London, Diagon Alley, May 14th, 2003
Mundungus Fletcher didn't have to go through the Leaky Cauldron to enter Diagon Alley, but apparating directly to the Alley might draw attention to himself - few did it, and Mundungus would rather not make a scene by startling someone. Certainly not today.
So he nodded a greeting to Tom the bartender and made his way through the thinning lunch crowd towards the entrance to the Alley. A very familiar sequence of taps with his wand later, he entered the Alley proper - 'the heart of British commerce', to quote one of the candidates for the upcoming elections whose campaign posters covered half the walls nearby.
The first poster had been the work of a half-blood hat crafter, but others had quickly copied him, and many residents were already complaining about the resulting flood of posters and leaflets. It didn't help, of course, that Diagon Alley and the equally afflicted Hogsmeade were the only locations where such posters could be used - and every candidate for the New Wizengamot was doing it. Some spellcrafter was bound to make a small fortune by developing a spell that protected a wall from such posters.
Mundungus shook his head as he passed a spot where a dozen posters had been pasted over each other, in some cases so sloppily that the figures on the posters ended up fighting each other at the overlapping borders. Even Hermione had been surprised by the fervour with which Wizarding Britain had embraced its very first general election. But then, the years-long struggle in the Wizengamot that had preceded this had drawn a lot of attention from the population. Many wizards and witches seemed to have only started to care about the right to vote once it had become clear that a sizeable part of the Wizengamot didn't want them to have it. At least that was Hermione's opinion.
He chuckled - while the girl was more often right than wrong about such things, far more often, she still hated being wrong with a passion. Which was a good streak for a thief, of course.
Not for the first time, he wondered if his daughter would have been like her. He liked to think so. And he liked to think of her as his adopted daughter. Or at least his foster daughter. A worthy successor of his, in any case, even if she was occasionally still a little too reckless for his taste. At least she wasn't calling him 'Mr Fletcher' any more.
Mundungus forced himself to smile as he turned. "Black." He nodded at the wizard. "Jeanne." He genuinely smiled at her. "And hello, Estelle!"
The four-year-old girl smiled at him. "Hey, Fletcher!" she chirped with a too-familiar grin which didn't fade even when Jeanne scolded her for being rude. She was her father's daughter, indeed.
Her little sister Alya, barely a year old, merely blinked at Mundungus from where she rested in her stroller.
"So, what are you doing on this fine day?"
Mundungus refrained from rolling his eyes, Black was still as subtle as a big clumsy dog, as Hermione would word it. "Just taking care of some business," Mundungus replied. "What about you? Doing some campaigning?"
"No!" Estelle piped up. "Mama said Papa wasn't allowed to today! We're going to eat ice cream!"
"Cream!" Apparently, Alya was paying attention.
"Ah." Mundungus smiled. "An important venture that doesn't deserve distractions or delays."
Black either didn't get the hint or ignored him. "How have you been doing? Still doing your tutoring?"
"Not so much any more." Mundungus shrugged. He had enough gold - far, far more than enough, actually, since Hermione had insisted on dividing the loot equally - that he didn't have to work any more. Or knew what to do with his all his money. "But I still keep in shape." He smiled at Black.
"So do I!" the other wizard quickly retorted.
Jeanne rolled her eyes. "Stop it, you two, or I'll tell Hermione."
He was tempted to reply that that would be hard, but that would reward Black for his probing questions. Plausible deniability was important, after all. "How's the extended family?" he asked instead. That usually got Black to talk about something else.
"Oh, Remus is busy with the exams at Hogwarts. Which means Nymphadora is crankier than usual. She hexed me for merely using her name!"
"She hexed you for asking why she wasn't pregnant yet," Jeanne corrected her husband with a toothy smile. "And you deserved it."
Black pouted exaggeratedly. "I'm just concerned about my cousin and best friend's marriage. Now that Pansy is expecting, we need to ensure that the decent members of the Black family still outnumber the bigots in the next generation!" He frowned. "If I had known Narcissa would be so annoying about becoming a grandmother, I would have voted to send her husband through the Veil."
"You didn't have to keep in contact with her," Mundungus pointed out. Not even to check if the Malfoy gold stayed lost - which it had so far.
"My esteemed peers would have frowned upon me cutting ties with family - even though they were ostracising her," Black replied. "But she's my blood, and apparently innocent of her husband's crimes, and cutting her off would have negatively affected my reform policies."
Mundungus shrugged. That was Black's problem, not his. Mundungus wasn't hobnobbing with the Old Families. Even though he was probably richer than some of them - some of the ones they hadn't robbed, to be precise, though even those were still quite well off by any standard other than that of the Old Families'.
Not that he could show his wealth, of course - although he had spread the news that Mr Smith had recently come into an inheritance of some substance. Just in case he suddenly had a need to socialise with the Old Families. You never knew what might come up. And the wealth also came in handy for new fake identities, such as the one he'd be using later today.
"Well," he said, "I would love to stay and chat, but I do have business to attend to." He ignored Black's offer to help with that, just as he ignored Jeanne's glare at her husband. "I wish you success for your own election campaign, of course."
Bowing at the three witches and nodding at Black, he bid them adieu. He had a job to do, and it wouldn't do to mess up.
What thief worth their salt had never dreamt of robbing Gringotts one day, after all?
London, Diagon Alley, May 15th, 2003
Jackalope Observed in Natural Habitat for the First Time!
Harry Potter carefully read the article in The Quibbler. He had already known that Luna and Ron's latest expedition had been a success thanks to the letters they regularly sent, but he hadn't known the details. Well, not the details in the article - Ron's last letter, co-written by Luna, had been full of other details, both personal details Harry could do without and also the kind of details that might come in handy in the future. Provided Harry would one day be facing a Skinwalker. Although he doubted that he'd use Ron's tactics to deal with the creature - unless there was a handy cliff nearby.
He put the magazine down for a moment to take a sip from his tea. It wasn't the best brew - Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour was famous for their ice cream creations, not their beverages, apart from milkshakes - but it was decent enough. And the parlour was in a central location in Diagon Alley. Just in case there was trouble.
Such as the witch approaching him with a too-wide smile, too-tight robes and a too-swaying gait. Harry shifted his weight a little, as if he were just stretching, and used his wand to summon the cup with the sugar cubes. Slowly, of course, so it would look natural that he had his wand in hand.
"Oh, Mr Potter! The famous Boy-Who-Lived! Most dangerous former Auror in Britain!"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Hello, Tonks."
Her sultry smile changed into an exaggerated pout as she sat down opposite him. "How did you know?"
"There aren't many who call me a 'former Auror'," he replied. Only a number of other Aurors, and he knew all of them on sight. Which meant that anyone he didn't recognise would either be using Polyjuice Potion - or would be Tonks. And he had seen her stumble a little upon entering the parlour.
"Phooey." She slumped in her chair.
Loud cackling laughter drew Harry's attention to the entrance. Moody stood there, shaking his head before walking towards them.
Harry cast a privacy charm, but the old Auror cast one of his own, of course. "Told you, girl - can't fool a wizard I trained from scratch that easily."
Tonks snorted but didn't contradict him. She did change the subject, though, by addressing Harry with a wide grin. "So, what are you doing here? Some special secret mission for Scrimgeour to test if Fortescue's latest creations are suitable for our new Department Head?"
Harry had seen better attempts to gather information. "If I were, I wouldn't be allowed to tell you." Scrimgeour expected discretion, after all.
He chuckled at that. "So, how's the Corps these days?"
Tonks frowned at him. "You mean to tell me that you don't know? You're a lousy secret agent!"
"I'm not in the habit of spying on the Ministry," Harry said. Technically, he wasn't lying - Sirius kept him informed of the important developments. But gossip and private news usually weren't covered in the 'briefings for Potter, Harry Potter', as his godfather liked to call their talks. "How's Bathilda doing?"
"You know, you could ask her yourself," Tonks said. "Visit her while she's on maternity leave."
"I wouldn't want to stress her unduly," Harry replied, feeling briefly guilty. "And you know how she is when I talk with her husband."
"'Talk'? Is that what you call it?" She grinned again, and Moody cackled.
Harry shrugged. "Nott still hasn't learned to be civil."
"I bet he says the same about you," Tonks muttered.
"Well, he's wrong," Harry said, grinning. "So, she's doing well?"
"Yes. I expect you'll get a notice about her giving birth soon - provided she still thinks you deserve one even though you left the Corps."
Harry snorted. That was an old argument. "It wouldn't have been the same without Ron."
"As if he'd have left you if you weren't alright with it!" Tonks shook her head.
"Dawlish still making trouble?" Harry changed the subject.
"He's as paranoid as Moody here," Tonks said. "He's still insisting that the hunt for the Night Nargles should continue, even though they haven't been seen in years. Not after they lost one to Malfoy's curse." She shrugged. "But Shacklebolt keeps him under control."
Which meant Dawlish wouldn't be allowed to bother Harry and his family. Not officially, at least.
"Why are you asking?" Tonks frowned. "Is he again claiming that I'm impersonating Hermione to cover up the fact that she died years ago in Malfoy Manor?"
That hadn't been a fun incident. Harry shook his head. "No, I'm asking because he's lurking around the corner, trying to spy on us with some Extendable Ears. You didn't notice?"
Moody cackled again. "I keep tellin' her she needs to pay more attention."
"You're a paranoid nutcase," Tonks muttered. "I'll tell the Head Auror."
"He knows me," Moody said.
Tonks rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean." She sighed. "So, how's the family?" She smiled at Harry. "Anything in the works, you know? Marriage, maybe?"
Harry's smile grew more polite. That was a touchy subject at Grimmauld Place. Everyone had a strong opinion about it - especially those already married, even though it was none of their business at all. He shook his head. "Nothing new. Hermione's in France for a couple of days, sorting through new books."
Moody snorted at that. Harry glanced at him, but then Tonks spoke up. "More books? That witch is obsessed! Do you even have any space left for a bed in your rooms?"
Harry laughed. "She's very good with Extension Charms." Among other things, of course.
"Well, don't let Dawlish hear that, or we'll have another diplomatic incident with the French," Tonks said. "The last one made Bones quit."
Probably helped along by his new career, Harry thought. Scrimgeour had been angling for Bones's position for years, after all. Out loud he said: "Only because Skeeter used the opportunity to avenge her prison sentence." That wasn't entirely wrong, of course.
Tonks scowled. "If only we had known at the time that she was an illegal animagus…"
"Let's hope she'll have learned her lesson next time she gets released from Azkaban," Harry said. And to think it had been Dawlish who had managed to expose and arrest the journalist! Of course, he had been trying to catch the Night Nargles at the time. "And how's the new training regime going?" Harry asked after a moment.
Moody scoffed. "Still too soft! It's not as bad as before, but we're still coddling them! If I were in charge..."
Harry nodded. "It looks like there are still more reforms needed, then." He had hoped the nepotism and substandard recruiting and training would vanish once the reform of the Ministry started.
Tonks huffed. "No, you two bloody nutcases! You're not in charge because you'd drive away all our recruits after one lesson! Or put them into St Mungo's! Or both!" She glared at Moody.
The old Auror cackled again. "My offer of training's still open."
"I don't want to end up like you or Harry," Tonks shot back as she rose. "I'll tell Shacklebolt that Dawlish's making a scene again. Don't curse the staff in the meantime because you think they're assassins in disguise."
Harry sighed as he watched her walk away.
"She's not that bad. Just stubborn. Once she comes around, she'll be a great Auror," Moody said.
Harry nodded. That was good to know. And there was something else he wanted to know. "To think that he's still hunting the Night Nargles after all these years. Everyone else has stopped." Which included Moody.
The Auror shrugged. "Being stubborn is a good thing for an Auror."
That didn't tell Harry anything. He shrugged. "So, just how good is your eye? Professional interest, you know." He tapped the frame of his glasses.
A familiar twisted grin appeared on Moody's scarred face. "I haven't yet found any protections that can really block it, apart from the old, now illegal, ones," he said. "Now if only there were a matching ear…"
Ah. Harry nodded. "Or at least a better listening charm."
Moody's grin grew even more. "Well, that's why you learn how to read lips. Good way to pass the time, too."
Harry managed to keep smiling. So Moody had known. He nodded. "I'll keep that in mind." Sirius and Hermione's reactions will be memorable, he thought. But that was something for later. He had a job to do, after all.
He activated the enchantment on his glasses and started to study the street outside - and the ground beneath it.
It wasn't as if Moody were the only one with a unique See-Through-Walls Charm, after all - the Elder Wand was very handy for such things, even if it had taken him some time to learn how to enchant his glasses with it, instead of having to cast the spell every time he needed it.
London, Gringotts, May 15th, 2003
Hermione Granger took another bite from her sandwich before craning her neck - analysing wards was tiring work. Especially strong wards. She had to hand it to the goblins - the protections on their vaults were almost as good as they claimed. But 'almost' wasn't good enough to stop her. Not when she had all the time she needed to work through their protections - from inside the vault. And all the help she could wish for, as well.
She resisted the urge to pat her pocket, where the vial with goblin blood Mr Fletcher - 'Mundungus', she reminded herself, not for the first time - had acquired for this heist rested. She snorted - the fact that the goblins were using blood magic to defend their vaults explained a lot. That information would certainly make for an interesting discussion next time the goblins complained to the Ministry. She shook her head, remembering Harry's reaction when the old Curse-Breaker they had interrogated had spilt that secret. He might not be an Auror any more, but he'd certainly retained their attitude towards the dark arts.
In hindsight, it was almost obvious - blood magic allowed the creation of the strongest protections, and since it was usually done with a ritual, the lack of wands wouldn't be too much of a problem. And it also made it easier to have the magic on the vault doors react only to goblins, and not to wizards or witches.
But it also meant that if you had goblin blood at hand, and had enough experience dealing with blood magic - and after several years working with Harry hunting down blood mages and other dark wizards, Hermione certainly knew her way around blood wards - you could cut through the best goblin defences in much less time than anyone would expect.
That didn't matter right now - the trunk Mundungus had used to smuggle her into Gringotts contained enough food and drink for months so she could work at her leisure - but it would matter once she wasn't breaking out of this vault any more, but breaking into the target vault. Then she would be on a tight schedule - and would have to take the patrol schedule they had discovered, thanks to Harry's conversations with the snakes the goblins used to hunt down rats, into account as well. But, she grinned at the thought, since she had already analysed this vault's protections - for his latest fake identity, Mundungus had picked a vault very close to the target vault - she would have a distinct advantage.
Once she had cracked this vault's defences, of course. Which would take a little longer.
Not that it mattered - there was plenty of slack in the heist's schedule; there was no point in rushing things if you could take your time. This wouldn't be a repeat of Bulgaria; Harry hadn't let her forget that little incident for weeks, even though she hadn't really been in any danger from that vampire's minions! And he had duelled the vampire himself, despite the risk!
Shaking her head, she finished her sandwich, took another sip from her soda and went back to breaking through the goblin wards separating her from Gringotts proper. She was on a heist, after all - and it was a heist, no matter how often Harry called it a mission.
London, Diagon Alley, May 15th, 2003
"Yes, everything's fine. As soon as the goblin patrol's passed through this hallway, I'll be out of here and starting on the target vault. Don't worry - nothing's changed since you last checked. Half an hour ago."
Hermione sounded a little exasperated, Harry Potter couldn't help noticing. "Sorry," he said. He couldn't help worrying - Hermione was stuck in that vault, and if anything went wrong, he wouldn't be able to help her. Not even the Elder Wand would let him singlehandedly fight his way through Gringotts' guards down to the vaults.
Which was why he was about to descend into the tunnels below Diagon Alley, of course - fighting his way through Gringotts was one thing, breaking into one of the tunnels the goblins shouldn't have been digging in the first place was another.
"It's alright - I know it must be boring waiting out there," she said with a smile.
"Not that boring, actually," he admitted.
"Oh?" She was frowning in that slightly pouty way that made her look cute, he noticed.
"I spent the afternoon strolling through Knockturn Alley." He grinned.
"Scaring the locals?" She didn't stop frowning.
"Creating a distraction, actually," he defended himself. "Everyone will think I was scouting the area."
"Casing the joint," she interrupted him.
He narrowed his eyes at her. This was a mission for the Ministry, not a heist, no matter what she said. "They'll fear I'm planning to arrest one of them. That should keep anyone from bothering our mission."
"Ah." She nodded approvingly. "We'll make a proper thief out of you, yet," she added with a smirk.
He scoffed. He might not be an Auror any more, but he was still hunting criminals. Just with 'a more flexible approach', as Sirius had put it. Besides, even Hermione and Fletcher rarely broke British laws these days. "I'm going down now."
"Alright. Be careful."
Harry snorted. He was always careful - he only took calculated risks. "That's my line," he reminded her.
She sniffed. "Albania."
"That doesn't count!"
"Sure it does!" He grinned. "Anyway, I'll have to go now to be ready when you start the mission."
He almost managed to turn the mirror off before she snapped: "The heist."
Fletcher, sitting in a conjured chair at the window of the flat the thief had rented for this mission, sighed. "And I thought her quarrels with Black were bad..."
"She'll come round," Harry told him.
"That's what she says about you."
Harry snorted, nodded at the thief and disillusioned himself before moving the flat's second bookshelf, revealing the passage Fletcher had dug into the sewers. "Call at once if anything suspicious happens," he reminded the man.
"Don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs," Fletcher shot back.
Harry shook his head as he descended. He was only trying to help.
A few minutes later, he was in the sewers proper, using the enchantment on his glasses to see in the dark - using a Wand-Lighting Charm would have given him away, disillusioned or not - and to look through the sewer walls.
The goblins had protected their tunnels against such spells, of course. And they had been clever enough to not simply block See-Through-Walls Charms, but fool them into showing packed earth.
But they couldn't fool charms cast by the Elder Wand. Harry had found their illegal tunnels weeks ago.
Harry smirked as he approached the closest one, his wand already moving. The goblins had thought they were clever, preparing these tunnels for the next rebellion. But they hadn't been clever enough.
A flick of his wand shrunk the stones forming the sewer's wall, and a few swishes later, enough of the earth behind it had been vanished for him to step into the small tunnel he had just created and restore the stones behind him.
And then it was just a matter of time before he reached the goblins' tunnel he had picked out earlier.
London, Gringotts, May 15th, 2003
Hermione Granger checked her watch. It was time. She had waited five minutes past the scheduled time for the patrol to pass - the goblins were rarely delayed, but you never knew - and the clock was now ticking. She only had two hours to break out of this vault and into the target one.
Fortunately, she had already subverted the protections on this vault. She disillusioned herself, activated her mask's enchantment and gave the complicated protection scheme a last look-over. She didn't find any fault in her preparations. She still wet her lips - you never knew, after all - then dipped her wand into the vial with the goblin blood before stabbing it at the vault's door with a twist of her wrist.
For a moment, nothing happened. She held her breath. If she had made a mistake…
Then the vault door slowly swung open, and she relaxed. She had done it - she had the measure of the goblins' protections!
Grinning, she snuck out, quickly checking the sides of the ledge - empty, as expected. And she couldn't hear anyone nearby with her listening enchantment either. Nodding, she approached the edge in front of her.
The target vault was on the ledge two levels below her, but the abyss went much, much deeper. She couldn't even see the bottom - though she suspected that was the effect of an obscuring enchantment; her detection spell couldn't see that far. Supposedly, the only way to reach the lower levels was by minecart - on rickety-looking rails, through security checkpoints manned by goblins around the clock and Thief's Downfalls.
The walls of the chasm were protected against magic and mundane climbing tools - she had known that before confirming it with her mask. Brooms wouldn't work. Ordinary climbers would fall to their deaths when their Sticking Charms and other spells failed to work or their hooks were spat out by the stone walls.
But she was a professional thief, not an ordinary climber. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a disillusioned rope. A Sticking Charm and a sailor's knot later, it was safely anchored to the unprotected wall inside Mundungus's vault. And a conjured stone cover on the edge of the ledge ensured that no enchantments on the chasm's walls would cut it.
Rappelling down a rope was child's play for a trained cat burglar. Hermione reached the correct ledge in less than a minute, even with gathering up the rope's slack so it wouldn't reach further down. A minute later, she was standing in front of the target vault, number eight hundred and twelve.
That left her with a hundred and fifteen minutes to crack the vault's protections. Child's play, she thought as she went to work.
It took her a hundred and five minutes - the vault had far more additional protections than she had expected for what was supposed to be a fairly regular vault like the one Mundungus had picked. Fortunately, none of them had been particularly difficult to disarm. It had just taken a long time. Longer than planned - she had almost expected Harry to call her and check that she hadn't managed to get herself captured by the goblins. Honestly, sometimes he was worse than her parents - although they didn't know about her real job and were only worrying about her apparent lack of a fulfilling career.
But now she was almost done. Once more, she covered her wand's tip with goblin blood - and didn't that sound far more violent than it actually was? - and then touched the lock in front of her, twisting her wrist as she cast an Unlocking Charm.
And once more, after a second that felt like an hour, the vault's door started to open. Yes!
Grinning wildly, she slipped into the vault before the door had finished moving, and took stock of its contents. Two chests, one trunk that looked like a standard Hogwarts trunk - that might be a ruse - and a strongbox. One of those would contain the records of Adrian Rowles' businesses in the New World, which in turn would reveal just how he had made his fortune before his untimely and rather suspicious death - and also, or so Harry hoped, clues that would lead them to that elusive French blood mage. The others would contain parts of said fortune.
Hermione grinned. It was too bad that she would be forced to take everything since she lacked the time right now to safely search the vault! She opened her enchanted pocket and flicked her wand.
A few Summoning Charms later, the vault was empty, and she slipped out. By the time the door had closed, she was already back at her rope and starting to ascend. Five minutes left until the patrol would arrive and see the open vault above. Four minutes left by the time she reached the ledge.
Enough time to slip into the vault Mundungus had acquired and wait them out. That would be the smart, safe way. Mundungus could come back tomorrow and carry her out in his trunk with no one the wiser. The perfect heist.
But the Ministry didn't want a perfect heist. Scrimgeour wanted a public incident that exposed the tunnels the goblins had dug to attack Diagon Alley in the next war. That was why Harry had dug a tunnel of his own and was now waiting for her.
If Hermione was expected to make a scene anyway, it didn't make sense to bother with hiding beforehand. Snorting, she vanished the rope and stone cover and closed the vault's door - Mundungus might want to use both the vault and the cover identity again - and waited.
A minute later, she saw the patrol turn the corner. Four goblins, bristling with primitive weapons and marching in step. Hidden by her Disillusionment Charm, she shook her head, then flicked her wand. The stone floor in front of the patrol suddenly grew, looming over them, then flipped over, trapping them in a makeshift prison.
A prison short enough for her to run up to it and jump on top, then back down its other side as alerts started to go off in the bank.
She dashed round the corner and up the next stairs, conjuring a few walls behind her as she ran. Mundungus had scouted the area during his visits to the vault. The next security checkpoint was a floor above her - they would be charging down now, but a few quickly conjured walls at the stairs would stop them. Long enough, at least, for her next move.
She eyed the ledge across the chasm, one floor above her. Magical flight didn't work. Ropes would get cut. But there were ways around that.
She conjured a steel plate and a steel tube, stuck together, on the ground. A flick of her wand filled the tube with powder, and another conjured a second, slightly larger steel tube - although one with fins - that neatly fit over it and was capped with another, thick plate, upon which she stuck a steel basket.
She licked her lips as she checked if the device was properly aimed, then stuck a fuse in the opening at the bottom and climbed into the basket.
Five seconds later - the goblins would be breaking through the last of her walls by now thanks to their enchanted pickaxes - the improvised mortar went off, shooting her up and across the chasm.
Even after dozens of tests, it was a rush to be propelled through the air like this. She barely refrained from yelling with glee as she cleared the ledge right before she reached the top of her ballistic arc and she jumped off of the plate.
The landing was a little harder and less graceful than planned - she would have bruises in the morning - but she managed a roll and came up running. As she rounded the next corner, she tapped the mirror in her pocket twice.
A moment later, she heard an explosion from the tunnel she was sprinting towards - Harry must have heard the mortar going off, and decided to rush things. Typical!
But she had other things to worry about. Like the mine cart coming up behind her, full of yelling, bloodthirsty goblins. She reached into her enchanted pocket and gave them something to worry about - Weasleys' Improved Silly Putty. A quick Banishing Charm propelled the glop towards the rails. A moment later it hit and expanded into a huge mass of slimy, sticky goo.
The mine cart drove into it but failed to push through, trapping its passengers in the sticky mass.
Hermione laughed as she turned the next corner - she would have to buy Ron something very nice for bringing the inspiration for that back from his latest expedition to the New World.
She stopped laughing, though, when she heard footsteps behind her - many, loud footsteps. She dropped a few more 'surprises', but those wouldn't stop such a large number of goblins. Not in Gringotts, where they had the advantage.
But all she had to do was stall them a little longer. And her caltrops, bouncing screamers and instant tripwires would do that. As would a few more walls.
There was Harry - his face hidden by a sensible mask and standing over the prone bodies of half a dozen goblins. "Incoming!" she yelled.
"I know!" he yelled back. "Get out!"
She wanted to argue, but there were dozens of goblins close behind her, and she'd rather not block his line of fire. So she slid past him, into the tunnel he had dug, before she turned around. And winced.
Harry wasn't blocking the goblins or stalling them. He was casting overpowered Banishing Charms that smashed into her pursuers, bowling over entire ranks of them. She even saw sparks fly when one goblin was slammed into another, and their armour clashed. It didn't take him long deal with the whole troop after her. But there would be more coming. Many, many more - and not even the Elder Wand would make that an easy battle.
"Let's go!" she hissed as soon as the last goblin went down.
He turned and followed her, rushing through the tunnel towards the sewers of Diagon Alley.
As soon as they reached the sewers, Harry stopped and looked up. She knew he was using his enchanted glasses. "No one above us," he said.
"No Anti-Apparition Jinxes in effect," she said. "Let's hope that this won't start a war."
"It won't," Harry said as he aimed his wand at the ceiling. "The treaty grants them the right to deal with thieves as they see fit - but also absolves us of any responsibility."
She knew that, of course. But she wasn't certain if the goblins would share that opinion. Although it wasn't as if it mattered - they couldn't afford a war. Especially not once it became known that their famous security had been breached.
Which it would - that was why Harry was vanishing the ceiling above them, opening the sewers, and the tunnel leading to Gringotts, to Diagon Alley.
"Done," he said. "Auror patrol's on the way."
"Ready," she replied as she grabbed his hand. A moment later, both of them appeared in the prepared safe house in muggle London.
Hermione sighed and pulled off her mask, smiling widely. "That was a perfect heist!"
Harry narrowed his eyes at her. "A perfect covert mission, you mean." After a moment, he sighed. "How much did you steal?"
She grinned. "I don't know - there was no time to search the vault for the records, so I had to take everything."
He groaned. "I should have known."
She nodded as she pulled out the loot. "Yes, you should have. Besides, if Scrimgeour expects us not to pilfer any gold, he would need to pay us much, much better."
"It's not as if we need the money," he retorted. "Between the bounties, my inheritance and your, albeit illicit, fortune, we are rich." He faced her.
"It's the principle of the thing," she shot back, baring her teeth at him. "It would be morally wrong to pull off a heist without stealing anything!"
"It is morally wrong to steal!" He shook his head at her.
"Not when you're working for the government!" She took a step closer, craning her neck slightly to look up at him.
"Officially, they don't even know you exist!" He was almost growling, showing his teeth.
"And that's how I like it! That way, they can't complain about our heists!"
She grabbed his head with both hands before he could try to tell her again that this wasn't a heist and kissed him.
He kissed her back as she pulled his robes off him.
Author's Note: My beta reader, fredfred, has my utmost gratitude. He has spent an immense amount of time and effort on correcting my mistakes and oversights, and provided invaluable feedback. Without him, this story wouldn't be what it is.
I've started a new story, "Harry Potter and the Secret of Atlantis", which can be found under my profile.