Note: Written for an Anonymous prompt for the the 2016 Summer SSHG Promptfest on LiveJournal. As this is a completed fic that was written in response to a specific prompt, concrit is not being solicited.

©2016 Mundungus42. All rights reserved. This work may not be archived, reproduced, or distributed in any format without prior permission from the author. Permission may be obtained by e-mailing the author at mundungus42 at yahoo dot com. This is an amateur, non-profit work, and is not intended to infringe on any copyrights held by any lawful holders.

There was really no way Hermione could have known that she was walking into a trap.

The letter in her pocket, addressed to a Mr. Nigel P. Tricklebank of Eltham, was the same as the others she had delivered since accepting the post of Deputy Headmistress at Hogwarts, and the red brick maisonette at number 17 Granby Road wasn't all that different than the house she herself had lived in when Minerva McGonagall delivered her letter all those years ago.

She swallowed hard, ignoring the painful twinge she felt recalling her parents' pride on that day, which, like this one, had been sunny and filled with the smell of roses. She squared her shoulders as she briskly mounted the steps to the front door, filled with a renewed sense of purpose. She was going to change a child's life today, a child who had likely had trouble fitting in and knew that he was a bit different from other children. Mustering her best Minerva McGonagall expression, she raised her hand and rang the doorbell.

The curtains in the picture window at the front of the house fluttered slightly, as though someone had peeked through them to see who was standing on the doorstep. She could make out the pad of bare feet approaching the door and the floorboards squeaking as the person on the other side of the door peered through the peephole.

She straightened her robes, which could easily pass for an overcoat, and slid her hand into her pocket to trace her fingers over the wax seal on the envelope.

"What do you want?" came a gruff male voice from within.

"Are you Henry Tricklebank?" asked Hermione.

"Who wants to know?" The voice wasn't at all friendly, but Hermione had heard worse.

"My name is Hermione Granger," she said, falling back on the familiar speech she'd prepared. "I'm a teacher at a school for gifted children. It's my pleasure to inform you that by virtue of his special abilities, your son Nigel has been awarded a place at my school. I have a letter here—"

"Put it through the mail slot."

Hermione slid the envelope through the brass slot and listened as Tricklebank opened the envelope and unfolded the letter within.

"Now, I'm sure the contents of the letter may come as a shock to you and Gretchen," said Hermione. "But this is no joke. Your son has special abilities that have been manifesting almost since his birth. Surely you can remember incidents involving your son that defy explanation?"

Encouraged by the lack of argument from within, Hermione continued. "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is one of the finest schools of magic in the world. Should you allow your son to attend, he will be instructed in many different types of magic until he reaches his majority at the age of seventeen."

"Oh, like with magic wands?" sneered the voice.

"That's correct," said Hermione, sighing inwardly. "If you would be so kind as to let me in, I would be happy to demonstrate the sorts of skills your son would learn."

"Now hang on," said Mr. Tricklebank. "How much does this school of yours cost?"

"If money is an issue, certain fees may be waived, particularly in the case of someone as precocious as Nigel. Magical children rarely manifest magic as early and as frequently as Nigel did."

"So you say," said Mr. Tricklebank, sounding decidedly cagey. "All right. Say Nigel wants to go to this school and his mother and I decide to let him. Where is he supposed to get a magic wand and a hat with stars on it and all that rubbish?"

"I or one of the Hogwarts staff will be happy to escort your family to a magical neighbourhood of London where Nigel's school supplies, including a wand, may be purchased."

"What if the stores won't sell to the likes of us?"

Hermione smiled. "Just show them Nigel's Hogwarts letter. That should be all that's needed in order to purchase everything you need. Now, I'm sure you have many questions—"

There was a series of loud clicks as the locks and bolts on the door were unfastened, and the door swung open to reveal a male goblin, who, unlike all the stiffly formal goblins she had met previously, wore only ratty trousers and a somewhat nasty grin.

"I think this is all we'll need," he said, brandishing the Hogwarts letter.

Hermione tried not to let her surprise show at finding a goblin, who was presumably the guardian of a magical child, living in the suburbs of London. She fixed her most prim Minerva McGonagall expression on her face and extended her hand to shake. "How do you do. It's nice to meet you, Mr. Tricklebank."

"I prefer to go by my nickname, Hodrod the Horny-Handed," he said, shaking hers with a hand whose knuckles were indeed covered in what appeared to be pointed warts.

Hermione frowned. She'd heard the name Hodrod the Horny-Handed before. Shortly after the war, if she recalled correctly, he'd been involved in violence of some sort. As Hermione cast her mind back nearly twenty years to recall the circumstances, Hodrod raised his horny hand to his mouth and called upstairs.

"Nigel!" He said, "Come meet Professor Granger. She has something to tell you."

A tiny goblin child came sliding down the bannister and wrapped his arms around Hodrod's waist.

"This is Nigel P. Tricklebank?" asked Hermione.

"In the flesh," said Hodrod, patting his son's head affectionately.

"It's lovely to meet you, Nigel," said Hermione, pointedly ignoring the chorus of warning bells that were now clanging in the back of her mind as memories of the Chipping Clodbury Riot of 1999 and Hodrod's arrest surfaced. "Unless I'm mistaken, it's your eleventh birthday today, isn't it?"

"That's right!" piped Nigel. "Is that my Hogwarts letter?"

"That it is," said Hodrod, handing it to him.

"Brilliant!" said Nigel. "Mum, look at this!"

"That's nice," said a female goblin, who was sitting in the gloomy sitting room on a dust cloth-covered sofa and crocheting a doily. The rest of the furniture was similarly covered. Clearly this house wasn't actually being lived in. But this was the house in which Nigel P. Tricklebank had manifested magic numerous times over the years.

It was then that Hermione realised how odd it was that none of Nigel's many magical accidents had been serious enough to dispatch a Magical Reversal Squad. Obviously, the goblins had engineered an impressive feat of misdirection, and Hermione suspected she was only just beginning to understand how and to what end.

While Nigel read the letter and equipment list aloud to his mother, Hermione risked a glance at Hodrod, who was lurking in the entryway, smirking.

"You told your son all about Hogwarts, I suppose?" asked Hermione mildly, doing her best to keep her growing anger out of her voice.

"Of course," said Hodrod, smirking. "He's been written down for it since he was born, hasn't he?"

"Yet you didn't see fit to tell him about Clause Three of the Code of Wand Use?"

"You said all he needed was his Hogwarts letter in order to buy everything he needs for Hogwarts," said Hodrod, "including a wand."

"I said that should be all he needs," hissed Hermione. "However, a letter obtained through deliberate deceit isn't going to compel Mr. Ollivander to do business with you, and it certainly isn't going to change the ban on goblin wand use."

"We'll see," said Hodrod, who looked positively gleeful. "Thank you very much for stopping by, Professor."

Hermione opened her mouth and closed it again. There was no way that a goblin, particularly the child of a goblin who'd stolen a wand, Shrunk three wizards, and attempted to stomp them to death, was going to be allowed to attend Hogwarts. Obviously, Hodrod had been planning this for years, and she needed to speak to the Headmaster immediately.

"Good day, Mr. Tricklebank," said Hermione, addressing the child.

"Bye, Professor," said Nigel, running over to her with a toothy grin. "See you in September!"

Tamping down a flare of guilt over the child's inevitable disappointment, she shook Nigel's hand and gave him a tight smile.

There was a bright flash of light from the doorway next to the stairs, and Hermione spun around, wand raised, to find Hodrod holding a camera.

She scowled at him. "One for the album?" she asked sarcastically.

"It's not every day that a lad gets his Hogwarts letter," said Hodrod. "Do tell that Headmaster of yours I said hello, won't you?"

"Count on it," said Hermione shortly, and Apparated to the front gate of Hogwarts.

She waved her wand and sent her otter Patronus off towards the Headmaster's tower with the simple message, "Filius, we have a problem."

Judging from the trio of owls bearing red envelopes zooming in the direction of his tower, she suspected he might already know.

Not for the first time, Hermione found the door to the headmaster's office open, but there was no path discernible among the piles of sheet music, bound scores, phonograph cylinders, and towers of books. It was, however, remarkably free of shrieking red envelopes. Filius Flitwick himself was standing next to the fire, whose flames were bright green and contained the head of Fleur Weasley, her ex-sister-in-law.

"Best not to speculate until we have the whole story," Filius was saying. "Oh!" he exclaimed, spotting Hermione in the doorway. "She's here. You'd better come through, my dear."

"Victoire!" shouted Fleur, her disembodied head turning to look behind her, "If your father arrives before I am home, tell him I have gone to have tea with the Headmaster, yes? One moment, Filius."

Filius stepped back from the fire. "Please excuse the mess," he said to Hermione, clearing a path to the chair opposite his desk with a wiggle of his finger. "I've been trying to decide on a Mermish opera chorus for the choir to sing next term, since everyone seemed to like the folk songs we did last year. I thought it might dovetail nicely with Charlie's Care of Magical Creatures section on Merfolk."

"It's fine," said Hermione, picking her way through the mess. "But whatever you choose, I hope the keyboard reduction won't be as beastly as it was for the folk songs. I don't like having to charm the spinet. It feels like cheating."

Filius laughed merrily. "I'll try to find something ia capella/i, then," he said. "Now, can I offer you a cupcake?" he said, conjuring a second chair identical to the first.

Hermione smiled wryly at being offered the same treat Filius gave to unhappy students, but accepted a cupcake from the tin that Filius removed from a drawer in his desk.

There was a whoosh from the fireplace, and Fleur Weasley strode into the room.

"Thank you so much for coming at such short notice," said Filius said to her, holding out the tin of cupcakes to her.

"I know you would not ask if it were not vital," said Fleur, ignoring the cupcakes and lowering herself elegantly into the chair next to Hermione's. "Not so soon before our July issue goes to bed."

"Of course not," said Filius, at whose serious tone Hermione had to bite back a smirk. Fleur had become a minor celebrity in the home-maker set for her monthly magazine about fashion, design, and social mores. Hermione found it all rather frivolous, but she had to admit that Fleur had created for herself the ideal profession for someone with beauty, style, and blunt opinions.

As if sensing Hermione's amusement at her expense, Fleur turned to her with an imperious expression. "I ought to 'ave known you would be involved," she said.

"What precisely is that supposed to mean?" asked Hermione, bristling.

"Ladies," said Filius, with a mildly reproachful look at each of them. "We are here about very serious matters. Please be courteous to each other. Ah, there's the Evening Prophet!" he said, waving his wand to open the window where a harried-looking owl bearing a newspaper was perched on the sill. There was a loud buzzing and crackling sound outside the tower that diminished as the window closed behind the owl.

"A special edition?" said Fleur, giving Hermione an arch look. "Impressive."

Filius gave the owl a treat and a pat before sending it on its way. "Let's survey the damage, shall we?" he asked, unrolling the parchment and holding it out for Hermione and Fleur to read.

Hermione fought the urge to sink down in her chair when she saw that the front was emblazoned with a blown-up Wizarding photo of herself shaking the hand of Nigel P. Tricklebank, who was grinning ear-to-ear and brandishing his Hogwarts letter. The caption read, "Activist Hermione Granger invites an unknown goblin child attend Hogwarts. Photograph by Henry Tricklebank," which made Hermione splutter. They didn't even mention her title as Deputy Headmistress! And the ruddy cheek of Hodrod submitting the photograph under his Muggle alias! Hermione's scowl deepened when she saw the name of the lead article's author, and even more when she read the piece.


Mixed Blood Loyalties Undoubtedly to Blame

By Gretchen Tricklebank

Today, Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry delivered a Hogwarts letter to a goblin child living in suburban London. Miss Hermione Granger, who was sacked as Deputy Head of Magical Law Enforcement after rowing with her ex-husband, Auror Ron Weasley, over her persistently wrong-headed attempts to grant magical beings the same rights as witches and wizards, delivered the letter. As she presented it to the goblin, she said that the letter "should be all that [the goblin] needs to buy his school supplies, including a wand."

"Of course we don't sell wands to goblins," said Garrick Ollivander, venerable wandmaker and owner of Ollivander's Wand Shop in Diagon Alley. "Even if it weren't illegal, I don't know that I have any measuring tapes short enough." However, as was seen in last year's raid on Knockturn Alley, in which nearly a hundred unweighed wands were seized by Aurors, not all purveyors of magical objects are as upstanding as Mr. Ollivander.

Miss Granger, a Muggleborn, obviously takes the plight of other lesser beings personally. Her classmates from Hogwarts recall with amusement her attempt to free the school's House Elves by leaving knitted hands and socks for them to find in her room. Her equally clumsy attempt to force Hogwarts to give wands to goblins will likely make her no friends among goblins or wizards and may even amount to Criminal Conspiracy.

Though Hogwarts Headmaster Filius Flitwick had no comment at the time of printing, it is not difficult to imagine that Miss Granger's audacious plan was executed with his full support, given that he himself is the grandson of Guthrack the Grumpy, a full-blooded goblin. Whether the Aurors will be brave enough to move against the conspirators at Hogwarts remains to be seen, but decisive action must be taken, and soon.

A Fraught History, Goblin-Wizard Relations from 1630 to Chipping Clodbury Page 2

What Exactly IS Clause Three of the Code of Wand Use, and Why Does It Matter? Page 3

Worst Case Scenario: Goblins With Wands and Protecting Your Children Page 4

Hermione felt her face grow hot with anger. "This is outrageous!" she declared, slamming her hand down on Filius's desk. "There certainly is a conspiracy afoot, but I didn't have a sodding thing to do with it!"

Fleur looked amused. "What do you think we should do, Filius?"

"I think we should hear Hermione's side of the story," he said, offering them both cupcakes once again.

Fleur wrinkled her nose and waved them away. Hermione selected a fudgy-looking confection. Filius's gentle, understanding expression was as much a balm to Hermione's frazzled nerves as the chocolate was to her tongue.

She took a deep breath and relayed the tale of her trip to Eltham and spared no detail. Filius nodded sympathetically at all the right moments and even squeaked when she revealed the identity of the ersatz Henry Tricklebank. To her surprise, Fleur made no snide comments.

"I must say," said Filius, nibbling daintily on his own cupcake, "it was rather ingenious to use Muggle naming conventions to fool us into thinking the lad was Muggle-born."

"Ingenious, yes," said Hermione, "but who on earth told him that the Quill and Book of Admittance record all magical births, not just humans? It's hardly common knowledge."

"I didn't know," said Fleur. "And I have read every edition of Hogwarts, A History."

"The first edition wasn't printed until 1650, decades after the first Goblin Rebellion," said Filius. "By then, efforts to elevate human wizards and witches above other magical beings, especially goblins and elves, were well underway, and it wouldn't do for it to be known that the Founders themselves were incapable of differentiating between goblin and wizarding magic."

Hermione sighed. "I should never have accepted the Deputy Head position," she said.

Fleur tutted, which Filius and Hermione ignored. "Why do you say that?"

"I've made Hogwarts a target for wand-rights extremists," said Hermione. "It was one thing when I was at the Ministry. They were equipped to handle this sort of thing. Hogwarts isn't."

"Do not be absurd," said Fleur. "This has nothing to do with you."

"I'm the one with my picture splashed across the bloody Evening Prophet. I rather think that means it has a lot to do with me," said Hermione.

"Think," said Fleur, biting off the final consonant. "You say the book wrote down the boy with a Muggle name when he was born, n'est-ce pas? That was eleven years ago. You were not at Hogwarts then."

"But Filius was," said Hermione, turning to face him. "You'd just been made Headmaster. But why would they target you? Because you're allowed to have a wand?"

Filius nodded sadly. "Why I should be allowed to carry a wand when my cousins aren't is a matter of much contention. Certain elements see wand-carriers like me as colluders who have sacrificed our people's struggles for personal gain."

"And Hodrod is one of those elements," said Hermione.

"It is very simple," said Fleur impatiently. "Goblins despise those of us with mixed blood even more openly than wizards do."

"But wizards have laws protecting those with mixed blood from discrimination," said Hermione. "I wrote them."

"As if that's going to get an 'alf-giant a job working in a china shop or a werewolf work as a nanny," scoffed Fleur.

"While my blood status may make me an attractive target for a manufactured scandal, there's somewhat more to it than that," said Filius mildly. "How much do you know about Hodrod the Horny-Handed?"

"Only that he was behind the Chipping Clodbury riot in 1999," said Hermione. "He tried to kill three wizards with a stolen wand."

"Technically, he only Shrunk them with the stolen wand," said Filius. "He tried to kill them by stomping. Poetic justice, really."

Hermione blinked in surprise at hearing Filius express support for violence. "How so?"

"What The Daily Prophet didn't consider newsworthy is what precipitated the attempted stomping," said Filius. "Hodrod's wife Gangert was nearly killed when those wizards charmed a one-tonne marble statue to disperse Hodrod and his allies, who were protesting wand restrictions at the annual Experimental Charms and Transfiguration Society meeting. The animated statue stepped on her. Crushed her pelvis and both of her legs. She nearly died. Dreadful thing."

Fleur swore under her breath in French.

"I never heard that," said Hermione softly.

"You weren't meant to. The wizards to blame were well-connected, so it became a story about a goblin who stole a wand and attempted murder instead of about a husband's revenge on the men who nearly killed his wife. If the Brotherhood of Goblins hadn't insisted on taking Hodrod into goblin custody, he'd have spent the rest of his life in Azkaban."

Hermione wanted to argue with him, but having been Deputy Head of Magical Law Enforcement prior to coming to Hogwarts, she knew all too well how arbitrary and punitive laws governing non-human magical beings were before she set herself to dismantling as many of them as possible. "You're probably right."

"Of course he is," said Fleur. "I do not like goblins. They treated me like dirt while I worked at Gringotts. But I still feel sorrow for 'ow many suffered and died when Voldemort's Ministry took control of the bank. The Brotherhood of Goblins was in fragments when Chipping Clodbury happened. It is a miracle that they were able to secure Hodrod's release."

"I don't suppose charges were ever brought against the three wizards who charmed the statue?" asked Hermione.

"No," said Filius. "That was part of the deal to secure Hodrod's release. But they were convicted iin absentia/i by the goblins. And the Experimental Charms and Transfiguration Society banned the members who had been involved for life."

Something in Filius's tone made Hermione suspect that he had been a driving force in the decision.

"Now that Hermione is on the same page with us," said Fleur briskly, "we must decide what to do."

"I'm going to owl Rubeus, Firenze, and Winky. They might not all wish to involve their communities, but it's only fair to let them know what's going on. I'll draft a statement based on tonight's events, likely to be delivered first thing in the morning. And I shall have to answer these at some point," he said, looking regretfully at the stack of parchment on the corner of his desk. As if in response, another sheet appeared on top of the stack. Hermione could read the boldface capital letters from where she sat.


To her surprise, another sheet of parchment appeared, fluttering softly against the previous one.


Hermione stared at the vitriolic message for a moment before the knut dropped. "Are those Howlers?"

"Oh yes. The dratted things aggravate my tinnitus, so I added a matrix to the tower's protections that converts them to printed messages."

That explained the crackling sound outside the window. Hermione smiled at Filius's ingenious solution to the bane of every Hogwarts Head.

"I cannot do much until we finish with the July issue," said Fleur. "But I will work with you on an editorial supporting wands for goblins. It will be ioutré/i and continental. But I will first cast the charms you requested on Hermione."

"Wonderful!" said Filius, beaming. "Have you any questions, Hermione?"

"Erm, yes," said Hermione, looking at Fleur's raised wand with concern. "What exactly am I to be doing?"

Fleur sighed, as though Hermione were a particularly thick child. "You will go back to this Tricklebank house and find their tunnel entrance. Once you have found it, follow it until you find Hodrod and become his ally."

"I fear I've misheard you," said Hermione. "I thought you just told me to extend an olive branch to someone who just raked me through the mud to further his cause."

"Hodrod knows we're sympathetic to his fight for wand rights, but he obviously didn't trust that we would help, which is why he's forcing our hand," said Filius. "We need to respond with an open hand, not a fist. All you need to do is convince him that our support isn't contingent upon conforming to our cultural standards."

"Like not stabbing your allies in the back?" snapped Hermione. "Look, you both know I've always supported the rights of all magical beings to carry wands. But I don't like this. I haven't anything against Nigel P. Tricklebank himself, but this isn't a genuine attempt to resolve a centuries-old injustice, this is provocation. Deception. Extortion by media firestorm. I cannot condone this."

Fleur and Filius exchanged glances, and Fleur let out a nasty laugh. "Now we see just how far her support goes—only so far as it flatters her ego."

Hermione whirled to face her. "I sacrificed everything to fight discriminatory laws and overturn unfair convictions. I think that's had a more positive effect on lives than making housewives feel inadequate if they fail to charm their children's serviettes before meals. You've got some nerve lecturing me about my ego!"

Fleur's nostrils flared. "Yet you cannot see the flock for all the snidgets."

"My dear, I don't think you realise precisely what's at stake," said Filius, giving Hermione a sad look that she had seen aimed at students who had given incorrect answers in class but had never before received. It wasn't a pleasant experience. "This isn't merely about wand rights. What we have here is a golden opportunity to force the goblins' hands as much as they seek to force ours."

"You don't mean exchanging wand lore for magesmithery," said Hermione, frowning.

Fleur buzzed her lips dismissively, but Filius laughed. "If you can convince them to do that, you'd deserve an Order of Merlin," he said. "But I rather thought we might broker an accord between the Brotherhood of Goblins and the Ministry of Magic to agree on basic protections for those with mixed blood, which paves the way for extending wand rights to all magical beings."

"So everybody wins except me," grumbled Hermione, who knew she was being unfair even as she spoke. "Fine," she sighed. "I'll do it."

Filius beamed. "I knew you would. You're a credit to your house, my dear. Fleur, if you would be so kind?"

Hermione was savagely glad to see that Fleur was still glowering at her. It was much easier to put her own objections aside when Fleur appeared to be nearly as irritated by Hermione as Hermione was by her.

"First of all," said Fleur, "you will never be able to squeeze down a goblin hole like zat."

She waved her wand at Hermione, and suddenly, the room grew much larger. She nearly fell off the chair in her disorientation.

"You may feel slightly dizzy," said Fleur, unnecessarily, aiming her wand at Hermione once more.

Hermione squawked in protest as Fleur levitated her up on to Fillius's desk. She realised that standing next to the Headmaster would aid Fleur in disguising her, but it didn't make being magic-handled any more pleasant.

Filius smiled at her, and Hermione was shocked by how much more potent the Headmaster's smile was when they stood eye to eye.

"Rather on the tall side, isn't she?" he asked Fleur.

"Not at all," said Fleur. "Height is an advantage in negotiations. You will want to make the fine adjustments before I apply the final charms."

Filius beamed at Fleur before turning to Hermione. "I'm afraid there's no telling exactly what you'll encounter before you find Hodrod, so it would be best for you to go completely incognito. If you'll excuse the liberty," he said, pointing his wand at her. "I'll need to make some additional adjustments. You can charm them off with a simple Finite Incantatem."

"Is this strictly necessary?" asked Hermione, trying not to wince.

"Humans are forbidden to be in goblin territory without documents from the Brotherhood of Goblins," said Fleur. "You would be arrested as a spy if you were caught."

"Where on earth do you expect this goblin hole to lead?" asked Hermione, exasperated.

"Who can say?" said Fleur. "But there are at least as many goblins in Britain as there are wizards and witches. Their towns are unplottable, but there must be dozens."

"This is absurd," complained Hermione. "I'll be caught before I can even get down the goblin hole, if I can even find it."

"Not if we do our jobs properly," said Filius. "Now, if you'd just hold out your hands for a moment and be still. That's good."

It was an odd sensation to feel her digits, ears, and nose extend. Seeing around the nose would certainly take some getting used to.

"Yes," said Filius, a note of pride in his voice, "I think that will do."

"She looks horrible," said Fleur. "You didn't need to make her so ugly."

"I don't want Hodrod to think we're setting a honeypot trap," said Filius.

"There is no need for her to be 'ideous," said Fleur, decisively. "At least let me fix her hair."

"I wouldn't have known I was hideous if you hadn't said anything," said Hermione.

"Very well," said Filius to Fleur. "If you think it necessary."

"We also do not want Hodrod to be insulted by sending a disreputable negotiator."

Hermione had to admit, Fleur's hair charms were sure and quick, with no painful tugging. She caught sight of herself reflected in the window, and she was surprised to see that her hair was darker and braided into a remarkable crown atop her head.

"You may not have any appreciation for the domestic arts," said Fleur to Hermione, "but you may walk into any goblin dwelling with your head held high."

"Unless the ceiling is too low," said Filius, giggling.

"Hush," said Fleur, smiling a little at the Headmaster. "I have a few more charms for you," said Fleur, waving her wand at Hermione once more. "This should allow you to sense goblin spells, though you will have to divine their intent on your own. This is a translation charm so that you will hear Gobbledygook as English and goblins will perceive your English as Gobbledygook. And this will hide your human magical signature, including these charms, so that you will seem to be a goblin to any human barriers. It will not survive a complex truth enchantment like a Thief's Downfall, but it is unlikely that you will encounter one outside Gringotts."

Hermione was impressed with Fleur's thoroughness. "Anything else I should know?" she asked.

"Do not enter any home without permission," said Fleur, "and you must always knock twice, and never three times. Never look another lady in the eye for an extended period of time. And whatever you do, don't use your wand unless you want everybody to know you're there."

"I can't go without it," said Hermione. "I need it to get to Eltham. And I need to be able to Apparate out if it all goes pear-shaped."

"Perhaps it could be Transfigured into a different shape," suggested Filius. "Something decorative like a piece of jewellery?"

"Would you, Fleur?" asked Hermione, holding out her vine and unicorn wand.

"Absolutment," said Fleur, taking the wand and placing it on Filius's desk. At Fleur's muttered incantation, the wand curled in on itself and flattened, then began to shimmer and gleam as the wood transmuted to silver and gemstones. When Fleur withdrew her wand, the wand had been Transfigured into a beautiful cuff bracelet of sapphires and white gold.

"It's stunning," breathed Hermione.

"It is a goblin betrothal band," said Fleur.

"Why Fleur, what will your husband say?" asked Hermione, taking the tiny bracelet and slipping it on to her wrist.

Fleur snorted. "That should deter any unwanted attention, unlikely though it may be. And if not, you can still use it to hex, even though your disguise would be useless thereafter."

"There's truly no way I can convince either of you to accompany me?" asked Hermione.

Fleur and Filius exchanged looks. "Not possible, I'm afraid," he said. "Mrs. Weasley and I are both registered half-bloods. There are no spells powerful enough to let either of us pass into goblin territory undetected."

"And you honestly think I'll have better luck? Goblins hate me. I can't even keep money with Gringotts because I lose a bit of it every day, thanks to new fees they invent just for me."

"But they haven't registered your blood," said Filius. "That's the difference."

Hermione couldn't repress a shudder at the idea of constantly tracking people using their blood. Even wizards hadn't gone that far.

"If they hate you so much, then be sure not to get caught," said Fleur, shrugging.

"Thanks ever so much," said Hermione, sarcastically, wiggling her bejewelled wrist at her beaded bag, which was sitting on the chair she had recently abandoned. She was pleasantly surprised that the bag zipped over to where she stood on the desk. "Question: would previously-charmed objects set off the goblins' alarms?"

"That depends," said Filius. "What sort of charm do you mean?"

Hermione crawled headfirst into her beaded bag and rooted around until she found the stack of Galleons she sought and withdrew three of them. "These have a Protean charm on them," she said. "I'd feel safer if I could contact one or both of you over the next few hours."

"They will be suspicious of anyone carrying Wizarding currency," said Fleur.

"But it's not a crime," said Filius. "It should work," he said, accepting the Galleons and handing one to Fleur. "Though I wouldn't use it unless you had to, just to be safe."

Despite the madness of the past hours, Hermione felt much more confident with the Galleon in her pocket, resting heavily against her hip.

"Well," she said. "I suppose I had better go."

"Good luck, my dear," said Filius. "Be sure to brief me when you get back. I'll likely need to modify my statement for tomorrow."

"Of course," said Hermione. "Good luck with the Howlers," she said to Filius, "and the July issue," she said to Fleur. To her surprise, the good wishes were devoid of sarcasm.

"Bon chance," said Fleur, tossing a handful of Floo Powder into the fire and stepping into the green flames.

Flilus shook Hermione's hand and patted her shoulder. "I've taken the liberty of lifting the Apparition barrier in this room," he said. "Though you should go before someone on the outside discovers that."

"You actually think I'll be able to get Hodrod on our side?" asked Hermione, doubtfully.

Filius glanced over her shoulder, and she followed his gaze to where two empty portrait frames hung in a darkened corner of the room. "I do hope so," he said. "But if not, I expect you'll have an enlightening journey regardless."

Hermione gave him a tight smile, turned on her heel, and Apparated.

The suburban neighbourhood of Eltham was significantly creepier by moonlight, particularly when one was less than half one's normal height. The street lights cast a flat, yellow light on the façades of the houses, which made them appear like a battlements that she would have to scale.

Fortunately the shadows were copious, and in her smaller form, she had no trouble sticking to them, though she had cast a Disillusionment Charm on herself for good measure.

The curtains were still drawn at number 17 Granby Road, and there were no lights on, to Hermione's relief. And the gate leading to the back yard opened with an obliging click at her silent Alohomora.

Apart from the notable abundance of roses, there was nothing unusual about the back yard. Hermione paused, closing her eyes and reaching out for any sign of goblin magic in the vicinity, but she sensed no magic apart from her own. She unlocked the back door of the house and reached up to turn on the lights. Thankfully, they came on and flooded the room with light, which made searching for the tunnel on the ground floor much easier. She bit back a laugh imagining Hodrod popping round the shops to have credit added to his PayPoint key.

Having found nothing on the ground floor—there were no personal items anywhere in the house, no active spells, the furniture hidden by dust cloths was shabby but unused, and there was nothing resembling a tunnel anywhere to be seen. Just to be thorough, she hauled herself up the now-enormous stairs to ensure there was nothing of interest above. She was only slightly out of breath by the time she reached the top, but if this modest flight had been a notable challenge, she couldn't imagine what it was like for Filius to navigate the hundred and forty-two wizard-sized staircases at Hogwarts. As expected, there were no clues or tunnels upstairs, so Hermione took a leaf from Nigel's book and slid down the bannister, switched off the lights, and began to walk along the exterior wall of the house.

There she found a ramshackle potting shed on the far side of the house that bore a suspiciously stout padlock, which shone with goblin magic. Eureka. Fortunately, the hinges of the door weren't spelled, and removing the hinge pins allowed her to pull the door open enough for her to squeeze inside.

The shed was filled to overflowing with flower pots, gardening equipment, sections of trellis, and a sack of what she was fairly certain was dragon dung. She methodically cleared each section of the floor until at last she found a rectangular metal plate set into the ground that had been hidden beneath a large decorative urn. The plate shone with goblin magic as well, and there was an iron ring that was just the right size for a small hand to pull on.

Hermione dispelled her Disillusionment charm, took a deep breath, and sent up a silent prayer that one of the spells Fleur had cast on her would protect her from the enchantments that shone on the metal's surface.

As her fingers closed around the metal ring, there was a nearly inaudible click, and to Hermione's surprise, the plate slid easily to the side, revealing a set of steps leading to a platform about a meter and a half below. There were globes of light illuminating the platform, making it look almost welcoming. Obviously, the spell on the plate hadn't been defensive, merely a sensor of some sort.

Hermione cast one final glance at the shed behind her, and when she'd convinced herself that all was quiet, she stepped gingerly down the stairs to the platform below. She ignored the sepulchral sound of the metal door closing behind her.

At the far end of the entrance platform was a set of metal rails leading off into the darkness that reminded Hermione of the cart tracks at Gringotts. Unfortunately, the platform was otherwise empty. Hermione was about to cast an illumination spell downwards when she recalled Fleur's warning not to use her wand in goblin territory, which this most certainly was.

She was contemplating the feasibility of hanging from her scarf and sliding down one of the rails when she heard a mechanical sound coming from below. She looked down over the platform's edge and was surprised to see a light rising out of the darkness. As it drew closer, she realised that it was a cart with a lamp on the front rumbling its way up the track, which appeared to be spiralling up the perimeter of the circular shaft. To Hermione's great relief, the cart was empty and not bearing a goblin welcoming committee.

Less than a minute later, the cart ground to a halt at the platform, rotated the bucket so that the light was facing away from her, and a small door swung open to admit her. Taking one last glance at the trap door that led back up to the familiar streets of Eltham, Hermione stepped into the cart and pulled the door shut behind her. A slight tremor went through the cart, and it slid smoothly forward on the track and began to descend into the darkness.

Hermione had no notion of how far or how fast she was travelling along the track. Her stomach was in knots, which was a blessing, since it meant that she didn't think she would vomit from the seemingly endless downward spiral. At least the track was far smoother than the ones at Gringotts, and the cart was built for someone her size, so she could hold onto the edges of the basket and feel relatively secure. There was nothing to see in the glow of the lamp apart from earth reinforced by wooden scaffolding, and later, carved bedrock.

Just when Hermione was beginning to think she would never reach the bottom, there was an deafening whoosh of air, and Hermione found her cart hurtling through an immense, brightly-lit cavern alongside dozens of similar cart tracks and carts, some of which dwarfed her own and held perhaps a dozen goblins apiece, though it was difficult to count as they went rushing by.

Hermione forced her eyes from the track ahead of her and looked out over the goblin settlement, whose illuminated towers reached all the way to the cavern's ceiling. She had always imagined goblin villages to be dark, medieval-looking things, nothing like the glittering arches and illuminated alabaster spires that stretched up into the darkness. There were factories carved into the walls of the cave, and enormous tunnels through which something that looked like a high-speed train was emerging.

The cart wound its way around the cave's perimeter towards a less elegant and more sparsely lit part of town, and as the cart began to slow, the track drew close enough to the houses that she could see fires in hearths and inhale the sweet smell of roasting vegetables. It rattled to a halt behind a block of modestly-sized houses constructed of marble blocks. She glanced over the low wall into the back yards, which were comprised of crushed gravel and patches of green moss, and felt a pang of nostalgia when she saw that the nearest yard was strewn with toys.

But the nostalgia turned to excitement when a flash of red caught her eye, and she realised that it was a toy Muggle car. This had to be Hodrod's house.

Hermione glanced down the meandering row of houses, and seeing no-one outside, apart from a very elderly goblin three doors down bent over a patch of moss with a pair of scissors, she made her way to Hodrod's back door, which was carved with stylised representations of stalactites and stalagmites. Bearing in mind Fleur's warning, Hermione raised her hand and knocked twice on the door, then stood back, uncertain what she'd find.

She heard the sound of bare feet padding to the door, and the door flew open to reveal none other than Nigel P. Tricklebank engrossed in Muggle comic book.

"Hello," said Hermione, hoping the Gobbledygook translation spell was working and that she looked different enough that the boy wouldn't recognise her. "Sorry to bother you, but is your dad at home?"

Nigel barely looked up from his book and shrugged. "He's at the pub with Grik and Stonker. I can get Mum, if you like."

"No, that's fine," said Hermione. "I'll look for him there. Where is it?"

"That way," said Nigel, gesturing vaguely in the direction of town before shutting the door.

Well, Nigel didn't seem to suspect anything. Perhaps Fleur's pride in her charms work was justified for once. Hermione squared her shoulders and began to walk down the street Nigel had indicated, trying not to openly stare at the other goblins enjoying the evening.

The road was neatly paved with granite that was so clean it shone in the light of the street lamps. It was also somewhat remarkable that a full-sized wizard would have been more than comfortable walking a street as wide and straight as this one was, with the ceiling of the cave so high that it couldn't be seen. If Hermione hadn't known she was far underground, she might have felt as though she were walking down the street of a small town at dusk. Only the small size of the houses on either side of the street would have indicated that the inhabitants weren't human.

Soon, she came to a row of storefronts. Unfortunately, the translation spell Fleur had cast only went as far as the spoken word, but the stores were easy to identify—an apothecary with dried herbs and an enormous mortar and pestle in the window, a grocers' with piles of vegetables and what appeared to be a side of aged beef, a jeweller's, and, to Hermione's relief, a pub, which was filled with dozens of goblins laughing and chatting in the open windows and drinking flagons of ale.

Hermione squared her shoulders and muscled her way inside. The inside of the pub was more brightly-lit than its human counterparts, but the air was filled with the familiar odours of chips and fresh mushroom pie. Hermione began to make a circuit around the long, narrow room, glancing into booths and trying not to make eye contact with any lady goblins. Unfortunately, she didn't see Hodrod anywhere, which made her wonder if there were other pubs in the neighbourhood.

She was about to leave in search of another establishment, when a movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention. A goblin in a black jacket had stepped into the corridor that in a human establishment would have led to the toilets. He was looking furtively over his shoulder away from her, and when he was satisfied nobody was watching, he stuck his thumb into a knot in the wood panel, and a door slid open.

Hermione's heart leapt. If Hodrod was in that secret room, perhaps she'd be able to negotiate with all the key players in their conspiracy. She glanced at the end of the bar, where the barman had just set a tray of flagons. She raised her chin, doing her best impression of Fleur when she had something to prove, and swooped in and seized the tray and swept off towards the secret door.

The door slid open when she touched the button, and Hermione found herself inside a dimmer private room, where three goblins sat around a table, scowling at her. Hermione couldn't hold back a grin of triumph when she saw that the goblin in the centre of the trio was none other than Hodrod the Horny-Handed, flanked by the goblin in the black jacket and Griphook, the goblin who had reluctantly helped Hermione rob Gringotts in exchange for the Sword of Gryffindor. Perhaps Griphook was Grik of the Grik and Stonker that Nigel had mentioned.

"We didn't order those," snapped the goblin in black, presumably Stonker, who was seated to Hodrod's right.

"They were ordered for you," said Hermione, setting the tray down on the table next to a pile of documents. Unfortunately, apart from the edition of The Evening Prophet that bore her picture, they were all in Gobbledygook, and she couldn't read them.

Hodrod seized her wrist. "Who did you say paid for this round?" he asked, looking at her through narrowed eyes. "I should hate for such generosity to be repaid to the wrong person."

Hermione yanked her wrist free and looked down her nose at each of the goblins in turn.

"Hermione Granger," she said in a low voice, and waited.

To her satisfaction, Hodrod looked at least as confused as she did in the Evening Prophet photo for a moment, before he let out a snarl as he leapt to his feet, knocking over the chair in which he had been sitting.

Griphook reached into his pocket and perched a pair of ipince nez/i on his nose before staring at the picture in the paper, blinking at her, and tutting noisily. "It is she," he confirmed unnecessarily.

Stonker, or whatever his name was, gripped the edge of the table until his knuckles turned white, but said nothing, looking to Griphook and Hodrod for what to do.

"Peace, brothers," said Griphook. "We meet again, Miss Granger."

"It's nice to see you again, Griphook," lied Hermione. "I hope you're doing well."

"As well as one can when despised by one's own kind," said Griphook. "But I suppose that's one thing we have in common."

"Restoring a lost treasure to your people didn't have the cachet you'd hoped?" asked Hermione.

"Restoring my eye," said Stonker. "Hoarding it, more like."

"My family made the sword," said Griphook primly. "If nobody is willing to pay for its use, then it shall remain in our possession."

"The swordmaker is long dead," said Stonker. "You have no more claim to it than those wizards had."

"Yes, you've made your opinion on the subject known," said Griphook, giving Stonker a dirty look.

"Enough," said Hodrod to Griphook before turning toward Hermione. "If you're here to threaten us, I think you're going to be disappointed. All we need to do is summon the authorities and notify them of an imposter."

"But we're not going to do that," said Griphook, sending a quelling glare at Hodrod. "Because Miss Granger has clearly gone through a great deal of trouble to come here."

"And had a great deal of help," said Stonker, crossing his arms.

"I think we ought to hear what she has to say," said Griphook.

"All right," said Hodrod, sighing impatiently. "Say what you came to say and let's have done with it."

Three pairs of black eyes came to rest on Hermione, and she took a deep breath.

"I think we should be working with one another, not against," she said. "I don't blame Hodrod for not realising he had allies among the humans, but I am one, and the Hogwarts Headmaster is one. We'll do everything we can to help your cause."

"Oh, will you?" asked Hodrod contemptuously. "So you'll get my son a wand and let him attend Hogwarts?"

"I don't know that the school is in the habit of procuring equipment for students who can afford it—" began Hermione.

"I seem to recall the school procuring a wholly unnecessary racing broom for one Harry Potter so he could play on the Gryffindor Quidditch team," commented Stonker.

Hermione blinked in surprise. The goblins had clearly done their homework. She cleared her throat. "As I was saying, the school may not be in the habit of doing so, but has been known to make exceptions from time to time."

"And what exactly would you ask of us in return?" asked Griphook, stroking his chin thoughtfully.

"Petition the Brotherhood of Goblins to negotiate with the Ministry of Magic over new rules governing wand use by nonhumans in exchange for bringing goblin treatment of part-humans in line with the Ministry's."

Hodrod laughed nastily, and Griphook shook his head. Stonker looked amused.

"You don't do things by halves, do you?" he asked.

"Here's how I see it," said Hermione. "Wizards fear goblins because they don't understand their magic. If they see a goblin learning the same kind of magic they practice and the world doesn't end, it'll be that much harder for opponents of goblin wand use to argue in dire hypotheticals against a concrete and benign counterexample."

"What makes you think that any of us have the power to persuade the Brotherhood of Goblins to do anything?" asked Griphook.

"And likewise, what assurances do we have that you and your Headmaster have the political clout needed to bring about reforms?" asked Hodrod.

"Well, it certainly would have been easier before you ambushed us and alleged all sorts of awful things about us in the paper," said Hermione, scowling at Hodrod, "but we do have other sympathetic media sources as well as allies in the Wizengamot. Chipping Clodbury was a long time ago. I think we have a decent chance. As for whether or not you can make the Brotherhood listen, well, I suppose that depends on what you're willing to sacrifice for the cause," she said, looking at Griphook.

Griphook swallowed hard but didn't immediately refuse, which Hermione took to be a good sign. Even Hodrod looked thoughtful.

"What do you think about all this?" he asked, turning to Stonker.

"I think there's a greater chance of achieving your long-term goal if you work with her," said Stonker, after a moment's pause. "However, you risk your short-term goal by doing so."

"Nigel will attend Hogwarts," said Hodrod. "The whole plan depends on it. Even she agrees."

"She agrees in theory," said Stonker bitterly. "But do you think she'll stand firm when the Howlers come and her job is threatened?"

"The Howlers have already begin arriving, and I came to you anyway," said Hermione, ignoring the twinge of embarrassment she felt over nearly having refused to do so. "I'm no stranger to controversy or the condemnation of the wizarding world. But their acrimony is as fickle as their affections, and as long as our allies in the press are willing to do their jobs, I believe we can turn the tide of public opinion. Now," she said turning to Stonker, "I'd like to hear why you think that the fight for wand rights will be imperilled, rather than strengthened, by Nigel attending Hogwarts."

Hodrod gave Stonker a nasty look but didn't say anything.

Oh. Hodrod's long-term goal wasn't the right to carry a wand. Or, at least, that wasn't solely it. Was it revenge against the wizards who escaped punishment at Chipping Clodbury? Hermione made a mental note to ask Filius about the identities of the wizards involved. It could be useful information to know.

"It is of no importance," said Stonker, rising. "It's decided that Nigel will attend Hogwarts, so attend Hogwarts he shall. I believe that my part in this ridiculous plan is at an end."

"Oath-breaker," swore Hodrod through clenched teeth. "You swore that—"

"I've fulfilled my part of our bargain," said Stonker smugly. "It's not my fault if the vow you extracted wasn't specific enough. And now that Miss Granger has kindly given you something to mull over, I shall take my leave."

"Please reconsider, old friend," said Griphook, glancing warningly at Stonker and jerking his head towards Hodrod.

Hermione could feel the tension roiling between the three goblins, and gooseflesh rose on her arms at the expression on Hodrod's face. If he had been angry before, he was furious now, and his eyes glittered malevolently.

"I had better be on my way as well," said Hermione, edging towards the door. "Thank you all for your time, and please feel free to owl me with any questions."

"You're not going anywhere," said Hodrod, making a rough gesture in the air, which made the door through which she and Stonker were about to exit slam shut. "As attractive as your proposal is, I think we will be in a far stronger position to negotiate with your Ministry if you're in goblin custody."

To Hermione's horror, Hodrod spoke a harsh word and ropes snapped into existence and whipped around her and Stonker, holding the two of them immobile. He raised his hand and knocked three times on the table.

The floor trembled beneath Hermione's feet, and a siren began blaring somewhere on the far side of the wall.

"I am truly sorry about this," said Griphook, who looked genuinely distraught, "but you failed to negotiate safe passage for yourself, so there really is nothing I can do."

"I had hoped it wouldn't come to this," said Stonker, his voice rough with anger.

"You ought to have considered that before you decided to end our bargain," said Hodrod.

"Any time you're ready, Miss Granger," said Stonker quietly, impatience clearly audible in his voice.

"Diffindo!" shouted Hermione, causing the ropes to fall away. She sent a pair of stunners at Hodrod and Griphook, then aimed her wrist at the locked door. "Reducto!"

Stonker was staring at her open-mouthed, and she grabbed his hand and began to pull him towards the door. "Any time you're ready," she said, exasperated.

To his credit, he didn't need to be told twice.

The front room of the pub was abuzz with goblins attempting to find out what had caused the alarm, which now seemed to be blaring twice as loud as it had been. Through the open windows, Hermione could see flashing lights and a band of goblins in bright red uniforms attempting to push their way into the pub.

"This way," hissed Stonker, and he pulled her in the opposite direction. They ran through the kitchen, were cursed at for knocking over an enormous pile of potatoes, and ran out into an alleyway behind the pub.

"I can Apparate us out," said Hermione.

"No," said Stonker. "There are Apparition barriers around every goblin settlement. We'll have to board the inter-city tram."

"Where can we do that?"

"Uptown," said Stonker, grimly. "And the shire reeve will have dispatched numerous patrols to intercept us."

"Can we take someone's mine cart there?" asked Hermione.

"Mine cart?" asked Stonker in tones of disgust. "You mean steal a car?"

"Unless you'd rather walk," said Hermione, scowling.

Stonker sniggered. "They really did make you into an ugly goblin."

"Insufferable arse," said Hermione. "You can go—" she stopped speaking abruptly as three red-clad goblins came running around the corner.

To Hermione's surprise, there was a bang, and a projectile whizzed past her ear. Goblins had firearms?

She had little chance to contemplate this because Stonker seized her around the waist and dived behind a pile of crates.

"Give me your betrothal band," he gasped.

Hermione was horrified to see that his shoulder was bleeding. "I'm not so hideous after all," she joked, pulling the bracelet from her wrist and handing it to Stonker.

"Hold tight," said Stonker. "I've not done this in some time."

"What are you—?" asked Hermione, but that was as far as she got because Stonker suddenly flew up into the air, and she with him.

Hermione couldn't suppress a cry of surprise, and her arms tightened instinctively around Stonker, who was squeezing her tightly. Their flight was wobbly and terrifyingly fast. But after a few moments of sheer panic, her brain kicked into gear.

There was only one person she knew who could fly, and it just so happened that he was also one of the people who knew about Hogwarts' Book and Quill of Admittance. Impossible though it seemed, there was no other conclusion to be reached: Stonker, the black-clad goblin conspirator, was none other than Severus Snape in disguise.

And with that simple revelation, the web of conspiracy that had seemed impenetrable two hours ago had been brushed away in one fell swoop. Or rather, one flying swoop. Hermione really didn't want to think about falling.

She forced her eyes open and was amazed to see the magnificent spires looking downright terrifying as they flew closer and closer.

"Hold on," shouted Snape. "I'm going to try to catch the tram to Marbury."

"When does it leave?"

"Two minutes ago," he said, lurching in the direction of his uninjured shoulder, which threw them into a sharp descent.

Hermione tried very hard not to tense her body for fear of throwing off his trajectory, and before she knew it they were flying several meters above a stout set of tracks. She could make out the bright light of the tram ahead of them, running at a speed with them in the same direction.

"Can you go faster?" asked Hermione.

"Of course I can," he snapped. "Do us both a favour and keep quiet. This isn't bloody Quidditch."

Hermione wanted to snap back at him, but since she depended on him to escape, she had better save her annoyance for a later date. She tucked her head under his chin, from which vantage point she could see a cart filled with red-clad goblins barrelling towards them, and they had something approximately the size of a bazooka that they were aiming at Snape.

"Pull up!" screamed Hermione.

To her relief, Snape did so without hesitation just in time for a large projectile to go roaring across their previous trajectory. It crashed into the wall of the cave, and an enormous ball of flames erupted with a deafening boom.

Snape let out a growl, and his arms tightened around Hermione, and they zoomed towards the back of the train at a speed so absurd that Hermione could feel air pushing its way under her eyelids.

Hermione took another glance behind them, but the cart of red goblins had fallen far behind.

"Impact in three," said Snape, whose voice was strained with the effort of maintaining their speed. "Two. One."

Hermione screwed her eyes shut, and they crashed through the back window of the tram. She felt her left humerus snap as she ricocheted off a pile of trunks. Snape let out a sound that was halfway between a bellow and a shriek, and their flight was arrested as they slammed into something enormous and mercifully shock-absorbent.

Hermione's breath was knocked out of her, but she was alive. As she gently pulled herself from the surface of what appeared to be an enormous cushion, she realised that Snape had managed to transfigure the luggage and crates mid-flight.

Snape hissed as he pulled himself to his feet. Blood flowed freely from his scalp, and he was covered with small lacerations. "Can you walk?" he asked Hermione, holding out his hand to help her to her feet, despite the fact that he was swaying alarmingly.

"I think so," she said, reaching her right hand around to hold the limp left. As her hand made contact with the injured arm, stars erupted in Hermione's vision as pain seared through her. "My arm's broken," she gasped, "but I can walk."

He nodded, then pressed himself to the wall of the train car and edged toward the back window they'd crashed through. Several small projectiles came whizzing through the window, and Hermione ducked behind the trunks she'd slammed into. Apparently the goblins hadn't given up.

Hermione could see flashes of red light against the ceiling as Snape fired Stunner after Stunner at their pursuers.

"We're nearly there," he shouted above the whistling wind. "Keep your head down!"

"My head is down!" shouted Hermione. "Worry about your own!"

But to Hermione's horror, the tram suddenly lurched, and there was a scream of metal against metal.

"No!" cried Snape, even as the tram began to slow down. Hermione risked a glance around the crates and saw Snape with his head out the window.

"Are you mad?" she shouted, rushing to him and pulling him back inside as several more projectiles went whizzing past.

"They're too late!" crowed Snape. He began to laugh, and he continued laughing even as he lost his balance and fell to the floor.

Abruptly, the ambient light from the goblin town dimmed as the freight car skidded into the tunnel and out of the town's protective spells.

Still laughing, Snape seized her uninjured arm and Apparated.