Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns Harry Potter
Serpent Tongue: Chapter One: Discoveries in Diagon Alley
AN: At long last, I am posting the fic that I'm sure you've all been looking forward to, given by the positive response my Slytherin!Hope snippets. I know I planned to post this, like, a year ago, but time got away from me and Serpent Tongue's chapters are going to be more than twice as long as Looking Beyond's.
I will admit that this fic starts off typically for a HP fanfic, but you will see a heightened presence of mythology and piracy as it goes on. Book one is about as canon as it gets and it diverges a lot from book two on.
Self-sufficient nearly ten year olds weren't particularly uncommon, particularly when they grew up in a situation where they are forced to think less like a child and more like an adult.
That was the kind of situation Hope Potter grew up in.
At ten years old, Hope Potter had perfected the art of unnerving stares, sly smiles, and cold eyes that stabbed you when you least expected it. She was clever and silent, like a snake in the grass waiting to strike some who met her thought. Even at a young age, this had been obvious to Hope.
It had also been obvious to her that she was not normal or ordinary.
Magic did not come as much of a surprise to her, but it certainly garnered a bit more of an awed expression than most things Hope had experienced in life.
Children could not just turn their hair and eyes different colours and change the shape of their face and body, at least ordinary children could not.
Because Hope Potter was not ordinary; she was a witch.
And suddenly why her family hated her so much became crystal clear, though she would admit that it had always been attributed to a rather vivid imagination when she was six; she saw glowing eyes in the thick mist, heard tinkling laughter with no source as she skipped rocks over a lake, almost walked through someone who was silvery-blue and transparent.
Hope had thought it was because she looked nothing like any of them, with their pale faces and either beefy or boney appearances, with double chins or thin necks. Hope couldn't have looked more different. Her hair was dark and thick and curly -when she wanted it to be-, her eyes were green, the color of leaves in spring, and her skin olive, just dark enough to set her apart from the Dursleys, dark enough for people to notice.
Apparently, if Petunia's hissed scorns to other ladies around the neighborhood were to be believed, Hope's coloring came from her mother, born out of wedlock from a fling with Petunia's father, conceived when he'd been briefly separated from her mother. Hope liked that she looked different, though, she didn't want to look like the Dursleys, never again.
She'd tried it once, if it meant an actual meal, if it meant there wasn't a pot aimed at her head, if it meant she wasn't ending up scraping her knees running away from Dudley and his bullies. Her skin had lightened to match theirs, her hair had been blonde…the approving look on Petunia's face had made her stomach roil and filled her with the desire to puke.
Hope never tried it a second time.
Life with the Dursleys was a misery to be sure, but Hope refused to leave without a plan set in place, without one, she would probably find herself lost and confused. The only good the Dursleys were providing her right now was a roof over her head, the minimum of clothing, and food, but that was better than nothing, for now, but Hope's reasons for staying instead of cutting and running were low and few.
So, Hope spent most of her days in the town library, immersed in the shelves, melting into the background, searching for a way into the magical side of her life, in the hopes that she would get far away from the Dursleys, and that was where he found her.
But most of the books that the library possessed were not the type she was searching for, in fact, most of them dealt with the early witch trials. The images burned into Hope's mind as she shut the books with a grimace marring her lips.
There really wasn't anything of value, was there?
"You won't find what you're looking for there," a pleasant voice commented and she looked up.
The stranger was beautiful with a head of loose bronze curls, and etched features as though from marble like a Greek statue she'd seen in her history books. His spectacles glinted from the sunlight filtering through the window, making it impossible to see the eyes beyond, even if the lenses weren't darkened.
A dark eyebrow rose as she studied him appraisingly. He seemed particularly suspicious…but there was something oddly familiar about him, like something she would've seen in the mirror. "Where would I find what I'm looking for?" she asked and he smiled.
"You? Perhaps Gringotts might be of service, dearest," he hummed and Hope started at the name he referred to her with. No one had ever spoken to her so kindly, not even the teachers at her school.
"Gringotts?" she asked instead, tilting her head slightly, a few stray dark curls falling out of her loose ponytail and against her neck (she didn't wear it up or long when Dudley's around, because he always took it as an invitation to tug). "What's a Gringotts?"
"It's a bank, dearest," the man spoke lightly, fingers hooking into the pockets of his jeans before withdrawing a small card and extending it to her. "You'll find what you're looking for there."
Hope's eyebrows wrinkled together in confusion as she read the address, opening her mouth to speak, but when she looked up he'd gone.
She twisted around, but there wasn't any trace of him.
He'd vanished…like magic, or perhaps something older and more powerful.
Green eyes considered the card and then she shoved her books back in her bag, hoisting it high on her shoulder as she exited the library swiftly, nearly knocking into a bushy haired girl walking animatedly beside her father.
Hailing a cab was no trouble and paying for the trip was even less. Hope had been systematically stealing several pounds a week for months now with only about a pound a day to keep her guardians from being suspicious. Convincing the cabbie that she wasn't going to be on her own was another thing entirely -Hope hoped her face was endearing enough, but you never knew-, but eventually Hope found herself at the address on the back of the card, at a place called the Leaky Cauldron.
Hope eyed the establishment with a dubious air. Perhaps she shouldn't have trusted the word of a stranger who hadn't even told her his name, but there had been an air of familiarity about him, something she still couldn't place.
She gave a small sigh and pushed the door open and entered what she discovered to be a pub.
It was the strangest place Hope had ever seen and Petunia would probably be frothing at the mouth at how dirty it was. Hope was not nearly so uptight and loved things old and far less refined.
The clientele were certainly the strangest part about the pub. One man looked so pale he could have competed with Hope's Stranger's complexion, but the hint of fangs peeked out of the edges of his mouth as he drank a red drink that smeared the colour over his lips made them very different. There was a woman with a hooked nose and more warts than Hope had seen in her life sitting at a window muttering gibberish under her breath.
"Can I help you, little miss?"
Hope jerked at the question, lifting her gaze to the man who had been wiping down the bar. He was a balding man with pale eyes and by far the most human-looking person Hope had seen since she'd stepped foot in the pub.
"Erm, yes," Hope twisted the card between her fingers, "can you tell me how I get to…Gringotts?"
The man gave her a kindly smile before pointing her in the direction of a door that led outside, but only to a short wall.
Maybe he was having her on.
Hope lifted a hand to brush it over the harsh stones only to jump back in startled surprise when they melted away at her merest touch.
Her mouth fell open and she gaped widely as the stones had exposed an alley along a rickety road with a number of misshapen buildings seemingly smashed against each other. It had an old feel to it, like she had stepped into a town in the tenth century.
Hope doubted she'd ever been down a road that she'd liked as much as Diagon Alley (as according to the small card that was the road's name).
"I see you found your way here well enough."
Hope tilted her head back to look up to the speaker. It was the man again, with a smirk present on his lips.
"Well enough," Hope agreed, repeating his words with narrowed eyes. "Now, are you going to tell me why I'm looking for a bank called Gringotts?"
A russet-coloured eyebrow arched and the smirk on his lips widened. "Do you always go where strangers tell you to?"
"Of course not," Hope said with an air of distinct annoyance. "But there's something…odd about you…"
She was sure his eyes were glinting behind those shaded spectacles of his.
"Odd? Surely not!"
She scowled further, turning her eyebrows the color of his briefly before they returned to the typical black as the man knelt in front of her so that their heads were now level and then he took off his glasses.
Where his eyes should have been was solid black, as though onyx had been grafted to his eye sockets.
Hope started in surprise at his eyes, but her surprise settled quickly into caution, the lines of her body growing tense.
"Who are you?" she asked with eyebrows drawing together, confusion evident on her face, despite everything.
"I," the man said with a great deal of amusement as he replaced the spectacles over his eyes, "am Thanatos, Hope, do you know what that means?"
How he learned her name, Hope had no idea and it only served to increase her suspicion towards him.
"Thanatos is the death god in Greek mythology," Hope intoned in a rather dubious voice, crossing her arms and canting her head. "You're a Greek god?"
"Don't believe in gods, dearest?" Thanatos hummed, lips twisting upwards.
"I'm polytheistic, of course I believe in gods, I just don't believe that you're a god," Hope clarified, looking him up and down. Of course, he certainly had the bearing of a god, as though he'd watched an age go by, it was like an aura that surrounded him and encompassed his entire being.
"Oh, and what makes you think I'm not a god?" Dark eyes glinted as he grinned.
Hope wrinkled her nose at him. "You look too ordinary," she decided with an air of finality, perhaps not the best tone when speaking with a god, but Hope wasn't well-known for self-preservation.
"Perhaps I wouldn't stand out as much if I wore my himation," he mused thoughtfully.
Hope's knowledge of ancient Greek garb was incredibly limited, if he'd said toga it would've made more sense in her head, but she wasn't about to tell him that. Instead, she pursed her lips together and conceded. "Okay…you might be a god, but why would the god of death have an interest in me? Am I on your To-Die List?"
"You do know there actually isn't a list…I'm not the grim reaper," Thanatos sighed, ducking his head slightly in exasperation.
Hope arched an eyebrow, dubious at best.
"Technically, the names are kept in a book," Thanatos muttered, "but that's not the point."
"There was a point?" Hope asked archly, earning a firm stare in return. Goading him didn't seem like the smartest option, but that wasn't going to stop her.
"A long time ago I had three sons," Thanatos told her, "one was named Ignotus Peverell, Hope, and he was your ancestor."
She opened her mouth, confusion clear in her eyes which filtered into an inky black briefly as she tried to wrap her head around that idea, that Hope Potter, the girl with dead parents and a different hair colour every day of the week when in school, could actually be related to Death himself.
Hope compared herself to him. Their hair and eyes were very different, but Hope could change her features at will, so that didn't really mean anything; Hope had never seen a picture of her parents, so she couldn't be sure which one she'd inherited her features from. And Hope had never been anywhere close to the deathly pale that he was…but if he was her ancestor, there wouldn't be many traits that she could have inherited from him given how distant she was from him on the family tree…if he was telling the truth, that is.
"Prove it," she said, with the foreknowledge that it wasn't going to end well for her.
Thankfully, there weren't many on the street to bear witness to her failings.
Thanatos, it seemed, had been waiting just for a response like that and before Hope could start to fully regret her decision, he had smirked widely and the air rippled around his hand as a cloth scroll came into being.
"Your family tree," he said, extending it to her with a flourish as an intricately carved knife fell from within the furls of the cloths, just missing her feet.
Hope had never seen anything like it before in her life. It was more a piece of art than a weapon, a thing of beauty rather than destruction. Perhaps that was what its forger had been going for. She hefted it with fascination, letting the light refract off every surface it held. The blade was silver, but more of a dull silver than one that shone brightly, and Hope suspected that was intentional, with a hilt that more closely resembled a tree branch around which a snake was wound.
"Who's is this?" she couldn't help asking.
"I believe it once belonged to Morea Avis, the wife of Salazar Slytherin."
"Who?" They sounded like remarkably odd names if you asked Hope. Morea sounded a bit Greek, but Salazar…that wasn't a name she could imagine anyone using. It sounded like the kind of name you'd give a child who didn't deserve it but didn't know any better.
"Consider them the patriarch and matriarch to the family line," Thanatos offered her as he unfurled the tapestry and Hope was surprised at the sheer number of names on the cloth. "Now, this is only the direct line…if you want to map out your complete family tree, you'll need a bigger cloth."
"There's more than this?" Hope asked, distracted by the last three names on the tapestry.
James Potter and Lily Evans were connected by a thick black line with a single green thread descending from the joined lines to Hope Potter, but under the black-threaded name was a second one in green.
"Elpis Slytherin?" Hope read the name slowly.
She knew the myth surrounding Pandora better than she'd like to admit, mostly because the spirit of hope, Elpis, was a very important part of the myth. It was better to be connected to a myth than to have to listen the sheer number of puns that her name could be used as.
"Your ancestral name…several of Salazar's descendants had similar names," Thanatos explained, waiting patiently for her to come to a decision concerning whether or not he had spoken the truth about their relation.
Hope frowned in contemplation as she rolled the tapestry back to the very top, where, just as Thanatos had said, the names Salazar Slytherin and Morea Avis were met with a line of black. From their union had been two children, Nelda and Adrian. Hope followed Nelda's line down the tapestry until she came to a stop at the name Adeliade Peverell that was connected with a golden thread to a golden name, Thanatos.
From the name were three names, Cadmus, Antioch, and Ignotus.
Green eyes narrowed as they fastened on the man kneeling before her.
"Maybe I believe you," she said, "but why tell me now?"
"I beg your pardon?" His confusion was evident.
Hope gave him a blank expression in return. "I've been an orphan since I was one year old, why wait so long to find me?"
Hope's dream of finding a long-lost relative to take her away from the Dursleys had died years ago and it was no use getting her hopes up, not even for a god with a kind smile.
In another universe she might have accepted his words with open arms, but this Hope had long since hardened her heart to the world she lived in. She had never experienced the kindness of strangers, even ones so eerily familiar. Confiding in strangers had never ended well for her either, mandated therapy sessions by her school ended with the therapist conveniently forgetting who Hope was or chalking her words up to Hope being a compulsive liar -which was unsurprising and ironic, given how much the Dursleys had to lie to convince
He arched an eyebrow for good measure. "Have you ever come across a myth concerning a god that cared for their half-mortal child?"
Her face screwed up as she tried to recall the variety of myths that she had read since she had first begun to read.
"No, I don't think so," she said finally.
"Your home environment is not ideal, even I have to admit, but I can recognize protective wards when I see them." He tapped a spot beside his temple, close to his left eye. "And since they are there for you, I opted not to interfere with their placement."
"Protective wards? What're you talking about?" Her eyebrows drew together and her hair gained a brown streak for a brief few seconds.
"We'll speak about it the next time I visit, shall we?" Thanatos smiled as he rolled his weight back from his knees onto his feet and pulling himself into an upright position.
"You can't just leave after laying something like that on me!" Hope burst out in the first show of anger since their conversation had began.
His laugh was light and clear and it hardly suited his persona as the feared god of death.
"We will meet again, I promise," he said, reaching out to ruffle her hair affectionately, almost ruining her high ponytail and Hope released an indignant squawk. "But the path you walk, dearest, is yours to walk and yours to walk alone. You are the author to your own story…so why don't you get to writing?"
And when Hope had blinked, the man had vanished entirely, leaving Hope on the empty road, clutching a knife that belonged to her long dead great-something grandmother and a tapestry older than anything else in life she had come across.
Hope scowled at the cobbled ground as though it was at fault for the disappearing act of the person who had been standing upon the stone moments previously.
Then she rolled the tapestry up with the dagger caught between furls of the cloth and shoved it in her messenger bag, muttering angrily to herself.
There were so many things that Hope was still uncertain about, and she didn't like being uncertain.
Magic was the most uncertain thing in her life and she didn't mean that in a bad way. She knew of its existence, obviously, given the sheer number of accidents that occurred around her, but here she was standing in the middle of what clearly was a magical street (how could it not be with stores like Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment, Slug and Jiggers Apothecary, and Madam Malkin's Robes For All Occasions?), having just had a conversation with Death himself. Normalcy was so far gone at this point that it might as well be dead.
She pulled the card he had given her back at the library, flicking it with her fingers.
The large white building, towering high above all the other shops lining the street, was a little farther down the road, but even at the distance, Hope found it quite imposing.
She could leave. She didn't have to listen to Thanatos, she had come this far, she could turn around and hightail back to Privet Drive.
But she didn't.
In ten years she hadn't found a single place she belonged. Number Four was a nightmare and her school was hellish. She was the rebel that no one wanted to be friends with, the one who Petunia and Vernon couldn't handle being smarter than their unintelligent son.
But here…here there was possibility for so much more.
Hope could feel the magic in the air, like a constant warm that roved over her skin, comforting her without anyone even being there.
Who cared if Thanatos was lying or telling the truth? Who cared if she'd never fit in with non-magical sorts? This…this was her chance…her chance to finally be the person she'd known she was deep down.
The thought simultaneously thrilled her and made her terrified, but Hope had come this far, and she wasn't ready to give up.
Hope swallowed the fears that were roiling deep in her stomach and took one step and then another, making her way slowly but surely down the street until she was standing before the massive double doors that led inwards.
How bad could a bank be?
Hope Potter was in for a shock.
Hope had no idea what to make of Gringotts once she was inside.
The building seemed to be larger on the inside than it was on the outside with a great domed ceiling from which several chandeliers dangled, crystal glinting in the light.
But it wasn't the building itself that was the problem…it was that it was run by a kind of creature Hope had never seen before.
They were short with beetle black eyes and pointed teeth, speaking to each other in low guttural tones.
What were they?
It wasn't that Hope had anything against them…but she didn't know what they were and didn't want to seem rude and ask for clarification.
Hope fingered the strap of her messenger bag nervously as she stood in line behind a tall man wearing a great deal of black who had to stoop to speak to the creature behind the desk.
There had been one of the creatures at the doors wearing a uniform of scarlet and gold, but there were even more within. There were long counters on either side of the long hall with the creatures sitting on high stools (Hope suspected that with their short stature they didn't often get to look down on people), some examining jewels, others weighing what appeared to be gold, and some jotting down notes onto parchment.
She wasn't sure she'd ever get used to the strangeness of the magical world, especially since Thanatos had chosen the approach that was similar to a snowball to the face, leaving her scrambling to right herself.
She jumped at the snide voice directed towards her and she blinked upon the discovery that the man in front of her had finished his business and disappeared while she was looking around the building.
"Erm…Hope Potter?" Hope said, the statement of her name sounding more like a question. She was glad they hadn't asked her why she was there, because she had honestly no idea.
That got the creature's attention and he –she assumed it was a he, given the deep voice he spoke in– leaned physically over the counter to look at her with an expression she couldn't identify.
"Hope Potter?" he repeated her name.
"Yes," Hope bobbed her head for good measure before belatedly tacking on a "sir."
The respectful way she had spoken to him in was clearly something he was not used to, but he took it with good grace.
"You will have to prove that first," he said in a boring drawl and Hope eyed the podium apprehensively.
"Prove…that?" she said carefully, confusion evident even as she winced at the sound of him stamping something into a piece of parchment before extending the parchment to her.
"Walk down to the first door past the counter," the creature directed her, pointing in the direction she was meant to be moving in, "that is the room for Identity Verification."
"Okay…" Hope frowned at the slip of parchment as she followed his instructions, knocking politely on the door and cracking it to peer inside. "Erm…is this Identity Verification?"
"It is," the creature sitting at a short table grunted with a definite note of boredom in his voice. "Shut the door behind you."
Hope got the feeling that the creatures that ran the bank were the type to not dance around an issue, preferring to be rather frank.
He dipped an elegant quill in an inkwell, filling out a parchment on the date of the request. He slid it across the table to her, indication a line at the bottom. "Sign here please."
Hope's cursive wasn't that great, but she hadn't had much on the subject and she didn't particularly like writing it. But she made do.
"Now I'm going to need a bit of your blood."
"Excuse me?" Hope's eyebrows rose so high on her forehead that they disappeared beneath her dark fringe.
He released a loud sigh at her lack of cooperation, but Hope really couldn't have been blamed for that, she was rather new to the whole idea.
Without letting her move or even speak more of her confusion, he reached over the table to grasp her wrist, turning it to expose her wrist and picking up a slender dagger and nicking her pointer finger with a small slice that was enough to give just enough blood but also small enough that it would heal without much trouble.
He smudged her finger against the parchment, seeming to not notice the wince she had given upon him cutting her finger, before releasing his grip on her hand, allowing her to move the finger to her mouth.
She, however her ill feelings towards the creature before her, watched the parchment with fascination as a number of words became scrawled across it from the moment her blood touched it.
"Hope Potter," he read out the words, "daughter of Lord James Potter and Lily Evans…heir to the Noble and Most Ancient Houses of Potter and Black, and of the Noble Line of Slytherin…"
Most of those words meant nothing to Hope, but to find out her father was a lord of some kind was actually kind of ironic, given how the Dursleys viewed her mother and father.
"You're going to cart me off to someone else, aren't you?" Hope asked wryly and the creature gave the closest approximation of a smirk she had seen yet.
"Yes," he said, "I am."
But this time, he was the one that took her to her next destination which was a rather ornate door that told Hope that the person beyond was a rather important individual.
He knocked twice, more loudly that Hope would have, before a voice within spoke a muffled, "Enter."
"A Hope Potter to see you, Ragnok," he said shortly before pushing her inside and shutting the door after her.
The room was darker than the hall outside, lit with lamps that cast shadows. A painted portrait rested behind the carved desk and high-backed chair and Hope jumped when she saw that the painted figure was actually moving, blinking and glowering at her as though she was something terrible.
"Welcome, Hope Potter, I'm afraid you've caught me off balance, I wasn't expecting you for another year at least."
The voice came from the one who was sitting in the high-backed chair and he was remarkably similar to all the creatures Hope had seen since her entrance into the bank, with the exception that his swarthy face bore more wrinkles and the hair atop his head was a fluffy white.
His dark eyes fixed on her expectantly and Hope realized she was staring.
"You were expecting me?" she said blankly.
This whole day was bringing down her self-esteem to a level she wasn't sure she could ever rise above.
Thankfully, her response seemed to amuse him. "Most children who pass our walls upon their entry are eleven years old."
He waved her forward and Hope sank into the poufy armchair that was positioned in front of his desk. Compared to it, Hope was impossibly small, nearly disappearing into its cushions.
"Is eleven an important age, or something?" Hope asked, still clueless.
He seemed surprised by the question, lacing his fingers together. "Miss Potter, you do know what this establishment is, don't you?"
"Erm…a bank for magical people?" Hope offered before admitting, "I don't know much about the…magical community, I guess I should call it…this bloke just told me I'd 'find what I was looking for here'." She used her fingers for air quotes for good measure and Ragnok arched an eyebrow.
"And what exactly are you looking for, Miss Potter?"
"To learn about magic…to get away from my family, take your pick." Hope had never really thought about what Thanatos had meant, too caught up in the thrill.
"Then I imagine this is all very strange and confusing to you," he said with a bit more understanding than his colleagues.
"A good bit, yes," Hope sighed with a wince. "I hope you don't take this the wrong way…but I have no idea what you…are…erm…could you—?" Hope was failing at wording the question properly and her words trailed off.
To her eternal relief, Ragnok didn't take it as an insult, only a clarification. "I and my kind are goblins," he informed her, "just as you and your kind are witches and wizards…though you are also a Metamorphmagus, according to Griphook's Identity Verification."
"What's a Metamorphmagus?" Hope asked flummoxed, stumbling over the word.
"It's someone who can change their appearance at will, it's a very rare skill, but little more than a camouflage," Ragnok told her, "only one other person has that skill…but we are drifting away from the matter at hand."
If there was a matter at hand, Hope certainly wasn't aware of it.
"At the age of eleven children are sent acceptance letters into magical schools around the world, some schools start at a much earlier age, such as Athene Academy in Greece, but most follow the typical starting age at eleven. For you, Hogwarts School For Witchcraft and Wizardry will certainly send their letter for you a few weeks before your eleventh birthday," Ragnok explained with surprising patience.
"Oh," Hope said.
Surveyed her silently, watching the varying expressions that spread across her face before he got up and unlocked a small drawer behind the desk, removing a small box and a letter crisp with age.
"Before your parents' death, your father entrusted this to me, to give to you upon your re-entry into the Wizarding world," he said, extending them to her.
Hope took them wordlessly, looking down at them. "I was under the impression that my mum and dad died in an automobile accident."
The goblin arched an eyebrow at that, clearly not having any idea what an automobile was (it, after all, wasn't a Wizarding invention). "James and Lily Potter were killed by a wizard known to the Wizarding World as Voldemort."
"Voldemort?" Hope's breath came out short upon that discovery. She had long since accepted that her mother and father were dead of something outside their control (what other reason could have been given to force them to give up their only child) but comparing a car crash to murder was something entirely different. "Who's Voldemort?"
Had she asked someone else the very same question, she would have been subjected to screeches and been loudly berated to not speak that name. But Hope had asked a goblin not a witch or wizard, a goblin who had nerves of steel quite unlike witches and wizards who still feared the name of a long dead Dark wizard.
"Voldemort is the name of a Dark wizard responsible for the First Wizarding War," Ragnok said, "he and his followers killed many during those times, including your parents."
Hope had never really felt a grief towards the loss of her parents, mostly because she'd been a baby when they died and had never properly met them, but their absence from her life was felt keenly.
Her fingers shook slightly as she removed the string around the envelope that bore her name in an unfamiliar slanted scrawl.
A large sigh was heaved when she finally managed to pull the letter free and crease it back to read.
Hope, it read.
If you are reading this then your mother and I can no longer care for you, as I have entrusted this letter to the goblin in charge of the Potter vaults and subsequent Head of Gringotts, Ragnok, to be given to you upon your entry into the Wizarding World.
So, Happy Birthday at least ten times over, Hope, and I am sorry that I could not have stayed longer in this world for you or your mother.
Voldemort is no closer to discovering our hiding place, to our relief, but if he was our only problem, that would be that, and I can rest easy knowing that you are in the safe care of either your godmother, Alice Longbottom, or your godfather, Sirius Black, my closest friend.
Your mother is probably irritated enough with me –as she always is– for writing this letter; she thinks I am too pessimistic. So, I will offer you as much advice in as little words as I can manage.
I once made the mistake of judging a Hogwarts House by their reputation alone, so I ask that you learn from my mistakes. Slytherin blood runs in our veins, you and I, and there's no telling if it will shine more strongly in you than any other Potter.
We love you more than the stars in the sky,
Hope read the letter twice over before looking up to Ragnok, not knowing her eyes had filtered from her typical green to a bright hazel, her hair lightening from a midnight black to a chestnut brown.
"'I can rest easy knowing that you are in the safe care of either your godmother, Alice Longbottom, or your godfather, Sirius Black,'" she read the words out loud with clear befuddlement. "My guardians are my mother's sister and her husband."
"That would have more to do with the fact that neither your godmother or godfather can care for you."
"Why not?" Hope pressed. "What happened to them?"
"Alice Longbottom is currently in the long-term ward at St. Mungo's along with her husband," Ragnok spoke carefully.
"Long-term? What for?" It was clear to her that this 'St. Mungo's' must have been a hospital for witches and wizards (hospitals were sometimes named after saints, weren't they?).
"Insanity," he said solemnly and Hope's mouth gaped, horrified. "While Sirius Black remains in his cell in Azkaban."
'Azkaban' meant nothing to Hope, other than making it clear that it was a prison (what else could have cells like what he was describing?). But that didn't matter, right now, she'd probably be able to find something on the subject at a later date.
"I see," she said instead, mulling the information over in her mind, and then her eyes dropped to the small box still in her lap, carefully placing her letter back in its envelope and putting it between an old book on Nordic runes and Greek mythology that the library had set out on the 'free' rack just outside the building. "What is this?" Perhaps someone else would have shaken the box vigorously to discover what was within, but not Hope.
Hope was a girl who used words more than action; words could cut deeper than any knife if you tried hard enough. Her tongue was sharp and clever and action had never gotten her very far; but her intelligence would.
"Your father asked that we give you these once you came here for the first time, if he was unable to."
Hope's face was a picture of confusion as she lifted the small chest from her lap, examining it closely and opening the lid slowly to see the two rings that lay within.
The Metamorphmagus had never been one for jewellery, that much was very true; she had no delicate rings, dangling earrings, or heavy necklaces like the ones Petunia wore.
The only bracelet she'd had had been leather with a butterfly charm, but it had been worn off by age and elements by the time she was nine.
Now, Hope couldn't bite back a gasp; they were beautiful. One was made of silver, melded so that it coiled around the finger, the design matching that of a snake with two emerald eyes as the only gem. The other had an ancient, golden base, set with a glossy black stone with a symbol she did not recognize carved into it.
"They're beautiful," she whispered, holding them in her hands gently as if they were made of a breakable substance. "My father left these for me?"
"He did," Ragnok agreed, "he trusted me to pass it on if he could not."
"Thank you," Hope whispered, her voice low and reverent as she slipped on the snake ring onto her ring finger, the coils tightening until it was no longer quite so loose on her finger. However, the second ring did not magically fit her as the first did, so she simply rested it onto her largest finger, her thumb. She had no way of knowing the power imbued with the black stone.
Her thoughts were in a muddle and she tried to clear them.
"The, erm, Potter Family…do they have any…houses?"
To plan to run away was one thing but to actually do it was another thing entirely, but if her family had their own estate, then she wasn't really running away, was she? She was just going home. (Wasn't she?)
"They have a variety of uninhabited estates," Ragnok agreed, leaving his chair once more to unlock one of the drawers on the side wall that had completely escaped Hope's attention any moment previously and she was now wondering how she could have missed it.
He pulled free a large stack of papers that made Hope's eyes go a little wide as he plopped down into his seat, riffling through them as he searched for something in particular.
"Ah, here it is," he murmured more to himself as he pulled out a long roll of parchment, extending it to her. "This is the listing of estates you are currently in possession of."
There were a lot on the list. Several in Greece, two in Wales, one in a place called the Forest of Morea (Hope wasn't certain, but she had a feeling that it wasn't going to be found on any map), one in Hawaii, three in London, one in Manchester and York, two in Blackpool…the list went on, but Hope focused on one of the estates in Wales, Potter Manor, under which was a secondary name.
"Who's Mindy?" she asked, pointing it out to the goblin.
"That is the name of the house-elf currently in charge of the manor's affairs," he told her, "I believe she has been taking care of the manor since your grandparents' death."
"But not my parents?"
"Well, James and Lily Potter never lived in the manor after their graduation from Hogwarts," he conceded.
Hope bobbed her head in understanding before asking another question (she was breaking one of Petunia's favourite rules, and that was "Don't ask questions!" but Hope had never cared much for the Dursleys rules), unable to help herself, "What's a house-elf?"
Ragnok gave a small chuckle. The subject itself wasn't so humorous, but this was the daughter of a lord wanting to know what a house-elf was.
He cleared his throat before beginning his explanation. "A house-elf is a creature that usually serves the older of Wizarding families. They take care of the establishment and their master, doing whatever they ask, such as cooking and cleaning."
So, what he was saying was that they were the Wizarding equivalent of maids…Hope was going to have to learn all this foreign terminology one day very soon.
"Can a…house-elf be considered the guardian of a sole heir?" she asked, not even bothering to hide her intention.
Her straightforwardness was clearly appreciated as Ragnok wasn't one for beating around bushes, either.
"Yes, as such was often the case in the early sixteenth century," he mused, tapping long fingers against the desk in a pensive manner. "Shall I have a map drawn up for you, for Potter Manor?"
"Please?" Hope asked with a grateful tone present in her voice.
Minutes later the very same map was tucked between her letters just like the letter, and then she was following Ragnok out of the room with a ring of keys that went to several vaults that she didn't know she owned. Several she could only get in for material possessions; books, and gemstones that Hope could turn her hair and eyes the color of.
"Do you always take people to their vaults?" she asked him, while reading the engraved words that were carved above the small cart that Ragnok had directed her to.
Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.
The subtle threat almost made her smile.
"Rarely," Ragnok said, "only in very special cases."
And then he pulled a lever, sending them hurtling off down the rails of tracks that went up, down, left, and right at speeds drew tears from Hope's eyes from the air hitting them.
There was a flash of orange fire, but Hope couldn't have told you if it was a flame from a torch or from a dragon's mouth (but were there dragons? Hope had no idea).
They went deeper and deeper until they came to a jolting stop beside Vault 687 and Hope grabbed the sides so she didn't go reeling into the only goblin she could for certain say that she honestly liked.
"What happens if someone tries to break into a vault?" Hope asked, thinking of the words she'd seen before.
Ragnok gave her a grin that told her it was probably best that no one try to break-in. She suspected imminent death might've been an important part.
He took back the ring of keys he had given her before they'd gotten into the carts, taking a small golden one and sliding it into the almost-invisible keyhole and twisting it.
Hope hopped out of the cart after him, taking the ring of keys back when he thrust them towards her, listening to the sound of so many gears clicking from within.
And then the door swung open and Hope found herself gaping at its contents.
When Ragnok had said her father had been a Lord of a Noble and Most Ancient House, she had been surprised, but the non-magical world had nobles and royalty too. However, Hope hadn't really been thinking how much her parents were actually worth.
Hope had never seen so many gold, silver, and bronze coins in her life.
And she couldn't stop thinking just how ironic it was that the Dursleys complained so much concerning how much Hope cost them.
Hope looked down at herself, at the large and baggy shirt she was wearing with a pair of ratty trousers. Petunia had never bought things in her size, but now, she didn't need it, Hope could by herself clothes that actually fit her.
"This is just the trust vault your parents set up for you, until you become of age and can take money from the main vault." He handed her a bag to pile money in. "The golden coins are galleons, then there are silver sickles, and bronze knuts. There are seventeen sickles to make a galleon, and twenty-nine knuts to make a sickle."
He was amused when Hope hastily pulled out a small notepad from her bag, already filled with inked jottings, adding the information with a pen.
"And can this money be exchanged for non-magical money?" Hope fought to remain in control of her desire to leave Number Four.
"Of course," he said once they returned to the cart, going down even further.
The next vault that they stopped at was one that could have been more closely compared to a cave, running long and deep with gold, silver, and bronze pooling in the back of the vault and various gemstones running in rivulets over what appeared to be priceless artefacts and shelves upon shelves of books.
Hope's fingers ran over a thick silver chair that held an emerald to the throat of the bust it was resting on, over the diamond earrings dangling from the bust's lobes, and then her gaze shifted to the books, and there were so many!
Some leather-bound, some not, but all with so many pages that were begging to be read.
"Can I…?" the question could not quite seem to leave her lips as she twisted around, a look of wonderment splashed across her face, not receding from when it had burst into bloom upon the entry into the vault.
"The gems and the books are yours," Ragnok said, "as much as you can carry."
And then a smile warmed her face into a blinding beam the likes of which had never been seen before of the face of Hope Potter.
She tipped two books into her already quite full bag, adding an oval-shaped moonstone and a bloodstone.
Ragnok raised his eyebrows at her choice of gem, having anticipated she'd go more for the more typical gemstones, like crystal, ruby, or emerald.
A small book bound in dark leather bearing a curled snake stamped across its cover fell off a pile of books to tip into her bag when she wasn't looking.
When Hope climbed out of the cart for the last time, her knees distinctly wobbly from the cart's speed, she thanked the goblin profusely for his assistance and help in explaining certain matters to her without whom she would still be walking around in a haze of confusion.
Ragnok waved her off, but she could tell he didn't deal with many respectful clients.
She walked past the podium as the goblin spoke to a man with greying hair and ruddy cheeks, his hand wrapped tightly around a small package smaller than his fist.
"One moment, Mr. Flamel."
Hope strode past him and out into the sunlight which had finally peeked through the grey clouds that had been present through the entire morning.
A loud growl from her stomach reminded her that she hadn't had very much to eat all day, other than a few grapes she'd managed to grab before Petunia had kicked her out of the house.
She could have stopped for something to eat, but Hope found herself effortlessly distracted by the name of the shop she'd just walked past.
Hope took a few large steps backwards, eyes fixing on the name: Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C.
A wand! Now, there was definitely something magical about having a wand, almost as much as a staff, but Hope would take what she could get.
The Wizarding coins jingled in her bag, only half converted to what Ragnok had called 'Muggle money' (Hope suspected she'd be able to find a book on the subject).
So Hope pulled the door open, the bell at the door making a sharp noise even as it shut after her.
The shop was empty and silent. There were rows upon rows of shelves filled with slender boxes that seemed to be categorized by the colour of the boxes; some were black, others a rusty red, or a murky brown.
"Good afternoon," a voice said to her left and it took extraordinary strain to keep Hope from jumping out of her skin at the sudden voice.
The voice belonged to an old man with fluffy white hair similar to Ragnok's, only this man's was wild and unkempt, giving off a crazed appearance that worked well with his wide and pale eyes.
It was almost unnerving, the way he was staring at her, but Hope took it in stride.
The man blinked. "Ah, yes," he said with an air of realization. "Yes, yes…I'm afraid you arrived earlier than I was expecting, but I knew I'd be seeing you soon, Hope Potter."
Hope didn't have any idea how he knew her name; it wasn't as though she had told it to him.
"You have your mother's eyes. It seems only yesterday she was in here herself, buying her first wand. Ten and a quarter inches long, swishy, made of willow. Nice wand for charm work," Mr. Ollivander complimented, taking a few steps forward and Hope forced herself not to take a few steps back. "Your father, on the other hand, favoured a mahogany wand. Eleven inches. Pliable. A little more power and excellent for transfiguration. Well, I say your father favoured it –it's really the wand that chooses the wizard, of course."
He lifted a finger to Hope's scar on her forehead that she had always been rather self-conscious about and Hope's hand clenched into a fist beside her, her teeth gritting behind her lips; she didn't much like people touching her, particularly not people she didn't know.
"And that's where…" a shadow crossed his eyes before he removed his hand. "I'm sorry to say I sold the wand that did it," he said regretfully. "Thirteen-and-a-half inches. Yew. Powerful wand, very powerful, and in the wrong hands... well, if I'd known what that wand was going out into the world to do..." His words trailed off as he stepped back and Hope was beyond grateful.
"Well now– Miss Potter. Let me see." From the long robes he was wearing, he withdrew a long tape measure that had silver markings instead of the usual black. "Which is your wand arm?"
Hope held out her dominant right hand and Mr. Ollivander's tape measure measured along her arm and then from the shoulder to the floor…Hope doubted there was a point to it as he left to search for a wand.
"Every Ollivander wand has a core of a powerful magical substance, Miss Potter. We use unicorn hairs, phoenix tail feathers, and the heartstrings of dragons. No two Ollivander wands are the same, just as no two unicorns, dragons, or phoenixes are quite the same. And of course, you will never get such good results with another witch or wizard's wand."
Then he returned, holding out a wand. "Right then, Miss Potter. Try this one. Beechwood and dragon heartstring. Nine inches. Nice and—"
The wand slipped right through Hope's fingers as though it was covered in slime, clattering to the ground.
"I suppose not," Mr. Ollivander uttered with disappointment, collecting it from the ground and handing her a new one. "Maple and phoenix feather. Seven inches. Quite whippy. Try—"
Sparks left the tip, startling Hope as Mr. Ollivander grabbed it back quickly, stamping out a small ember.
It went on for what felt like an age until Hope was considering simply giving up. The whole day had left her hungry and exhausted and all she wanted to do was curl up on her small and cramped bed in the cupboard under the stairs.
"Tricky customer, eh?" Mr. Ollivander's eyes had long since gained a manic gleam. "Not to worry, we'll find the perfect match here somewhere –I wonder…"
He paused and Hope watched him with a curious sort of frown as he tapped a long finger to his lips before reaching into the stacks again and pulling out a dark red box.
"Black poplar and hair from a nymph, ten and a half inches, very pliable, if rather rare," he considered out loud.
"Rare?" Hope asked despite her feet aching from her standing on them for so long. "Why?"
"Oh!" Mr. Ollivander blinked in surprise, clearly having forgotten that she was there. "Black poplar can be a difficult wand wood to mold, it prefers cores of thestral tail hair. This was the only black poplar wand I've made that has accepted a core other than thestral, from the head of a rather mysterious nymph named Orphne."
He offered it to her and Hope scrutinized it in the box for a brief second, but she still took the wand, only to be pleasantly surprised when it warmed under her fingertips, blue smoke erupting from the end to form into what looked like a pirate ship. Hope watched it fade away, intrigued and in awe.
"Oh, bravo! Yes, indeed, oh, very good. Well, well, well… how curious… how very curious… " He muttered more to himself as he wrapped Hope's purchase in brown paper.
"I don't understand how it's curious," Hope said, still frowning deeply at his odd reaction.
Perhaps she had been better off not knowing with the way he was looking at her. "I confess that it was expected that you would choose a different wand, eleven inches, holly with phoenix feather."
That had been the seventh wand she'd tested and it had felt cold to Hope's touch, unnatural.
"What was so special about that one?"
His eyes gleamed eerily. "It just so happened that the phoenix whose tail feather is in that wand, gave another feather –just one other, to the one that gave you that scar." Those eyes shifted up to the line of her fringe, where the lightning bolt scar lay sharp across her skin and unseen without serious effort expended.
Hope's eyes widened in surprise. "And what does my wand say about me?" she couldn't help but ask.
"Hm…that death is not far behind and perhaps you'd prefer to be out at sea than on land," he spoke consideringly.
Hope thought that was a bit ironic, but she still left the shop with a shiver down her spine and she didn't look back.
Hermione Granger was a very nice girl. She was always on time for class, always did the readings she was assigned, even if they were the most boring topics, and she loved to read.
There was hardly a time that there wasn't a book in her arms, so maybe that was how Hermione found herself seeing a number of strange things she couldn't explain. But an overactive imagination couldn't explain half of the things she'd seen.
There'd been a boy playing in the Venus Fountain and she'd seen the scales and the fins. She'd seen two strangely dressed men haggling over what looked like a bottle of blood, exchanging gold pieces. She'd almost been blinded by a woman walking past her, her entire being seeming to burst at the edges with light that her companion hadn't noticed.
It was about that point that Hermione figured out that she was different, without a doubt, and it was at that point that she'd made her first friend.
Hope Potter was girl who did not need to speak loudly in order to be heard, and she could count on one hand the number of times she'd seen the green-eyed girl smile and still have fingers left over, but Hope wasn't solemn or serious. She was clever and just a bit sarcastic that was effortlessly hidden in her voice. But she was also kind and with a knowledge of ancient history.
And when Hermione had first looked Hope in the eye, she'd almost fallen back, because there was something so distinctly unearthly about her. Her eyes had been solid black in her eye sockets, with thin dark veins spreading out across her face from the edges of her eyes. She had looked terrifying for a brief moment, but then it had gone and Hermione had remained intrigued.
Hope tapped her fingers against her notebook, a distinct frown on her face.
"Is something wrong?" Hermione asked as she dropped her school bag into the seat beside her, sitting across from her friend.
"Just problems at the house, that's all," Hope shrugged off her concern.
Hope's problems with her mother's sister's family was well known to Hermione, despite the fact that they had only been friends for a few weeks.
"But I'll be rid of them soon," Hope said a bit happily and Hermione arched an eyebrow.
"You're running away? Hope!"
Hope sighed, shaking her head at her friend, mournful of her lack of understanding. "You wouldn't understand, Hermione. You haven't had to live in cupboard under the stairs for your whole life. Your parents love you; my family is disgusted by me."
Hermione couldn't find the words to speak, particularly about the unaffected tone she used when referring to how much distaste the Dursleys had for her.
"Hope…you can come stay with us," Hermione said suddenly, the idea popping into her head swiftly. "Mum and Dad liked you when you came and had dinner with us last week, I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you stayed over." In fact, her parents had been positively delighted.
Hope gave her a slight smile at the suggestion. "You worry too much about me, Hermione."
And she was right to. The last week when Hope and Hermione had been walking to the bus stop to take them close to their respective neighbourhoods, which were in completely opposite directions, ironically, they'd run into some of the people that liked to make fun of Hermione during class.
The tongue-lashing they'd received for their efforts to attempt to do the same outside of school and the square punch to their respective faces had made Hermione's jaw drop. Then, Hope had turned around and helped plait Hermione's thick and curly dark hair like nothing had happened. It really warmed her heart in ways she couldn't quite convey.
Most people didn't care as much about the bookish and quiet dark-skinned girl with teeth a bit too bucktoothed and not as much care for her general appearance when she could have her nose stuck in a book instead.
"Besides," Hope said, waving a hand carelessly, "I've got a plan. I've got a place to live and someone to look after me, so don't worry."
Hermione chewed on her lip. She wanted to tell her friend not to go, to tell her to stay, but even in her head the reasons sounded so selfish.
"Will you write to me?"
It sounded more like a plea once it passed her lips, but it was better than trying to convince her to remain and be unhappy.
"Of course, I will," Hope promised quickly, combing her fingers through her hair and hiking it up into a ponytail. "You're my first friend, Hermione, I won't forget you…maybe I'll come and visit you once I'm settled."
Hermione swallowed her reservations and smiled. "I'd like that."
Climbing ladders in the middle of the night was not Hope's favourite pastime, but it was her own fault. She should have found the time to look in the attic before her last night in Number Four, but she'd been busy making plans for leaving and there had really been no time to check the attic to see if there was anything of value for her to take with her, which she doubted, but better safe than sorry.
The wooden ladder creaked as she climbed it with a small flashlight lodged in her mouth, sending rays of light across the walls as she pulled herself up, fully in the attic.
She almost wished she'd been given the attic as a room instead, because of how wide it was, but the white sheets over nearly everything would have been a bit unnerving whenever she awoke from a nightmare.
Hope took the flashlight in her hand, sending the light over the sheets, catching one that had slipped off a rectangular-shaped item, revealing two faded letter, L and E.
Lily Evans was Hope's mother's name.
Hope crept across the floor to whip the sheet off the trunk, tracing fingers over the letters that had been faded by age.
Why did Petunia even keep her sister's trunk? Especially given how there had always seemed to be some animosity between them (Hope was taking that from how Petunia could hardly bear to look Hope in the eye, the same eyes she must have shared with her mother, if Mr. Ollivander was to be believed).
Hope undid the clasp and opened the trunk, releasing a small cough from the dust dislodged, but it made sense, since it had probably been untouched longer than Hope had been living at Number Four.
Within were a number of books that made Hope smile; so, her bookish nature was something she had inherited from her mother. There were crisp uniform shirts and skirts on top of dark robes and red and gold ties that were in need of a good washing.
And there was a small photograph that must have been taped to the inside of the trunk's lid but had long since fallen off when gravity could no longer be denied.
Hope lifted it, shining the light down on it, wincing as the light shone a bit too brightly on it. She blinked rapidly to clear her eyes of the spots dancing before them before looking down at the picture once more.
It was of two people, a young woman with dark red hair that fell down her shoulders in loose waves and green eyes that shone in the sun, while the man had spectacles set over glowing hazel eyes and his dark hair was wild and untamed.
Hope smoothed the dust from the moving image.
James Potter and Lily Evans were wearing dark graduation caps and robes lined with red. Her father had his arms wrapped around her mother's waist, ducking to press a kiss to her cheek as she laughed.
The watch on Hope's wrist gave a sudden beep, and Hope jolted at the sound.
The alarm had been set for ten minutes to midnight, since midnight was when the cab was coming to pick her up, unbeknownst to her slumbering relatives.
Hope dropped the photo back into the trunk, clasped it shut once more before dragging it on its wheels as silently as she could manage to the opening that led down to the hallway just outside Petunia and Vernon's room.
She couldn't help but grimace and pray to Thanatos that she wouldn't wake anyone up with her attempts to take the trunk down.
So, Hope grabbed the handles of the trunk on one side, silently grunting at the weight as she lowered it as carefully as possible down.
Her muscles burned from the effort, but at least it worked and the trunk didn't open half-way down, spilling out its contents and awakening the whole house.
Lady Luck -which was to say Tyche- was on her side, it seemed and Hope gave a sigh of relief as she climbed down after the trunk, only wincing slightly at the creaking of the ladder as she landed lightly on the ground.
She folded up the ladder that had extended before silently shutting the door behind them.
Now for the stairs.
Hope couldn't help but sag her shoulders a little as she rolled the trunk to the stairs.
If she was someone that didn't care about waking anyone up, she would have just simply dragged the trunk down the stairs, but Hope did care, because Hope was so close to freedom and nothing was going to stop her from reaching it, even if she had to be extra cautious.
But she made it down the stairs just as the cab pulled up to the drive and she looped her messenger bag over one shoulder, opening the door with the other.
And this was when Hope Potter's life truly began.