Harry amidst the Vaults of Stone
Badluk the goblin slit open the envelope with a tiny curved silver knife no larger than his thumbnail, and drew out the parchment from within.
It was unusual for the Manager of Gringotts' Inheritance and Contract Law Department to address the terms of a will himself. Even when the named executors were dead, that job would usually fall to one of the dozen goblins below him. Workers worked. Managers managed.
But Badluk had risen to the managerial position after forty years as a legal clerk. Those four decades had been spent dealing with irate wizards offering up challenges that ranged from the desperate to the bizarre. As a result, he possessed a level of cunning even beyond that of his fellow goblins. He had drawn on that cunning, and just a hint of intuition, when he had decided he would examine this particular will personally.
He flipped his jeweller's glass down over one eye, and observed that the wizards' identification magic was properly in place. He wafted the parchment over the magenta flames of the Truthfulness Torch mounted in his desk, and it was not burned.
Content that the parchment was what it claimed to be, he unfolded it, and began to read.
Ten minutes later, the goblin drummed his long, spindly fingers on the polished stone of his desk, staring at the opposite wall and thinking hard.
Just three nights ago, the Council of Counters had met on behalf of their constituents: the ten-thousand-strong Brotherhood of Goblins. The thirteen councillors had been extremely worried.
There had been rumblings lately that the Ministry would try to seize control of Gringotts during the war, and these rumblings had grown into thunderings, and then avalanches of rumour. Relations with the Goblin Liaison Office were worse than they'd been since its founding in 1865. Only the threat of open rebellion had kept wizard hands off the goblins' bank. In the last week there had been signs that even that might not be enough. The war against the Death Eater terrorists had been going so badly that the government was willing to do anything – risk anything – to cut off their resources.
Then, just a few hours ago, word had reached the Gringotts Department of Information and Veracity that the instigator of this trouble, the Dark Lord Voldemort, was dead. Each of the departmental managers had learned of this immediately upon waking the next morning, in the pleasant gloom of Underfoot, the bastion of the goblin nation. Each of them had put on a similar expression of mild annoyance at the amount of panicked business that would surely eventuate, and hurried up through stone tunnels to the bank, to deal with the economic aftermath in their own particular area.
Manager Bogripple's sources tended to be eerily reliable. Those sources were soon saying that the Dark Lord had been improbably vanquished, at the hand of a one-year-old boy, whose parents had been slain just moments earlier.
The goblins had lost their bank to the Ministry once before, in the nineteenth century. The prospect of being drawn into a war over it had not been a pleasant one. Oh, they would probably win that war, but it would not be without costs. The Brotherhood clearly owed the boy a great debt, and goblins always paid their debts.
But business came first as it always had to, and amongst that business was seeing to the last will and testament of Lily and James Potter, in the absence of a living executor. Normal processes had been hurried along a little, and the document had arrived in a clerk's tray from the filing vaults just before lunch. Badluk immediately appropriated it.
The will had been written only a year ago, after the birth of the Potters' son. Such was common amongst the older families. The terms of the document were quite clear. Each Potter would have acted as executor for the other, and now it was Gringotts' legal agents who were to carry out the clauses which covered the case of both the humans' deaths. The key directive of these clauses involved the placement of their child in appropriate hands.
Badluk reached for the bronze speaking tube which led to the Department of Debt and Recovery.
With the faintest of sounds, two figures appeared in the dark suburban street.
One figure was very short, and one was very tall. Both wore heavy dark grey cloaks, with hoods that covered their faces.
The shorter figure released the arm of the taller. Each of them immediately looked swiftly about in opposite directions.
Grimcrok, Manager of the Gringotts Debt and Recovery Department, had recognised that this would be a unique assignment, and had ventured out with one of the few trustworthy humans in the goblins' employ, a wizard named Boris Scintillion.
The moment they had been notified, Manager Grimcrok's Department had conferred with Manager Bogripple's. They had called in all their seers, scryers, spies and wardbreakers. Their collective efforts let them locate Grimcrok's new charge in just short of fifteen hours.
It now took the pair of them approximately five minutes to find the right doorstep and lift the bundle gently from it, and then a few seconds later they were gone, just as the garishly-painted nails of dawn's pink fingers crept over the horizon.
Albus Dumbledore ran a weary hand over his face. He had been awake for almost three days straight, tying up the loose ends associated with the unexpected fall of Tom Riddle.
The Wizengamot would be meeting again this afternoon, to process a slew of captured Death Eaters, and he had a personal appointment with the Minister before that. Dumbledore was no spring chicken, and he was feeling the fatigue of war. He would snatch a few hours of rest just as soon as he could get his Deputy Headmaster out of his hair.
"You're quite sure he'll be safe?"
Dumbledore looked at her with blue eyes that were tired and sunken. "Certainly. His mother had placed a powerful protective charm upon him. I raised wards, and wove that charm permanently into them, before I left. He'll be perfectly safe from anyone who wishes him harm, my dear. And he'll be out of the public eye."
"And you're just going to leave him with those ghastly muggles?" the old, severe-looking witch asked. "You know what I reported about them. There must be some other option. He might not have immediate wizarding relatives, but there must be some on James' side..."
"The Blacks," said Dumbledore simply.
Minerva McGonagall's mouth snapped shut.
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows at her. "As you can imagine, this solution might not be an ideal one – it may not be the best place for young Harry to be raised, but..."
"No, I see," she said quietly. When the alternative was the Blacks...
The Headmaster sighed, and rose from his comfortable throne-like chair. "I took a few hairs from him. I'll raise the rest of the wards and traces now, to ease your mind."
The silver-bearded wizard went from table to table, fiddling with one bizarre device after another. He adjusted what looked like a television aerial badly wrapped in strips of velvet. He carefully set the hands on something akin to a clock mounted in a silver teapot. He tapped his wand against an agglomeration of springs and golden balls, which began to whirl and hum gently.
"There. Now I shall be instantly alerted whenever any magic is performed in the house, and also in the case that his new family mention him to the muggle authorities – for instance, if he goes missing. Any scrying spells attempting to locate him will be redirected to a fen in Ireland."
Minerva McGonagall bit her lip, watching the old man struggle into his travelling cloak. "You are adamant that nobody is to see him? Nobody from our world at all?"
Dumbledore nodded slowly. "When things are less tumultuous, I shall begin a discrete search for somebody willing to live nearby in order to watch over him. Perhaps a squib couple, or a retired witch or wizard. Ideally I should have someone in place by the time he is performing accidental magic. But the child is certainly safe for now."
"He is almost... a sweet child," the goblin Sibilig sighed. "For a human, yes? And he could be such a useful tool for our people, too."
Badluk glanced up at his mate, concerned by a certain note in her voice. Their alliance of twelve years had been comfortable, but childless. Now she was considering the boy in his bundle of cloth with a strange expression on her face.
Badluk looked back down, and scratched the first name off the list. "And perhaps he will yet be, in time. I have heard rumours that the centaurs are drawing out his world-lines from the stars, and the scryers of the merfolk have been a-flurry about him. Whispers have come, saying that he is a child of prophecy or a vessel of destiny."
The mocking snarl on his face made it clear what he thought about that.
Sibilig straightened up and looked across at the parchment on her mate's desk. "What is to be done with him?"
"The Potters specified his caregivers in the event of their deaths."
"Is that common?"
"No, although it is not unheard-of. Child placement is one of the few things the bloated wizard Ministry does not have a formal office for. I have seen more and more wills from wizards concerning themselves with the issue, because of the war."
"There is rather more business in wills and inheritance across the board, actually," Badluk grinned, "With all these wizards killing each other off. I may have to request more staff."
"Good for business, yes?"
"So where is he to go?" Sibilig gestured, eyes fixated on the child.
"His grandfather is listed as the first to take charge of him, but the man died months ago, while the Potters were in hiding. There is a small vault for the Potter bloodline which could be contested, since the boy's father did not emerge to lay claim to it after his death. This new complication will tie the clerks in knots."
"So. Not his grandfather, then. No other immediate relations? Returned to the muggle family he was left with?"
"Not yet. Next on the list is one Sirius Black. Currently residing in Azkaban, as of just this evening, I hear. Indefinitely."
His mate narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. "We owe no official life-debt to the boy, but... it could be done."
"The ...criminal could be recovered for this purpose, yes, but he will not be. Cost notwithstanding, the document instructs us to abide by wizarding law 'where possible'."
"A difficult phrase."
"The will also instructs us to keep the boy safe as a first imperative."
"Perhaps we will not give him to a criminal, then."
"Perhaps. Who is listed next?"
Badluk looked down at the list, crossing off the name Sirius Black.
"It would appear to be one Remus Lupin. I shall make discreet inquiries."
Cuthbert Mockridge stood nervously until his guest was seated. The moustachioed wizard had only just become head of the Goblin Liaison Office; his Gobbledegook was barely adequate, and he had only before met a few of the Gringotts Managers at his formal introduction.
"I have undertaken the investigation you asked for," the man said, after offering a few badly-accented pleasantries in the goblin tongue. "As a matter of public knowledge, I can tell you only that he was born in St Mungo's in 1960, has never worked for the Ministry, and his wand is registered."
Mockridge paused, then went on. "But there is information I can reveal to you, in your capacity as an appointed leader of the goblin nation, if you are willing to go on record as having requested and received it."
Badluk, in his cape of ebon and boots of blue dragonhide, made a show of considering the offer. Of course, he was already legally and morally obliged to ask for the information.
He set down the cup of disgusting wizard tea he had been offered. Quite a nice set of china, actually, given that it was made by clumsy human hands. "I am indeed willing."
Mockridge leaned forward. "Very well. Lupin is a halfblood. His wand is oak with a spun quartz core. He has no criminal record. He graduated Hogwarts in 1978 with five NEWTs. But perhaps of most interest to you, Remus Lupin is a registered werewolf."
Badluk raised his cup again and peered into it to hide his expression. Even mentioning wands to a goblin was a gaffe, of course, but on the whole, he had found Mockridge rather pleasant. Stupid, perhaps, but eager to please. The Ministry did not have to reveal this information; it was being given to him on the understanding that it would be used to protect the economy of wizarding Britain. Just one of those little unspoken deals on which the Ministry ran.
"Could I receive a copy," he asked at last, "Of the werewolf legislation which I recall was passed several months ago?"
"Well?" Sibilig pressed a cup of lime gall coffee into his hand.
"Promising at first, but non-viable."
Badluk narrowed his yellow eyes at her. "The information I have received about him cannot possibly be revealed to anybody for anything less than a true emergency."
"Oh?" His mate smiled.
"He is a werewolf."
"A great pity, yes. You have no sympathy there?"
"More than the idiot wizards do. Presumably the Potters knew of his nature when they penned their will, which ought to be enough, despite the danger he would present to a child if he did not take great precautions.
However. As with the criminal Black, he cannot adopt. In this case, due to official Ministry legislation. And we are bound to follow those laws. 'Where possible', see."
Sibilig frowned slightly. "Back to the muggle humans then, or does the list continue?"
"Well... it does. One more name before Petunia Dursley." Badluk glanced down at it once more, although he knew what was written there. He sighed. "Peter Pettigrew."
The other goblin cocked her head. "Isn't that..."
Badluk sipped his coffee. "I will visit the aunt tonight."
The door slammed in Boris Scintillion's face. He stood there for a moment, and then walked back down to the footpath, where he was joined by his two superiors, both barely visible under notice-me-not charms.
The two goblins looked at the bundle still held in his arms, then at each other, and then up at the middle-aged wizard's frowning face.
"He is... not wanted there?" Badluk asked slowly.
"What did the muggle say?" asked Grimcrok.
The blonde wizard scowled. "She said, 'If there's anywhere he can go, anywhere else at all, then don't dump him on me.' When I hesitated, she booted me out."
"Scintillion. Were those her exact words?" There was the faintest note of something – something beyond simple interest – in Badluk's voice.
"Bring us back to my office."
Scintillion fumbled out the talisman that let him Apparate through the wards of the outer Gringotts offices, waited for each goblin to grip his arm, and then Disapparated with a pop.
An hour later, the thirteen councillors of the goblin nation met around a large table of blue quartz in the depths of Gringotts. The quartz was filled with veins of gold, and the overall effect was quite lovely. It was goblin-crafted, of course.
Perhaps coincidentally, but almost certainly not, the thirteen members of the Council of Counters were also the thirteen departmental managers of Gringotts.
Gurmsalt the Wary, King of the Brotherhood of Goblins, Bank Director and High Manager of Gringotts, spoke above the hubbub of Gobbledegook.
"Badluk, show us the will."
The parchment was passed along the table, murmured over by clusters of goblins until it had done a full circuit.
"The terms are quite clear." This was Ziggiz, Manager of the Wizarding Law Department. "We abide by the wizards' little rules to the extent that we can. Which is to say, 'where possible'. In the event that none of the listed persons can take him, we are to house him with an appropriate family in Britain, ensuring above all else that he is safe."
"Death Eaters have been escaping due justice in droves. The Ministry is diminished and corrupt, its best Aurors dead. Interest in 'The Boy Who Lived' is already escalating. I would venture the opinion that no wizarding family in Britain could be considered safe right now."
The new speaker was Wurmspitz, a swift-tongued elderly goblin who managed the Diplomatic and Policy Department.
"An intriguing opinion. Coupled with the fact that both boy and will are currently situated in Gringotts itself..." the king shrugged.
The suggestion was clear. Underfoot, city of the goblins far underground, was held to only its own laws within the enclave walls. No wizard set foot in it, ever. The 1865 peace agreement extended some of this autonomy to Gringotts grounds, where the strange wizarding notion of personal property which could be bought and sold held sway, to the disgust of the goblins.
But the terms of the agreement also said that no wizarding laws established after 1865 applied within the walls of Gringotts. The bank was a sort of neutral territory, not quite fitting within goblin custom, not quite ensconced in wizard law.
There had certainly been no child placement laws before 1865. Inheritance laws, yes, but the child's inheritance was not in question.
All around the table, goblins were smiling thinly. Most of goblin body language was in the teeth. Thin smiles with lips pressed tight over the teeth meant tentative agreement coupled with quiet satisfaction.
"Can it be done? There would surely be consequences." Grippflag, Manager of the Insurance Department, always made risk her first order of business.
Eyes turned to Bogripple, who ran the bank's Department of Information and Veracity, and knew more than anybody about the secrets of the way the wizarding world functioned. He thought carefully.
"If the Ministry were to become concerned with any child, it would be this one," he said at last, looking across at the crib in the corner of the room. "But it would also be very, very hard to challenge our actions. They would have neither precedent nor due process on their side. We have the will, there are no other relations to claim him, and he can be raised in Underfoot where wizarding laws are nothing. Even quibbling about 'safety' would not change anything."
He turned to Grimcrok. "To be sure, we would need to acquire a Pensieve device and your agent's memories of the muggle aunt's refusal."
"They could demand his return," Gurmsalt said thoughtfully, "If the Ministry bent over backwards and one of the specified guardians became available."
"You are thinking of the werewolf Lupin, and the relevant legislation being repealed?"
"No. That would sit even less well with the public than having the boy in our care, I believe. I was actually thinking of Black."
There was a surprised susurration around the table.
Pogsheen, the young Manager of the Tax Department, spoke up. "I heard he was the parents' betrayer, on top of the murder charges," she said. "Even were the man released for a trial, he would certainly not be an immediate candidate for custody, regardless of his guilt or innocence."
"He would have no power over the placement of a child not already in his care, if awaiting trial," added Ziggiz.
"Dumbledore will surely become involved," Grippflag murmured.
Bogripple nodded. "But he has no legal standing. He has been ...quite reasonable to us, but his usefulness is slim compared to that of the boy Potter."
Heads nodded all around the table. Albus Dumbledore had a surprisingly amiable relationship with the Brotherhood of Goblins, helped by his mastery of their language and his employ of a half-goblin professor. But – even discounting the future political usefulness of the Boy Who Lived – there had been strange rumours, murmurings in low places, arcane whispers of what the child might eventually become.
And, when it really came down to it, they were contractually obliged to ensure the infant's safety.
Badluk and Sibilig had been exchanging complicated glances since the meeting began. Now, Sibilig spoke up. "My mate and I shall raise the boy, if it is the Council's wish."
And so it was done, in dead of night and deed of will, amidst echoing stone halls, by parchment and promise and thoughts for the future.
→ Well, we're off to a good start. This story is going to be rather long and richly detailed, focusing on the nature of magic as much as plot and action. Please read and review!