Harry amidst the Vaults of Stone
Chapter 27 (~~~~Intermission~~~~)
Inside a cheery office, two small figures made a tableau over a bulbous teapot. On its pottery sides, blue courtiers in blue robes bowed and fluttered blue fans against a background of spindly surface trees; the trees, too, were blue. The spout was a moustachioed dragon, which snorted forth steam every time the pot was lifted.
Filius Flitwick's face was wrinkled and atypically stern, and his hands were clasped in front of him as he spoke. "I've been informed that Mister Malfoy was to blame for your tumble."
Hermione told, obviously. Harry tried not to shift too obviously in his seat in front of the part-goblin Brother's desk.
"Well, Malfoy was there, but I didn't actually see who it was." Technically true.
Filius' fingers unclasped and beat a staccato tattoo against a teacup. "Hmm-mmm. Are you sure about that, Harry?"
Harry dropped his eyes to the intriguing enchanted trinkets that cluttered the Charms Professor's desk. He was rather torn. On the one hand, it wasn't a serious matter – if it had been, he'd have gone along with the conflict resolution or trial by combat or exile or ear-taking or whatever measure the school used.
...But Malfoy The Younger certainly shouldn't be allowed to think he could get away with it.
...And Harry had been trying to fit in, and do (wizard) things by the (wizard) book, but nothing had gone quite right, from the food to the language to the baffling ways in which people occupied themselves. The classes were slow (Transfiguration) or irritating (History) or vapid (Astronomy), the discussions with the centaurs he'd envisioned had not come to pass, there was nowhere to hunt...
...Harry was aware that he had already made up his mind, and he was rationalising. But he wanted to do something his way. He fully intended to deal with this.
He broke the long silence to Flitwick, feeling only a little bit guilty.
Filius gave him a level stare – with the professor on his high stool, their eyes were exactly matched – then rose and went to a large cabinet, unlocking it with a gesture to reveal a square of absolute darkness, a curious blank patch in the world. A murmured incantation, and the diminutive professor drew forth from that emptiness Harry's staff of oak and rowan.
Harry took it from the slightly frowning Flitwick, and felt the usual indefinable rush of power, now dulled by familiarity into a tiny warm sensation. "Thank you."
"You're quite welcome, Harry," Filius squeaked, closing the cabinet again. Unspoken words hung heavy in the air between them – but that was always the case, when you were in the Brotherhood of Goblins. "And if there's anything you want to tell me, drop in any time."
On Saturday evenings, conversation in the Ravenclaw common room was the muted roar of a distant waterfall. It washed over Harry as he worked on his Charms homework.
The Standard Book of Spells, Grade One lay open on the table, at the pages that illustrated for a few seconds the casting of the Finger Flames Cantrip. Someone's wand flicked over and over again in the grainy photograph, with exactly the same result with each loop of the ink.
Kevin, sitting opposite him, hummed – a series of discordant notes which flirted continually with an actual tune, melting the sealing-wax (as it were) but never quite sealing the deal. The sandy blonde boy was thumbing idly through what had happened to be the only book within reach.
Over the centuries, the Ravenclaws had acquired a motley assortment of books, which graced the various window ledges of the common room, were stacked on the fire's mantle, had been shoved down the sides of armchairs, propped up the legs of wobbly tables, and in some very rare cases even sat on the bookshelves.
The eclectic collection was occasionally topped up with the shiny-covered sort of thing that people bequeathed their old school House, but was mainly composed of the type of unimportant books which could be left lying around and forgotten about. This baseline was filtered further by the tendency of students to make off with the interesting ones and either forget or 'forget' to return them, and the result was a small, communal library that could be divided into three categories.
Most prominent were the ubiquitous school books – the previous-edition textbooks and a past Head Boy's bound handwritten notes, the charms dictionary and the broomstick manual and the other volumes for burgeoning scholars which were never left alone for long enough to disappear.
Then there were a few books that stuck around for other reasons – the Ravenclaw Biography that was chained in its shrine-like wall sconce, the complete set of illuminated Latin encyclopedias that were so densely warded against theft that at night they really were illuminated, and the Venomous Book of Venomous Insects, which could give as good as it got and seldom came down from the ceiling anyway.
And finally there were the weird and dull books – the foreign language spellbooks, the annals of history's most boring events, the grimoires brimming with rambling conjecture from ageing theorists who thought themselves misunderstood geniuses, the novels with half their pages missing, the tomes of outdated potions and disputed magical facts. They formed a layer around the room like leaf dross on a forest floor.
Kevin had picked up Evolution of the Modern Writing-Desk: Additional Notes, which was practically the archetypal Category Three.
"The modern Cheveret desk is only a slight variation on the original furnishings of the extensive arcane section of the Library of Alexandria," he read aloud, as Harry's hand yet again mirrored the wand movements of the illustration in the Charms text. "Huh. I never knew that."
Where the photograph achieved the exact same results with every repetition, Harry's own spell had varied. This particular time, he dovetailed the final loop of the wand into the initial loop, and then again, repeating the spell three times.
Loop one; the completion of the spell.
Loop two; no effect.
Loop three; the gelatinous fire he had conjured crept across the table until it had doubled in size.
Harry blinked, and thumbed through the textbook. The coppery flames flickered and slowly died away as he read. Yes, the charm could be repeated, to create a more complex effect. And there were variations listed, but nothing about the fundamental rate at which the basic spell produced flame.
"Apparently, a wizard in Devonshire once charmed a credenza to light the candles when he entered the room, as well as sort his correspondence, trim his bunions, keep the tea caddy full, and massage his neck," Kevin said. "He took the secret of how he'd done it to the grave after the house fire and the rampage and the accidental vampirism. D'you suppose that's a common sort of occurrence?"
"As I do not know what a credenza is, I could not possibly comment," Harry said. He cast the charm four times in succession, and squinted at the puddle of quivering flames from various angles before it evaporated. That had looked roughly three times the size of his original patch of fire.
He then tried two chained castings, being extremely careful with the movements. The first repetition still had no effect at all on the charm.
"Metamorphic library steps have been independently invented by muggle artificers in the late Eighteenth Century, using ingenious moving parts in place of enchantment – a rare example of magical/mundane convergent evolution in furniture," Kevin read aloud. "However, the muggle set that the authors were fortunate enough to acquire did not follow at the owner's heels. We were unable to ascertain whether this was a defective item, or whether that ability lies only within the domain of magic."
Harry tried six castings, back to back, but fumbled the last one. He tried again and was successful, and unless he was misremembering, that was rather more than a fivefold increase over the original.
"Maybe I'm just getting better," he said dubiously, instinctively ducking away from a folded parchment flying device that someone on the other side of the room had sent aloft.
"Enough to make a big difference in the last ten minutes?"
Harry blinked. He hadn't realised Kevin was paying attention; the boy was still buried in the book. "Well – no, almost certainly not. Maybe if I had been learning the spell, but this was just practise."
"Hmm. The Bargueño desk," Kevin noted, "was the original portable clerk's workshop for lettered individuals in times when literacy was rare. The basic model has remained pervasive. Notably, Warlock Howl of Lancashire owned an early Escritoire which folded into a wallet and bound scrolls automatically; this set a trend that has only been very recently replaced with the modern spread of the envelope-dispensing Wooton desk."
Harry nodded along as he drew a grid upon a piece of parchment.
It took some time, and he had to repeat each attempt several times and take the average – there was noticeable spread between his attempts, it wasn't just inaccurate measurement – but he eventually had a sequence of numbers. They represented the area the flames covered after a single repetition of the charm, then two, three, and so on.
"1.6, 1.8, 3.5, 5.3, 8.7, 13.6, 22.7, 36.1," he read aloud.
Kevin peered over and scratched his head. "They're not doubling, right?"
"Maybe they're meant to be, though. Maybe you haven't got the magic quite right yet."
Harry snorted, looked back down at the numbers, drew a line under them, bit his lip for luck, and divided them all by 1.6.
"So... 1.0, 1.1, 2.2, 3.3, 5.4, 8.5, 14.2, 22.6."
"Not too helpful."
He drew it out on a chart, and looked at the line, which formed a relatively smooth curve. Exponential, yes? His books had some interesting things to say about those progressions. For a start, it meant that someone with sufficient time on their hands could suffocate the entire planet in cheerfully quivering flames, unless there was a hard constraint somewhere.
Kevin stopped his discordant whistling to speak up again. "The typical tambour desk is considerably more compact than a butler's desk or spinet desk, and has shutters that are typically charmed with increasing levels of security from left to right, to store documents of differing levels of sensitivity and required ease of access."
The flames filled a volume rather than an area. Maybe the third dimension was confounding things. Harry set to with one of the chipped, ink-stained wooden rulers that served as frequent bookmarks and infrequent weapons in the Ravenclaw common room. The height of the flickering flames didn't seem to change much at all, though, or if it did, he couldn't measure it. He disregarded that idea for now. Anyway...
The evening drifted on into mumbled conjecture and measurements and wandwork, until Terry sat down next to Kevin and the two of them drew him into an absurd conversation about whether there was any truth in the floating rumours that something had eaten Professor Kettleburn's remaining leg, and if so, whether a yeti or a bunyip was the more likely culprit.
The weekend, Harry reflected, pouring himself half a goblet of juice and diluting it from the water jug. Another jarring little thing. In the human wizarding world, everyone had their day of rest at the same time – except it was two days. That seemed highly suspicious. But perhaps it was a school thing; or perhaps they included some errands in their weekend that goblins might have considered part of a normal day's work.
Students trickled in, even later than usual: the Hall was only a quarter full by the time the mail delivery was due to begin. Kevin plunked himself down next to Harry, dark sleepless patches under his eyes. As yet, strings of nonsensical syllables were all Harry had heard his dorm-mate utter in the mornings before spending ten minutes all but immersed in coffee. The other students seemed to prefer tea or the ever-present pumpkin juice.
Harry gave up on Kevin and turned to one of the first mail owls as it fluttered down. He recognised the bird by its coppery plumage as a Gringotts staff owl; the perfectly round golden eyes confirmed it.
A lot of that kind of specialisation went on, he knew. Gringotts had dedicated owlcotes and keepers dedicated to breeding the traits true. They maintained some entire lines for extremely high-paying clients, who wanted a particular temperament or eye colour, or more commonly a prestigious wingspan, in their mailbirds. Something more permanent than a charm or transfiguration.
The Gringotts keepers had also been trying, with as yet limited success, to have a perfect silver 'G' appear on their own birds. The owl that was now regarding him balefully, for example, had a splotch like a crescent moon across its breast, but the mark wasn't the right colour.
Harry took the letter delicately, noting the owl was waiting for a response. He flicked it open with a blunt tableknife, but then Kevin had risen from the dead to nudge him and nod towards the Slytherin table.
Draco Malfoy was receiving a package, delivered by a jet-black eagle owl. One of the boy's hulking bookends and a Slytherin girl were interested – it looked like it could be food of some sort.
Harry, noting that Blaise was seated and watching closely, looked back down at his own missives.
"Squiggle, squiggle, square spiral, squiggle, concentric rings, stylised dagger, squiggle, backwards capital R," Kevin read over his shoulder. "It's gibberish to me."
"Gobbledegook," Harry corrected. "From Sibilig – my foster parent." He paused in his perusal of the note as the owl shifted restlessly. He picked the other letter – this one in excruciatingly formal English – out of the envelope, skimmed it, signed it, and sent it off.
"And that?" Kevin asked curiously.
"Just some business. Though I have little doubt that I will grow to love Blaise like a brother," Harry said dryly, "it would not do for me to actually legally become his brother."
The other boy didn't seem to know what to make of this, and Harry turned his attention back to the note. He read that the Lestrange vault had been sealed pending inquiry. An almost unprecedented action, but then, so was the Dark Witch's attack on Gringotts.
Hearing Harry's noise of interest, Kevin leaned over, again trying to decipher the Gobbledegook.
"Bank business," Harry said. "I cannot really discuss it."
Which led to a discussion with the muggleborn boy, over pancakes, of goblin banking.
There was some mutual misunderstanding until some nomenclature had been cleared up. Accounts, as opposed to vaults, were a relatively new innovation in magical Britain, and one that hadn't really caught on. Accounts paid annual interest – Kevin had seemed very surprised how little – and were not represented by an actual cavern in the ground you could go and visit. That was a concept which made a lot of wizards wary. The feeling was that removing the big enclosed space with the solid metal door from the equation was dangerously untraditional.
Gringotts didn't have much of a market in loans, either, especially to people who lacked a vault to begin with, because they had limited standing to enforce payment outside the bank. And they didn't trust the Ministry to cooperate.
Besides, what wizards really wanted was somewhere to store magical objects: things to be regarded as priceless heirlooms during the good times, or to be pawned off or sold when ends weren't quite meeting. They wanted to store away dirty family secrets, and things they didn't want their Ministry to know about.
And if they declared bankruptcy, it was certainly no business of Gringotts what was still in their vaults. The Ministry would have to invade to check, and interestingly, there was no stipulation that Gringotts had to care. It could all be very mutually beneficial.
The bank, officially at least, had no idea what was inside a client's vault. An account had records. It was nothing but records. Of course, Gringotts offered the option of a magical tally-book that bypassed the protections to keep record of vault contents, for a certain fee. Or for a certain other fee, allowed clients to do it themselves, if they had the resources to create an artefact like that.
Oh yes, there were branches and offices and lawyers for investment and contracts and writs and taxes, of course, but they were very much on the periphery of the business. What the ancient institution had always been about was charging customers to put their gold in a big, safe, hole in the ground.
Some of this – the more acceptable parts – Harry tried to convey to a fascinated Kevin over blueberry pancakes and tiny sausages and pulpy, too-sweet pumpkin juice.
And then after breakfast came the football.
Sunday was apparently something of a day of worship to certain students, and the manner of said worship had been described to Harry as "pick-up footer".
This was the three-way brainchild of Dean Thomas and Wayne Hopkins and Wayne's older cousin Leander, who was in charge by virtue of actually having a ball. After a lot of initial confusion about the rules, and then some later confusion from a few purebloods in Hufflepuff about why the ball was light and not floating, and then some further confusion about where and what the goals were, the game was under way.
In the end the teams consisted of Basically All Of First Year Hufflepuff facing off against The Rest, because that was easiest, and the Badgers wore their school ties around their upper arms or foreheads, which helped, at least a little.
Terry and Seamus and Leander's friend Ainsley, who had some notion of the rules, formed a second line of defence behind Leander and Kevin and Dean, who were old hands at the game. Harry and Stephen Cornfoot, who didn't seem to like him much, got stuck in goal, with very little concept of what they were meant to be doing. Jan had no more idea, but that had absolutely no effect on her being in the thick of things.
Nine against eleven might have been reasonably matched, with the two older boys on their side, but without a referee and with more than half the players being entirely new to the game, it was hard to tell.
The opposing team was full of pep and vim and eagerness, and six of them were girls and as such eye-wateringly vicious about where they placed a knee or elbow. Fifteen minutes in, Ainsley was sporting a bloodied nose, Neville had been tripped by his own team-mates twice, nobody was daring to intercept Artemis Roper on account of her steel-toed boots, and Stephen Cornfoot had accidentally – but spectacularly – used his face to block an attempt on goal.
Of all of the Hufflepuff class, only tiny Sally-Anne Perks had stayed out of the game. She waited dourly on the edge of the lawn in an oversized jacket, looking as if she were solely responsible for upholding the moral standing of the school.
Harry didn't understand a single one of the instructions Dean and Kevin kept shouting, and only got to kick the ball once. But it was reasonably fun all the same, and by the time his new archnemesis – rain – cut the game short, Harry was glad he'd had the opportunity to work off some energy.
The experts from the teams put their heads together and declared it a draw by way of five fouls to three own goals, and they all trooped inside, comparing scrapes and bruises. Pip the Prefect ordered them to a halt and hit each player with a cleaning charm, then sighed in resignation at the mud they'd tracked all over the Entrance Hall, telling them to 'scarper' before Filch found out.
Scarper they did, and the advisability of extending the game inside the corridors was discussed but eventually dismissed, so the intrepid players drifted off to talk or visit the lavatory or explore the school.
After lunch, it was 'library time'. Harry met up with Hermione and Terry and Kevin and the quiet but determinedly studious Lisa Turpin, who Harry didn't really know. Blaise and Theodore had shown up, but both disappeared in boredom, something that beggared belief amidst the five Ravenclaws. And maybe it was the House that was the cause of this difference in keenness, but it didn't escape Harry's notice that his companions – well, he didn't know about Lisa – were entirely new to the world of magic.
Later in the afternoon, when Kevin pronounced himself unable to keep his eyes open any longer and Terry's parchment doodlings had strayed dangerously close to the open textbook, they left, bundling Harry out with them. Hermione and Lisa stayed longer, working on their Charms homework.
As they walked, the trio were discussing magic; specifically, how exactly one went about becoming as great a wizard as Dumbledore, who they had seen leaving the library with a stack of books floating after him. Kevin was wondering whether simple practise could be enough, Terry remained an obtuse proponent of 'long wizardly beards', and Harry was trying to work back to the original question of how they could distinguish breadth of knowledge from versatility of spells and mastery of lesser-known secrets.
"But if we take you as an example - it's just that you know all this magic that I haven't even read about, and it's not just that you got a head start because you started earlier holy hell," Terry said, leaping out of the way. A small barrel clattered down the staircase ahead of them, breaking open against the stone wall and spilling small, vinegar-smelling fish everywhere.
Peeves cascaded down after it, holding another barrel under his arm, and they ran.
When the short detour ended with the poltergeist's cackles echoing in the distance, they paused in an urn-studded antechamber, where Terry slumped panting against the wall.
Harry examined a stone urn, picking at the thread of conversation.
"Sure, I know a lot of magic. But not wizard magic, yes?"
"Yes? Wizard magic?"
"Yes. Spell, light, poof."
"Poof," Kevin agreed solemnly.
"Goblin-work... There is a difference there. Perhaps not a fundamental one, but an important one. A difference in approach, yes? To the wizard, it seems it is of little use if the magic isn't quick and flashy, if it builds up of its own accord. But..." Harry cast around and saw an old door – oak, with rusted iron studs. Definitely due to be replaced. He slapped the dinged-up surface. "How long would it take you to break this down?"
Terry and Kevin regarded it. "Without my dad's power tools? I wouldn't know where to begin."
"Well, even if you had studied a blasting curse, it might still take you hours. You don't have the, ah, firepower to do it with wizard spells. I might not either. Whereas..."
Harry brought his wand up and began to trace the surface of the door, mouthing the spiky syllables of Gheed's Composting Accelerator, being very careful to click his teeth in exactly the right manner after each triptych.
A faint blue glow, composed from a pattern of hundreds of beads of light, appeared on the door's surface. The mandala hung there for a second and then sunk into the wood.
"Observe," said Harry.
"...Not a lot?" opined Terry hesitantly, after a few moments.
"It takes a while. The spell is being fuelled by ambient magic, you see. Little drops in a bucket, all adding up, and nothing to do with me. My work was just the bucket."
Over the next minute, a perfectly circle patch of wood in the door became flaky and discoloured, and the air in the antechamber was filled with a mouldering smell.
"Cool?" said Kevin, also uncertain.
After another minute, when the first splinter of rotten wood dropped away of its own accord, Harry proved his point by elbowing the door.
Once, and the punky wood deformed; twice, and it caved inwards, the head-sized hole revealing a long, dark corridor beyond. Terry gave a muffled squeak behind him.
"You see my point, then," Harry said, and then turned slowly when he received no answer.
Professor Snape loomed there, with his hands gripping the other boys' shoulders. "Potter," he breathed.
An iron stud dropped to the floor with a loud clatter in the silence.
Harry observed Professor Snape carefully as the man stalked back and forth, ranting about expulsion.
His agitation was almost absurdly over the top, yet clearly very real. The teacher was practically foaming at the mouth. It struck Harry as unprofessional. Bordering on – well – unhinged.
He quickly cleared his mind of door puns; now would not be the time to break into an inadvertent grin.
Their Head of House watched gravely from behind his desk. The teapot had been put away for this.
"Senseless destruction... wanton disregard... school property... well beyond simple repair... arrogance... third-floor corridor!"
Oh, yes, apparently it had been the door of the forbidden corridor that Harry had by chance singled out.
Snape had built up a good head of steam. It remained to be seen whether his pressure valve would handle it or if there would be some type of explosion in the firebox. ...Harry had checked his reference books about steam engines after the trip to Hogwarts. Was it the mild terror that was driving his mind to these constructions now?
Regardless. The Potions master was in a rage, certainly. But Snape hadn't been truly incensed until Flitwick had disregarded the calls for expulsion in favour of asking with excitement exactly how the destruction had been accomplished.
Kevin and Terry sat to the side of the room, clearly content to be overlooked.
Harry tried to explain about their discussion of magic. He attempted to spell out what the point of the object lesson was. He pointed out that he intended to make a new door from the beginning, obviously.
"You'll make a new one?" Snape had stopped looking at him like gunk on the bottom of a cauldron, and started looking as if said gunk had grown arms and demanded a living wage.
Flitwick interrupted the ensuing rant to agree that it was, in fact, policy to have the culprit's caregivers pay to replace the school property, rather than have them construct a new one from raw materials.
"Six hours of detention isn't that bad," Terry commiserated back in the common room, eyes flickering at Harry's expression. "That'll only be two or three nights."
"What? Oh. No, I'm just... annoyed that I still don't really know how things work around here."
And, Harry had to admit, he had been looking forward to restoring the door. He hadn't thought that part completely through, though – he didn't know where the school kept its timber, or even if there was a proper joiner's workshop somewhere in the vast labyrinthine edifice of granite. At this rate, he was going to get out of practise, and he had earned even more detention which he didn't dare to hope he'd be doing something constructive in.
The trio had lost twenty points each, too, which was somewhat galling.
"Funny that it was Snape who found us," Kevin said. "Given he didn't seem to like you from the beginning."
Terry leaned in conspiratorially over his Charms assignment. "What was he doing there, anyway? Guarding whatever is so dangerous that it's locked up in there?"
Harry shrugged. "Not enough data points. We could ask an older student whether parts of the school often get quarantined like that."
"Yeah..." Kevin chewed on the end of his quill, critically observing one of the characteristically noisy and pointless wizard games being played in the common room that evening. It wasn't the one with the combusting cards or the one with the squirting, foul-smelling stones or the one where you threw coins in the air and tried to stop them coming down again. Instead, a pair of sixth-years were playing 'Wizard Chess', and Harry didn't even have to come from a mundane-human background like Kevin to know how absurd that name was.
The mess of copper-coloured fire from Harry's Finger Flames Charm wobbled gently on the grid paper. He carefully added one more loop and measured the result. Finding that the fire was amenable to being pushed around a bit with the end of a pencil had helped, and now he had some solid data.
His new sequence of measurements, averaged over the trials of three hours' work, was:
1.69, 1.74, 3.44, 5.22, 8.54, 13.60, 22.55, 36.21, 58.48
The first two numbers looked very similar. Harry split the difference and divided the series by the result to normalise the values, feeling a slowly-growing sense of success as he wrote down:
0.99, 1.02, 2.01, 3.05, 4.99, 7.95, 13.19, 21.2, 34.20
And that was surely an approximation of...
"1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34," Terry read aloud. "Did you crack it?"
"I think so," Harry grinned up at him, exulting in his personal victory over the world of magic.
That – that was the start of a tantalisingly familiar series of numbers – he hadn't read about it all that long ago, and recalled the thrill when he went out into the caverns several years ago and tested it on things the muggle human author couldn't have known about, and found that it worked.
The name for it was on the tip of his tongue, but it took an infuriating quarter-hour dive into his dog-eared mathematics and natural science books until he found it.
"The Fibonacci Sequence," he breathed.
→ Bluhhh, so little time to write! I'm somewhat embarrassed, and I do apologise. This would have been out eight weeks ago except I was having trouble with one part of it, and then six weeks ago except my job got busy, and then four weeks ago except I moved house, and then two weeks ago except suddenly I had deadlines for my work-related writing.
→ If you're still reading, then: Thanks. And maybe this would be a good time for a re-read if you've contemplated one. The pace should pick up fairly soon.
→ Today's Harry Potter fanfiction recommendation is The Shoebox Project, a lengthy but incomplete textual and visual narrative that you can find at (url) shoebox dot lomara dot org. It's consistently hilarious, has literature-quality writing, and is full of what I would characterise as 'the feels'. You will definitely laugh and you might cry a little. OTOH, YMMV. Apart from that, I would suggest An Unfound Door, by the famous joe6991 on this website, and for sheer magic outside the world of Potterfic, you can't look beyond Ra at (url) qtnm dot org.