A Quickly Blurring Line
This chapter was partially Liz's and partially mine. The next one is all mine.
Chapter 8 — A Quickly Blurring Line
She’d always loved the silence of the night.
Hand clenched around her wand, Bellatrix peered carefully around the side of the house, watching for her back-up. They were supposed to have shown up an hour before — never before had they been so late. The Dark Lord would be furious…
He would be furious.
A harsh wind blew across the way and she shuddered, pressing her legs together as she struggled against the unexpected cold of the night. The thrill of a raid had always excited her, but tonight, with the sudden chill, she found that dreadfully inconvenient. Just once, just this once, she wished she could be as cold and aloof as Lucius —
Something wasn’t right.
She froze where she stood, eyes fixed straight ahead as her ears strained in the darkness. Whatever it was, it had been slightly to the left behind her —
Spinning on her heel, she gripped her wand tightly and glared through the darkness.
"Who’s there?" she demanded hoarsely. "Answer me!"
"I won’t hurt you," she lied as she continued to gaze through the darkness, eyes narrowed. "Just come out and—"
"Ah, Bella, Bella, Bella," a smooth voice sounded through the darkness, and a chill went down her spine as her eyes widened with shock. "You never did know how to bluff, did you?"
"My — my Lord?" she whispered, peering anxiously through the darkness. "Where are you, my Lord? What of the raid?"
"The raid?" the Dark Lord's voice replied, and Bellatrix started as she felt breath against her ear. "My dearest Bellatrix, there is no raid."
"But—" She shivered violently, goosebumps appearing on her arms as the blunt point of an invisible wand traced along her collarbone. "But what of the amulet, my Lord? You need — you wanted—"
"There is no amulet, my dear," he breathed, and she closed her eyes. "What there is," he said slowly, "is the need for a discussion."
"A — a discussion, my lord?"
"Yes, a discussion," he agreed. "We need to discuss your failure, Bellatrix."
"My failure, my Lord?" she asked anxiously. "But I thought I was already—"
"Oh, certainly, you were already punished," he said softly. "But you were not yet taught. Do you remember when I used to teach you, my dearest little warrior?" he asked, and snaking an invisible arm around her waist, he pulled her back against his skeletal frame, chuckling yet again as she shuddered with fear. "Do you?"
"Y-yes, my Lord," Bellatrix said shakily, swallowing back her fear. "I remember perfectly, my Lord."
"Well," the Dark Lord breathed. "It seems, my dearest Bella, that it is time for yet another lesson." With a careless thrust of his free hand, he flung the woman to the ground, his invisibility charm still intact.
"A warrior you may be, my dear," he continued, "but there is another use for you."
Curled up on her side where he had thrown her, Bellatrix watched as the grass flattened where the Dark Lord stepped, circling her with an easy stroll.
She didn't dare fight.
This, she knew, was going to hurt.
He woke to the sound of screaming.
Cursing wildly under his breath, Remus scrambled out of bed and threw an open robe over his shoulders, fastening it quickly around his neck as Tonks drew her wand out of the holster ever-present on her arm. They raced for the door, cringing as the alarms started keening.
By the time they reached Harry's room, his door was already wide open. Skidding into the room, Remus stopped dead at the sight of the boy thrashing wildly, his eyes still screwed shut, as frantic screams streamed from his mouth. Behind him, Kingsley strode into the room, took one look at Harry and strode back out.
"I'm going to go check the perimeter!" he called back over his shoulder. "Tonks!"
"Right, on it!" she agreed, and ran after him, throwing a worried glance over her shoulder. Remus ignored them both, moving forward and gesturing Ginny to move aside from where she had perched on Harry's bed.
He froze in place, staring in shock as Harry's mouth opened and a serpentine voice spoke.
"Do you see, Potter?" the voice hissed, and Remus went rigid with fury. "Do you see what I do to those who are loyal to me? This is nothing to what your Mudblood whore will get, boy — nothing. And the littlest Weasley, and the Lovegood girl — why, I could let them live for months before I'd allow them the escape of death. Do you see what you are to me, Potter?"
Harry's back arched. With a guttural scream, he rose off the bed, a strange red light glowing around his body. His eyelids fluttered rapidly, his throat working as he struggled to fight off the intrusion. The room began to shake, windows and doors rattling in their frames. Remus swore, reaching for Harry's shoulders, and pinned him down to the bed, holding the boy in place as he tried to thrash right off the bed.
"Where are Lily and James?" he shouted as Hermione crashed through the door, and the bushy-haired witch shook her head, pushing past him with a single-minded determination, an odd-looking stone held in her hand. With a pained grimace, she looked at Harry, tears in her eyes, and pressed the stone to his forehead.
"Expulsi!" she shouted, and a bright green light flashed along the lightning bolt scar on Harry's head.
Harry collapsed, panting heavily as tears leaked out of his eyes.
Backing away from the bed with a gasp, Hermione pressed her hands to her mouth, tears welling up in her eyes.
"Hermione?" Remus questioned gently.
She shook her head. "No," she said softly, "I don't know where they are."
"Are you all right?" he asked, and she shook her head, moving forward yet again to check on Harry.
The trembling boy had fallen asleep yet again, his right hand curling inward and uncurling fitfully as he slept.
"Oh, thank god," Hermione murmured shakily, and she brushed her hair out of her face with a shaking hand. Reaching out carefully, Remus wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against his chest, cradling her against him as he murmured soothingly to her.
When she had fallen silent, he glanced down carefully at the girl, smiling sadly as he felt the parental instincts stirring. His curse had left him sterile, but Remus had always felt that the Golden Trio — as Minerva had told him they were known throughout the school — were as good as his. Fighting back the sudden swell in his heart, Remus carefully lifted the drowsy girl and carried her back to her own bed, returning to Harry's side as soon as she was settled.
Remus stood silently, staring at the boy for what seemed like ages.
When he found Lily and James, he decided, there would be hell to pay.
They waltzed in four hours later, wands in hand as they staggered into the front hall.
Remus smiled darkly as he felt the ward trip — he loved the irony of using one of Lily's own spells against her. Rising carefully to his feet, he gave Kingsley a meaningful glance, nodding in thanks as the Auror straightened from his position by the wall and moved to sit beside Harry's bed. Tonks eyed Remus nervously before shifting her own position, settling herself on the end of Harry's bed in a cross-legged sprawl.
The three of them hadn't left Harry's side all night, regardless of the fact that he'd not been attacked since Hermione had expelled Voldemort His sleep was still deeply disturbed, and the sight and sound of his tossing and turning and tears was enough to keep them on a constant bedside vigil.
Frowning angrily at the prospect of having to leave Harry's side even for long enough to ream out his best friends, Remus descended the stairs and stopped on the second-floor landing, gazing down on the Potters with an expressionless face. James was practically carrying Lily, he noted absently, who looked as though she was very nearly falling over drunk.
They hadn't seen him, he realized. Perfect.
"Have fun?" Remus asked coolly, arching an eyebrow as Lily jerked out of James' grasp and spun in the entryway to stare up at him.
"Remus!" she exclaimed. "What are you-?"
"I shan't stay long," Remus replied immediately. "I need to return to my vigil. But I just thought you'd like to know that your son was attacked tonight by Voldemort through the link they share in his scar. I hope you enjoyed your evening."
Turning on his heel, he strode back up the steps, into Harry's room, and shut the door behind himself with a final click.
His friends, he decided, needed desperately to grow up.
"What happened?" Tonks asked softly, and Remus shook his head.
"They went out and got drunk," he replied wearily. "They weren't here for Harry because they went out to get drunk."
Settling himself back in his chair, Remus propped his elbows up on Harry's bed, staring blankly at the boy, and dropped his head down into his hands.
Breakfast in the Great Hall was something of a strained affair.
Frowning absently, Albus reached for the porridge as his colleagues talked quietly among themselves. He wasn't quite certain whether his exclusion from their conversations was intentional — but intentional or not, he didn't much like it.
His days had been quite stressful even before the Bloody Baron had floated into the Great Hall bellowing at the top of his non-corporeal lungs about the Potters. Things had only escalated since then.
He tried not to think about it, he truly did, but...
He wondered about Harry every second of every day. Not Remus, not Lily and James, but Harry. Distantly, he wondered if the boy was doing well — if he'd been to Diagon Alley yet, if he was prepared to return to Hogwarts in a few weeks’ time ... if the boy would even look at him when he arrived ... He wondered what Remus and the Potters were planning, what Harry would think of it —
But more than anything, he wondered if Luna Lovegood had been wrong.
It’s not too late, you know.
But was it? Albus Dumbledore understood the severity of what he had done. It had taken time, and a great deal of honest, painful self-reflection, but he knew what he had done.
And he knew that, faced with the same circumstances, he would make the same decision all over again.
So Albus Dumbledore, known to many as the greatest wizard of the age, knew something more.
In light of that single fact, the fact that he would do it all over again... understanding what he had done —
Regret meant less than nothing.
Sighing tiredly, Dumbledore pushed the bowl of porridge away, dropping his spoon with a dull clunk, and got wearily up from his seat, slowly making his way up to his office. When he spoke the password — no longer "redemption" but now "purgatory" — he stepped onto the spiral staircase and stood silently, waiting to arrive at his office.
Pushing open the door and settling himself behind his desk, he laced his fingers together and stared down at his hands.
He could almost see the blood.
Swallowing convulsively, Dumbledore tore his eyes away from his hands and began to rifle through the piles of paperwork stacked neatly on his desk. Better to occupy his mind with busywork than wallow in the guilt, in the things he couldn't change...
But he could almost see the blood.
Against his will, his gaze drifted back to his hands, and he lifted them shakily, staring blankly at them. If he looked closely enough, he could almost see the blood from the time Petunia Dursley had struck Harry with a belt, from the time the boy had been forced to weed the garden for eight hours with no water under the relentless summer sun pulling the thorniest of the weeds —
It was better, he reminded himself, to occupy his mind with busywork than to wallow in the guilt.
But he couldn't push the guilt from his mind.
He knew he could never make up for what he'd done — knew he could never undo the damage he had wrought upon the boy, but that didn't change two horrible, terrible facts.
He would do it all over again.
And Albus Dumbledore didn't know if he could live with that.
But he had to; there was no other choice.
If he took the easy way out, the suicide of the greatest wizard of the age would accomplish nothing but to hand Voldemort the wizarding world on the proverbial silver platter.
He had ever advocated doing what was right over what was easy.
And there was work to be done.
Raising his wand, and allowing himself one last tired sigh, he summoned Minerva with a single swish and flick. He wasn't surprised to see her mouth set into a thin line when she entered his office a few minutes later. Minerva had always looked angry around him recently, a fact which cut him deeply. It was with a weary heart that he recalled the days of their camaraderie — days as recently as three weeks before.
Self-pity was very much his friend now.
"You called, Albus?" Minerva asked coolly, and pushing aside the pain, Dumbledore stroked carefully at his beard and began to speak.
"I had hoped you would take a trip to Grimmauld Place to check on Harry," he said slowly, forgoing any offer of a lemon drop — Minerva no longer tolerated his small talk. "Although I am quite certain the Potters and Remus are taking excellent care of him, I had hoped to see his chosen class list returned soon. It has not been, and I am not permitted to contact him."
"I will do so immediately," Minerva agreed with a perfunctory nod. "Is that all?"
"No, it is not," Dumbledore replied. "After your visit to Grimmauld Place, I would very much appreciate it if you would be willing to join me for luncheon in my quarters. I am certain you are quite angry with me, but I would like to explain—"
Many would consider Albus Dumbledore a brave man, but nevertheless, his voice trailed off at the sight of the fury that sprang to life in Minerva McGonagall's eyes.
"I am sorry, Albus," Minerva replied, her nostrils flaring, "but I find myself leery of being alone with you any longer than strictly necessary. You might decide that I must disappear and remain imprisoned for the greater good."
"Save it, Albus," Minerva hissed angrily, and the headmaster drew back in shock. "You abandoned that child, imprisoned his parents, lied to the entire world for a prophecy! What’s happened to you?"
"I did what I had—"
"You’re not the man I knew," she said harshly, and turning on her heel, she swept out of the staff room without a backward glance.
Albus reached blindly behind himself, slowly lowering his battered body into a chair. Dazedly, he dropped his head down into his hands and began to weep.
Before his mind shut down to grief, he absently reflected that he’d cried more in the past month than he had in the entire decade before.
After determining that Lily and James had been off getting into Dumbledore-related mischief and had decided to celebrate by getting pissed, Remus quickly filled his friends in on Harry's vision from the night before. It had taken a considerable amount of effort to hold Lily back from going after Snape yet again — somehow, she seemed determined to blame him for anything relating to Harry's scar and visions.
"Quite honestly, Lily," Remus finally said, "I'm surprised at you. You have a son who you know has been abused, who you have been told is a target for the same Dark Lord that caused the sundering of your family for fifteen years, and yet you and James felt that all was well enough to go out and get drunk, without telling anyone where you were. And now you blame Severus, of all people, for the torture that he went through last night!"
"You support that greasy haired bastard?" James barked. "What kind of a friend are you?"
"One who apparently cares more for your son than you two do." Remus stood and began to pace even as they sat back in their chairs as if struck. "I don't believe you two! You've mourned the loss of your son for all these years, you say. You wished you'd been with him for all these years. So, within a week of the reuniting of your family — rejoining a boy you thought was dead! — on a night when you he needed you to be with him and to comfort him, what do you do? You go out and get pissed! You decided that it was better to drop everything and have a little drink — four hours of a little drink — rather than learning about the son you profess to love! He has a Voldemort nightmare, and his own parents aren't around to comfort him! How do you think that makes him feel?"
"What would you know about family?" James snapped. "You're sterile. Does your little chippie know that?"
Remus inhaled sharply, and stomped down on the wolf inside. His voice dripping icicles, he said, "We will continue this at a later time, Mr Potter. Perhaps after you and your wife have had a chance to decide which is more important — celebrating your pranks and freedom, or actually getting to know the child that you profess to love. Good day."
He stepped from the room and closed the door firmly behind him. Perhaps too firmly, since the doorknob came off in his hand. Several people came barreling toward him, but he calmly turned and replaced the knob. "Reparo. I think that it would be a good idea if we all left the Potters alone for a while. They're a little high-strung at the moment."
"What did they say to make you lose it, Remus?" Tonks asked.
"James chose to make a comment about my sterility. He does stupid things like that when he's particularly angry."
"You're a werewolf. Of course you're sterile. Comes with the territory. Is that a sore spot for you?" she asked, more than a little puzzled.
"Not particularly. I made my peace with it years ago. It was his phrasing. It was meant to hurt. I made him think about the relationship that they say that they want with Harry. James doesn't like to be forced to think, especially when he knows, deep down, that he's wrong. He lashes out at everyone first and then comes to his senses and apologises later."
"Do you really need a friend like that?" Tonks asked him.
"It's actually quite seldom that he gets that bad, so I'm not as worried about it as you perhaps think that I should be. But while I can't be a father the old fashioned way, I've always seen Harry, Ron and Hermione as my own, if that makes sense. And I'll protect them like that as well. They," he said, jerking his thumb at the door, "have to convince me that they'll do right by Harry."
"Great. You're the best parent figure that we've got for him at the moment. We're going to have to talk to the Trio about this, though. We can not let it be known that you're living under the same roof as him."
"Why not?" he asked, his eyes narrowing.
"Because my bigot of an ultimate boss informed me that Harry would be placed in a home of the Ministry's choosing if it was found that you were living in proximity to Harry. She also threatened my job if I permitted my relationship with you to go too far."
"You need your job, Tonks!" he said with alarm.
"Will my job keep me warm at night? Will my job hold me when I need to be held? Can my job give me love?" She sighed. "Sirius wasn't exactly stingy, remember. A thousand Galleons? Arthur supported a family of nine on three thousand. I don’t have to support anyone else. A thousand Galleons for me will last me a year, easily, assuming I get fired tomorrow and can't find a job."
"And we'd hire you in a heartbeat as a bodyguard for Harry," James said softly from the open doorway before turning to Remus. "Once again, I am an arse. Neither of us wanted to think about what you were saying. I, of course, go for the most hurtful statement I can, as usual." There were tears in the corners of his eyes. "How did we go fifteen years without growing up?"
"Dumbledore saw to it that you didn't have anyone around to help you with the process," Tonks said. "You couldn’t even go shopping — you said the things you needed just showed up, didn’t you? So there was no one you could talk to."
"You're right," Lily said. "Still, that doesn't excuse us." She looked at Tonks for a moment, who apparently understood exactly what Lily was asking, because she nodded. Lily stepped forward and hugged her school friend.
As she stepped back, she continued, "We spent fifteen years mourning the death of our only child, and I guess that we were so happy that we had him back that we didn't think ... we'd never seen an attack and ... to be blunt, we blew it." She sniffed. "Do you think he'll ever forgive us?"
"We're all learning, Mum," Harry said as he made everyone aware that he'd slipped into the hallway with them. "I'm not used to having living parents to lean on, and you're not used to having a living son. I've still had some times in the mornings when I've been startled to see you in the kitchen."
"It's just that ..." James began. He looked frustrated for a moment, as if trying to find the words he needed. "You needed us, and we were out getting pissed!"
"James!" Lily exclaimed.
"He's sixteen, love. He's probably already heard all of those words." She scowled at him, telling him this conversation was not yet over. He ignored her scowl for once and turned back to Harry. "We've finally got something we knew we'd never see again in this life, and we go and get ourselves drunk!"
"Dad, if I was happy, and had the right to drink, I'd probably celebrate as well. As much as I appreciate what he's doing, I think Prof ... Remus is overstating things. I would have had the nightmare under any circumstances, but nobody knew it was going to happen." He paced restlessly. "How am I supposed to act? You're my parents, but I'm an orphan, as far as I'm concerned." He looked up at the hisses of pain from his parents.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that to hurt you. It's my mindset right now. I haven't had the time to really get it set in my brain, my heart, whatever, that I actually have living parents now. You're here, you're alive, but my brain hasn't completely accepted that. Right now you're adults who are really concerned about me and my health. It's happening — slowly — that I'm getting used to the fact that my parents are alive."
He grinned widely. "Wishes do come true sometimes. My parents are here and they love me."
He looked to Remus. "Give 'em a break, Remus. Be honest — if any of us had known that attack was going to happen, we'd have prepared for it, even if it required hitting me over the head with a hammer to prevent me from experiencing it. Are they supposed to stand behind me every moment of the day, waiting for a problem? They were celebrating being alive. Are you going to be angry with them if I fall and break my leg and they aren't there?"
Remus scowled at him. "When did you get so good at arguing?"
"I don't want my family arguing. You're mad at them because they weren't here. They went out for one night of celebrating. It turns out, in hindsight, to be a bad night." He shrugged. "Nobody's dead, and despite what he's trying to do, it won't work. I've had it knocked into my skull by a couple people that I can't drive my friends away, so I'll stop trying. What he's trying to do is -"
He stopped talking for a moment, a look of wonder in his eyes as something obviously struck him. Before he could say anything, he suddenly winced heavily. "Damn ... need to work on ... Occlumency ... rrrgghh ..." He let loose with a scream suddenly and collapsed to the floor.
A high reedy voice spoke through his lips once more. "I shall know why you feel such triumph, boy. Your mind is nothing to me, and I shall strip it bare if need be."
Hermione appeared in the hallway as if summoned, looked at Harry and slipped into her room, exiting a moment later holding the same stone from the previous night. "Expulsi!" Hermione screamed as she pressed the stone to his scar, and once again she struck Harry with her spell. He stopped writhing and fell heavily flat onto his back.
"Ow?" he said softly.
Lily landed heavily on her knees and scooped him into her arms as best she could. "I'm here, baby. Just be calm and I'll do everything I can to help you."
"Just being here is enough," he said softly, obviously in pain. "Thank you, Mum." He faded into quiet unconsciousness.
"Do you realise that this is the first chance I've had to get to Diagon Alley since third year?" Harry asked as the group walked through the portal behind the Leaky Cauldron. "Me getting here in fourth year was right out, given the World Cup — thanks again for inviting me, Mr Weasley — and last year, with the Headmaster deciding that I wasn't safe unless I was under the thumb of someone that he personally trusted, I couldn't come either." He cocked his head slightly. "Mum? Dad? Do I still have access to your vault?"
James laughed. "Of course you do," he said. "Let's get to Gringott's and we'll deal with a few things. Better to do it now, while you're here with us."
The group wended its way to the large white marble building and joined the line. A goblin with a look that Harry hoped was a grin approached them. "Ah, the Potter family. Follow me, please." He turned and walked away without verifying that they were, in fact, following.
They were led to an office with a golden door. It opened noiselessly, exposing a desk with a well-appointed goblin seated behind it. He was obviously powerful and placed highly. "Ah, the Potters. Enter, please."
Once they were seated, the goblin spoke again. "I must first start with the young Mr Potter. I regret to inform you that the vault that was opened for your convenience has been closed and its contents reabsorbed into the accounts of its true owner."
"Dumbledore," Harry said simply, his face a mask.
"I am forbidden by bank secrecy statutes to admit whether or not you are correct, Mr Potter," the goblin responded, although his face told a different story for those who knew how to read it. "I must now move on to the business with Mr and Mrs James Potter. More precisely, further business for Mr Potter the younger, but it requires a decision on your part."
"I'm listening," James said simply.
"It involves the will of Sirius Black. While you have fulfilled the legal aspects of the will, we find ourselves in a slight quandary. Due to the situation that you found yourselves in for the last fifteen years, Mr Black was unaware of your existence, and left instructions with us. While the will was required to refer to 'the current head of House Potter', the instructions left with us refer to 'Harry'. We were unable to resolve this, since these instructions are as legally binding to us as the will is. And they are at odds. We cannot give the items to both yourself and to young Mr Potter."
"Is it anything likely to be considered dangerous?" Lily asked.
"It depends on your definition of dangerous. A non-magical sword can be dangerous, as can a large sum of Galleons, especially if they fall upon you."
"Is there anything in the bequest that is immediately dangerous, such as cursed items?" she asked carefully.
"Not that we are aware of. There may be Dark or cursed items in the vaults that Mr Black referred to, but nothing obviously so."
"What is involved?" James asked.
"A vault of items, such as jewellery and the like; family swords, ornamental and functional; as well as other various items, and a vault much like the one he has used these past five years, with considerably more money in it."
"One wonders if Dumbledore knew about the wording that Sirius used?" Lily asked.
"No, he didn't," Harry said. "Or else there wouldn't have been the problem with my discovering that you're alive. Had Sirius said, 'Everything to Harry', the goblins wouldn't be in this situation, and we never would have discovered that you're alive." He scowled. "I wonder if removing the vault is just clean up on his part, or a very mild attempt at a spank of sorts, for getting out from under his thumb? After all, I now have to go through you guys for money."
"No you don't," James said. Looking to the goblin, who was wearing what Harry assumed was a satisfied look, James said, "Sirius left instructions that the vaults should go to Harry? I agree. He wanted them to go to him, Harry gets the vaults. Sirius is happy in the beyond, Harry is as happy as he can be at the bequest, and you here at Gringott's get to be happy as well."
Several sheets of parchment came out onto the desk, and after Harry and James had both signed them, two ornate keys were slid toward Harry. "These are the keys to your new vaults, Mr Potter. Use them in good health."
"I'd offer you a heartfelt sentiment in return, but with my luck, I'd accidentally start the next war with the goblins," Harry said wryly.
"What were you thinking?" he was asked.
"Something about swimming in gold or the like, meaning that I was wishing you wealth and such."
"Such a thought would not be amiss, young Mr Potter. Let us take the wish for the deed." He held out his hand in the human gesture, and Harry shook it.
"Done," he said with a smile. "We both wish each other well."
"Indeed we do, Mr Potter. I look forward to a long career of doing your banking."
"From your mouth to God's ears, as the Muggles say," Harry replied. "I've got a nuisance on my back that might cause problems with that."
"Somehow, I have doubts that he will prove to be a significant menace for long," the goblin replied.
"Let us hope that you are correct," Harry answered him fervently. "Well, we should stop taking up so much of your time, sir."
The goblin's eyebrows rose for only a moment. "Please, Mr Potter, call me Ragnok."
It was Harry's turn for rising eyebrows. "As long as you call me Harry."
"Done, Ragnok." They held their solemn looks for a moment before both broke into simultaneous smiles.
"I think we've been sombre enough for posterity," Ragnok said with a smile.
"History will call it a solemn occasion, so we're good," Harry chuckled lightly. With that, they left the office, returning to the lobby to meet Hermione and the others. All had very worried looks on their faces.
"Is everything okay?" Hermione asked. "You were gone for so long!"
"We had to clear up a problem with Sirius's will. Everything's good now, according to Ragnok." He had a smirk as he waited for the reaction to that comment. "I don't know whether or not he was serious about it being a solemn occasion or not."
"Harry, you shook hands with and joked with the head of the goblins," James said. "Something you did impressed him. I'd say that was worth a solemn moment or two." James was shaking his head and looked to Remus. "They were joking around like old friends!"
"All I did was wish him good will," Harry said with a shrug.
"Very few treat goblins with any type of ..." Arthur began. "To be honest, it seems that the average wizard or witch would like to do to the goblins what we do to the gnomes in our gardens. They're seen as little better."
Harry was scowling at that point. "We treat the people who can bankrupt us in a second like something we clean off our shoes. Idiots." He shook his head. "Well, I need to get on line to get some money, so that I can actually buy my stuff today." He turned and almost ran over the goblin waiting for him. "My apologies. I ... never mind. It's bad enough I didn't notice you, I won’t dig myself any deeper by saying the wrong thing."
"I understand, Mr Potter," the goblin said with amusement. "I am here to take you to a cart. It should be interesting to see if you enjoy it as much as you did the first time I took you down the tunnels."
Harry looked at him for a long moment. "I can't remember your name. Started with a 'G' I think. 'Grit-' or 'Grip-' something?"
The goblin's eyebrows rose. "I'm impressed. Most wouldn't remember that much. It's Griphook, by the way."
"Well, you gave me one of the first bits of fun I can recall in the wizarding world, so I remember a lot of that day. I'm sorry I didn't remember all of your name."
"It's of no moment. We met once, five years ago. Now, shall we?"
His money pouch heavier by many Galleons, and wearing some jewellery he found in the second vault, Harry and the rest began to work their way through Diagon Alley. "What's the armband for?" Ron asked.
"Apparently it was designed for poor students. The little card that was in the box it was in described it as a study aid. You wear it all day, and at night, it helps your mind organise the information so that you can better access it."
"That's cheating!" Hermione gasped. "That gives you an unfair advantage!"
"Not really," he answered her. "It's not like it's a textbook that has all the answers in it. It's more like ... hmm ... it's more like your notes you take in class. It doesn't give me perfect recall of the material. If I fall asleep in History of Magic, it's anyone's guess what I could end up 'learning'." At her disbelieving look, he added, "Sirius added a note, warning me about falling asleep in classes or the Common Room. Apparently it happened to him once."
Lily laughed. "So that’s why he swore that Ringo Starr was a Goblin astronomer! Needless to say, I never let him live that one down."
Harry grinned. "I’ll remember that. This thing won't guarantee that I'll pass all my classes, Hermione. I need to try to pay attention to the professor for it to work, which means that my History of Magic grade will still hover near the low end." At her still disbelieving look, he tried once more. "Apparently it works the way that your notes do for you. You read them and repeat the information, hoping to make it stay in your brain. Apparently, this bracelet does the repeating for me while I sleep. I'd imagine that it would be an excellent thing to have around if I wanted to learn a new language."
She seemed less than convinced, so Harry shrugged and moved on. "I grabbed a couple rings because they seemed to insist on coming out with me." He held up a largish one that immediately made James laugh.
"You sneaky old dog!" he said to the sky. "I'll bet this was part and parcel of trying to get Harry out from under Albus!"
"What do you mean?" Lily asked.
"That big ring is the Black family ring. The one who wears that heads the Black family. I'm betting that was the reason that Ragnok was involved with that transaction in there. He was probably going to insist that he speak to Harry directly, rather than allow Albus to handle all his banking. That would have unravelled all of this at that point, since the situation would have remained the same, and Harry would know that there was a Potter still alive." He looked to his son. "Sirius wanted you to have that, Harry. Put it on."
"Anything special supposed to happen when I do, like a burst of power, or unlocking some secret talent or something?" Harry asked with a laugh.
"Not unless the Blacks were even more psychotic than I think they were. All that a ring like that will do magically is verify that you have the right to wear it. If you don't, it goes right back into the vault. Well, they all have resizing charms and the like. Wearability charms are a standard."
Harry laughed and slid the ring onto his right ring finger. It was warm for a moment as it resized, and then the weight on his finger lessened slightly. "Looks like I'm the head of the Black family now," he said quietly. "You'll have to train me in what that means, Dad."
The group arrived in Greece quietly. Portkeys were good for that sort of thing. They carefully exited the safe room that had been set up for them, keeping a close eye on those nearby. While it might have been after 2 a.m., people were always up and around at every hour of the day. It had taken the team over two weeks to set up this raid, and they weren’t going to let something like an insomniac Muggle ruin it.
They quickly released the owl that carried a letter for the Grangers. The tracking charm on the letter would handily pinpoint them for the strike team, and then they could complete their mission. Soon, they had their target - a villa on a hill. No neighbours within any reasonable distance. It was a perfect site for an ambush.
They were quite stealthy on their way to the villa. Apparation was right out, since not all of them could be quiet. The person who had made the Portkey for them had not known the interior layout of the villa with any certainty, so they had not been able to appear inside, lest they run the risk of becoming one with a wall. While Voldemort might not complain about losing one Death Eater, the resulting explosion would likely take out more than one of the others. A Pyrrhic victory, it was decided, was not in the plan for that night. The Death Eaters on the mission found themselves pleased with that.
The group of ten neared the property, and were suddenly bathed in bright light. "Reducto!" the leader screamed, and one of the lights exploded in a shower of glass and steel. There were still others on the property, and the occupants appeared to be moving inside. "Just shoot at anything that moves! The Grangers are supposed to be the only ones in there!"
They blew down the door and began to fire spells inside. The sounds of breaking wood and glass were loud in the air. Shortly, the groaning of support beams could be heard, and the villa collapsed in on itself, obviously dooming those inside.
Feeling smug, the team lead pointed skyward and shouted "Morsmordre!" before activating the team Portkey.