DISCLAIMER THE FIRST: It is by JKR's writing alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the grace of coffee that thoughts acquire speed, the back acquires strains, the strains become a warning. The warning is that I make no money from this. It is by JKR's writing alone I set my mind in motion.
DISCLAIMER THE SECOND: To Severus Snape, I leave a boot to the head. And another for Ginny and the Wimp!
CHAPTER SPECIFIC DISCLAIMER: Yes, for readers of HP and the Rejected Path, there will be a bit of déjà-vu in this chapter. Sorry, it's a dolphin/shark sort of thing. Similar paths to the same end.
#4 PRIVET DRIVE, LITTLE WHINGING, UK – AUGUST 1st 1996 – MORNING
Harry woke up feeling better than he had had in a long time. That feeling lasted until he rolled over. It was then Harry found he had aching muscles in places he never thought possible. This was amazing considering his almost five years of playing Quidditch! Most of the pain was in his thighs, right under his bum but Harry's lower back was tender as well.
Even though his body was very cross with him, Harry found himself grinning. The pains were well worth what he had gone through to get them. Amazingly he didn't feel all that guilty about what had happened. This even though Father Gordon would personally sign a one-way ticket to Hell for him if he knew what Harry had been up to the night before.
Harry rolled out of bed and made his way to the bathroom without bothering to put on any clothes. There he found a potion Harry recognized from his time on the Quidditch team. It was used to help soothe aching muscles and joints. Either Dobby was not only helpful but prescient this morning or Tonks had been in the same boat as him before she left. For whatever the reason, Harry quickly downed the potion before starting his morning routine.
Surprisingly Harry found while showering that even though he had shagged Tonks past her breaking point, he wasn't sore or even chafed where it counted. In fact, being in the shower made Harry remember in great detail the tryst he and Tonks had had in it the night before. This led to Harry having to deal with an erection which wasn't taking "No sex, please; I'm British" for an excuse.
As Harry relieved scenes from the previous night, he couldn't help but worry about how long he'd be stuck with this condition of hyper-horniness. If he could have sex six times but then couldn't keep from having one off the wrist after only eight hours, Harry knew he was going to be in serious trouble come the start of term. As Harry painted the wall of the shower with spurt after spurt of his shiny seed, he figured he'd just have to do what he always did; just roll with it and take things as they came. It wasn't like he was going to be able to ask Hermione to help him research about this particular problem!
As he was toweling off, it occurred to Harry that perhaps if there was truth in the existence of the Hogwarts Harry Potter fan-club then his problem might not be as unmanageable as first thought. If it came down to throw-away sex, why not with fan-girls he had no intention of ever having a relationship with? Could he bring himself to do it though?
Harry frowned; he had a bad feeling he would end up having to find the answer to that question. It's just how his so-called luck ran.
Harry took a deep breath to once again try and center himself. His heart was still fluttering in his chest even as he tried to calm himself. There was just so much was riding on today!
Harry had dressed carefully, thankful that Dobby had already cleaned his good clothes which he had worn for Tonks yesterday. He had his father's invisibility cloak folded tightly and had Dobby place a sticking charm on it to attach it to the inside of his dress robe he wore over his good clothes. Only he could negate the charm with a sharp tug. Dobby had then made Harry a hearty breakfast and afterwards Harry had meditated for a bit.
Harry really didn't know much about meditation but after the fiasco of Snape's occlumency lessons, he had searched the memories he had gotten from Voldemort and found how meditation helped one center oneself in order to clear one's mind. Apparently Voldemort hadn't put much stock into it, considering the magical power he had to work with. He had, however, learned occlumency from a competent teacher and so those lessons were there for Harry even if he had a long way to go before making use of them. Again, Harry realized there was a big difference between knowing what to do and being able to do it.
Harry walked out the front door and hoped Dobby's simple charm which made it look like he was wearing Dudley's old cast-offs was working properly. He got the hose going and went about doing some watering; conscious that he was probably was being watched very carefully by some hidden Order member. Mindful of his directions from Dobby, Harry moved towards the side of the property where the hedge separated #4 from #6. He couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief when he saw the soda can just over the edge of the property. He had been worried that somehow the goblin portkey which Luna had procured for him might somehow be spotted by his Order guardian.
Harry reached down and picked it up but continued watering for a bit. Finally he felt he'd done enough to convince anyone watching that he had done his part and so rolled the hose back up and went inside.
"Anything, Dobby?" Harry asked.
Dobby continued to peer out of the window. Harry wasn't sure what magic he was using to see through the curtain but it was obvious it wasn't getting in the house elf's way. Finally Dobby shook his head. "No Master Harry Potter sir. I bez thinking youz watcher bez being by the lamp post by Missus Kitty-Figg's house. Whoever it bez, they not bez moving."
Dobby turned and clapped his hands and Harry felt the disillusionment drop as well as the little bit of water he'd gotten on him disappear.
Harry nodded in satisfaction, "Okay Dobby, you know the plan. Just follow the list about when to turn on what and for how long." Harry looked at the little elf who was practically bouncing in excitement. "Oh and I don't know if house elves like movies but feel free to watch anything that's here. You might as well have some fun while I'm gone."
Dobby looked like he was going to cry, "Oh Master Harry Potter sir! You bez the bestest wizard ever! Youz bez so kind to such as me!"
Harry patted him on the shoulder, "We're a team, Dobby. Hopefully I'll be able to call you soon. Pack everything of mine up and be ready to pop to me. It shouldn't take you long to take care of the house should it?"
Dobby shook his head so hard his ears seemed to flap like bird's wings. "On noez! I bez able to keep house nice for Master Potter's nasty tubbies."
Harry snorted at Dobby's name for the Dursleys. While it didn't fit his aunt, Harry figured Dobby couldn't say anything bad about her considering her blood relation to him. Apparently even though Dudley shared a bit of that, his actions didn't protect him from Dobby's ire.
Harry looked down at the portkey, "Well Dobby, here is to hoping that we both won't have to deal with the tubbies again." With a nod to the elf, Harry crushed the can. The portkey flashed and Harry felt the familiar jerk around his navel.
When the flash of the portkey cleared, Harry found himself in a nondescript looking office with a goblin working behind a sturdy, if plain desk. Harry blinked and realized he knew this goblin. Flipbook? No, Griphook. Harry made a slight bow, "A profitable morning to you, Griphook." While Binns only taught the gruesome bits of goblin history, Voldemort apparently had picked up a smattering of goblin culture. Harry figured Voldemort had probably stopped learning more when he realized he couldn't sweet-talk the goblins into anything.
Griphook scowled or perhaps smiled. It was hard to tell with goblins at times. "Ah, Mr. Potter. I see you do remember me. I was surprised to be given this task as I'm merely a clerk."
Harry walked up to the desk, casually taking in the room. It looked like one might expect a low to medium level clerk's office to be. "Why is that, Clerk Griphook?" Harry remembered that goblins preferred to be referred to by their title as well as their name.
Griphook shrugged, "While we at Gringotts try to accommodate our best clients, too often our efforts go unnoticed. My superior, Gold-Master Zahav, felt that you might appreciate meeting with someone you have previously met."
Harry nodded, "Well I appreciate the courtesy. While I realize you are just practicing good business with an important client, you goblins are at least up front up about things and not fawning over me simply because I'm the Boy-Who-Lived."
Griphook grunted (snorted?) "We goblins care little for such things. That you killed Salazar's basilisk and faced down a dragon, those are actions we can respect."
Harry nodded again. While he rather have not had to do either of those things, he at least appreciated the goblins respected him for something he had done and not something no one was there to witness. "While my understanding of goblin culture is quite lacking, I do know that time is money to goblins so what is on the agenda for today?"
The smile which broke out on Griphook's face would probably sent small children running away in terror. "Good to see a wizard who appreciates the finer points in life. Well, Mr. Potter, I am to escort you to Gold-Master Zahav who has some issues to speak to you about prior to the reading of the will. Today's reading may well be a swiftly enacted transaction or it may fall into lengthy and chaotic legal…maneuvering."
Harry could almost hear the distaste dripping from Griphook at the idea of legal wrangling. He knew goblins detested the concept of 'rule lawyering' to find loopholes in a contract. Goblins were very literal with their contracts and it was a known bone of contention between them and the Wizarding world. Of course Harry understood what Martin Creswell had meant regarding goblins in this respect. If the contract between them and his House meant they'd protect his wealth, they'd do so to best of their ability. While a goblin might cheerfully take advantage of the unwary and naïve, they abided by their contracts to the letter.
Thinking about contracts reminded Harry of what was at stake, "Is there anything you can tell me about the reading I should know, Clerk Griphook? I understand the late Lord Black, my godfather, named me his heir. Yet from what I've been told, Draco Malfoy will contest this and has a better claim. I'd rather not see him become Lord Malfoy-Black so anything you can tell me would be much appreciated."
Griphook paused while idly sharpening the quill he had with a pen-knife whose blade seemed to be made out of a sharpened bone of some kind. Finally he looked up at Harry, "It is not my place to say, Mr. Potter. Perhaps Gold-Master Zahav can help you more."
Harry gave another slight bow, "I understand, Clerk Griphook. Solicitor Creswell told me I would do well to cultivate the Goblin Nation. Considering many of the obstacles in my life come from people who have a poor view about non-humans, I just thought it prudent to ask. I'm not one to turn away from potential allies simply because they are not human."
Griphook made the same grunt/snort, "Solicitor Creswell is wise…for a human. He certainly understands the value of time and the sanctity of a contract." Griphook paused again. His pen-knife once again worked on the quill even though Harry could see it was as sharp as one could ever hope a quill to be. Griphook finally seemed to reach a decision, "Know this, Mr. Potter. Today your claim to House Black will be challenged not only by Draco Malfoy but others with claims to House Black. The old Pureblood families have many ties, many of which are known and others which have been forgotten or obscured. If you or the others cannot come forth with a better claim of blood, I would say that it Draco Malfoy will become Lord Black with all the titles and power due him when he reaches his seventeenth birthday."
Harry blinked in surprise, "Forgotten ties? I thought Purebloods knew their lineage inside and out. I mean don't Purebloods keep meticulous records? From what I got from Sirius, it's practically a sport for them to one-up each other on their knowledge of their lineage. How could they not know what is on their family tree?"
The goblin face broke into a rather predatory grin, "They do keep very detailed records. However records say what the families want them to say. Pristine family trees usually hide many dirty secrets. There are many vaults dark because of these secrets and the fact the Ministry refuses to let us conduct lineage tests except in very, very controlled conditions. However, in the end, it will be the blood which decides."
Harry suddenly felt like a cold wind went through his brain. He knew Griphook had just told him something important. Harry racked his brain trying to think of how Purebloods might try to hide things but the only thing he could come up with was regarding Squibs. Harry knew from the Black tapestry that House Black at least tended to kick out Squibs. Was this a common thing for older Pureblood Houses to do? How could one falsify magical records?
Griphook took out a pocket-watch as he rose from his desk, "Come, Mr. Potter. It would not be wise to keep Gold-Master Zahav waiting."
CONFERENCE ROOM LHATINYM, GRINGOTTS – AUGUST 1st 1996 – LATE MORNING
Tonks looked around at the odd gathering and couldn't help but let out a sigh. Even with the blanket Goblin Peace over the proceedings, the tension in the air was palpable. The Weasleys were glaring daggers at the Malfoys who were ignoring the Tonks who were snubbing the Flints and Crabbes. The other families present were all bickering between themselves over minor links which any sane person would know wouldn't gain them House Black. About the only group of people who seemed to be sitting out the Pureblood drama were Remus and Hermione.
All of them were seated around a huge conference table in one of the larger rooms Gringotts used for such events. It was opulent in every sense of the word. The ceiling was vaulted and the wooden support beams were all exquisitely carved. The floor looked to be of the finest marble and the conference table itself was made of various woods joined together to make pleasing geometric shapes. Tonks wished she could steal one of the chairs as they were the most comfortable thing she'd ever sat in. If only the company was as good.
Seeing what passed for shit-eating grins on most of the goblin's faces, Tonks wouldn't put it past the little blighters for intentionally going slow with pre-will paperwork. It was almost like they were hoping someone would start something. From the looks on Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy's faces, it would happen fairly soon. Even the reporters and other interested parties sitting in the guest gallery seemed to be watching for what seemed the inevitable fight.
"It is unfortunate that Mr. Potter will not be here, Nymphadora; I would so like to thank him in person."
Tonks jumped a bit at her mother's words. She had been trying to ignore the odd glances Remus and Hermione kept sending her way. Tonks knew why her mother wanted to thank Harry because it was probably the same reason for all the odd glances. "I know mother but Dumbledore was adamant that it was too risky for Harry to be here."
"If Albus Dumbledore believes the Dark Lord would attack Gringotts to interrupt a will reading of one of the oldest Houses in Britain than he is more senile then I already thought him to be. Besides unless something comes up, Draco Malfoy will become the new head of House Black. Why should the Dark Lord want to interrupt that? By keeping Mr. Potter away, Dumbledore has thrown away our best chance at keeping House Black from falling into the hands of Lucius Malfoy and my sisters." Andromeda scoffed.
Tonks watched as her mother frowned at the antics of Arthur Weasley as Ted Tonks tried to, once again, explain airplanes to the excitable man. As Tonks had figured, Dumbledore had not bothered to show up for the proceedings but sent Arthur Weasley since he and Ron had been named in the will anyway.
Andromeda turned back towards her daughter, the look of distaste still on her face, "While Arthur is a good man, he is as a sheep to my sister's wolf. With me being cast out as I was, there is little I can do to help make Sirius' final wishes come true. With Mr. Potter not being allowed here makes a difficult task even more impossible."
Tonks sighed, "I know mother. I tried to explain all this to Harry yesterday. He took it better than I expected." Tonks was quiet for a moment before continuing, "I don't know. Maybe he was just happy someone leveled with him how things work in the Magical World."
Andromeda's face shifted from the frown to a warm smile, "Well I am just happy he gave me my daughter back in a way. I must say I had never thought about Bellatrix being the reason you never wore your true face. Sadly I felt you were just being willful. It is in your nature."
Tonks reached out and squeezed her mother's hand, "I know I said it before but I'm really sorry about the whole thing. Harry showed me that what I thought was teenage rebellion was just fear. I never thought about how you and Dad must have seen it."
Andromeda patted her daughter's hand, "Well for what it's worth, I'm happy you haven't even colored you hair. Today is not a day for such frivolities even if it would have made Sirius laugh."
Tonks shrugged, "I am you daughter, Mother. Cast out or not, I did pay attention to your lessons. I know today is not a day to flout tradition especially if we're going to have a chance to keep Draco from become Lord Black." Tonks glanced over to where Remus and Hermione were speaking in low tones. "Mother, if you don't mind, I'm going to go over and have a chat with them. I'm tired of them looking at me like they are."
Andromeda nodded, "Yes, I believe you will have the time. Be gentle, Nymphadora. I'm sure Mr. Lupin may be feeling your shift as being an affront to Sirius' memory."
Tonks nodded as she got up, "That's sort of what I figured. I'll be careful, Mother."
Tonks carefully walk around the huge conference table as there were plenty of goblin clerks coming in and out with various documents many at the table would be using to bolster their claims to House Black. Tonks even stopped for a moment to chat with a rather nasty looking goblin guard who stood with his squad along one of the far walls. Tonks had worked with the guard on two occasions regarding some petty crimes around Gringotts. Finally she slipped into the empty seat next to Hermione.
"Wotcher, Hermione. Care to chat or are you and Remus here just going to give me the stink eye all day?"
Tonks was glad to see that Hermione had the good grace to blush while Remus looked away, "Look guys, my mother just pointed out to me you guys are probably thinking my choice of face is rather inappropriate considering my aunt killed Sirius." She paused to see both nod at this. "Well Harry was good enough to talk some sense into me. This is my face. I got it from my Mum and Dad and just because I look a lot like Bellatrix shouldn't keep me from wearing it. Besides, my Mum is the oldest so people need to see it as Bellatrix looks like my mother and not her looking like Bellatrix or me for that matter. Harry made me see that if I let my aunt keep me from wearing the face my own parents gave me then I'm no better than people who say You-Know-Who rather than Voldemort."
As Hermione looked thoughtful, Remus leaned closer, "You've seen Harry recently?"
Tonks nodded, "Sure have. I spent his birthday with him yesterday. We had a great time." Tonks couldn't help but get a shiver just thinking how great a time it had been.
Remus blinked at this, "But Albus said no one was to have contact with him."
"Well la de bloody da! Right now Harry and Dumbledore aren't getting along and so I figured it was just a matter of a choice of whose side I wanted to be on. Between the choice of letting Harry having some fun on his birthday or listening to a guy who hasn't been a kid in over a century, I decided to go with Harry. Besides, do you honestly agree that it is in Harry's best interest to be cut off, again, from his friends after another traumatic event? You remember what he was like last year after the whole Dementor incident when the Headmaster wouldn't let anyone contact him." Tonks couldn't help but let some anger seep into her words. She couldn't believe Remus, of all people, would be the one toeing the Headmaster's line in regards to Harry.
Before Remus could begin to defend himself a goblin showed up with some documents he needed to look at before signing. This gave Hermione a chance to lean closer to the metamorphmagus and desperately whispered, "Is he alright Tonks? I've been so worried!"
Tonks' eyebrows shot up in surprise, "Really? From what Harry has been told, you've been a right bint; ranting about how stupid Harry was to get you all into the fight at the Ministry. From what Harry heard, it sounded like you're tired of putting up with him."
Hermione looked around to see if anyone had heard Tonks' words. Her face had paled which was a bit of a trick considering how ashen she already looked. It was obvious she hadn't recovered completely from Dolohov's curse yet. "What did you hear? Who told Harry? From what I was told, Harry's been home ever since his trial."
Tonks shrugged, "Harry said he'd heard from Neville who as at his trial. Neville said that you'd been pretty vocal about his lack of leadership during your fight at the Ministry." Tonks looked over to where Ron was still verbally sniping at Draco. "Of course it seems both Ron and Ginny have been pretty bad as well. Last time I was at the Burrow, well Ginny is still pretty brassed off. That gal can sure hold a grudge! Not sure why consider she and Luna came out of that fight pretty unscathed compare to the rest of you."
Hermione relaxed but still looked guilty, "Well I wish I could say it was all the potions..." Her voice trailed off and the young witch looked sad.
Tonks waited for Hermione to continue. Finally she frowned and asked, "Potions?"
Hermione worried her lip for a second, "Yes. I'm on five potions a day. It used to be six but I turned out to be allergic to the sixth and it was causing me to have fits of rage so I'm taking a Muggle medication which will do the same job if a bit slower. The problem is I don't think what I said was untrue. I didn't mean those things I said about Harry but at the same time they were true. Does that make any sense?"
Tonks smiled, "Actually it does. It's like when you're pissed. You say things you may feel but don't really mean the way you say them. I can see how you could blame Harry for certain things but not really mean it."
Hermione nodded, "The thing is, when I think back to the things I said, while many are true, I think a lot of the rage was at myself. I mean while Harry led us into a trap after I warned him...well I followed him and frankly once the spells started flying, it was Harry who led us. I just followed his lead and I probably would be dead if I hadn't."
Tonks shrugged, "I haven't been in the aurors long but we get taught all about how it's easy to get angry at the situation even though there are a lot of factors involved. Sure you and Harry could have done things better. Frankly, Harry and I hashed some things out about how Sirius died. I was feeling like it was my fault and Harry felt it was his. We helped each work through that while we contributed, there is blame all around. Even some of it being Sirius' because he wouldn't stay behind where it was safe."
Tonks was surprised when the young witch hugged her, "Thanks for not judging me! I feel bad enough as it is without more guilt being thrown on top of everything. Can you give Harry a message for me? I've tried to call him but I think the Headmaster had done something to Harry's number because I can't get through and I haven't seen Hedwig all summer."
"Sure, Hermione. What do you want me to tell him?" Tonks asked.
"Just tell him what I just told you. I wasn't in my right mind and while yes I'm angry about how things went down, I certainly don't blame him even if it has made things very difficult at home."
Tonks frowned, "Trouble on the home front?"
Hermione frowned as well, "Yes. My parents are seriously thinking of pulling me out of Hogwarts. Even though I'll be of age in 49 days, I can't pay for my tuition by myself so even if I can legally go to school it won't do me any good if I can't pay for it. I hate to say it but I'm hoping Sirius left me or Harry some money in case I need to pay for my own tuition. I figure when Harry get his inheritance when he turns seventeen I could get a loan for my Seventh Year tuition but that won't do me any good this year." Hermione looked guilty, "Of course convincing Harry to give me a loan instead of just giving the money might be a problem."
Tonks chuckled at that but before she could reply, the ornate door at the end of the conference room opened up and two goblins walked in. Both were dressed in the manner of very rich and important goblins. "Merlin! That's Director Ragnok himself!" Tonks thought she recognized the other goblin who Ragnok was conversing with but couldn't remember his name. He was certainly one of their senior Gold-Masters.
"Why would Director Ragnok be here?" Hermione asked.
Remus turned to the two witches, "The House of Black is one of the oldest Houses in the British Isles. With the title of Lord Black in contention, you can bet the goblins are going to make sure there is no way the final decision is contested."
Tonks stood up, "Well if Director Ragnok is here, I guess the show is about to begin." Before she even took one step towards her seat she noticed two more people coming through the door. One was a goblin wearing the typical uniform you'd see in the lobby of Gringotts. The other...
From many sitting around the conference table came the same cry which escaped her lips, "Harry!"
It was hard for Harry to keep a smirk off his face. The reaction to him attending was as boisterous as he had expected. Unfortunately he saw many of the faces he was hoping would be happy looked shocked instead. Both Remus and Mr. Weasley fell into this category. Surprisingly Hermione looked like Christmas had come early and Tonks had a look that reminded Harry of Sirius after one of his pranks had gone off well. Harry noticed the woman who had to be her mother, Andromeda Tonks, looked quite happy to see him as well.
Of course Draco looked like he wanted to duel even as his mother barely blinked at his arrival. Narcissa Malfoy's legendary unflappable coolness was apparently well earned. As Harry let Griphook lead him to his chair, he noticed that Ron had a sour look on his face which mirrored many of the people from the families who hoped to claim House Black. It seemed that Ron still was in mad mode even as Hermione must have gotten over her own case of it.
However Harry almost pulled his wand when he saw who the Ministry had sent as their representatives to the proceedings: Dolores Umbridge and Percy Arthurson! Harry found himself grinding his teeth as the toad-like woman glared at him as he took his seat. Percy, however, just had a similar sour look as his brother had. Harry figured that Fudge was clearly sending his best hatchet-lady to deal with the Sirius situation which had cost him so many political points.
Harry broke eye-contact with the Fudge's deputy. Once again he marveled how Umbridge could be proven to have been seconds from casting an Unforgivable Curse, sent Dementors after him, used an illegal Blood Quill on him and she still had her Ministry position. At least Lucius Malfoy had to bribe his way out of Azkaban. All Umbridge apparently needed was Fudge to continue supporting her. As gross as the thought was, Harry couldn't help but wonder what other methods Umbridge might use to keep Fudge from sacking her. It really brought home to Harry how corrupt the Ministry actually was. Of course when Harry came into his own, his seat on the Wizengamot would allow him to play many of the same games as Lucius. He resolved to make those games as unpleasant as possible for the kitten loving toad-lady.
As Harry got settled he noticed Kingsley Shacklebolt get up from one of the audience chairs and quickly leave the room. It didn't take the genius of Hermione Granger to know he was running off to alert Dumbledore of Harry's presence. This time Harry couldn't help but smirk at this thought. Gold-Master Zahav had assured him there was nothing Dumbledore could do in any of his official capacities to remove Harry once he had arrived at Gringotts for the reading.
Director Ragnok rapped the table with an ornate gavel and silence quickly fell over the room. Ragnok looked to one of the ornately armored goblins standing guard opposite the audience gallery, "Are all in attendance, Senior Vault-Warden?"
The goblin (the one Tonks had spoken with earlier although Harry did not know that) nodded, "They are, Director Ragnok."
"Then let the Seal be set!" the old goblin commanded.
The Vault-Warden walked over to the entryway and then rapped his halberd three times on the floor. A final tap against the door caused a wall of black flame to appear. Both Harry and Hermione recognized it as the same flame which had guarded the door where the Philosopher's Stone had been hidden. The goblin turned and motioned to a goblin wearing the same clerk uniform as Griphook. This goblin came and stood by the door with a tray of potion phials. It seemed to Harry that you could leave once things had started but only at the cost of not being able to return. It also explained why Gold-Master Zahav felt Dumbledore couldn't steal him away back to his prison on Privet Drive.
Again Ragnok rapped his gavel three times. "I, Director Ragnok of Gringotts of London, do open the reading of the will of the late Sirius Orion Black in compliance with the Treaty of 1694 and by the Grace of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second. Let all who have business draw nigh and attend. Know one and all that the Peace of the Goblins is upon these proceedings. Break this peace at your own peril."
The room was silent as Ragnok looked down at his papers for a moment. "Well now that we have your human protocols taken care of, we can be to business." Ragnok looked up and cast his gaze around the room. "The late Sirius Orion Black's will is a document in two forms. One is to be enacted if his chosen heir becomes the new Lord Black. The second will be enacted if someone other than his chosen heir gains the title."
Before Draco Malfoy could do more than turn red and begin to rise out of his chair, Ragnok silenced him with a stony glare. "This sort of protocol, while rare, is perfectly in keeping with our signed treaties, the customs and protocols of the House under the rule of Her Majesty and through her the Ministry of Magic. Therefore before Sirius Black's will can be probated, we must determine who shall be the next head of the Ancient and Noble House of Black."
Harry glanced around the room to see few were surprised by this news. Of course most of them were Pureblood elites and must have expected this, Draco notwithstanding. In the silence, the scribbling of quills from the various reporters present seemed loud although Harry could almost hear Draco's teeth grinding. Once again the blond ponce seemed to have convinced himself he would get what he wanted handed to him on a gilded platter.
Ragnok gestured towards Harry, "The late Sirius Orion Black, rightful heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black has designated his godson, Henry James Potter of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Potter and great-grandson of Dorea Black to be his chosen heir. We here at Gringotts have taken the liberty to create a list of known claimants from least to best to counter Lord Black's designation of Henry James Potter as his heir. We make no claims on its authenticity. Each House shall, in the order we have set forth, give their testimony on the accuracy of their tie to House Black for the purposes of making their own counter-claim."
Ragnok stood and with his gavel gestured to the white-board near the entrance he had come in from. The board began to fill with information. Harry could see his name along with Draco Malfoy being on the top. Ragnok's deep voice filled the room, "While Henry James Potter is the late Sirius Orion Black's choice, as it stands, Draco Hyperion Malfoy has the best claim through his patrilineal tie to Cygnus Black and thence to Pollux Black. It is Draco Malfoy's claim which must be bested."
Ragnok once again rapped his gavel three times, "Let all with business now bring their claims into contention."
To Harry's great relief, Ragnok banged his gavel three times and announced a recess for lunch and that the proceedings would continue in and hour and a half. For Harry, the morning had been nerve-wracking, interesting and crushingly boring. Sometimes these feelings would be within minutes of each other.
Harry rose out of his chair and surreptitiously stretched. Luckily long hours of Quidditch practice had not only given him one of the best bums in Hogwarts (or so the likes of Parvati said) but he could sit for long periods without too much problem. The morning's proceedings did test his limit, however.
Harry watched as dozens of goblins in uniforms he'd never seen before came in and went about preparing the conference table for lunch. Gold-Master Zahav had mentioned to him earlier how normally the meal would be served in rooms designated for that. However with the House Black in contention, no one could leave unless they didn't come back. The only place Harry knew that one was allowed to go was the loo and even that was monitored as well.
As the goblins began to bring in the items for the meal service, Harry realized he wanted some company. He turned and waited patiently till he caught the eye of Gold-Master Zahav who was speaking in low tones with Ragnok. "Excuse me, Gold-Master, but with no disrespect intended, might it be permissible for me to dine closer to some of my friends? There are some I have not seen or corresponded to since June." Harry asked.
Zahav inclined his head graciously, "But of course Mr. Potter; you are a guest here. Feel free to sit wherever you like."
Harry gave a slight bow in return. From what he had learned from Marin Creswell (to say nothing of Voldemort's memories) goblins were rarely treated with courtesy by wizards so a little respect went a long way. Harry turned and quickly made his way to the empty seat next to Hermione. He wanted to get to it before Ron did. Luckily he seemed to be arguing with Percy and his father over something or another.
Remus spotted him first and his face clouded up. Harry was sad that it seemed his father's friend seemed to be in Dumbledore's pocket. Well Peter was with one Dark Lord so maybe Dumbledore got his own pet Marauder to balance things out. Remus nudged Hermione who was busily writing notes in a journal. Harry was very happy to see her smile brightly as soon as she saw him. Harry grinned in return. Crushing hug in 3…2...1
Hermione didn't let him down as she sprang to her feet and seemed intent on testing his ribs to destruction, "Harry! It's so good to see you again! When I heard you were in Azkaban, I just...just…" Her voice faded out as she laid her head on his chest. She seemed to be hiccuping instead of breathing.
Harry rubbed her back as he hugged her to him; her bushy mane tickling his chin, "I know Hermione; I know. I tried to see you before I got hauled away but I found out later you'd already been sent ahead to St. Mungo's. After that, well let us say that mail service in Azkaban is a bit dicey."
Hermione pulled back and met his eye, "I tried to write to you. I tried calling you and I even tried to get my parents to drive me to Little Whinging but nothing worked! Your mail came back undeliverable, your relatives' phone is supposedly disconnected and I think my parents have been Confunded into not to allowing me to see you. Since I'm not quite of age, I can't even check them for being ensorcelled!"
Harry liked the way Hermione's eyes flashed when she was angry. He gave her a small kiss on the cheek. "I understand Hermione, I really do. I had a lot of time to think in Azkaban and there is a lot to talk about. However right now I think we should eat. I'm feeling a bit like Ron right now."
Hermione blushed at this, especially since as she broke away from Harry, two goblins were patiently waiting to get by to set their meal service up. The pair quickly sat down and waited for the goblins to finish before speaking again. Hermione did, however, hold Harry's hand tightly. Finally after the goblins were finished, Hermione turned to Harry with a very serious look on her face, "Harry I have to tell you…"
"…that you had an allergic reaction to one of your potions and you were not in your right mind?" Harry interrupted smoothly.
Hermione blinked, "Um, er…yes."
Harry couldn't help but grin his lop-sided grin, "How you said a lot of things you didn't really mean and now you're really worried about how I think of you? Oh and Tonks is going to tell me all this."
Hermione's eyes went wide at this, "Harry James Potter! Were you spying on us?"
Harry couldn't help but snicker, "I wasn't but the goblins don't see it as spying. While I'm sure I probably should have been listening in to what the Malfoys were saying but you are a lot more important to me."
Hermione looked cross for a moment before visibly deflating, "Honestly Harry! What am I going to do with you?"
"How about starting with passing me the pepper over there?" Harry asked as the meals they picked out earlier in the morning appeared on the charmed plates. Harry idly wondered if goblins used house elves or did they have human cooks working for them? For all he knew the food might have been catered using the Hogwarts elves. This thought made Harry frown. He carefully pulled out a small crystal from inside his robes and nonchalantly reached out as if he was going to take up his goblet but then changed his mind.
A quick glance showed the clear crystal was still clear. Constant Vigilance! Harry thought. He was thankful that Martin Creswell had lent him this back at the trial when they had gone to lunch. With Dumbledore kidnapping him like he had, Harry hadn't been able to give it back. Creswell had told him that while he doubted anyone would ever poison or taint the snacks and drinks available during the trial at the Ministry it wasn't wise to take chances. Harry glance around the room and notice a few people seemed to be doing something similar to their own food.
Hermione looked at him quizzically, "Harry?"
Harry looked her in the eye and made a slight motion with his head. Hermione's eyes widened but then she nodded. Later when they were alone would be time to discuss it.
Harry had barely tucked into his meal before Remus finally couldn't contain himself, "Harry, how on Earth did you get here? The Headmaster told you not to leave for your own safety! You put yourself at a terrible risk in coming here!"
Harry decided to play it cool. Tonks seemed to be an honest pawn of the Old Man so why burn bridges with Remus? "Yes the Headmaster told me to stay put. He also told me he'd have Order members ensure I didn't go anywhere either. While Privet Drive is no Azkaban, I was a prisoner all the same. I figured what better way to honor Sirius' memory than to break out of my prison?"
Remus gave Harry a sour look, "That's not funny Harry! Taking the Knight Bus is dangerous for you. Especially since the Death Eaters know you've taken it before! With the will reading public knowledge, you can bet the Death Eaters were watching for you today. I thought you had better sense than that!"
Harry frowned, "And I thought, Professor, that perhaps after all I've done that you might give me some credit occasionally. You assume I got here by the Knight Bus which is incorrect. I can assure you my trip here was safe and secure." Harry grinned nastily, "As I'm sure Kingsley Shacklebolt has already found out, I'd wager my Order guards didn't realize I was gone till Shacklebolt told them."
Hermione looked curious, "So how did you get here, Harry?"
Remus cut him off, "That doesn't really matter, Hermione. The point is he shouldn't be here."
Harry found his temper rising. "Oh and why is that? I am designated as Sirius' heir. It is my duty to be here. Of course I had to find this out on my own."
Remus looked uncomfortable, "Albus told you to stay put and you disobeyed. You are safe at Privet Drive."
As much as his temper was flaring, Harry's voice was cold as ice, "Yes the Headmaster did tell me to stay put and as I said, he was putting Order members on guard to enforce my stay in Little Whinging. He told me this right after he kidnapped me from the Wizengamot chambers. Right in front of my solicitor too! A solicitor who kept me from getting sent back to Azkaban and one I'm not sure has gotten paid for his service. Considering the Headmaster is not family, I am rather put out, to put it mildly, that he thinks he can make these decisions for me as if he were. So frankly, Lupin, I find your faith in the Headmaster disturbing."
Hermione suddenly snorted into her soup and looked quickly at Harry. Harry tried to look innocent, "Sorry, it was one of the movies Tonks and I watched on my birthday. I love the series. Sue me!"
Remus seemed to get even more agitated as Hermione actually giggled at Harry's comment. "I can't believe Tonks disobeyed Dumbledore as well! She was supposed to be there guarding you, not throwing you a party!"
Harry's temper flared again, "Well what else was she supposed to do for me on my birthday? Oh right, just sit there and watch me be lonely and miserable. I mean what else could I do but chores and brood over my godfather's death? Let me tell you, Lupin, that it was the best birthday of my life. We had a good time and it was nice to kick back with my family, my real family that is. Now before you get your knickers in a twist, I would like to get some food into me." Harry pointedly turned away from the gaping werewolf and attacked his food with a bit more vigor than was merited.
Harry was thankful that Remus took the hint and ended up in a conversation with one of the reporters from one of the magical news outlets on the Continent. Hermione also gave him time to eat in peace even though Harry could feel Hermione was dying to talk to him. However there wasn't anything he wanted to talk to Hermione about that he wanted Lupin to hear since he couldn't be sure it wouldn't get told directly to the Old Man. So the two ended up making polite conversation. Listening to Hermione tell of her visits to France got Harry thinking about all the places he wanted to go when everything was finally settled...if he didn't die in the process that is.
After he had polished off his treacle tart, Harry motioned for Hermione to follow him. He noticed how a lot of the reporters seem to perk up as Hermione had taken his hand was he led her over to a secluded corner next to where the goblin guards were watching everyone carefully. Yet the squad barely gave them a glance.
Hermione cocked her head slightly towards the goblins. Her question was easy to read in her eyes. "Don't worry, Hermione," Harry said. "Director Ragnok has assured me that anything said in this room is safe. Not that the goblins aren't up to a little blackmail if needed but it usually isn't a sound business practice."
Hermione snorted, "That's not what I'm worried about, Harry. Unlike you, I don't sleep through Binns' class; I study other texts so I know all about how badly wizard-kind treats the goblins. I just don't want to set them off. They just seem a bit...eager for action."
Harry chuckled since he could almost see all the goblins trying not to smirk. "Yeah about that. Well my guide Griphook was telling me that these House contention hearings can often get a bit heated. Considering all the bad blood, I'm thinking the goblins are hoping someone breaks the Peace so they have an excuse to beat up some wizards." Both teens noticed how the goblins didn't try to hide their grins at this.
Hermione nodded, "I understand. Honestly Harry! I just don't understand wizards sometimes. House elves do so much for them and they are treated like vermin. The goblins are barely tolerated and yet they keep the magical economy from collapsing."
Harry shrugged, "Don't look at me. I learned a lot in the few days I was hanging out at my solicitor's office. It doesn't make sense to me either. However from what Martin Creswell told me, a lot of it is because so much of the power and galleons are so concentrated with the likes of Fudge and Malfoy that there is a lot of pressure for things not to change. He told me it's why people like you are so looked down on because you have the 'audacity' to challenge the established order."
Hermione frowned, "I wonder if your mum went through all of that? I mean she didn't start dating your dad till their Seventh Year, right? Makes me wonder if she was treated like I am."
Harry shrugged again, "I wouldn't bet against it. Of course when people aren't telling me how smart my mother was, they all talk about how pretty she was. I guess a pretty face can make up for a witch's blood status."
Hermione made a derisive snort. "Well it works in the Muggle world so why should we be surprised at it in the Magical world?" she huffed.
Harry nodded, "Yeah, I know. Funny how after the Yule Ball people didn't seem to go on about your blood status as much. I mean you really did wow a lot of people." The look in Harry's eyes made sure Hermione knew he included himself in that group of impressed people.
Hermione's eyes widened at this. Her face turned thoughtful as she mulled this over.
The pair sat in silence for a moment and just watched the various people around the table. Finally Hermione spoke up, "Harry...did the Headmaster really take you away from your solicitor?"
Harry nodded, "Yup. Mr. Creswell was even talking about how it was illegal for Dumbledore to take me away even if he is my magical guardian. Didn't matter. He wandlessly summoned me and off we went to Surrey. Then he told me not to leave Privet Drive and he had Order guards posted to keep me there. Luckily for me my relatives went on Holiday so for the most part I've been on my own. Which is a good thing since I don't even have a wand to defend myself if my Uncle wanted to have a go at me."
"That's terrible! So how did you get here Harry?" Hermione asked. Suddenly she looked suspicious, "You didn't do anything to your Order guard did you?"
Harry couldn't help but smirk considering he had done something to his Order guard, but Tonks really hadn't been guarding him that day. "Don't worry Hermione, I didn't do any magic or bonk my guard over the head or something. Ask me no more questions and I won't tell you any lies." Harry chuckled at the sour look Hermione gave him over this.
"Hermione, I'm not trying to keep secrets but I know you really haven't had much training in occlumency so anything I tell you is open for the likes of Snape or the Headmaster to take right out of your memories." Harry said soothingly.
"Harry! The Headmaster wouldn't violate my privacy like that!" Hermione said hotly.
Harry gave her a grim look, "Don't be so sure. He's been trying to probe me since I threw Voldemort out of my mind. Given the fact he has kept me in illegal detention since my trial, I'm not going to bet my secrets on him not doing another illegal thing to get what he wants."
Hermione continued to glare at him for a moment before her face softened, "I guess you're right, Harry. Constant Vigilance."
Harry grinned, "That's my Hermione!" Harry gave her a brief hug. "You don't know how happy I am you aren't angry with me. Ron I can understand. Ginny I can understand considering she was possessed by Voldemort at one time and I can tell you from first-hand experience about how traumatizing that can be. You? I couldn't bear you turning against me when you and Sirius were the only ones to believe in my back in Fourth Year."
Hermione frowned a bit at the rise in chatter after Harry's hug, "Honestly Harry! We've been friends since our First Year and people seem to still find it newsworthy! As for my anger, I'm glad you forgave me. Potions or no, what I said wasn't nice."
Harry shrugged, "A lot was simply the truth. I've coasted for too long. If you hadn't kicked me in the knackers to form the D.A. I probably would have coasted through Fifth Year as well. However, I had a lot of time in Azkaban to mediate on my sins. I think you are going to be surprised at the new and improved Harry Potter." Harry fought to keep the smirk off his face. If Hermione only knew how 'new and improved' he really had become!
Hermione glanced up and down the table at all the family representatives who were busy talking and eating. "So do you have any idea how you're going to keep Draco from becoming Lord Malfoy-Black?"
Harry grimaced, "New and improved or not, I haven't the foggiest."
Director Ragnok looked up and down the table and spoke in a voice which sounded like it had gravel in it, "I have heard all arguments and at this stage I find no evidence to contradict the claim of Draco Hyperion Malfoy to the Ancient and Noble House of Black."
Harry's wand hand twitched as he so wanted to wipe the self-satisfied smirk off Draco's face. To Harry it almost looked like he was going to start primping and preening at any moment. Harry was amazed that after all that in-breeding which supposed made the blood stronger, Draco was mere unworthy git expecting to be handed everything to him.
"However," Ragnok continued, "before the announcement can be made, by treaty requirements I call on any last disputes to this claim. I would remind all not to waste incipient Lord Malfoy-Black or Gringotts' time with spurious claims."
Ragnok again looked up and down the table and was met with silence and stoic faces. However as he reached for his gavel, Harry's mind suddenly made the connection to something which had been in the back of his mind all morning. He stood, "Director Ragnok, if I could be indulged for a moment given my upbringing has left me lacking in the protocols and ways of the great Houses."
"Give it up, Potter," Draco sneered. "I caught the Snitch this time. You need to accept it!"
Ragnok glared at the young blond which caused him to visibly stop whatever he was planning to follow up with. Ragnok turned back to Harry and waved the whispering crowd into silence. "As incipient head to the Ancient and Most Noble House of Potter as well as the heir of choice of the late Lord Black, you are within your rights to ask for time. You may speak."
Harry made a polite bow to the goblin. He gave a quick glance at Hermione who was looking at him with hope in her eyes. Harry took a deep breath, "Director Ragnok, it is my understanding it is by blood which is the ultimate test of who can claim a House. I was told, '…it will be the blood which decides' which I understand to mean that Gringotts has ways to prove or disprove blood ties accurately."
Ragnok nodded, "This is true."
Harry nodded in return, "Then what I am asking for clarification is this. Draco Malfoy's connection by blood to Pollux Black is not in contention. It is a matter of public record and no one disputed it today. It is a fact. However there is a dispute in that Draco Malfoy was not able to automatically become the new head of House Black. If blood decides and there is now doubt of the blood connection, then why are we here? Was this merely a time-wasting matter the goblins of Gringotts had to host due to treaty requirements?"
The elderly goblin looked for a brief moment as he might smile, "An astute question, Mr. Potter. I believe I see the thrust of your question. Firstly, you are quite correct; Mr. Malfoy should have been able to claim House Black the moment he turned 16 in June. The fact he was unable to may have an easily explainable reason. Since the late Lord Black fell through the Veil, his manner of death may be confusing the magicks of succession. Regardless of the why, the fact Mr. Malfoy could not assume the title of Lord Black has made it necessary for today's challenge hearing."
"So might it not be possible of a bastard child of either Sirius or Regulus Black existing which is blocking Mr. Malfoy claim?" Harry asked.
Ragnok spread his hands, "That is another possible reason. However by custom, those who are not present for a challenge cannot be counted."
Harry smiled, "You say 'by custom' Director. I take it then the goblins would prefer all avenues be explored before making their decision? I would expect it would keep any time and money wasting challenges later on. I would think if someone did not know their father was magical then how could they know to be here? I'm sure a competent solicitor could make much of that during a later challenge. I'm willing to wager this is so by treaty as well."
Gold-Master Zahav openly smirked at this while Ragnok managed a slight smile, "This is so."
Harry felt like he had found the answer, "So if the only thing holding us back is custom, then I declare as the designated heir of the late Lord Sirius Orion Black that I wish proof there is not another possible Black heir who might take precedence over Draco Malfoy who was not summoned to this hearing."
The table exploded into heated whispers which required Ragnok to bang his gavel to silence. "Very well Mr. Potter. By treaty requirements, this is a reasonable challenge to make. More so in that you are acting to fulfill the intent of your godfather's will rather than push your own claim." The elder goblin turned to Draco, "I call upon you to submit your blood for an inheritance test. This will show if there is indeed a potential challenger who is not here to make their claim."
Draco sneered and made to rise but he winced as his mother quickly reached out and tightly gripped his arm to keeping him seated. However before either could say a word, Umbridge was on her feet, "I protest! The inheritance test is proscribed by the Ministry. It cannot be used unless approved by the Wizengamot!" The toad-woman looked at Harry, "Even then it must first be submitted to the Ministry for review to ensure the Wizengamot's time isn't wasted with obviously spurious claims!"
While every goblin in the room seemed to bristle at her words, Ragnok seemed unfazed, "Under normal circumstances, Under-Secretary, this would be true. This challenge, however, is not considered a normal circumstance. By treaty, Gringotts is tasked to ensure the smooth and unchallenged change-over of power from late House head to heir. This was done at the request of the Houses to keep the Ministry from interfering in House business. Thus we can and will administer this test."
Ragnok leaned forward and smiled in such a way that most of his teeth showed, "That is, of course, unless the Ministry wishes to violate the treaty. I would remind you this would break the Armistice of 1814 which would result in the resumption of hostilities between the Ministry and the Goblin Nation of the British Isles. So tell me, Under-Secretary, shall we as you humans say, 'cry havoc and unleash the dogs of war'?"
A look of unbridled hatred crossed Umbridge's face but she simply shook her head and sat down without another word. The room had gone deathly silent in the mean time.
Ragnok continued to smile, although showing less teeth, as he turned to the Malfoys, "Now back to business."
Before Draco could speak, his mother cut him off, "I protest! If there must be a test then I demand it come via Potter's blood. He has Black blood in him. He is the challenger so let it be his blood used for the test."
Harry frowned. Narcissa seemed to be inexplicably rattled about Draco having to give up his blood for the test. What could it mean and how might it be useful?
Ragnok shrugged but those closest to the goblin noticed the look of triumph which passed between him and Gold-Master Zahav. "Very well, Lady Malfoy. As you say, for this challenge, Mr. Potter's blood will suffice." Ragnok clapped his hand and two goblins appeared holding a blank parchment the size of a Muggle road-map. Griphook left his seat and motioned to Harry to follow him.
Harry made his way to where the goblins had laid the parchment down while Griphook pulled out his ceremonial dagger from his belt. Griphook took his left hand and with a surgical (and yet painless) swipe, slashed open his palm. The goblin then turned Harry's hand over so the blood began to drip onto the parchment. Harry was surprised to see the blood being absorbed similar to how ink had been sucked into Riddle's diary. Griphook let his hand bleed for a minute before offering him a small white crystal. The cut on Harry's palm healed up when he gripped it.
Director Ragnok and Gold-Master Zahav stood and watched over the parchment with Harry. After a bit, an elaborate chart began to emerge in red ink. It was a complex lineage chart made more so by the in-breeding of the Pureblood houses. After ten minutes or so, the parchment had not changed for over a minute. Director Ragnok pursued it, making little grunts and snorts as his finger traced various lines back and forth. However, Harry had already seen that there was no line from Regulus and only a dotted line labeled 'godfather' connecting Sirius to Harry.
With the goblins seemed interested in other parts of the parchment, Harry tried to think of any other way he could challenge Draco. If there wasn't a blood connection closer to Sirius than Draco, what kept the blond git from being able to claim House Black? If Walpurga Black's portrait was anything to go by, it would seem Draco would be welcomed with metaphorical open arms by the Black family magic.
As Harry frowned at this thought, his eyes drifted to some of the documents which had been laid out by the clerks earlier. On one was the crest of House Black. Harry's eyes narrowed as he saw the motto of House Black below the crest and remembered the conversation he and Martin Creswell had had about Slytherin house. Suddenly the line from the real prophecy flashed before his mind's eye. 'Ancient Blood calls to Ancient Powers' it had said. The Black motto spoke of power forever! Harry already knew he was the logical choice to be the one in the prophecy with the ancient blood. There might be a way to defeat Draco after all!
Director Ragnok looked up and announced, "While there has been some unexpected developments from this test, they do not affect our previous verdict. By blood, there is no one with the proper precedence over Draco Hyperion Malfoy to contest his claim."
In the silence, Draco's murmured, "Yes!" was clear to all. His mother turned and glowered at his lack of restraint.
Ragnok turned to Harry, "Do you you have any further evidence to contest this or do you forgo your claim?"
Harry locked eyes with Draco and his face fell into a cruel smile, "Yes Director Ragnok, I do. While I cannot disprove that the manner of my godfather's death may be interfering with your test, I believe I can prove it is the magic of House Black itself which is keeping Draco Malfoy from becoming Lord Black."
The room once again became a nest of whispering. Harry could tell that the majority felt he was grasping at straws.
Director Ragnok, on the other hand, merely raised an eyebrow, "Indeed? Why is this?"
Harry drew himself up and once again looked Draco directly in the eye, "Director Ragnok, honored guests and members of the press. While I have been kept from learning much about magical culture, I recently had it explained to me about a basic concept of magic. This being a pure intent allows one to cast spells with more power. This concept was so important to my ancestors in House Black they made their motto, 'Semper Munditiae; Perpetuum Potestatem. Sadly, 'always pure' has become associated with blood purity. I, however, contend the reason Draco Malfoy is being held back from taking on the mantle of the Ancient and Noble House of Black is he is fundamentally impure. Thus I challenge him, my blood versus his to proove his intentions are pure so House Black can continue to be powerful forever."
The room exploded in a hubbub of babbling voices. Harry ignored them all and kept his eyes locked with Draco, matching his sneer with his tight smile of victory. Check and mate as Ron had too often said to him.
Director Ragnok banged his gavel repeatedly to bring the room back to order. "Mr. Potter, while this is a challenge you are within your rights to make, I warn you that if you fail in your test, your magics may be forfeitt if you are found unworthy."
Harry nodded, "I understand Director Ragnok. However, I am confident that my intent is pure enough that even should my challenge fail, the magicks of House Black will recognize I enter into this with pure intent to safeguard the honor and reputation of House Black."
Director Ragnok smiled and nodded his head slightly, "Well said, young lord." The elderly goblin clapped his hands again. Two more goblins appeared with another blank parchement. The door from which Harry had come through earlier opened and a goblin woman came out. There was a general intake of breath at this. It was rare to see goblin females. In almost all cases those seen were priestesses or the goblin equivelent of sorceresses. This goblin looked to be the latter. She was carrying a plush purple pillow with an ancient tome on it. On top of the book was an ornate ring. Harry realized the book must be the Black family grimoire. He knew the ring was the Black signent ring
The various goblin clerks arranged the new blank parchment next to Harry's inheritance test. With a guttural incantation, the goblin witch levitated the tome and ring so that it rested on both parchments. With a nod to Director Ragnok, the witch left without saying a word.
The clerks backed away as Director Ragnok stood, "By the authority of Gringotts, I call this inheritance hearing to be closed. Should this challenge fail, it is the decision of Gringotts of London, in accordance to treaty with her most royal majesty Elizabeth the Second via the Ministry of Magic that Draco Hyperion Malfoy shall become the new head of the Ancient and Noble House of Black. Should the challenge succeed, then the as per the will of the late Lord Sirius Orion Black that his heir, Henry James Potter, shall take up the House. Let none challenge this decision henceforth!"
Director Ragnok motioned to one of the other clerks as well as Griphook. The other goblin clerk took out his own ceremonial dagger as he rounded the table towards Draco. Harry was surprised again to see Narcissa whispering heatedly with her son. It was obvious she didn't want him to take the test. As the goblin reached Draco, the blond wizard finally could be heard saying firmly, "No, mother, I will not let a half-blood mongrel like Potter keep me from my birthright!"
Draco violently pulled his arm out of his mother's desperate grip and stood. At a gesture from the goblin, Draco held out his palm to be cut as he sent a defiant look at Harry. A slight cough by Griphook brought Harry's attention to the goblin who again had is dagger out."
"Just your thumb, Mr. Potter. After I cut it, you must keep it to the parchment till the magicks decide. The test has been known to be painful. Pulling away will mean you fail your challenge." Griphook said quietly.
Harry nodded so Griphook slit his thumb carefully. Harry quickly put the bloodied thumb in the corner of the test as he watched Draco's own blood dripping onto his test parchment. After a minute Draco was directed to place his palm directly in a corner like Harry had done.
The room was silent. Even the reporters had stopped writing. All eyes were on the two teens who seemed locked in a staring contest. It became apparent quickly that both were feeling some sort of pain. As the minutes ticked away, this pain seemed to be increasing.
To Harry it felt as his blood was slowly coming to a boil in his body. However, while painful in a fundamental way, it still was nothing compared to being put under the Cruciatus Curse by Voldemort. So except for sweat beading upon his brow, Harry just gritted his teeth and concentrated on his love of Sirius in hopes the magicks of House Black would read his pure intent of keeping Draco from defiling the ancient and noble house.
Draco, it seemed to Harry, hadn't the same experience with pain as he had. Seven minutes into the test, as his own inheritence was blooming, Draco was fidgeting and biting his lip. It was obvious to all that the blond wizard was suffering much worse than Harry. At the nine minute mark, Draco was in obvious distress as his inheritance test seemed to have reach completion. Harry recognized the look of agony on Draco's face considering the amount of times he'd seen the same look in Quidditch games after a bludger-induced broken arm, leg or ribs. Harry couldn't help but begin to smile at Draco's pain.
Suddenly Draco let out a scream as he wrenched his right hand off the parchment. The suddenness of this was a bit surprising but what was unexpected was Draco immediately grabbing his left forearm. With another shriek, Draco began to violently rub his arm. A collectived gasp went up as a smokey image rose up out of his left arm like a ghost. Everyone recognized the symbol; it was the Dark Mark.
"That is why Draco Hyperion Malofy is unworthy of the Ancient and Noble House of Black!" Harry said in a loud voice which could be heard over the frantic whispers. All eyes turned towards Harry. "Draco is the son of a man who swore allegience to a madman and allowed himself to be branded like an animal. Lucius Malfoy passed this taint to his son. His blood is unworthy no matter how much he feels the 'purity' of his blood makes him superior." Harry said with heavy sarcasm.
Draco collapsed into a heap and at a gesture from Director Ragnok the two clerks which had brought in the second parchment carefully picked him up and carried him to the main door. The goblin stationed there gave Draco one of the phials which the wizard quickly took. The three then disappeared into the black flames.
While all eyes were on this, Harry found his own gaze drawn to Narcissa. While everyone had been watching Draco fall to the floor, Harry had seen Narcissa give a small cry of pain and quickly take off her wedding ring. To Harry's surprise she pocketed the ring and quickly rolled up the inheritance test. As she turned to follow her son after taking up the test and her purse, their eyes met. Harry and Narcissa share a moment of connection before she turned away and hurried after her son. As she downed the contents of her own phial and went through the flames, Harry could only wonder what was going on in her mind.
Harry turned at a tug on his arm to find Griphook holding out another white crystal, "For you...my Lord Black," the goblin said with a grin.
As Harry took the crystal it came crashing down upon him; he'd done it! He was now the head of the Ancient and Noble House of Black. A lord. A rich lord. Harry's face broke into a evil grin. Dumbledore be damned! He would never set foot at Privet Drive ever again.
He was free!
A/N: I'd like to thank all of you for putting up with this clichéd scene. I plotted this story (and HP and the Rejected Path) a long time ago in relation to how many fics I've read since that time. Sadly even I'm a bit sick of this sort of plot device. However we have two things at work here. One, authors like me all want to try their hand at a scene like this to see if we can do it better. Second, the scene becomes a cliché because so many use it. Why do they use it? Well like the plot device of love potions used on Harry & Hermione to make them like Ginny and Ron, it is a device which solves many questions. So the 'Reading of the Will' sets the stage for many things which enable more plot devices down the road. I also apologize in advance the next chapter will have info covered already in Chapter 5 of Rejected Path and Chapter 3 of Strike Like A Marauder. There will be, however, a different spin on it. I may recycle a lot but I do try to make every iteration different and interesting as I can.
Whoops! For readers of my recent fic, Strike Like A Marauder, Gold-Master Zahav may seem a bit familiar. The reason is I wrote most of this chapter first before getting attacked by the story muse who would not leave me alone. Worse is I came up with Draco being humiliated by the inheritance test which now forces me to retell how Draco ended up a secret Rosier as he might be as alluded to in SLAM. Readers of that fic will also notice how I've really started to dislike a certain character after much reflection. Which one? Well…
The Werewolf: Yes he doesn't sparkle like a "vampire" but I am finding out that I do not like Remus Lupin as a character. Sirius had an excuse to stay away and even in fics (like this one) where Dumbledore interfered, Remus never seemed to try very hard to stay in contact with Harry. In fact in canon, Remus' most noticeable traits are feeling sorry for himself and running away from his responsibilities under the cover of "Oh woe is me; I am a werewolf!" I guess in a way he falls into the category of people who should have known better and stood up to Grandpa Twinkle-Eyes. That he didn't and wanted to run out on his pregnant wife says a lot to me.
No sex, please; I'm British: Adapted from the phenomenal fic Silly Wand Waving (6613579) by Horace Nihil. Check it out! You'll be glad you did.
Bonus Points: Severe geek kudos for those who can find the hidden Star Trek reference in this chapter!
1694: The Bank of England was created in 1694. Coincidence? =)~
ADVANCED WARNING: This fic will contain some M/M action as well as some other odd stuff done due to the vagaries of magic in future chapters. I do NOTconsider this fic to be slash nor am I having this M/M action just for the sake of having it. Nor will it be very common or graphically depicted. It will happen for reasons which will become clear as the story progresses. I bring this up now because I do NOT want to have my review box cluttered up with people complaining about it. If you CANNOT abide such things, than do everyone a favor and stop reading now and don't say anything. I find it very odious that readers of fics (especially Harry/Multi fics) seem to have no problem with F/F sex scenes but heaven forbid that there is even a hint of M/M action. I've already pointed out in both Rejected Path and Paging Dr. Bell that during puberty, there is a lot of same-gender sexual play going on mostly because if a person's magical aura is compatible with another, regardless of gender, there is a tendency to want to become closer with that person. This does not make the person a homosexual. This tendency carries on to adulthood although the weaker the magical aura's in question, the less it affects people. I point this out vis-à-vis Daphne and Tracey in Ginny's In India Now; neither witch is a lesbian but they have a great deal of attraction to each other due to their long friendship and compatible auras. So Harry will have some M/M contact although he himself is not gay because it helps drive the story I'm writing. There are reason for this (some already hinted at) especially since Harry's aura is seriously out of synch so witches and some wizards will be affected by it. So, if you cannot handle this, cannot skim through it than please bow out now and do so QUIETLY! Nobody (especially me) wants to read a review of you bitching and moaning about how "gross" it is or how I've ruined my own story. Besides I'll just have your review deleted anyway so save yourself the time in writing it. If this offends anybody; tough cookies. Besides, complaining about it is very insulting to gays and lesbians and I don't like that either.
Speaking of Offensive: I hope no one thinks I'm being intentionally offensive with my house-elf speech. Maybe I'm being too sensitive but I do notice it is easy to fall into a sort of slave patois with 'de massa wantin' old Dobby bez wassen his clothes' and that is definitely not my intent. If anything, I see it more like LOLcat speech. However, I just wanted to bring it up because I've caught myself doing it and made changes to avoid the problem.