Author: Luan Mao PM
Tear it all down and build it back up, better. It's a modest goal.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Harry P. & Tracey D. - Chapters: 5 - Words: 61,289 - Reviews: 315 - Favs: 904 - Follows: 956 - Updated: 10-15-11 - Published: 04-11-10 - id: 5890484
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: Sigh. Is this really necessary? The characters aren't mine. I had nothing to do with their creation or popularization. The story was written before I was even born and I don't know where it came from or how it got posted under my name.
Note: This story derives from a unfinished work by Jeconais, available on fanficauthors-dot-net. He has graciously given his permission for me to expand on his work. The basic setup and some of the dialog and scenes in this chapter come from his Modest, Too. Later chapters will be cutting new ground.
(If you're not already familiar with fanficauthors-dot-net, take a look. Its stories are mostly in the HP universe and are of consistently high quality.)
Chapter 1: Betrayed
Some days life just sucks.
I think I'll take that as a family motto. Write it on the outside wall of my house. Write it in goblin heads mounted on the wall.
So, there I was, locked inside a vault somewhere in Gringotts. I'd gotten a letter saying I'd inherited another vault, please come and confirm, blah blah. Like an idiot I'd believed them and come in to collect it.
I'm an idiot because I knew the goblins were mad at me. I'd emptied my vault and taken to storing the gold and heirlooms myself. This made Gringotts look bad and cut into their profits.
The paperwork looked routine: some family name I'd never heard of, third cousins on the Potter side. Last magical member died, no non-squib heirs. Pretty common, what with pure-bloods inbreeding themselves into insanity, infirmity, inability, and impotence.
Down in the caverns, my escort opened the door and waved me in. The last thing I heard was "Death to enemies!" before the vault door slammed.
The vault held no piles of coins but several chests. The chests were all empty except for a couple of letters.
Potter. You have been declared an enemy of the Goblin Nation. Emptying your vault and encouraging others to do the same impacts our profits and is considered an act of war. We will make a goblet from your skull and drink to your painful death.
You have been declared an enemy of the Goblin Nation. Emptying your vault and encouraging others to do the same impacts our profits and is considered an act of war.
We will make a goblet from your skull and drink to your painful death.
The letter started to burn up the moment I finished it – destroying the evidence, no doubt – but a flame-freezing charm saved it. This letter was going into my special file.
Harry, I regret to say that necessity forces me to acquiesce to an otherwise unpalatable act. The Goblin Nation has informed me, in my role as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, that your recent actions regarding your vaults, while fully legal in and of themselves, unacceptably impact the profitability of Gringotts Bank and thereby threaten to undermine the economy of the entirety of Wizarding Britain. I have an additional concern, beyond those expressed by the Goblin Nation. Your immense power, my dear boy, could lead you into morally dangerous ground. You have magical might, financial force, and public prestige which would allow you to move society in any direction you chose. To my dismay, you have not yet acquired the wisdom that comes with age, experience, and proper guidance. As such, I greatly fear that you could, all unwittingly, destabilize our ministry and our society. The attainment of some measure of wisdom, alas, requires many years, years which we may not have in light of your possible influence and our current instability in the wake of the last great crisis. I have no choice but to isolate you from our society. Luckily, the problems of the goblins and those of the wizards may be addressed by the same action. The goblins shall place you in a form of suspended animation and store your body in a high security vault deep within the caverns of Gringotts. This operation has the full support of the British Ministry of Magic and the Wizengamot. To do otherwise would endanger the stability we seek, as some radical elements of society might seize upon the goblins' actions as a violation of the Goblin-Wizard Peace Treaty of 1836. Allow me to apologize, my dear Harry, for any subterfuges which have been perpetrated in getting you to where you are reading this letter. In your current stage of moral development, you would most unfortunately not accept this next role you are to play. Take no fear, the goblins have assured me that their stasis charms will keep you perfectly preserved. At Britain's next great need, you will be awoken as a legendary hero in a situation where you can put your immense power to best use. In the meantime, your legend will grow and you will serve as inspiration to generations of magic's finest. Rest assured, you continue to serve the Greater Good. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot; Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards; Order of Merlin, First Class
I regret to say that necessity forces me to acquiesce to an otherwise unpalatable act. The Goblin Nation has informed me, in my role as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, that your recent actions regarding your vaults, while fully legal in and of themselves, unacceptably impact the profitability of Gringotts Bank and thereby threaten to undermine the economy of the entirety of Wizarding Britain.
I have an additional concern, beyond those expressed by the Goblin Nation. Your immense power, my dear boy, could lead you into morally dangerous ground. You have magical might, financial force, and public prestige which would allow you to move society in any direction you chose. To my dismay, you have not yet acquired the wisdom that comes with age, experience, and proper guidance. As such, I greatly fear that you could, all unwittingly, destabilize our ministry and our society. The attainment of some measure of wisdom, alas, requires many years, years which we may not have in light of your possible influence and our current instability in the wake of the last great crisis. I have no choice but to isolate you from our society.
Luckily, the problems of the goblins and those of the wizards may be addressed by the same action. The goblins shall place you in a form of suspended animation and store your body in a high security vault deep within the caverns of Gringotts. This operation has the full support of the British Ministry of Magic and the Wizengamot. To do otherwise would endanger the stability we seek, as some radical elements of society might seize upon the goblins' actions as a violation of the Goblin-Wizard Peace Treaty of 1836.
Allow me to apologize, my dear Harry, for any subterfuges which have been perpetrated in getting you to where you are reading this letter. In your current stage of moral development, you would most unfortunately not accept this next role you are to play.
Take no fear, the goblins have assured me that their stasis charms will keep you perfectly preserved. At Britain's next great need, you will be awoken as a legendary hero in a situation where you can put your immense power to best use. In the meantime, your legend will grow and you will serve as inspiration to generations of magic's finest.
Rest assured, you continue to serve the Greater Good.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot; Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards; Order of Merlin, First Class
Wasn't that nice. I briefly wondered if there was any crime that Dumbledore couldn't, or wouldn't, justify as "for the Greater Good". Worry about that later. First order of business was to escape. I was carrying a little food and water, but not even a day's worth. I'd correct that oversight at the first chance: carry two weeks' necessities at all times.
I shot a couple of spells to test the walls. Shielded, as expected. Ceiling, too. This was supposed to be a prison cell, or a tomb.
But the floor wasn't shielded. It was just rock. That's why these little bastards are still living underground instead of owning the whole country. They're always making stupid mistakes. All their grand schemes have some gaping hole and fall apart as soon as the first thing goes wrong. Like their little game with the money in "highly secure" vaults. They wouldn't have gotten away with it past a couple months if wizards weren't even bigger idiots than goblins.
I shot a blasting curse at the floor, and then another. After a few minutes I was winded and had blown a hole in the floor … four inches across and a foot deep. Blasting spells weren't going to get me out of here.
They didn't have to. Opening a pouch-of-cool-stuff on my Phat Utility Belt, I carefully lifted out a large, glass jug. Magically enhanced acid. Very powerful. Eats through anything.
One careful pour and a wait later and I had my exit down to the next vault. A nice full vault. How lucky I had a never-full bag on my belt. I'd been cheated out of the vault I'd come to empty, so I may as well take this one. No, I wasn't stealing. You'll see.
I tried to leave the vault, but the door wouldn't open from the inside. This made sense, from what that one scrawny goblin told me the first time I came here with Hagrid. It's part of the protection – even if a thief breaks into a vault, he can't get out.
Nothing for it but to keep burning my way down. As I worked my way through eight more vaults, I helped myself to the contents. If my plan worked, the owners were going to lose it all anyway. No sense in letting the money go completely to waste. I might as well profit from their loss.
After a while the "never full" bag reached its limits, so I dumped the Knuts and then the Sickles. Even carrying only golden Galleons, the bag filled up and started getting heavy. I'd have complained about false advertising, but I was carrying millions of Galleons – several tonnes and several cubic yards, all in a belt pouch.
Just as I was running out of acid, I found myself looking down into open space. Finally! I'd be able to get myself down to that floorway, then either follow the cart tracks up or hijack a cart as it went by. It would have been nice to fly, but my broom had been destroyed That Day and I hadn't gotten around to replacing it. Sloppy of me, but I'd been busy since then.
No worries. One cushioning charm and a drop later and I was lurking by the cart track. A few minutes' wait and "Wingardium Leviosa!" The cart rose from the track, flipped end over end, and returned to the tracks pointing back up. The goblin in the cart got dumped into the apparently bottomless pit that formed the core of Gringotts, but that was his problem, not mine.
Damn! I forgot. I meant to save his head to start my collection. Maybe the next one.
The cart controls were easy to figure out – Go and Stop. There really was only one speed. – so in moments I'd started the next stage of my escape.
The usual fun cart ride – I do like high-speed acrobatics, whether on a performance broom or in a mining cart – was tempered by the need to prepare my next step. I was going to utterly destroy Gringotts.
I had a bomb.
Not just a bomb. An A-Bomb.
I made it myself.
Please forgive a brief tangent. I want to brag a little.
Making the materials was challenging, time consuming, and dangerous. Building the thing was tricky, but no more so than setting up a good set of house wards or enchanting an object. The concept isn't that hard for someone with both a Muggle science background and a magical education, so long as he was told the basic idea. The tough part was coming up with the basic idea. It was screwball enough that I'm not surprised no one else ever came up with it. It took Hermione and me together, sitting back and brainstorming ways to defeat Voldemort and complaining about the corrupt and incompetent ministry and the pure-bloods in charge. A bit of adult beverage in our not quite adult bodies might have played a role, as well.
How does an A-Bomb work? The simplest kind, the World War II kind, just pushes uranium or plutonium chunks together. Muggles do it with explosives. Wizards don't do it at all; wizards don't know uranium from lead.
Making the uranium was a challenge but once I got it figured out it was mostly just time consuming. Dangerous, too, but Muggle safety gear worked just fine.
How did I make the uranium? Think about this: for ages, people have tried to convert lead or rocks or anything else into gold. Only Flamel succeeded.
Hardly anyone tries to convert gold into other elements. Why would they? Everyone wants as much gold as they can get.
But some things are more valuable than gold.
In ordinary Muggle chemistry, elements can be converted into one another by adding neutrons and protons and what-not, or by hitting them and causing them to split off some of their protons and neutrons and what-not. It gets complicated and I don't understand it all, but the first important point is that it can be done.
The second important point is that different arrangements of protons and neutrons and what-not have different amounts of energy. Again, it gets complicated, but the bottom line is that iron contains the lowest energy. That's why the earth's core is mostly iron instead of mostly tin or silver – as stars burn and explode and elements get made and remade, it's easier for neutrons and protons and what-not to settle into "iron" than most other elements.
Now let's bring this back around to magic and my Bomb.
If there's an element with the lowest energy, it makes sense that there's an element with the highest energy. I don't know what that element is in chemistry. It doesn't matter. The same applies to magic. Gold contains the highest magical energy. That's why it's practically impossible to convert lead into gold. Converting gold into lead, or into uranium, isn't such a challenge. It's not trivial, but it can be done without a Philosopher's Stone.
Aside from protecting myself from radiation as I experimented and then went into production mode, the only hard part was making the right kind of uranium. U-238: useless. U-235: the good stuff. I ended up studying drawings and images of U-235 nuclei until I was seeing them in my sleep. Then all I had to do was hold that image in my head as I did the transformation. After a week I had about 25 pounds of pure U-235. Easy! Well, not easy, but not as hard as memorizing the years of all five thousand goblin rebellions for History tests.
That's my raw material. Designing the bomb itself was tricky, but again, coming up with the basic idea was the hard part. The rest was just trial and error.
Think about your standard shrinking spell or runes. Change something big into something little. If you cast the spell or activate the runes on a trunk, the contents of the trunk are shrunk as well, without damaging or distorting them. That's how I'm carrying my Bomb right now. It's in a smallish lead box which was shrunk down to matchbox size. Everything inside comes through fine; I know because I checked this before. Cancel the shrinking rune and my Bomb is the same as it started, a cube the size of my head.
That cube is itself a box, but not a normally shaped box. It looks normal, but that's kind of a trick. Its front and back walls are only a hair's thickness apart. And the front and back walls fold around until the whole thing looks like a box inside another box. But it's not. It's one box.
Remember, when you shrink a box, whatever is contained within is also shrunk.
The "inside" of this cube is outside of the box.
Put the uranium "outside" the box, separating the chunks so they don't set each other off. Shrink the box to a 1-inch cube. Compression. Neutron flux. Heating. Nuclear explosion. The box is magically strengthened so it can squeeze the metal but it's not strong enough to withstand the explosion.
Charge up some runes that will let go when the bomb goes off, add in a time delay cluster on the activation runes and you have a physical and magical Bomb.
I wish Hermione had been able to see it. Even if she would have hesitated to actually use it, the bomb itself is a magico-technological masterpiece.
Nearing the top of the track, I debated pulling my invisibility cloak over myself. I didn't have any great faith it would do any good. Dumbledore, Fake Moody, Real Moody, and Voldemort all pretty much ignored my cloak. Even if goblins couldn't see through it, they might be able to smell me – noses that big ought to be good for something. In the end I decided not to use the cloak. I'd probably have to fight in the next few minutes and it might get in my way.
Into the cart terminal, ready to fight and … nothing? Where was everyone?
There they were. Another cart came up from the caverns. Boom, flash, flash, slam, and we had a headless goblin, two stunned wizards, a locked door, and me hopped up on adrenaline.
My Bomb went into a downward-headed cart. I strapped it in snugly, taking more care with this baby than most travelling wizards did with their real babies. Set the timer for five minutes, and check it twice. I was starting to get the shakes and it wouldn't do to make a mistake here.
Push the Go lever and it was time to get out of here! I levitated the snoozing wizards with me. I wasn't too happy with the magical world at the moment, but I'd give these two strangers at least a chance.
The lobby was chaos. Wizards were being hustled to the exits, while goblins gathered up the stuff in their tellers' stalls or stood around threateningly. I heard lots of variations on "But I need my money today!" as the humans protested their expulsion.
"Potter!" "It's Potter! Get him!" A few tellers had spotted me and raised the alarm. A couple of hulking security goblins headed my way, weapons out.
Of course, a hulking goblin comes only to my shoulder. Their swords and halberds would be intimidating against an unarmed opponent, but I was hardly unarmed. "Diffindo!" and the goblin nation was down two more.
Between goblin banking dishonesty, my escape from a high-security vault, and the uselessness of the guards, I was wondering if the goblins deserved any part of their reputation. Oh, treachery. Yes, that was right on the mark.
The inside goblins shouted more orders and the outside guards started to close the big doors. Here, the eviction of the wizards from the bank backfired on the goblins. The doors wouldn't shut with all the humans in the way. I joined the crowd and sliced off the heads of two more guards. A couple of the nearby wizards shouted at me, saying I couldn't do that and that I was breaking the treaty. This is the sound of me caring.
"Potter! Harry!" I was getting annoyed at being shouted at. At least this voice was pleasant, human, and female. "Did you cause all this? The goblins closed the bank because there was a break-in." It was Davis, one of my old classmates. Not "old". She's the same age as I, but a lot easier on the eyes.
"They're lying. Like always. They locked me in and I broke out." As we talked, the crowd cleared the Gringotts doorway. A few more steps to clear the wards and I'd portkey home.
"Potter!" Getting really annoyed. "What did you do this time, Potter? Come with me until this is all cleared up." Red cloak, loud voice, bullying attitude. An auror. They did damn-all in fighting the Death Eaters, but they sure knew how to push around law-abiding citizens.
"Stupify!" Technically, I'm still law-abiding. He was going to arrest me just for being nearby when something strange happened. In the anarchic despotism that passes for British wizarding government, that counts as a crime. However, according to the laws on the books we're allowed to resist false arrest.
"This must be big, Potter. Take me with you?" I looked at Davis. She'd managed to push through the gawkers and get next to me. Tracey, that was her name. I hadn't seen her in over a year. We'd spoken a dozen times in the six years I was in school. Thank you, House system. "I don't know what's going on, but it's something big. Things will be rough if Gringotts closes. You can keep me fed. I'm pretty hot. I can earn my keep." She thrust her chest out with that last bit.
I thought for just a moment as we made those last few feet to the edge of the Gringotts wards. She was pretty enough, easily the best looking person in sight. Not that that was saying much. Two dead goblin guards; an unconscious, burly, and male auror; various wizards and witches of various ages but all in a state of near panic; a toothless granny smacking her gums while staring fixedly at me.
But I kept getting burned by trusting people.
"Swear you will never betray me. Hurry!" There couldn't be more than a few seconds. Fortunately we were finally past the wards. My hand was on the portkey and I was ready to grab Davis.
"I, Tracey Davis, swear that I will never betray Har–"
Wham! The earth heaved and flung us off our feet. I grabbed Davis in the air and triggered the portkey.
At best, portkey travel is unpleasant.
It's downright brutal when you start the trip tumbling through the air and your whole center of mass is nowhere near the portkey because you're holding a girl in one hand and the portkey in the other. The spinning during travel was worse than I'd ever felt before. But that was nothing compared to the landing.
We slammed into the wall of my home's arrival room, still spinning so fast that we actually went up the wall a few feet before dropping to the floor. Davis seemed stunned. I'm lucky that I wasn't, as I started throwing up everything I had.
After the usual thousand years of cramping misery, it ended. Davis cleaned up my mess and helped with my breath.
"Thanks, Davis. Earning your keep already?"
She blushed just a bit, then grinned and said, "Cleaning lady wasn't the position I'd expected you to put me in."
I smiled, the first time all day. It was a good decision to bring her here. Sitting and brooding over the world's injustice wouldn't do me any good. "I have an elf. He's on vacation. You can meet him sometime tomorrow. Meanwhile, you didn't finish your promise. I'm serious about it. I've been screwed over and betrayed too many times, and I'm not giving anyone the chance to do it again."
"I, Tracey Davis, swear on my magic that I will not betray Harry Potter or cheat him or reveal his secrets."
I was aware that this wasn't a proper binding oath – that required a third person to take the oath and more formal wording. The question was whether she realized it. Probably. She had been sorted into Slytherin, so odds are she was a pure-blood and raised in this culture. Eh, good enough. I wouldn't be trusting her too much.
"Thank you. For my part, I promise to keep you fed and keep a roof over your head while we are working together.
"On that note, let's get some tea while I make supper."
As I puttered around in the kitchen, we got to know each other a bit. She had a little sister, her parents had a business, she still lived at home while she decided what to do with her life. I didn't have anything comparable to offer. I'd been just a little busy lately, so hadn't given any thought to life after Voldemort. No family, no friends.
Davis was fiddling with something and casting a couple of minor charms. It was nothing threatening so I ignored it. Besides, I was keeping my shield up. I may have brought this young woman to my home, but I wasn't going to fully trust an almost-stranger.
I turned to the table with my tray of tea and small sandwiches, and wow! I almost dropped the tray. She was pretty half an hour ago, even disheveled and looking scared, but now, wow! I couldn't even tell you what she'd done, but her hair was different and her eyes were huge and her robes had been reshaped. And what a shape!
"Uh, wow. Looking good there, Dav– Tracey." I paused to take a deep breath and roll my tongue back up. Witches' robes didn't normally show that much cleavage. Heck, most witches didn't have that much cleavage to show. As she waited for me to take in the sight, Tracey grew a pleased smile and crossed her legs. I took another breath. Witches' robes didn't normally show that much thigh, either.
"I told you I'd earn my keep, Harry. Almost all my money was in Gringotts, and I don't have a lot of useful skills. All I have is me. I'll be honest that I'm not happy about earning my keep this way, but I have to be realistic."
"Don't worry. Mostly what I need is someone to talk to. I don't plan on going anywhere for a while and I'd probably go crazy here by myself. I've been locked up and isolated before, and I always came out half crazy. I did bring you here partly because you're a pretty girl and I'd rather have you around than that old granny who was eyeing me."
"So you're saying I'm not going to have to sleep with you?"
"What if I want to?"
Tracey stood up and struck a pose. "Are you sure you wouldn't want the granny? Who knows what she'd bring? All I've got is great tits, killer legs and a pretty face."
"And you're modest, too. I like that in a woman."
We both laughed, then fell quiet as we ate the sandwiches.
While we ate, the adrenaline finally wore off and I started to droop. And I started to think about what I'd done today. It was one thing to kill Voldemort or a Death Eater. They were trying to kill my friends or me and it was them or me. The goblin guards didn't bother me; they were charging at me with blades out. Them or me.
But I'd done more than that. Who knows how many goblins were killed when their caves came down.
I'd detonated a nuclear bomb in the middle of London!
It was one thing to say that goblins were treacherous little bastards who should all be killed. It was another to go and kill them all.
Even as most of me withdrew into unwashable guilt, another part stood back and hated myself for the angsty display. This was going to be a great night…
I woke up the next morning curiously refreshed. The nightmares hadn't been bad, not even as bad as a normal night. I still remembered the guilt, but it didn't cut as sharp.
Most likely the reason for the good night's sleep was the full-sized teddy bear curled into me. We were on a couch in the lounge. Fully dressed, though Tracey's "fully dressed" was the revealingly remodeled robe from last night. She must have brought me in here when I went into my spiral.
"Good morning, Harry."
"Good morning. Sleep well?"
"Ack! Breath! Sorry, Harry, but you've got to take care of that!"
She was right. It's bad when you can smell your own morning breath. I waved her to a guest bathroom, fully stocked for guests who might be lacking the necessities, while I headed for my own.
Morning ablutions taken care of, we met back in the kitchen. I had clean clothes; she was still in yesterday's.
"Did you say you lost everything when the bank collapsed? Last night is a little fuzzy. I can take you shopping if you need."
"I'll be fine if I can get things from home. Harry, can I ask a favor?"
"You can ask. I'll probably even do it. Thank you for last night. I normally would have been up all night crying and hating myself, but I feel pretty good."
"Just earning my keep. I'm glad I could earn it with my clothes on. Um, about the favor. I'd like to tell my family I'm ok. And see if they're ok. And, um, maybe give them some food or some money? I was at the bank yesterday to get money to buy groceries. We were running pretty low. I can earn it…"
"Tell them you're ok, no problem. I have a protected floo so you can call out and I'll still be safe here. Send them some money, no problem. Oh, that reminds me, I need to empty out my pouch from yesterday. Send them some food, maybe. Dobby does most of the shopping, so I'm not sure how much we have."
"Thank you, Harry."
"Before you call, I have some ground rules. Don't tell them where you are or who you're with. You're ok, you got out safe, you'll see them soon. Sorry, but it's like I said yesterday: I've been betrayed by everyone who isn't dead. Dumbledore, the Order, the goblins, the Weasleys, the Ministry. Everyone."
"I'm sorry, Harry. If it's any help, my family isn't in any of those groups. Mum and Daddy have a small import business, Grammy was just a housewife, and Natalie is only five. Remember my promise? There shouldn't be any problems even if I tell them everything. Well, Daddy might be upset if he finds out we slept together."
I snorted. "Five? You're eighteen right? That's kind of spread out, especially for wizard families."
"Cad! Never ask a lady her age." Tracey giggled, then continued, "You're right. Daddy wanted to name her Oops, but Mum and Grammy wouldn't let him."
"Haha. Let's check the pantry. I'll make breakfast while you put together a package for them."
Soon enough we were at my floo fireplace with a box of groceries and a bag of money.
I quirked an eyebrow and Tracey shrugged. "Mum grew up in America during the hippie days."
The floo wasn't working. It might be just one of those things. Yah, right. More likely it was a result of yesterday's shake-up.
"Can you apparate us there? I can go with you in case there's a problem."
"No, I'm not strong enough to dual apparate. I can tell you the apparation coordinates, if you can take us."
We appeared in an alley near the Davises' house in Kent and made our way to the front door. It was a small family house in a Muggle neighborhood, maybe not even as big as the Dursleys'. Decently kept up but I noticed things needing some care. Tracey had said her parents ran a business, so they probably didn't have time for upkeep.
"Tracey! I'm so glad you're all right! We were so worried. Why didn't you come back?"
"I spent the night with – Hmm, I can't say. But he needed me. We couldn't floo. It's not working."
Mr Davis noticed me for the first time. The atmosphere turned a bit less cordial. Downright frosty, in fact. "Mr Potter. Thank you for defeating You Know Who. But that does not give you the right to just grab any attractive young witch who catches your eye."
"Daddy! It wasn't like that! Harry helped me get out of Gringotts, then brought me to his place and gave me supper. I stayed because he needed help after the fight. What happened with Gringotts, anyway? We got away just as the earthquake hit."
Tracey had mollified her father with the first part and distracted him with the second. Good technique. I would just have to watch out in case she used it on me.
"No one knows what happened. No one knows anything. There's a hole where Gringotts used to be, the aurors and obliviators are running around, and no one knows anything else. You said you were there? What did you see?"
"Mr Davis, that would be me. I happened. Maybe talking about this on the front porch isn't a good idea?"
Inside, Tracey rushed to find her mother and sister and deliver the groceries. Her father rather stiffly offered me a seat. He wasn't glaring at me, but he wasn't greeting me with open arms, either.
"So, Mr Davis, Tracey tells me you're a businessman?"
He recognized what I was doing, but took it as a peace offering and described the company. Just he and his wife ran it. They were trying to open up a new line or two, but that would take a loan from Gringotts.
"Mr Davis, even if Gringotts opens again, maybe you shouldn't go to them for a loan. Their loans are what led to the blow-up yesterday."
Before I could continue, the ladies all came in. Tracey had changed her robe, which was too bad from a visual perspective but a good thing from a father-shooting-hexes perspective. She proudly introduced Grammy Davis ("Call me Grammy. Mrs Davis is ambiguous."), Mrs Davis ("Call me Marie."), and Natalie.
"Mum and Grammy and Tracey've told me all about you. You're a hero! Can I have a hero hug?"
I wasn't sure how to take a pint-sized fan girl, but I couldn't refuse her a hug. She squeezed me as tight as a five year old can and informed me, "You smell nice. Not like Tracey's last boyfriend. He wasn't a hero."
Mrs Davis, Marie, saved me from this conversation by inviting us all into the dining room for breakfast, second breakfast for Tracey and me. They had just enough chairs for the family, so Natalie ended up on my lap. Fortunately the adults all seemed amused by her antics and weren't getting out a noose for the creepy child molester who came to visit.
"Thank you for the groceries, Harry. I'll admit I had been getting worried. Everything's in turmoil with Gringotts and we weren't able to get either wizarding or Muggle currency to buy any yesterday."
The meal passed pleasantly enough. The older women kept things light, asking about things Tracey and I both would have done in school, mutual acquaintances, and the like. They steered away from serious topics. They also prevented Mr Davis from reading Tracey or me the riot act, though I noticed him giving us a measured look or two.
After the food was gone and the dishes were cleaning themselves, the grilling began.
"Tell me, Tracey, how did you end up with Harry here?" Her grandmother sounded pleasant, but was watching us just as sharply as Mr Davis.
"Ah, we were all being pushed out of the bank when up he pops, looking seriously harked off. The goblins tried to stop him but he," and here she looked at her sister and changed what she was going to say, "ah, wouldn't be stopped. We got to the doors about the same time and I got his attention."
"How did you do that, Sweetie?" Her father wouldn't let us off the hook.
"Er, ah, I might have mentioned I was attractive and could, er, ah…" Tracey couldn't finish the sentence under her father's increasingly dark glare.
"She certainly is." I felt I should take some of the heat off her. "I hadn't thought about it, but as soon as she opened her mouth I knew I didn't want to be alone last night." The glare shifted to me. "Er, I knew I was going to have trouble sleeping and I thought maybe Tracey could help. I mean, it was a choice between her and an old granny. No offense, Ma'am."
I'm not naive. I know what came out of my mouth. I just couldn't stop it once it started. It was like it had a mind of its own. A suicidal mind. Tracey and her parents were bright red for three different reasons. My face was burning, too. I'm not afraid to admit it: I was hiding behind Natalie. Surely they wouldn't blast me with their daughter on my lap.
"Harry, dear, I don't think you're helping. If I may make a suggestion, keep quiet and let Tracey explain. She can't do any worse than you are."
"Yes, Ma'am. Marie."
"Now, dear, let's hear the actual story. Try to tell it in a way that does not have your father chasing Harry away and locking you in your room until you're fifty."
"It's like he said, if you take out the accidental double entendres. He had a bad day yesterday and didn't think he'd be able to sleep. I asked him if he'd take me with him to get away from the mob at the bank. He had a portkey. He brought me along to have someone to talk to last night. He made me a nice dinner and we talked a bit. When we fell asleep, we were wearing our regular clothes."
Natalie had been following the conversation, keeping quieter than I'd expect a little kid to do. This last was too much for her.
"You slept in your clothes? Why, Tracey? You normally sleep naked."
Tracey turned red again. Something must have changed in my face as well, because her mother looked amused and her father looked upset again. Grammy wasn't reacting much, but I had the feeling she was taking it all in and judging me.
"Ahem. Well, it wouldn't have been right for her to do that because she was sleeping with me and…"
"Not helping, Harry. Tracey?"
"It's like he said, again. After the fight to get out of the bank, Harry passed out early. I didn't know his house and his elf was away, so I got him to a couch. It was the only place to sleep I found, so I slept on the couch, too. And Mum's right, Harry. You need to be careful what you say. Unless you're trying to find out if an outraged father can do what You Know Who never managed and rip the Boy Who Lived apart with his bare hands."
"I won't let him! I'll protect you, Harry."
"That's why you're on my lap, Natalie. You can be my official bodyguard when I come to visit, ok?"
"If you are done provoking my son, can you tell us what happened at Gringotts?" Grammy was steering the conversation onto more useful, and less dangerous, ground. "The goblins don't close their doors if they can avoid it, to avoid lost profit. Even less will they detain a wizard without very good cause, and yet Tracey referred to you fighting to get out of the bank."
"The goblins tricked me and locked me in one of their vaults. I broke out and fought my way out. Tracey found me and the rest went like she said.
"Ma'am, you may be right about the goblins not breaking the treaties, but this time they had the approval of the Ministry and Dumbledore."
Everyone digested that for a few moments.
"Harry's the hero! Anyone who locks him up is the bad guy."
"I don't know if I'm a hero, Natalie. I've done some bad things. But I will say, I try to do the right thing."
"You are a hero! Tracey tells me stories about you every night."
Tracey's face was even redder than after the "naked" remark. How interesting. I would need to follow up on this the next time we were alone. If her father ever let us be alone before she's fifty. I'd at least have something to tease her with, and maybe…
"My daughter is right. I've never heard of you being on the wrong side of a fight, except for the nonsense the Prophet spews. By contrast, everyone who deals with them knows the goblins will take every advantage they can get away with. If the goblins tried to lock you up, they were on the wrong side. If the Ministry supported them, it's for some dirty political reason.
"We're still going to talk about you sleeping with my daughter, young man, sometime when you don't have your bodyguard. But as regards Gringotts, I'm confident that you were in the right."
"Yes, sir, and thank you. The goblins declared me an enemy of the goblin nation because I found they'd been 'borrowing' from vaults. That's where they get the principle to make loans. When I found out, I emptied my vaults and told others they should, as well. That would hurt the goblins' profits, thus enemy.
"Dumbledore went along with the goblins because I'm a destabilizing influence. At least, that's what his note said. I don't know if I believe it. The old man keeps secrets even from himself, so who knows what's really going on. I don't know why the Ministry did it, but you're probably right. Someone got bribed or the Minister is afraid I'll run for election or some reason like that."
"What are your plans?"
"For today, I need to get back to my house soon. Dobby will be getting back and we need to make plans for cleaning the place out. Medium term, I plan to leave Britain. This was the final straw."
Looking around, I saw Tracey and Marie looking somewhat upset, Grammy looking firmly in agreement, and Mr Davis looking thoughtful.
"You can't leave! We need our hero. Don't let the goblins chase you away. Fight them!"
"I already fought the goblins yesterday. I kind of threw a temper tantrum and destroyed Gringotts."
That rocked the adults back a moment. They were probably thinking I had cast a giant Reductor inside the cavern and were wondering if it was safe to be around me.
"I threw a temper tantrum yesterday and broke a plate. Mommy gave me a spanking and took away one of my toys."
"I don't have a Mum." Natalie looked horrified and gave me a hug. "But I'll bet the Ministry would like to give me a spanking."
I stopped to think, which I hadn't done since I got here. It seemed I still was too trusting. What, I hadn't been burned enough by betrayal and people talking about my business? Slow learner, that's me.
"If you don't mind, could you all keep this conversation to yourselves? I have enough people talking about my business already. And I'll bet the Ministry is going to want to arrest me. I don't think I broke any laws but when has that ever stopped them? Er, you shouldn't even mention seeing me. You'd probably be brought in for questioning."
Everyone nodded agreement. My motormouth might not have hurt anything. If they could just keep quiet for a week or two, I'd be gone from the country and out of Dumbledore's and the Ministry's reach.
"Harry? Do you want me to come tonight?"
I was surprised to hear Tracey ask that. Our deal was done. I'd helped her a bit, she helped me get a good night's sleep. Fair trade, all debts paid, pleasure doing business with you.
"Yes. Please." I didn't mean to say that. Especially with a protective father in arms' reach.
Natalie cut through the measuring looks and growls. "Can I come? You're nice."
And the solution came clear.
"Would you all like to come stay with me? I have plenty of rooms. And Dobby would like it, too. He complains that taking care of just me doesn't keep him busy. Especially since I do most of the cooking."
And so it was settled. The adults promised not to betray me or reveal any secrets they learned while my guests. Everyone packed a suitcase of clothes for a short vacation, then we gathered around the portkey. One short trip later and I was giving the sickle tour of the former Black Summer Cottage.
"Cottage? I've counted six bedrooms so far. How much more is there?" Mr Davis was nicely impressed. Good. Maybe that would last until I was able to ask Tracey to sleep with me tonight.
"Not too many more. Natalie, would you like this room?"
Her eyes lit up and she tore for the king size bed, bouncing on it like a trampoline. Until she spotted the chests and shelves along the far wall. "Toys!" In just moments there was an explosion of dolls and stuffed animals. I think this had been Narcissa's room. Who would have thought the snobbish bitch would have had such a normal, girly childhood?
I ended the tour, not having shown the master suite – no sense in provoking the parents – or a few other features, and brought everyone back to the kitchen. Mrs Davis insisted on making lunch, so I took a moment to address something important.
"Natalie? The things you see and hear at my house have to stay a secret, all right? You can talk to your family and my house elf and me, but no one else. Can you do that?"
"Sure, Harry. I know about family secrets." She stopped to think. "Are you part of the family now? Is that why I don't have to share a room with Tracey? Because she's sharing with you, like Mommy and Daddy?"
Yes, it had all come clear to me. If my own mouth didn't get me killed, Natalie's would do it.
Peeking between my fingers after smacking myself in the forehead, I saw that Tracey was blushing yet again, Marie was laughing to herself, and Grammy and Mr Davis were … measuring me. I'd expected him to be angry. The only thing that had changed since the last similar situation was that he'd seen the size of my house. I hoped that my wealth wasn't that important to him. I wanted to be known for myself, whether Hero or Disrupting Influence or Just Harry, who wants to sleep with his daughter.
"That's not it, Natalie. This house has enough bedrooms that no one has to share if they don't want to."
"But you both want to, don't you, dears?"
"Yes, Ma'am. Marie." I was blushing. So was Tracey, even as she nodded agreement.
"I won't argue about what my adult daughter gets up to, and I'm sure Robert won't, either. Isn't that right, dear?"
Murder having been avoided, we all tucked in.
With all the extra people, Dobby or I would have to shop soon. Speaking of which, where was Dobby? It wasn't like him to run late.
Repast and unstrained small talk out of the way, I invited Natalie down to the cellar. "Do you want to see something utterly, unbelievably cool? The rest of you might want to come, too. You'll probably never see the like anywhere else."
The Ooooohs were all I expected. It was just that cool. I mean, how often do you get to see a pile of gold higher than your head and ten feet across the bottom?
"That's why the goblins were mad at me. They'd been borrowing from my vault and other vaults without telling the owners. They'd use that money for their loans to businesses and regular people. They'd charge you interest for the loan, not give me any of it, and still charge me the usual vault rental fee.
"Stand back everyone. More coolness coming up."
I stood on the top landing and upended my never-full bag. The millions of Galleons came pouring out. When it was done, the pile was much higher than my head. It was a good thing the cellar was intended for storage, with a high ceiling.
Tracey and Natalie couldn't help themselves. Both dived on the pile and attempted to swim in it. "Ouchies." "Ow. Scrooge McDuck could do it. Why not us?"
"I could have told you it wouldn't work." The reason I could have told them is, I tried a belly flop on the first, comparatively small, pile. Not that I'd ever admit it. What I said was much harsher than "Ouchies".
"Natalie, come up here. Let's try something." She watched as I cast strong cushioning charms on the floor and walls and then conjured a concave disk. All of a sudden her eyes lit up and she tore up the stairs to join me.
I carefully sat on the disk on top of the mound and held out my arms to help her step over. Inched the disk forward. A bit more. And dooooowwn we go, Natalie shrieking in delight and Galleons spraying as we passed. We bounced into the wall, being pelted with the coins from our wake.
"That was the coolest thing ever!" I was informed at full volume. "Again?"
"I'll have to restack the pile before we can do it again. Some other time, ok?"
The Davises had to leave to tend to their business. I gave them a portkey, cautioning them that it would take them to the arrival room and that only I could let them into the rest of the house. Adjusting the house wards for greater convenience was on my to-do list, but it hadn't been important before today. Dobby and I could get in and out and we hadn't had any guests before.
Natalie needed a nap, and so did Grammy. Chasing after a small child would wear out anyone, especially an old lady.
That left Tracey and me to go shopping. And try to figure out what happened to Dobby.
We found him in the first place I looked. Whew! He reeked of … something. Stale booze, stale smoke, and stale sweat, I'd have thought, if that weren't unthinkable.
Dobby cracked a bleary eye open to see my gaping mouth. "The Great Harry Potter Sir should not be being awake so early. Dobby will be making breakfast for the Great Harry Potter Sir as soon as it is daylight."
"Uh, right, Dobby. It's a long time to morning. Get some more sleep." I closed his door and turned to Tracey. We gawped at each other a moment, then burst into giggles – that is, giggles for her, manly chuckles for me.
We dressed Muggle and I grabbed a wad of paper currency for groceries. I don't know why, but you can get the same food in a Muggle market as a wizarding, usually much cheaper. Money wasn't an issue for me, but being recognized was. In the Muggle world, I was just Harry, the guy they'd see around town sometimes. In the wizarding world I was always mobbed and stared at and propositioned. Today I'd likely have to fight my way through aurors trying to bring me in for reasons not clearly stated.
It was a pleasant walk of a lovely afternoon with a pretty girl beside me. Mr and Mrs Green would be surprised to see us together. "Say, Tracey, can I ask a favor?"
"You can ask. I'll probably even do it. Thank you for last night," she winked.
"Could you act like my girlfriend in the market? A while ago the owners asked me why they don't see me getting food more often, and I told them that I was living with another guy who does most of the shopping, and now they think I'm gay, and they want me to introduce my guy friend so they know who he is, and I'm not gay!"
My assertions of manliness were undermined by her giggles. She grabbed my hand and observed, "You know, Harry, maybe you should just never talk. It would save you a lot of trouble."
She was right. I should give some thought to a vow of silence.
Picking out the groceries was fun. Loaded with cash and faced with shopping for seven rather than two, we didn't fuss about choosing between alternatives. Get both! We filled one small cart and went back for another.
Trouble came in aisle four. There was only one box of my usual breakfast cereal – shockingly sweet, loaded with artificial colors and fruit flavors, and chock-full of sugary styrofoam chunks that were supposed to be marshmallows. And yet I was somehow addicted to it.
"Give that here, Potter. That's the one Natalie likes."
"What? Give up my treasure? My one true love? The only thing that gives me the strength to face the world?"
"Hmmph. Some hero, letting down a little girl like that."
"Oh, if only I had some other sweet thing to wake up to."
Mrs Green came along then, drawn by our flirting, er, friendly banter. She complimented me on finding such a good-looking girlfriend and praised me for turning my life around, then started grilling Tracey in that friendly yet persistently nosey fashion common to small villages, where everyone's business is everyone else's. Where did you meet? How long have you been together? Has Harry shown you every room in that great house of his? How long are you staying? Long enough to be sure Harry doesn't relapse? You're shopping together but I don't see a ring, dear.
Good hero that I am, I rescued Tracey by asking Mrs Green if they had any more of my cereal in the back.
We escaped without much more ado. Mr Green courteously loaned me a cart to carry the two large boxes. I didn't need it, once we were out of sight, but he didn't know that.
Walking back, Tracey kept hold of my hand but stayed quiet rather than chattering as she'd done on the way out.
"Harry? If you want me to, I'll sleep with you. For your nightmares, or, you know."
"I'd like that. Just sleep, ok? It's only been a day, and I'm not that easy."
My joke fell flat. "I'm not, either, but sometimes you don't get the choice."
I didn't know what to say to that. I don't like being called a hero, but the fact remains that I'm good at rushing in and rescuing the damsel and killing the bad guy and destroying stuff. Comforting an upset girl? Not so much. I didn't know what to say, so I just held her hand a little tighter and walked on.
The rest of the day went quietly. That was good. Yesterday had been busy, if I might be permitted a bit of understatement. This morning had been stressful, what with murderous thoughts directed my way. Tracey's parents wouldn't be back until late, so I showed Tracey and Natalie and Grammy around the grounds and neighborhood. Natalie then had some lessons and I attempted to figure out the house wards so I could change the settings.
When Dobby finally crawled out of bed, he had a hangover that would raise the dead. And breath that would kill them again. Human hangover and pain killer potions don't work on elves, we learned, and he was no use trying to cook or clean or do his other chores – he was so bad off, I'm not sure he even realized there were new people in the house. I gave him a glass of vegetable juice and sent him to the hot tub until he felt more human. Er, elvish.
By mutual agreement, we all avoided serious topics until Tracey's parents could join us. Grammy could provide a mature viewpoint, but she was the first to admit that she had no patience with fools. Any advice she gave might simply reinforce whatever rash notion happened to enter my mind.
Until yesterday, I had nothing keeping me in Britain. No family. My one true friend was dead at my other friend's hand. Everyone else that I thought of as friend or surrogate family was either dead or had turned on me. All that was left were casual acquaintances. I wasn't going to stay for the Greens.
It had been my intention to sell my properties, gather up my money and portable possessions, and go somewhere outside of the British Ministry of Magic's reach. Even before yesterday's acquisition, I had enough money that Dobby and I would never do without.
Now? Now I wasn't so sure I wanted to leave. Maybe I was just grasping a nice, normal family, much as I had grasped the Weasleys as a child. Maybe it was just the pretty girl near me and the fact that she had friends and family here and wouldn't want to leave.
Eh, worry about it later. There was a laughing five year old to chase around the yard.
I made supper. Tracey sang as she set the table and helped me. She had a nice singing voice. Maybe not professional, but I could listen to it for the next fifty years. I smacked the side of my head. Down, boy. Don't get your hopes up.
Grammy showed Natalie how to do some simple food preparation tasks, enough that the little girl later proclaimed that she helped cook supper.
All in all, it was a nice, homey scene. I'd never seen anything like it. Even at the Weasleys', back when I was still welcome there, it was always Molly telling everyone what to do, usually with a lot of shouting to keep them on task. Here, we all just found something to work at and chipped in. I didn't know what to think about it, so I just kept cooking.
We played games in the evening until Natalie's bedtime. I got a little mopey when I thought that I could have had this if not for stupid Voldemort and the stupid prophecy and stupid Dumbledore. But every time I got too depressed it was my turn to roll again. Yes, I made a good decision yesterday. If I hadn't brought Tracey here, no doubt I'd have been in full depression for the last 24 hours, with no end in sight.
The Davises arrived in the late evening, about when I was thinking it was bedtime. I let them in, pointed them at supper, and wished them a good night. Apparently it had been a tumultuous day. They had news. They'd tell us about it in the morning. I was too tired to listen just then.
"Will you spend the night with me? Please?"
"Yes, Harry. I had already planned to. Let me clean up and get clothes for tomorrow and I'll join you in your suite."
We separated to shower and such. I thought that it might be a good idea to offer to wash her back. Maybe someday.
After the shower I dressed for bed. Normally I sleep in the nude. Like Tracey, apparently. But I couldn't do that tonight. Especially given the effects of thinking about her sleeping in the nude. She was right, she does have great tits…
Just in time. Tracey knocked, then came in. We were both a little shy but kept with the plan. She noticed that I was happy to see her but didn't say anything. She surprised me with a kiss on the cheek as we settled in, finding comfortable positions together. I was asleep in minutes.
"Good morning, sleepyheads. Did you sleep well?"
I started awake and felt Tracey doing the same beside me. Dobby had opened the door for Marie, who was looking at us with a big grin. In fact, everyone in the house was staring at us. In bed. Together.
Mr Davis didn't look too happy, but noted, "At least your clothes are decent."
I gave a quick glance to make sure everything was covered.