Honor among Thieves
"Are you aware, Miss Musk," Griphook asked, making small talk in the attempt to distract her from the fact that the 'one speed only' cart was going nearly twice as fast as it normally would, "Of the magical natures of duality?"
"Of course." Herb replied. "Light and Dark, Death and Healing, Heat and Cold... those are the most common examples. Many of them are reviewed every few years, though, and the dualities are revised along with popular opinions of the time."
"Indeed... you're well read."
"I have my reasons." She demurred, and Griphook coughed lightly.
"Yes, well... the thing is, as you say, the changing perceptions of those natures. For example, your friend... the redhead. She is a budding Necromantress, is she not?"
Herb narrowed her eyes at the goblin.
"Oh no, you've nothing to fear on my part. There would be no profit to me in letting this information slip, and it would in fact cost me valuable customers... and she conceals it quite well, it took me some time indeed of studying her aura to find the traces there. The point I meant to make however was that for many hundreds of years now, wizards have considered the fields of Necromancy, or Death magics and Healing, or Life magics, as diametric opposites, when the fact of the matter is rather different."
The bedraggled Herb arched an eyebrow in response, not immediately distinguishable beneath the grime she'd not yet cleaned completely off, and Griphook continued his spur-of-the-moment lecture.
"In fact, and somewhat tied into your current errand, Necromantic spells, used properly, used to be termed 'Black Healing' and can heal a great many things that White Healing cannot, or can do so more easily than the other field. A severed limb, for example, would take a long, painful amount of time to regrow when a necromancer could simply animate the lost limb and reattach it. And with White Healing combined on top of that, the healing effect grows still further. Any necrotic decay suffered before the reattachment cannot be fixed with Black Healing, to continue the example, but a White Healer can deal with it by removing the tainted flesh, which if the patient is fortunate will be small in comparison to regrowing the whole arm, and then repair it with their own magics. It didn't happen often, of course, because of how seldom it was that a Necromancer and Healer would agree to work together."
"And of course this goes further." Griphook continued. "There are creatures whose entire beings are suffused with particular energies... undead and necromantic energies being the most obvious example. However, they are so suffused with it that they simply cannot use much of anything else. But what is more interesting... Have you ever heard of a Dhampyr?"
"The supposed spawn of a vampire and a mortal, bearing a great many characteristics in common with the vampire." She quoted automatically. "Usually created, however, when a pregnant woman is turned, as most vampires are actually sterile."
"Indeed. The important thing to understand is that the suffusion of the crossbreed is much less than the purestrain, so much so in fact that they can learn other varieties of magics, and a Dhampyr that has learned white and black healing will automatically and subconciously blend and reinforce both varieties.."
"Ah... Then the healer will be-"
"We're here, Miss Musk." Griphook interrupted. Herb frowned as she glanced at the small woodent door set in the wall that they'd just stopped by.
"Is not the main Pits, no." Griphook confirmed. "This is a different section altogether, where we process newly arrived slaves, sort them, and... where we keep the ones that we do not typically intend to sell, due to sheer rarity, expense, danger, or a multitude of other factors. The best of everything is kept here."
"Cost is no object."
"I noticed that you're in a dreadful state." Griphook confided. "And the young Baron isn't accompanying you on this sudden errand for a healer. Could there be a connection, I wonder?"
"None of your concern, Goblin." Herb snapped. "Keep your mind on your paycheck alone."
"Yes, quite." He mumbled as he opened the door and led her through what could easily pass for a normal office, except for the walls being rough stone and for all of the different species, some shackled and manacled and some not. "Still, you asked for our best healer, and so our best you shall have."
Griphook snorted in disgust.
"No. Like I said, Dhampyrs are exceptionally good healers... but you've asked for the best. And there are many creatures far more steeped in those undead energies than even the most powerful and ancient vampire. The most common of halfbreeds have names, and become individual species in and of their own right... there are crossbreeds that are far more rare, and even unique. One such..."
Griphook paused next to a wall and bit the tip of one long, clawed finger open and delicately traced an elaborate rune in thick, black goblin blood. The wall hummed and strands of smaller, previously invisible runes lit up as the stones shifted into a heavily warded archway, the door chained shut. Griphook held out a hand and one of the attendees dropped a ring of keys into it. One by one, he used every key and left a rather large pile of padlocks on the ground and a very long uncoiled chain. He handed the keys off and Herb noticed that there were glyphs carved into both the chain and the door itself as well as the arch.
Griphook carefully pressed at a series of specific spots on door and, with a rumble, it creaked open revealing a very dimly lit room.
"Greetings goblin." Came a soft, sweet yet inexplicably unpleasant voice, like honey mingled with a few drops of oil that had only just begun to rot. "Have you brought another patient for me to repair? Or perhaps a poor soul for whom there is only one mercy remaining... Ah? A visitor...."
A shadowy figure rose with a clinking of chains.
"I see... a great and powerful beast of magical skies, wrapped within a fragile skin. Am I, perhaps, to have a new cellmate then?"
"A customer, rather." Griphook demurred.
There was a short silence, followed by a slow rustle.
"Cus-to-mer." The being in the darkness spoke, drawing it out as though testing, or tasting, the word. "Then I am to leave this place...? While quite homey and familiar... it does get rather boring, I'm afraid, looking at the same side of the door every day."
"As though you could see it at all..." Griphook mumbled, not quite softly enough.
"Not see... Blind?"
"Ah... something like that."
"I see, and yet I do not see." Came the voice again. "And my sight is perfect, but what I have cannot truly be called sight, can it?"
"Enough of your riddles and meandering speech, crossbreed." Griphook snapped. "Step into the light."
There was another long pause, then a slow clink of chains as the shadowy figure began walking softly forward, giving the impression of floating or gliding. Details became apparrent, first a vague impression of femininity, followed by the chains and rags. Then it was the fact that the gray tone to the crossbreeds skin was no illusion, it really was a bluish-gray, as was her hair. And then the most notable detail.
"You've no eyes." Herb deadpanned.
"Oh dear, you noticed. Whatever shall I do?"
Herb ignored the sarcasm and turned aside.
"A very Dark Witch held in Azkaban was one of the parents. Her foulness and madness attracted the attention of the creatures that guards the place, sufficiently similar to the females of the species that more than a few were enticed to... make the attempt to breed."
"Please, Goblin." The crosbreed held up a hand, looking more than mildly disquieted by the current discussion. "I truly do prefer not to think about the specifics of the act of my creation. On either parties behalf."
"Quite. Now, as for the transaction..."
Griphook rattled off a number that would leave even most better than averagely well off wizard families starving for years. It would hurt the Musk accounts severely... fortunately, their recent business ventures had been exceedingly profitable.
"As I said before... cost is no object."
Petunia had spent the past few days in something of a daze. First Vernon had gone all shifty all of a sudden, and taken a day off work to go on some sort of errand that he'd refused to discuss. He hadn't returned. She'd later found that he'd been in a terrible driving accident. Grunnings had offered full benefits in the face of the terrible loss... at first, anyway. It hadn't been long before the autopsy determined the overwhelming levels of alcohol in the blood that had remained in Vernon's body.
Apparently the insurance covered Vernon being caught up in a drunk driving accident, but not actually being the drunk driver.
The benefits had been canceled, and Petunia had been stunned at the news. Then things had escalated with a double whammy... Grunnings had noticed something off in Vernon's work and discovered that he'd been embezzling funds for nearly a decade. Aside from that, Dudley had finally realized the situation and had thrown a fit and attacked a much smaller child. It had taken some very persuasive words before the parents had agreed not to press charges.
And then had come a final, completely unexpected straw to break the camel's back. It seemed that Number Four, the house she had thought they'd owned, had actually been payed for by an anonymous loan from her freak sister's family, and had been expected by the intermediaries to be repaid. Bill collecters had come, made all the worse both because of the situation, and because she knew full well what the horrid little creatures were behind their illusions.
She and Dudley had quickly been evicted from their home, with almost nothing left to them. They'd had to prevail upon the kindness of Vernon's sister, the dog-breeder. Marge had been more than happy to take Dudley in... unfortunately, she hadn't been nearly so pleased about housing Petunia. There had always been some measure of dislike between the two women, put on hold when Vernon was there to see, and his death had set it back up to full bore on Marge's part. Petunia suspected that it would have been a similar situation on her part, except that the following blows had diminished her willpower more than a bit.
She was learning what it was like to be an unwanted houseguest, and she didn't like it at all. Which was why, exhausted, she had quickly turned to the one source for aid that she would never have considered in any ordinary circumstances.
Dumbledore slowly stroked his long, white beard, eyes twinkling at full blast.
"I see... a tragedy, of course, for the life of a loved one to end so suddenly and unexpectedly. I offer you my condolences."
"Please..." Petunia moaned softly, before getting ahold of herself. "Spare me the condolences. I've had my fill of them recently. I..." She worked her mouth for a moment, before grimacing. "I need... help. I married Vernon early, in an effort to spite my parents for preferring Lily." She admitted in an unusual show of honesty about her family history. "But that meant that I never had the opportunity to learn any marketable skills, and..." she trailed off in disgust.
"Petunia... what exactly is it you are asking of me?" Dumbledore wondered aloud, arching one bushy brow theatrically. In truth he already knew full well that the woman was seeking at best a loan, and at worst a source of handouts for the rest of her life, and was calculating furiously behind the facade.
Sistilth had begun to develop a cramp in her tail from sitting coiled on Harry's chest. Then again, she rationalized, he wasn't moving much and was effectively a big, warm cushion at this point. The bit of her mind that was still completely human after the protracted transformation raised some some sort of indistinct, fractured protest, and was duly ignored by the majority.
And on the plus side, her weight prevented him from moving in his comatose slumber, which would have aggravated his wounds. A win-win situation.
In his dreams, Harry had once more returned to the realm of shifting colors and unearthly resonating voices. This time, however, he had been there for a long time as the voices argued indistinctly around him.
In all honesty, it was really boring. He'd nearly drifted off several times, and likely would have if he hadn't actually been aware he was asleep and dreaming at the time. In due time, he was bored and irritated enough to interrupt.
"Hey... hey! Yeah, you... the dream-voices, or whatever you are. If there's no reason for me to be here, I'm just going to leave."
There was a sudden sense of looming about him.
Little mortal, be still.
We are neither patient nor kind by nature.
This choice has been held off for long enough.
Make a choice.
You shall not wake until choice is made.
"Decide, decide, decide. I'll tell you now that I'm not making any decisions until I know what I'm supposed to be deciding on!"
Your inability to learn the terms before entering into a contract is none of our concern, mortal.
"Oh yeah?" A vein pulsed lightly in Harry's forehead. "Well how about this! My decision is to choose none of you. I don't know what's going on, but if you're not going to give me the information I need to base that decision you want so badly on, then I want none of it!"
Ha! Good answer, lad.
There was something like a soft rustling and a whisper of wind over still waters, then silence for a moment.
Bugger the lot of you sods!
More indistinct hissing followed.
Look, even if he doesn't get what's going on, his own words mark him as one of mine... And I have seniority! The pantheon I belong to ascended long before any of you runts was a sparkle in your pappie's eye.
There was some grumbling, but Harry got the general feeling of an unhappy acceptance of the surly sounding voices' decision. Then the voices started up again.
Taste the fruits of hidden knowledge and rejoice, mortal.
There was a feeling that, if described, would make a sound rather like Splk-wurmpthz as a lumpy mass of information was crudely stuffed into the confines of his skull. His eyes snapped open and focused on the snake sleeping on his chest before he began to register the sheer overwhelming agony that came from his tensed muscles, winced, and relaxed them.
"Hephaes..." he mumbled, eyes crossed.
He closed his eyes and drifted back off into slumber, hoping that he would have normal dreams for once.
"Round this way, take it to the courtyard for now so it can be rendered down and brought to my labs. Get moving you dumb clods... no need to be gentle with it, it's dead for one, and that hide can take a lot more than a few bumps and scrapes."
After waking, Ranma had heard of the ill-fated little expedition from Gnarl, and had become interested in the Zolom. There would most certainly be some experimentation in the near future. And speaking of experimentation, there was that other matter...
She entered the labs, closing the door behind her and flipping a few switches before setting up the animated quill to a sheaf of parchment.
"Testing... one, two, one-two.... goood. Time is 11:27. Subject has been subjected to a compound previously shown to amplify tactile sensation and immersed in the pit with innumerable undead insectile, arachnid, and serpentine specimens. These... for lack of a better word, creepy-crawlies, have been mentally programmed to remain in a state of constant motion, and to bite and sting at regular, timed intervals. Subject is impressively resilient, however, and so I suspect that there will be little, or no physical damage to consider. It will be interesting to note the Subject's mental state, however."
Ranma tugged a lever and waited as the platform slowly cranked its way up out of the pit.
"It has been approximately fifteen hours since the Subject's initial immersion. Subject appears exhausted and..." Ranma's nose wrinkled as she took a sniff. "Subject has soiled itself. Repeatedly."
She removed the blindfold and peeled back the succubus's eyelid, shining a ray of light into the glazed eye.
"Pupils are dilated, and subject is nonresponsive to visual stimuli."
Ranma released the eyelid and opened the demonesses mouth, tugging out its tongue to full extension and inspecting it minutely.
"Mouth is dry, and tongue seems to have been bitten multiple times, by both insects and the Subject itself. Subject appears to be mildly dehydrated as well."
Ranma frowned and stepped back, lifting a small rod to poke at the succubus in apparently random places, producing twitches and involuntary muscle spasms. After a minute, she was apparently satisfied with whatever results she had garnered and set it back down.
"It appears that at some stage of the experiment, the combined venoms mingled with the previously injected compound within Subject's bloodstream to form some sort of aphrodisical poison. Time will have to be set aside to attempt to recreate the mixture under more controlled conditions. Aside from that, this experiment appears to be an overwhelming success. End log."
The quill came to a rest and Ranma stretched idly, finally taking note of the gibbering at the door.
"Alright Minions! Get me samples of hide, venom, blood, bone, and muscle tissue from that Zolom, then get the organs out and put them in the preserving vats so I can deal with them later. As for this specimen, have the Blues drag it across the pond a couple of times, then chain it upside down to the wall over there and set up a dropcloth beneath it."
The malevolent little monsters rushed to obey, cackling quietly as they went.
"Hrothgar bored." The incredibly large, hairy man stated. It wasn't until several awkward seconds had passed that Gloin realized that there was a silent question of 'how are we going to solve this dilemma' that came part and parcel with the statement and stopped sharpening his axe.
"Aye, lad? And what are ye expecting me to do about that."
Hrothgar shrugged absently.
"Well, ye done all your work for the day?"
"Hrothgar work good. Shovel stables, move boxes, sweep floors, hold down vampire for punch in face. Good!"
The Count stalked into the room, holding his cheek gingerly as he picked up a flagon of something and sat in the furthest corner of the room from them.
"Aye... I take it the count's been making unwanted propositions again. So what do ye do for fun then?"
"Drink! But Hrothgar bored with drinking."
Gloin stared for a moment, almost completely incapable of comprehending that one could actually grow bored of drinking.
"So lad... ye not got any other hobbies, then?"
"Hrothgar like fight!"
"Heard through the grapevine that they're arranging another arena match for us. Might be a bit, though...."
"Hrothgar bored now!"
Gloin knocked back what was left of his flagon of.... whatever it was he'd poured into it fifteen minutes ago. He eyed it curiously for a moment before forcing his mind back on track.
"Nothing else you like, then?"
"Hrothgar like work."
"Ye just said that ye finished your work already. Focus, lad."
"Hrothgar.... Hrothgar like pillage houses and burn things!"
"Eh... that might be a bit..."
The drow butler seemed to appear out of nowhere to clap her hand to Hrothgar's shoulder.
"If you want something to do, Mistress Herb has expressed a desire for sweets. I believe there's a small village a mile or two away that has one of those magical candyshops."
"RAAGH! Hrothgar make raid for candies!"
Grabbing his sword, the barbarian rushed from the room, leaving Gloin behind. After a moment of consideration, he decided that he was definitely nowhere near inebriated enough to properly handle the sudden turn of events.
Minutes later, after downing another two flagons of what had turned out to be an ale of some sort, Pfil stuck her head in through the outer door.
"Um... excuse me... Do any of you know what Hrothgar's doing?"
Muttered grunts to the negative.
"Uh... it's just... he's sort of stripped down to a fur loincloth and boots, smeared himself with some sort of warpaint, and charged past the property boundaries. Just, uh... just so that you know."
Moments later, two horses had been outfitted and The Count, Gloin, and Pfil were galloping after the wayward berserker.
"Dat BORON id goig to ged ud in drubble!" the Count growled through a nose that had been broken enough times that it hadn't yet fully healed.
"More than ye already got into yourself?"
"Id wad jut a thimble tuggedsion! How wad I to know de Bizdress would reagt zo biolently?"
"Firsthand experience, you would think..." Pfil mumbled in what was meant to be an aside, but all parties clearly overheard.
"Nebber bind dad! Why didden you ztob hib den? You bere sidding righd nexd do hib!"
"This is not my fault, you hear, and none of ye are pinning the blame for this'n on me! I was drunk! Am still drunk! Will continue to be drunk for the foreseeable future! As such, I cannot be held responsible for my reaction speed not being up to par!"
"Um... You seem pretty lucid to me, Gloin..."
Really, that was all the comeback he needed.
The creature desired to be called Annabelle, of all things. Herb had been prepared for a whole lot of possible names, but that had just taken her completely by surprise, for some reason. Likely because if you thought of the name 'Annabelle', it conjured to mind rosy cheeked milkmaids or some such, not... well, not Annabelle, to be perfectly frank.
On the other hand, it scarcely mattered what she wanted to be called as long as she put Harry back together properly.
Annabelle carefully nudged at the disgruntled serpent on Harry's chest until it removed itself, hissing something doubtlessly foul as it went, then removed the blanket.
"Hmm... my, my. The boy certainly is a mess, isn't he? What happened?"
"He was swallowed whole by a large, angry reptile."
"Oh. Well that makes sense. Good thing it didn't stop to chew, hmm? Let's see... first, a sedative to keep him unconscious."
She mumbled something and her hand began to glow a soft blue as she set it to Harry's forehead.
"Oh... this should probably be dealt with at some point, too." She decided, prodding at the famous scar. "Things like that have a habit of erupting into nastiness at the worst possible time, I understand."
"Things like that? Scars?"
"Oh no... I mean the bit of someone's soul that's bound there by the scar. Foul bastard, from the smell of it. Good thing he's never been to Azkaban, or I daresay there would be a great many more like me."
Herb quirked the corner of her mouth slightly.
"By 'he' do you mean Potter, or whoever that bit of soul came from?"
"Eh... either-or, really. It would have taken a bit longer for him than for the other guy for the Dementors to become interested enough to... eh, you know... but it would happen eventually."
Herbs almost-smirk disappeared.
"I... thought you were joking, to be honest."
"Nah. Still, it's going to take some work to fix him even without taking that into account, and the odds are good that he'll never meet a real Dementor anyway, so it shouldn't hurt anything to put it off."
Herb shrugged and left the room, honestly disinterested in the process by which Harry was going to be put back together. Okay, slightly interested, but that interest paled in comparison to the growling of her stomach, which had been ignored for some time in favor of other concerns.
In all the hustle and bustle about the castle, Quirrel's predations upon the unicorn herd in the forest had somehow been overlooked. As such, there were a couple of corpses that had been discarded after the magical blood had ceased to trickle freely from the gaping wounds.
Usually, it wouldn't matter much, as unicorns would not decay naturally and there were very few things that would scavenge their corpses, meaning that they would just sit there until Hagrid was alerted to their existence and dragged them out to be incinerated. After Dumbledore and Severus had all the usable bits excised, anyway.
On the other hand 'very few things' was not at all the same as 'nothing'. After all, even knowing the curse it brought, there were always a few souls willing to slay a unicorn for its blood. And enough hunger would make almost anything turn its eyes to fare that it would normally never even consider.
It was small for its breed, the runt of its hatching, and female to boot. Such an unfortunate combination would have guaranteed its culling and subsequent relocation to the stomachs of her hatchmates, had it not also had the extreme good fortune to be the first to hatch, giving it enough time to achieve full motion and cognitive ability and then make its escape as the rest of the brood hatched.
The problem was that acromantulae were not well liked by the other denizens of the forest, and with more than good reason. None would dare make an assault on the main nest, and large groups were avoided because of just how difficult it was to tell exactly how large those groups might be, but a loner? A young and runty one, no less?
Out of neccessity, it had learned to hunt in a different way than the norm, lying in wait from concealment and moving very slowly, rather than the customary 'spin a web, go on a rampage, and store the kills in it for later consumption' technique. It wasn't as effective, but it was completely incapable of normal measures and so made do.
But when there was an availably source of meat just lying there on the ground, like a gift of providence, how could it do anything but stuff itself silly?
The thing was, while acromantulae were not picky about their food at even the best of times, even they had their reasons to avoid eating unicorns. Kill them, yes, if they could. Eat them, no. None even remembered why that was, considering how very long it had been since it had last happened, but there was a very strong taboo on it passed down through the colonies.
Not that it knew any of this, of course.
After a short time, lethargy set in and it scuttled to a hollow below a large tree and drifted into slumber, blissfully unaware of the changes and magical reactions happening within its body at that very moment.
"All done." Annabelle chirped cheerfully. Harb chewed thoughtfully, then swallowed the mouthful of mutton, sparing a moment to pass along the rest of the meat to Lyme, who had grown to the size of either a very large dog, or a very small horse. Soon, he would be large and strong enough to use as a mount.
But that was unimportant at the moment, she reflected as she scratched at Mint's scalp. As always, he seemed not to have the slightest idea how to respond to the attention correctly.
"He looks better." She decided aloud. "Well done. When do you think you can deal with the... thingy... in his forehead."
"Oh, there's no rush, is there? His body has been put back together, but he's going to be very... fragile, for lack of a better word, for the next week or two. I'd advise waiting at least a month, to give him time to rest and recuperate from his ordeal before we start on that."
Herb shrugged and did something with her fingers around Mint's ears that somehow left him wanting to wag his tail and drool. He wasn't sure how that was possible, and frankly he didn't want to know. It was difficult enough to keep from fidgeting without that knowledge.
"Hmm... In any case, there should be no ill effects as long as he has no contact with Dementors? We can afford to wait then. On another topic entirely, is it common for nonhumans to learn the sort of magic taught at Hogwarts?"
"Not at all. It's not uncommon for them to be capable, of course, although I myself have been tested and am incapable of more than healing magics, and some things passed along from my nature. Even so, due to a number of factors, it's actually quite rare that a nonhuman attends such an institution."
"Oh? What sort of factors."
"Well... discrimination, for one. Special needs, dietary requirements and whatnot." Annabelle shrugged, hidden chains clinking slightly. "A werewolf, for example, would require special arrangements once a month. There's also the possibility that attendance would require the approval of an elder of the species. In all honesty, if a nonhuman intends to learn wand-magics then it's usually far simpler and more efficient to purchase the services of tutors sworn to silence."
There was a small pause, in which Annabelle somehow gave the creepy illusion of a slow blink.
"Why, exactly, do you ask?"
Herb tugged a pair of envelopes from somewhere about her person.
"No particular reason. It's simply that when Klinky brought my attention to the mail, these caught my eye. Hogwarts acceptance letters. One is for my little Mint here." She rustled his hair fondly. "The other, interestingly enough, is addressed to Harry's pet snake."
Sistilth, who was coiled up on a cushion nearby, instantly snapped awake.
A.N. Shorter than standard, I'm afraid. Surprised I managed to finish this chapter, given that I was just tinkering with it in between preparations for the final exams.
New Character! Annabelle. I, uh... I have no explanation for this. Sorry. She may be the spawn of Bellatrix Lestrange, or she might be the get of some other equally or even more foul witch. Haven't decided yet. Probably depends on what her age ends up being- younger than Harry, and she's Bella's. Older, and the name she chose is just coincidence.
Also, kudos for those who know where I'm going with the Acromantula runt. If you figure it out, please let me know, because I'm frankly stumped.