A/N: A bunny that mugged me while driving to the grocery. What the heck, brain?
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, and Flyby Commander Shepard
A/N 2: To Guest, who seems to think One Step is a trainwreck failure: I get that I (and my betas) miss stuff. I get that there are perfectionists out there that think things should be better if you publish at all, but ranting on stories I wrote two years or two days ago is not like you are reviewing a highly-polished paid story. These fics are written for my own amusement, and I love it when it entertains others as well. That's just a bonus. Unless I'm screwing up every sentence from 1-20k words, okay then I understand more love should have gone into it, but those that know me know I keep a hellacious schedule between school and work. It's a miracle I have time to sleep (wait, I don't… hrm) in between shifts. My betas keep crazy hours, too, but we all enjoy sitting down to write together as we can. They deserve praise for putting up with me and my obnoxious hours, not disdain and ridicule. No one is perfect, and neither are you. I bet, if you were to ask the majority of my readers, they would rather me publish my chapters as I can than wait another 2 months for me to have time to proof 20-30k 2-3 times to make sure all the kinks are out.
I digress. Onward to the story!
A Short Story by CorvusDraconis
The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.
Ulysses S. Grant
Evil, Snape decided, was undoubtedly coloured in sickening shades of cutesy pastels, but even more so was the entire inane concept of "war hero" celebrations where they wanted people to come out and get totally knackered whilst waxing poetic about how bloody awesome everyone was to have survived the war.
As if merely surviving the war somehow made you a hero.
They invited him to join the festivities every year, but every year he told them precisely, and with explicit detail, exactly where to stick it.
His Order of Merlin First-Class had endowed him with sufficient funds to build an apothecary and get away from the hellish nightmare of teaching hormonal dunderheads.
He did have dunderheaded customers, but they actually PAID him very well for his services, even if they couldn't read or comprehend even the simplest directions to save their foolish lives.
He knew Minerva would have preferred for him to remain at Hogwarts, but he'd had more than enough of that ruddy broom-wreck trying to serve two masters who desperately wanted to kill the other without actually doing it themselves.
His soul had had quite enough of that, thank you very much.
Lucius had lost nearly everything but the shirt on his back thanks to the Dark Lord commandeering his house, killing off his prized white peacocks (because they were noisy birds and far too pretty), and draining his family vaults to fuel his war engine.
The irony of ironies was that Lucius and Draco were working for him—
But one thing Lucius was quite good at was depositing their earnings into myriad places that made them even more money, so they were comfortable enough.
Well, he was perfectly comfortable.
Lucius, on the other hand, claimed he was living in abject poverty and was always three white peacocks short of paradise—
To each their own.
He wasn't starving. Far from it, in fact. Severus just wished he'd stop whinging so bloody much about not being able to afford prime Wagu beef or whatever the hell it was called.
Might as well be Whinging beef, as far as Snape saw it.
Draco, however, seemed to have turned over a brand new leaf. He began to properly follow directions, he lost the ridiculous preening arrogance, he did what he was told without his father's incessant childish whinging, and he didn't blow anything up either.
Kudos to the boy for that.
He also had fantastically ornate yet quite legible penmanship, and he designed the (admittedly beautiful) parchment labels on all of their stock.
Gods knew Snape's own handwriting was akin to cipher and shorthand put together by a stampede of rampaging hippogriffs. Oh, he could write neatly enough, but why? He could read it. That was all that mattered.
So, their White Peacock Apothecary (damn you, Lucius Malfoy) was a positively raging success, at least if you wanted top quality potions made, access to the very finest ingredients for your own potion experiments, or perfectly brewed bases to help you "cheat" your way into making your own stuff.
Snape really didn't care.
They were being paid plenty of good galleons for brews that even the most inept Hogwarts first year would have difficulty messing up, simply because most people were lazy sods who would far rather add something to half of something than spend the time and effort required to brew a potion all by themselves.
At least Snape's bases were positively exemplar.
No one in the potions mastery board had ever, ever complained about his work.
Okay, those few who did were buried so deep in documentation that it would take them the next twenty years to dig themselves a tunnel out of it.
Snape smiled wickedly.
It served the dunderheads right.
But, going back to the current annoyance at hand—
Diagon Alley was a virtual ghost town at the moment. No place seemed to be open thanks to that stupid Post-War Ball number—oh, whatever bloody year they were on now.
He'd stopped counting at one.
Some people puttered about aimlessly, but the vast majority of the shops were closed so the owners could attend the celebration where tons of free food and free-flowing drink were on hand.
That didn't really help him to get a drink for himself, and he was thirsty enough to drink a whole hogshead all by himself—sans the alcohol, however. He had no intention of becoming like his drunken arsewipe of a da.
A soft glow of night lanterns lit up one shoppe he hadn't bothered to visit in all the time he'd been in Diagon Alley.
The Glacial Gambol had opened perhaps a year or so after he'd opened his apothecary, and he had refused to patronise the place due to its "new" and "trendy" feel. Few new places lasted in Diagon Alley if they weren't rooted in some tradition that everyone needed, and there was already the Leaky for drinks—
But the Leaky wasn't open because old Tom was off having other people serve him for once, and other shoppes, restaurants, food carts, and vendors had folded up for the occasion as well.
Pigeons were boldly strutting about the streets picking up crumbs due to the rare lack of crowds, and that was telling enough in itself.
Truth be told, he had no idea what made the Glacial Gambol popular at all since he hadn't been in there even once, but there was far too much traffic in there for his taste.
He was so terribly thirsty, and water just wasn't cutting it.
Tea wasn't cutting it either, and coffee always made his pish smell of, well, coffee.
Fine, he'd go.
Just this once.
The front of the place was done in soft to dark blues much like the glacier it was named for, nothing too pastel to make it offensive. It didn't look like the Easter Bunny had crapped obnoxiously pastel eggs over the front either, which made it acceptable in appearance at least. There were no obnoxious moving, blinking magical signs with flashing arrows pointing the way either. It was just a shoppe like something you'd see on a Muggle storefront. The front window boasted an assortment of different coloured glass bottles, all labelled with a familiar-looking script that he swore he remembered from somewhere before the thought escaped him completely.
He walked in the door, and the soft tinkle of a cat-like bell rang out.
A young tortoiseshell Kneazle in predominant shades of honey, chocolate and cream looked up at him from the counter, her dainty ears flicking once before deciding he was acceptable enough to be ignored.
"Just a moment!" a voice called out from the back.
He heard snippets of a soft conversation shortly after, but he couldn't quite make out what was being said, almost as if a Muffliato was being used, and yet—
No, there were words, but he just couldn't quite make them out.
That was… impressive, considering he could normally make out hushed words from the rear of a crowded classroom or the Dark Lord's dining table.
He examined the drink selection, frowning at the names of some of the drinks on offer.
Moonlight Amongst the Moonflowers
Pick Me Up Kick to the Head (the hell?)
Don't Be a Dunderhead
Dragon Fruit Over the Water
When Tea Just Won't Do
When Even Espresso Seems Weak
When Ogden's Isn't an Option Anymore
Whine for Whingers (Maybe I should get some for Lucius, hrm.)
Grapefruit Fun Frolic
Black Cherry Left Hook
Ginger Grin Punchbowl
Mango Goldfish Bowl
Raspberry to the Face
Stormy Night Sipper
Umami Your Mummy (Snort.)
Make Your Brown Eyes Blue
Burns Night in Scotland
Irish Eyes Are Smiling
Well, there were definitely a lot of interesting names, that was for sure.
A small child ran into the shoppe, rushing past him without a care or so much as a howdy-do. He slammed a galleon down on the counter.
"Mummy said the usual!"
A witch with a long mane of whisky-coloured hair emerged from the back carrying a small barrel that looked like a miniaturised hogshead.
"Hello there, Angus! I have the usual for your mum. Did you want your usual too, hrm?"
"Yes, ma'am!" the boy said, bobbing his head with enthusiasm and holding out his refillable tankard.
"Here you go, pet," she said, after washing and filling his little tankard with—ah, the Don't Be a Dunderhead. She shrank the barrel down with a swing and swish of her wand, and the boy took it in his hand and raced out the door to his waiting mum. The witch waved inside before herding her happy sprog away.
"Professor Snape," the voice greeted. "Welcome to Glacial Gambol. Would you like to sample the drinks before deciding on one?"
Snape blinked. He focused beyond the graceful mane of curls to see familiar but slightly changed features.
Adult features with a fine figure to match.
As a student, she'd always been more hair than face, but with her hair tamed with a fascinating Goblinesque-style hair ornament he couldn't quite place, he suddenly saw her as if for the very first time.
"Miss Granger," he said, trying not to stumble over his words like an inept foreigner.
She smiled at him with a slight baring of teeth… for a moment he wondered if she was snarling at him, but—
No, she seemed utterly respectful. Nothing in her stance said otherwise.
"Hermione, please, Professor," she said. "Miss Granger makes me feel eleven-years-old again, and I'd rather not revisit that."
She smiled at him and he found himself happy to see such a friendly expression aimed at him for once.
"Thank you," he said. "I would like to try a sample, if you don't mind."
"Hrm, you look like a Stormy Night Sipper, if I'm not mistaken." She put a small snifter under one keg and let loose a dark, almost purple-hued drink from the tap. She handed it to him without even a flinch—not even a tremble of the old student that he remembered. Her slender fingers, as they brushed his, had a warmth about them that seemed to travel to his toes, and that was before he even took a sip of the drink.
His eyes not leaving hers, he sniffed the drink, baffled that he could not discern exactly what was in it. That, too, was rare.
He drank it slowly, expecting some sort of overly sweet drink for a child, and his eyes widened as he felt like he was drinking a warm, fragrant and luxuriously spiced drink by a crackling fire during a wild stormy night.
He blinked, somewhat disoriented.
Hermione was looking at him with calm yet curious expectation. "Did I guess wrong?"
He downed the whole sample in one more gulp. "No. No, it's just fine. It was… quite acceptable."
Again the smile tugged at her lips.
"High praise indeed from you, Professor," she said. "What size would you like? Would you like a menu? We have a few soup, sandwich and entree selections here, but we do try not to step on Tom's toes over at the Leaky."
"I'll have the standard glass," he said, pointing to the English Pub glass. He eyed the larger glasses with some suspicion, wondering if people liked to wear their drink as much as drink it.
"And I'll just sit over there," he added, pointing at the table in a darker corner away from the front window.
Hermione tilted her head in acknowledgement, waving her hand as a tablecloth, menu, place setting, and napkin glided over and settled it. Fluffy spiders the size of a snitch glided down on silken threads, arranged the settings, fluffed the napkin, and then disappeared back up the silk strand.
"You have—some interesting employees here," Snape said, his eyebrows furrowing.
"They work for lacewing flies, and it makes them happy to help out around the shoppe," Hermione said, smiling warmly. She placed a menu on the table for him. "Here you go," she added, placing down his glass of Stormy Night Sipper. "Please let me know when you are ready to order."
"What is today's special?" he blurted, utterly baffled at himself.
Hermione turned. "Dragon-spiced pork tenderloin with roasted plum sauce. Caramel apple fritters with clotted cream gelato for dessert. The fritters are lovingly fried to order by our team of dragonets."
Snape's eyebrows rose. He had no doubt they were the best cared for, most well-compensated dragonets in the entire Wizarding world.
She probably even hand-knitted them wing warmers in the winter months.
A golden dragonet flew at her face and clung to her forehead.
"Hello there, Brekke," she laughed. "Did you hear yourself being spoken of?"
The dragonet wobbled and opened her mouth hungrily.
Hermione picked up what looked like a small meatball from a warmer and held it out to her. The dragonet squeaked with pleasure, rubbed her head against Hermione's cheek, and then eagerly snatched the meatball up and flew off with it.
"I'll have that," Snape said as his stomach growled fearsomely, suddenly all too aware of just how many nights he only had a quick cheese sandwich or a tin of whatever he found hoarded away in his cupboards on any given evening. Potion master, yes. Cook? Too lazy for that.
Hermione glided off, her hand reaching to push her hair around her ear. "Oh, Augustus, you sneaky little thing." A small bat squeaked indignantly from the tangles in her hair, clinging to her ear. Her delicate ear looked distinctly pointed, but Snape dismissed it as part of the bat's wing getting tangled up in her mane of curls.
She untangled the little mammal and gave it a grape from the counter. She said something, but to him it sounded like gibberish. The bat seemed to understand her, squeaked back, and flew off with its cherished grape.
"It'll be just a few minutes, Professor," she said, disappearing behind the curtain.
The bell on the door tinkled, and Severus found himself watching a stream of goblins walking in from the street.
"Kan de lefkersi!" one goblin said.
"Saski far!" Hermione's voice came from behind the curtain.
The goblins hopped onto the stools, setting their tankards down on the counter, filled out the booths, and took up almost all the tables.
"Kan der koffe si dan?" Hermione asked, poking her head out from the curtain.
"Ka!" they goblins cheered, laughing.
Hermione laughed, bowing slightly with a bare of her teeth—her pristinely white, perfectly clean teeth that Snape swore looked a wee bit unnervingly… sharp.
She walked out with a large tray of steaming food that smelled absolutely heavenly. She stopped at Snape's table and set down his dinner with a smile before setting plates down for every goblin and serving them drinks as well.
They all chattered at her in what Snape presumed was Gobbledegook, but he wouldn't know a word of that.
Hermione laughed, rolling her eyes at one, making a show of mixing his drink from all the kegs, stirring it, and giving it to him. The goblin promptly slammed it down and then thumped his tankard back on the counter.
"Ka!" the goblins all cheered together, eating and drinking with a kind of merriment that Severus had never seen on a goblin whether inside or outside of Gringotts.
Snape almost forgot to eat, his fork moving to push food into his mouth only to feed his nose. He had no idea goblins even dined at wizarding establishments. He had no idea where they even ate outside of Gringotts, to be fair.
Hermione walked out with a large belt pouch and placed it in front of one of the elder goblins. "Ko de farne, Grissnak. Ku vat?"
The elder goblin bared his teeth at her, patting her on the hands. She smiled at him. He spilled the pouch out, and a large stream of galleons came out—like a waterfall of gold, piling up on the goblin's table. He clucked in appraisal, his face taking on that stern, almost-oppressive look almost every goblin wore at Gringotts. Then he sniffed, moving his hand over it, and the galleons marched back into the pouch. "Ku vat, ka!"
Hermione beamed at him, presenting the elder goblin with his tea. She disappeared into the back.
One of the other goblins nudged another with his elbow, laughing, gesturing to where Hermione disappeared.
The other goblin shook his head and passed the other a galleon. A bet had been lost, apparently.
As the food was cleaned away, the goblins waved their hands on the far wall, and the dining seats moved away to expose lines of bookshelves and a study area. They all sat down in the chairs and at the desks, reading and writing studiously as they sipped their after-dinner tea. Hermione came every so often to refresh the tea, and the goblins grimaced at her. She grimaced back, obviously not taking any offence at the gesture.
The elder goblin looked at his pocket watch and grunted. He thumped his hand on the desk, and all the goblins cleaned off their areas and put the restaurant back to rights, hiding the bookshelves and desks once more.
The door tinkled, and a tall, scarred wizard with long ginger hair walked in. He immediately bowed as the elder goblin went by, performing a familiar grimace of teeth as he did so.
"Kla ve sand moor, William," the elder Goblin said, walking out.
"I will see you in the morning, Elder Grissnak," Bill said politely, not lifting his head until the goblins all filed out.
Severus frowned as he realised that not one of them had left money for their meals. Was Hermione paying off the Goblin Nation (still) from her escape via dragon through Gringotts? Was that what the bag of galleons was about?
It seemed unusually amiable for a payoff.
"Saski far—oh! Bill!" Hermione said, laughing. "Want your usual?"
"Ka," Bill replied with a laugh.
"Klo vish candi far?" Hermione asked cheekily.
"Gods, Hermione. Nash! I'm not as fluent as you!" Bill laughed, pointing at his favourite keg.
Hermione grinned, filling his tankard with Blissful Relaxation and sliding him a thick roast beef sandwich that had been previously placed in stasis—the sign of a frequent customer.
"Looks like I missed the sarketh," Bill said almost wistfully.
"Goblins do love their evening meals," Hermione said, winking.
Bill downed half of his drink and sighed. "Fleur sends you her love."
"Ah, tell her she's sweet, and I return it."
Bill looked at the line of kegs. "How does it feel to be one of the few master brewmasters the Goblin Nation has ever produced?"
Hermione chuckled. "Pruv da tu farkun. Haar da tu Glutra. Pride to my family. Honour to my Nation."
Bill bared his teeth and bowed his head. "Truly took to the blood, Hermione. I'm so happy for you. I can't believe those two berks didn't even try to make good on their share of the damages to Gringotts. Of course, my manipulative little sister promptly busied herself filling Harry's mind with certain other priorities. Ron—well, he hasn't been quite right in the head since Fred's death. The post-war money and adulation went straight to his head. I tried to warn him, but as far as Ron's concerned, I'm just the big dummy who works for a bunch of non-humans and fell into bed with one too."
Hermione shook her head sadly. "I'm so sorry you and Fleur are still being treated that way by your own family."
"I'm so sorry you were treated like the scum of the Earth after the war, Hermione. I'm extra sorry I was Egypt at the time so I couldn't read them the riot act when it happened. That ruddy Skeeter cow—she worked quite the grand scheme in elevating the Weasleys at your expense. You should have gotten every last apprenticeship you ever wanted—"
"Nash," Hermione answered quietly. "I found my family again, Bill. My biological parents—they are alive, but they will never remember me. I have a true family now in the Glutra. A home. A people. I would not give it up for anything. And we have the most successful Goblin business that no one knows about," she said with a laugh. "Grissnak says that with all my investments, I've already taught all those stuffy old masters that I can survive and even thrive without their stupid human apprenticeships. He said it with more gnashing of teeth, though."
Bill snorted. "To think they turned down your Potions apprenticeships because of—"
"Nash, Bill," Hermione admonished him gently. "It was no one's fault. They made up their reasons, and they used Skeeter's poison quill to do it. Now, they pay me every week if not every day to drink a little bit of paradise. They support the one they dismissed, and they support the Glutra too, whether they realise it or not."
"Haar da te Glutra," Bill said softly.
Hermione smiled, tilting her head. She straightened. "Professor, would you like a dessert drink?"
Bill startled as he realised there was someone else in the restaurant.
Snape jumped a little, having been digesting far more than a good meal in the last hour or more.
"I would not mind one," he answered truthfully.
"This one is Ski da vi," Hermione said. "Sky Between the Branches. Not the same as the green tea from China, though." She poured him a small glass and placed it on the table. "On the house for having survived the great goblin invasion known as dinner time."
Snape sipped it and gasped in astonishment as a shiver of light spring breezes seemed to glide across his skin. "This is amazing."
Hermione's smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "You are most welcome."
Severus found the words tumbling out without his permission. "Are you still paying off the goblins for the damage to Gringotts?"
Hermione tilted her head, turning to look at him. "No, Professor, why?"
"I saw the galleons—" he said, confused as to why such funds would be passing through the goblins and then have them not leave money.
Hermione suddenly smiled. "Ah, so you think I'm paying them off still and that they do not pay me!"
She seemed genuinely amused.
"Nash," she said. "All profits I make go directly to Elder Grissnak. He invests them for me in the places that gain the most interest. The interest is then used to pay the bills. The meals here are all paid direct from goblin vaults. Gringotts pays a flat fee each day to ensure dinner fare is paid in full for however many come. It's kind of like Muggle credit cards only Goblins are much better at it and work on the honour system. Oh dear, you must have thought they were extorting me! How embarrassing."
Severus drank his dessert drink. "I sincerely apologise for the error, Miss Granger."
"You needn't," she replied kindly. "How could you possibly have known?"
Snape found himself frowning, not at the question but at the realisation that Hermione had apparently been completely ostracised by her former friends after the war and had in turn been so isolated that no one even realised she'd disappeared into the Goblin Nation and emerged as her own, strong individual, free of the ties that used to bind her.
"Are you finished, mister?"
Snape startled as he realised there was a clutter of small fluffy spiders perched all around his table.
The spiders quickly cleared his table and wiped it down, leaving him with just his dessert drink and a fresh napkin. Then they disappeared back into the woodwork without a sound.
Snape found himself wondering if he'd perhaps missed an essential class in Care of Magical Creatures.
"Bill, did you want to take home some dinner for Fleur?"
"That would be fantastic, Hermione. But only if it's not too much trouble."
"Never any trouble. There is extra food, and you know it is expected to take care of the family."
"Twist my arm, will you, love?"
Hermione touched her nose and disappeared behind the curtain. She came back a few minutes later with a number of takeaway boxes carefully bundled in a clothbound wrap. "My very best to Fleur, Bill."
"I'll send her your love," he said, giving her a slight bow and a grimace with teeth.
She did the same.
Bill disappeared out the door and down the street as the crack of his Disapparation signalled his departure.
"Would you like anything else, Professor?" Hermione asked.
"Severus," he replied. "Please. I no longer teach."
"Somehow I doubt that. A teacher never truly stops any more than a student never stops learning," Hermione said, a familiar sparkle in her eyes that spoke of inspiration and eternal thirst for knowledge. "You may call me Hermione, and you will always have been my professor—Severus."
Snape startled at the softness of his name in her voice. There was no malice—no bitterness or waiting acid. It was just his name said kindly.
How utterly unfamiliar and—
Hermione turned back, amusement on her face at the still-formal address.
"Why did you not come to me for an apprenticeship?"
Hermione's smile turned into a sombre line of her lips. Her eyes darted downward in thought as if deciding if truth overruled polite conversation. "I did not want there to be a misunderstanding of obligation. I held you to no debt, nor did I wish you to think you did not have a choice in the matter." She sighed heavily. "I did not give my parents a choice; I should have at least tried to."
She cracked her neck as she moved her head from side to side in a slow, deliberate stretch. It was subtle, but Severus could tell she suffered from some sort of pain—the kind Cruciatus left as parting gifts after long relationships. "I could not have borne the brunt of your anger at that point in my life. Your hatred. I was far too broken—too betrayed. To think that you would have thought me so shallow and as manipulative as many others had been, even if it was a lie, was too much to bear."
She looked at him with a sad expression. "I was very young and had unrealistic dreams and far too many harsh reality checks." She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I do hope you enjoyed your meal here, Severus," she said, a trace of the old smile on the corners of her lips, but the sadness still hung in the cognac flames in her eyes. "If it met your expectations, please feel free to visit us again."
She disappeared behind the curtain, and a spider appeared with a small tray and the bill.
He stared at it to see all the prices were more than reasonable—only the total was crossed off. Written in fine penmanship was, "Thank you for saving our lives—far more often than we ever knew" graced the parchment.
Snape's fingers brushed lightly against the dark aubergine ink.
He left the largest tip he had ever left anyone in his entire life on the table, feeling as though he had cheated her out of fair earnings.
Before he left, he grabbed small keg of "Whine for Whingers" for Lucius and "Chocoholic Mudslide" for Draco, placing one galleon for each of them after reading the small placards with the prices on the wall.
As he left, the truth set in like a bludger to the head.
Hermione Granger had been the one that saved his life after Nagini had tried her best to relieve him of it.
She hadn't asked him anything out of fear that the Life Debt compulsion would force him to accept and thus earn her his ire and his resentment.
She had cared for his life and his freedom even then, and like an oblivious fool, he had been none the wiser.
Draco practically tackled him for the small keg of Chocoholics Mudslide, having, clamping his mouth over the tap and just pouring it directly down his throat.
Severus gave him a very "the hell" look that amounted to his eyebrows trying to both furrow and launch into the air at the same time.
Lucius at least had the decency to thank him politely and use an actual glass… right before he gave his uncouth son a swift smack upside the head for being—an uncivilised heathen.
"You already knew about the Glacial Gambol?" Severus asked, astounded that he'd never heard them talk about it or even suggest they liked anything from the place.
"It's the absolute best place for drinks in all of Britain," Draco enthused, having finally been cowed by his father swatting him upside the head to "use a proper glass."
Snape frowned. "Granger is wasting her valuable time working for a drink business," he said. "William Weasley was there and said her fair-weather idiot Gryffindor friends had left her to hang in the wind."
Lucius had the decency not to spit his drink out on Snape's face. "Granger is hardly destitute, Severus, I can certainly assure you of that."
Snape blinked. "She has to resort to giving up her hard won wages to the goblins—"
Lucius threw his head back and laughed out loud—that rare, rich, rolling laughter that tended to make females swoon and many men… well, swoon too.
"Severus, my dear brother, you are utterly brilliant in most everything else yet you can be remarkably thick in the matter of simple observation when it doesn't involve some life-threatening Dark Lord or a manipulative old goat."
Snape scowled. "What are you on about, Lucius?"
Lucius chuckled. "I'm betting you truly think that she was shafted in being denied her formal potions apprenticeship, hrm? Perhaps you also think the goblins chose to enslave her to pay off Potter and Weasley's debts as well?"
"Well, isn't it true?"
"I've invested in many a thing in my life, Severus," Lucius said. "And not once, in all my family's life, have the goblins ever worked their unique business savvy on our family's behalf. They will protect what we invest, they will even refer us to the finest professionals for all of our investment needs—but they will not under any circumstances, invest for us."
Snape frowned. "What are you saying, Lucius?"
"Do you know why the Wizarding world tries to suppress the Goblin Nation? Not permit them to use wands?"
"I never really thought of it, no," Severus confessed.
"Goblins naturally attract wealth," Lucius said slowly. "It is—a bonafide innate talent of those who are and have fully embraced the goblin way of life and passed their coming of age. For all those born of the Nation, it is expected and normal, but there is a sort of unspoken rule that they do not use this affinity for anyone but another goblin."
"Granger is hardly a goblin," Snape scoffed.
Lucius chuckled. "On the contrary. She is unquestionably a genuine goblin."
Severus' nostrils flared. "Have you found a new way of insulting Muggleborns, Lucius?"
Lucius jerked back in surprise. "No, Severus. I am in fact being quite serious. For a witch or wizard to be found so worthy by the goblins is an exceptional honour that is very infrequently bestowed. To be adopted into the Nation itself—is even more remarkable and worthy of true respect. That Miss Granger has achieved such rare distinction among them is well worthy of admiration and even envy, my friend. Yes, even from the likes of me."
Lucius seemed somewhat reflective as he stared into the depths of his drink.
"The Goblin Nation, much like those of Muggleborn heritage, is something that most members of Wizarding high society would far rather ignore and sweep under the rug. No one from one of the old families would ever wish to admit that they were simply "normal" or that another species was capable of doing something that they could not. I grew up having just those thoughts flogged daily into my being. I, in turn, raised our Draco to believe such nonsense—quite fortunately for him, he did not take to it as thoroughly I had in the end."
Draco drank down the last of his drink and sighed. "Hermione and I made our peace some time ago, Uncle. It was because of her that we were able to keep the estate after the Dark Lord's constant demands for gold drained away practically everything that Father had."
"What?" Severus asked with a disbelieving furrow of his brows.
"Draco had been filtering Granger funds to invest in Muggle stocks while we still had it. Namely his inheritance and anything else he could smuggle out from under my nose."
"You went to Granger?" Severus asked, visibly shocked. "While you were still at Hogwarts?"
"Why always the tone of surprise, Uncle?" Draco asked, snorting in amusement. "Hermione and I decided to agree to disagree ever since she punched me square in the face in our third year. I suddenly realised that she had far more to respect about her than I'd previously assumed. That, and the girl had more brains in her little finger than the Weasel and Potty had in their entire sodding bodies. More than most of Slytherin house back then, at that."
Severus, stunned by yet another unexpected revelation, seemed to reach a sudden epiphany. "Ah, so that was why you refused my help."
Draco sighed. "I didn't trust you to not go telling my father about anything I did."
Snape raised a raven brow.
"He calls you brother," Draco said simply, as if that explained anything. "That meant he fully trusted you and, to me, that meant you were much more likely to tell him something if he asked you about it."
Severus said nothing, but he shook his head wearily. "So—Granger saved the Malfoy fortune by filtering your funds into Muggle investments." He began to chuckle until it finally bubbled forth into a true, unfiltered guffaw. "That's so rich."
Lucius nursed his glass. "It did take quite a bit of soul searching to come to terms with that as well as the fact that my son had remained true to his Slytherin roots while also discreetly supporting a known Muggleborn Gryffindor."
"His actions ultimately saved our family from losing everything, but even so, we are not what we once were. I find that I—can only be grateful that we did not lose everything and that you allowed us to lick our wounds and reclaim our family honour with you."
Severus stared into space, thinking. "Filius never seemed all that inclined for wealth or even holding onto his knuts."
"He's half-human who chose his human side and the magic of humans over his goblin heritage," Draco said. "He probably never even went through a rite of passage."
"Dare I ask what that would be?" Severus asked, curious.
"Unknown—" Lucius said. "Only the goblins know for sure. But I do know that if he had he wouldn't be struggling to hold onto his knuts, that is for sure."
Severus blinked. "Wait, you mean goblins attract wealth in a literal manner? It's not just skill in investment?"
Lucius snorted. "Yes. I suppose that is the reason goblins are so disinclined to help most humans when they break any contracts with them. It's not about the money. It's the honour."
Draco was not so silently losing his marbles as he unsuccessfully tried to not cackle madly in laughter.
Lucius frowned at his son. "What in Merlin's name are you on about, boy?"
"Hehehhee. Heheh. You said… Heheh… HEHEHE!" Draco cackled. "Flitwick EHHEHE couldn't Heh HEE heeeeeeeee hold onto his hehHEHEHEHE knuts!"
Lucius closed his eyes, counting very slowly to ten in what appeared to be Russian.
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose, sighed, and walked straight into his brewing laboratory, closing the door firmly behind him.
Lucius swiftly drank down another full glass of his Whine For Whingers as he contemplated how proper it would be to throw things at his son since no one else was around to witness it.
"If you're interested in the witch, man, just go talk to her."
"I am not."
"To be crude yet accurate, Severus… bullshite." Lucius said calmly as he steepled his fingers together over the ledgers.
Severus' hand hesitated over his cauldron as his black eyes narrowed.
Lucius leveled a steel-blue gaze at his old friend. "My friend, you are, in fact, deep within that infamous river that flows through the lands of Egypt."
Severus' eyebrow raised steeply. "Denial, Lucius? Really? How very… Muggle of you."
Lucius shrugged elegantly. "Doesn't make it any less true."
Severus seemed to look at his friend in a new light. "Since when have you ever encouraged me to pursue a Muggle-born anything?"
Lucius shrugged. "Since the sodding Dark Lord almost got us all killed, and by us I mean the entire bloody Wizarding and Muggle world alike. Since that particular Muggle-born witch saved my family from being wiped off the fair face of Creation. And before you ask, it had nothing to do with her being a goblin either."
"She's fully human, idiot."
Lucius sighed deeply and rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"Why does it even matter, Severus? You of all people should hardly be the one quibbling over such innocuous things considering you were always hinting to me that Muggle, centaur, merfolk, whatever, it didn't matter what they were as long as they possessed a functional brain and actually used it."
Lucius frowned, then added, "Witless imbeciles, I believe, is what you termed all those who dared claim otherwise."
Severus let out a gusty sigh. "Look, I neither want nor need any additional problems in my life, Lucius. No one is worth that kind of lunacy and hassle—"
Suddenly Lucius stood up, throwing a damask napkin directly at Severus' face with preternatural speed, grace, and accuracy.
"Ah, Ms Granger," he said, his smooth voice both silk and honey even as the napkin was clinging to Snape's face like a veil. "Was my son able collect what you required?"
"Yes, thank you, Lord Malfoy," Hermione's voice replied smoothly. "Every so often the spiders like to have treats that differ from their regular lacewing fly fare. I do hope that these cover any trouble you might have had in getting them."
Hermione handed him an simple but elegant cedar box.
Lucius took it smoothly, opening it, even as his eyebrows shot up into his hair. "Goodness. Is this what I believe it to be?"
Hermione bared her teeth slightly, her eyes sparkling. "If you believe it to be Nightmusk Dragon Saffron, Lord Malfoy, then you are a man of impeccable taste."
"I do try to keep that particular skill well-honed, my dear," Lucius said with a tilt of his head.
A spider with a small bucket on its head tugged on her curls, whispered into her ear, and dove back into her mane of hair.
Hermione startled. "Oh, I almost forgot. I finally have that order you gave me a year ago. It took some time to procure. I do hope you did not think I had forgotten."
She pulled out a miniature basket before casting her hand over it. Subtly thick, curved claws curled delicately from her fingertips, pristinely polished and manicured to a mirror-like finish.
Lucius pulled the cloth away from the top of the basket as his eyes widened. "Glinsterende peafowl eggs?" His pale hand reverently touched the warmed eggs. "You got them—"
"I am a goblin of my word, Lord Malfoy," she said with a chuckle and flash of fang. "I would not dishonour my family and Nation by such a disgrace."
Lucius carefully replaced the cloth and set the basket down. He took Hermione's hand swiftly, and brought it up to his mouth and kissed the air so very close to her knuckles. "I would never presume such, my Lady. Thank you."
He bowed slightly at the waist and met her eyes. "I have good news toward the compensation I was hoping would go through. Thanks to some well-worded, if I do say so myself, official wordage, Goblins are now permitted to carry wands if they so choose. It all reads perfectly like a block to the Goblin Nation, but if you read it as well as someone like you, my dear, you will see it was actually favouring the goblins."
Hermione bared her teeth with amusement. "Excellent, Lord Malfoy. I consider our agreement fulfilled. My elders will be pleased, and we shall remember who made it all possible for us, hrm?"
Lucius inclined his head, revelling in his home element of delicate deals. "I would presume, however, that your people who prefer to wield them in secret until one year of unchallenged use passes, hrm?"
"Oh, but of course," Hermione said. Her eyes—now as black as that of any goblin as her glamour faded—sparkled as though full of stars. "Not that we have ever had experience in such subterfuge before," she added with no little amusement.
"You are always welcome to be free of such glamours here, my Lady," Lucius said warmly.
"It is appreciated," Hermione replied, her hand brushing her curls away from one distinctively long and pointed ear. "I will, however, try not to let the Kneazle out of the bag when you have other clientele."
"My Lady," Lucius said, smooth as freshly-churned butter on a warm day. "Secrets are kept well with me."
Hermione smiled with a flash of fang. "Good eve," she said with a small curtsey before she exited. She turned to Draco and bow-smiled as she left. "I'll have your regular waiting for you, Draco."
"Thanks, Hermione," Draco replied with clear anticipation.
The damask napkin chose that moment to fall off Snape's face after having lost purchase on his nose.
"Was that really necessary?" Severus asked, his lip curling in disdain.
"I will keep your own inability to recognise a positive force in your life a secret too, brother," Lucius said smoothly, dispelling the disillusionment charm on the napkin.
"Wherever did you learn that charming little parlour trick, Lucius?"
"Sometimes I had to make Draco publicly presentable while he was liberally covered in red currant jelly.
"By making him invisible?" Severus retorted.
Lucius gave a gallant shrug.
Snape narrowed his eyes. "So those times you thrust him into my arms and begged me make him presentable?"
Lucius shrugged again.
"I really hate you sometimes, Lucius."
Lucius just smiled.
Snape began to realise after walking in on Narcissa and Hermione sharing tea and sympathy together that he might have had his head stuck thoroughly up his own arse in painful obliviousness with regard to Granger's importance in the Malfoys' life. Up until then, he had believed that he was the only one helping them get back on their feet again, but now he was realizing that while his help truly was needed in many ways—their family influence and honour had remained fully intact thanks to the one person no one would ever have suspected.
"I think something very strange is going on, Hermione," Narcissa said quietly, the tone of concern that Snape knew all too well riddling her voice with a slight tremble. "I've always supported our Draco in taking his time to find the right witch, but, dear Merlin… why Ginevra Weasley? It was all so terribly sudden and—he never even told us about her before proposing to the girl!"
Hermione's ear twitched with a visible flick. She steepled her fingers in a very "goblin" manner that made her claws stand out as a sort of measure of something Severus couldn't quite determine.
How, he wondered, had he not noticed?
He realised that her more goblin-esque features were so easily dismissed to the uninitiated, and if anything her mane of hair managed to cover up her pointed ears even without the use of the glamour. Even with his years of working closely with Filius Flitwick, he had never noticed such mannerisms, but perhaps that was due to his purposely choosing to live solely as his human side while Hermione had apparently fully embraced the goblin side.
But Granger had not actually been born to a goblin line… as far as he knew.
How then did she have such distinctive goblin features? The innate talent in attracting wealth? The entirely black starfield eyes? Even Filius hadn't had those and he was born a half-goblin.
And she was so—so—tall.
For a goblin, anyway.
Granger's eyebrows furrowed. "I fear I cannot speak for the situation with Harry," she said grimly. "We had a major falling out at the end of the war, as you know. And thanks to his choice to not heed my warning about failing to pay his share of the debts with the goblins after we crashed through the floors and roof riding a dragon—"
Hermione slowly rubbed the area between her eyes. "Admittedly, it was a needed thing back then, and even Gringotts realised that, which is why they offered to split the repair fees four ways. The Glutra, myself, Harry, and Ronald—to be paid off in installments as needed. Goblins are hardly unrealistic about such things, but they are not very—erm, what is the term—tolerant of being ignored. It wasn't that the goblins couldn't afford to repair, either, and the price to do so was not so bad since the curse-breakers were only happy to perform a little magical reconstruction as well. The physical repairs were relatively easy. It was reweaving all the wards, replacing the dragon, and getting all the paperwork handled to switch training methods for the dragon. Looking back on it, I can say the fees expected of us were entirely reasonable."
"But when both Harry and Ron flatly refused to make any kind of restitution, Gringotts closed off access to their accounts until if and when the situation is addressed. As I understand it, the vaults are currently krekvist. Honour bound." Hermione chuckled lowly. "And I will be the first to tell you that the Glutra has a very long memory, indeed."
Narcissa drummed her fingers on the table.
"Perhaps I may be of assistance?" Severus said, stepping fully into the room.
Narcissa, much to her credit, didn't jump or cling to the chandelier like a startled Kneazle.
Granger, however, had a strange, almost preternatural calm about her.
Snape realised in that moment that he couldn't read her thoughts at all, even in a small way, when he met her eyes.
"Are you up for a bit of subterfuge, Severus?" Narcissa enquired sweetly.
Snape cracked his neck, smiling dangerously. "Oh, I suppose I can brush some of the dust off."
He gave Narcissa a half-lidded gaze.
"Would you like me to hold him down and pour something utterly vile down his throat to end this quickly or would you perhaps prefer something more creative with a touch of subtlety?"
"I would prefer you to help our Draco come to terms with being dosed or ensorcelled in public, Severus," Narcissa requested.
"Do you have any inclination as to why your son is suddenly so besotted with Potter's supposed fiancée?"
Snape placed a copy of the Prophet on the table that boldly declared:
Shocking Heartbreak for Heroic Man-Who-Conquered!
Dark Wizard Draco Malfoy Sets Date with Britain's Sweetheart Ginevra Weasley!
Hermione stiffened visibly, her lips pressing together in a thin line even as an almost-snarl seemed to visibly tug at the corners of her mouth. One shiny glass-like claw pointed to the second of two photographs, the one featuring a closeup of Ginevra Weasley's ring.
"I know that ring," she said, eyes narrowing.
Severus' expression turned frigid as his black eyes hardened. "That was Lily Evans' ring back when we were children. She said she'd found it in an old storage room at Hogwarts. A room she claimed she couldn't find again."
"The Come-and-Go Room," Hermione said slowly.
Severus nodded sharply. "I didn't know it was even a thing until I heard about it later from Albus."
Hermione's gaze darkened. "That's kobold workmanship," she said. "Many mistakenly believe it to be of goblin origin, but such items were greatly prized at one time because it would take to any enchantment quite easily, unlike goblin-crafted items that took days, if not weeks or months to fully enchant."
"It was one of the first things the elders taught me—recognising the difference on sight. In front of me, it would be easy to tell. The feel would be distinctive, unmistakable. But see here—" Hermione's claw traced down one side of the ring. "That's a blood-feeding groove. Much like that found on certain cursed weapons. It is made to power the ring with blood or to focus a particular spell. A spike would be carefully hidden on the top around the gem if it were designed for the latter. It would be hidden on the inside if the former, so the user could simply make a fist and bleed on it without attracting unwanted attention."
Severus' voice was scrupulously even, remarkably careful in tone. "What would happen if another person's blood fed the ring after an initial—taste, as it were?"
Hermione bared her teeth, her goblin heritage suddenly all too clear with the flash of many sharp fangs. "It would instantly refocus. Such rings are made to hold one enchantment. The workmanship of the kobolds are often very intricate in nature but quite delicate and easily overloaded. Such blood magics are often overpowering, so they take care to build in failsafes to keep the items from shattering. A blood ring certainly would be able to focus one spell. Any more, and the ring would either shatter or melt and merge with the wearer. I don't think I need to elaborate just how bad that would be if it were to do so, either way. The human body is—"
Hermione curled her lip disdainfully. "Remarkably fragile, when it comes to housing certain magical enchantments, sometimes being overly influenced by them. Goblins can be affected by spells to a point, but their bodies strenuously resist any other form of magical 'tampering'. For example, had Harry Potter been born a goblet instead of human, the magic that gave him his scar would have reflected back on the caster subsequently exploded with dramatic fanfare. And flames. Probably a most impressive display of pyrotechnics as well."
"So this will require more than just a potion to break the enchantment," Severus said grimly.
Hermione's lips curled up slightly. "I happen to have unlimited access to a rather startling quantity of fine curse-breakers. One of which—" She smiled darkly. "He happens to have every reason to keep his good name unsullied by family drama."
It was in that moment that Snape realised that Hermione Granger was capable of being one extremely scary individual even outside of wartime, Umbridge's history notwithstanding.
And he liked it.
"We would be most happy to aid the future wife of Mr Malfoy," the wizened goblin said, reaching for his quill and ink. "If you would please present your signed prenuptial agreement as arranged in advance, sir?"
"What prenuptial agreement, Draco?" Ginny asked sweetly.
Draco, his expression blissful, replied. "Nothing to worry about, my love. It is only the standard Malfoy family agreement that if—and I know you would never do this to me, my cherry blossom—if there is a separation for any reason, there would be a preset amount of compensation depending on if you provided me a male heir and how many long and wonderful years we had together. The standard time in Wizarding contracts. Only fifty years. That's only half our time together, I'm sure."
Ginny took his hands. "Darling, I'm sure we don't need such a stuffy old contract to prove our love for each other, truly."
Draco tilted his head. "No, of course not, my love. Please forego the contract."
The elder goblin sighed. "As you wish, Mr Malfoy," he said, pushing aside the large scroll and pulling out a smaller one. "If you would please sign the arranged document that we may verify that your personal accounts are all in perfect order with no liens or collections upon them that would harm the creation of your new, joined account."
Draco was already signing the parchment as Ginny touched his hands again. "Darling, is this really necessary?
Draco paused. "On second thought, Swordfang, just add her to my account," he said, smiling indulgently.
The elder goblin furrowed his brows. "As you wish, Mr Malfoy." He put away the previous parchment and pulled out two bottles of some sort of dark blue potion. "If you would both please imbibe the disenchantment potion so we can confirm that none of the following paperwork is being signed under undue influence of coercive magic or any other form of duress."
Draco reached for the potion. "Of course, anything to move this along faster."
"No!" Ginny yelped, quickly reaching for Draco's hand. "Darling, who are they to tell us what is best for us!"
Draco's face instantly relaxed again. "Of course, my precious dove, this is all utter nonsense. Can we please just hurry this along, Swordfang? This is no way to treat my future bride. Surely we can fast track this somehow?"
"Well, there is one way—"
"We'll do it, won't we, darling?"
"Of course, my sugar plum. Make it happen, Swordfang," Draco requested.
Swordfang put away the vials of potion and cleaned off his desk. Then, he opened up one drawer, pulled out a large metallic pitcher, and promptly flung the contents all over the both of them.
Ginny jumped and screeched loudly as the "water" hit her. "What the hell was that for?!"
Draco shook his head, looking down at his sodden lap and then back up. "Ugh, my aching head," he moaned, rubbing his temples with his fingers as his pale hair dripped, sending chilly droplets running down his neck and under the collar of his grey silk robes. He squinted as he realised a shivering, furious-looking Ginny was standing there with him.
"Weaselette? Merlin's fungus-encrusted toenails," he grunted. "What are you doing here with me?"
Multiple rapid camera flashes blinded them both as the media descended upon them like hungry sharks that had scented fresh blood in the water.
As the flashes slowly faded away, Draco Malfoy suddenly found himself cold, wet, and very much alone.
Gold-Digger Weasley Abandons Lovestruck Draco Malfoy at Gringotts!
Draco Malfoy and Ginevra Weasley attempted to open a joint account at Gringotts today, happy to start on the first steps to a life of marital bliss. It didn't quite turn out that way, though, as series of premarital account checks put into place by the wealthy Malfoy family untold generations ago prevented the opening of any new account without a prenuptial agreement, lien on personal accounts checks, disenchantment potion, and so on.
If all of the previous parts were somehow circumvented, they would then take a pitcherful of the goblins' notorious Thieves' Downfall direct to the face.
Draco Malfoy was left all alone, his tears blending with the streams of chill water, without a fiancée or even a clue as to how he'd ended up in such an unfortunate situation.
The question remains: Did Ginevra Weasley leave him because there were too many hurdles to their relationship, or was she a mere gold-digging strumpet all along?
[Ginevra Weasley was unable to be reached for comment by the time of this publication.]
Draco finished his last twenty glasses of Chocolicious Mudslide with barely a breath in-between, collapsing into a plush lounge chair with a groan of pain.
"Granger, if I even look at the Weaselette for longer than it takes to look away, I want you to personally Imperio me to leave the vicinity immediately."
Severus raised a brow. "Do you even remember running into her?"
Draco shook his head. "No. I do remember this really mental absolute devotion to her, though. She was the one—or so I thought. When I first came out of it, I couldn't even remember what I was doing at Gringotts. Then it all started coming back slowly—well, the part about remembering how very badly I wanted her for my wife."
Hermione shook her head as she sent the accumulation of drink glasses to the back to be washed. "You don't ever do anything small, do you, Draco?"
Draco sniffed. "It wasn't like I just woke up that morning thinking, 'Self, you need to go get your arse married'."
Hermione shrugged. "You've had odder ideas."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Yes, but I was ten."
"Using accidental, wandless magic to enlarge your father's peacocks so you could ride birdback was probably one of your more interesting childhood antics," Hermione said with a laugh.
"Oh, there are so many more," Lucius said with a sniff.
Draco shot his father a death-glare that merely bounced off of Lucius' flawless complexion and withered a lovely singing peace-fern. The unfortunate plant made a sad, sorrowful wheeze as it wilted and drooped over. The small magical doves that flew around it fell out of the air and flopped on the table in their own death throes.
Draco managed to look utterly horrified. "Gods, that was mum's favourite singing peace-fern!" he cried, rushing over to try and save it by whatever means necessary. "It takes two whole decades just to reach the point of forming doves and an additional two to sing—"
Draco looked at his father with desperation then at Severus. Both wizards shook their head at him.
"Plants were always your mother's area of expertise," Lucius said.
Severus shook his head in negative as he stepped back. "I chop plants into tiny slivers for potion ingredients, I do not rescue them from poorly aimed spells."
Draco seemed to wilt in misery as he cradled the innocent victim of his accidental magic.
Hermione's hands reached out to cover Draco's, and she guided them around the plant's base. She traced a complex rune on his palms, one-by-one, the sharp point scratching into his skin just enough to make the skin flush red but not enough to draw blood. She pressed his hands against the bone china pot as she whispered something in Gobbledegook.
A stream of goblin magic seemed to dance from her mouth and around the plant as Draco's hands began to glow.
The plant shuddered as the fibres of its leaves mended, water returned to the withered leaves, and the stalk shuddered and stood back up. Tiny pearl-sized eggs of magic hatched from the leaves as miniature doves took to the air once more and the plant seemed to take in a deep breath before singing a happy, inspiring tune—
Just before a strange pod on a stalk sprouted from the middle of the plant, opened a toothy maw, and chomped Draco right on the nose.
"Ow!" cried Draco, clutching his nose as he pulled away. "I'm sorry, okay!? I didn't mean to wither you!"
If plants could glare, the singing fern was doing its best attempt as a halo of magical doves formed around its crown of leafy furls.
"I didn't know you could do that," Severus whispered in wonder.
Hermione tilted her head. Goblins are both earth shapers and earth whisperers. If it lives under or in the ground, we must treat it with care. The magic is goblin, wandless, and—" She frowned, trying to find the word. "Cevik."
"Sah-vick?" Severus slowly repeated the foreign word.
"It means—" Hermione tilted her head. "Gift of the Earth, but it implies more. We can guide the magic into another's hands, but only a goblin can trigger it, like most of the wards and traps inside Gringotts."
Severus, fascinated, loosed the question that had been bothering him since finding out Hermione had been assimilated by the Goblin Nation. "Why is it that Filius never demonstrated such talents?"
Hermione stiffened visibly, and Severus realised he had inadvertently stumbled nose-first into something considered taboo or at the very least uncomfortable subject matter.
"Professor Flitwick renounced the Goblin Nation in order to wield a wand, choosing to place his human heritage above the Glutra." Hermione's ears twitched. "He is a master of human magic and dueling, but he is Gaz'kiar. Deaf to the Earth."
Severus had a suspicion that Hermione meant more than just deaf to the Earth. "I get the feeling there is rather more to it than just that."
Hermione sighed. "It is a title given to those who have either been born with goblin blood or gone through the rite of passage and then turned their back upon the Nation. In all manners, he is treated as a human—only even less so."
Hermione cracked her neck to the side as the bones set in place. "To his credit, he was and is a brilliant individual who is a great teacher and a most experienced magic-wielder, but he would rather ignore his heritage and push it under the rug. While he has never, to my knowledge, actually insulted the Nation in public, the fact that he pays no respects to the elders is a bit of an insult in itself."
"How exactly does one pay respect to a goblin elder?" Severus asked.
Hermione flashed her pointed teeth in what seemed like a grimace.
"Allow them to manage your finances."
Severus startled. "Would it not be more independant to manage your own?"
"Assuredly," Hermione replied. "But it takes a long time to master goblin finance on the level that the elders do. It makes human banking investments look primitive and uncomplicated."
"How long is a long time?"
Hermione flashed her fangs again. "Hundreds of years."
Hermione chuckled. "Goblins live a very long time once they have fully matured. It is part of the gift of the Earth. They can still be killed, of course, but their lifespan is—well, let's just say there is a reason why goblins hold long grudges."
Snape seemed to take a bit more time to digest the revelations. "Would he ever be accepted again?" His voice held a strange note to it that spoke of many cold rejections, grave errors of judgment, and the lingering pain of regret. "You haven't exactly broadcast your heritage to the public. What makes you any different?"
Bitterness filled his tone, anger. Lucius and Draco shot him a quelling look, but Snape's emotion was much too raw— too personal.
Hermione frowned as she straightened her back. "I always pay proper respect to my elders," she said, her voice now devoid of the warmth and tolerance she had demonstrated previously. "I cater to my people as well as those outside the Glutra. My profits go back to the elders to manage while the interest goes into maintaining our housing facilities, some of which Gringotts' non-goblin employees can also use, entirely free of charge. I pay my dues and licencing fees to the Ministry without complaint. It is possible to live in both worlds and yet not cause the kind of unnecessary drama that announces my private, personal affairs to all and sundry while still being part of the Glutra."
"So you think since Filius Flitwick won't pay his bloody taxes to the goblins so he can claim to be a card-carrying member that he's some kind of worthless scum? How is that any better than being called filthy because of your blood over something you can't even help? Maybe his parents weren't as inspired as he is. Maybe he was tired of being judged as a goblin for a hundred other reasons. Maybe he needed help and they didn't come sweeping in with their good graces because he wasn't some post-war hero who couldn't even get an apprenticeship and was the perfect little social experiment to wrap someone with influence around their thumbs with your Gryffindor gratitude."
Lucius paled, looking utterly horrified as Draco's jaw dropped in shock at the sheer amount of venom in Snape's voice.
Hermione stood up ramrod straight, no longer keeping herself in a carefully neutral stance. For a moment she seemed almost-feral, her eyes as wild and alien as that of a formidable great beast whose dinner had escaped a few too many times and whose territory was being invaded by a would-be interloper. Her face suddenly mirrored the same dour scowl worn by every Gringotts goblin.
"Thank you, Draco, Lord Malfoy," Hermione said stonily, with barely any inflection to her voice. "Should you require any further assistance from this one, you may speak to Elder Grissnak." Her voice changed over to a strange, heavily-accented English that seemed more like the grinding of rusty gears to human ears rather than a smooth, melodious language.
"Good day," she said, her lips pressed in a flat line, barely even moving.
With that, she was suddenly gone, the bell tinkling merrily as the door closed in her wake.
Draco slammed in the door and then remembered he had to open it, disappearing out the sun-framed portal yelling, "Hermione, wait!"
Lucius' well-manicured fingers clenched tightly around his cane as he scowled at his longtime friend.
"I don't what you think you are playing at, Severus, and frankly, I don't really care. You know well enough to keep a civil tone with our business clients, and you also know Miss Granger had a great deal to do with keeping the Malfoy family from landing tits up on the wrong end of a hippogriff's arse. She's more than proven herself both to Draco and to me. Narcissa finds her company far more than merely tolerable, and you know very well just how particular Narcissa is about her choice of company."
Severus seemed to silently seethe under a dark stormcloud of his own making before he swept from the room, slamming the front door so forcibly that chime flew off the hook and clattered to the ground. Each bounce deformed the chime, and it ended its function as a bell with a sad, dull tink.
Lucius' eyelid twitched as he pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose. "Idiot."
End of Chapter One
A/N: One-shot getting too long. Had to cut it in half. More tomorrow-ish. Have to work back to back 12s, so apologies there.