Reading Time: 159 Minutes
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.
* * * *
Her stomach was churning with horror and grief. She’d known what Harry had gone through over the years, but to have the memories in her face had left Hermione a terrible mess. That she’d gotten through the entire petition without bursting into tears was actually a point of pride. But as she slowly sat down in a chair in the common room between Lenore and Ragnok’s offices, what composure she’d managed to cultivate fell away.
She pressed her fist to her lips to keep a sob back but failed, so she shuddered and covered her face with both hands. Harm hands wrapped around her wrists and pulled gently.
“Hermione,” Harry said in shock.
“I’m sorry,” she said hoarsely. “I’ve never been what you need. How? How did you survive all of that?”
“Because of you,” he said immediately, careless of their growing audience. “Always, for you. Do you remember what you said to me before I went to get the stone?”
She took a deep breath and blinked, but the tears didn’t stop. “I didn’t want you to be scared, and there wasn’t enough potion for us both. We didn’t know who was on the other side of the fire, but it was going to be terrible. I don’t think I ever understood how bad it really was for you. Dumbledore’s terrible manipulations…forced you to kill in self-defense when you were eleven fucking years old!”
“Language,” he chided gently and laughed when she huffed. “You said that I was a great wizard.”
“You are,” she said.
“I’ve never really thought so,” he admitted. “But I didn’t want to disappoint you. I’ve been going about, pretty much since then, trying to live up to that expectation. I’d never want to disappoint you by getting myself killed by some half-arsed dark wizard.”
She frowned. “Riddle’s honestly the worst.”
“Yeah, but look at who he recruited to his cause. It was like he went out and found the dumbest witches and wizards he could. But then, who else would allow themselves to be branded like slaves?” He clenched his fingers on her hands gently. “And you’ve always been exactly who I needed you to be. I’d have died in the Chamber of Secrets if you hadn’t figured out what was out there. And in the cemetery, when I had no one else. I had you right there with me. I would have died that night if you hadn’t taught me the summoning charm.”
“You’d have learned it later in class,” she protested.
“Certainly, but I’d have never learned to use it in duress, but because you taught me and encouraged me to use it in a circumstance most of our kind would consider impossible—it never crossed my mind that I shouldn’t be able to summon and reactivate a portkey.”
“He certainly shouldn’t have been able to summon the Triwizard Cup,” Ragnok said roughly. “It was spelled to prevent it.”
Hermione took a deep breath, and her hands tightened on Harry’s briefly. “I’m sorry, I’m so…”
“The memories were very upsetting,” Lenore murmured. “In a few moments, the Banners will be escorted here. I can have them delayed if you need more time to collect yourself, Hermione.”
Harry released her hands and stood up, then pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, which he offered. She took it with a smile and shook her head. “Master Umik didn’t miss a thing, did he?”
“He was thorough,” Harry reported. “Very thorough. Honestly, I’m not sure bespoke pants should be a thing.’
Hermione’s mouth dropped open, then she laughed. “Harry Potter.”
“Bespoke pants should definitely be a thing,” Razel protested as he dropped into a chair beside Hermione.
“That’s ridiculous,” Hermione said but dabbed at her face with the soft cotton handkerchief she’d been given. It was black, fortunately, so she didn’t worry overly about getting makeup on it. She wasn’t wearing much, and it was magical, so she wasn’t even sure it could be transferred. Her thoughts were meandering, which was something she worked hard to avoid, so she focused on Lenore, who looked poised and in control.
“Are you ready?” Lenore questioned.
Hermione nodded and stood. “You said you wanted to arrange tea?”
“I believe we could all use a respite,” Lenore said and motioned them toward the table near the center of the room. It had place settings for seven.
Harry pulled out her chair then sat down beside her once Lenore had gained her seat. The door to the back of the room opened, and a wizard entered with a beautiful witch on his arm. They were both dressed formally, but neither looked uncomfortable as if they were unused to being in the presence of Ragnok.
“Master Thaddeus Banner and his wife, Piper Banner nee Thorne,” Ragnok said. “Piper works as a healer at St. Mungo’s and was apprenticed with the Horde for her healing mastery. Thaddeus, Piper—meet Harry Potter and Hermione Granger.”
Harry stood and offered his hand. After a small hesitation, Hermione did the same. She was never quite certain if she should offer her hand to wizards, specifically those who appeared to be of pureblood heritage. Some had made it more than clear that they thought her unclean merely for her blood status. Banner took her hand with no hesitation and a warm smile. She relaxed a bit as she shook Piper’s hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” Harry said.
“It’s an honor,” Banner murmured. “Truly, Mr. Potter.”
Hermione watched Harry’s cheeks flush brightly.
“Call me, Harry,” he insisted and cleared his throat. “The High Priestess has arranged a meal. If we do not sit and act appreciative, I do believe we’ll all be challenged or at least fed to a dragon.”
Lenore laughed. “He’s a faster learner than I thought.”
“It appears trial by fire is his best learning style,” Banner said.
Hermione returned to her seat to keep from glaring at the wizard. The last thing she wanted, at all, was anyone encouraging Harry to continue to run in blind and hope for the best into any situation.
“Gryffindor?” She questioned pointedly in the wizard’s direction.
Piper Banner laughed. “He did, in fact, sort into Gryffindor. I can’t seem to get it off of him—even years later. I sorted into Ravenclaw though the hat was iffy since I was a fit for Slytherin as well.”
“So was I,” Harry admitted. “But I’d met a horrible git on the train, and several people had taken great pains to tell me how evil Slytherin was already, so I begged for Gryffindor.” He shifted his teacup a little and smiled when it filled up automatically. “Magic is brilliant sometimes.”
“But sometimes it’s horrible,” Piper murmured. “I’m sorry for what you’ve gone through, Harry. I watched remotely with the rest of the Healing Guild, and I honestly wish I hadn’t.”
Harry nodded. “I understand. But it is what it is, you know? I can’t do anything about what has already happened to me, and dwelling on it doesn’t seem like a healthy choice. It’s infuriating that the ministry is more interested in pretending Voldemort hasn’t returned than seeking justice for Cedric Diggory. His death was senseless, and…perhaps, in the end, it will be the least of Peter Pettigrew’s sins. If Fudge had listened to me in my third year, maybe they could’ve caught him before he helped resurrect the darkest lord of our time.”
“The world is full ifs,” Thaddeus said. “And you’re right, there is no need to fixate on events we cannot change. The chieftain has tasked me with overseeing your dueling education though you will have lessons with various dverger regarding different fighting styles. We’ll start after you’ve had a full physical by Mistress Omis, who has made it clear if you aren’t delivered to her first thing in the morning that there will be combat.”
Harry made a face. “Tomorrow’s my birthday. Do I really have to spend it in a healer’s office?” He focused on Ragnok as he spoke, and Hermione winced when Ragnok just stared pointedly.
“I’m not going to accept a challenge from Omis so you can have cupcakes, Potter,” Ragnok said evenly. “That vicious woman is nothing less than a beast on the dueling field, and I’d just rather not earn any more of her wrath than I already have.”
“I’d settle for chocolate biscuits,” Harry said and sighed when he got a dirty look for his trouble. “Right, fine, I’ve never had a great birthday anyway—no need to set a new precedent.” He paused. “Oh, that reminds me, actually, I’m…I have a house elf issue.”
“An issue?” Lenore questioned in confusion. “What kind of issue could you have with a house elf? Did you insult one at Hogwarts?”
“I freed one on purpose near the end of my second year,” Harry said. “He belonged to Lucius Malfoy, who was responsible for Riddle’s diary ending up in Hogwarts. It was petty, but also I didn’t think the elf deserved to spend another moment in that git’s service. Granted, the elf in question had been a pain in my bum the whole year and nearly got me killed several times trying to help me.”
“He’s appeared in my room here several times,” Harry said after a look in her direction. “He told me he could go wherever I go, and I figure that’s a problem if I’m going to be living in Agharti.”
Ragnok stared. “This elf popped through the bank wards and into the same room with you?”
“Yes, more than once. I expect to see Dobby first thing tomorrow as well since it’ll be my birthday, and I’m not on Privet Drive. I’ve asked him to never go back to that house but…well…he’ll be free to come here. I could ask him not to come here, but it would probably hurt his feelings, and he wouldn’t understand because there are no Muggles here, and he can’t get me in trouble with the ministry either.” Harry took a deep breath and accepted the piece of cake that was pushed his way.
“You ask him to do things for you,” Piper said faintly. “And you’re worried about hurting his feelings?”
Harry flushed, and Hermione barely refrained from frowning at the witch.
“Well, he’s my friend,” Harry defended.
Piper shared a look with her husband then looked toward Ragnok. “Harry, the only way a house elf could circumvent the bank wards and find you here is if he were bonded with you. Moreover, a house elf couldn’t survive more than a year unbonded in this realm. If he were really free, he should’ve returned to the house elf enclave for his own safety. They don’t like to go there, of course, because their magic is of limited use in the enclave. But without a bond, the wild magic on earth will corrupt and destroy an elf.”
“Oh,” Hermione said in shock. “Is that why Winky is such a mess?”
“Whose Winky?” Lenore questioned.
“Barty Crouch, Sr.’s house elf,” Harry said. “He freed her to cover up for the fact that he’d lost control of his son during the world cup. She’s been at Hogwarts ever since—drinking herself into a stupor. I didn’t know that freeing an elf would hurt them. How did Dobby bond with me?”
He glanced at Hermione, and she couldn’t help the shame that stirred in her. She’d invested a lot of time in freeing elves. So it was difficult to be told that her campaign could’ve killed them.
“In facilitating his freedom, you tacitly agreed to give him a bond,” Piper said gently. “Because you weren’t raised in the magical world, he probably decided not to tell you until he could prove his worth to you. I realize that being raised as you both were, you might be concerned or even horrified about the relationships house-elves have with magical humans, but most are treated very well. The one you called Winky probably retreated to Hogwarts in hopes that she could bond with the castle itself as the wards are designed to accept a limited number of house elf bonds.”
“It’s clear she doesn’t have one,” Hermione said and took a deep breath. “Why wouldn’t she seek another bond?”
“The insult of being given clothes is on her magic. Most wizards and witches would shy away from bonding with her due to that. She’s been deemed unsuitable for a bond,” Thaddeus said and shared a look with Ragnok. “She should retreat to the enclave but clearly doesn’t want to.”
“Clearly,” Harry said and sat back in his chair. “Barty Crouch, Sr. abused his power over her in a terrible way. Though it’s hardly the worst crime, he committed over the years since he used the Imperius to keep his Death Eater son hostage in his home. I don’t see a real solution to the issue though—I don’t even know what to do with the elf who already bonded himself to me and no offense, Hermione, but I imagine Winky would run from you considering…”
“Yeah,” Hermione said with a sigh. “I mean maybe she’d be desperate enough, but I wouldn’t want to take advantage of that. It would be no less cruel than what Crouch did. I don’t know if she would hold a grudge and just suffer the bond to get what she needs to survive.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Piper announced. “I’ll be setting up my own healing practice in the new year and could use a house elf for that since I’ll be taking my son with me to work every day. She’s at Hogwarts?”
“Yes, probably drunk in a cupboard in the kitchen,” Hermione reported with flushed cheeks. “We’d have never allowed it to go on if we’d known it would kill her. Dobby never mentioned that part.” She wet her lips. “But maybe he wouldn’t have considering how much I’ve been complaining about house elf slavery for the last year. It’s really frustrating that no one told me about how it really works. Though I do think some people shouldn’t have the right to bonds.”
“It probably amused them to let you go around not knowing something,” Harry said and shrugged when she focused on him. “I imagine Ron knew the truth—he must have felt genuinely superior for the first time in his whole life over that crap.”
Hermione nodded. “Right.” She took several biscuits from the tray and placed them on her plate. “I want to send him cursed letters.” She frowned at that and focused on Ragnok. “I’m surprised Dumbledore hasn’t tried to send Harry a letter.”
“Oh, he’s tried to send several,” Ragnok assured. “We’ve deflected them wholesale while yours are piling up in a tray in the curse-breaking department.”
“Curse-breaking,” Harry said flatly. “Dumbledore is sending her cursed letters?”
“Ten so far,” Ragnok said. “Mostly compulsions—obedience being the favorite. All of them have charms on them that would make her anxious to read them if she laid eyes on them.” He focused on Hermione then. “They’ll be given to you once they’re clean.”
Hermione made a face. “I’d rather not hear from him at all, actually. He has nothing of value to say as far as I’m concerned.” She scooted back from the table. “Can I be excused?”
“Of course,” Ragnok said. “You’ll be taken to Agharti when you wake in the morning.”
Harry watched her leave with a frown. Part of him wanted to trail along after her and figure out how to make her feel better, but he really didn’t know how he’d accomplish that, and he was certain both the chieftain and Master Banner had more to discuss with him.
“She’s dealing with a lot of…” Harry trailed off and sighed. “Disillusionment. I think strong authority figures have traditionally given her comfort, but things are different now. She’s very disappointed in Dumbledore.”
“He’s a beacon of light and goodness for many,” Piper said neutrally. “And there are those who refuse to acknowledge that he’s a very flawed person. He has deep pockets of darkness and always has.”
Harry nodded. “Maybe they don’t care about his dark places because his actions benefit them.” He pulled the little plate of biscuits Hermione had left behind into place in front of him and broke one in half. “I don’t think she’s had enough to eat today.”
“I’ll have food sent to her,” Lenore assured. “You did well during the petition.”
“Hermione talked to me about how to respond to various greetings,” Harry said. “She looked up the responses I might get from the clan leaders—good and bad. She said it was important that I look confident, not offer insult, but to avoid looking like a target. I’m sure if she wasn’t so upset, she’d have provided extensive feedback on how I could improve in the future.”
Thaddeus hummed under his breath. “You did well—I don’t think anyone would’ve handled it differently under the circumstances. You have a lot on your plate already, Harry, but Ragnok has something to discuss with you that I’ve asked him to address before we go any further. I’d rather not start training you before you’re fully informed of your duty to magic.”
Harry took a deep breath and released it carefully. “Well, that’s probably a good idea. I mean, I’m pretty sure I have to kill Voldemort.”
Piper Banner made a soft, shocked sound. “Oh, surely not. You’re…”
“A boy,” he said when she trailed off with tears brimming in her eyes. “I’m pretty sure Voldemort doesn’t care.”
“No, that’s clear,” she said sadly.
“I imagine it’s him or me and this point,” Harry said quietly. “He’s certainly made it clear that his goal is to kill me. When I was eleven, he blamed me for his spectral state. He is the beginning of every misery in my life, and perhaps in his end, I will be allowed to at least be content.”
“You are prophesized to stand as his equal against him,” Lenore interjected, and Harry focused on her. “Dumbledore heard this prophecy, and Voldemort was told part of it. That’s why he attacked your parents in 1981, and it’s also why Neville Longbottom’s family was attacked as he was another child who fit the prophecy. Once you were marked as his equal, however, your fate and his were sealed.”
Harry nodded. “Right, well, that makes sense, I guess.”
He took a deep breath to calm down and left the table. He went to the single window in the room and stared out over Muggle London. He wondered what Muggles saw when they looked toward the building he was in. It loomed over Diagon Alley, and he could see it from the street outside the Leaky Cauldron.
“What sort of childhood did Tom Riddle have?” Harry questioned.
“I’ve learned through a private source that he grew up in a Muggle orphanage. His mother, a squib named Merope Gaunt, died shortly after childbirth. She’d used a love potion to have a relationship with a Muggle, and Tom was the result of that relationship,” Ragnok said.
Harry figured that private source equaled Hermione’s journal from the future. “It must have been a difficult upbringing—he was mistreated for being magical or at least for being different from the other kids.”
“Yes, apparently, how did you guess?” Ragnok questioned.
“Because Dumbledore made sure I grew up the same way—unloved, alone, and mistreated for being different from everyone around me,” Harry said quietly. “I imagine Tom was just as relieved as I was to be introduced to magic and the magical world. I felt like I’d come home the first time I saw Hogwarts, and even now, despite how much I suffered there, it still feels terrible that I’ll never really be able to go back.” He turned and faced Ragnok. The dverger looked utterly furious. “I’m Tom’s equal, right? Perhaps Dumbledore believes I had to suffer as he did to truly become that equal.”
“As if Fate needed his help in such a fashion,” Lenore snapped and left the table with a furious growl. “The arrogant bastard!”
Harry winced when she stormed completely out of the room. “Sorry.”
“Oh, lad, you have no reason to apologize,” Ragnok said roughly. “I think your analysis of the situation is quite accurate. Dumbledore engineered your life as much as he could to mirror Tom Riddle’s. Perhaps he did it as an experiment, or maybe he does, in fact, think Fate needs his help.”
Harry returned to the table mostly because he wanted another biscuit. He sat down and surveyed his options on the platter. He picked up some shortbread and activated the charm on his teacup to refill it. “I trust that the High Priestess is working with the wording of the prophecy that Dumbledore received to make sure all the elements are met?”
“She is,” Ragnok assured. “She’s explored your path to the future extensively and will continue to do so until she is satisfied that you’ve met all of Fate’s needs as it concerns both Riddle and Dumbledore.”
Harry made a face. “This is terrible, but I feel like that Dumbledore is the worse of the two.”
“Why?” Thaddeus questioned.
“Precious few question him or his actions,” Harry said. “Even now, with Fudge working against him, he isn’t suffering as most would. He is confident, in the end, he will be revealed to be right, and Fudge will look like a fool. He isn’t even wrong because Fudge is a fool.” He dipped his biscuit in his tea and looked to find Thaddeus staring at him in disgust. “What?”
“You’re desecrating your tea,” the wizard said gravely, and his wife laughed. “It’s no laughing matter, Pip, there are crumbs in it now.”
Harry laughed and shrugged as he took a bite. “A man’s tea is his own business, Master Banner.” He turned to Ragnok. “Is the wording of the prophecy important?”
“In most cases, yes, as interpretations of such things are considered an art form. Lenore will discuss this with you at length when she’s finished with her analysis. It’s not an immediate concern, and Riddle currently doesn’t have the entire prophecy at his disposal. It is archived at the ministry in the Department of Mysteries. That is a situation that will have to be addressed later. It’s best to keep him in the dark as much as possible.”
“Is it?” Harry questioned.
“What do you mean?” Ragnok asked.
“I’m calmer when I have all the information I need,” Harry said. “Perhaps Tom Riddle would be as well. Perhaps, in knowing the fullness of the prophecy, he would bide his time until he can confront me. It could save lives.”
“I’ll have Lenore explore the option then,” Ragnok said. “Perhaps you’re right.”
“Additionally, it would remove a point of manipulation and power that currently Dumbledore thinks is his alone,” Harry said. “He’s using the prophecy as a weapon against Riddle and me. Someone needs to tell him to mind his own business, honestly.”
Ragnok snorted. “I look forward to the day you can do that.”
* * * *
Harry hesitated just a moment before knocking gently on Hermione’s door then stepped back. The door opened quickly enough to tell him she hadn’t been sleeping. She was dressed in her pajamas and a robe. He proffered the plate of biscuits he’d brought with him.
“Thanks,” she said and took it with a small smile. “Come in.”
“If you’re sure?”
“Yeah,” Hermione murmured and motioned for him to follow. “I was just reading.”
“Not a surprise,” Harry said. He pulled the door shut behind him and shed the day robe he’d worn since he’d left his own room. “The Banners are nice.”
“They appear so, yes,” she said as she sat down in the chair and put the plate on the table by her chair. “I hope they are since we’ll be living in the same cottage with them for at least a year.”
“If it’s not tolerable, we’ll tell the chieftain,” Harry said simply. “But I don’t think he’s made a bad choice for us. We have a lot to learn over the next year, and there’s the prophecy.”
She took a deep breath. “They told you then. Lenore asked me not to mention it to you, but it was difficult.”
“I understand,” Harry said. “And in the end, I’m not surprised that there’s something more between Riddle and me besides him just being a crazy dark wizard who tried to murder a toddler. It’s never made sense to me that he targeted me and continued to do so once I returned to the magical world. At least now, there’s an explanation as to why I was apparently his mortal enemy at eleven.”
Hermione curled up into her chair and nibbled on a biscuit. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t stay for the conversation. I felt like I was too emotional to participate in a rational way.”
“You don’t owe me an apology for anything, Hermione,” Harry said quietly. “Today was hard for everyone, and I don’t expect you to be…” He huffed. “I don’t even have the words for this, but something you said earlier has been bothering me.”
“You said that you’ve never been what I need,” Harry said and blew air out between his lips. “And honestly, Hermione, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s no one in my life like you—there’s never been a moment in our entire friendship when you haven’t been exactly what I need.” He watched her cheeks darken. “Your support and friendship have been the difference between life and death more than once. Even the fact that we’re here comes down to you.”
“I don’t…” She trailed off with a frown and shoved half a biscuit into her mouth.
“The journal your future-self created has allowed for all of this.” Harry waved a hand around. “Even under that terrible curse, you were able to put together all the information on Riddle and our situation so that when the chieftain summoned you, you were able to shape his entire mission in the past.”
“They’d have come regardless.”
“True, they certainly had no choice if they wanted to save their own people, but because of the work your future-self did, they were able to hit the ground running. We were both removed from terrible situations quickly. Considering the negative relationship I had with the chieftain and the Horde in the future, we both know that if they’d tried to meet with me, the entire thing would’ve been a disaster.”
“It’s not your fault, or his, or whatever,” Hermione said grumpily. “Time travel is terrible, actually. Terrible and confusing.”
“Says the witch who used a time turner for an entire year,” Harry reminded.
She huffed. “And honestly, in retrospect, it was terrible. I didn’t get enough sleep and consistently forgot to use the time turner to make time for it. I crammed my head full of stuff I didn’t actually need, and I clearly wasn’t rational enough to make good decisions about the whole thing. The only good part about having that time turner was that it allowed us to save Sirius.”
“I don’t know what to do about him,” Harry admitted. “I’m not sure…I can trust him, and that hurts.”
“He loves you,” Hermione said. “If he can’t be trusted, it’s because of Dumbledore. Sirius has clearly been manipulated to support the Order of the Phoenix—certainly by allowing them to use his house, and I guess they’re using his money as well. He clearly has a lot at his disposal considering the Firebolt he bought you while on the run for his life.”
“Do you think he’s been cursed or potioned into compliance?”
“Maybe, but honestly, he’s so mentally and emotionally hurt by Azkaban that manipulating him wouldn’t take much effort at all, Harry.” Hermione picked up another biscuit. “It’s clear that Dumbledore is using you against him—promising him access to you in exchange for his help with the Order.”
“The son of a bitch,” Harry muttered and glanced her way when she just made a little sound of agreement. “What’s to be done about it?”
“Ragnok and Lenore probably have a plan,” Hermione said. “And if they don’t—they certainly will if we ask. In the end, we can’t afford to have Sirius in Dumbledore’s hands because it gives him a weapon to use against you.”
“I wonder if we could sneak a portkey to him,” Harry said.
“I don’t know if a portkey can work through a Fidelius charm,” Hermione said. “If he’s not been confined magically to the house, he can probably sneak out on his own, given the right motivation. The main concern is making sure he can get here without being picked up by the ministry. Moreover, we have to make sure he’s welcome here.”
He nodded. “I feel like there is a limit on how much I ask for around here. Or maybe that there should be a limit. I don’t want the chieftain to get the idea that I’m leveraging my role in this whole situation to manipulate the Horde.”
“That’s not the kind of thing you’d do,” Hermione said. “You never ask for anything for yourself, Harry, and honestly, it’s kind of frustrating.”
“I learned a long time ago that I rarely get anything I want, so there’s no point in wanting anything or asking for anything.” He paused. “Except, you. I want you with me, and I’m glad you’re here, and I’d probably start a riot if you weren’t here.”
Hermione stared for a moment, then started to laugh. “Harry.”
“Seriously, a whole riot,” he told her. “It’d be really difficult to hide from Dumbledore if I’m out in the Alley every single day rioting.”
She slouched down in her chair and continued to giggle.
Every single letter sent to Harry Potter since his disappearance from Privet Drive had come from Dumbledore, yet on the boy’s 15th birthday, a flurry of letters came from various people. Since he hadn’t wanted the boy to miss any presents or birthday wishes, it had all been redirected to a warded, unplottable property that the bank-owned through Armand Deering. Deering fronted several properties on behalf of the Horde since they couldn’t own property outside of the bank in the magical world. Today, marked the first time that Sirius Black had reached out to his godson since the boy had come to the bank.
Ragnok wasn’t sure what to think of that but figured that Dumbledore was involved in some capacity. The letter from Ron Weasley was a portkey which had everyone in the room infuriated. The use of portkey magic to kidnap Harry Potter was a vicious one considering what had happened the last time he’d been near a portkey.
“Razel, bring Bill Weasley here,” Ragnok murmured as he sat down to watch the teamwork.
“Yes, sir.” His son disappeared with a soft pop.
“Anything more nefarious than a portkey?”
“Obedience compulsions much like what’s been on all the letters he sent the girl,” one of the wizard curse-breakers said roughly. “The compulsions are so strong that they could be easily confused with the bloody Imperius. I honestly didn’t think Dumbledore had that sort of power—I mean, yes, he’s powerful, but this is next level.”
It was probably the Elder Wand, but Ragnok kept that to himself. There was no need to stir up the desire to research in a bunch of curse-breakers. He’d lose them all to the historical archive for weeks, and he didn’t have time to indulge that sort of thing.
“Dumbledore spends his magic wisely,” Ragnok finally said. “And gets by on parlor tricks the rest of the time. He’s a savvy dueler and performs well for a crowd.”
“He ought to be set on fire.”
Ragnok laughed. “Ah, Deadmarsh, I’ve missed you. Are you back in London for a while?”
“You’ve given my uncle a new apprentice,” Quintin Deadmarsh said sourly. “Which ruined our plans for an expedition to South America. We’ve heard rumors of a coatl visiting several magical villages looking for a wizard to bond with. He has hopes that I will be tempting to her.” He sat back in his chair and motioned to the parchment in front of him. “This is the letter from Sirius Black, sir.”
“He’s Harry Potter’s godfather and incidentally innocent of the crimes he was sent to Azkaban for without a trial. What sort of magic is on it?”
“Considering his relationship with the kid, exactly what I would expect—a simple tracking charm. But there is a second letter hidden under the first. Considering what I know of Black, it’s probably the content he really wants to share with Potter, and the letter on top is deflection. Black and his friends made a map in school that was hidden behind a password.” Deadmarsh rubbed the back of his neck. “I mean no criticism, sir, but it’s beyond the pale to keep this man from his son.”
“I don’t disagree,” Ragnok murmured. “Potter tells me that Black is mentally and magically damaged by his time in Azkaban. He certainly should be a healer’s care, and I’d like to arrange that, but his location is unplottable and hidden behind a Fidelius.”
“Leaving the man in Dumbledore’s hands could be dangerous for Potter.”
Ragnok focused on the dverger who spoke. “I know, Master Svar, and I’m working on a solution. Part of it, of course, is the fact that I’d rather not outright kidnap the man. I need him to come to me of his own volition, but he’s wanted by the ministry, so there is no guarantee he’ll trust me.”
“But he’ll trust his child,” Deadmarsh said. “Though I’m certain you are loathe to use the boy that way—it would solve the problem. Ask Potter to send a letter to Black.”
“It’s crossed my mind already, and you’re right, I don’t want to use Potter that way, but it’s become more clear by the day that I don’t have a choice.” He sighed. “Leave the tracking charm on Black’s letter and give it to me. If he knows for certain where Harry Potter is, he’ll be more willing to come to the bank.”
“Dumbledore is probably aware of the tracking magic,” Svar cautioned.
“Potter and Granger are now dual citizens—forever members of the Horde. Let Dumbledore try to give me fucking orders about my own people and see how far that gets him,” Ragnok muttered. “Clean the rest, and I’ll deliver the children all of their mail.”
His son returned that moment with Bill Weasley. He hadn’t seen the young curse-breaker since the petition, but he was aware that Weasley had watched the entire event from Armand Deering’s home in Wales.
“Chieftain, how may I be of service?”
He pointed toward the chair across from him. “Sit and answer my questions.”
“Have you seen Dumbledore since Potter petitioned the Horde?”
“No, I’ve been avoiding him and my whole family,” Bill admitted. “Dumbledore would try to question me about what I’ve seen in the bank lately, and I’d lie, of course, but I’ve never once lied to in front of my mother successfully so she’d know. Moreover, I’m not sure I can trust myself to control my temper around Dumbledore. I don’t…I was so furious I actually got physically ill.”
“You aren’t the only one,” Deadmarsh muttered. “Though the half a bottle of dragonfire bourbon I drank could’ve been responsible.”
Bill grinned briefly at Deadmarsh before returning his attention to Ragnok. “Did you need me to visit my family for any specific reason? I could probably drink half a liter of calming potion and accomplish a short visit.”
Ragnok laughed despite the circumstances. “Tell me about Sirius Black.”
“Ah.” Bill frowned and focused on the floor as he gathered his thoughts. “He’s not as insane as he’s pretending to be. I don’t think he entirely trusts his circumstances, but he doesn’t have a lot of choices if he wants to see his godson. I’m pretty certain that Dumbledore is blackmailing him for both a place for his people to meet in secret and the funds to run his little organization. I was invited to join, but fortunately, I was able to decline without arousing suspicions due to my new apprenticeship. Dumbledore was obviously irritated by the fact that I’d bound myself up in a contract and stunned when I refused to name my mentor.
“He’s generally of the opinion that he gets to know everything about everyone,” Bill explained. “And my mother tried to berate me for not telling Dumbledore everything he wanted to know, but I left the house and haven’t been back since. I received a letter from the twins yesterday asking for some particularly noxious potions supplies as they’re planning to spend the rest of the summer pranking the shite out of everyone in their vicinity. So, I sent them three times what they asked for out of spite.”
“Could you remove Sirius Black from his location without arousing suspicions?”
“No,” Bill shook his head. “The location is unplottable, under a Fidelius, and they run a guard rotation for extra security. There is only one active Floo, and it has an access list for incoming arrivals. I wouldn’t be able to hide the fact that I’d been there. That being said, I’m more than willing to do it anyway.”
“No, I want to keep you in place as a resource there as long as possible,” Ragnok said. “But that being said, I’m not asking you to spy on your family.”
“As long as my parents are firmly in Dumbledore’s camp, they’re fair game on the spying front,” Bill said roughly. “I think he leaves most of the dirty work to other members of the organization. My parents are the light pureblood family he needs to be attached for his image.”
“So your father is doing the recruiting for the Order of the Phoenix,” Ragnok said and nodded. “Very well, keep an eye on things and leave that door open as long as you can without compromising yourself. Shortly, I’ll deliver a letter to Harry Potter that will tell Black exactly where his godson is. I’m unsure if Dumbledore has attached himself to the tracking spell or not. We’ve already dealt with all of the spells and location tracking methods he’s implemented. I’m not sure if Potter will bother to read his letters at all.”
“He shouldn’t—they’ll just be full of emotional manipulation and dragonshite,” Deadmarsh muttered.
* * * *
Harry figured it was in his best interest not to complain as he was offered yet another steaming goblet of potion. As it turned out, Mistress Omis was a beast, and he wasn’t at all interested in being challenged by her either. He’d been in the Healing Halls in the bank for the entire morning. Hermione had come and gone repeatedly throughout the process both to give him privacy and to eat. She’d reported that the cottage was quite big, and they both had private en suite baths. It also had a very large, stocked library in it, so he was impressed that she’d pried herself free from it to come back to visit him in the bank.
The door to his room opened, and Hermione entered with a tray. The chieftain was following along behind her, so Harry sat up of the slouch and fluffed his pillows.
“Lunch,” Hermione announced, and Harry pulled the tray table over so they could share the service. “And cupcakes.”
He grinned and glanced toward Ragnok, who snorted.
“How is he, Mistress Omis?” Ragnok questioned.
Omis glared at him. “He should’ve been in my care the very bloody day he entered this bank at eleven! That’s how he is!” She stomped off without answering the question, which didn’t surprise Harry. She’d been informative but ill-tempered about answering his questions.
“She’s the best healer we have,” Ragnok said and shook his head. “It’s just unfortunate that she has the personality of a nundu.”
Harry picked up half of his sandwich. He’d asked for hot roast beef, so he was really happy to see exactly that. “I’ve some issues with my organs due to malnutrition when I was young. My bones need some shoring up as well, and I’m apparently stunted on the height front for the same reason. She thinks she can correct all of it with time, but it won’t be pleasant due to the fact she thinks I’m due to grow in height by about six inches.”
Ragnok huffed. “Hermione, we can go burn down that house on Privet Drive whenever you’d like.”
Hermione pursed her lips and nodded. Harry considered telling them both it was unnecessary, but he honestly didn’t think he could handle them both being shouty at him at the same time. He took a big bite of his sandwich instead and rummaged through his crisps for a darker one to eat first.
“Anything else?” Hermione questioned.
Harry swallowed and ate the crisp next because this was his birthday lunch, and he wanted to eat enough real food so he could have the cupcakes. He planned to eat at least three of them.
“The cut on my arm is curse damage. Mistress Omis is furious that Madam Pomfrey healed it without removing the cursed skin though I really don’t think she’s qualified to do that. Then there is the nerve damage from the Crucio, which is as bad as you’d expect to be. Did you know the curse was designed the mimic the pain suffered during a crucifixion?”
Hermione paled slightly but focused on her food. “Yes, I mean, I read about it when Fake-Moody demonstrated them all. People have been known to suffocate and go into cardiac arrest during exposure to the Crucio. Though it’s been theorized that the curse is roughly ten times more painful than an actual crucifixion. The Romans made a habit of crucifying witches and wizards—far more than they did Muggles. Though we were often impaled on a stake early in the day and set on fire during the so-called witching hour. The wizard who invented the curse created it so he could punish everyone involved in the murder of his wife and daughter.”
Harry couldn’t blame him, but he wondered if the man grew to regret his creation as Oppenheimer had gone on to regret the atom bomb. He couldn’t actually imagine what it would be like to be the father of an Unforgiveable curse.
“It was hard to breathe,” he finally said. “When he was cursing me. I felt like I was drowning. I can see why the pain from the curse can do so much damage to people and even drive them crazy.” He took another bite of sandwich.
“And what about your more famous scar?” Ragnok prodded.
“She said that you would tell me about it,” Harry focused on the chieftain. “And that I’d have to go through some kind of cleansing ritual to get rid of my connection with Riddle.”
Ragnok nodded. “Finish your lunch first, lad, it’s not a pleasant conversation.” He stood and pulled a stack of parchments from the inner pocket of his cloak. “Your mail. I’ll return in about an hour to discuss your scar.”
“Thank you, sir,” Harry said and shared a look with Hermione. “The letters are clean, then?”
“Except the one from Black,” Ragnok reported. “It has a tracking charm on it, and we chose not to interfere with it. You’re his child, and I won’t add myself to the list of individuals who’ve ignored that. His charm will activate when you open it. I was told there is a secondary letter underneath the surface content hidden by a password.”
Harry picked up the stack of letters and sorted them. The ones for Hermione were all from Dumbledore except for one that had Ron’s messy scrawl on it. She took her stack and wordlessly tossed all of it in the trash can near his bed.
“You don’t want to know what Ron has to say?” Harry questioned.
“Not remotely,” Hermione said. “He’s a terrible little bastard, and honestly, Harry, I’d rather never even set eyes on him again as long as I live.”
Harry nodded and set aside everything but Sirius’ letter. “He’s selfish and immature. Is it right to punish him for things he hasn’t done yet?”
“He’s done enough already,” Hermione said and took a deep breath. “Besides, considering the situation, he’s probably only said what he was instructed to say by his mother or Dumbledore. If not, it’s just a jealous, ugly rant about the situation and your disappearance.”
“Right,” Harry murmured and opened the letter. He felt a little jolt of magic and wondered if he’d noticed it at all if he hadn’t already been told about the tracking charm. He scanned the surface letter, which is nothing more than admonishment about running away and a demand for Harry to write immediately so he could be retrieved by the headmaster.
He pulled his wand and placed the tip on the parchment, “I solemnly swear I’m up to no good.” Magic flashed over the letter, and the letters rearranged. He cleared his throat to read it aloud to Hermione.
I hope you’re safe. This is a difficult letter to write as I really do wish you were here with me, but you aren’t safe where I am.
Lad, I need you to run as soon as you read this letter. Don’t let Dumbledore get ahold of you. He made me place a tracking charm on this, so he’s going to be able to track you within an hour of your opening and reading this letter.
He’s furious, and I don’t trust him to treat you honestly or with any sort of fairness. Clearly, his loss of control over your circumstances has revealed in him an ugly obsession that I don’t understand. I fear for you in his company.
You cannot return to Hogwarts. I know that’s the last thing you probably want to hear, but Dumbledore is as much your enemy as Voldemort is.
All my love,
“We need to get him out of that house,” Hermione said. “As quickly as possible.”
* * * *
Ragnok watched Potter absorb the information as he explained what a horcrux was and how the one he carried had entered his body during the events of the Chamber of Secrets.
“But it’s not like with Professor Quirrell?” Harry questioned.
“Spiritual possession requires continuous consent from a magical person,” Ragnok explained. “Tom Riddle could not have stayed in Quirrell’s body against the wizard’s will. In fact, I would say he sought Riddle out in order to serve him as a host.”
“Something Dumbledore encouraged,” Harry guessed. “He wasn’t old enough to have followed Riddle while he was alive, so he certainly wasn’t a Death Eater.”
“No, agreed,” Hermione said. “He was a Ravenclaw and a half-blood wizard on top of that which is why he originally taught Muggle Studies. It wasn’t a class you’d have taken as a first year, so Quirrell had to be moved into the DADA position to get as much exposure to you as possible. Dumbledore probably knew where Riddle’s spirit was, and there’s no telling how much time and magic he invested in getting Quirrell to a place where he would willingly host Voldemort.”
“Is it influencing me?” Harry questioned. “My head hurt a lot when I was around him in the cemetery—more than my scar ever did during the first year.”
“He’s not influencing you, but he does have a connection with your mind that he could use to his advantage and certainly did in the other timeline,” Ragnok explained. “If he’s aware of the connection currently, he’s not using it, but that will change the longer you host the horcrux.”
“And you can get it out of Harry without hurting him?” Hermione questioned.
“We can remove it,” Ragnok said roughly. “I can’t guarantee it won’t hurt. The horcrux is entrenched in his magic, and in the other timeline, it was taken from him through a temporary death.”
Hermione blanched. “No, absolutely not.”
“Harry, you can’t just…” She trailed off with a frown. “Why do you readily accept that pain is going to be part of your life?”
“Because it always has been,” Harry said simply.
It wasn’t the response Ragnok expected, and he sat back in shock as he was confronted with Potter’s honesty and fatalism. He cleared his throat, and they both focused on him. “We’ve successfully transferred horcruxes in the past from valuable objects. But I have to admit we’ve no practice in doing it with a living subject.”
“But we have no choice but remove it if we’re going to meet the requirements of the prophecy,” Harry said and slowly let go of Hermione’s hand. “I’ll do whatever is necessary to get the horcrux out of me and into an object that can be destroyed properly. I won’t say I’ve already suffered the most I ever will, but I will say that in the end, physical pain isn’t something I fear.” He relaxed against his pillows, picked up a cupcake, and peeled off the wrapper. “So, basilisk venom is a one, and the Crucio is a ten—where would you rate the whole ritual thing potentially?”
Ragnok stared at him for a moment and cleared his throat. “About an eight.”
Potter nodded and took a big bite of the cupcake. “Okay.”
“Not okay!” Hermione snapped and huffed.
“Have a cupcake,” Potter suggested.
“Hermione,” he said and focused on her.
She huffed and grabbed a cupcake.
“How can I do anything, but what is necessary?” he asked quietly. “Either I do everything I can do to stand against Riddle, or I can let him kill me because he’s never going to stop. There is no reasoning with a wizard who would try to kill a toddler. He sees me as the obstacle to every single goal he has thanks to the prophecy. I can’t have any sort of life while he lives. He’ll never allow it.”
“I know,” she whispered and cleared her throat. “I don’t want to make it harder for you, but I just wish…you wouldn’t easily accept every single horrible thing that comes your way.”
“Can I be honest here, or did you want me to pretend to agree with you?”
“I always want you to be honest,” Hermione said flatly.
“Pain is what it is,” Potter said. “I’ve survived, repeatedly, in circumstances that should’ve killed me. Pain is just the most explicit reminder that I’m alive, and that’s more than many of Riddle’s victims can say.”
“Right,” she said faintly. “I need…to go unpack our stuff.” She stood up and marched off with her cupcake.
Potter turned to him as Granger left the Healing Hall. “I messed that up, right?”
“Yes, you insensitive little git,” Omis said pointedly as she returned with a tray of potions.
Ragnok shrugged as he hadn’t thought Potter was out of line at all. “He did ask if she wanted honesty.”
Omis huffed and set the tray down. “In order from left to right, Potter.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Potter picked up the first cup and took a deep breath. “Are there potions I’ll need to take for the horcrux removal?”
“Well, you’re not doing that fucking cleansing ritual until I’m satisfied with your health,” Omis announced, pointed her finger at both individually before marching off.
Potter focused on him, and Ragnok raised an eyebrow. “I have no interest in ever coming across nundu.”
“Can we talk about my godfather?” Potter questioned and pulled a piece of parchment from underneath his pillow. “His hidden letter was very troubling to read.”
Ragnok took the letter and read it over and took a deep breath as he considered the ramifications of Black’s communication with his godson. He really wanted to know what Dumbledore had said or done to set the man off.
“I told you that there were seven pieces of Riddle’s soul.”
“Six horcruxes, plus the piece he’s using to inhabit a body,” Harry said.
“One of the objects is in the place where the Order of the Phoenix is headquartered. The information in Hermione’s journal is obscured because of the Fidelius, so I don’t know the exact location. It’s Slytherin’s locket—it was stolen by Regulus Black, and he was eventually killed for it. There is a house elf, Kreacher, who guards the locket and has tried repeatedly to destroy it. Fortunately, he doesn’t have the resources to accomplish the destruction.”
Harry nodded. “So, you need Sirius to bring you this locket.”
“It would make things easier,” Ragnok said. “And it would allow me to take him into custody, which I would be bound to do through treaty. I would also be able to insist that his circumstances be investigated by the ICW.”
“He’d be free,” Harry said quietly.
“You’re that convinced of his innocence?” Ragnok questioned. “He could testify under veritaserum that he did not cause the explosion on the street?”
“Yes, he could,” Harry insisted. “Pettigrew confessed to everything in front of me. Dumbledore knows that Sirius is innocent.”
“You realize that Dumbledore could’ve forced a trial for your godfather while he was Chief Warlock?” Ragnok questioned. “In fact, he should’ve. As a member of the ICW, at the time, he should’ve filed a complaint with that body regarding the ministry’s behavior.”
“I didn’t know that,” Harry admitted with a frown. “Can you use that information to ruin his life?”
Ragnok laughed. “Oh, lad, that’s the least of what I’m going to use to ruin Dumbledore’s life, but yes, I will be certain to use it to my full advantage.” He paused. “I need you to write Sirius Black a letter—I can repeat the charm he did on his letter to hide content, but I’ll need the password he will know.”
“Not a problem,” Harry said. “But there is another person in the house that would know the password he used on his own letter. I’m not sure if that person can be trusted.”
“I can tailor the charm to only work for your godfather’s magical signature,” Ragnok said. “I have an asset who can hand-deliver the letter to your godfather.”
“Bill Weasley?” Harry questioned. “Hermione told me that he brought her to the bank. Can we trust him?”
“He works for me, and I’ve purposefully contracted him into an apprenticeship with a wizard I have a profound amount of trust in,” Ragnok said. “It was to protect the bank’s investment in Bill but also to protect him from being manipulated by Dumbledore or his own family.”
“Good, I mean. I’m glad Bill’s safe, but it’s terrible that his own parents are a threat to his free will,” Harry murmured. “I’ll write the letter. I want my godfather to be safe, and I realize he’s probably the best person situated to locate the horcrux and bring it to you.” He took a deep breath. “And the defeat of Voldemort is important—it’s more important than Sirius or me.”
Ragnok swallowed back the surprise as much as he could. “I’ll get you some parchment.”
* * * *
Agharti defied imagination. Harry tried very hard to keep his mouth shut as he was escorted from the mountain where Ragnok’s clan worked and onto a wide, well-maintained road.
“How is it decided who lives in the mountain?” Harry questioned.
Razel glanced his way as they walked. “There are those among the dverger of mixed blood.”
“Like you and your mother?”
“Yes, but not all high elves. My mother mentioned the hobbits to you?”
“Yes, she said that the Lord of Magic tucked them away somewhere safe,” Harry said. “Because they were…too small?”
“Small, innocent,” Razel said. “Children of green magic. They had no place on Earth, and they desperately opposed to how the dverger planned to create Agharti. The thought of blood sacrifices left them bereft and horrified. So, in the end, their sensibilities were even more delicate than their bodies. Though they’re very small—mostly all under four feet—and genetically, they had more in common with a plant than a dverger. That being said, there are those in Agharti with hobbit ancestry. They aren’t comfortable living in the mountain as they have a deep connection to the earth and growing things. In fact, their communities produce all of the food we consume in the realm. We rarely ever bring food products from the outside world here due to the way Muggles have contaminated the ground and air. It would make many here sick.”
“Hermione and I aren’t a risk to them that way, right?”
“No, Mistress Omis cleared you both to be here,” Razel assured. “Otherwise, we would’ve confined you to the mountain despite the discomfort that could’ve caused you. Master Banner and his family have already settled into the cottage. My father wanted you to know that you can fly as much as you want here, but stay alert as there are magical creatures here that could be quite dangerous to encounter in the air. They probably wouldn’t hurt you on purpose, but you wouldn’t want to have an air collision with an abraxan or even their smaller cousin, the pegasus.”
“No, they’d be at least three times my size, too,” Harry said. “I’ll be careful. I wouldn’t want to disrupt anyone or anything while I’m here.”
“My father said you wrote a note for Sirius Black.”
“Yeah, he attached a portkey charm to it. He said that it should work since Sirius is the Secret Keeper for his location,” Harry said. “I hope he’ll retrieve the horcrux and trust me enough to come to the bank.”
“Even if he doesn’t trust your circumstances, he’ll come anyway,” Razel assured. “He has a duty to you and has proven that he’s willing to risk his life to meet that duty already. Did he not break out of Azkaban to protect you from Pettigrew?”
“Yeah,” Harry said. “I think I messed up with Hermione.”
“Oh, I heard.” Razel shot him a look. “I’m not the one to ask advice, I suck at relationships. My last lover moved to Australia to avoid me after we parted ways.”
Harry laughed. “Wow. I mean…why?”
“Hell if I know,” Razel said with a shrug. “But he took himself off to another continent to avoid me after we stopped sleeping together. He said it was unbearable to be around me.”
“What did you do wrong?” Harry asked curiously.
“No bloody clue, not even a year later,” Razel admitted. “Amad says I’m obtuse.”
“Do you miss him? Maybe you could send him a letter,” Harry suggested.
“Nah, I didn’t even notice he was gone at first,” Razel explained and shrugged when Harry looked his way. “So, maybe that was the problem? I work too much.”
“I think, when you find the right person, you’ll make time for them no matter your work schedule,” Harry said. “Love will make you want to spend time with them and notice when they’re gone.”
“How do you feel about Hermione?”
“Like my life would be over if she was gone,” Harry said and shrugged when Razel blinked in surprise. “Maybe I’m too young for that kind of emotion or whatever, but that’s how it feels. She’s my best friend. I’m not sure if we have a future as a couple, but her friendship is precious to me. I don’t know much about my other future, but at least I had her friendship. I think that was probably the only comfort the other me had.”
“You’re making me feel selfish,” Razel said. “I don’t think I’ve ever invested in a friendship like that before.”
“How old are you?”
“Seventy-six,” Razel said.
“So just a year into your majority,” Harry murmured. “That’s like basically two years older than me based on maturity, right?”
“Mostly, I finished puberty about three years ago,” Razel said. “I’ll probably live about five hundred years.”
“Then you’ve got plenty of time to find your best friend,” Harry said. “I got lucky, really.” He looked around the village. “It’s honestly beautiful here—fresh and clean in a way I’ve never seen in the Muggle or magical world. I feel like I can breathe here.”
“You’ve never been safer,” Razel said. “And perhaps that makes all the difference. Now, you just have to figure out apologize to Hermione and keep your dignity.”
Harry snorted. “She once helped me clean troll snot off my wand. I’m not sure dignity even exists between us after that situation.”
Ragnok sat back in his chair and watched Bill Weasley disappear through his personal floo. They’d been waiting for Dumbledore to arrive, and the old bastard had shown up nearly three hours after Potter read Black’s letter. He stood from his desk, straightened his waistcoat, and cracked his neck. Dumbledore had been escorted into one of the public meeting rooms and was under guard. He didn’t know how much time Bill Weasley needed to deliver the letter, but Ragnok wanted to give him as much room as he could. It was imperative that Weasley deliver the letter without anyone noticing in order to keep him as a resource.
He left his office and found Armand Deering standing at the end of the hallway with his nephew, Quintin. Ragnok walked toward them, torn between amusement and offense.
“You don’t think I need your protection, do you, Armand?”
Deering lifted an eyebrow. “No, Chieftain, I’d never presume to think such a thing. But I’ve made it a point to never miss an opportunity to tell Albus Dumbledore to kiss my arse or to watch someone else to do it. Besides, far too many people saw the old git arrive to get away with killing him today.”
“That’s a pity,” Ragnok muttered and brushed past them. “Come along, maybe he’ll attack me, and you can be my witnesses during the inquiry into his unexpected death in the bank.”
“I’m ever in your service, Chieftain,” Quintin said dryly. “Is Potter still in the bank?”
“No, he’s been moved into Agharti with Miss Granger,” Ragnok reported. “He’s probably, honestly, asleep at this point. Mistress Omis has him on an extreme potion regimen that is going to make him worthless for anything more than eating and sleeping for the next month.”
“I’d like to meet the boy,” Armand said.
“Perhaps later in the year,” Ragnok said. “I don’t think he could handle you, currently, Master Deering. He’s by no means delicate, but…his dealings with wizards of your generation haven’t been great.”
“Understood,” Deering murmured. “Thaddeus was an excellent choice on your part, by the way, he has a firm and even hand in his teaching. Moreover, fatherhood has made him patient and thoughtful.”
“Agreed,” Ragnok said. “He’ll have to work hard to win Potter’s trust, but I believe it will be a relationship that will serve them both in the years to come. Why do you want to meet him?”
“He’s a parselmouth,” Deering said. “And I’d like to evaluate him for admission into my conclave. Do you know where his intellectual interests lie?”
“He admits to being a lazy student, but I have to wonder how much of that was a response to his environment at Hogwarts. Lenore has designed an educational program to prepare them for their OWLs and potential admission to the International Academy.”
Deering huffed. “They’d both learn faster and better with apprenticeships.”
“True, but they’re young, and I think the structured school environment appeals to Miss Granger. He will certainly follow that witch wherever she may go for the rest of his life.”
“It’s like that?” Deering questioned. “Awful young for that kind of attachment.”
“They have a magical affinity,” Ragnok responded. “I’ve not told them, as yet, but it will soon become clear to them, I think with their training under Banner and Lenore. Potter is burgeoning archmagus, Armand. I’m not honestly sure what to do with him in the long term.”
“I’ll definitely want to be part of that conversation,” Deering said as his nephew moved ahead of them and opened the conference room door.
Dumbledore had come to the bank alone. Ragnok didn’t know if that was arrogance or if he planned to curse Potter into compliance and didn’t want any witnesses. Either way, the meeting was going to be interesting. He took his chair despite Dumbledore’s looming presence at the back of the room, and Deering took a seat next to him while Quintin Deadmarsh took a place on the wall to the left with the guards.
“Where is Harry Potter?” Dumbledore demanded harshly, and his aura flared wildly.
Ragnok raised an eyebrow. “Your theatrics don’t impress me, Dumbledore. As to Harry Potter, he’s in my care.”
“In your care,” Dumbledore said. “You admit to kidnapping an underage wizard?”
“I invited a wizard to the bank, and he petitioned the Horde for sanctuary. It was granted. A copy has already been filed with the ministry of magic.” Ragnok pulled the notification parchment from his cloak and tossed it across the table. “He’s not available to take visitors currently as he’s undergoing extensive healing for the torture he suffered in May. The Healing Guild leader is already filing an official complaint to send to the DMLE regarding the boy’s poor health.
“We’re all looking forward to hearing your explanation as to why you allowed him to go untreated for Cruciatus exposure. The nerve damage alone would’ve taken six months to heal without healing. Some of it might not ever heal.” Ragnok watched Dumbledore’s gaze narrow. “Plus, there’s the whole issue of his curse scar. It should’ve been taken care of it when it happened in 1981. I’ll be reporting that situation to the ICW since I can’t trust the ministry to give a shite about Potter or the injustices done to him and his house.”
“And you think the ICW will care?” Dumbledore demanded as he picked up the petition. “He’s just one boy.”
“He’s the Gryffindor heir and the future Patron to the Horde,” Ragnok said evenly. “A birthright he’s not only been informed of but has agreed to undertake in full. I assure you, wizard, that the ICW will certainly care about how close Britain came to destroying the treated of 1322 due to your personal behavior.”
“The Potter family has no connection to the Gryffindor line,” Dumbledore replied.
“No, but Lily Potter nee Evans was a damn near direct descendant of Godric Gryffindor,” Ragnok said evenly and noted that Dumbledore wasn’t at all surprised. “As you well know.”
“He’s a boy and in no way prepared to be the Patron of the Horde. You’ll have him retrieved immediately. As his guardian, I demand it.”
“You’re not his guardian,” Ragnok said. “And never were. You were the executor of his parent’s will, but that role was revoked early this morning when Harry Potter officially turned 15. He accepted a dverger account manager and had the will executed as was his legal right. His guardian, of record, is a wizard named Sirius Black. He also has some Muggle guardians, but that placement was illegal and contrary to his parent’s will. Mr. Potter has already let me know he’d like to file a complaint with the DMLE about that situation. Apparently, his aunt and uncle are arseholes.”
“He will not! He must return to his Muggle guardians next summer.”
“Because of those supposed blood wards?” Ragnok questioned and watched Dumbledore’s mouth drop open. “I sent a team of warders to Privet Drive at Mr. Potter’s request to review the wards. The blood wards set by Lily Potter expired more than a decade ago due to Petunia Dursley’s apathy. Mr. Potter also paid to have the property properly warded, and he’d like you to know that neither you nor your people are welcome near his relative’s home again. The wards were built to adhere to his wishes on this subject. Only two magical people can approach that house without paying for it, and you aren’t one of them.”
“You’re interfering circumstances you don’t have a chance of understanding, goblin.”
“As you say, human,” Ragnok said and watched Dumbledore’s face flush with fury.
“Where is Hermione Granger?”
“What business is that of yours?”
“Her parents trusted me with her safety this summer.”
“That’s dragonshite,” Ragnok said evenly. “They had no idea where their daughter was staying and hardly cared. Though they were pleased when I contacted them regarding permission for their daughter to take tuition with my wife this summer. They were also thrilled to accept a magical guardian on their daughter’s behalf so they won’t have to worry about her in the magical world from now on. They’re currently in France celebrating being released from parental obligation a full two years before they expected to be.”
“And who is Miss Granger’s new guardian? Molly and Arthur Weasley already have a request on file with the ministry if she required assistance.”
“If Miss Granger wants you to know, she’ll let you know,” Ragnok said. “Though she currently has no interest in being the same room as you. After all, you’ve sent her ten cursed letters in the last week, and she knows about every single one. She’s appalled that you’d try to curse her to obedient to you, Dumbledore, and is petrified what you might make her do if you succeeded.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, goblin,” Dumbledore said. “Though I’m not surprised you’d tell her lies to further whatever agenda you have regarding her. I’ll be filing a complaint with the DMLE about this situation. Miss Granger is bright and will be an asset to the ministry in the future. I’ll be sure to tell Minister Fudge that you’re trying to corrupt her for some nefarious purpose.”
“Fudge doesn’t give a fuck about Hermione Granger,” Ragnok said. “And you know it. I guess you’ll have to weigh your options when it comes to Potter. If you involve the ministry, you’ll give Fudge the opportunity he needs to take control of Potter. Or at least he’d try, and that should be interesting. Potter is no longer just a wizard, Dumbledore. He is a full citizen of the Horde and a member of my clan. My authority over him exceeds yours in any single role you have in his life.” He paused. “Oh, you just have the one now, right? I wonder how long it’ll take Fudge to oust you out of Hogwarts as well?”
“Don’t underestimate me, goblin,” Dumbledore snapped.
Deering cleared his throat and leaned forward. “Be careful, Albus, you’re on dverger land, and here Ragnok is king. You’re nothing but a wizard—with too much education and not enough practical experience to even be useful.”
Dumbledore glared at him. “I told you years ago, Armand, that working for this creature would not serve you. What kind of life do you have now? What have you accomplished? Nothing.”
“Forgive my nephew, he finds your isolationism amusing,” Deering said evenly. “What kind of life do I have? I have a beautiful wife and several children. I’m the High Warlock of the largest conclave in Europe, and I make more money in a year than you make in a decade.”
Ragnok cleared his throat. “I thought your wife told you to stop bragging, Armand.”
“She’s not here to complain,” Armand pointed out and pulled out a pipe. “Are you going to tattle?”
“I might,” Quintin said and grinned when his uncle sent him a dark look. “But she’ll forgive you, I’m sure, since she also finds Dumbledore’s isolationism amusing, too.”
“You will turn Harry Potter and Hermione Granger over to me right now, goblin,” Dumbledore declared.
“Fuck off, human,” Ragnok said and flicked his own pipe out of his dimensional store. “Armand, share your herb.” He wiggled his fingers, and Deering gamely passed him a pouch.
“I insist!” Dumbledore shouted.
“Do not raise your voice in my presence, human,” Ragnok said lowly, and magic flickered over his fingers. “You’re precariously close to violating the communication protocols declared by treaty between our two peoples. I would adore the opportunity to sanction you personally. As it stands, you’ve utterly irritated me, and you’re not welcome in the bank for 30 days. Leave immediately.”
Dumbledore puffed up like he was going to protest, and one of the guards shoved a spear point up against his chin.
“Chieftain Ragnok has ordered you to leave, human. Failure to comply will allow me to shove this spear up through your jaw and into your brain.”
Dumbledore held out his hands in a gesture of peace. “Of course.”
Ragnok said nothing while Dumbledore was escorted out of the room. He figured it would be front-page news that the old bastard had been removed from the bank at spear point.
“How anyone thinks that racist old bastard is even remotely light is beyond me,” Deadmarsh complained bitterly.
The side door Ragnok had used to enter the room swung open, and Razel took a ragged breath. “Adad, come quick. Sirius Black has arrived, and his injuries are extensive. I’m not sure he’ll survive.”
“Son of a bitch,” Ragnok said crossly.
By the time he reached the portkey landing space in the bowels of the bank, the healers were already on the scene, and the entire room was filled with the stench of human blood.
“He took a bludgeoning curse,” Omis reported. “His chest is crushed—we’re working to stabilize him before we can move him. His heart and lungs took the brunt as far as organ damage goes. He’s got something in his fist that he won’t release to anyone but you.”
Ragnok pushed his way through his people and dropped to Sirius Black’s side. “Black.”
Black rolled his head and focused on him. “Chieftain Ragnok.”
“You’re in the bank, you’re safe.”
Black shook his head and opened his fist, the locket horcrux fell from his fingers and clattered on the stone floor. “Where’s Harry,” he asked with a hoarse voice.
“Harry’s safe,” Ragnok said as he picked up the horcrux. “Who did this to you?”
“Kreacher fought me over the locket,” Black said, and blood bubbled on his lips.
“No more,” Omis snapped. “Take your trinket and get out of my way, Ragnok.”
Ragnok stood and back away to give Omis the space she needed.
“Wait,” Black protested and tried to reach out for Ragnok. “My son.”
Ragnok took Black’s hand. “I swear to you on my magic that Harry Potter is safe right now, and Dumbledore won’t get through me.” The light of the vow settling drifted between them, and Black’s fingers went limp. Ragnok released him and took a deep breath. “Get him stable and cleaned up so Potter can see him.”
He leaned on the wall near the back of the room and watched silently as the senior healers of the guild descended on Black’s still form en masse. After a few moments, Razel came to stand with him. Ragnok took a deep breath as his son pressed against his shoulder. Probably the closest his son had come to seeking comfort from him in public in over a decade.
“Should I retrieve Potter then?” Razel asked.
“No,” Ragnok murmured. “It’s best to let Omis and her people work, and Potter would just get in her way and be a distraction. She likes him more than she’d like to admit.”
“I noticed,” Razel admitted. “She’s never that nice to patients.”
Ragnok hummed under his breath. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she offers him tuition. She told me that he asked interesting questions while in the hall.”
“Dverger all over the planet would keel over in shock if she did such a thing,” Razel said. “So, I hope she does it as soon as possible.” He cleared his throat. “Is Black going to survive?”
“I don’t know,” Ragnok admitted.
“Did he…you know…before.”
Ragnok activated the privacy ward on his dimensional store and enveloped the two of them with a flush of gold magic. “No, but the circumstances were different. Granger’s journal indicated that it devastated Potter and said more than once that she thought the loss of Black destroyed the last piece of innocence Potter had left. Though I think it also played that Dumbledore chose that very night to reveal the prophecy to him.”
“The sorry motherfucker,” Razel muttered under his breath. “Dumbledore managed to insult half a dozen employees on his way out of the bank by the way. We should fine the shite out of him.”
“Interview everyone involved and levy any fines you can legally get away with,” Ragnok said. “Remove his vault from the account management tier and deactivate the auto-accounting feature on his vault. Let him know that he’ll have to pay for manual accounting services from now on since no dverger is willing to work as his account manager going forward.”
“With pleasure,” Razel muttered. “And his brother?”
“Let him know that his account remains the same as long as he doesn’t try to bank on his brother’s behalf,” Ragnok said. “I’ll go inform Potter personally regarding his godfather’s condition once Omis has something report.” He released the privacy charm, and his son left the room.
Black’s body was carefully lifted from the floor and placed on a stretcher that hovered under its own power. A stasis field sprung up as soon as he was settled. Omis came to stand in front of him as her people took the wizard from the room.
“He’s stable, but I cannot make any promises regarding his survival. His heart is severely damaged. I’d like to keep him unconscious for healing to lower his stress. I know the boy will want to see him as soon as he hears about this, so I’ll do everything I can to make sure he doesn’t look like he’s on death’s door.”
“But he is.”
“Certainly, house elf magic can be brutal in the right circumstances, and he took the brunt of a full force bludgeoning charm.” She offered him a wand. “This wand must never fall into the hands of the Ministry of Magic.”
“Why?” Ragnok questioned as he took it.
“Black used the Killing Curse to defend himself,” Omis said. “I can’t say I blame him—nothing else would’ve stopped a house elf so insane it would attack a wizard of his bonded house.”
Ragnok snapped the wand without a thought, and Omis blinked in surprise. “Someone find Bill Weasley!” He passed her the pieces of the wand. “Destroy that utterly and never speak of this again.”
“Yes, Chieftain.” She paused, then held out a wadded up piece of parchment. “The portkey he used to arrive. Should I destroy it as well?”
“Yes.” Ragnok left the portkey disembarkation chamber without another word.
Lenore joined him as he started toward his office. “That’s a bloody mess.”
“In more than one way,” Ragnok muttered. “The British Ministry of Magic is probably going to lose their shite shortly. Dumbledore doesn’t have a lot of cards to play, so he going to poke that beast in an attempt to get his hands on Harry Potter.” He paused. “And Hermione Granger.”
“I’ll kill him first,” Lenore snapped.
“Go to their cottage and sign an apprentice contract with her,” Ragnok said. “The Banners are her magical guardians—a document that has already been accepted by the ministry and can’t be revoked without wrongdoing on their part. We need to drape that witch in as many contractual protections as we can. It’s become clear to me that she’s central in keeping Potter focused and in control. I’d hate to have to help that little git raze magical Britain.’
“You liar, you’d love to burn this whole thing to the ground and piss on the ashes,” Lenore said tartly as they parted ways.
Ragnok watched her disappear down the hall toward the lift in the bank that would take her to Agharti and privately admitted that he’d be quite happy to watch Britain burn. He went to his office and found Deering and Deadmarsh waiting.
“Is he dead?” Deadmarsh questioned.
“Damn near,” Ragnok muttered. “Omis isn’t hopeful, and it doesn’t help that he didn’t get the medical care he needed after leaving Azkaban. He looked malnourished and quite ill despite his injuries. Dumbledore and his people did nothing to help that man, and I’m going to…” He trailed off and waved a hand. “I hate everyone.”
“Black had a woman before he went to jail,” Deering said. “What happened to her?”
“She was fired from the ministry, and the last I heard she’d moved to France,” Quintin admitted. “Zale was friendly with her, but I’m not sure they’ve had contact since then. She was from a dark family herself, and many thought her just as dark as they thought Black was. Her boss called her an unmarked Death Eater repeatedly in the press at the time.”
“What do you bring her up?” Ragnok questioned.
Deering sent him a look. “If you were as injured as he is—who would you want at your side when you wake up? They’ve been apart for a long time, but I remember seeing them once at one of those stupid ministry parties. They were so magically invested in one another that they glowed when their skin touched. Not even James and Lily Potter had that the day they got married.”
“Her name?” Ragnok questioned.
“Isobel Travers,” Quintin said. “And my uncle is right, they were deeply in love. I don’t know if she ever got over him. It’s clear, in retrospect, that Dumbledore did his best to ruin her so she couldn’t help Sirius Black. Shall I have Zale look for her?”
“Yes, and tell your husband that his job at the ministry is done,” Ragnok said. “I see no value leaving him in place there any longer, and it’s going to get dangerous. Voldemort will be looking to place his own people into valuable positions. Zale could be targeted to make room for someone Riddle can control. I’ll have a contract drawn up for him in the department of his choice here or in Paris—wherever you’d like to permanently settle.”
“Thank you, Chieftain.”
“No, thank you both. You’ve done me an immense service throughout the years. It’s time to, as the Muggles say, circle our wagons.” Ragnok focused on Deering as Deadmarsh left the room. “I sent your apprentice on an errand to deliver a letter and portkey to Sirius Black in an unplottable location controlled by Dumbledore. During the events that left Black severely wounded, Dumbledore was in the bank. I don’t know where Bill is now. He’s not in the bank, or he’d have already been brought to me.”
Deering frowned and pulled a watch from his vest pocket. He flicked it up and stared pointedly at the face. “Bill is traveling and is in good health. I suspect he’s on his way here. This unplottable location—he makes a habit of leaving it by walking. I don’t know if he’s protecting the place or his destinations by avoiding the floo. I suspect he’ll land in one of the bank’s internal apparition points momentarily.” He paused to stare at his watch, then closed it with a snap. “He’s here.”
“Is he aware that you track him in that fashion?”
“He suggested it and did the spell work himself on the watch as a demonstration of his magical ability. His parents have a clock for all the members of their immediate family. He’s spent the last few weeks corrupting the hand that bears his name so they can’t use it to keep track of his movements.”
The notification charm activated, and Ragnok looked up to find Bill standing outside his office. Obviously winded and a little wild-eyed. He motioned the wizard forward.
“Sirius Black,” Bill blurted out as soon as he entered the room. “Is he here? Did he survive?”
“He’s here, and his survival is up for debate. What happened?”
“He read the letter in front of me,” Bill said as he sat down and rubbed his face with shaking, blood-flecked hands. “He seemed to know immediately what you wanted because he went down into the kitchen and retrieved a locket from the house elf’s nest. Kreacher, the house elf, came into the room then and started screaming that Black was stealing from him. Black tried to calm him down, but honestly, the elf was beyond any sort of rational conversation. He hated Sirius and wouldn’t listen to him. He tried to take the locket, and Sirius went to stun him. All hell broke loose after that, and Black…he took a bludgeoning curse for me when I shoved Kreacher away.
“He cast the Killing Curse then disappeared with the portkey.”
“Did he kill the elf?” Deering questioned.
“Yes, I guess he didn’t want to leave me behind to fight him,” Bill said roughly. “I cleaned the body up magically to remove the evidence of the Killing Curse and hit Kreacher with a few piercing charms. I’d just finished when my parents came down into the kitchen. I told them that I’d found Kreacher that way and I didn’t know what happened. They called Moody, and he asked me to help investigate the scene magically. I did what I could to obscure the real circumstances, but Moody did find the portkey magic, so he knows Black left the house via portkey. He asked me to come to the bank to see if Black was here, and I left before Dumbledore could return.”
“Do you think your parents heard the altercation?” Deering questioned.
Bill shook his head. “When I realized they were the only ones in the house with Sirius, I hit them both sleeping charms and went to talk to him. My brother and sister were on the second floor so they wouldn’t have heard anything either. The kitchen is warded for privacy due to the meetings the headmaster has there at any rate.”
“We’re leaving Britain today,” Deering announced. “I don’t want you near Dumbledore for the fall-out of this mess. He was practically feral during his meeting with Ragnok. I don’t know if it’s because he’s lost so many positions at once or if it’s just about Potter, but there’s no need for you to get in his way.” He focused on Ragnok. “Unless you need him?”
“No, it’s not worth it,” Ragnok said. “I may need you both later, so stay available to travel to me at a moment’s notice.”
“Of course, Chieftain,” Deering said.
* * * *
Harry took a ragged breath as he slowly sat down in the chair beside the cot his godfather was in. Well, it was two cots that had been put together with magical bindings to support him. Omis had explained that they couldn’t risk an expansion charm failing. He reached out hesitantly and to touch Sirius’ hand but withdrew when he encountered a magical field.
“It’s a sanitation field,” Omis explained. “It would be dangerous and potentially fatal if he were to get an infection at this point.”
Harry swallowed and took a deep breath. “How bad is it?”
“All of his ribs were broken, and his sternum shattered under the brunt of the bludgeoning curse,” Omis said plainly. “His heart suffered severe bruising, and one of his lungs collapsed before we could get him stabilized. He was mere minutes from death when I reached him, but I believe if we are careful and patient with the healing that he will…he stands a very good chance of recovering. If it is a comfort, at all, he asked after you and fought to remain conscious until Ragnok vowed you were safe before eventually passing out.”
“I’m not sure,” Harry admitted.
“There is no right or wrong way to feel, Potter,” Omis said. “Emotions are what they are.”
“I’m angry that he was hurt.”
“In your place, I would be the same, but there is no revenge to be had, I’m afraid. The individual that hurt your godfather is dead and can cause no further harm.”
“Hermione says that Kreacher was a terrible elf and probably insane. I guess…you know about the things Riddle made.”
“Do you think the locket drove Kreacher crazy?”
“I think that a dark object such as the locket could have very well driven a house elf utterly insane,” Omis said. “The mind is delicate a thing, Potter. Magic, pain, and trauma shape and influence us just as much as anything else in this world. Perhaps, when it comes to magic, we are even more susceptible.”
“You mean magicals,” Harry said and focused on her. “Magical people and creatures are shaped more by magic than anything else.” He frowned and focused on Sirius. “Or maybe, it’s better to say that our actions and what we’re exposed to throughout our life defines the magic we carry inside us.”
“Perhaps,” Omis agreed. “Would you like to hear my healing plan for your godfather?”
“Yes, please,” Harry said and took a deep breath. “Will be there healing rituals? I know I couldn’t actively participate, but if my magic will help…”
“No rituals as yet,” Omis interjected. “He’s far too weak for such a thing, but in the future, I would like to see him put through several cleansing rituals to see his mind relieved of the damage done by repeated exposure to dementors. We’ve already repaired his collapsed lung, and he’s breathing on his own without magical prodding.
“Over the next week, we’ll focus on organ shoring potions similar to the ones you’re taking. Your godfather suffered severe malnutrition due to his time in Azkaban, and his stomach is quite small for his size and age. We’ll work on expanding that as well while he’s unconscious. No need to suffer that sort of discomfort while conscious.
“When I’m satisfied with the state of his organs, I’ll allow him to wake up. I expect he’ll be unconscious for at least ten days. You’ll be permitted to visit him whenever your schedule allows.”
“Can he hear us?” Harry questioned.
“If he were in a coma, then perhaps he would be able to,” Omis said. “But he’s not. I have him magically sedated for his own health. He is in a deep state of rest. While he’s in this condition, I’ll also be bringing in a mind healer to evaluate his mental faculties since he will eventually have to be a part of a trial process. Our treaties with the humans are clear, we have no choice but to contact the World Court of Magic regarding his circumstances here in Britain.” She paused. “You are certain of his innocence?”
“Very,” Harry assured. “He’ll prove himself innocent in a fair, just court.”
“Then that’s exactly what he’ll get,” Ragnok said from behind him.
Harry turned to look at the chieftain with a blush. He’d forgotten that Ragnok had escorted him to the Healing Hall to see Sirius. “Do we wait to start that process until he’s healed?”
“It’s within the treaty to allow for healing,” Ragnok assured and took a seat in the chair beside him. “Sharprock needs to meet with you regarding both the Potter and Black accounts sometime today. You’ll stand proxy over your godfather’s assets while he’s sedated.”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Is that legal?”
“It’s not illegal,” Ragnok said and shrugged. “Surely I can’t be faulted for the fact that wizards don’t bother to write thorough laws.”
“Surely,” Omis said dryly and left.
Harry pursed his lips. “Mistress Omis doesn’t seem to care that you’re chieftain.”
“She’s my sister, forty years older than me, and she changed my nappies,” Ragnok said. “She’s not required to offer me a single ounce of respect as a result.”
Harry laughed reluctantly and slouched a little in the chair. “When you retrieved me from the cottage, you said you had a couple of issues. Was Sharprock the other issue?”
“Ah, no, that arsehole Fudge announced in the Daily Prophet that the Horde kidnapped you. I took the liberty of inviting that revolting witch, Rita Skeeter, to the bank so could do an interview to refute it. I’ve also received a notification from the ICW regarding the issue. Fudge is a dumbarse, and his public accusation of kidnapping has triggered an international brouhaha.”
“International brouhaha?” Harry laughed. “Is that the official term?”
“Actually, yes,” Ragnok said with some amusement. “We are about to be besieged by all three organizations responsible for the governing of magic and magical beings—the International Confederation of Wizards, the Magical Protectorate, and the World Court of Magic. When all three bodies convene in one place, it is considered an international brouhaha.”
“Fudge is a waste of magic,” Harry muttered. “Do you think Dumbledore will reveal that Sirius is here?”
“That is a piece of information he’ll put into play carefully, I think,” Ragnok said. “Your godfather is a weapon against both you and Fudge, so you’ll need to keep that in mind.”
“Right, well, if I’m going to be interviewed by Rita Skeeter, I need Hermione here because we’re blackmailing that witch, and she needs to be reminded of how terrible things could go for her if she screws me over.”
“You and Hermione are blackmailing the biggest gossip in Britain?” Ragnok questioned in shock.
Harry shrugged. “Hermione is nothing to trifle with, honestly, so Rita brought that situation on herself.” He focused on his godfather. “Can I sit with Sirius until Hermione gets here?”
Ragnok patted his shoulder as he should. “Of course, lad. I’ll send someone to get you when we’re ready.”
Hermione honestly hated Rita Skeeter. Part of wished she’d never let her out of the jar. The Banners had been vehemently opposed to the two of them meeting with Rita without supervision, so they were in the back of the conference room by the fireplace. Rita was escorted into the room by two guards, and the doors were shut sharply behind her. The reporter sat down across from them hesitantly.
Harry cleared his throat and motioned to the pensieve on the table between them. “You know what this is?”
“Yes, of course,” Rita said.
“Does your camera allow you to take pictures in the pensieve?” Harry asked.
Her eyes widened in shock. “Yes, but very few people would allow that.” She pulled her camera from her bag then a regular quill with some parchment. “Am I allowed to ask questions?”
“Watch the memory first,” Harry said flatly. “Then, we’ll discuss the interview content.”
“We expect you to be honest and kind throughout this whole process,” Hermione reminded.
Rita sent her a narrow-eyed glare. “I understand.”
“Good, I would hate for you to spend time in Azkaban,” Hermione said and smiled sweetly. “I can’t imagine how many laws you’ve broken over the years to get your hands on material for your little stories.”
Rita’s cheeks flushed. “I could register tomorrow, you know.”
“And could still go to jail for the decades you didn’t register plus all the crimes you committed,” Harry said and shook his head sadly. “Just think of how harsh an extended stay in Azkaban would be on your hair.”
Rita touched her hair briefly. “Right. Fair and honest is my new motto.”
Harry motioned toward the pensieve. “How would you like to watch every single interaction I’ve ever had with Voldemort starting with the cold-blooded murder of my mother? High Priestess Lenore gathered the memories and used dverger magic stitch together a single viewing experience. It was used during my petition for sanctuary with the Horde.”
Rita swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “Are you sure…yes, Mr. Potter, I would very much like to watch it. I can take pictures?”
“As many as you would like,” Harry said evenly. “I have nothing to hide.”
Rita plunged into the memory, camera in hand without another word, and Hermione sat back in her seat with her arms crossed. A glance toward the Banners confirmed they were both paying close attention to them. Piper Banner raised an eyebrow, and Hermione gave the older woman a brief nod before focusing on Harry, who was watching Rita.
“It’s odd,” Harry said. “Watching someone use a pensieve like this.”
“Yeah,” Hermione murmured. But she hadn’t wanted to watch the memories again, and Harry had agreed not to use the projection feature.
Rita was ejected from the pensieve, and she lurched from the table, stumbled across the room, and fell to her knees to wretch into the trashcan by the door. Hermione grimaced and, after a moment, turned to the Banners for help. Piper Banner stood, set aside her knitting, and went to the back of the room to where a bar stood. She retrieved a glass of water and brought it to the table for Skeeter.
“Ms. Skeeter, do you require a calming potion?” Piper questioned.
“No, thank you, Healer Banner,” Rita said shakily. “They give me headaches.” She stood and put a trembling hand on her stomach as she walked back to the table. “I…” She sat down and downed half the glass of water. “I have questions.”
“I’m sure,” Harry said, and Piper frowned before returning to her seat.
“Have you had appropriate healing?” Rita asked as she picked up her quill.
“Not until I came to the bank a week ago,” Harry responded. “Dumbledore sent me how to my Muggle relatives with Cruciatus curse exposure. The cut on my arm was healed without removing the cursed skin. The dverger healer that handled my care once I came to the bank had her work cut for her. I’m still not healed completely, but I’m on the road to a complete recovery.”
Rita nodded. “And the grave that Pettigrew robbed…was the Dark Lord’s father? He said his named was Tom Marvolo Riddle when you were in the Chamber of Secrets with him.”
“Yes,” Harry said as he watched her write. “If you’re going to reveal that in an article, Rita, I suggest you move to an unplottable location before it’s published.”
“Do you know who his mother was?” Rita questioned.
Hermione leaned forward slightly. “Voldemort’s real name is Tom Riddle, as you’ve already learned. He went to Hogwarts, where he was sorted into Slytherin. He is the son of Merope Gaunt, a squib, and Tom Riddle Sr., a Muggle. His mother died in childbirth after being rejected by her child’s father when she stopped using love potions on him.”
“Can you prove any of that?” Rita questioned.
“I’m sure you won’t have a problem verifying all of that if you do your job,” Hermione said. “Tom Riddle was head boy while he attended Hogwarts—perhaps that will help you pinpoint when he went to school and who his peers were.”
“Yes, thank you,” Rita murmured and took a deep breath. “Peter Pettigrew is supposed to be dead.”
“Clearly, he’s not,” Harry said. “He was my parent’s Secret Keeper and incidentally responsible for the deaths that my godfather spent a decade in Azkaban for. There’s not much to research on that front, but I do believe you would find that my godfather, Sirius Black, went to prison without a trial. And incidentally, Fudge sentenced him to death without a trial as well.”
Rita flushed and cleared her throat. “Honestly, Potter, you’ve been given me enough material for twenty articles already. Where do you want me to start?”
“I want you to ruin Cornelius Fudge and Albus Dumbledore,” Harry said. “By the way, did you know that Dumbledore had a torrid love affair with Gellert Grindelwald?”
“I adore you,” Rita blurted out and flushed brightly when Hermione glared at her. “I mean…I swear I’ll never write another lie about either of you ever again as long as I live.” She paused. “And I won’t leave anything to be published posthumously either.”
Harry sighed. “I’m not going to spend my whole afternoon in here with you. I’m tired, and I have to take twenty potions before dinner.”
“Have the goblins been treating you well?”
“Dverger,” Harry corrected. “You’re not to use that other word at all in the articles you write or frankly in my presence. It’s racist, Rita, and rude. You know damn well that their species is called dverger.”
Rita blushed, and Hermione bit down on her bottom lip. “I…yes, of course, it’s just…”
“Don’t you think that you should shape society’s opinion in a way that is both enlightened and forward-thinking? Why cling to the racism of people long dead? I don’t care what the last treaty says. Do you really want to take pride in the fact that our ancestors forced the dverger to sign a treaty full of racial slurs in a petty act of revenge?” Harry asked. “It’s disgusting and shameful.”
“Yes, I see,” Rita murmured and wet her lips. “I never considered it in that light. I know very little about the dverger unless it’s about the rebellions, thanks to Professor Binns. Even when he was alive, he talked of little else. Apparently, his family suffered great financial losses during the last rebellion. His bias has shaped opinions about the dverger for decades. He started teaching at Hogwarts in his twenties.”
“Then, perhaps as an act of goodwill, you could do a series of articles regarding the topic and how Binns should be removed from Hogwarts,” Hermione suggested.
Rita nodded and made more notes. “The dverger are going to train you, aren’t they? To fight the Dark Lord?”
“Voldemort or Riddle,” Harry corrected. “Don’t fall prey to his terrorism, Rita, it’s unbecoming and cowardly. Why do you think I need training?”
“He clearly intends to murder you,” Rita snapped and took a deep breath. “My apologies, Mr. Potter, but someone needs to be bloody teaching you protect yourself before that corrupt bastard kills you.”
“Chieftain Ragnok has done more to protect me than anyone since my parents were murdered,” Harry said finally. “He is helping me prepare for my future with all due care.”
Rita’s shoulders relaxed slightly. “I’ll avoid that subject then. There’s no need to paint a bigger target on your back.” She focused on her parchment. “Should I mention Miss Granger’s presence in the bank?”
“You may feel free to announce that I’ve accepted an apprenticeship with Lenore, the High Priestess of the dverger,” Hermione said. “She’ll be personally preparing me for my international OWLs and NEWTs. It is her goal for me to seek masteries in charms and transfiguration.”
“Lenore,” Rita repeated. “The chieftain’s wife is teaching you personally? She’s never left their realm.”
“I’m living in Agharti,” Hermione said simply. “Harry and I both were granted citizenship to the Horde through sanctuary petition.”
Rita sat back and made a helpless gesture. “I just…”
“What?” Harry asked.
“I have no idea what to write first!” Rita practically wailed.
“Minister Fudge has accused the dverger of kidnapping,” Harry said. “Start there—you’ll get a copy of the petition I filed before you leave. At the ministry, you’ll also find a notification where I declared Hermione Granger, a cherished member of the house of Potter. I had to do that to protect her and so that she could join me in the petition for sanctuary. Some of the parts of the petition will be censored as the information is far too sensitive to be shared at this point.
“As long as you continue to treat me honestly and fairly, Rita, I will make sure you get all the information you need going forward.”
“And in return, I just have to ruin Fudge and Dumbledore?” Rita said. “I mean, clearly, that is no hardship. I look forward to the ruination of them both. But you don’t want anything else?”
Harry looked at the pensieve and took a deep breath. “Could you write something good and amazing about Cedric Diggory? Could you treat his memory with all the care it deserves? Will you tell the world that Peter Pettigrew callously murdered Cedric because he was in the way?
“The thing about Cedric is that he was good,” Harry continued. “And honorable. He was loyal, earnest, and just. His death happened in the most thoughtless and disgusting way I can think of, and the ministry has largely ignored it when Fudge wasn’t insinuating that I did it.”
“Can I have a copy of this memory?” Rita asked. “I swear to you, I won’t alter it or use it in any lurid fashion. I’ll make that vow on my magic if you wish.”
“What will you do with it?” Hermione questioned.
“I’m going to take it directly to Amelia Bones,” Rita said. “She needs to know that Fudge is leading her around by the nose and that he’s guilty of covering up the resurrection of…Voldemort. All of Britain deserves to know this, Miss Granger. Fudge’s foolish politics are going to get us all killed.”
“Master Banner, can you make the copy she needs?” Harry questioned.
Thaddeus Banner rose. “Yes, and while neither of these two is going to ask for it, you will make that vow, Ms. Skeeter, before you leave the bank with the memory.”
“Of course,” Rita said. “I know none of you have any reason to trust me, and I’d never go so far as to say that I’ve seen the light, so to speak, but my parents were both killed by Death Eaters shortly after I left Hogwarts. I have no immediate family at all thanks to Voldemort and seeing him…” She closed her eyes. “Seeing him rise out of that cauldron is the most nightmarish thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life.”
“Will you have any issues getting a meeting with Director Bones?” Thaddeus questioned as he drew his wand and began the process of creating a duplicate of the memory.
“We’re second cousins,” Rita said and flushed when they all gaped at her in silence. “Not something that either of us talks about, but it’s not a secret either. Voldemort killed her brother, Edgar as well. Edgar and I were close to the same age and often played together as children. I used to tell him stories—make things up for him. He said I should write books for a living.” She frowned. “Part of the reason why I really can’t afford to get caught, Miss Granger, with the secret you know is that it could ruin Amelia’s chances of eventually becoming minister.”
“So you have a very good personal reason for adhering to our deal,” Hermione said and smiled.
“You’re very mercenary, Miss Granger,” Rita and offered her a smile. “Honestly, it’s refreshing to see in your generation. It’ll be interesting to watch you grow into a woman.” Her gaze drifted to the pensieve. “So, it would be nice if you make an effort to survive the war that is coming.”
Hermione tried to frown at her, but it was kind of hard since Rita was being so reasonable about everything.
“Also, I love your dress.”
“It was made by Master Umik, the head of the Textile Guild for the Horde,” Hermione said. “The temperatures are cooler in the lower levels of the bank and in Agharti, so Harry and I needed to be outfitted for our new environment.”
“What is Agharti like?”
“It’s beautiful,” Harry murmured. “The air is fresh and clean in a way I’ve never known in my life. Yesterday, I flew my broom with a herd of abraxan. The stallion basically gave me a tour of the region—across the mountain range that the Blacklock clan call home all the way to the ocean. The water was so pristine I could see the sandy bottom for nearly two miles out before the water deepened. Hermione and I are truly honored to be allowed to stay in Agharti.”
“It’s bigger than I thought it would be,” Hermione said thoughtfully. “I visited the community gardens yesterday and met the Farmer for the clan. It’s easy to see why potions ingredients grown by the Horde are more expensive. Their land is clean—untainted by chemicals and pollution. The magical plants practically glow with health and potency. It’s truly a boon to the House of Potter that Harry and I can call Agharti home for the rest of our lives. The Blacklock clan has welcomed us with open arms—they’re very generous and friendly. We’re to attend a feast next week for Harry’s birthday celebration. We decided to wait until he was finished with the biggest group of potions before the party.” She smiled then. “But the kitchens in the mountain are already gearing up and cooking various things. There’s lots of sampling going on.”
Rita glanced between them and nodded thoughtfully. “I should contact other publications regarding articles—Witch Weekly, The Wizarding Times, and Wizard’s World. In fact, Harry, you might wish to contact Wizard’s World personally about contributing to their publication. They enjoy global distribution and are very respected. You could do a lot with them to shape your image here and abroad. The longer you allow others to make decisions about how you’re presented, the worse it will be for you as an adult.”
Harry nodded, and Hermione considered that. She didn’t think either of them was savvy enough to facilitate that kind of relationship on their own.
“Would you be willing to arrange an introduction with someone who can be trusted with that publication?” Harry questioned, and Hermione relaxed. “Someone who would be thoughtful and sensitive to our circumstances would be appreciated. I won’t ask the Chieftain to deal with another witch or wizard personally who insults him to his face.”
“Who insulted him to his face?” Rita asked in shock.
Hermione leaned forward and forced herself not to bounce a little in excitement. “Albus Dumbledore came here, Rita, and tried to take custody of Harry. He doesn’t have any sort of legal say in what Harry does, you know. Harry’s guardians are his Muggle relatives and his godfather, Sirius Black. Dumbledore called Chieftain Ragnok a goblin repeatedly to his face and accused him of kidnapping Harry even though all the proper parchments were filed with the ministry regarding our sanctuary petition.
“Moreover, and I’m hesitant to even speak about this. Headmaster Dumbledore has sent me ten letters to the bank since I came here to study with High Priestess Lenore. Every single one of them had obedience charms embedded them.” She let her eyes well with tears. “I can’t even imagine why an adult man who already has an immense amount of power over me during the school year would seek to make me utterly obedient to him.”
Rita’s cheeks flushed a dull red, and she shared a look with Piper Banner. “I…”
“I don’t think it was sexual since he doesn’t appear to have any use for witches,” Hermione said with a shrug. “Which is fine, of course, his sexual orientation shouldn’t be an issue at all here. Though, I do think he has terrible taste in wizards, for the record. I’m sure there were plenty of fine young wizards he could’ve fallen in love with back in his day, and he managed to fall for the darkest bastard possible. I just can’t imagine what his intentions were, but I can assume they were related to his obsessive desire to control Harry.”
“Yes, probably,” Rita said and sat down her quill. “But using behavior modification magic on a minor is very illegal, Miss Granger. You can expect the DMLE to come to the bank and request the evidence regarding that situation.”
“I’m sure the curse-breaking team that handles bank correspondence will be able to give the DMLE whatever they desire regarding that issue,” Hermione said and quirked an eyebrow at Thaddeus Banner, who offered her a little grin in return.
Banner finished his work and sat a large vial on the table beside Rita. “If you’re finished asking the children questions, Miss Skeeter, I’ll escort you to the contracts office so you can make the vow you volunteered to make. Since Harry and Hermione are citizens of the Horde and members, specifically, of the Blacklock clan, you must make this vow the dverger way. It will be sealed with their magic, and a physical contract will be produced.”
“Of course,” Rita said immediately and stood. “I understand completely, Master Banner.”
Hermione watched Thaddeus escort Rita from the room then turned to Piper. “Did we do okay?”
“You did very well,” Piper murmured. “You’ve cultivated a very powerful and influential ally today. No matter what secret you’re using to blackmail her, she’s on your side now, and the vow Thaddeus will put her will ensure her loyalty. Going forward, you should treat her with respect and avoid mentioning the whole blackmail issue until she gives you a reason to distrust her.”
Harry nodded his agreement. “Of course, thank you for coming with us today and…” He waved at the room. “Helping us make the best impression possible. I suspect we’ll be using this room a lot in the weeks to come.”
“Certainly,” Piper said. “And while Thaddeus and I are pleased to be your caretakers, we are both current employees of the bank and are being compensated accordingly. You needn’t worry that we’re suffering any sort of burden by acting as your teachers and chaperones.”
“Should I offer to reimburse Chieftain Ragnok for…all of this?” Harry questioned.
“Merlin, no,” Piper said and shook her head. “He would be outrageously offended. You needn’t worry about such things, Harry. When a dverger thinks you owe them money, they aren’t at all shy about letting you know.”
Harry laughed. “Master Umik’s bill was very detailed.”
“You look very nice, though,” Hermione said.
Harry blushed. “Thanks.”
* * * *
Ragnok lifted his head as the notification charm activated and watched Thaddeus Banner appear in the waiting area. He lifted his hand and motioned the wizard forward.
“Have they finished meeting with Skeeter?”
Banner nodded. “She requested a copy of the memory, and Potter agreed. She’s vowed on her magic to take it directly to Amelia Bones, who happens to be her cousin.”
Ragnok nodded. “And?”
Banner took a seat and seemed to consider his words. “They handled the meeting very well, and Ms. Skeeter was clearly upset regarding the memories she viewed. They’ve definitely won her favor and her regard, which we both know is very difficult to do. I don’t know if it serves them in the long-term, but for now, she’s working to their benefit, and she offered Potter decent advice regarding his public image. I imagine he’ll want to meet with her again the future since he requested she make a contact for him for Wizard’s World publication.
“They also lectured her regarding the use of the word goblin and suggested she invest herself in educating the public about Binn’s racism.”
Ragnok sat back in shock. “Both of them?”
“They were both very pointed in their assessment regarding the last treaty and the racist language used in it. They were both raised by Muggles so I can see how it would be easy to shift and shape their opinions on such a subject rather easily. They accept new information readily, and I know they’ve both read the current treaty between the Horde and the ICW.
“The girl has read several history books written from the dverger perspective. She has a NEWT level translation charm, which is not a surprise considering her reading level. I put a spell on the library to restrict their use of it based on their reading comprehension level. Granger hasn’t encountered a single book she couldn’t pull from the shelf. Potter is reading well above his grade, as well.”
“Probably a perk of having a structured learning environment in the Muggle world while their peers at Hogwarts were educated at home with no oversight before their first year.”
Banner nodded. “Piper and I are considering enrolling Jamie in Muggle primary. It will depend on his magical control as we don’t want to draw any attention from the ministry now or in the future.”
“Your son is a parselmouth, I take it,” Ragnok said.
“Yes, he’s been conversing with my familiar for the last few weeks. We suspected that his parselmagic was active, so it wasn’t a surprise.” Banner cleared his throat. “Do you want me to speak to Potter about his parselmagic? I know his paternal line has a history of ignoring the parselcraft in their line.”
“While it’s terrible that his entire family line is dead, it does allow us the opportunity to shape his opinion about parselmagic without the bias that suppressed so many of the men in his line,” Ragnok said. “Master Deering has expressed interest in meeting him.”
Thaddeus blew out a surprised breath. “I see.”
“No, at least not regarding Armand Deering. I’ve always worked well with him, and he is an excellent teacher. I don’t know how Potter would react to him.”
“It’s a concern for me as well,” Ragnok admitted. “But Deering won’t be dissuaded for long. I think he sees a future for Potter in the Glain Neidr.”
“The Glain Neidr could certainly use some young blood and magic,” Thaddeus murmured. “I’ll prepare Potter for the meeting as much as I can. He suffered a lot at Hogwarts because he was outed as a parselmouth, so there is that to address as well.”
“Be aware that Omis has plans for Potter. She’s not shared them with me, but she will be quite cross if anyone makes the mistake of leading him astray.”
Banner seemed to consider that. “There are some parselmouths who have natural healing abilities and instincts. Perhaps she’s seen that in his magic. If that’s the case, then we certainly want to make sure he gets the most comprehensive education he can in the healing arts if that appeals to him.”
“He seems to be very engaged in discussions with Omis,” Ragnok said and started to say more, but his chime activated, and he looked up to find Zale Wright standing outside of his office. He motioned the wizard. “Master Wright, how can I help you?”
“Good afternoon, Chieftain,” Wright murmured. “Quin told me that you were looking for Isobel Travers. I took a portkey to Paris last night and requested that she return to Britain to have a conversation with you. She’s in the waiting area.”
Ragnok considered that. “I have Sirius Black here—he’s severely injured. I was led to believe that Ms. Travers and Mr. Black had a deeply intimate and magical relationship before he was incarcerated.”
Wright’s face tightened with anger. “Yes, they did. The Potters weren’t the only ones he betrayed that night, Chieftain.”
“Sirius Black betrayed no one,” Ragnok said evenly. “Peter Pettigrew was the Potter’s Secret Keeper, and he eventually framed Black for mass murder. Barty Crouch, Sr. put Black in Azkaban for life without a trial. Amelia Bones will have this information and more shortly.”
Wright’s face had paled as Ragnok spoke. He’d rarely seen the young, engaging wizard so openly devastated in all the years that he’d known him. “I see.”
“I certainly wouldn’t pressure Ms. Travers to resume her relationship with Sirius Black, but it felt wrong not to reach out to her considering what Armand and Quintin had to say about her and their relationship.”
“She was destroyed by his imprisonment and his apparent guilt,” Zale said quietly as he sat. “She went to Paris shortly after the Potters were buried and took a job in the Muggle world. When I showed up on her doorstep, she didn’t even know where her wand was.” He cleared his throat. “Isobel admitted she hadn’t picked it up in over a year. When I told her that Black had escaped Azkaban, she fainted.”
“Retrieve her, and I will give her all the information I have on Black’s situation,” Ragnok said then turned to Banner. “Take Potter and Granger back to Agharti; they aren’t to meet Isobel Travers until I’ve gotten the full measure of her.”
“Yes, sir,” Banner stood, and Wright stood a few seconds afterward.
* * * *
Isobel Travers had listened to the entire story with dry eyes and a stony face. Ragnok appreciated her emotional fortitude as he rarely knew what to do with a crying female. He was grateful that his wife rarely cried.
“Will you be turning him over to the ministry?”
Ragnok shook his head. “I’m preparing a trial request for the World Court of Magic on Mr. Black’s behalf,” he explained. “The British Ministry of Magic is disgustingly corrupt, and I can’t allow them to put Black back in Azkaban.”
“Why?” She questioned. “The Horde has never cared one way or another about the ministry does.”
“I didn’t care in the past,” Ragnok said. “But circumstances are such that I have no choice but to act in defense of magic herself.”
“Zale told me that Voldemort had been resurrected,” Isobel murmured. “It’s a nightmare to think about. I don’t…” Her hand drifted to the slim platinum bracelet on her hand. “Today is the first day that I’ve worn my wand in over a decade, Chieftain Ragnok. I left magic behind as much as I could because…”
“The very magic in your body reminded you of your loss,” Ragnok said. “So, you removed yourself from the magic of the world as much as you could to manage the pain.”
Isobel’s cheeks darkened. “Yes.”
“Armand Deering told me that you and Sirius Black had a deep magical affinity.”
“Our souls met,” she whispered. “I…I’m not sure I can face him. He didn’t seek me out after he escaped…”
“Could he have found you?” Ragnok questioned. “Neither of you are to blame for what has happened, Ms. Travers. Albus Dumbledore is the architect of your heartbreak and misery. Are you going to let him win?”
“I want to hunt him down and murder him,” she snapped and took a deep breath. “My apologies.”
“None desired,” Ragnok said. “If I thought you could accomplish it and get away with it—I’d give you his exact location and let you walk right out of my bank.” He raised an eyebrow when she frowned. “I’m sure ten years ago, you were a force to be reckoned with, but you’ve barely touched your wand in a decade. You’re no match for the likes of Albus Dumbledore. Moreover, I don’t want to have to tell Sirius Black that I let you get yourself killed.”
She nodded and rubbed her face with a shaking hand. “You’re right, of course. But I don’t understand your personal investment.”
“Harry Potter sought and received sanctuary with the Horde,” Ragnok said. “I took him into my clan as a full member. My reasons are not entirely pure, however, as the boy is needed in my quest to keep magic from being corrupted beyond repair by Tom Riddle.” He paused. “The dark wizard you know as Voldemort.”
“But Harry’s…he can’t be more than 15…” She trailed off. “Is that why Voldemort searched for James and Lily?”
“There are matters of fate in play,” Ragnok said. “I can’t trust you with more currently, and it’s not my place to do so if I were inclined. Harry Potter’s fate is his own business. He’s safe with my people in Agharti. Mr. Black is magically sedated currently because he was attacked as he was escaping his circumstances. Mistress Omis will tell you the full measure of his condition if you’ll follow me, and you can see him.”
“Can I see him first?” She asked. “I…I don’t think I can stand it another moment.”
Ragnok stood and motioned her to follow. Zale Wright and Quintin Deadmarsh were standing at the end of the hall. They both looked up as Isobel followed him out of the office. Both wizards looked expectant. He didn’t know how well either man had known Sirius Black but figured it would hurt nothing to let them see him, so he motioned them to join him. All three humans followed him silently into a lift. He pressed a rune sequence that would only respond to dverger magic, and the car shifted gently as it was directed by magic to the Healing Hall.
“What are his chances of recovery?”
“I haven’t gotten a report in over six hours,” Ragnok admitted. “Potter saw him early this morning, and at that time, he was stable. Omis will keep him sedated until she’s satisfied with his healing rate. She’s already regrown all the bones that were broken—ribs and sternum specifically. He took a bludgeoning curse to chest from a house elf.”
“I’m surprised he survived it,” Quin said bluntly, and Ragnok sent him a look when the witch’s breath caught. “My apologies, Isobel.”
“No, you’re right. Sirius’ survival is nothing short of a miracle.”
“His goal was reaching his son,” Ragnok said. “A boy he’d already broken out of Azkaban to protect. In fact, he forced himself to remain conscious with a crushed chest and a collapsed lung until I swore that the boy was safe from Dumbledore.”
The lift came to a stop, and the doors slid open. “These Healing Halls are for our employees and emergency situations for my own kind. It is a near duplicate of the halls that exist in Agharti. It is staffed by dverger and humans. Currently, Black is under the care of my sister, Omis, the head of the Healing Guild for my clan. Potter’s already affirmed that he wishes this to remain the case. His relationship with Sirius Black supersedes your own, Ms. Travers.”
“No, actually it doesn’t,” Isobel said and took a deep breath. “I’m his wife, Chieftain Ragnok. We married in secret two years before…before he went to Azkaban. My family was dark as hell, and they’d all fallen into Voldemort’s service. We used an ancient wedding rite to bind my magic up so I couldn’t be forced to join the Death Eaters and marked.”
Ragnok turned to stare at her in shock. It hadn’t crossed his mind to check Sirius Black for marriage bonds, and his sister hadn’t reported any, so she hadn’t checked either.
She took a deep breath. “But I’m not remotely uncomfortable with Mistress Omis’ attention as a healer. When I was studying at St. Mungo’s, she consulted once or twice in difficult cases. She’s probably forgotten more about healing than most humans ever bother to learn.”
“You never said,” Zale said. “Isobel.”
“How could I?” she demanded. “Sirius was in Azkaban for mass murder, Zale and Crouch was looking at me like I was a problem. They ruined my internship with the ministry and prevented me from joining the Department of Mysteries. If I hadn’t left Britain, I’d have probably eventually been charged with some made-up crime and…” She shook her head and focused on Ragnok. “Please, can I see him?”
“Yes, of course. We have in a private room due to his status as a wanted man. We’ve not allowed many to even see him since I don’t want it to get back to the ministry that I have him in my custody until the WCM has convened here.”
“Yes, Zale told me that Britain was about ground zero for the first international brouhaha in three hundred years,” Isobel said. “I didn’t realize Sirius would be part of that.”
“He’s central as the whole thing is about the Boy-Who-Lived,” Ragnok said. “And all the nonsense that comes with that ridiculous moniker. Fudge and Dumbledore are about to regret ever hearing the name, Harry Potter.” He pushed open the door to one of the private rooms.
He stood just inside the door as Isobel Travers rushed to the still figure of Sirius Black, where he lay, sedated. The bed was low to the ground and not really meant for wizards, so she sank to her knees and stared as tears fell down her cheeks.
“Who is this witch?” Omis demanded.
“His wife,” Ragnok said.
Omis huffed. “For fuck’s sake. Get out, Ragnok, and take the wizards with you. I’ll handle her.”
Ragnok let himself be prodded out and just shook his head as the door was shut in his face. “She’s lucky she’s my bloody sister.”
“Truly,” Quintin said. “Zale?”
Ragnok turned and found Zale leaning against the wall, one hand covering his face.
Wright took a deep breath. “I hated him the moment I saw him.”
“Black?” Ragnok questioned more curious than he’d care to admit.
Wright shook his head. “Dumbledore. It was a visceral, magical response to his very presence. I told my parents I loathed him that Yule my first year. They said I should try to stay at Hogwarts until my fifth year, then they would see me apprenticed for my NEWT studies. I studied as much as I could so I could do perfectly on my OWLs so they wouldn’t back out of the deal. Sometimes, the sight of him was so infuriating that I couldn’t even eat.
“Often, house-elves at the school would bring me food in the dorm because I would skip lunch and dinner if he was in the hall.” Zale let his head fall back and rest on the wall. “I didn’t understand why until I saw Voldemort for the first time. He launched an attack on Diagon Alley. People were horrified that he’d shown up in person.”
“You had the same reaction to Riddle that you had to Voldemort,” Ragnok guessed.
Wright nodded. “Bone deep loathing just sprung up in me instantly at the sight of him.”
“You’re a natural legilimens—you see straight into the heart and mind of every single person you encounter,” Ragnok said. “You’ve never trained for that skill.”
“No,” Zale said with a shake of his head. “I couldn’t risk anyone in the ministry finding out about it. They’d have used me up and tossed me aside when they were finished. The wizards and witches they manage to train in the art are few and far between. They often burn out within a few years. One of the things that bothered me most about Black’s betrayal was I didn’t see it coming.” He looked toward the door to Black’s room and took a deep breath. “Twelve years in Azkaban as an innocent. Those responsible cannot pay enough.”
Quintin took his husband’s hand, and Ragnok watched the two wizards stare at each other. “You want to stay here in Britain?”
“It’s not safe,” Zale acknowledged. “But I think…we’d be in a better position to serve magic here. We don’t know everything that’s going on here, and maybe we don’t know need to know everything.” He focused on Ragnok. “Whatever you’re doing—it’s immense.”
“Just some save the world shite,” Ragnok said and shrugged.
Zale grinned. “Just another day, eh?” He focused on his husband. “Yes, I want to stay in Britain. Let’s go to the contract office and look over the available positions here in the bank.”
“You’ll be evaluated for employment,” Ragnok cautioned. “And any natural gifts you have will be tested and accessed for further training.”
“I trust that I’ll be assigned an appropriate teacher,” Zale said.
“Go on then, I’ll keep an eye on your friend and return her to your care when Omis throws her from the hall,” Ragnok said and sat down on a bench near the door.
“You don’t have….other things to do? I would never wish to waste your time,” Zale said.
Ragnok grinned. “The really awesome part about being in charge around here, Master Wright, is I decide what I need to do and when I need to do it.”
Agharti was over a thousand square miles in size, he’d been told. As Harry hovered on his broom high above the mountains that the Blacklocks called home stretched out in front of him as far as he could see in one direction and ocean did so in the other. Hermione’s arms clenched tightly around his waist, and he could say with complete honesty that he didn’t mind her tight grip at all.
“You were right, it’s beautiful,” Hermione said. She shifted slightly and pulled her cloak up around them both.
“Too cold?” he asked and glanced over his shoulder to meet her gaze.
“No, it’s fine.” She looked toward the ocean. “Lenore told me that every year they hold sacrificial rites for the very elderly who are ready to pass on so they can add their magic to the realm.
“I thought…” Harry started and sighed. “That maybe if I live that long and can arrange it that I would offer the same. It would please me if my magic was used to protect this place. I don’t know if it would be welcome or even compatible.”
“I think the offer would be well-received,” Hermione said. “But I expect you to live a very, very long time, Harry Potter.”
“I’ll certainly try,” he said and turned the broom slightly. “Razel explained to me that Agharti was modeled after the world as it was known before current recorded history. Much of our pre-history was magically obscured to protect magical kind. Large scale magical wars shaped the Europe we know today.”
“Lenore showed me a map—it’s like Agharti is a very large version of the British Isles,” Hermione said. “It’s not quite the same, but you can see the influence of reality on this place. She said that Ragnok’s clan lived in a place called the Red Mountains and her own clan, the Longbeards hailed from Gundabad though her most direct ancestor, lived his life in a mountain called Erebor.” She threw her arm out. “In that direction.”
Harry nodded. “Razel showed me the map so I’d know where it was safe for me to fly and where it wasn’t. I haven’t seen the original map of that they based Agharti on. I’d like to. It would be interesting to see how magicals shaped the Europe we know today. Yesterday I flew over some of the Sea of Helcar. There are several fishing communities there.”
“The magical humans we know would destroy this place,” Hermione said quietly as Harry leaned slightly into the broom, and they started to head back toward their cottage. “They could use our inclusion into Ragnok’s clan to make inroads into establishing an enclave in Agharti.”
“Not on a bet,” Harry said grimly. “I don’t know what it really means to be the Horde’s patron, but I’m not going to let people like Dumbledore ruin this place with their darkness and greed. Agharti is the promise magic made me when I was eleven years old, and I didn’t even know it. Maybe it was Godric’s legacy stirring in me even then, and I hate how this was taken from me in the other timeline. I’m prepared to do some pretty ugly things to protect what we have here.”
“Agreed,” Hermione said quickly. “And I’m going to help you figure out this whole patron business. I have four books already on the subject, and we should check out the Gryffindor vault. Maybe there’s some stuff in there….books or journals.”
“We can look,” Harry agreed. “Perhaps after practical lessons? I have an hour in the training yard while you’re in runes then we’ll be back in the back for transfiguration lessons. We’ll have an hour after that before dinner.”
* * * *
The Dailey Prophet’s entire front page was taken up with a series of pictures of the resurrection of Voldemort. The brazen headline claimed magical Britain had been betrayed and lied to by the Ministry for Magic and specifically Cornelius Fudge. Ragnok wasn’t all surprised when infuriated magical humans started to show up in his bank. Eight so far had been escorted into the conference room that was set aside exclusively for Harry Potter’s use in the months to come.
Shortly after Fudge’s arrival, Rita Skeeter had all but skipped into the bank, so Ragnok had placed her in the conference room, too, much to the displeasure of many already there. The tenth to show up was being shown to his office much to Ragnok’s pleasure. It had been an age since he’d seen Zayd Sarr, the current High Warlock of the Protectorate of Magic.
“Ah, Zayd,” Ragnok said and motioned the man forward as soon as he saw in the queue. “Come in and sit immediately. You’re too tall by half!”
Zayd laughed and shed his cloak as the chair in front of Ragnok’s desk auto-sized to fit him. He sat down and raised an eyebrow. “You’ve stuck your foot in a bit of a mess, old man.”
Ragnok shrugged. “You humans behave poorly all the time. We couldn’t ignore it forever.”
“Dumbledore is in a strop over Potter,” Zayd reported. “But I imagine that’s no secret to you. Any particular reason you’ve claimed a human teenager as your own?”
“He’s Fate’s bloody chosen one,” Ragnok said roughly and waved a hand when Zayd raised an eyebrow. “Literally. He’s prophesied to stand as Tom Riddle’s equal, and Dumbledore is a dark bastard trying to get the kid killed. I had to make a choice, so I made the one I could live with.” He wished he could tell Sarr more, but their circumstances were difficult, and he didn’t want to tax the man’s employment oaths. “Potter is safe.” He checked his watch. “And currently getting his skinny arse kicked by Master Sharprock in the training yard.” He smirked. “Sword practice.”
Zayd laughed. “Poor kid. Sharprock is a hellish choice.”
“At least it’s not Omis,” Ragnok pointed out.
Zayd made a face. “I would do a lot to avoid seeing her while I’m here in Britain.”
“Don’t get hurt then,” Ragnok said tartly. “You saved her only nephew’s life at the near expense of your own. She’s never going to allow anyone else to treat you if she knows you’ve got so much as a hangnail.”
“I’ll be careful with myself,” Zayd promised. “I don’t suppose I can meet Potter before whatever meeting is about to happen, happens?”
“No, I’m sorry,” Ragnok said. “I’d rather he not return to the bank at all while Dumbledore is in it. I might have no choice depending on what Master Ito will agree to. I can’t deny the Supreme Mugwump access under these circumstances if he takes an official stance.”
“He will,” Sarr cautioned. “He’s furious. We’ve just come from a meeting in Amelia Bones’ office where she showed us the memories that Potter sent her. Ito came out of that pensieve in an immense rage. Fudge nearly pissed himself in the wake of it.”
“I’d like to see that later,” Ragnok confessed.
“Certainly.” He cleared his throat. “I think you should bring the kid to the meeting, Ragnok. It’ll give you a position of power in the conversation if you don’t have to bow to anyone’s formal demands or requests. Ito will see it for what it is, but it’ll go over the rest of their heads.” Zayd paused. “Except for Bertrand. But not many get anything past Louis Bertrand. He was so shaken by the memories that he had a calming potion fetched. For the record, Cornelius Fudge came out of the pensieve declaring Potter a liar and an attention-seeking brat.”
“How did Ito respond to that?”
“He unleashed every ounce of fury he had on that ridiculous fool,” Zayd admitted. “We were shown the certification for the memories. We already knew, before going in, that Lenore had retrieved them personally. To insinuate that the High Priestess would participate in fraud is an immense offense that Ito would never allow to be publicly disseminated.” He stood and picked up his cloak. “I should join them before they get the idea that I’ve gotten lost.”
“I’ll have Potter cleaned up and brought in for the meeting,” Ragnok said and stood himself. “Zayd, watch yourself around Dumbledore. He’s an accomplished legilimens and doesn’t believe anyone should keep secrets from him.”
“I wish he’d try,” Sarr said with a scowl, and Ragnok laughed.
* * * *
Harry finished fastening his collar down as Hermione continued to rant about their afternoon being interrupted by what she called Dumbledore’s nonsense. He didn’t disagree, and he hated when his plans were changed out from underneath him, but he also knew that Ragnok wouldn’t have requested his presence in the meeting if it weren’t necessary for their goals as a whole.
“Do you want me to go with you?” She asked from outside of his closed door.
He opened the door as he shrugged on his robe. “No.”
Hermione frowned at him.
“Seriously, absolutely not.” Harry took a deep breath. “It would help me a lot if you’d stay here in Agharti with Piper, Mi. I need to know…that you’re safe. Dumbledore is going to be stressful enough to manage, but there are a lot of people in this meeting who want something from me. You’re a…”
“Soft spot,” she said. “A weakness.”
“You’re my strength,” he corrected. “I’d never, ever consider you a weakness, but I must acknowledge that you could be used against me. At least in the short term, because I would ruin a lot of people to get you back if someone took you away from me.” His cheeks grew hot as she smiled at him. “Just, please stay here in the cottage. Besides, you promised to play castle with Jamie when he wakes up from his nap.”
“I see your game, Harry Potter,” Hermione said and crossed her arms.
“I’d hope so,” he responded cheerfully. “I’m terribly transparent.”
She rolled her eyes but fell in step beside him as he left his room, and they walked to the front room of the cottage where Thaddeus Banner waited on them. “Be very careful.”
“I will, promise,” Harry said. “Thaddeus won’t let me get into any trouble.”
“I’ll do my best,” Thaddeus said. “But, his bloodline is lousy with reckless wizards.” He offered Harry his hand. “Remind me to start your apparition lessons sooner rather than later, kid.”
“Yes, sir,” Harry said and took the older man’s hand.
There was only a small squeeze as they disappeared from the cottage and reappeared in the apparition point in the mountain that was nearest the lift that would take them into the bank proper. Banner released him, and they walked toward the lift.
“What if they try to take custody of me?” Harry questioned.
“They won’t. You’re a citizen of the Horde, and the last international treaty signed by the ICW doesn’t allow any magical government to arrest or detain a citizen of the Horde without permission from the chieftain. Ragnok’s father saw that treaty signed into law within a year of his becoming the leader of the Horde. It would take them years to go through the process of forcing your removal from the bank at this point.”
“Besides, most of the people in this meeting just want to see you for themselves. Not an unreasonable expectation since they all watched the memories you sent Amelia Bones this morning.”
“Rita worked fast,” Harry said.
“You had an immense impact on her,” Banner said as they entered the lift. “Far more than she’d ever want to admit, which works in your favor.”
Harry nodded. “She’s there, too, right?”
“Ragnok is honestly too amused with that witch to deny her,” Banner admitted. “She’s practically taken ruination on as a hobby and managed to get articles placed in 15 different publications in the last twenty-four hours.”
“The article on the resurrection of Riddle went international,” Banner said wryly. “You’ve made that woman thousands of galleons in the last day alone.”
“Good, maybe that’ll keep her safe from Riddle,” Harry said.
“I warded her house personally and cast the Fidelius she’s now living under,” Thaddeus said. “Miss Skeeter has an emergency portkey that will deposit her in the public arrivals point at the bank if it becomes required. I told her as long as she does right by you, that I will do whatever I can to protect her.”
“Thank you,” Harry said as Banner guided him into place in front of Ragnok’s office. The privacy charm over the entryway shimmered visibly, and the dverger chieftain looked up to meet his gaze as soon as he stopped moving. He was motioned to enter.
“I’ll be nearby if you need me,” Banner murmured. “And I’ll be in the meeting as part of the bank’s guard.”
Harry nodded and stepped into Ragnok’s office. “Chieftain.”
Ragnok placed a wood box on the desk between them and flipped it open. “Take this and put it on.”
“What is it?” Harry questioned as he picked up the medallion on a slim silver chain.
“It’s a ward designed to protect the wearer’s mind from outside intrusion. All of the employees in the bank, human and dverger alike, wear them to ensure patron privacy and to protect themselves. It’ll be invisible to everyone but you once you put it on.”
“Is one being made for Hermione?” Harry questioned as he slipped the chain over his head, and it shortened so that the medallion nestled against the hollow of this throat as he tucked it into his collar. He touched it and found that it barely felt like he was wearing anything. A cold sensation drifted over him briefly, then it was gone. “Cool.”
“Hermione will be given one the next time she sees Lenore,” Ragnok said. “Lenore made the medallions personally and tailored them to your magic individually for extra protection. Dumbledore would have a hell of a time putting any sort of behavior modification charm or hex on you now unless he’d like to throw out an Imperius. For the record, I don’t put it past him despite the fact that you’ve more than demonstrated an ability to fight that off.”
“Why couldn’t I fight off the loyalty charm?” Harry questioned.
“It was placed by someone your magic didn’t recognize as a threat,” Ragnok explained. “And it used an innate part of your character against you. It just enhanced a natural emotion. There was nothing foreign for your magic to notice at first. I’m not sure which one of you noticed the magic first in the other timeline, but by the time you did—the magic was entrenched.”
Harry nodded. “I could kill him for that alone, you know. Most of what he’s done and will try to do could be considered for some higher purpose, but there was no reason to curse us the way he did. It was just…base and disgusting.”
“I don’t disagree. Do you need a calming potion before this meeting?”
“Do I have to be polite to him?” Harry questioned.
Ragnok snorted. “Not at all, lad. You may be as much of an arsehole as you can accomplish.”
“Sharprock has been giving me pointers,” Harry admitted. “On how to be extremely insulting while being very polite at the same time, but I don’t know how long I’ll last with that.”
“I’ll be sure to report to him on your progress then,” Ragnok said and just laughed when Harry huffed.
Harry really didn’t think Sharprock needed anyone tattling to him about Harry’s failures. The dverger sword master already thought he was quite deficient. “How will this go?”
“I’ll introduce to everyone in the room first, then we’ll sit. This is an informal meeting. The players are basically getting comfortable, figuring out their positions for the game that is about to playout for everyone involved. There will be a lot of jockeying for position by everyone involved in the days to come. You are central to that power struggle though most of the men and women in this room don’t know why.”
“And Dumbledore will use that information like a cudgel,” Harry said grimly. “Can you write the prophecy down on a piece of parchment for me?”
“Ah, lad,” Ragnok said and offered him a small smile. “I’ll make a dverger out of you yet.”
“Legally, I think you already did,” Harry said and laughed when Ragnok briefly pointed his quill at him then wrote out the prophecy in a flourish. “Let’s go ruin Dumbledore’s life.” He accepted the parchment Ragnok offered, read it then folded carefully before placing it in an inner pocket in his robe.
In less than a minute, Harry found himself being prodded into the large conference room they’d used to meet Rita. The reporter was actually quite close to the door, and she turned to greet him with a smile.
“Harry.” She came forward and straightened his collar a little and brushed at both of his shoulders as if he needed tidying up like a child. “I see Master Umik has filled out your wardrobe. I managed to make an appointment with him for next month.”
“It’ll be worth every sickle,” Harry declared as he endured her fussing. He wondered what her game was and figured it was about establishing herself as someone close to him.
“Good. Did you get the package I sent? I’m sorry I was late with your birthday.” She offered one of the men a shrewd smile. “He just turned 15 a few days ago, you know.”
“I did get it, thank you. I shared a few of the chocolate frogs with some of the children in the village in Agharti. They let them go so they could chase them.”
She laughed and patted his shoulder. “I’m glad you had fun with it.”
“We’re all very aware of his young age,” the older man interjected neutrally.
“If you’d allow me,” Ragnok said and took Harry’s elbow in a gentle grip.
“Of course,” Rita said and stepped back.
“This is Harry James Potter of the clan Blacklock, future Patron of the Horde. Harry from your left, Master Hiro Ito, who is the current Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards. Standing next to him is Master Zayd Sarr, the High Warlock of the Protectorate of Magic. Next, we have Chief Justice Louis Bertrand of the World Court of Magic. You’ve met Minister Fudge and Headmaster Dumbledore. I don’t believe you met Madam Amelia Bones, the current Director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement for the British Minister of Magic. Next to her is Croaker, the head of the Department of Mysteries.” He paused. “And Minister Fudge brought his Undersecretary, Madam Dolores Umbridge.”
Harry focused on the man in the hood that Ragnok had called Croaker. “I won’t have this discussion with you in the room if you persist in wearing the hood.”
“The treaty between the ICW and the Horde allows for Unspeakables and their equivalent around the world to enter the bank hooded,” Hiro Ito said.
“I’m sure,” Harry said. “But I still won’t stay in this meeting or answer a single question while he wears that hood. So he can take it off or leave. There is no in-between.”
“That’s really out of line, Harry,” Fudge interjected. “His identity is an Official Secret.”
“Then he can go,” Harry said with a shrug. “He could be a Death Eater for all I know. For all you know, in fact. I will not discuss anything in front of him. Period.” He put his hand on the chair in front of him. “I don’t even want to be here, to begin with, Minister Fudge, so please give me a reason to return to the safety of my cottage in Agharti.”
“I’ll go,” the hooded man said.
Harry made a face at the sound of his disguised voice. The fact was that the obscuring magic of his hood was deeply disconcerting and reminded him of the masks that the Death Eaters had worn at the World Cup and at the cemetery. He shifted closer to Ragnok in response, and the dverger looked at him with a raised eyebrow. Banner moved to stand beside him then, and Harry stilled.
He said nothing until Croaker left, and the door shut sharply behind him. Harry took a shuddery breath, and his fingers tightened on the back of the chair. “I don’t know how a single of you could be comfortable with someone being masked in your presence when you know Voldemort is back, and recruiting followers left, right, and center. The fact that none of you even knew who he is, is bloody ridiculous. He could’ve literally been Tom Riddle, and you wouldn’t have even known.”
Banner pulled out the chair and prodded him to it. “Well, you’re not wrong. Unspeakables are commonplace in the ministry, Harry, and I imagine none of them blinked an eye at his inclusion in the various meetings they’ve had this morning already.”
“Voldemort uses the same obscuring magic on his follower’s masks,” Harry blurted out, and a glass of water was slid into place in front of him. He glanced toward Ragnok. “My apologies.”
“You don’t owe me an apology,” Ragnok said roughly. “Though for the record, if he is a Death Eater, he isn’t a marked one. No one bearing the Riddle’s Dark Mark can enter this bank at all.”
Harry nodded. “I remember you saying that. I doubt Riddle would be stupid enough to mark all of his followers. He’d need some that could infiltrate and spy for him. I mean, unless he’s an idiot and I’ve been told that he was fairly smart before he was banished in 1981. I do question his intelligence now, though, since he let Peter Pettigrew, of all people, handle his resurrection. He’s lucky he popped out of that cauldron with all of the necessary parts.” He drank his water as everyone sat down at the table. Dumbledore took a chair directly across from him at the table.
First power play of the day, Harry thought. Fortunately, the table was quite large, so there was several feet of polished oak between them. He sat down his glass, which seemed to be the signal that Dumbledore was looking for.
“You’ve made some terrible decisions, Harry,” Dumbledore said gravely. “I hope by the end of this meeting, you realize that.”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Why are you even here, Headmaster? I don’t see how the international brouhaha is a matter that you’d involved in. I mean, unless Hogwarts is going to host the whole thing, which would be kind of weird.”
Fudge cleared his throat. “Albus has returned to his position as Chief Warlock and is here as part of my advisory staff.”
Harry nodded and glanced toward Ragnok, who looked relaxed and utterly unconcerned about the whole thing. He wished he could emulate that. He refocused his attention on Dumbledore. “I’ve made the best decisions I could for myself and my magical house since I was invited to the bank. I’m safe, I have a sound educational plan, and I’m working diligently to meet my fate so I can’t see how you can possibly find fault in my actions.”
Dumbledore’s eyes widened in shock. “Your fate. What do you know about your fate?”
Harry shifted his water glass around in front of him. “Fate is a funny thing, Headmaster. The centaur believe the fate of everything, and everyone is written in the stars. Did you know there are those among the dverger who are very gifted in the field of divination? Hermione is quite flustered by the whole thing, to be honest, since none of the tools work for her. But yesterday, High Priestess Lenore let me hold her palantír during our lesson on divination since that’s one of my OWL subjects.”
“What did you see?” Hiro Ito questioned.
“At first, I thought I was looking at an event from the past,” Harry admitted. “But quickly, I realized that I wasn’t looking at my father but at an older version of myself. I was teaching a boy with my mother’s eyes to fly a toy broom. It didn’t last long, unfortunately, but it does make me feel better about my chances of surviving this whole thing.” He waved a hand around. “I don’t mean the International Brouhaha. I’m sure most of you have no desire to kill me.” He focused on Fudge. “Except, apparently you.”
“I would never—,” Fudge started.
“So, you didn’t try to release dementors to hunt me down?” Harry demanded. “I assure you, Minister Fudge, I’ve had my fill of dementors. For someone who’s never spent even an hour in Azkaban, my exposure to dementors borders on government-sanctioned torture.” He focused on Ito. “You’re the big deal in the room, right?”
Ito’s mouth quirked briefly. “The biggest deal is sitting next to you, Mr. Potter. I would never presume to think I have more power in this bank than Chieftain Ragnok.”
“Okay, so the second big deal,” Harry corrected reasonably. “You’re here to ask me questions?”
“I’m here to see you,” Ito said simply. “I watched you tortured in a memory just a few short hours ago, and I wanted to see for myself that you were well after that ordeal. Your aura is damaged but in a state repair.”
“I’m under the care of Mistress Omis,” Harry said.
Ito’s shoulders relaxed minutely. “Very good. Why did you seek sanctuary with the Horde?”
“Because the British Ministry of Magic spent weeks denying the return of Voldemort, and I was worried that they would get me killed with their ridiculous behavior. Moreover, Minister Fudge appeared to be gearing up to have me arrested for Cedric Diggory’s murder, which freaked me out. My best friend was invited to take tuition from High Priestess Lenore this summer, and she was allowed to invite a guest to join her. She picked me. I saw no reason to suffer with my Muggle relatives another moment than I had to. So I came here, and I was lucky enough to gain the Chieftain’s personal attention. He asked me about the third task. I told him everything.”
“Everything,” Dumbledore repeated. “More than what was revealed in the memories you recklessly shared?”
“Everything,” Harry said evenly. “Abusive Muggle guardians, ridiculous ineffectual traps that three first years got through with ease, cursed diaries, surprise animagi, etc., etc. It was nice to finally have an adult actually listen to me.” He leaned forward. “I also learned that I wasn’t contractually obligated to participate in that stupid tournament until I showed up for the first task.” He waved a hand. “I hope you lot made the money you hoped to off of it. It’s the last time I’ll ever trust a single one of you to be honest with me.”
“Speaking of that conversation,” Ragnok began pleasantly. “I have a series of legal briefs to submit to the court, Justice Bertrand, on behalf of the House of Black and the House of Potter.”
“I look forward to reading them, Chieftain Ragnok,” Bertrand said.
“There is no need to involve the World Court of Magic in local matters of justice,” Dumbledore declared.
“Your opinion on the matter is undesired,” Harry said and smiled pleasantly. “You had two years to address these issues, Headmaster, and I’ve long lost any patience I had with you. You played a foolish game, and you lost.”
Dumbledore’s gaze narrowed. “You’re very hostile, Harry, and I don’t know what I’ve done to earn such from you. Since your parents died, I’ve done the very best I could by you.”
“The very best you could?” Harry questioned and turned to Ragnok. “Let’s go ahead and add that complaint about his failure to execute my parent’s will properly. I mean, I know we already decided that we should leave that alone for now, but this git actually thinks he did a good job, and that can’t stand.”
“Agreed,” Ragnok said dryly.
Dumbledore glared at him. “You’ll gather your things and come with me, Harry. I’ve tolerated this behavior as long as I will. As your guardian—,”
“You’re not his guardian, Dumbledore,” Ragnok said. “And never were. You used your power as the executor of his parent’s will improperly to make decisions that were not yours to make. In fact, you have no authority over him in any single way.”
Dumbledore ignored Ragnok and remained focus on Harry. “If you want to see your godfather ever again, you’ll do as I say.”
Harry blinked in surprise. “Are you actually openly trying to blackmail me in front of all of these people?” He laughed. “Seriously.”
“Of course, not, but your godfather is in my custody,” Dumbledore pointed out reasonably. “He’s horrified by your behavior, and I don’t know that he’d be willing to speak with you again if you persist in this behavior.” Dumbledore’s gaze flicked toward Ragnok. “I intend to present him for trial next week and have informed Minister Fudge of such. But I must tell you, Harry, that your godfather has no use for goblins. You’ve set yourself against him and his magical house with this behavior.”
“Watch your mouth, you vicious old racist,” Harry snapped and slapped his hand on the table. Dumbledore flinched back in shock. “You don’t have my godfather in custody, and you sure as hell have no intention of seeing him put on trial. You could’ve done that years ago. But you needn’t worry your narrow little mind over that matter anymore because I have a petition to the World Court of Magic already prepped for that situation. I’m going to sue you, Fudge, and the British Ministry of Magic, Dumbledore, so I really hope you have a very good excuse for your ridiculous, dark behavior.” He turned to Ragnok. “Sir, I think I’m finished with this conversation.”
Ragnok nodded and raised a hand. “Banner.”
“Wait.” Harry pulled the prophecy from his robe pocket and offered it to Hiro Ito. “You’ll need this later.”
Ito inclined his head and tucked it into his robe pocket despite the curious looks he received.
Banner came forward, pulled out Harry’s chair and cupped his elbow. Before anyone else could say anything, Harry felt a slight squeeze of Banner apparating.
Ragnok sat back in his chair as Banner disappeared with Potter and evaluated everyone in the room. Ito looked more curious than anything while Zayd had rarely looked more furious in Ragnok’s presence. He focused on his Captain of the Guard. Fyre Blackaxe raised an eyebrow at him, and her hand settled on the hilt of her sword.
“Captain Blackaxe, let Tyr Warhide know I’d like him to join me for the rest of this meeting.”
“A pleasure, Chieftain,” Blackaxe said with a nod and left the room grinning.
Ragnok figured it was, indeed, as Tyr Warhide was one of the prettiest dverger he’d ever seen come out of the Ironfist clan. He focused on Dumbledore, though he was loathed to give the man another moment of his time. “You’re playing an ugly game, Dumbledore. You need to accept that Harry Potter is not a pawn in that game. In fact, he’s not even on your board.”
Dumbledore glared at him but sat back in his chair when Ito cleared his throat.
“Who is the boy’s godfather?” Ito asked.
“Sirius Black,” Fudge blurted out and flinched when Dumbledore glared at him. “Dumbledore says he’s actually innocent. We need to put him on trial and clear him to get Potter to cooperate with us.”
The doors opened, and Tyr Warhide entered at that moment. He surveyed the room, grimaced, and with a nod from Ragnok slid into the chair that Harry had left. “My apologies, Chieftain, I would’ve been closer at hand if I’d known you were keeping such unpleasant company.” He sat a leather folder full of parchment down in front of him and made a show of untying it. “Shall I begin?”
“Please do,” Ragnok said. “And include the estate matter as well. Mr. Potter has deemed it necessary to deal with that now as well.”
Warhide nodded. “Chief Justice Bertrand, this is your official notice of a request for a trial on behalf of Sirius Orion Black, a citizen of the United Kingdom. He was incarcerated in Azkaban for twelve years without trial and tortured by dementors in a high-security prison cell. He was denied proper nutrition and medical care. He was held in complete isolation and received no legal representation. Upon his escape, Minister Fudge ordered his unlawful execution.” Warhide placed a stack of parchments in front of Bertrand.
Bertrand put a hand on the parchment and focused on Fudge. “Considering what you’ve already said, I’m left to believe that Master Warhide has stated the facts as they are known by you in this case.”
Fudge winced. “Yes, Chief Justice.”
Bertrand’s left eye twitched. “Consider your petition filed and accepted, Master Warhide.”
“There are more important matters to concern ourselves with,” Dumbledore announced. “Black is currently at large and hardly deserves our attention when Voldemort is an issue.”
“Your lack of empathy is genuinely appalling,” Warhide said seriously. “It’s horrific to be in your presence. I’ve rarely encountered someone who’d successfully suppressed the core personality with occlumency. I can’t believe you’ve been left in charge of other people’s children.”
He returned his attention to Bertrand and presented another tack of parchment. “This is a formal notification of a lawsuit. Harry James Potter is suing the British Ministry of Magic for fraud regarding the Triwizard Tournament and his forced participation. Additionally, we’re seeking damages for the abuse and torture he suffered during the tournament. There is a third complaint attached to this petition regarding the repeated attacks he suffered by dementors in the employ of the British Ministry of Magic during his third year.”
Bertrand accepted the petition with a nod. “Filed and accepted.”
“Finally, this is a formal notification of Harry James Potter’s intention to sue Albus Dumbledore for the mismanagement of his estate and the failure to properly execute his parent’s last will and testament. Mr. Dumbledore placed my client with abusive Muggles and left him there for a decade. There are no records of home visits by the Magical Child Welfare office, as is required by law, nor did Mr. Dumbledore ever visit the child personally during that time. My client asked Mr. Dumbledore for a better living arrangement and was denied even though Mr. Dumbledore knew his circumstances with his Muggle relatives were abusive.
“Throughout his childhood, he was denied enough food to maintain proper nutrition and often made to do the work of an adult from as young as the age of five. He was struck physically, often, and emotionally abused. He was called a freak so often as a small child that he believed it to be part of his name until he started school.”
Warhide slapped the last stack of parchments on the table. “I’ve included a report from Mistress Omis detailing Potter’s poor health when he came into her care. His growth was stunted, he’s suffered extreme periods of malnutrition, and he still had damage from the Cruciatus when he came into her care on July 31st.”
“Accepted and filed,” Bertrand snapped. He stood, gathered up the stacks, and took a deep breath. “Ito—do your fucking job.”
Ragnok watched the Chief Justice leave the room without another word, and Hiro Ito stood.
Ito shook his head. “As the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, I call the International Brouhaha of 1995 to order. The British Ministry of Magic is now under full review under the auspices of the Protectorate of Magic. High Warlock Sarr will lead the investigation. Fudge, your government is to be considered in stasis. The only departments free to operate as usual will be the DMLE and ever which office directly handles payroll. Madam Bones, you will give High Warlock Sarr your full support and cooperation. Anyone who refuses to yield to his investigation will be arrested and brought up obstruction charges before the World Court of Magic.”
Ito turned to Ragnok. “Chieftain Ragnok, thank you for hosting this conversation. You will be contacted when we require Harry Potter’s testimony going forward. Is Master Warhide his solicitor of record?”
“That’s unacceptable,” Dumbledore protested. “He can’t have a goblin barrister representing him. He’s a wizard.’
Ito glared at Dumbledore. “Potter’s right, you are a vicious old racist.”
Dumbledore’s aura flared.
“Don’t fuck with me, Dumbledore,” Ito hissed, and his own aura spread out around him in waves of smoky white magic.
Dumbledore retreated with a huff and stalked from the room.
His son was waiting in his office when Ragnok entered, Tyr Warhide trailing along behind him. Ragnok shrugged out of his cloak and tossed it toward the rack, it landed as it should with a swish of magic.
“Razel, have you met Master Warhide?”
“I have not,” Razel said and stood to offer his hands in greeting. “It’s a pleasure, Master Warhide, Razel Fireborn at your service.”
Ragnok glanced toward Warhide and found the dverger staring wide-eyed at Razel. He started to speak but then reconsidered it. He focused on Razel and noted that his son had certainly spent some of his day in the forge, as his hair had been braided away from his face revealing the delicately pointed ears he’d inherited from his mother and he had soot in his hair.
“I’m…” Warhide exhaled sharply and took Razel’s hands. “Enthralled.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Ragnok muttered though he noted that neither of them even bothered to look his way. He sat down in his chair and cleared his throat noisily. “Master Warhide, unhand my son before I forget myself.”
Warhide’s cheeks reddened, and Razel laughed as he pulled his hands free. “Welcome to Britain, Master Warhide.
“Tyr,” Warhide said immediately. “Please.”
“Razel then,” Razel said then focused on Ragnok. “My apologies for interrupting, Adad, I was sent to tell you that Potter retreated entirely to his room in his cottage and hasn’t come out since. Hermione says he’s prone to isolating himself when he feels like his temper is going to get the best of him.”
“Not unexpected, I’d think, for an abused child who spent his formative years living in a cupboard,” Tyr said. “I’ve no experience with mind healing, of course, but the boy could use some.”
“I’m sure Omis has that situation in hand,” Ragnok said and pointed Tyr toward a chair. “If you’re finished staring at my son, Master Warhide?”
“Don’t be cruel, Adad,” Razel said with a laugh and pulled his cloak from the rack. “Bring our esteemed guest to dinner, Amad is looking forward to meeting him.”
Ragnok was pretty sure he was going to send Warhide back to Rome immediately.
“I look forward to meeting the High Priestess,” Warhide said with a smile and sat down where Ragnok had pointed him.
“Fantastic, I’ll let her know,” Razel said and swept out of the room before Ragnok could speak.
“He’s my only child,” Ragnok said roughly when Warhide focused on him like that was an excuse for his irrational behavior.
Tyr’s eyes widened, and he nodded. “I’m aware, sir. I…” He shifted in his chair. “I will certainly keep my distance if you disapprove.”
“I have no reason to disapprove as you well know,” Ragnok said sourly. “He’s an adult, and you’re…you.” He waved a hand.
Tyr grinned. “My grandfather sends his regards.”
“Master Grael sends me hate mail on the regular, lad, so don’t go telling me lies,” Ragnok said wryly. “Though it would probably infuriate him to have his youngest grandson involve himself with a member of my clan, so there is a silver lining to your near-instant…infatuation with my son. Here’s hoping his mother doesn’t maim you for life.”
“Great-grandfather is…old,” Tyr said finally. “He’s preparing to join the rites next year. My mother isn’t ready to let him go, but the time has come.” He took a deep breath. “It is what it is. My older brother, Kyr, will stand as the leader of the Ironfists. He’s already married and produced an heir, as you must know.”
Ragnok nodded. “Yes, your brother impressed me.”
Tyr grinned then. “But I do not?”
“You know very well how successful you are,” Ragnok said. “I’m allowed to be picky about my son. He stands as my heir.” He took a deep breath. “And many over the years have been more interested in his looks and heritage than anything else.”
“He’s beautiful,” Tyr acknowledged. “But there is no shortage of beautiful dverger in Rome or the Iron Hills for that matter. I was offered a betrothal contract last spring for the youngest granddaughter of Itho. If was enamored merely with the turn of his face or the curve of his ear, then you and I would already be related by marriage.”
“My niece, Anila, is a powerful and gifted dverger,” Ragnok said, “much like her mother and aunts. Lenore favors her.”
“Considering Mistress Anila’s gifts, I’m not surprised by that at all. I only bring up my refusal of the contract to highlight the fact that your son isn’t exactly unique when it comes to his heritage.” Tyr wet his lips. “But I’ve heard a lot about Razel…I’m fascinated, sir.”
Ragnok huffed. “Fine, good luck. Don’t come crying to me when he breaks your heart.” He waved a hand as Warhide laughed. “Tell me what you think of Potter’s legal circumstances.”
“First, I sent a research team in the Muggle world to investigate his relatives and Lily Potter’s heritage. We’ve traced her line back to a man named Alder Griffin. Our own historical records show that Alderidge Gryffindor was the youngest son of Godric’s great-grandson. He left the magical world and settled in Muggle London. He married a Muggle woman, and all of his children were born without magic. Ten generations later, Olivia Grace Griffin married a man named Eldon Evans, and they had two daughters, Petunia and Lily.”
“We can prove his bloodline with magic,” Ragnok pointed out.
“Never hurts to be thorough,” Tyr said. “Second, I had to send two of my team back to Rome to prevent them from killing Vernon and Petunia Dursley. They’re terrible people, sir.”
“I’m aware,” Ragnok said. “I’ll see them punished one way or another before everything is said and done.”
Warhide nodded. “Good.” He took a deep breath. “I need to interview Sirius Black, but Mistress Omis is insisting on keeping him unconscious for the time being. She’s adjusted her initial prediction of two weeks, so I’m being forced to play that situation by ear, and it doesn’t sit well. I have no choice, really, but to request more memories from Potter. I need to see the confrontation between Pettigrew and Black. Potter was the central witness, and the only one we have at hand besides the girl.”
“And you don’t want to ask Hermione for the memory?” Ragnok questioned. “She’d gladly give it. It might even be more…detailed. The girl misses very little in any single situation she finds herself in.”
“Mr. Potter requested that I not involve Hermione Granger unless I had no choice. He’d like to shield her from this process entirely, I think. I don’t know if he’ll be successful. I have a feeling that Dumbledore is going to press to have her testify in order to blame her for Potter’s current circumstances. The ministry hasn’t produced a witness list or followed through with the discovery order regarding evidence against Black. So far, I’ve managed to prevent Dumbledore and Fudge from filing any sort of charges against Potter. They’re low on options with the memories the boy has provided.”
“Dumbledore would be a fool to want Potter testifying in an open court regarding anything,” Ragnok admitted. “Though his desire for control appears to make rational though a real problem for him. As for Hermione, he’d like to shelter her. I understand it more than he does at the moment. She’s the center of his world. It probably isn’t healthy, but those are his circumstances. They’re fiercely protective of each other. But she wouldn’t thank him for trying to shield her from this whole thing. I’ll speak to him.” He cleared his throat. “As to the matter of Sirius Black, perhaps you can start with his wife. She’s staying in employee quarters.”
It amused him far more than it should when Tyr Warhide’s mouth dropped open in shock.
* * * *
Dumbledore had returned to the bank with a pair of aurors and a beleaguered looking Amelia Bones seeking to arrest Sirius Black. Ragnok couldn’t say it was a surprise. The old bastard thought his authority would buy him far more leeway than it would. In all honesty, if the man had ever treated the Horde decently, it would’ve. There was plenty of wiggle room in the treaties that dealt with such matters to allow Ragnok to give Black over to the British Ministry of Magic. Fortunately, for Sirius Black, Dumbledore and the ministry had collectively done more to disrespect the Horde than several generations before them had done altogether.
Ragnok figured that Dumbledore had brought Amelia Bones back with him under the impression that she would be treated better. The old bastard wasn’t wrong about that either. The Bones family had always behaved very well in the bank, and Amelia Bones, herself, had worked hand-in-hand with various members of the Horde since she’d become Director of the DMLE. The four humans were in the conference room when he returned to it with a full team of guards at his back. Fyre Blackaxe had apparently had her fill of arrogant humans because she was wearing the axe that had led to her earned name shortly after her 50th birthday.
Ragnok sat down, and Warhide took the seat next to him. Dumbledore grimaced at them both with clear distaste.
“I wonder if you realize how poorly your bigotry reflects on your country,” Warhide said evenly. “Chief Justice Bertrand was especially horrified by your display this afternoon. He has a grandchild that is half-dverger.”
“I feel nothing but pity for him then,” Dumbledore said.
“Is it not you who deserves pity?” Ragnok questioned. “No true friends, no spouse, no children, and no hope of grandchildren. All you have, Dumbledore, is rapidly mutating fame to show for all of your years. In the end, when you’re gone, you will be viewed with the harshest of lights for your grotesque mistakes and obscene opinions.”
Dumbledore glared at him. “You’re interfering in ways that could destroy us all. The lives of many rest on Harry Potter, and you can’t be trusted with the circumstances of his fate no matter what he thinks.”
“Let me be clear,” Ragnok began lowly, “I swear on my magic that I will declare war on you and all of your kind before I’ll part with Harry Potter.”
Warhide choked on nothing but air, and Amelia Bones shuddered as the oath settled.
Dumbledore sat back in his seat. “So be it. Whatever happens, going forward, is on your head, goblin.”
“That’s my fate,” Ragnok agreed and refrained from laughing when Dumbledore’s eyes widened in shock.
“We’re here with a warrant to arrest Sirius Black,” Dumbledore said simply. “You have no choice but to hand him over.” He pushed a piece of parchment across the table at Ragnok.
Tyr intercepted it with a flick of his hand and pulled it toward him with wandless magic. “Dumbledore, you are to never, as long as you live, try to give the Chieftain anything. It is clear to us that you can’t be trusted to even send a simple letter to a 15-year-old-witch. As if we’d let our leader handle any object you’ve held in your life.”
Ragnok figured it wouldn’t be all that bad if Razel decided to keep Warhide. He’d just have to put that whole thing about winged grandbabies aside. He sighed at the thought. Falco’s cousin was charming, but Razel wasn’t wrong to think her basically useless.
The parchment unfolded with a flick of Tyr’s fingers, and he reviewed it without touching it. With a scoff, he shoved it back across the table with his magic, and Dumbledore snatched it up before Bones could.
“Sirius Black was granted sanctuary in the bank due to the British Ministry of Magic’s corruption. Your government is in stasis, so while you could, in theory, arrest Sirius Black, you can’t bring him to trial. I’ve already received a hearing date from the World Court of Magic regarding Black’s illegal incarceration.”
“He’ll be returned to Azkaban until his trial can be arranged,” Dumbledore said coolly.
Ragnok laughed and stood. “Madam Bones, with all due respect, all future discussions regarding Sirius Black and your department must be done through High Warlock Sarr. Dumbledore is exceeding his authority, and he’s risking your freedom to do so.” His gaze flicked toward the two aurors that stood behind Bones and Dumbledore. “Did you know, Madam Bones, that Dumbledore is running a vigilante spying operation called the Order of the Phoenix? You should check to make sure your employees haven’t been caught up in his nonsense. He got a lot of people killed with that bullshite in the 70s.” He paused. “Young Edgar included, I believe.”
Bones stood and turned on Dumbledore with a hiss of fury. “You told me you hadn’t reactivated the Order!”
Ragnok smirked and left because clearly his work was done.
Warhide fell in on his left just short of beside him as they walked. “I’d like to change before dinner unless you have further need of me, sir?”
“No, go ahead.” Ragnok motioned him away. “Blackaxe, take Warhide into the mountain and show him to guest quarters.”
“Of course, Chieftain.”
* * * *
Harry Potter was seated on the chair beside Sirius Black. Ragnok paused in the doorway and stared for a moment. The boy looked utterly miserable and near tears. He didn’t know if it was fury or sadness that had put Potter in such a state, but he figured he’d look like an arsehole if he looked around for someone else to manage the boy.
Ragnok cracked his neck and walked into the room. He joined Potter silently and sat down in the second chair. “Dumbledore tried to arrest him, but I’ve handed the matter over to High Warlock Sarr.”
Harry huffed. “We should just let Hermione start burning down everything that irritates her. It would save us a lot of time.”
Ragnok laughed. “What’s got you upset?”
“Beyond Voldemort, the prophecy, and the horcruxes?” Harry questioned and shrugged. “I’m just worried about him and…” He frowned. “I guess I let Dumbledore get under my skin, and I hate that. It would hurt a lot if Sirius was disappointed in me.”
“He risked his life to come to you with that horcrux that I requested. He was in an immense amount of pain when I reached him, and he still fought to stay conscious until he was certain that you were safe. His biggest concern was making sure Dumbledore couldn’t get to you. I think that tells you everything you need to know about the whole thing.”
“I wish Mistress Omis would wake him up,” Harry whispered. “But I don’t want him to wake up hurting, and she said he will. She said that he might as well have gotten kicked in the chest by a troll.”
“Comparisons could certainly be drawn,” Ragnok agreed. “Omis has already amended her timeline regarding his sedation.”
“Yeah, she said his magic was responding more aggressively to treatment than she anticipated but wouldn’t explain why.” Harry frowned. “She’s really scary, so I just let it go.”
“That’s my fault,” Ragnok admitted and stood. “Come with me. I need to introduce you to someone.”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Who?”
“Someone that totally caught me by surprise,” Ragnok said.
“Ah, well, that’s interesting and kind of horrifying considering our circumstances, sir,” Harry said and allowed himself to be prodded toward the exit of the Healing Halls. “Razel was all in a tizzy about Master Warhide. Hermione and I have been invited to dinner. Mostly, I think for the show because the High Priestess is very amused. I came up here to see Sirius since we’re still an hour out from dinner, and I’m hungry but didn’t want to whine about it. Also, Mistress Omis keeps biscuits for me. Razel changed clothes four times by the time I came back to the bank.”
Ragnok sighed. “Tyr Warhide is…”
“Hermione said he’s hot,” Harry said and frowned. “I told her that he’s almost a hundred years old and that saying that was really inappropriate, and she just rolled her eyes at me.”
Ragnok laughed. “He’s actually very attractive amongst the dverger—magically talented, ambitious, thoroughly educated, and his battle prowess earned him in the name Warhide before he even reached his majority. He put down a full-grown dragon by himself in defense of his mother.”
“Wow.” Harry cleared his throat. “Anyways, Razel’s a mess, so at least dinner should be amusing for you.”
Ragnok snorted. “Certainly.”
“Though the High Priestess mentioned something about fairies and wings and Razel swore he’d throw himself off the side of the mountain if he ever has to talk to some half-fairy lady. It honestly got confusing.”
“She’s got really adorable wings,” Ragnok said sadly. “Seriously, adorable.”
Ragnok brought them to a stop in front of a door. “A few days ago, one of my employees helped me track down a witch your godfather knew. They met at Hogwarts. At any rate, she came to the bank, and it was later revealed to me that she wasn’t his girlfriend but his wife.”
Harry’s eyes widened. “What? Sirius is married? He never said anything about…”
“We don’t know why he never mentioned it to you, lad,” Ragnok said. “But I have verified their marriage—it’s written all over their magic. They completed an ancient blood rite to bind her up so her parents couldn’t force her to take Riddle’s Dark Mark. Your godfather’s magic is aggressively responding to our healing efforts because of his wife. They have a deep magical affinity. Amongst magicals and dverger alike, such a connection is to be envied. It’s called a soul-meeting.”
“Like soulmates?” Harry questioned.
“Nothing like predestination,” Ragnok said. “It’s about magical compatibility and deep romantic love. Your godfather is lucky to be loved so well in this life.”
“Are you and…”
Ragnok looked at him and found the boy blushing. “Yes, Lenore and I share such an affinity. It’s different for the dverger as our magic is deeply invested in our magical craft, but the principle is the same. Are you ready to meet her?” He paused. “Again?”
“Oh, surely I met her when I was little, huh?” Harry blushed. “I don’t remember her at all, but then I have no memories of anyone except for my mother’s face and my father’s voice. She’s not in any of the pictures I have of my parents and friends.”
The door opened then.
She smiled. “No, I wouldn’t be. We had to keep our relationship a secret after Hogwarts. Hello, Harry.”
“Hi.” Harry exhaled in surprise. “Wow, you’re beautiful.”
“Harry Potter meet Isobel Travers.”
Isobel snatched the boy into a fierce hug, then burst into tears, and Ragnok just shrugged when Potter looked toward him for help. He considered staying for a moment, then turned on his heel and left the boy to deal with his new circumstances. He really couldn’t handle a crying woman besides if he hurried he’d have time to complain to Lenore about the whole wingless-grandchildren situation they were currently facing.
* * * *
Hermione plucked another book from the shelf from the list Lenore had given her after dinner. Having a meal with the High Priestess and her family was always amusing, but watching Razel and Tyr Warhide flirt their way through five courses had been the highlight of Hermione’s whole week. Harry had been subdued and weird through most of dinner until Lenore had prodded him during dessert, which had unleashed a flood of angst regarding Sirius Black and his secret wife.
“Researching something specific?”
Hermione glanced over her shoulder to meet Piper Banner’s gaze briefly before adjusting the stack of books she had tucked against her chest. “Yes, I…I asked Lenore about magical affinities and soul-meeting. I’ve never once heard of anything like that at Hogwarts.”
Piper hummed under her breath. “You can guess as to why.”
“Surely,” Hermione muttered. She pulled the last title from the shelf and walked to the large round table in the corner of the room where she stacked her choices. “The ministry has a stronger hold on the school than I thought. I’m deeply disappointed in the whole thing, actually, and I don’t have much of an outlet unless I want to start sending my former professors snotty letters about what they didn’t teach me.”
Piper laughed and joined her at the table. “Start with the book Patrice Delacour wrote. It’s the newest of the lot, and her perspective is very interesting both the historical overview of such bonds and the current attitudes toward them. She also has several chapters on the magical ramifications of exploring the affinity.”
“You can ignore it?” Hermione questioned.
“Surely, lass,” Piper said and cleared her throat. “Sometimes, your magic can be attuned to someone you can’t hardly stand. I met two others besides Thaddeus, where I could’ve, in theory, met their soul. I avoided them both like the plague. One was a Death Eater, of all bloody things, and the other old enough to be my father and married. They both were very interested in exploring the potential we had.”
Hermione made a face. “Are they still around? We can set them on fire.”
“One was Barty Crouch, Jr,” Piper admitted. “And the other died before you were born.” She smiled then. “But, I appreciate your offer.”
Hermione laughed and shifted her books around. “So, the affinity is just about magical compatibility? It’s not special?”
“It can be very special,” Piper said. “The affinity starts with magical compatibility, but it doesn’t end there. The potential for more can be daunting for some and deeply alluring to others. Though I could say the same for falling in love.”
“Romantic love is key, then?”
“Yes, but it need not be sexual,” Piper murmured. “Platonic, romantic love has its place at various times in our lives and not just when you’re underage. My grandmother and her best friend were in love their whole lives, but married men as tradition indicated they should. They also had children though my grandmother admitted to me near the end of her life that she could’ve done without sex all of her life, despite her deep desire for children. After her husband died, she never considered remarriage. Eventually, her best friend was also widowed, and they shared a cottage in Ireland until they died—within hours of each other.”
“So their souls had met,” Hermione murmured.
“Certainly,” Piper agreed. “Though she never discussed that with me. My mother did not approve of the relationship grandmother had with her friend despite its platonic nature. She believes, to this day, that it was an insult to her father’s memory.”
“You can’t help who you love,” Hermione said huffily and frowned. “Sorry.”
“No, you’re right, and I’ve told my mother that more than once. Especially since she hates Thaddeus.”
“Why? I mean, he’s…the whole package,” Hermione said with a wave of her hand. “Good looking, magically talented, educated, successful, a good father and husband…what more could she want for you?”
“A wizard she could control,” Piper said wryly. “Thaddeus has never once let her boss him around. She wanted him to work for the ministry after Hogwarts and tried to call off our wedding when he took a job with the Horde. It’s worse now that we’re living in Agharti since she can’t floo over any time she’d like to make a pest of herself.”
Hermione hummed under her breath because Thaddeus Banner had been eager to move his little family into the dverger realm. She grinned when Piper rolled her eyes.
The older witch looked toward the stack of books. “Is your research personal or merely an intellectual concern?”
Hermione felt her face heat. “I think you already know the answer to that. I’m kind of furious that no one has even mentioned it to us, but Harry and I clearly have an affinity.” She bit down on her lip. “So, I’m trying to figure out why none of you have acknowledged it.”
“It’s considered quite inappropriate to point out such a thing,” Piper said finally. “Moreover, neither of you are of age. Your maturation will change your magic in ways none of us can predict, and the affinity could fade.”
“I’m sure that’s the exact reason the ministry gives for not teaching us about affinities at Hogwarts,” Hermione said tartly. “But the end result is that there are a bunch of Muggle-born and Muggle-raised people running around with no grasp on their own magical potential. That extends far beyond affinities, though. The magical theory class at Hogwarts barely scratches the surface of what I’ve learned since coming to Agharti.
“I feel as if I’ve been….” Hermione trailed off and took a deep breath. “Deprived of a very important part of myself as a witch and as a woman.”
Piper quirked an eyebrow. “I’m sure Witch Weekly would adore receiving a whole host of essays on the subject.”
Hermione grinned then laughed. “Oh. Could I? Could I really?”
“Lass, they would pay you a stupid amount of gold to publish anything you sent their way. It’s crass because it has mostly to do with Harry, but you could use that platform for whatever you like. They’ll eat it up and witches all over Europe will, too.” She pursed her lips. “Of course, we’d probably have to set up additional security regarding your mail, but that shouldn’t be a problem since it all goes through curse-breaking anyway. Speaking of, I heard you got another letter from that Weasley boy.”
Hermione grimaced. “I haven’t read it, but I wonder if I should just to see if I can glean anything valuable from it. I mean, Ron’s an idiot, but perhaps he’s overheard something important.” She huffed. “I haven’t told Harry about it. I don’t know if he would care or not. At least this one wasn’t cursed or charmed in any fashion.”
“I heard that, as well. It could be something the boy sent outside the supervision of his parents or Dumbledore,” Piper said.
“So I should definitely read it,” Hermione muttered. With a huff, she pulled the parchment from her dress pocket and stared at it. “He’s a very unpleasant person sometimes. I never know what I’m going to get with him. He hates when I read, and made fun of me repeatedly for wanting good grades. It seemed like he was only ever happy with me when I was doing something for him.”
“Do I have to tell you how abusive that sounds?” Piper questioned.
“No,” Hermione said with a frown and reached down to pick up Crookshanks as he rubbed against her leg. “Where have you been hiding, old man?”
“Jamie was chasing him earlier,” Piper confessed. “I corralled him as soon as I realized, but I’m afraid the afternoon was quite stressful for Crookshanks.”
“Ah, well, he’s had worse,” Hermione said and rubbed the cat’s head. “He spent most of my third year acting as Sirius Black’s spy in Hogwarts.” She grinned when Piper laughed.
After another moment of hesitation, Hermione let the cat settle in her lap and picked up the letter. “Might as well get it over with.”
I can’t bloody believe you helped Harry run away to the goblins! You don’t understand what you’ve done. I overheard the Headmaster tell my parents that years of planning has been destroyed and You-Know-Who will probably win the war because of what you and Harry have done!
How could you be so selfish? You’re helping Harry betray the light. And for what? Sirius Black is just one wizard! One crazy wizard and we’re all in danger of being killed because Harry can’t be patient and you’re always trying to make him happy!
What about me?
Dumbledore was right, it really would’ve been better for everyone if that troll had killed you.
Hermione stared at the letter for a long moment then passed it to Piper. “I…can you check me for memory charms?”
Piper slowly put the parchment down on the table. “When did this troll incident take place?”
“October 31, 1991.”
“I can check for charms, but I wouldn’t be comfortable retrieving a memory that old. I took a single rotation in mind magics when I was training to be a healer since it wasn’t my focus or my intent to make that work central to my practice as a healer.” Piper cleared her throat. “What are you worried about?”
“I spent most of that day in the bathroom,” Hermione said. “I missed multiple classes and two meals. Ron Weasley was hardly the first kid to be mean to me, and honestly, I’d learned how to deal with bullies years before I ever got near Hogwarts. I just, looking back on it, don’t understand my reaction at all.”
“What’s going on?”
Hermione jerked and focused on Harry, who was standing in the doorway of the library. “Ron wrote me a letter.” She picked it up where Piper had tossed it and offered it.
Harry frowned but crossed the room to take it from her. “I thought you were just going to continue to toss everything he sent?”
“This one wasn’t cursed or charmed,” Hermione explained. “So I figured if he’d sent it without supervision that it might have something in it. He’s not discreet, as you know.”
Harry nodded and read it. He exhaled and put it down on the table. His eyes had a distant look about them. “We learned the levitation charm that day.”
“Yes,” Hermione agreed.
“Ron was very jealous that you’d accomplished it. Though he never was pleasant when anyone was successful around him,” Harry murmured. He walked away from them. “He was a real git about it, but…”
“My response was disproportionate,” Hermione said.
“In retrospect, yes,” Harry admitted. “At first, I thought it was just the final straw, but knowing your history like I do that seems unlikely. Ron had a big mouth at eleven, but he was nothing compared to some of the bullies I encountered in primary. I’m sure the same is true for you.”
“How did it feel that day?” Piper questioned. “Think back on it and evaluate your emotions.”
Hermione cleared her throat. “I remember being proud of myself for accomplishing the charm. I was the first to do it in the class.”
“A circumstance I’m sure you’re used to,” Piper pointed out. “I imagine you always knew the answers when your teachers in primary asked questions.”
“Yes,” Hermione agreed. “It was irritating that Ron didn’t appreciate my help, and I wished I’d sat next to Harry like I’d planned. He was just a better class partner than anyone else in our year and…” She wet her lips and took a deep breath. “Things were always easier to accomplish when I sat next to him.”
“Agreed,” Harry said.
She focused on him and found he’d walked across the room to stand by the window. He had his back to her. “Harry?”
“Looking back on it, and considering Snape’s injury, I’d always figured that Quirrell let the troll loose in the castle as a distraction so he could try for the stone. And maybe that is what happened, but…why did all the teachers ignore that you were missing?” Harry’s shoulders were tense, back rigid as if he was holding himself very still to keep in whatever emotional reaction was brewing. “When I was told you were in the bathroom and didn’t know about the troll, my magic ached with fear. I don’t even remember the trip up the stairs. I just had to get to you. I think Ron complained a bit, but that feels distant and wrong like I shouldn’t think that. Ron’s our friend, right? Surely he wanted to help you.”
“You both need to be checked for memory charms,” Piper said sharply as she picked up this letter. “Because this boy has never really been your friend.”
“Ron’s not…” Hermione huffed. “This is going to sound terrible, but Ron’s not smart enough to fake a friendship for four years. Yes, he’s made mistakes and let his temper get the best of him. He’s irrational, jealous, and petty….but…”
Her mind drifted to the future she’d never suffer, and she shivered. When had Ron Weasley joined the plot against them in the other timeline?
“Then it wasn’t fake to him,” Piper said simply. “He’s been spelled in some fashion or another to want to be Harry Potter’s friend above all else. Clearly, there have been times when his core personality was at such odds with the spell work that he acted out, but the little arsehole who wrote this letter has never been your friend, Hermione. Moreover, I think he probably hates Harry.”
“I don’t agree with this,” Omis said roughly.
“I know,” Ragnok murmured. “Sister.” He put his hand on her arm, and she focused on him. “I’d never ask you to cause true harm to a patient. Do you think a little physical pain would deter Sirius Black if his child’s welfare was at stake?”
“No, of course, not,” she said huffily. “Black has a profound parental vow impacting his magic—a new one.”
“Several weeks old,” Omis admitted. “Perhaps within days of the resurrection. I also found the remnants of several broken behavioral modification charms. I’ve had Healer Marr in twice to evaluate his mental landscape. The arrival of his wife calmed his magic down significantly make it easier to direct it for self-healing. He clearly broke through a spell of some sort around the beginning of July.”
“Dumbledore tried to manipulate him in some way,” Ragnok said. “I can push the trial back by revealing the injuries he suffered, but I believe that would put him in a weak position. I’d like to present to the World Court of Magic a strong, confident wizard.”
Omis made a face. “I can’t make any promises on that front. He’s suffered a lot, and the stain of Azkaban will never be fully washed away. We don’t know why he didn’t reach out to his wife, so she shouldn’t be in the room when I wake him up. He expects his child, so bring Potter to me in about an hour.”
“I’ve already spoken with Isobel,” Omis said. “She agrees that until we know why he never sought her out after he escaped that her presence could be too upsetting.”
The thought of spending fourteen years without his wife was infuriating. Ragnok left the chair and walked away from his sister. The hall was quiet despite the number of occupied beds. “How are the injuries from the training accident coming along?”
“They’re all fools,” Omis said. “I should let them suffer for weeks.”
Ragnok fought back a smile as he knew his sister would do nothing of the kind.
“You’re keeping a secret from me,” Omis announced.
He turned to face her. “Am I?”
“Certainly,” she murmured. “I won’t ask.”
Ragnok knew that. “There’s nothing to be gained from involving you, Sister. You have your own path to follow as is.” He cleared his throat. “But speaking of my path, there are rumors that you’re overly invested in Potter.”
“He’s a parselmouth with an innate gift for healing,” Omis said. “I’d be a fool not to have a careful eye on him. Once that’s well-known, he won’t suffer for lack of offers when it comes to mentorship.”
Ragnok nodded. “Precious few would get in the way of you, but do make sure the boy knows he actually has a choice.”
She scowled at him. “I need to dose Black with pain relief before I wake him—bring Potter in an hour.” She stalked away with a flick of her braid.
“One day she’s going to maim you,” Lenore said dryly as she appeared at his side. “And I won’t even have a leg to stand on when I have to beg her to put whatever part she’s removed back on.”
Ragnok grinned at her and activated his privacy charm. “How’s your day been?”
“Harry and Hermione are both riddled with minor memory charms. Some as little as a few seconds. The first modification she suffered was in the middle of October, but Potter was encouraged to forget that Neville Longbottom told him they were godbrothers. I imagine the Longbottom boy was similarly spelled.”
“What was Hermione’s first memory charmed for?”
Lenore pursed her lips. “Ron Weasley called her a mudblood. Apparently, that didn’t sit well with the light family image Dumbledore was helping the Weasleys cultivate, so he suppressed the memory. He’s confident of his ability to memory charm people, so he never went so far as to actually erase memories which is good considering their age.”
“He’s not dumb enough to attempt that on a child—at least not one in his direct care. The ramifications of getting that wrong would be obvious,” Ragnok said. “So he spent four years tweaking their memories of their friend to keep young Ronald in a place to spy for him?”
“And probably worse,” Lenore said. “Harry was magically encouraged to forgive the boy last year after the first task. I was curious about that specifically, so we’ve started a thorough investigation of his magical aura. Since he grew up with Muggles, he hasn’t been subjected to a lot of mundane spells most magical parents use since his parents were killed. It made finding the various spells Dumbledore used on him very easy. The same is true for Hermione.”
“Is it truly all about the prophecy?” Ragnok asked.
“I don’t think it can be considering the core-deep loyalty charm to the whole Weasley family they were both laboring on later in life.”
“Potter thinks that was done as payment of some sort to the Weasley family,” Ragnok said. “Or at least Granger was spelled as payment to Ronald. That deal has probably already been struck.”
“Did you see the letter that little bastard sent her?” Lenore demanded.
“That’s why I’m here asking Omis to wake Sirius Black up before she’s ready. I need to know what happened to make him no longer trust Dumbledore. I need to know where Dumbledore and his little Order are staying, and Hermione told me that Black is the Secret Keeper.”
“Another reason Dumbledore wants to regain custody of him,” Lenore speculated. “He must realize that whatever loyalty Black had to him and his cause has been eroded to the point where he can no longer trust him. We must keep Black of out of that old man’s hands until the prophecy is met.”
“Just until then?” Ragnok said and focused on his wife. “Do we wash our hands of them all once Potter has met our needs?”
Lenore glared at him briefly then looked up for guidance. “No, of course not, but…”
“Aulë has not been inclined toward listening to my prayers in years,” Ragnok said.
“You’ve not taken a knee before our maker in decades,” Lenore said and rolled her eyes when he laughed. She took his hand in hers. “You can’t take on all of their problems for the rest of their lives, love. It would weaken you as a leader and make our son vulnerable in the future.”
“I don’t mean to fight all of their battles, but the House of Potter and its members both present and future are part of our clan. That is the bargain we struck with fate and time, Lenore, and there’s no going back from that. Moreover, we must guard the magic of Potter’s line to ensure we never again go without a patron. Wizards have used that against us repeatedly, and there is no way they’d grant us another magical line to continue that if Potter dies without issue.” He took a deep breath. “Dumbledore has already seen that destroyed once, and I had a hand in it.”
“Yes, he certainly did see that destroyed,” Lenore said grimly. “And all it took, Ragnok, was a well-placed loyalty charm.”
“And my vanity,” Ragnok added roughly. “I was so offended by Potter’s actions that I didn’t pay attention to him.”
“The damage was more than done by that point at any rate. Dumbledore’s duplicity led to the utter corruption of magic, and it will again if we aren’t terribly careful.” She squeezed his hand. “When he meets the prophecy, Ragnok, we’ll owe Harry Potter an incredible debt. Part of that repayment must be some measure of freedom from the duties this life has pressed upon him. Keeping Sirius Black free and out of the way of Dumbledore is part of that as well, but once the prophecy is finished, that old man’s powerbase will shift and change. Sirius Black won’t be a factor for him once the world sees Harry Potter as an adult. In just two short years, Harry turns seventeen, and Dumbledore will have to find a new way to manipulate Harry.”
“Then he’ll go for Hermione,” Ragnok said. “Or he’ll try to put that Weasley girl in Harry’s way again—curse or potion.”
“Or both,” Lenore said roughly. “It’d be easier just to kill Dumbledore.”
“I can’t say it hasn’t crossed my mind,” Ragnok admitted. “Maybe after the International Brouhaha.”
* * * *
The boy was perched on the edge of the chair near Black’s bed. Potter looked nervous and excited all at once. Ragnok really hoped that Black didn’t wake up in agony. Omis had made an educated guess regarding pain relief before she’d lifted the sedation spells with a sharp slash of her stave.
Black hissed, one hand flailed out, and Potter caught it.
“Har-ry.” Black turned toward the boy, and his eyes flickered open. He stared for a long moment. Inspecting him for injuries, Ragnok thought. “You’re…different.”
Harry smiled. “Mistress Omis has been plying me with potions. You, too. You’re lucky to have slept through that since they’re disgusting.”
“Omis,” Black murmured and took a deep breath. “I knew a dverger healer once named that. She fixed my arm when I was six. I fell off a cart when my grandfather brought me to the bank.”
“You were a clumsy child, and apparently you’re no better as an adult,” Omis said tartly as she started a diagnostic.
Sirius focused on her. “You were nicer to me when I was little.”
“I like children,” Omis said. “Even wizard children.” She frowned. “I’ll get you another pain potion.”
“I’d really appreciate it,” Black admitted roughly. “I feel like I got ran over by a hippogriff.”
“Kreacher hit you with bludgeoning curse,” Harry said.
“Help him sit up,” Omis ordered and stalked out of the room.
Ragnok stepped forward and offered Black his hand. It was gratifying that the wizard took it immediately though the Black family had always been respectful in the bank despite their dark leanings. They respected money and the art of making money far too much to be arseholes in Gringotts. Potter arranged pillows behind his godfather, and Black rested back on them with a groan.
“You were very injured when you arrived. It’s been seven days since you used the portkey,” Ragnok explained.
“Did you get the locket?”
“It’s safe,” Ragnok assured and sat down in the chair next to Potter. “You wrote a letter to Harry that had a hidden message in it. You told him to run as far as he could from Dumbledore. Will you tell me why?”
Sirius glanced toward Harry. “Chieftain…”
“I have a right to know, Sirius,” Harry interrupted. “I know you think I’m a little kid, but Dumbledore is a threat to me, and I deserve to know the truth.”
The wizard sighed and fidgeted with his blankets. He looked exhausted and emotionally wrung out.
“I overheard a few conversations at headquarters that made me realize that you’re little more than a weapon to Dumbledore, but he doesn’t trust you for reasons I’m unsure of. He mentioned putting a limiter on your magical core because you have more power than someone your age should. Moody told him they couldn’t afford to bind up your magic because of Voldemort.
“That pissed Dumbledore off, and he was already furious because Hermione Granger hadn’t returned to the house the way we all thought she would after having tea with the Chieftain. When Bill came back and told us that she’d accepted an invitation to stay with Lenore for the whole month of August—he tried to order Bill to retrieve her.
“Bill told us that he couldn’t and that if he didn’t return with Hermione’s belongings that there would be hell to pay. He said that insulting the Horde that way would have long-lasting consequences and that the ministry would probably get involved. A few hours after he left with Hermione’s trunk and Crookshanks, Remus and Tonks came to the house and reported that Harry was missing from Privet Drive.” Black focused on Omis as she returned and held out a hand for the potion before she could offer it. “Thank you, Mistress Omis.”
Omis just left with a little huff under her breath.
“I think she likes you, Sirius,” Harry said. “She’s barely even growled at you or threatened to throw you down a mine shaft or anything.”
Sirius grinned. “All the ladies love me, lad.” He took the potion, and his body relaxed as he swallowed.
“Mr. Black,” Ragnok began, “You threw off a behavioral modification charm set by Dumbledore sometime near the beginning of July. Can you speak of it?”
Sirius frowned and focused on his hands. “I argued with Dumbledore. I wanted Harry brought to me, and he refused. He said that he had to stay on Privet Drive because of the wards, but those fucking wards hadn’t done much to protect him as far as I was concerned. If anything, they were protecting Petunia, and I don’t care at all about that bitch’s safety. I grew very hostile with him and threatened to throw him and his people out of my house if he didn’t bring Harry to me.
“The next thing I remember is waking up in my room. I had a terrible headache and an overwhelming desire to apologize to Dumbledore for my outburst. It felt wrong since I didn’t feel guilty at all. In fact, I still wanted to throw them out of my house, but when I tried to voice that—I felt this ugly pull on my core. I knew he’d hexed me in some fashion, so I retreated to my room, locked the door, and meditated until I found the charm work. It was a loyalty charm keyed to Dumbledore’s signature. I ripped it to shreds and started to avoid him as much as possible.
“He allowed it actually, and we didn’t speak much at all until Harry disappeared. I repeatedly refused to write letters since all of his to Harry were coming back undelivered, even the one he sent via Fawkes came back to him. He figured I’d be able to get one to Harry. Eventually, I caved and sent one for his birthday. He requested, politely, that I put a tracking charm on it, and I did so without arguing.” He focused on Harry. “I knew it would take some time for him to figure out where you were, and I hoped you’d have time to get away from him before he could organize anything.”
“I’ve only seen him once since you’re arrival, and he wasn’t allowed to be alone with me.” Harry waved a hand. “What with the International Brouhaha and everything.”
“The what?” Sirius leaned forward. “There hasn’t been an International Brouhaha in 400 years.”
“423,” Potter corrected. “Hermione looked it up. She’s all up in this process and actually pretty thrilled with the whole thing. She’s already submitted sixteen different complaints to Master Warhide regarding Dumbledore and Fudge and the whole thing with the Dementors during our third year. Did you know that the World Court of Magic declared it a crime against magic to purposefully exposed magical people under the age of seventeen to a dementor?” He smirked. “Master Warhide, our solicitor, had to bring in a whole legal team just to deal with Hermione’s list.”
Sirius laughed then winced as he pressed a hand against his chest. “Dumbledore must be near-catatonic with fury to have lost complete control of you and this situation.”
“Oh, he is,” Ragnok assured. “Ito, the new Supreme Mugwump, put High Warlock Sarr from the Protectorate of Magic in charge of the investigation into your circumstances and the British Ministry of Magic as a whole. They’ve basically shut the whole place down. I’ve honestly rarely been so entertained.”
“How has Voldemort responded?” Sirius questioned. “Any attacks? Has anyone died?”
“Nothing as yet,” Ragnok said and glanced toward Harry. “But that could be because your godson enlisted Rita Skeeter to ruin people. She started with articles in newspapers all over Europe, revealing the fact that Voldemort is actually named Tom Riddle, and he’s the son of a Muggle.”
Sirius snorted and groaned. “Merlin, don’t make me laugh.”
“It was Hermione’s idea,” Harry reported. “Rita’s also investigating Dumbledore’s torrid affair with Grindelwald.” He smiled when Sirius’ mouth dropped open. “I’m beginning to think that Grindelwald deserved better, honestly. I mean, Dumbledore betrayed the shite out of him, and that’s just rude.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Hermione would help me set this whole planet on fire if I wanted. Now that’s a proper partner in shenanigans.”
“Certainly,” Sirius agreed faintly.
“What would this power limiter thing do to me?”
“It would stunt your magical maturation,” Ragnok said. “And you’d struggle to manage your magic during advanced spell work. Moreover, it might make it difficult to overcome behavior charms and hexes.”
“And the Imperius,” Harry said. “It could impact my ability to overcome that, too, right?”
“Certainly,” Ragnok said. “Your ability to fight off that curse is a mixture of magical power and mental fortitude. Both of which would be muted by a core limiter.”
Harry cleared his throat. “Wow.”
Ragnok knew exactly what the kid was thinking, and he had to wonder just how bloody powerful Potter was going to be if he’d accomplished all he had in the other timeline with a power limiter on his core. The whole thing was dark as fuck, but he really didn’t think the depth of Dumbledore’s darkness could surprise him anymore. There was probably a body or two lurking in the shadows to be discovered.
“Sirius, do you know about the prophecy?” Harry questioned.
Ragnok focused on the wizard as he slumped down in the bed.
“Dumbledore told you?” Sirius questioned. “He said you didn’t need to know yet, but I don’t know the content, so I couldn’t tell you.”
“Ragnok told me,” Harry corrected. “Does anyone besides Dumbledore know the prophecy?”
“I’m uncertain,” Sirius admitted. “The entire Order knows there is a prophecy and that you’re central to the defeat of Voldemort. At one point, it was uncertain if the prophecy was about you or Neville Longbottom, so I know that your parents and his were informed. Both families went into hiding because Voldemort was hunting for you. He’d heard part of the prophecy.”
“Right.” Harry pursed his lips. “I gave the prophecy to the Supreme Mugwump.”
Sirius’ gaze widened, and he focused on Ragnok. “Hiro Ito from Japan is the new leader of the ICW, right?”
“Do you trust him?”
“As much as I would ever trust any wizard who was also a politician,” Ragnok said dryly and grinned when Black laughed a little. “It was Harry’s decision to share the prophecy. He didn’t want Dumbledore to use it as a weapon during the ICW’s investigation into everything here in Britain. I don’t think he made a poor choice.”
“No, I think…it was…” Black focused on Harry, who looked worried. “It was good. You need people in positions of power to see you for who you really are and not through whatever lense Dumbledore would like to put into place. The more you can step away from the long shadow he casts, the better you will be in the long run.”
“I thought…he was light,” Harry said. “It hurts to know that he isn’t. In some ways, he’s worse than Tom Riddle.” He bit down on his lip. “I mean Tom wants to kill me, but he never pretended otherwise. I’d rather have an enemy in my face than a false ally I can’t trust with my back. I don’t think Dumbledore has dealt honestly with anyone in decades. Also, if Snape is a spy for him, then how he could’ve not known that Peter Pettigrew was a Death Eater?”
Ragnok blinked in surprise. “Severus Snape is a spy for Dumbledore?”
“He plays both sides like a fool,” Sirius said. “Hoping that he’ll come out on top no matter who wins.”
“Right,” Ragnok said with a grimace. “Fantastic.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I have a question for you, Mr. Black. It’ll be a difficult one.”
“Lay it on me,” Sirius said. “And please feel free to call me Sirius.”
“Sirius,” Ragnok said. “Can you tell me about your wife?”
Sirius’ face shuttered, and his eyes fluttered shut briefly before he cleared his throat. “I…she’s dead.”
“Dead?” Ragnok questioned. “Who told you such a thing?”
Sirius frowned. “Remus Lupin told me she died. I searched briefly for her before I went to Hogwarts to try to catch Pettigrew in 1992. I reconnected with Remus after I escaped Hogwarts in May of 1993. I asked him about Isobel, and he told me she’d been killed in 1981 shortly after I was sent to Azkaban.”
Harry reached out and grabbed his godfather’s hand. “Sirius. Isobel isn’t dead. She’s here in the bank…she’s been living in France.” The boy stood. “I’ll go get her.”
Black pulled Harry to the side of his cot. “No, Isobel is dead, Harry. Whoever this woman is, she’s not my wife…I…” He trailed off and swallowed. “She’s dead.”
“Isobel Travers is not dead,” Ragnok said gently. “She was fired from her job at the ministry after your arrest and essentially smeared in the press as a dark witch. She went to Paris to escape the speculation and has lived as a Muggle since. A wizard in my employ is a friend of hers. He retrieved her from Paris when he discovered that you were here.”
“Who?” Sirius asked helplessly.
“Zale,” Sirius repeated and wet his lips. “He…they worked together in the ministry.”
“Yes.” Ragnok nodded. “But he’s left the ministry recently at my request as I no longer felt it was safe to leave in place as a…spy on my behalf.”
“Why would Remus lie to me?” Sirius asked tears welled in his eyes. “You’re sure it’s her?”
“The marriage rite you performed together certainly couldn’t be faked. Omis has no doubts that the woman we have here living in guest quarters is your wife,” Ragnok said and stood. “I’ll send for her.”
Black’s grip tightened on his godson. “Please, sir, I would greatly appreciate that.”
Ragnok walked out of the private room and found Omis leaning against the wall. “You heard?”
Omis nodded. “I sent Elmar to retrieve the witch. Do you think it’s part of Dumbledore’s plan to control Potter?”
“He probably couldn’t afford for Black to have any allies he couldn’t fully control. I don’t know if Lupin knew about the marriage…but he certainly probably knew about the affinity. That kind of magical connection can be difficult to hide from people who are close to you.” Ragnok looked up at the sound boots clapping quickly on the stone floor. He wasn’t all surprised to find Isobel Travers rushing toward him. He held up a hand when the witch reached them. “He believed you were dead, so be prepared for—suspicion or rejection in the short term. Someone he trusted told him you were killed in 1981.”
“Who?” Isobel demanded.
Disbelief, then anger drifted over the witch’s face. She took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay, I’ll deal with that arsehole at a later date.”
Ragnok grinned at her. “I’ll be happy to find him for you.” He pushed open the door with a hand and pulled it shut once she was inside. “I need to go find myself a werewolf.”
“Right, happy hunting,” Omis said tartly. “I’ll watch over the humans since the ridiculous creatures can’t be trusted not to fall over and break themselves.”
“At the very least, keep an eye on Potter,” Ragnok agreed and headed for his office.
* * * *
Sirius’ grip on Harry’s arm actually tightened as the door shut, and Isobel was alone with them. He held out a hand to stop her when she started to move toward them. “Tell me about the last night we spent together.”
Her eyes widened, and she took a deep breath after a glance toward Harry. “I’ll just skip the sexy part, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Sirius agreed hoarsely.
“You were worried because Peter hadn’t checked in with you like he said he would, and you were getting dressed to go look for him. To my shame, I suggested you wait until morning. I was tired, and work had been a shite show, and I didn’t want to be up half the night waiting for you to return.” She stopped and took a ragged breath.
Harry glanced toward his godfather and found that the older man had tears streaming down his face. He covered Sirius’ hand with his own and shifted closer so he could sit on the edge of the cot.
“The orb we had attached to James’ life sign shattered and you…screamed out his name and apparated. I didn’t know where they were as I hadn’t gotten the secret from Peter. I could just stand there and wait. Lily’s orb shattered next, and I picked up Harry’s orb and held it tight as if I could protect him like that, and even now, I don’t feel foolish for having done it. The light in his orb cracked like lightning at one point and dulled, but then it started to shine bright like a star. I thought, okay, you got there and saved Harry. He was safe with you, and you were going to come back to me with him, but you never came back, and days later, you were arrested for mass murder.
“I tried to protest. I told Dumbledore and Barty Crouch, Sr. that you were not the Potter’s Secret Keeper, but neither would listen to me. I tried to go to Azkaban to see you, and I was threatened with arrest. The papers announced you were sentenced to life imprisonment, and in the week that followed, there were three different articles about our relationship at Hogwarts. I was labeled a dark witch and unmarked Death Eater. I was fired from the ministry, and I had nothing left in Britain. I couldn’t find Harry, and Dumbledore threatened to have me arrested if I kept trying.
“I went to Paris. I live in our flat that we purchased in secret. The one we spent our honeymoon in, and most of the time, the memories were enough.”
“Remus told me you were dead—that you were killed by Death Eaters,” Sirius said, and slowly held out his free hand again. Isobel moved forward and slid her fingers across Sirius’ palm, and they both started to glow faintly with magic.
Harry felt like a voyeur like he had no business being in the room at all, but Sirius’s grip on him didn’t lessen at all as he pulled Isobel down onto the cot with them. She leaned in and rested her forehead against Sirius’.
“Sirius,” she whispered in return. She turned her head and pressed her mouth against Sirius’.
Harry looked away with a huff but didn’t tug free since he really didn’t want them to think he disapproved or whatever. “He is barely healed, you know.” Isobel laughed, so he turned to face them and frowned at them both. “Also, either I’m too old to watch that or too young. I can’t decide. Dumbledore has been fucking with my head since I was sorted, and that’s irritating, but also? Also, this whole country is corrupt and disgusting. So when Hermione and I go to Rome to study, you guys should come with us.”
“Oh, lad,” Sirius said with a sigh. “It could be decades before I’m comfortable letting you out of my sight for more than a few days at a time.”
“Co-dependency is unhealthy,” Harry told him. “Mistress Omis said so, and I’d rather not get thrown down a mine shaft for developing some bizarre mental quirk she finds objectionable. Or worse, dragged up and down the side of the mountain, which she also threatened to do to more than one person since I’ve known her.”
“I’d not take that risk either,” Isobel said wryly. “Where is Hermione?”
“Arithmancy lessons with the High Priestess,” Harry said. “She’ll come out of it excited or furious, and literally there is no in-between. Predictive magical divination models make her sort of crazy. Mostly she’s just furious since she thinks her course work at Hogwarts just barely scratched the surface of the subject, and that makes her feel misled. I’ve prevented her from writing several scathing letters to our former professors on the subject. It’s not their fault, I guess, that they have to teach to the lowest common denominator for testing. That’s rational if not exactly helpful to those who require more intellectual stimulation than most.”
Sirius released his arm, and Harry shifted back to his chair, which was good because the cot had a hard edge that hadn’t been comfortable at all.
“What are you being taught?” Sirius questioned.
“Ah, well, all the core subjects at Hogwarts. Plus, I have sword practice, runic magic lessons, and ritual magic theory. The Chieftain is teaching me the last one, so we only meet once a week. There are dozens of conclaves in the clan, and he’s going to have me watch several rituals this fall, and if I do well, I’ll get to be introduced to Armand Deering, who is the High Warlock of the Glain Neidr around Yule. The Chieftain thinks I’ll need this education and experience under my belt to meet the demands of the prophecy in a way that won’t involve me getting into any sort of magical combat with Voldemort, which we all agree is a very good goal.”
“Very good,” Sirius agreed faintly. “Who’s teaching you to use a sword?”
“Sharprock, and I’m really glad I get a daily pain potion as part of my healing, or I don’t think I’d be able to walk right now. I leave sword practice with practically every muscle I have on fire.” Harry shifted in the chair. “Also, I’m being fitted for a staff weapon which requires a bunch of tests—regarding casting ability and my magical core potential. Leader Gildhard says they need to know where I’m going to end up on the scale, so I don’t burn my staff out in practical application.”
“They think you can use a staff?” Sirius questioned. “Precious few wizards can, lad.”
“Oh, I’ve already used several in practice, but they’re modulated for educational purposes. I burned one out by accident, but no one got mad at me,” Harry admitted with a shrug. “I offered to pay for the replacement, but they declined, so I didn’t push it since that would be rude.” He stood. “I should go and give you some privacy. I’ll bring Hermione back with dinner? Is that good?”
“Sounds great, kid, but don’t go far,” Sirius said. “And don’t go out into the bank proper where anyone can see you.”
Harry smiled at him. “I’m a citizen of the Horde, Sirius, if one of Dumbledore’s lackeys laid hands on in me in the bank, they’d get themselves killed, but I’ll be careful.” He paused. “But I am considering enlisting Mistress Omis in helping me write a letter to Remus telling him how cross we all are about his wretched lies.”
Sirius opened his mouth like he was going to protest, then closed it and shrugged. He slouched back on the pillow, clutching his wife’s hand. “Have fun.”
Harry nodded and left in search of Hermione since his watch chimed just short of him closing the door. The High Priestess always released her at the top of the hour, so he trotted through the halls and managed to get to the spot just outside the management area of the bank just as Hermione was leaving.
“The Chieftain came in to tell us that Mistress Omis agreed to wake Sirius,” Hermione said as she took the hand he offered.
“I told Isobel and Sirius we’d back for dinner,” Harry said as he guided her toward the lift that would take them to Agharti.
“Okay, then why are we going to the cottage?”
“I need some air,” he admitted. “And we don’t have to go all the way home I just need…away from all of this.” He waved a hand as they entered the lift.
The lift quickly took them down then to the left, and when the doors opened, they had a view of the main hall of the mountain the Blacklock clan called home. He pressed the button again, the doors closed, and they went up into the mountain. The doors opened to a narrow empty hall that he pulled her through until they were on a wide balcony. He let go of her hand and took a deep breath as he stared at the valley.
“They both cried,” Harry said. “They last saw each other the night my parents were murdered. Sirius had life orbs for all three of us, and she had to sit there and watch them break. She didn’t know the secret, so she couldn’t follow him to Godric’s Hollow.”
“Oh, no,” Hermione whispered in shock. “Harry.”
“The pain Riddle caused is so immense,” Harry murmured. “And it’s terrible to know how much Dumbledore contributed to it. Isobel tried to tell him that Sirius wasn’t the Secret Keeper, but that old bastard ignored her. She tried to tell Crouch, too, but they just tossed Sirius in that prison. Dumbledore allowed it so he could control me.”
“I won’t…” Harry took a deep breath. “I need you to know that I’m going to bloody invest myself in destroying Albus Dumbledore. He’s done nothing but cause me to suffer since I was little more than an infant, and he’ll pay for it, Hermione. I don’t care what it costs me.”
“I’ll help,” she announced and smiled when he laughed. “Seriously, Harry. I’ll help. He thinks he understands what it has to have an enemy, but that barmy old bastard doesn’t have the first clue what it really means. We’re going to show him. By the time we’re done, even his next bloody grand adventure is going to be a nightmare.”
Harry stared at her for a moment, so enamored with the brightness of her eyes and her certainty that he could hardly breathe, then he recklessly pressed his mouth against hers. She took in a shocked breath and threw her arms around his neck. Her mouth was sweet, and her hands drifting into his hair made him wish he could push everything away and stay with her just as they were forever.
Finally, he lifted his head and met her shocked gaze. “I told Sirius that you’d be an excellent partner for shenanigans.”
“You’ll never have better,” she declared with a laugh. “I was beginning to think you were never going to kiss me, you know.”
“I…” He took a deep breath. “I didn’t want to pressure you, and we’re basically the only humans around this place of our age that are unattached, and I’d rather just be your choice than your only option.”
Her eyes darkened, and she stared at him. “Harry, it’s always been you. It’s been you since our first year.”
“Friendship and bravery,” he said.
“And love,” Hermione whispered. “My magic aches, too, when you’re hurt or could be hurt.”
He pulled her into a tight hug and inhaled against her hair. “It makes me so angry that they took this from the other us. That in a future that will never happen, we suffered for loving one another. I want to ruin them all.”
She huffed. “I’ll help you do that, too.”