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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Author Notes:

Originally posted online: August 15, 2003

Last edited: April 25, 2012

Changes of significance: Fliptrask the goblin's name is changed to Peninukk [specifically, Peninukk, son of Maajamalud], which was the character's original name in my goblin language notes but ended up differently thanks to some stray scribbles long ago. Fixing it for consistency's sake, since goblin names - and the language itself - are significant to the plot later on.

Cheers,

Mike [FP]

Three
INTO THE LION'S DEN

Harry quickly decided it was better to keep his eyes fixed on the floor than to close them. Tonks was fond of quick lane changes despite the fact that her car – and it was quite a stretch to call it that, he thought – groaned and creaked every time she took to the accelerator pedal. She had a colourful vocabulary and no patience whatever. They were caught on a roundabout for several minutes before she fought her way off by tearing across three lanes of solid traffic. As they pressed deeper into London, the ancient streets lost their grid.

“Should I double park or triple park, I wonder?” Tonks snapped at no one in particular. Harry hadn’t the faintest idea how to help. The roads were a crazy quilt of red lines, double yellows, bus lanes and parking restrictions.

Tonks began to mutter, “Nothing there… no, nothing there… blast, that one’s for disabled… residents only… has to be a bloody meter around here…”

“There’s one!” Harry said excitedly.

Tonks shook her head. “Uh-uh. Can’t use that colour… I don’t think that… THERE!” She trumped on the accelerator, the car spluttered and puffed, and she veered across the road to a symphony of horns. Harry wished for a braking charm and settled for silent prayer as the car slid sideways into a metered spot and stopped with a hard thump against the kerb. He tore off his belt before Tonks cut the motor and scrambled out the door as if the car was cursed.

Tonks stumbled out and growled at the meter, “A quid for twenty minutes? That’s theft, that is!”

“Where are we?” asked Harry. He hadn’t bothered to look around until just then. They were on a street of what looked to be grand old houses turned to businesses.

“My place,” Tonks said, and then added, “Well, strictly speaking it’s my parents’ place… ehh, you’ll see. Let’s fetch your trunk, then. Wouldn’t want it to be nicked, eh?”

Three doors down, a modest sign in front of a three-storey home said:

Astonbury, Grendel, Tonks & Levy, LLP
General and Commercial Law – Wealth Management

“My Mum and Dad live above, and I’m back in the mews,” Tonks explained, but Harry wasn’t certain what she meant by that.

Before Tonks could open the front door, Harry stopped her. “Isn’t it dangerous, you know… to bring me here?” he asked.

Tonks shrugged. “It’s unexpected, and that makes it a bit safer. At any rate, you’ll not be here long,” she said.

The front door whipped open and Harry had his wand half drawn before Tonks seized him by the shoulder. Mad-Eye Moody peeked out the opening. “Coming in, or would you rather stand there as live targets?” he grunted. Tonks rolled her eyes, even as she shoved Harry through the doorway with the help of his own trunk.

“You’re fifteen minutes late,” Moody said. “I suppose it’s the fault of that fool’s contraption of yours?” Harry nearly agreed aloud with Moody’s assessment of the car until Tonks’ eyes narrowed.

“They’ve arrived, have they?” a pleasant voice called from just beyond the entry hall.

The voice belonged to an unmistakeable Black. “You must be Tonks’s mum?” Harry said.

She came forward and extended her hand even as she looked him up and down. “Andromeda Tonks… Nymphadora was right – you do resemble your father, as I recall him,” she said. She was tall and slim and her features were more like Narcissa Malfoy than Sirius, but her hair was brown with tracings of grey.

“Er… people do say that,” Harry offered. “Look, it’s not really safe for me to be here. It’s all right if you –”

Mrs. Tonks gave a wan smile. “We avoided most of the first war, but I doubt we’ll be out of the fray this time around,” she said with a meaningful glance toward Tonks. “Honestly… may I call you Harry?”

“Uh, of course,” Harry said quickly.

“Honestly, Harry,” she repeated, “you’re welcome here. Nymphadora, would you rather he stay here or in the mews?”

“Anywhere is fine, Mrs. Tonks,” Harry insisted. “I wouldn’t want to be a bother to you, or to the other people on the sign.”

“Other people…? Oh, you’re referring to Astonbury and Grendel? This is a very old firm, Harry. Mr. Astonbury founded it in the 1890s and the brothers Grendel joined him in 1914 and 1921, respectively,” Mrs. Tonks explained. “Tenbrooke Grendel is still alive – he was the magical one of the two – but he rarely stops in. Gabriel Levy is our other partner; he ran the firm entirely whilst we were abroad. He’s working in Golders Green this week, so I wouldn’t expect to –”

“You’re babbling, Mum,” Tonks cut in, drawing a frown from her mother. “There’s no need to put Harry up; we won’t be long. Is Remus out in the mews?”

“He’s in the kitchen, taking tea with your father,” Mrs. Tonks said. “He doesn’t seem well, dear…”

“He’s rarely well,” Tonks sighed.

The kitchen was pleasantly messy, Harry thought – more Burrow than Privet Drive. Remus Lupin sat with his back to the entry. The man across the table squinted and stood. “Harry Potter, we meet at last,” he said. “Ted Tonks; I’m Dora’s father.”

Lupin spun awkwardly in his chair. His face was weathered and hard, and Harry felt a confused rush of emotions at the sight of him –sadness, guilt, anger, and regret. “Hello, Harry,” he said, his voice faint and hollow.
“Professor –” Harry began.

Lupin waved him off. “Just Lupin, Harry, or Remus if you like,” he said.

“Er… Remus… I –” Harry started again.

“We’ll have time to talk later,” Lupin said. “We should be on our way. Ted, I thank you for your hospitality.”

“No worries, Remus,” Mr. Tonks said. He turned to Harry with an appraising eye. “I understand from Remus that you may be facing quite a complicated inheritance, Mr. Potter. He didn’t know whether you had representation in place.”

“I’ve been to Gringotts already,” said Harry. “They had Dedalus Diggle there. Madam Bones was there, too.”

Lupin’s eyes widened. “Amelia Bones?”

“Diggle?” Mr. Tonks snorted. “The goblins hired Diggle? I wonder what they’re up to. Dedalus is a nice enough fellow but he can be a bit, eh, imprecise. If it were me, I wouldn’t set him to address something as important as the Potter estate.”

“This wasn’t about my parents’ will,” Harry said. “This was about Sirius.”

Mr. Tonks’s eyebrows shot up. “Sirius? Sirius Black? ”

Mrs. Tonks pulled at Harry by the shoulder. “Get out,” she said firmly.

“I… I don’t understand…” Harry said.

Tonks snapped at her mother, “Mum, there’s a lot you don’t know.”

“I know enough, thank you!” Mrs. Tonks shouted. “When your sisters and your closest cousins all join with the Death Eaters, then you can tell me what I know and don’t know!”

“Sirius was many things, but he was no Death Eater,” Lupin said calmly.

Mrs. Tonks railed onward, “If you’ve anything to do with my cousin, then you’re surely not Harry Potter! Get out! Get out, all three of you!”

“You never told them?” Remus asked Tonks.

“I know how to keep a secret!” Tonks shot back. She stared at her mother, then scrunched up her face and let her hair turn violet and long; “It’s me, Mum – I’m no impostor,” she said.

Harry insisted, “Sirius didn’t give up my parents.  Peter Pettigrew did!”

“Pettigrew? Isn’t that the chap your cousin was supposed to have blown up?” Mr. Tonks asked.

“I’m afraid it’s true,” Remus said sadly. “Sirius was wrongfully imprisoned for twelve years.”

“But… it couldn’t… how…?” Mrs. Tonks stammered.

“We were wrong,” said Remus. “I thought him guilty, even Albus Dumbledore thought him guilty, but it was Peter all along. He was the betrayer, not Sirius.” Tonks guided her mother to a chair at the table.

“This… it’s a lot to take in…” Mrs. Tonks managed.

“Obviously you’ve been in contact with Sirius.  Dora, have you been helping him hide away?”  Mr. Tonks asked; his daughter quickly looked away.

“A group of us, including Dumbledore, helped Sirius evade the Ministry for two years,” Lupin explained.

Mrs. Tonks wiped at her eyes. “I want to see him,” she said.

Harry and Lupin both froze. “So do I,” Tonks choked out.

Mr. Tonks said, “Oh, dear” a moment before Mrs. Tonks began to shake.

“I’m sorry,” Harry managed to say. Lupin took an uncomfortable look at his watch and gave Tonks a glance.

“I think I'll be staying for now,” Tonks whispered.

Lupin nodded. “You know where to meet us,” he said. Harry returned to the entry to collect his trunk. Somehow it had come ajar - probably from the bumping around on the back of that stupid car, he thought - so he forced his clothing back into place and applied a locking charm this time.

This time, it occurred to him that he could shrink the trunk himself; he slipped it into a pocket and silently followed Lupin to the mews behind the house. There was a fireplace inside, and they spun their way to a scruffy-looking pub in Manchester, and then what looked to be a manor house, and finally to a seaside inn. From there they hired a car – Harry paid, as Lupin had left the necessary pounds with Tonks – and rode for an hour into the countryside. The driver left them at the end of a drive that disappeared into deep woods. Lupin paid the fare and a healthy tip before he Obliviated the man, who cheerfully drove off.

Harry followed Lupin down the drive. The trees were so dense that they needed a light spell to cut the darkness, even though it was still two hours to sunset. After a few minutes, Lupin held up a hand to stop Harry.

“We’ve reached the ward perimeter,” Lupin said. “Let’s be certain that they’re tuned properly before we go on, right?” He gave his wand a complicated waggle and a hazy yellow light shimmered across two of the trees. Apparently he was satisfied, as he waved Harry forward. The ward pressed in on Harry for a moment and he struggled to take a breath; just as quickly it let him free.

Lupin noticeably relaxed. “Welcome to the Lion’s Den,” he said. There was a cottage before them set in a clearing; both cottage and clearing had completely escaped Harry’s notice. “We’ve set up safe houses around Britain these last weeks,” Lupin went on. “The old place sealed itself after Sirius… well, it had been compromised in any case. Tonks and I are the only ones to know of this one, and Dumbledore of course. There are facilities for me here, and… and let’s get you inside. You’ve had a long day, apparently.”

As Lupin opened the front door, he added, “Ahh, there are two others who are in on the secret – I nearly forgot.”

Harry nearly lost his balance as a small blur struck his lower legs. “Dobby?”

Dobby let go and gave a little skip. “Dobby is so very happy to see Harry Potter! Harry Potter is a grown wizard, so Dobby can now serve him!” Dobby bowed down to Harry and his face nearly dragged the floorboards. The two hats he was wearing both slipped off.

“A grown wizard? Harry doesn’t reach his majority for another year,” said Lupin.

Dobby crossed his arms and shook his head. “Harry Potter is a grown wizard. He has the wand of a grown wizard. He has the mark of a grown wizard. Mister Wolf cannot see this?”

Lupin’s brow furrowed. “Might we discuss what happened at Gringotts, Harry?” he asked.

Dobby’s eyes lit. “Oh, Dobby forgets his manners! Welcome to the home of Harry Potter, sir,” he announced; “May Dobby receive your cloak and provide refreshment?”

“This isn’t exactly my home,” Harry said with a chuckle.

“Harry Potter is in this home and this home is for Harry Potter, so this is the home of Harry Potter,” Dobby said firmly.

“This isn’t a cloak, Dobby – it's a jacket. Still, you may hang it if you like,” Lupin said. He took off his tweed jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his Oxford.

“I’d take a butterbeer,” Harry said.

Dobby winced and said, “I am sorry, but there is no butterbeer in the home of Harry Potter. It has been removed. I would offer pumpkin juice, if it does not offend?” Harry nodded and the house-elf disappeared with a snap.

Harry looked around the cottage. It was small and spartan in decor. The narrow entry opened into a small living room with a few bookshelves and stairs that went up to sleeping rooms on the first floor.

Dobby reappeared by his side. “Pumpkin juice and a snack have been set out in the kitchen for the sirs,” he said, bowing again.

“Dobby, there’s no need for that, honestly,” said Harry.

Dobby gave a fierce shake of his head. “Dobby may be a free elf but he is still a proper servant.”

The kitchen was large enough for a rough-hewn dining table and a hutch. Juice, glasses and two plates of small sandwiches and cookies were set out. Harry wasted no time fetching a glass.

“I hope this is to your liking, Master Harry, sir,” a very high squeaky voice quivered. Winky was clad in a skirt and blouse as at Hogwarts, though they were cleaner than Harry recalled. That explains the lack of butterbeer, he thought.

“Very much so, Winky,” Harry said with a smile.

The house-elf looked down at the floor. “Dobby thought I should come with Dobby to work for Harry Potter, sir. Dobby told Professor Dumbledore we was quitting Hogwarts, but didn’t tell Winky. Dobby often thinks above his station.” The house-elf’s huge brown eyes began to water. “I don’t want paying, sir. If Winky’s presence displeases…”

Harry slipped from his chair and knelt in front of Winky, who took a startled step backward. “Welcome,” he said. Winky curtsied and looked away.

Dobby re-entered the kitchen. “To your liking, sirs?” he asked.

Lupin nodded and Harry asked Dobby, “I don’t understand why you’re here. I mean, you had a job at Hogwarts, and how did you find out about this place, anyway?”

Dobby tapped his index finger to his forehead. “Dobby is always thinking these days, sir. Dobby heard from Professor Dumbledore that Harry Potter would be coming to this house, on account of what happened to Mister Sirius Black. Dobby is so sorry, sir. Harry Potter must be very sad!”

Harry cut him off firmly. “Go on,” he commanded.

“There was quite a commotion at Hogwarts this day, sir,” said Dobby. “Much unpleasantness, very upset people… Dobby brought tea to Professor Dumbledore in his study, and overheard…” The house-elf went rigid, then quivered and banged his head repeatedly against the side of the table. “Bad Dobby! Bad Dobby!” Harry grabbed Dobby by the arm and pulled him back; the house-elf took a moment to regain his footing.

“I don’t need to know what you heard at Hogwarts, Dobby,” Harry said. “I was interested in how you came here, that’s all.”

“Dobby asked Professor Dumbledore if he could serve Harry Potter, told him he would work for free just to have the chance. Professor Dumbledore told Dobby this would be a good idea, if Dobby were willing to bind to Harry Potter and not to a house. Dobby reminder Professor Dumbledore that he is free and can only bind hisself.” The house-elf bounced up and down like a child before a stack of Christmas presents. “Dobby chooses Harry Potter!”

“What about Winky?” Harry asked.

Dobby looked down at his socks. “Winky needs Dobby, Master Harry, sir. Winky is better, but Winky is not strong. Winky needs Dobby, sir.”

Harry couldn’t resist teasing. “Does Dobby need Winky?” he asked.

“Dobby… does not have an answer, Harry Potter,” Dobby said uneasily, “but Winky and Dobby will make this home worthy of Harry Potter – Dobby promises that.”

“I’ll be in the living room,” Lupin said abruptly. “Why don’t you find a room and put your things away?”

When Harry returned to the living room, he found his former Professor looking out the window, deep in thought. He wasn’t certain if he should speak, but Lupin turned and motioned for Harry to sit.

“Would you tell me about Gringotts now?” Lupin asked.

Harry recounted the day’s events and Lupin listened impassively. When he finished, he went quiet for a long while and then added, “I miss him.”

“I miss him as well,” Lupin said, “even though he’s just pulled the biggest prank of his life – and believe me, Harry, Sirius pulled some whopping pranks in his time. It’s just like him, to stir up everything and then walk away.”

Anger lit inside of Harry and rage swelled, filling the empty places. “He didn’t walk away!  That – that bitch Lestrange shoved him through the veil, in case you’ve forgotten!”

Lupin said calmly, “I know very well what happened. I’m simply telling you that Sirius enjoyed setting up pranks that came to fruition after he left the scene. Most of the time, your father was his partner in crime. I remember once, after the Halloween Ball, the two of them –” He stopped, gazing across the room at the mantle as though it were a pensieve.

“Where is this going?” Harry asked wearily.

“I loved Sirius like a brother – we all did. But he was a child trapped in an adult body. He was selfish, judgmental, impetuous, demanding… and when he wrote his will, he was trapped. Dumbledore wouldn’t let him leave, not even for a moment. He hated that house with every fibre of his being. I imagine that in some ways, it was worse for him at Grimmauld Place than in Azkaban. He didn’t trust Dumbledore at all on matters that concerned you. I think he felt that Dumbledore was doing the same thing to you – trapping you in a horrible place, because he felt it was for your own good.”

“So you think that Sirius did this to get back at Dumbledore?” Harry asked. “You don’t think he might have done this because he thought that I was ready for it?” The rage still flickered inside of him, waiting for Lupin to provide it a window of escape.

Lupin sighed. “Harry, you have been Sirius’ opposite in so many ways. You’ve been a man trapped in a child’s body. No child should have had to face what you have; yet you’ve managed it. I think Sirius saw that in you, and yes, I suspect he thought that you were ready to govern your own affairs. I also suspect he remembered James, and remembered how strong he was. Your father did have an old soul, Harry, but he didn’t face anything like you have until he was in his seventh year. You’re not your father, Harry. At least, you don’t have to be.”

Harry said dangerously, “What do you mean by that?”

Lupin looked at Harry for a long time. Harry couldn’t remember ever being so unnerved by someone’s eyes – they were sad and happy, judgmental and forgiving all at once. Finally he said, “Your father was capable of cruelty. You haven’t shown that trait – at least not regularly. He could be terribly judgmental. Goodness, he could hold a grudge! He could be rash, although not as rash as Sirius. He didn’t trust easily, either, and his trust could be quickly shaken. That cost him dearly, Harry. He – he paid a terrible price, as terrible as any person could ever pay. You’re not your father, Harry. Don’t make his mistakes.”

Harry stood bolt upright. “What gives you the right to talk about my father that way? I don’t need to hear this!”

“Yes, I think you do,” said Lupin calmly. “You’re so angry, Harry. Most of the people around you can see that, even if they haven’t experienced it. My kind… we can sense anger and pain more acutely than humans. I can feel it, Harry, the pain inside you. I felt that same anger, that searing sense of betrayal inside your father, when his parents were killed. It clouded his judgement, ate away at his trust, and drove people away. It started James on a path. Other events fed that path, as well, but you know where it ultimately led.”

The rage in Harry began to melt into something else. I won’t cry in front of him, he thought.

Lupin moved to sit next to Harry and awkwardly put an arm around his shoulders. “I’m not your guardian, Harry. It seems as though Sirius has asked me to shoulder some responsibility for you, but I can’t compel you to do anything. I’d make a poor father figure, so I won’t even try. I only ask that you listen to me, not that you do what I say. What Sirius has done is done. I just want you to make the best of it, instead of the worst.”

Harry struggled for control. “I don’t understand why it’s so horrible for me to be free. I just – is it wrong for me to want something for myself, for a change?”

Lupin shook his head. “No. It’s best when freedom comes in stages, though. Most of us get to try freedom on for size during our school days – we make a decision here, or have a choice there. You haven’t been afforded that chance. I imagine that you must feel trapped by fate, Harry.”

Harry took a few rapid shaky breaths. “Remus,” he whispered, “there’s something I have to tell you. I have to tell someone. I don’t know if I can –”

Lupin tightened his grip on Harry. “Harry, whatever it is, we’ll deal with it. You can tell me anything, of course.”

Harry began, “I heard the whole prophecy. I –”

Lupin closed his eyes. “Dumbledore told me that there is more to the prophecy than the Order has been told. I’m going to ask you to listen to me now, Harry. I want you to be very careful with whom you share what you know about the prophecy. Voldemort surely remains interested in the details.”

“Then you know…?” Harry asked.

“I don’t know the words, but the gist of it isn’t hard to guess,” Lupin said. “I will do everything I can to help you. I owe it to your father and mother. I wasn’t there for you when I was the only one left, Harry; I truly owe this to you.”

Harry stiffened; he quickly changed the subject. “Dumbledore said something about Mr. Diggle having to go over the will with me…”

“I’ll enquire with Dumbledore,” Lupin said. “I do need to be a part of the discussion when Diggle visits.”

Harry returned, “I’m glad for that.”

Dumbledore brought Diggle blindfolded to the Lion’s Den an hour later, to Lupin’s surprise. The Headmaster looked as though he wanted to converse with Harry but instead took a deep breath and left. Lupin sat with Harry for hours while Diggle walked through parchment after parchment describing Harry’s inheritance from Sirius. Then, he explained about the Potter Family Trust in excruciating detail – the money, the investments, the rights of inheritance, and restrictions on the use of funds, and on and on. It was like listening to a History of Magic lecture at the bottom of the ocean. At a quarter past one, Lupin opened the front door and cast a silvery spell of some sort. Not more than a minute later, Dumbledore entered. He quietly conferred with Lupin, and then covered Diggle’s eyes once again before the two of them left.

“Hello, Professor Dumbledore, and how was your day?” Harry snapped to no one in particular.

Lupin sighed, “He’s accustomed to getting his way, Harry, and he’s quite unhappy that you’ve signed off on all of this."

“And you...?  Are you unhappy?” Harry asked.

“I’m concerned,” said Lupin.

“I didn’t understand most of what Mr. Diggle was saying, you know?” admitted Harry.

“You weren’t alone at times, I assure you,” Lupin said. “I’ll be seeking assistance in a number of areas. Madam Bones may have useful contacts, and this is what Ted Tonks does for a living… Harry, about Madam Bones… I do appreciate what you were trying to do…”

“There aren’t many people I can trust,” said Harry. “She’s tough but she seems fair. It feels right.”

“I’ll work with her, of course, provided that she’ll work with me,” Lupin allowed. “It’s far too late an hour for me, Harry. We should both try to sleep.”

The three bedrooms on the first floor were all simple. Harry had chosen the one with the most light. There was a bed and a small desk with a shelf. His trunk was open and emptied into a bureau and a small cupboard. Harry sat wearily at the desk. All the papers Diggle had left were neatly stacked on the desk, and the wooden box from Sirius took up most of one shelf.

A voice squeaked behind him: “Dobby wishes to know if Harry Potter is ready for bed.”

Harry almost fell out of his chair. “Dobby, don’t sneak around like that!” he snapped.

Dobby nearly jumped into the corridor. “Dobby is so sorry, Harry Potter, sir! Dobby did not mean to cause a fright!”

“I see that all of my papers are here,” Harry said idly.

Dobby puffed up at that. “Dobby knows how to run a household, Harry Potter, sir,” he sniffed.

Harry smiled and said, “I wasn’t criticizing, Dobby. I was just surprised. I’m not used to having someone else do things for me.”

Dobby looked away. “Dobby can leave well enough alone, if that is what Harry Potter prefers,” he offered.

Harry shook his head. “No, I mean, it’s really nice. Thank you, Dobby,” he said.  Dobby beamed, and his eyes filled with tears. The house-elf’s roller coaster of emotions nearly made Harry sick to his stomach; he wondered if all house-elves were that way.

“Dobby is so happy, sir, to be serving the great Harry Potter,” the house-elf gushed. “He is too kind and too generous for Dobby to understand!”

Dobby skittered to the bed, and drew down the sheets. He laid out Harry’s worn T-shirt and boxers that he used for pyjamas. “Dobby thinks that Harry Potter should buy new clothes,” he muttered. Dobby went into the cupboard and fetched a pair of Harry’s heavy woollen socks.

Harry laughed, “What are those for? It’s the middle of the summer.”

Dobby looked at Harry with life-or-death seriousness on his face and said, “Dobby does not think that Harry Potter should sleep without socks. He can never know when he might need them.”

Harry shook his head. “I’m going to read for a while, Dobby. Good night,” he said.

“Dobby wishes Harry Potter good night and good rest, sir.” said the house-elf, who closed the door behind him.

Harry pulled Sirius’ box off the shelf and set it atop the papers on the writing desk. I think I’d even sit down with ‘Hogwarts: A History’ at this point, Harry thought. He wanted – no, he needed distraction.

He opened each of the envelopes attached to the inside of the lid, and counted the money inside. He was certainly ready to run, thought Harry, and apparently in style. He wondered how Sirius had managed to accumulate nearly a hundred thousand pounds. It wasn’t like he could walk into Gringotts, and his vault must have been sealed, or watched, or something, he figured.

There were two bundled stacks of photographs, a mix of Muggle and wizard. Some looked to be duplicates of pictures in the album that Hagrid had given to Harry. Next to the bundles was a small box in gold wrapping paper with a scarlet bow. Harry set that aside.

Beneath was an envelope hand-addressed to him. On another envelope Sirius had scrawled “Orion’s Belt”. Sirius’ Hogwarts ring sat in a small open box. At the bottom of the box was a thick, leather-bound book. Harry flipped it open and realised that it was a journal. He wasn’t up for a letter, a journal, or anything more from Sirius – not right then. He felt the same way about the mystery trunk on the floor; he just couldn’t bring himself to open it.

He placed everything back in the box except the hand-addressed letter and the gift-wrapped package, and returned the box to its shelf. He was tempted to open the letter, but his eyes closed before he could follow through...

It seemed to take Sirius an age to fall. His body curved in a graceful arc as he sank backward through the ragged veil hanging from the arch…

And Harry saw the look of mingled fear and surprise on his godfather’s wasted, once-handsome face as he fell through the ancient doorway and disappeared behind the veil, which fluttered for a moment as though in a high wind and then fell back into place.

Harry heard Bellatrix Lestrange’s triumphant scream, but knew it meant nothing – Sirius had only just fallen through the archway, he would reappear from the other side any second. But Sirius did not reappear.

“SIRIUS!” Harry yelled, “SIRIUS!”

He had reached the floor, his breath coming in searing gasps. Sirius must be just behind the curtain, he, Harry, would pull him back out again….

But as he reached the ground and sprinted toward the dais, someone grabbed him around the chest, holding him back.

“There’s nothing you can do, Harry –”

“Get him, save him; he’s only just gone through!”

“It’s too late, Harry –”

“We can still reach him –”

Harry struggled hard and viciously. “Let me go – let me go through!” he shouted.

“Why would you want to do that?” Sirius said, tightening his hold around Harry’s chest. “I’m not lonely, Harry. I’ve plenty of company.”

Lupin poked at the veil. “Good-bye, Harry,” he said mournfully, falling through.

Dumbledore laughed, “Time for the next great adventure, Harry,” winked at him, and dove head-first through the veil.

Ron clutched Hermione’s hand. Ron said, “See ‘ya soon, mate,” and walked into the veil.

Hermione cried, “I’m so sorry, Harry,” as Ron pulled her through.

Ginny said brightly, “Can’t be late! ‘Bye, Harry!” Then she was gone along with Luna, Neville, and the rest. The arm around Harry’s chest pulled away.

“It’s just us now, Harry,” Voldemort hissed. “Time to truly live.”

 

July 30, 1996

Harry woke up flailing at the air. The room was blurry, and he found himself crouched on the floor. A soft grey glow came through the windows. He stumbled to the bed, sat down on its edge, and sighed. Yet another variation on his summer-long dream churned in his mind. I want you out of my head, Sirius, he thought.

He felt like he hadn’t slept at all and his attempts to shake off the dream failed. It wasn’t exactly reassuring to end with Voldemort, whose absence had been the only satisfying part of Harry’s nights since leaving Hogwarts.

He’s out killing Muggles, but he’s not in my head – that’s strange. My scar hasn’t even hurt, Harry thought, as he drifted off to sleep again…

Harry stood in a familiar room, dark save for a few flickering candles. Wormtail attended him.

“His anger has faded away,” Harry said in a chilling voice. “How disappointing."

“Master, forgive me for my failures,” said Wormtail, trembling.

Harry sneered, “Your existence is itself unforgivable; however, you have not failed. You brought me the runes I sought. Your reward is that you may remain at my side.”

“Anything for you, My Lord,” Wormtail whispered and he prostrated himself on the floor.

“It is time to attempt the curse. If it is successful, then I will start the path to my final success – I will rule forever,” Harry declared, very pleased with himself. “Stand before me, my slave.” Wormtail scurried forward in haste.

“He must feel pain. He shall hate me more than he has ever hated, and I shall own his rage,” said Harry. “Now I shall put the runes to good use. Bring my new friend.”

Two cloaked Death Eaters dragged in a bound figure, obscured by shadow.

“Have the preparations been made?” Harry snapped.

“Yes, My Lord,” said one of the Death Eaters.

“Very well; leave me. Wormtail, tell Malfoy to continue his efforts,” Harry ordered. “Remind him of the consequences should he be foolish enough to cross me. I want you to accelerate the plans for Potter – begin with the last. I will glean the most important information myself, but you will bear the lesser details. Do this for me, and I shall reward you in ways beyond your understanding. Fail me, and you shall wish that you were never born. GO!”

Wormtail left, bowing and scraping, and Harry focused on his bound victim.

Harry walked in a circle around the figure writhing on the floor. He waved his wand in complex patterns. “I know exactly what you want,” he said. “I can feel it, you weak-minded fool. You want it so badly, don’t you?”

He stopped and read aloud from symbols carved on a small stone. “Together, we can have it,” he told his victim. “Phasma transtuli!

...Dobby tugged at Harry’s shirt. “Harry Potter, sir, Dobby is waking you up, sir! Harry Potter was screaming so! Dobby and Winky thought there was danger!”

The door flung open. Lupin rushed in, clad in his bedclothes. “Harry, are you all right?”
Harry murmured, “Fine. Where are…?” Dobby handed him his glasses. The sun shone brightly through the windows.

Lupin pressed the back of his hand against Harry’s forehead. “You’re warm and peaked,” he said. “What were you dreaming about? Was he there?”

Harry said weakly, “He fell through the veil, but he didn’t… it was strange.”

Lupin’s voice turned misty. “Oh… I didn’t mean Sirius.”

Harry struggled for focus. There had been Sirius, and then Voldemort, and then a curse he’d never heard before and couldn’t clearly remember. He said in a jumble, “Voldemort was – there were two of them, and – I couldn’t see the person and – the orders for Wormtail –”

Lupin’s face reddened. “Wormtail was there? Where was he? Tell me!”

“I don’t know,” Harry told him, “it was dark –”

“I have to know where he is!” Lupin shouted. “Where is he? Tell me where he is!”

“I don’t know!” Harry snapped. “Don’t you think I want to know? I want to kill him, too!”

Lupin shrank back. “I want justice, Harry,” he said firmly. “I want justice. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t… I’m sorry I shouted at you.”

Dobby stood very still on the end of the bed. He asked fearfully, “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was here?”

“No, Dobby,” Harry said. “It was a dream, that’s all.”

“I need to owl Dumbledore. You’ll tell him everything?” Lupin asked.

“Fine,” Harry said flatly. “I’d like to be alone.”

“Albus cleared Fred and George Weasley to know this location,” Lupin said. “I expect them to make an appearance this morning. I won’t mention you unless they ask, and you’re not required to see them.” He paused for a moment and added with a catch in his voice, “The will’s to be read this evening at ten o’clock. We’ll have to see about some proper clothing for you.” With that he left and closed the door behind him.

Harry moved to the desk and picked up quill and parchment. He jotted a few notes about what he could remember from the dream, in hopes that the information might keep Dumbledore from sifting through his mind later. Dobby brought breakfast and Harry nibbled at it. He slowly looked through the photos from Sirius’s box. They were filled with familiar people who looked so different; Moody was more or less intact, Sirius’s face wasn’t hollow, Lupin’s hair was entirely brown and his face unblemished by scars. These were people who smiled and laughed, people Harry didn’t know.

“Fred and George are good for a laugh, at least,” Harry said aloud. He put aside the photos, slipped on a cleaner shirt and denims, and made his way downstairs. He picked a book off the living room shelf at random and sat. His choice turned out to be as dry as a desert, but it did keep him from thinking thoughts best left aside. Lupin saw him sitting there; he said nothing, but gave a hint of a smile.

Not long after that, Lupin let Fred and George Weasley through the front door. They exchanged large envelopes and quiet mutters, and Lupin disappeared into the kitchen. George’s eyes stopped on Harry as soon as they entered the living room.

“Look what the kneazle dragged in, brother,” George said.

Fred grinned. “This must be the house for irritable bachelors, brother.”

“Too true, too true; do you suppose that’s why His Nibs put us on the list?” smirked George.

“Oh, please do call Dumbledore that in a meeting,” Fred snorted. “You’re looking fit, Harry. Your uncle must have given you the heavy lifting this summer?”

“You’ve obviously been fed for once. You’re not our ickle Harrykins any more,” George added.

Fred’s eyebrows furrowed. “Oi, you do remember our little brother and little sister – don’t you, Harry? They’d be the ones running the owls ragged?”

“Er… I’m surprised they didn’t come along with you,” Harry said.

George shook his head. “This place is on a need-to-know basis only,” he said officiously. “We’re on grown-up business… hard as that may be to believe.”

“Doesn’t mean we’re grown-ups, of course,” Fred said quickly.

“Certainly not!” agreed George.

“’Sides, Ron’s a little tired, you know?” Fred said.

“He’s down in the dumps lately… decided to stay in bed this morning,” George added.

Fred sighed, “Ginny says he’s nothing but a great wanker.”

“The Lovegood girl’s staying with the family right now – her dad’s off after something or another,” George said. “She doesn’t think Ron could be a wanker because he doesn’t look like one.”

“We’re not sure how she’d know what a wanker looks like, mind you,” Fred said as he wiggled his eyebrows. Harry nearly choked at that.

“At any rate, our Ronnie has been a bit off,” George said.

Fred explained, “That brain business did something to him. He’s made the rounds, but no one’s certain what happened.”

Harry managed to get in a word at last. “I thought Madam Pomfrey treated him,” he said.

“She treated the scars,” Fred replied. “She didn’t fix his fool head.”

George scowled. “We’re not getting any sleep this summer. We sort of hoped you might talk to him. You have some experience with this sort of thing, after all.”

“You know, the voices-in-the-head, screaming-through-the-night sort of thing?” Fred added.

George sighed. “Problem is, Ron doesn’t want to see you.”

Harry tried to ask “Why?” but couldn’t push the word out of his mouth.

George added, “It might have helped a bit if you’d answered a post or two.”

Fred jumped in, “But Ginny’s right in one – he is being a wanker.”

“He’s just overly sensitive when it comes to you, Harry,” qualified George.

“No,” said Fred, “he’s a jealous prat. He has a problem with your good press, among other things.”

Harry looked at the twins blankly. Fred fished inside his lurid jacket and drew out a folded section of newsprint. “I was using this to toy with Ginny and Luna – well, mostly Ginny. Look below the fold,” he told Harry, handing him the paper.

It was the front page of that morning’s Daily Prophet. There were two pictures beneath a modestly sized headline:

OUT OF THE SHADOWS AT LAST!
The Boy-Who-Lived appears at Diagon Alley

One picture was of Harry sitting with Neville and the little blonde-haired girl at Gringotts. He was talking to the girl. Neville looked anxious. It was taken from an odd angle with Harry in the foreground – the girl’s mother couldn’t have snapped the picture. The caption read: Harry Potter [left], sitting at Gringotts with a friend from Hogwarts and a young fan.

The other picture was of a vaguely familiar teenage girl kissing Harry on the cheek. The photographer had managed to catch him after the initial shock had worn off, and had instead captured a trace of a smile on Harry’s face. The caption read: Potter fan Gretchen Hargrove [right] takes a quick smooch. Harry’s stomach rolled, but he pressed on through the article:

Seldom seen in public, Harry Potter had an opportunity to savour his popularity yesterday. Whilst visiting Gringotts, the Boy-Who-Lived greeted more than one hundred fans and well-wishers. He posed for several photographs and gave a few very rare autographs. “I can’t believe he asked my name, and he signed my copy of Witch Weekly!” gasped Ethelyn Griswold, of Marsdon.

His younger fans were equally smitten. “He’s brilliant at Quidditch, and absolutely gorgeous, too,” gushed Gretchen Hargrove, of Lower Gatwick, who recently completed her fourth year in Hogwarts’ Hufflepuff House, “and I love what he’s done to his hair!” Hargrove managed to sneak a kiss from Potter, who appeared to enjoy it; and several other young witches managed hugs and autographs.

There were critics on hand as well. “It’s shameful he’s made to live with Muggles,” opined Esmeralda Gobstopp, of Birmingham; “They’ve ruined him with their slovenly dress and lack of decorum.” A few organizations – notably the Daughters of the Goblin Wars – have objected to Potter as a role model, citing his upbringing by Muggles.

Potter was whisked away by Gringotts security goblins after a few minutes. An anonymous Gringotts employee told the Daily Prophet that Potter was visiting the bank in regard to his family trust, which is reputedly amongst the largest in Britain.

“I’m going to stay in this house for the rest of my life,” Harry said in a dazed monotone. He held the paper with his fingertips, arm extended, as if it were a dangerous snake.

Fred snatched it away from him. “It’s not that bad,” he offered, “and we promise not to rub your nose in it.”

George said, “Not today, at least, but that isn’t the point. Think on this this from Ron’s point of view –”

Fred cut in, “Ron’s jealous, delusional point of view?”

George nodded. “Right-o, brother mine. Harry, you get all the attention. Being Harry Potter’s friend from Hogwarts is a step up for Neville. Ron aims a bit higher, you know? The Prophet  never mentioned anyone but you by name, not once. It was always ‘Harry Potter and his friends’.”

“Let me, George – I’ve got one,” Fred said, rubbing his hands together excitedly. “You get all the girls.”

Harry started, “That’s ridiculous! No one but Cho Chang has ever –”

Fred slowly shook his head from side to side. “Sorry, Harry, but you may as well have a Sticking Charm on you. It doesn’t matter what you actually do with your power; it only matters that you have it. This is Ron’s point of view, right?”

“Can’t leave off the money, Fred,” George chimed in. “Ron’s never had two Knuts to rub together. You’re rolling in Galleons, Harry.”

“But I’ve never –” Harry wailed.

George cut him off. “You’ve never lorded your money over Ron, not as far as we’ve seen. It’s just like the girl business, Harry – you have it and he doesn’t. He thinks his life is one giant hand-me-down.”

Harry looked to his shoes. “Is it that bad?”

“It was always there, I suppose,” Fred said, “but everything’s been different since the Ministry. He’s just, I don’t know… dark?”

George nodded. “Dark and cranky and picky. Nothing’s right for that one.”

“The first two weeks back, he was obsessed with making Head Boy,” Fred cringed. “Rules, rules, rules – he made Hermione seem a pushover!”

George whispered conspiratorially, “We were afraid he was becoming…”

The twins shivered and exclaimed in horror, “Percy!

Harry gave them a gimlet eye. “Why are you telling me all this?” he wondered. “Ron’s your brother. Shouldn’t you stand with him?”

Fred put his arm around Harry’s shoulder. “Harry, you’re more than just a friend and business partner. You’re like the brother we never had.”

“Fred, we have four brothers,” George pointed out.

“Right, then – you’re like the brother we should have had,” Fred added. “Percy is a genuine wanker, Charlie’s never around, Bill’s all about the shagging lately, and Ron’s gone ‘round the twist.”

George stared daggers at Fred. “Harry,” he said, “what Fred should be saying is that Ron needs his friends just now. Ron doesn’t see it that way –”

“ – But we’re right and he’s wrong,” Fred cut in.

“We’re asking you to stick it out with him,” said George.

Fred said with a frown, “We think Ron could get himself in trouble, acting like this. Here’s hoping that you can stand him.”

Harry asked, “What about Hermione? She’s been keeping up, right?”

Fred rolled his eyes. “She’s not exactly a prize, is she?”

George scowled at Fred. “Let up on her a bit. She’s practically a prisoner in her own house. How would you be, stuck there with Mum for a month?”

“Bleagh,” Fred said.

“My point exactly,” George continued. “She’s been to the Burrow once, and poor Errol’s been kept busy. She thought this Head Boy business of his was, what did she say, a ‘healthy coping mechanism’? Thank Merlin he’s given up on it.”

“Hermione’s as far ‘round the twist as Ron,” Fred said. “Tonks says she’s ‘fragile’ right now and that we should shove off. Of course, George hangs on every word that Tonks says –”

George crossed his arms. “I’m wounded, really I am.”

“You can listen to her all day long for all I care,” Fred said, grinning, “as long as she never, ever sets foot in the store or the lab – unless we set out to blow up half of Diagon Alley.”

Harry imagined Tonks dropping or stumbling over some of the twins’ more interesting creations. He was about to ask them about the store when Lupin returned with a small crate. George traded a solemn look with Lupin and took it in hand.

Fred shook Harry’s hand in formal fashion and tried not to laugh. “Always spiffing to see you, partner. Hopefully we’ll talk again tonight.”

“Tonight…?” Harry said blankly.

“We received letters from Gringotts,” George explained. “The reading starts around ten, right?” Harry’s neck twitched and the twins quickly let it drop.

After Fred and George left, Lupin suggested to Harry that they go to a market. This made little sense to Harry, as Dobby and Winky were taking the kitchen duties. He was surprised to find that they could leave the Lion’s Den by Floo; Lupin explained that the fireplace only allowed for outbound travel.

A few moments later, Harry found himself in the back room of a bookshop, which led them to an ancient building that Lupin called a priory, and then to an abandoned house in what was surely London. They walked until Harry was able to hail a taxi, which let them out on the edge of several blocks crowded with stands, tables, and throngs of people. It appeared to Harry that a person might buy anything in the world right there on kerbside.

Harry was immediately attracted to a rack of waist-length coats made mostly of leather. The vendor proceeded with a meandering tale about their history as aviator jackets during the Second World War. Lupin whispered in Harry’s ear that this was an obvious tactic for driving up the price. Harry had never before haggled and he decided that it was rather fun. Lupin told Harry that he did a fair job of it, but warned him to be more cautious about flashing around fifty-pound notes when it was time to pay. The next purchase was a wallet.

He found denims, and shirts, and other necessaries – anything and everything to rid himself of Dudley’s awful hand-me-downs. He tried on a vividly coloured pair of trainers made for running, and took those as well. One stand extended from a store front that sold formal clothes. Lupin suggested to Harry that he purchase a suit for the evening. After much prodding, he settled on a dark grey and black three-piece that needed alterations. Lupin whispered to Harry that Winky could surely take care of that. One of the salespeople tried gamely to match ties to the suit but Harry had no interest in them; he settled on two banded-collar dress shirts, one white and one black. Formal shoes were even worse than ties as far as Harry was concerned. He had never worn shoes other than trainers for any length of time, and the stiff leather pinched his toes and chafed his heels. At length, he settled on a pair of black slip-ons that weren’t completely irritating.

Lupin and Harry bought food from carts. Harry avoided anything that seemed familiar; according to Lupin, that was what Sirius would have done. He wolfed down something called ‘vindaloo’ that lingered in his mouth and made his eyes water. Lupin said that eating from the carts was suicidal but went along just the same. There were performers everywhere, it seemed; Lupin called them “buskers”. Harry managed to talk two of them into showing him how to juggle, while Lupin looked on in amusement. Harry was able to briefly manage four balls at a time. He wanted to learn how to eat fire after that; Lupin gave a discreet reminder that the buskers were using Muggle fire, which was quite hot. Harry shook his head at Lupin for stating the obvious, but moved on nonetheless.

It was a fine evening, and they walked for a time before hailing a taxi and launching into another circuit of Floo stops followed by another long ride from the seaside to the woods. Winky did indeed know how to alter clothing, and soon the suit fit Harry as if it were made for him. She also made changes to his school cloak that sharpened it up considerably.

Lupin wanted to leave for the reading no later than a quarter past nine. Harry fussed with his hair at the last moment. It was as thick as ever, though a bit more manageable with the extra length. He tried sweeping it back but that made his scar stand out. He settled on combing the sides back and leaving the top to its own devices.

Harry and Lupin found themselves ejected from a fireplace in the great hall of Gringotts, which was echo-filled and a bit sinister when the bank was otherwise closed. Peninukk, the goblin who Harry had met the day prior, met them there. They were directed to one of the many doors off the hall. A short corridor took them to a large and ornate room with a dark table at the far end and a few rows of heavy wooden chairs. Harry’s mood – the sense of the room itself, in fact – was as dark as the table. He said and heard nothing until a hand gently set down on his shoulder. His wand was in hand before he turned his head.

“Good evening, Harry,” Dumbledore said, “you cut a dashing figure in that suit.”

“Thank you,” Harry said grimly as he returned his wand to his sleeve.

The man with Dumbledore was fully cloaked and Harry felt a surge of dark anger. The man’s hood lowered and Harry instantly spat, “What are you doing here?”

Dumbledore said calmly, “Harry, please be civil.”

Severus Snape sneered, “If you confer with the goblins, Potter, you will see that I’m on the list of attendees. Black arranged for me to receive a letter; only Merlin knows why. I have come against my better judgement.”

“I can’t imagine Sirius left you anything other than a good hexing,” seethed Harry. He noticed that two of the three goblins in the room were taking close notice, but couldn’t bring himself to care.

“Undoubtedly,” Snape sneered, “but Professor Dumbledore will surely administer the necessary counter-curses.”

Harry moved toward Snape until they were a few inches apart. “I won’t let you ruin this,” he growled. “I’m of age now, and I won’t hold back any longer.”

“Are you actually threatening me, Potter? Oh, help, please, I’m so frightened. Save me from this whelp of a schoolboy,” Snape mocked.

“Severus –” Dumbledore warned.

“You won’t be treating me or my friends badly any more, Snape,” Harry said firmly. He was dimly aware that there were several more goblins in the room now. Snape glared at him, but Harry noticed with some satisfaction that he took a small step backward.

“Or what?” taunted the Potions Master. “What recourse exists in your foetid imagination?”

Harry set his jaw. “Or there won’t be enough left of you to boil in your cauldron,” he said through clenched teeth. “I will never forgive you for what you did to me last year – never!  Your so-called lessons left me defenceless, and that helped get Sirius killed. You remember that, when you’re … GET OUT OF MY HEAD!”

Harry quickly focused on the feeling of Voldemort’s Cruciatus Curse. He summoned up the torture that had racked every muscle in his body, the nausea so powerful that spewing up was no longer an option, the longing for an end - any end at all. Snape fell to his knees and his eyes went out of focus; he made a kind of grunting sound.

Harry felt Dumbledore’s hand on his shoulder. “Enough, Harry,” the Headmaster said.
Harry didn’t want it to be enough. He pictured Cedric’s death and the horror he had felt, the heavy responsibility for a life lost– and then the responsibility for the pain in the lives of everyone close to him. Harry thought about how he’d been robbed of any chance at a real life, as long as Voldemort was alive.

“Harry, you’ve made your point – stop this now,” Dumbledore said firmly, and his hand squeezed harder.

It wasn’t enough. I want you to know, Snape, he thought; I want you to know what it really means to be me. He recalled the prophecy, all of it.

Snape’s eyes snapped open. His face was devoid of expression, and his eyes bored into Harry; his head wobbled and his breathing became ragged.

“Harry, you must release him! Now, please!” Dumbledore exclaimed. He gave Harry a rough shaking.

Harry heard what was surely a snarling argument carried out in the goblin tongue. He closed his eyes and tried to think a good thought, and then settled for thinking of nothing at all.

“I - told you - my - methods - would be – effective - Albus,” Snape managed to say between gasping breaths.

Dumbledore snapped, “I expect far better of you, Severus. Your hypothesis might have been demonstrated in the proper time and place and under proper conditions. I believed that Harry had overstated his experiences with you, but I can see that he did not. You do not teach Occlumency by violating your pupil!”

Snape still breathed hard. “As I have told you for five years, the boy has no capacity for theory. The only way he could possibly learn Occlumency was by experiencing intrusions for himself.”

“Did you teach Harry how to strike back?” Dumbledore asked.

“Not intentionally,” Snape scowled. “He is clearly incapable of subtlety as well, although that is no surprise.” His face became expressionless again, as he turned to face Harry.

“Why, Potter?” he asked in a low voice.

“I wanted you to know,” Harry hissed. “I wanted you to try carrying it around for a while, and see how it feels, how it burns at your insides. Besides, I know that you can keep it from Voldemort.”

Snape put on a faint version of his cruel smile. “How very calculating – and in the heat of the moment. That was almost worthy of my House.”

Peninukk strode imperiously into the room. “Mister Snape, do you seek to be expelled from Gringotts or are you merely a fool?”he demanded.

“This is a simple misunderstanding; no harm was intended,” Dumbledore said genially. Harry glared at him.

“Mr. Potter disagrees,” said Peninukk. “We offer a single warning. There will be no offensive wand work or mind magics performed within this room or in these halls. I was told that Mr. Potter was defending himself. For defence – and that alone – we give allowance.”

Snape said in his silkiest tone, “You would do well to listen to the Supreme Mugwump. The Potter boy has always easily offended.” Harry counted a dozen goblins in the room now, some with swords in hand. For the first time, his History of Magic classes took on substance.

“There are no Mugwumps here, wizard. Gringotts is the territory of the Goblin nation,” Peninukk spat. “Under the old ways, wand work on our territory without permission was punishable by death. Under the old ways, becoming the thrall of a dark wizard was punishable by death.”

A wizened voice cried out from the door. “You must remember, my young friend, that under the Treaty of 1806 the old ways were set aside for the sake of the wizards.  They do not see a Goblin nation now. You will stand down.” Peninukk turned – unwillingly, Harry thought – and bowed.

Dumbledore removed his hat and gave a respectful nod. “Ragnok, I am at your service,” he said.

The goblin at the door was clad in fine robes and so many medals and decorations that it looked as if the sheer weight should pitch him over. “We are too old for ritual greetings, Dumbledore,” Ragnok said. “This is your second disturbance in my halls in less than two days. Do you miss the impetuousness of youth so much?”

“I believe we are both too old for that,” Dumbledore offered.

Ragnok gave a toothy smile. “For this I am glad,” he said; “I am already surrounded by enough impetuousness. I can ill afford more. Peninukk, son of Maajumalad, we will speak of this in my chambers.”

“It will be so, Ragnok, but it is we who have been offended,” Peninukk said. Several of the goblins in the room let out a hiss; it was clear that Peninukk spoke out of turn, but he ploughed on, “This wizard is a thrall of their Dark Lord. He stands here, in our hallowed halls, and attacks –”

Ragnok cut him off. “ – and such attacks, however offensive they may be, are an internal matter for the wizards. However, the Gringotts Rules of Conduct apply whether these halls are open or closed to the public. A simple conjuring or repair is one thing. The unsanctioned offensive use of wizarding magic within these walls remains punishable, though in these modern times we use the purse rather than the sword. Make this clear to your underling, Dumbledore: if I must mete out punishment, there shall be no charity.”

Ragnok’s robe dragged the ground; it looked as though the elderly goblin floated across the floor as he walked slowly toward Harry. “Mr. Potter, we have not been introduced,” he said. “I am Ragnok, son of Baldric the Brutal. Gringotts Wizarding Bank and the Guild of Finance are mine.”

Harry bowed his head, which brought a bemused look to Ragnok’s countenance. “Erm… I'm Harry Potter, sir… son of James and Lily…?” Harry ventured.

Ragnok said gravely, “For most, ‘son of James’ would suffice. For Harry Potter, it is right to recognize a mother’s sacrifice, is it not? Sad tidings bring you to our halls this evening. I hope that this shall not always be so. A contingent of my men will remain just outside during the proceedings – for the sake of security, of course. Now I shall take my leave. It is not right to detain the other beneficiaries any longer. Peninukk, follow.” Peninukk came to heel like a scolded puppy.

“Thank you for your time, Ragnok,” said Dumbledore.

The ancient goblin stopped just short of the door and said, “Ah, lest I forget, the door you destroyed yesterday was crafted by a long-dead master artisan of my clan.”

“That is most unfortunate,” Dumbledore said carefully.

“Peninukk will forward the invoice for its restoration; expect a lengthy and terribly labour-intensive project.  Good evening, Dumbledore,” said Ragnok.

Dumbledore returned his hat to his head. “We will speak later of Professor Snape’s actions toward you,” he said to Harry. “This evening was to be about Sirius, and thus it shall be so. Come, Severus.” It was Snape’s turn to come to heel, and the two men retired to the back row of chairs as Harry returned to Lupin’s side.

“Are you all right?” Lupin asked. He reached out and smoothed the collar and lapel of Harry’s jacket, even as Harry tried to pull away. It was a parental gesture and Harry was in no mood for it at all.

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