days. We can’t legal circumvent Dumbledore’s control over the boy’s assets until then.”
“Understood, that being said, I’ve already warded everything and locked it all down so no one but Potter can enter the vaults. I’ve also taken the liberty of assuming the Black accounts. They’ve been defunct since the death of Walburga Black since Narcissa Malfoy was unsuccessful in claiming them for her son.” Sharprock shrugged. “No one has contested or challenged me yet, unfortunately.”
Ragnok grinned. “I look forward to watching the challenge if anyone dares.”
“I might want to get in on the training the kid,” Sharprock said as he stood. “Is it true he killed a basilisk with a sword when he was twelve?”
“The Sword of Gryffindor met his need,” Ragnok said.
“Then I’d be honored to teach him the way of the long blade,” Sharprock said with an amused grin. “Invite me to dinner so I can meet the boy and his witch unofficially, at least.”
“I’ll let Lenore know.”
He picked up the ledger as Sharprock left his office and opened it. The figures weren’t far from what they were in the future when the ministry seized everything he could. Ragnok pushed aside the little bit of guilt that stirred in his gut over that situation. There was no land—even the land in Godric’s Hollow was gone as it had been confiscated in 1982 for a bloody memorial. He found that particularly galling. Humans had the strangest ideas about honoring their dead. Though he didn’t think there was anything honorable about keeping a half-destroyed cottage in Godric’s Hollow in stasis. It was more like—a spectacle for people to gawk at.
He checked over the wording of the seizure and wondered if they could take it back from the ministry. With the right political moves, Potter could probably force Fudge to do so. He made a note in the ledger regarding that so Sharprock could keep it in mind. The ancestral seat of the House of Potter had been destroyed by Riddle’s forces before James Potter had left Hogwarts. Christopher Potter had razed what was left the house and sold the land. No reason was listed for not rebuilding. The family had certainly had the funds to do it. Perhaps Dumbledore’s interference went back further than they’d thought.
Ragnok moved backward in the ledger and sighed as he saw several large amounts of gold shifted out of the Potter vault by both Christopher and James into an account under the name of Albus Dumbledore. Neither donation had done much to hurt the Potter’s bottom line, but it was clear that historically the House of Potter did a lot to support Dumbledore’s little organization. He’d bet anything that Sirius Black was doing the funding now.
He activated the charm on his desk to tell his admin he was ready for his next meeting, and within a few minutes, Harry Potter was lingering just outside the door. The boy was dressed far too casually to be in a public part of the bank, but his clothes at least fit. A peek with mage sight told him that Potter was using charms to maintain his clothes.
Ragnok motioned him forward. “Harry, I trust you’ve had a good day?”
“I’ve eaten well,” the boy began and flushed. “Which is better than I normally have it this time of the year. The High Priestess ordered books for us to study for our OWLs. She has some…ideas about our subjects and what we should be studying.”
Ragnok laughed. “I bet.”
“Hermione is really happy, at least,” Harry said. “I prefer practical lessons, but I don’t mind reading. It’ll be easier to accomplish without Ron around to distract me. In retrospect, it was like he was tasked with preventing me from learning too much.”
“I’m sure he probably was,” Ragnok said. “Dumbledore wanted you to learn what was important to him so that he could control you, and he did. To the detriment of us all.”
Harry nodded. “I won’t take much of your time, sir. I just grew concerned about my finances. Specifically, I wanted to make sure I had enough money to pay for Hermione to attend the International Academy of Magic in Rome if that’s what she wants. I don’t think we can depend on her parents to foot that bill. She told me long ago that the only reason her parents didn’t try too hard to keep her out of Hogwarts was that tuition was free, and they paid much less for magical textbooks than they would’ve to send her to the public school their peers expected their daughter to attend.”
Ragnok turned the ledger in front of him around and put it down in front of Potter. “Honestly, lad, money is the last of your concerns.” He refrained from laughing as Potter stared at the page in obvious shock. “Currently, your estate is in a state of trust, and your personal spending limit is 1,000 galleons a month. This doesn’t include educational expenses—like textbooks and supplies. If you’re unsure of what this means, you have the equivalent of ten million pounds in your vault.
“Sharprock will be taking over your investments as soon as we can take Dumbledore’s name off the lot as estate manager. You never have to work a day in your life, Mr. Potter, but the men in your family have never been known for sitting on their arses.”
“No, I mean.” He relaxed. “Okay, great, then I have plenty for her.”
“Is that important to you?”
“I don’t want her to sacrifice…” Harry cleared his throat. “Her loyalty was used against her in that other future, Chieftain Ragnok. Dumbledore and the Weasley’s wielded it like a weapon. I don’t want to ever take her for granted, but more importantly, more than enough people have sacrificed themselves and their happiness for me. Hermione won’t be one of them. Dumbledore isn’t going to use her against me. He isn’t going to destroy her dreams. He isn’t going give her to Ron bleeding Weasley has some kind of obscene form of payment.”
“Payment?” Ragnok repeated with a frown. “What do you mean?”
“Ron’s greedy,” Harry said plainly. “Jealous, cruel, lazy, and dumb. If Dumbledore is using him to keep me basically ignorant and biddable, then he would expect to be paid for it. In retrospect, around our third year, Ron developed this…proprietary attitude about Hermione. I mistook it for a crush, but maybe that’s when Dumbledore put him on the task of keeping me in check.
“I’d try to send her away somewhere safe if I thought she’d go without a fight,” Potter murmured. “She didn’t deserve what happened to her before and…” He sighed and rubbed his face. “I could murder him.”
“And Weasley,” Harry admitted. “Does that make me a dark wizard?”
“Humans notions of dark and light are often skewed,” Ragnok said roughly. “There is nothing dark about defending those that you love, lad, and don’t let anyone ever tell you differently.” He watched the boy’s cheeks flush dark red. “It is love, lad, and perhaps you’re too young to know what shape that love will take, but there is nothing shameful about loving your friend.”
Potter nodded and wet his lips. “Did you know that’s Hermione is the first person I ever remember hugging me? I mean, I’m sure my parents did it, but I don’t remember that. Plus, she keeps kissing my cheek, and I don’t know how to take it.”
“Does it make you uncomfortable?”
“No, I mean.” He shrugged. “She’s a physically affectionate person and always has been. I never minded it with her. I don’t much like it when other people touch me without permission, but Hermione is…everything.” He exhaled. “I’m an idiot.”
“We all are when it comes to females,” Ragnok said and laughed when Potter managed to look both disgruntled and confused at the same time.
The first time she’d gone into Lenore’s office, it had been quite plain. A large space with little furniture and no evidence of the High Priestess’ character. But just a day after establishing herself in the bank, the office was slowly morphing into an otherworldly space that made Hermione both curious and uneasy. Her exploration of divination at Hogwarts had left her a frustrated wreck, so to see the tools of the craft spread out around Lenore’s space was a reminder of that. Lenore seemed to content to let Hermione wander around the space and peer at things while they waited on Harry to finish his meeting with Ragnok.
“How does the palantír work?” Hermione questioned as Lenore joined her by the pedestal, where the device was on display. The entire room seemed to focus on it, which was no wonder considering how magic stirred around it, even it what she assumed to be a dormant state.
“There are various kinds,” Lenore said. “This one was specifically designed and crafted to foretell the future. When I interact with it, I can shape my visions around different decisions and individuals. I see possibilities both good and bad spread out before us depending on the actions and reactions of others.”
“I’m worried about my parents,” Hermione murmured. “They have little to no tolerance for magic. Every year, I return to them a little more magical than I was before, and they clearly—can’t stand it. They love me in their own way, but I was an unwanted pregnancy and certainly an undesired child. When I was eight, I asked for a sibling, and my mother explained to me that she’d have preferred to have no children at all.”
“What a hateful thing to tell your own child,” Lenore murmured. “I would’ve given a great deal to have a daughter. The child we were able to create was a blessing, but I wanted many.”
“I’d like several,” Hermione said. “Being an only child was lonely, and I’d never want my kids to be lonely or feel unwanted the way I did.” She reached out and almost touched the palantír. The air sparked around the device, and Hermione jerked her hand back. “Sorry.”
“You did nothing wrong,” Lenore said with some amusement. She brushed her own fingers over the palantír. “It is merely frustrated with your lack of…talent in the art. I imagine most divination devices are null to your touch.”
Hermione nodded. “Yes, and that’s terrible considering…when will you tell Harry about the prophecy?”
“There is more than one now,” Lenore admitted. “I’ve had two prophetic visions regarding Harry Potter since I returned to the past. The one about Riddle is nothing more than a nuisance, honestly. It’s ambiguous and so vague that it could fit any number of people.”
“But it’s about Harry, right?”
“Certainly,” Lenore agreed. “But it could’ve been about someone else entirely. Someone who hasn’t even been born yet for that matter. It could’ve lain dormant for decades if Riddle had left the matter alone, but he was told just enough, apparently, of the prophecy to be dangerous. Your future-self believed that Dumbledore allowed that situation to unfold out of curiosity or perhaps something more sinister.”
“He’s a fame whore,” Hermione said flatly and flushed scarlet when Lenore turned to stare her wide-eyed. “My apologies, I don’t know why I said that.”
Lenore laughed. “Certainly because it’s true. Albus Dumbledore clearly loves to be famous. He’s gone to great pains to cultivate his image during his lifetime, including his very timely defeat of Grindelwald.”
“Well, there was no need to do it too soon,” Hermione said. “What would’ve he’d gotten out of defeating a minor dark wizard? No, Albus Dumbledore needed a bloody Dark Lord. He makes a habit of making them, doesn’t he? Riddle was just in his twenties when Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald. It was almost like he made room for Tom Riddle to flourish. A better enemy, perhaps? A less personal one?”
“You’re a very smart young woman.” They both turned and found Ragnok standing in the doorway. “I’ve sent Potter off to his room as his new clothes have been delivered. I believe you’ll find your new wardrobe already in your room as well.”
Hermione nodded. “Thank you. I…have some money in the Bank of London. Could we transfer that into my vault without involving my parents?”
“You already have an account, so making the transfer will be the work of nothing,” Ragnok said. “I’ve already assigned a larger high-security vault to your account. Your account manager is Sharprock. I gave you Bellatrix Lestrange’s money. We can merge the small vault you already have or keep it separate to provide additional privacy.”
Hermione’s cheeks flushed. “I…I’m not sure…”
“She owes you,” Ragnok said. “Whether she knows it or not, and I can’t give the gold to anyone else she might have hurt without getting attention we don’t need regarding the horcruxes. Riddle probably knows the cup should be in her vault. You may do with the gold what you wish, Hermione.”
“Is there enough to fund research?” Hermione questioned. “I’d like to see someone focus on fixing the damage done by the Cruciatus curse.”
“There is already an international research project underway for that,” Lenore said. “They will be successful inside the next decade. Perhaps it would happen quicker with a sizeable donation.”
Hermione nodded. “I’ll speak with Sharprock about my goals and what sort of funds I will need for that, then the rest can be donated to that research. The Lestranges owe the Longbottom family an incredible debt, so having their money seek a cure for their victims appeals to me.”
“You should know that Mr. Potter is quite convinced himself that he’ll be paying your way in Rome and elsewhere,” Ragnok said.
She was both charmed and a little irritated. “I have an educational trust from my paternal grandparents. It was supposed to be used for school after primary as they wanted me to attend a public school. I don’t need Harry’s money.”
“I don’t think he’d ever assume to think you’d ask for it,” Ragnok said mildly. “He merely wants the very best for you.”
Hermione relaxed a little. She never wanted to be one of those people who just took and took from Harry like they deserved it. “There are plenty of people in his life who only see what they can get from him—fame, money, power, etc.”
“I know, and he certainly paid for their ambitions in the future.”
She started to ask a question, but the door opened, and Harry he entered. He’d changed clothes—slacks, shirt, and a dark green cashmere jumper. Less casual, she thought, and definitely new.
“You’re already finished with your second appointment with the tailor, then?” Hermione questioned.
“I…I think so,” Harry said and shrugged. “I mean he had one of those measuring tapes like from the wand shop this time. And he threw these clothes at me before storming off muttering under his breath about the poor quality of the Muggle clothes I was wearing. He swore he’d set me on fire if I didn’t change clothes immediately.”
Ragnok laughed. “Who did the Textiles Guild send?”
“The head of the guild,” Lenore said. “He’s a very talented tailor.”
“I’m not unhappy with what I’ve gotten so far,” Harry said and petted the sleeve of his jumper. “And honestly, having faced off with a creature who could actually set me on fire, I wasn’t all that concerned about his threat. He wasn’t wrong about the clothes, but my Muggle relatives never bought me my own things, and even if they had, they’d be the same poor quality he already finds appalling.”
“Granted,” Ragnok said.
“Come sit, Harry,” Lenore murmured and pointed toward a table she’d set up with several piles of books. “We’ll discuss your education for the next year.”
Hermione took her seat and just offered Harry a small smile when he joined her quickly. “You look nice, by the way. I always thought green was your color.”
“It’s my favorite color,” Harry admitted. “I was bummed that the Gryffindor colors were red and gold.”
Lenore cleared her throat as she sat down. “You’ll need to take your core OWLs to satisfy local requirements—History of Magic, Potions, Charms, Transfiguration, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, and Astronomy. The international tests in these subjects are far more difficult than what you’d take at Hogwarts. Doing well on these subjects is your ticket into the International Academy for your NEWTs.”
Hermione shifted several books around to make a pile of the core subjects, then she did the same for Harry, who looked a little flummoxed. She knew he wasn’t dumb but suspected that the number of books was a little intimidating.
Harry shifted the pile of books she pushed his way. “I’ll need more attention in potions than any other subject when it comes to the core curriculum. I’d like to take the Dueling OWL. Also, I’d like to start considering career options that don’t involve the British Ministry of Magic. Britain is small, and the magical community even smaller and more isolated. I’m not saying I’d want to leave permanently, but I’d like to see what the world has to offer.”
“We’ll spend the next year or so evaluating your skills,” Lenore decided. “You’ll be able to tailor your curriculum at the academy to meet whatever career goals you have at that point. If a mentorship will serve you, at that point, we’ll see that it’s arranged in Rome.”
“Just like that?” Harry questioned.
“You have the means to make these decisions easy, lad,” Ragnok said. “Your duty to magic is a burden few will ever understand. The least we can do is make sure that your life isn’t burdened in ways we can control and shape to suit you.”
Harry turned to her, and Hermione bit down on her lip. He’d honestly rarely been more attractive than he was in that moment—focused and determined. She felt like a silly girl all of a sudden, and she’d never gotten wrapped in a boy like that before, not even Harry with his foolish heroics and Quidditch uniforms.
“Beyond the core classes, I’d like to take OWLs for Arithmancy, Magical Theory, and Runes.” She focused on Lenore, who offered her a grin. “I don’t think either of us really needs Care of Magical Creatures though it would probably be a fairly easy OWL for us both to achieve, so we should probably add it just to make our results look more rounded. As far as skills where I’m lacking, I can barely fly a broom to save my life, which makes me feel like no witch at all.”
“I loathe brooms,” Lenore admitted. “But we’ll see you properly taught to handle one. It’s a good skill to have in any case. We’ll teach you both apparition as well since you can apply for an international license at sixteen.”
“Britain restricts to seventeen,” Hermione said. “Can they override a license granted by the ICW?”
“Not unless they want to get kicked wholesale out of the organization,” Ragnok said dryly.
“I’ll be approaching various masters in your subjects to teach you after the sanctuary hearing,” Lenore said. “My preference would be theory in the mornings and practical lessons in the afternoon. You’ll want to eat very well for breakfast and lunch to be prepared for those lessons as we’ll push you in practical exercises. Academic knowledge is all well and good, but casting ability and power is what will set you apart at an international level. Britain’s educational system is designed to accommodate the lowest common denominator, which is certainly appropriate, but it does nothing for the gifted amongst you.”
“What can I do to mitigate the ministry’s response and behavior?” Harry questioned. “Right now, Fudge is trying to ruin me, but that will change as soon as Riddle reveals himself. I’ll be valuable again to him and his political machine. He’ll lash out in any single way he can to regain control of me at that point. I wouldn’t want relations between the Horde and humans to suffer more than they already do because of me.”
Hermione hadn’t really considered that, but she didn’t see how she could’ve done anything differently when it came to Harry and his removal from Privet Drive. It was everything she’d always wanted to do for him, and it was also nice to not have involved Ron Weasley at all.
“You’ll be a citizen of the Horde at that point,” Ragnok said. “And under my direct legal authority. They’ll have no choice but to honor that per treaty. There are several paragraphs, in fact, covering the inclusion of humans and half-humans in every single treaty we’ve ever signed with humans because over the years some of my kind just couldn’t manage to keep their hearts to themselves and we don’t make any sort of demands regarding interspecies marriage.”
“Though there were certainly issues in our distant past,” Lenore interjected. “Before magical ability became more important than issues of blood. Though it needs to be said that dverger genetics tend to be dominant in most cases.”
“Professor Flitwick is quite small,” Harry said. “Smaller than any other dverger I’ve ever met actually.”
“His mother was human, but she suffered a human genetic condition called Achondroplasia,” Lenore said. “He’s a cousin of mine. His mother was often mistaken for a dverger actually, and there were some issues with her attending Hogwarts as a result. She had to suffer through many tests to prove herself a human and a witch. Later in her life, she admitted that she wished she’d never gone to Hogwarts at all. The other students were not kind to her and often called her a goblin. She was a talented witch, however, who we approached for employment the moment she left Hogwarts. It surprised no one when she fell in love with and married a dverger. She spent her life in Paris after marriage and worked with rune craft until she retired.”
“Sometimes people are just horrible,” Hermione said. “I don’t know why human children are so preoccupied with hurting each other. I was bullied terribly in primary school because I was too smart.”
“I was too small,” Harry said. “And Dudley made a point of making sure I never had friends.” He cleared his throat. “I’m really glad I don’t have to see them ever again.” He focused on Ragnok. “I was going to ask if there is evidence we can give the World Court of Magic regarding the wards if Dumbledore tries to insist I go back there.”
“Already gathered and certified,” Ragnok assured. “Most of the legal scholars in the Horde live and work in Rome. The most prominent is a dverger named Tyr Warhide. He’s just as likely to draw his sword and his stave in an argument, to be honest, but he gets that from his mother. She was a vicious woman that I’d have done a lot to avoid crossing. I met him several years ago when I had to testify before the WCM regarding the crimes of a client. Master Warhide will be my choice regarding your representation after the sanctuary hearing, and I’ll make that request personally. I won’t be denied.”
Harry nodded. “They won’t expect me to have a human lawyer?”
“They certainly will,” Ragnok said wryly. “That’s the point, lad, you’ll be my citizen, and that needs to be perfectly clear to every single person who bears witness to whatever trial proceedings are launched in the future. You can wear your sword if you like.”
Hermione huffed. “Harry, no.”
“Oh, well, I don’t actually have the sword.” Harry flushed when Ragnok scowled at him. “Dumbledore took it.”
“Lad, he can’t keep that sword from you. You have a far better claim to it than he ever will,” Ragnok said. “Stand up.”
Harry stood immediately, and Hermione stifled the urge to follow.
“Hold out your hand,” Ragnok instructed. “Arm stiff, relax your wrist a bit, so when it lands, you won’t sprain it.”
“Lands?” Harry questioned.
“As I said, he can’t keep the sword from the rightful heir,” Ragnok explained. “Close your eyes, relax as much as you can, and push with your magic like you would if you were preparing to perform an advanced spell. Now call the sword.”
Hermione leaned forward and swallowed hard as Harry followed Ragnok instructions, and magic started to stir visibly around Harry’s hand. She sucked hard on her bottom lip to keep from speaking and breaking his concentration. The sword appeared out of thin air then and dropped into Harry’s hand with a thud.
“Wow,” she whispered.
“Yeah,” Harry said as he took a deep breath. “That tingled a bit.”
“You had to call it through two sets of wards—perhaps three if Dumbledore had it in a ward of its own, and he probably did to keep it from disappearing on him. It’s a magical artifact, and it certainly didn’t come forward for him. He probably had a difficult time keeping it as long as he has.”
“So he won’t automatically assume I took it,” Harry said and shifted the sword to point it toward the floor when Hermione stood.
She walked around the table. “Can I see it?”
Harry glanced toward Ragnok. “It’s entailed to the House of Gryffindor, so I’m not sure it will let you hold it. I don’t think it would hurt you, though.” He balanced the blade on the palms of his hand and presented it to her.
Ragnok’s breath caught briefly, and they both looked at him.
“Sir?” Harry questioned.
“Be careful how you offer her such in public, lad,” Ragnok said roughly and shared a look with Lenore. “What you just did is a courting gesture amongst the dverger. Specifically, offering up an ancestral weapon is practically a marriage proposal.”
Harry blushed furiously, and Hermione took a deep breath.
“Warrior culture,” Hermione said and smiled. She looked at the sword and inclined her head. The sword clearly didn’t want her to take it. “It’s telling me no, but it doesn’t feel hostile about it. How many families are related closely enough to the Gryffindor family to carry it?”
“Dumbledore, Longbottom, Weasley though the Pruitt line,” Ragnok said. “But Harry’s claim is the strongest as he is a direct descendant.”
– – – –
He’d never been spoiled for choice when it came to what clothes to wear so Harry could only stare at the contents of the walk-in closet in building horror. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know how much it all had cost, but he no longer had school uniforms to depend on, so he’d certainly needed everything. He checked his watch and rubbed the back of his head in frustration just as there was a sharp knock on his door.
“Amad sent me to help you pick out clothes!” Razel called out cheerfully.
“Thank God,” Harry muttered. “I’m in the closet!”
“I see your full wardrobe was delivered,” Razel said dryly from the doorway. “No wonder Amad worried that you’d be lost in here.”
Harry huffed. “I’ve never owned so many clothes in my life. I feel like I’m in a store or something. This is ridiculous.”
Razel laughed. “It’s about half what you should have, kid.” He came fully into the closet and plucked up a crisp white shirt that he passed to Harry. A red waistcoat followed then a pair of black wool trousers. “You’ll want a black tie with this—a clean, simple knot will due though a trinity knot wouldn’t be out of place if you can accomplish it.” He chose a black day robe that looked heavy and expensive. “The hearing will take place in the Hall of Mages—a large space in the bowels of the bank. It’ll be quite chilly.”
Harry took the robe as well. “Okay. I can handle a simple knot, but if you want anything beyond a Windsor out of me, I’m going to need a week and tutor or your help.”
Razel laughed. He plucked a black tie from a rack and tossed it over his own shoulder. “Get dressed, I’ll handle this.”
“Thanks,” Harry said and slumped a little as the dverger left. He set aside his clothes and shrugged out of the robe he’d worn out of the shower.
“Are you worried?” Razel asked from the outer room. “Don’t be worried. This is nothing compared to the memories you allowed Amad to retrieve last night. Honestly, lad, that whole thing with the stone was astounding.”
“I was kind of stunned to get that much of a memory,” Harry admitted as he pulled an undershirt from a drawer and slipped it on. “I thought I passed out much faster than I apparently did. It’s probably good that I really didn’t remember it when I was actually eleven.”
“Maybe you had help with that,” Razel said.
Harry pulled on the trousers and grabbed a belt as he exited the closet with the rest of his things. He dumped the lot on his bed and was grateful for the variety of charms on the whole mess that was keeping it from getting wrinkled. Razel was in front of the mirror, tying the tie around his own neck. The dverger was dressed as formally as he’d chosen for Harry, if not more so.
“Are you like a prince?”
Razel glanced his way briefly before returning his attention to his own image. “After a fashion, I suppose I am. Being the chieftain’s son comes with rank and responsibility, and I am his heir. I will be challenged for the role of chieftain when it comes my time to swear myself to the role, but I have no worries about my success.”
“Is it a lot of pressure?”
“Far less than what you’re currently dealing with,” Razel admitted. “My parents sheltered and coddled me like a child well into my young adult years. No one dared to question them on it since…well. My father’s brother made sure I would be an only child. He actually tried to prevent my conception.”
Harry made a face. “Is he dead? Because he can go kick his bum if he’s not.”
Razel burst out laughing. “Yes, he’s dead. My mother had him beheaded just ten days after my birth for his transgressions. Though the circumstances aren’t well-known. He was tried and convicted of crimes against magic. My father didn’t want his…infertility to be discussed widely as he felt deeply ashamed not to realize his own brother was poisoning him. As a result, my mother shoulders the speculation regarding the number of children they had. A burden she very willingly took on, I might add.”
“I guess most people don’t really get in her face and get away with it,” Harry said as he buttoned his waistcoat. “Which shoes?”
“Boots certainly—you have several to choose from. Pick one of the black pairs. The dragonhide will speak to your wealth and status, which is important today.”
Harry made a face but retrieved socks and the boots. “Right.”
“I know it’s galling,” Razel said as he returned and sat down on the bench at the end of the bed. “I get it, trust me. There is nothing more demoralizing for someone to find worth in you because of the gold in your vault or the position you were granted merely because of your birth. But your fame and wealth are respectable weapons in your arsenal. You’ll need every bit advantage you can get to live the life you want to live with the witch you want to live it with.” He raised an eyebrow when Harry looked up from putting on his socks. “It’s pretty obvious the way you look at her. My mother said human magicals tend to make deep magical connections when they’re young.”
“My magic trusts her,” Harry said roughly and pulled on his boots. “It always has. When I first met her, I wanted to…just keep her as close to me as I possibly could, but I’d met Ron first, and he clearly couldn’t stand her.”
Razel loosened Harry’s tie from his own neck just enough to pull it over his head and brought it to him. “Okay, let’s get this settled so you can meet with my father before the hearing starts. He needs you to sign something declaring Hermione a member of your magical house. It’s a piece of parchment that the ministry requires. The Horde will require a magical token of some sort. We had several pieces of jewelry brought up from your ancestral vault for you to choose from.”
“Is she aware of this?”
“Amad has instructed Hermione thoroughly on her role today,” Razel assured. “It would be disastrous if either of you misstepped in a way that could be seen as purposefully disrespectful.” He maneuvered the tie over Harry’s head and situated it under his collar. “Master Banner will be able to teach you a variety of knots—presentation is very important in the magical world. It speaks to preparedness, education, and ability.”
“Good.” Razel stepped back and inspected him. “Can’t do much about that hair, but Amad says it’s charming, apparently.”
Harry laughed and ran his fingers through it. “That’s something, I guess.”
Razel escorted him to Ragnok’s office, which was for the best since Harry figured he’d have probably gotten lost in the maze of hallways. They’d been moving him around the bank carefully since his arrival, and the only other human he’d seen was Hermione. He figured that wouldn’t continue and certainly couldn’t be maintained on a long-term basis even if they did spend time in Agharti. Lenore had told him that they would have lessons both in the bank and in the mountain that Ragnok’s clan called home in Agharti.
Hermione was already seated in front of the chieftain’s desk when they entered. She was wearing a dark red velvet dress that fit her figure far better than he’d ever seen her in and yet still looked very modest. Her hair was wrapped up in a bun on top of her head, and she had make-up on. He couldn’t tell if it was magical or Muggle. He wondered if Razel had picked out his waistcoat to match her dress and figured he had.
He sat down where Ragnok pointed him to and offered Hermione a small smile. “Hey, you look great.”
“Thanks,” she murmured, and her cheeks darkened with a blush as Ragnok cleared his throat.
“Has everyone arrived, sir?”
“Yes, including several clan leaders we figured would merely be content to watch remotely,” Ragnok said. “It’s become a bit of a…spectacle…and there’s not much I can do about it at this point. Maybe, it’s for the best because I want my people to understand exactly what is at risk if we fail to handle the matter of Tom Riddle incorrectly.”
“I understand,” Harry said.
“In the 1700s, there was an effort put forth by the so-called Light ancient families in Britain to see that Muggle-born wizards and witches were properly educated in the magical world. During this time period, protocols were created and signed into law that allowed these ancient houses to bring such individuals into their house as a protected member. It, on the surface, looked like an act of both light and charity. In practice, it was little more than sanctioned kidnapping and indoctrination. Most were never allowed to return to the Muggle world once accepted into an ancient family as a member. This practice fell out of fashion eventually as while they could control these children while they were underage, they couldn’t maintain that control into adulthood.
“These laws are still on the books, however, and they’re so entrenched various laws and policies within the ministry that they would have to rewrite over fifty laws to rescind them. This was done on purpose by those who designed the protocols, but now it works in your favor as absolutely no one will be able to protest or change what you’re about to do.”
“And I don’t have to be…an adult for this?” Harry questioned.
“You’re the last of your line, and there was no one around to legally protest the decisions you make regarding your magical house,” Ragnok said. “And no, those foolish wizards never bothered to put any sort of age restriction on it.”
“The lack of common sense in the magical world actually pains me,” Hermione said and sighed when Ragnok laughed.
Harry just glanced her way once before picking up the piece of parchment Ragnok had put down in front of him. He read through it quickly and picked up a quill. There was nothing in the document he hadn’t already been told about. It was a little daunting to be signing a legal document with Hermione, but it wasn’t like they were getting married or anything. He looked at her again before signing then he placed it in front of her.
Hermione read it once and picked up the quill. Then she paused and read it again and took a deep breath. “This is a big decision, Harry. Have you really considered the ramifications thoroughly?”
“Yes, I’m particularly pleased about that part when I can legally murder your spouse if he mistreats you,” Harry said and laughed when she huffed dramatically. “Relax, Mi, at the end of the day, it’s just a piece of paper. I’d murder your husband if he mistreated you regardless of whatever we sign here today.”
“Yes, well, same,” Hermione declared then signed the parchment. “Right. There. Now we can legally murder people. Awesome.”
“Well, there are rules about it,” Harry reminded and laughed when she glared at him. “Seriously, this is small stuff compared. Let’s get to the part where you are appalled by whatever token you get to wear.”
Ragnok cleared his throat and picked up the parchment which he passed to a dverger they’d not been introduced to. “Master Jorge, please file that with the proper departments within the ministry with a little notice as possible. Bribery is a viable and acceptable solution in this circumstance.”
“Of course, Chieftain.”
Ragnok opened a drawer and pulled out several polished wood boxes. “There are a few choices that will demonstrate Hermione’s acceptance into the house of Potter without carrying the implication of a betrothal. I asked Sharprock to avoid rings as a matter of course.” He paused. “Unless you’d prefer a ring?”
“I don’t think…” Harry trailed off and glanced toward Hermione, who was staring at him wide-eyed. “Not yet, certainly.” He cleared his throat as she blushed. “The options, sir?”
“First,” Ragnok began and opened a box. “This is dimensional store commissioned by your great-grandfather, Charlus Potter, for his wife, Dorea Potter nee Black. The Potter crest is engraved into the bracelet, but it’s not gaudy or overstated. It’s not something someone outside of your house would dare wear.” He paused. “Charlus also had another commissioned for himself that I suggest you wear and learn to use.
“The second is a necklace, your mother retrieved it from the Gryffindor vault. It’s the only piece of jewelry she ever wore from that legacy,” Ragnok explained and opened the box.
Hermione gasped. “No.”
“No,” she said firmly. “I’m not wearing a diamond the size of my thumb, Harry Potter. That’s ridiculous.”
Ragnok closed to the case with a laugh. “Perhaps later.” He set aside the box. “The third option is a locket—also with the Potter crest on it. It’s currently empty, but it could be spelled to hold pictures or be retooled to work as a dimensional store.”
“I think the bracelet is the most practical and visible option,” Harry murmured.
“Yes, though, the locket is pretty.”
“Then have both,” Harry said and raised an eyebrow when she started to shake her head. “What could it possibly hurt? You can put pictures of Crookshanks in it for all I care.”
She laughed. “Maybe that one of us from the Yule Ball,” she said and sighed. “Right, both.”
– – – –
“Just breathe,” Ragnok murmured as he escorted Harry to the table in the center of the room. “Do you want Razel to sit with you?”
“It would make me look weak, right?” Harry questioned
Ragnok couldn’t say it wouldn’t. “You’re not even fifteen yet. Are you sure you should be worried about that sort of thing?”
“I mean, it’s hardly the only thing I’m worried about, but I have to consider it since so much depends on me not being a complete git.”
Ragnok laughed despite his intentions. “Very well, lad, sit here and stew in your own angst. At least you’re turned out properly for a change.”
“Razel fixed the tie.”
“I noticed,” Ragnok said. “He’s barely known how to do that knot for a year, so don’t let him put on airs about it. He’d wear the same thing every single day if his mother allowed it.”
Ragnok left Potter at the small table, walked to his own place in the semi-circle of tables, and took the seat between his wife and son.
“He looks nervous. Should I sit with him?” Razel questioned in a low tone.
“He doesn’t want to show weakness,” Ragnok said with a shake of his head. “He’ll be fine. He’s a history of performing well under pressure.”
“True,” Razel said but frowned. “Honestly, he looks very young all of a sudden.”
“He is very young,” Lenore said with a huff. “Humans should honestly take more care with their children, and I’d like to tell them all about themselves vehemently and at length.”
“You certainly can,” Ragnok said immediately. “I’ll destroy anyone who’d protest it.”
Lenore smiled at him.
“For the love of Aulë, please no flirting,” Razel under his breath.
Ragnok just shook his head at his son and watched the other clan leaders settle in at their tables. The stadium seats in the higher reaches of the Hall of Mages was filled to capacity. It was rare, so many of his kind were assembled in the same place; in fact, he hadn’t seen so many since his marriage to Lenore. He activated the sonorous charm on the table in front of him.
“We’re here today to review the petition for sanctuary by the House of Potter represented by Harry James Potter. The written petition was made available to you this morning for review, and no one submitted any official questions. The High Priestess Lenore has invested herself in researching the matter of Tom Riddle and the dangers he represents to both us and magic. Mr. Potter has given us access to every bit of memory he has regarding the dark lord known as Voldemort. We will start with the events of 1981.” He paused at the shocked sounds many in the audience couldn’t contain. “Mr. Potter specifically asked me to caution parents with very small children that the events he will be sharing with us are graphic and upsetting. He wouldn’t want any of your children traumatized by his own suffering.”
Ragnok activated the pensieve that sat in front of him, and the first memory filled the hall. He’d already watched the memories, but there was precious little in his memory that was more appalling than watching Voldemort try to curse a fifteen-month-old infant with the Killing Curse. Ragnok ignored the shouts of outrage and more than one battle cry from the audience. Child abuse was an unspeakable crime for their kind. Child killing was unheard of amongst the dverger though there were laws on the books regarding punishment for such a crime.
One memory ended, and the second one began. Ragnok watched with as much calm as he could as an eleven-year-old Harry Potter faced off against a possessed teacher. Lenore’s nails dug into his forearm, and he covered her hand with his own. Her grip didn’t lessen at all.
Quirrell’s screams were actually quite satisfying, but it was difficult to enjoy since the boy was struggling to get away from the nearly destroyed wizard even as he burned. Voldemort’s spirit burst out of Quirrell, screeched at Potter, and shot through a nearby wall.
The memory ended and was replaced with Potter entering the Chamber of Secrets. The appearance of the snake caused many in the audience to stand, and several swords were drawn on pure instinct before the dverger in question got ahold of themselves and returned to their seats. Ragnok couldn’t blame them. He’d drawn his stave the first time he’d seen the memory, and he’d already known it was coming.
The Sword of Gryffindor’s arrival was met with approving grunts and a few excited shouts. The boy’s use of it stunned them all silent. Ragnok could feel half of the dverger in the hall slump with relief as the phoenix cried into Potter’s wound. He wondered how the audiences abroad were handling the memories. The final memory started with the cup in the middle of the maze. Potter had admitted, in private, that he’d never regretted playing fair more in his life.
The murder of Cedric Diggory was met with silence. It was no secret at all that the boy had been killed during the third task, but seeing someone so young cut down so carelessly was shocking. The ministry had been half-accusing Potter of the crime for more than a week. The resurrection ritual brought with it a slick wave of fury in him and in all those around him. It was an obscenity to begin with, but more importantly, it was clear evidence of a horcrux; magic that was certainly obscure to most humans but not the dverger.
Watching a fourteen-year-old boy hit with three Unforgivables in a period of minutes was particularly galling. The fact that he was able to still stand after the second Crucio was stunning. The memory ended with the retrieval of the cup. The hall lit by degrees, and he focused on Potter, who was sitting exactly where Ragnok had left him. The silence in the hall was a mixture of shock, grief, and fury. He could see it all moving amongst his people and the very few humans in the room. His gaze focused briefly on Thaddeus Banner, who gave him a very brief nod. He could practically feel the fury rolling off the wizard.
“Would anyone like to protest the sanctuary request by the House of Potter?” Ragnok questioned.
Gildhard, the leader of the Firebeards, stood. Several in the audience hissed in shock, but the older dverger just cracked his neck. “The best staff maker in the Horde is in my clan. I’d fight anyone who would protest it.”
Ragnok couldn’t disagree. His current stave had been made by Gildhard’s son. “Granted.”
“His wand has limited use against Voldemort. We will arm the boy with a stave or staff—whichever his magic prefers.” Gildhard sat.
Several other clan leaders stood at that point, and Ragnok looked at Potter, who was managing to keep his face rather neutral all things considered.
“Banat of the Stonefoot.”
Banat thumped his chest twice in Potter’s direction, and Ragnok barely refrained from wincing as he’d not prepared Potter for such a gesture, but the boy rose to his feet. “Well met, young man. The Firebeards do indeed make a fantastic weapon, but no clan excels in the use of such weaponry more than mine. We are at your service.”
“Thank you, Master Banat,” Potter said confidently and let his open hand rest on his chest in response after a glance toward Hermione Granger. “You honor me with your attention.”
Crafty little witch, Ragnok thought wryly. He wondered when she’d had time to read the etiquette book Lenore had given her and made a mental note to tell the Banners that the girl probably slept as little as humanly possible. Banat sat like that was decided. Ragnok could practically envision the list of challengers over that situation, and he didn’t have a single bit of second sight.
“Grael of the Ironfists.”
Grael was a little over seven hundred years old, and he looked every single bit of it. He was amongst the oldest of the dverger and had high elf ancestry though he was not related to Lenore’s family.
“This boy will stand as our patron?”
“He’s agreed to do so upon his majority, which is just two years away,” Ragnok said.
Grael snorted and focused on Potter. “The last wizard patron we had was an arsehole.”
Harry blinked in surprise, and his gaze flicked briefly to Hermione, who was clearly flummoxed. Looking for further direction, Ragnok thought.
Potter cleared his throat. “Pardon me, Master Grael, are you asking me to apologize for my ancestor’s behavior?”
Ragnok snorted and took heart in the fact that many in the audience actually burst out laughing.
“I ought to challenge you,” Grael said, and the audience stilled. “For thinking you shouldn’t.”
Potter frowned. “With all due respect, Master Grael, do you have someone who could challenge on your behalf?”
“You think I can’t handle you, wizard child?”
Potter exhaled sharply. “I’m sure you’re very robust…for your age, sir.”
Grael glared for a long moment, then to Ragnok’s relief burst out laughing. “Ah, he’ll do.” He sat down and crossed his arms.
Ragnok hesitated only briefly as he focused on the final dverger standing. He wondered if there would ever come a day when he could avoid flinching at the sight of Itho of the clan Longbeard. “Mistress Itho, you have the floor.”
Itho glared at him then focused on Lenore. “Daughter, I would hear from you regarding this boy and your visions of the future.”
Lenore removed her hand from his arm, finally, and Ragnok flexed the muscle in relief. She stood, shed her cloak, and walked around the table to stand in the center of the room as she drew her copper stave. It was delicate, and as she swung it in a wide arc, it started to glow with magical fire.
“The state of magic,” she announced as a projection of the planet appeared above her. The ley lakes and lines glittered across the surface. “There are but two paths going forward. If Riddle is defeated quickly and correctly, our world continues to grow and flourish. Agharti remains hidden and protected by the wild magic Zir leaves in his wake. Our clans continue to grow, and our children will enjoy a magical awakening that will see us into the far distant future.
“If Riddle is allowed to continue on as he’s done and we leave the humans to clean up his corruption—our world will be forever tainted beyond all help.” The image above her changed dramatically. “Wild magic will turn on us as Riddle’s ugliness is consumed by it. Zir will have no choice but to step back and leave us to our misfortune because his first duty is to Hekate. Our people will regress—at first, it will be gradual, and perhaps if we’re dedicated, we can stave off the worst of it for several hundred years. But in the end, magic on Earth will be so twisted that we will twist with it. We’ll become exactly what the humans have gloried in calling us for generations, but it will be so much worse than what they can even know. Our existence will be monstrous if we survive it.”
“If,” Itho repeated hoarsely.
“Long before the final corruption is accomplished, the wards that protect magical humans and us will fail. The world will fall into a mass conflict in response. The Muggles have weapons that we cannot stand against, the wizards and witches cannot stand against them. Life won’t end, but what remains will not be recognizable to us.”
“And how do we deal with Riddle in a way to prevent this?”
“Some parts of it must remain a secret now,” Ragnok interjected. “But Harry Potter is central to Riddle’s defeat. We must prepare him for that in every single way we can. The price we’ll pay if we don’t is unacceptable.”
“Very well.” Itho focused on Harry. “Welcome to the Horde, Mr. Potter. Here’s hoping the training doesn’t kill you.”