Where the Wild Things Bank
an HP fanfic by canoncansodoff
A/N: See author's explanation at the end. Thanks to grenouille, ironchefor, mariusdarkwolf and others in the Seel'vor group for their comments on earlier versions of parts of this story.
Disclaimer: Not my characters, no money being made, etc., etc.
Chapter 1: Incentives
London, Late September, 1981
Little bells tingled when James Potter opened the front door to a small office on a small side-street just off Diagon Alley. He gave those bells an incredulous glance as he gestured for his wife to pass through the threshold, then glared back over his shoulder towards those bells when they rang once more as the door closed behind him.
"Might as well shout 'Hey look everybody, this is where they disappeared to!" he muttered, shaking his head.
"Well I think they sound rather cheerful," Lily declared, as she pulled the hood of her cloak back. "Helps brighten the mood a bit."
"They'd have to have Big Ben's bells attached to the bloody door if that was their goal," James replied.
"Language!" his wife quietly chided.
James rolled his eyes, then walked up to a receptionist and exchanged pre-arranged passwords. Once satisfied, both the receptionist and the Auror pocketed the wands that they'd had out by their sides. The young couple were then asked to take a seat, as they had arrived a few minutes early for their appointment.
Lily found it difficult not to fidget as she sat next to her husband.
"Maybe I should send a Patronus message to Frank and Alice, making sure that Harry is okay?" she asked.
James sighed, and shook his head. "Relax, Lily-flower…it's not like they haven't watched Harry for us before. I'm sure that he's fine…just as I'm sure that we're only supposed to use that spell while on Order business."
The Muggleborn witch sighed. "Yes, I know, but still…"
"And they didn't worry last night when we took little Neville off of their hands so that they could have some alone time as well."
"Yes, I do know, and I don't care if it isn't rational."
"We don't have to do this, you know," James offered. "We can pick Harry up right after we're done here."
Lily shook her head. "No, we need a night all our own, just as much as Frank and Alice did."
Her husband smiled, and patted Lily's knee.
"I agree…and I'm looking forward to it."
The heavy oak door behind the receptionist's desk opened before Lily could reply. They watched as their solicitor shook another client's hand and walked the wizard out of the office. James tried not to wince too obviously when the small bells that hung over the street entrance announced the other customer's departure.
The solicitor turned towards James and Lily and said, "Lord and Lady Potter, it is good to see you both...if you like to step back into my office?"
Harry's parents nodded, and allowed the older wizard to escort them into the back room.
"Have a seat…could I get either you something to drink?"
"No thanks, Robert," James said curtly. "And how many times do I need to instruct you about binning the honorifics?"
The other wizard shrugged. "Old habits, old dogs, new tricks…so how is that mischievous little boy of yours doing?"
Lily sighed. "He is doing fine, Mr. Howe, but…if you'll forgive me…if time was money then James and I wouldn't have a knut to our names right now."
"Yes, yes…I understand completely," the solicitor replied, as he gestured towards a small table. As James and Lily sat down the white-haired wizard retrieved three scrolls of legal parchment from a desk drawer. One was much thicker than the other two.
"Which would you rather review first?" he asked.
"The wills please," said Lily.
The solicitor nodded, and handed the respective documents to his two clients. James and Lily opened them and began to read. The red-haired witch sighed loudly just a few seconds in to this review.
"Where are the all caps?" she asked.
"The all caps that I requested added to Section Three?"
The solicitor frowned as he leaned over Lily's shoulder and glanced at the text she was pointing towards.
"Could I not have been any clearer?" she asked sharply. "Right here, after we list our choices for Harry's custodial guardians if need arises...where are the all caps?"
"What all caps?" asked James.
"The capitalized letters that are supposed to spell out 'UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES IS HARRY TO LIVE WITH MY SISTER PETUNIA DURSLEY AND HER FAMILY'!"
Both James and the solicitor winced.
"Yes, well…your written instructions were quite clear, Mrs. Potter," the older wizard stated. "Unfortunately, it is highly unusual for someone to append that type of declaration onto a list of approved custodians. If fact, it is not only unusual…it is unheard of, and quite outside the legal language that is customary for these types of documents."
"Well, that's what I want!" Lily replied. "That's what we are paying you to do for us…isn't it?"
James closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"Don't you Lily-flower me!"
"Lady Potter, I am most sympathetic to your concerns," the solicitor said patiently. "Documents can certainly be prepared that include that type and style of declaration."
"Good. Then do it."
"But, if I might add?" the solicitor asked. "Based on our previous conversations, what I understood you were paying me to do was to prepare dragonskin-clad documents…wills that are structured and written so tightly and carefully that they could withstand the strongest of legal challenges. Was I mistaken?"
James shook his head. "No, that is exactly what we need, Robert."
The solicitor nodded. "Lady Potter?" he gently asked.
Lily sulked for a moment, then nodded in agreement.
"Well, then…if that is to be the case, then we really can't afford to include within your wills anything that is atypical, lest the documents be challenged based on your states of mind at the time of signing."
"States of mind?" Lily whined. "My sister is a Muggle, for Merlin's sake. Who is going to say that I am out of my right mind for saying that I don't want her to raise Harry…a Pureblood?"
"We need dragonskin-clad wills, Sweetheart," James reasoned. "Listen, if you really want the wizarding world to know, then how about this… I'll buy you a full page advertisement in the Prophet. Then you can say what you think about Petunia using fist-sized glow-in-the-dark all caps! Make the letters dance and sing, even."
Lily sighed and shook her head. "No time, no need, and no fight left in me…can I trust that everything else we requested satisfied your dragonskin-clad concerns?"
When the solicitor nodded, James and Lily read through the documents just to be certain, and then acquiesced.
"Right, moving on to the change in management firms for the Potter Trust," the older wizard stated, as he rolled out the larger of the three scrolls in front of James. "This was just sent over today. I am still astounded by the fact that they were willing to put their marks on this contract without you there to concurrently do the same…but, then again, why wouldn't the Goblins be eager, given such favorable terms?"
Lily sighed, but was too tired (and too rushed for time) to complain about the patriarchal financial system within the wizarding world.
James was too focused on reviewing the terms of the agreement to notice.
"Did they finally stop grumbling about the custodial disbursement clause?"
"Not, really," the solicitor admitted. "And certainly no more than I am grumbling over the fees that they will be earning once they take over management of the Trust from us."
"Still jealous, Robert?" James asked.
"Certainly not," the solicitor briskly replied. "It is always the client's prerogative to take their business elsewhere, and for whatever reason. And the fact that our firm has had a hand in helping financially manage the Potter estate for the last nine generations…and that the Trust was our idea, and that we've managed profitable returns over the past few years despite what this war has done to the economy…"
"Is a testament to your trustworthiness, your business acumen, and your loyalty," said James. "Please, Robert…this has nothing to do with the level of service you have provided our family over the years. I know that the goblins aren't likely to provide a return on investment that is significantly higher than what your firm has demonstrated…"
"Certainly not high enough to offset their management fees," Robert quipped.
James shrugged. "No question there."
The solicitor sighed as he cleaned his eyeglasses with the edge of his vest.
"I promised myself that I would not badger you into explaining your reasons for letting us go," he stated. "Merlin knows that we all have cause to keep things close to our chests."
Lily smiled, and started the sentence that she knew he wanted to start.
"It is just that…."
The solicitor snorted. "Touche, . It is just the fact that your husband offered this fee structure to Gringotts at first go. He and I both know that they would have jumped at the opportunity to take on this responsibility for half of what he offered as an opener."
"My husband's wife knows that as well," Lily grumbled.
"Lily-flower…" James hissed.
The Head of House Potter sighed as he turned towards their solicitor.
"Look, Robert…you have to understand…"
"That's just it, James…I can't understand why you've chosen to sack us. I'm not trying to disparage Gringotts, they got good people… goblins… working over there. Speaking of which… have they provided you with the names and credentials of the man…or goblin…that would be managing this account?"
James shook his head.
"We were told that there would be several top-flight managers vying for the post."
The solicitor snorted, and shook his head in disgust. "Vying in their bloody Arena, no doubt," he snarked. "And I say that quite literally."
The Head of House Potter smirked. "So you're saying that there is a rather cut-throat management style over there?"
"James!" hissed Lily, giving him a swat to the shoulder.
"It's not my money," the Solicitor stated. "But if it were, I'd rather that the selection criteria be more about return on investment than returning from the battlefield."
James shrugged. "It must work for them, based on their track record."
"Yes, yes…they are just as good as we are when it comes to estate management."
Lily sighed, and once again started the solicitor's next sentence for him.
"But saying that they are as good doesn't mean that they're better. We have the same access to the same investment vehicles. We both can handle your legal affairs, and I am quite certain that their reach into the Ministry is just as deep and as reliable as ours."
"I am sure that it is," said James.
"So why are you making this change?" the solicitor said, trying hard not to raise his voice even as his blood pressure rose. "What does Gringotts have to offer that we can't?"
"Do you really want to know what the Goblins have that you don't?" she asked.
"Yes...what exactly do they have?"
James snorted , closed his eyes, and shook his head.
The solicitor stared open-mouthed at his client's wife, as he tried to work through the logic in her response.
"Neither of you have next-of-kin, do you?" he finally stated.
Lily shook her head. "I do, but…my sister Petunia is as non-magical as you can get. She has a boy that is Harry's age, but as far as we know our nephew hasn't shown any signs of being magical."
"Do you think that his parents would have told us if he had?" James asked incredulously. "I imagine that your brother-in-law would try to beat the magic out of the boy, and sweep both the boy and that magic under the carpet."
"That's beside the point, Dear," Lily replied.
Their solicitor nodded. "So, if the unimaginable were to happen, and young Harry lost both of you…?"
"It's unfortunately far too easy to imagine that we're high on the Death Eaters' hit list," said Lily.
"Then your son would be the last Potter," the solicitor reasoned. "And if he didn't survive past age seventeen, at which point he could create his own will…"
"Then the Ministry will swoop in with their 100% estate tax and confiscate the entire estate," James agreed.
"It would be sixteen, actually," said Lily. "As the last Potter, he could claim his titles and become emancipated a year early."
"Younger than sixteen, if he fathers a magical child," James noted with a sly smile.
Lily glared at her husband.
"James Potter! You will not go down that road and encourage my baby boy to father a child just as soon as puberty hits, just as a way of maintaining the Potter line!"
"But Lily…I'm just saying…that tax only applies when there are no magical heirs."
A short squabble followed, in which Lily guaranteed that her husband would have zero chance of himself extending the Potter line (at least in her bed) should he continue making that argument. During that time, their solicitor walked over to a sideboard and poured out three stiff measures of Muggle whisky. He emptied a glass in one go, then refilled it, and carried the three glasses over to the table.
"I think I understand, now," the solicitor stated, pushing the two glasses across the table. "Rather ingenious idea…have you gotten any assurances from them about this type of…secure management?"
James shook his head. "You can't ask them outright for something like that. You know how careful they are about keeping to the treaty terms after the last war. Or at least appearing to keep to those terms."
The solicitor nodded towards the scroll and snorted.
"Yes, well…talk is cheap, and those management fees are anything but. I daresay you've provided all the incentive they would need."
"We certainly hope so," Lily replied quietly. She shuddered, hating the magical world and those within in it who had forced them to plan for worst case scenarios.
"Just promise me that after this horrid war is over and you feel a little more secure with the situation that you'll consider switching back?" asked the solicitor.
James nodded, taking a healthy draw from his glass.
"Of course, Robert…of course. So we are ready for signatures, then?"
The older wizard nodded, and called for his administrative assistant to come into the office and serve as a second witness. When he turned back to his clients he spotted James pulling a quill from his robe pocket, and shook his head.
"Sorry, Old Chap," he apologized, "but these will require special signatures."
"Oh, yes…how could we ever forget those blasted blood quills?" Lily whined, as she reflexively (and preemptively) rubbed the back of her hand.
"That drink will dull the pain," the solicitor noted.
Lily nodded, and managed to sign in her own blood without any additional whining.
"Hey look at the bright side," her husband said, as they magically healed their cut skin. "As much as the Ministry's inheritance laws suck, there is at least one good thing about them."
"That law that bars underaged witches and wizards from signing magical contracts means that Harry won't have to use one of the quills until he's an adult!"
Lily sighed. While that was admittedly a silver lining, it had a rather dull luster to it.
"Right then, that's all there is to it," the solicitor declared, rolling up the three parchment scrolls. "Ministry's records office is closed for the day, but we'll have these filed first thing tomorrow."
"Thank you, Robert," said James, as he rose to shake the older wizard's hand.
"Is post owl sufficient for sending your Ministry-stamped copies?"
Husband and wife looked at each other and held a silent conversation. James then nodded, turned to their solicitor, and shook his head.
"We have a mail box set up at Gringotts…best that you send the copies there."
"Fair enough," the older replied, as he wished James and Lily good luck, and escorted them out of the office.
The bells that hung over the doorway earned one final glare from James they stepped back onto the street.
"Give it a rest, Dear," said Lily, pulling her husband down towards the main Alley.
"But it's just not very prudent…"
"And it's just five and we have a couple of hours before our dinner reservations," Lily replied, slipping an arm around James' waist.
"What's that have to do with those bloody bells?"
Lily reached down and pinched her husband's bum.
"Look, we have a couple of hours all to ourselves…do you want to worry about ringing those bells, or ringing mine?"
The Muggleborn giggled, then began to softly sing a tune.
"You can ring my bell…ell…ell…ring my bell! You can ring my bell…ell…ell…ring my bell!"
"You're not thinking of hanging something like those bells over the doors of any of our houses, are you?"
Lilly rolled her eyes, and sang a little more loudly.
"You can ring my bell, anytime, anywhere…Ring it! Ring it…Ring it ring it aaaaaaaaah!"
James eyes lit up in recognition. "So you want to go a Muggle discotheque, then?"
His wife did a face palm.
"You are so lovingly clueless," she stated.
James smiled. "Thanks…I guess."
Lily chuckled as she hooked her arm into his and began to walk again.
"Let me put it this way, then," she asked. "Most of what we just did back there was in case Harry becomes the last Potter, right?"
"So why don't we tackle that problem of there being just one Potter heir by trying to make a second?"
"Ah! I get it!" James loudly declared, with a wide grin on his face.
"Not until we get back to Rowan Hill, Dear," Lily quipped.
James expressed both his complete agreement and complete cooperation.
Harry's parents had by now walked out into Diagon Alley proper, and joined the queue of witches and wizards wishing to use the Auror-guarded outbound apparition point. They waited quietly in that line for four or five minutes, until James suddenly broke into a fit of giggles.
"What?" Lily hissed.
"Ring your bell…I get it now."
"Took you that long?"
James replied with a well-practiced combination of shoulder shrug and rakish grin. He then leaned towards his wife and whispered into her ear.
"Sorry…had something else on my mind," he whispered. Nuzzling Lily's ear, he then quipped, "Although…guess it turns out to be the same thing, huh?"
Lily sighed. Lily then created some space by elbowing James in the ribs.
"How about a little constant vigilance?" she hissed, as her eyes darted towards those waiting both in front of and behind them.
James nodded, as he desperately tried not to laugh out loud at a joke involving a three-way tryst with Mad-Eye Moody…a joke that he only dared to voice in his head.
Godric's Hollow, a few weeks later
The sleek Jaguar XJ caused heads to turn as it left the A38 motorway and headed south on the B3130…a car that luxurious and that expensive wasn't something that you saw everyday in the rural parts of the West Country. The local residents would have been even more obvious in their gawking had they been able to see through the saloon's black-tinted windows…and spotted the wide-eyed goblin who was gawking back at them with just as much curiosity.
"Chokebar….Chokebar! What's that over there?"
The other passenger, whose eyes were focused on a ledger rather than out the window, growled dangerously.
"Erm, sorry, Sir."
The older goblin glanced up from the columns of numbers and sighed.
"I will excuse your impertinence, Brainbleed, given your enthusiasm for expanding your knowledge of the human's world and my recent change in status."
"Thank you, Sir."
"Just don't make a habit of it."
"Yes, Sir….won't happen again, Sir."
Chokebar, Gringotts Wizarding Banks' newest Senior Account Manager, accepted his subordinate's apology with a simple nod of his head. He looked past the younger goblin and said, "We are now in a relatively undeveloped area of sun-touched lands whose profit potential rests primarily in their ability to support agricultural development…what was it that caught your attention?"
"Those hairy knobs over there in the…what are those indefensible areas called again?"
"They are called 'fields" in English," the older goblin replied. "Called the same in Gobblygook, for that matter…not like we have anything comparable below."
"F-f-fields," Brainbleed tried to pronounce.
Chokebar chuckled and shook his head. "You are trying too hard…you don't have to draw blood to make that 'eff' sound."
"Yes, Sir," the younger goblin replied, licking the blood off of his lower lip.
"Now, then… those hair-covered rock knobs are actually mounds of cut grass. They are called 'haystacks'."
"Hay-stacks," Brainbleed repeated in English. He then switched back to Gobblygook and asked, "What is a haystack's purpose, Sir?"
"Forage for the standing meat," Chokebar replied. "The cut grass is dried and gathered in those mounds for when the cold white waters cover the land."
"You mean…does it really 'snow' here?"
Chokebar shrugged. "I don't know. But in either case, those haystacks are also useful cover for observation and surveillance activities…once they are warded against fire, of course."
"Ah…thank you for the valuable information, Sir. May the blood of your enemies drip from my blade as compensation."
The older goblin smiled, and reached out to pat his companion's knee.
"I'll settle for having your focus and obedience for the duration of this mission, Brainbleed."
The conversation was interrupted when their Squib driver announced that they were about to arrive at their destination. Chokebar acknowledged this comment, then turned to his subordinate.
"You have read the intel on this gathering place called Godric's Hollow?"
"Yes, Sir. Godric's Hollow is a Level Two mixed community of magical and non-magical humans. There are nine wizard-owned residences and six active floo connections within ten track-lengths of the central gathering point. One of the properties without a connection is a relatively small, lightly-warded cottage that is part of your trust's real estate portfolio. The intelligence report states that your clients rarely make use of this property…it is considered a rest home."
Chokebar snorted. "The humans call it a 'vacation' house, Brainbleed. "
"Va-ca-tion," the younger Goblin spat. "What a horrid term…what a horrid concept!"
"And yet it is something that you'll have to familiarize yourself with if you ever wish to rise out of the junior executive ranks and work with human clients," Chokebar observed. "Moving on, then…security concerns?"
Brainbleed shrugged. "Godric's Hollow was within the area of transient acquisition during the Kobold Haus hostile takeover attempt of 1563. Nothing since then, Sir."
Chokebar rolled his eyes. "Are you an employee of Gringotts Wizarding Bank or Gringotts House of Greed?"
"The Wizarding Bank, Sir."
"And are the clients that we are meeting with wizards or goblins?"
"So maybe you should worry just a little about our client's security concerns?" Chokebar hissed. "Given…you know…the fact that they are having a bit of a squabble topside right now, or the fact that our clients have been targeted by one of the factions several different times?"
"Yes, Sir. Sorry again, Sir."
Chokebar sighed. "Brainbleed…do you have any idea why I chose you to accompany me on this mission?"
"You can speak freely, Brainbleed."
The younger goblin arched an eyebrow and held his breath for a moment as he mulled over this invitation.
"I am not worthy of imagining your reasons, Sir."
"Well, then…imagine yourself in my position…and answer the damn question!"
"Yes, Sir….in that case, I imagine that you chose me for this mission because your secretary couldn't go topside. And you could use a bodyguard wielding an extra hammer, especially while you are still recovering from your promotion. And you need that hammer wielded by someone who has relatively little to gain by stabbing you in the back with his blade."
Chokebar growled under his breath at the insinuation that he was still weakened by his promotional wounds, but didn't act on that challenge, as he had asked the junior executive to speak freely. So he nodded his head, looked out the window, and said, "You forgot to mention that I also needed someone who was smart enough to be able to make that reasoned assessment."
"Yes, Sir….thank you, Sir."
The Squib driver stopped the car thirty meters short of the front entrance to their meeting place. He looked up into the rear view mirror, and asked, "Shall I go ahead on foot, Sir?"
Chokebar shook his head.
"There should be a path on the far side of the garden wall," he stated. "Take us around to the back of the property…and stop in front of the gate that is wide enough for this cart to roll through."
"It's a 'car', Sir." Brainbleed whispered.
His superior scowled. "So, now you deign give me English lessons?"
"Erm, no, Sir. Sorry, Sir."
As the Squib brought the car around to the back of the cottage, Chokebar reached down and pulled off the cloth cover to a small metal cage that sat on the car floor. He sat this cage on his lap, opened its door, and, once the driver pulled up to the wrought-iron rear gate, gingerly retrieved the white dove that was perched within it.
"What's that for, Sir?" asked Brainbleed, as the Squib used the electronic remote to open the rear passenger-side door.
"To send a message," Chokebar replied, as he released the bird out the window.
"But there was no message attached to its leg?"
"The bird is the message, you dolt!"
"Ah…a pre-arranged signal then?"
"Watch," Chokebar barked.
Brainbleed's question was answered when the iron gate began to swing open.
The younger goblin's heart rate increased as the driver pulled their vehicle onto the property. It was one thing to be topside within the confines of a Muggle automobile…quite another to venture outside of that confined space and stand out in the open on sun-kissed land.
Goblin society wasn't big on the recognition and treatment of mental health issues. Agoraphobia was a notable (and understandable) exception.
"Get that hand away from your hammer, Brainbleed," the other goblin advised. "You can be certain that there is at least one wand pointing towards us right now."
Chokebar grinned, correctly guessing the source of his protege's unease. He leaned forward towards the driver and said, "Pull as close as you can reasonably get to their back door."
"Yes, Sir," the Squib replied.
Once the car stopped, Brainbleed steeled his nerves and quickly dashed outside. He was halfway to the cottage's door before he realized that he couldn't enter the welcomed confines behind it until Chokebar did, so he ran around to the other side of the car and yanked open that door.
The older goblin's gaze narrowed when Brainbleed offered him a hand.
"I will assume that this is a sign of respect for my station, and has nothing to do with my physical abilities at present time?" he asked.
"Of course, Sir," Brainbleed said deferentially, leaning his back against the Jaguar's rear quarter panel.
Chokebar's eyes twinkled. "Are you worried about being seen by the Muggles, then?" he asked. "Forgot the fact that we are now inside the property's Muggle Notice-Me-Not wards?"
The younger goblin looked around and winced.
"Better safe than gutted, Sir?" he asked.
Chokebar rolled his eyes as he stepped out of the car, and tried not to favor his leg too obviously as they covered the short distance to the cottage's back door.
"We apologize for the informality," said Lily, once their two guests had been welcomed inside. "We've been trying to stay away from London, given the current situation."
"And this is the closest one family's property to a Prescott's branch," James added with a wry smile. He then offhandedly asked, "So how was the drive out from Bristol?"
Brainbleed stifled a small gasp when he heard this question. Chokebar merely arched an eyebrow.
"We were hoping that this meeting would be late enough to avoid the afternoon rush," offered Lily. "It didn't take longer than twenty or twenty-five minutes from the downtown branch, did it?"
"Something like that," Chokebar replied, using a guarded tone of voice.
James nodded. "Of course, with a car like that Jaguar, might be able to get here in almost half that time, if you were to push it."
"I'm not certain," Chokebar replied. "I will, however, ask our driver."
"Excellent," said James.
The small talk that actually wasn't all that small was interrupted by a small voice coming from the base of the stairs.
Lily let out a small gasp when she turned towards the voice and found her fourteen-month old son standing there in his pajamas, with his favorite blanket in one hand and a small stuffed hippogriff in the other.
"How did you get down those stairs, young man?" Lily asked.
"I know, Harry, I promised you a book, but…"
"Wanna book!" Harry shouted, as his messy black hair began to stand on end.
Lily gritted her teeth. She turned towards their guests and apologized for her overtired, misbehaving son. Little Harry thought that his mother was ignoring him, so he stomped his foot and once again yelled, "Book!"
Harry was just as surprised as his parents and their guests when every book in the living room was either lifted off the coffee table or yanked off of a bookshelf. And when the toddler's gaze drifted away from his mother towards those hovering books, he spotted the two goblins, and realized that his parents were talking to people who didn't look at all like people.
The books suddenly crashed to the ground.
"Wile tings!" Harry whispered wondrously.
"Harry James Potter! Right to bed!" Lily said firmly, forgetting for the moment that her son wasn't supposed to be going up or down stairs by himself.
"Wile tings!" her son repeated, this time much more loudly. He began to giggle, and clapped his hands together.
"Right," Lily snapped, as she strode towards her son. But Harry didn't want to go to bed, so he darted away from her grasp.
"Wumpus!" he cried out joyfully. He then began to repeatedly tap his mouth with his opened hand, and shout "Woo-woo-woo-woo!"
"Harry James you come here this instant!"
"Wanna Wumpus!" Harry called back, ducking underneath a side table. The toddler looked directly towards the two goblins and asked, "Wumpus?"
James decided that the interruption and embarrassment had gone on long enough. He helped Lily corner their son, then pulled him out from behind a chair.
"Alright, you little wild thing, off to bed." he said (in a tone of voice that was just as bemused as embarrassed).
"I'll take him up James," Lily offered, as she pulled Harry into her arms. "You're the one holding the family purse strings."
Chokebar was quick to notice the disappointment in the witch's voice.
"Lady Potter?" he asked, taking a step towards her and holding out his arms. "Forgive me for being so bold, but perhaps….?"
Lily's eyes went wide. Her son's eyes twinkled.
"Wile ting!" Harry whispered, twisting around in his mother's grip so that he could hold his arms down towards the goblin.
"Thank you for offering, Chokebar, but you don't have to….and I'm so sorry," Lily began to babble. "You see, we've never taken our son to Gringotts, and well, he has this favorite bedtime story..."
"Then we all have something to gain from this situation," Chokebar said with a smile.
"We do?" asked James.
Chokebar nodded. "I would like to meet with both of my clients, your son would like to hear a bedtime story, and…my young protege, here, would like to practice his English."
Brainbleed's eyes went wide upon hearing this remark.
"Are you certain?" Lily asked.
"Absolutely," Chokebar replied, as he took the last (semi-painful) step towards mother and son and held up his arms.
Lily's eyes darted towards her husband's. He shrugged, and nodded his head. She then glanced towards the stairs, and considered Chokebar's pronounced limp.
"Why don't we all go upstairs?" she asked. "Part of the reason for meeting was to give you a full tour of this cottage, and, well…the nursery is part of the cottage, right?"
Chokebar smiled, and let his hands drop to his side. The mother's protective nature was admirable…as was her tact (for he'd seen her glance at his leg).
"Book?" Harry asked.
"Yes, Dear," Lily replied, as she turned and headed towards the stairwell.
Being held against his mother's shoulder meant that Harry had a backwards-facing view. He used this vantage point to catch Chokebar's eye and call out, "Woo-woo-woo!"
Chokebar smiled, then turned towards his protege.
"After you?" he half-asked, half-ordered.
Brainbleed stared at his superior, all the way to the stairs.
The nursery had all of the standard things that one would find in the nursery of a comfortably well-off family. There were also a few very nonstandard magical things, but these other things were kept inside a small wooden trunk that was charmed shut and hidden away in the closet, where they were (usually) out of sight, out of mind, and out of the reach of accidental magic.
Lily tried not to grin too widely as she turned towards Brainbleed and gestured towards a rocking chair that sat in between Harry's crib and the window.
"We usually read to Harry while sitting there," she mentioned.
Brainbleed gave a skeptical glance towards the piece of human furniture, then looked back over his shoulder. The look on his superior's face left little doubt about his expectations.
"I'll hold your weapons," Chokebar said, gesturing towards his subordinate's belt.
Brainbleed glanced down, and nodded in understanding. He pulled his warhammer out of his belt, then slowly unbuckled his belt so that he could hand over his dagger while it was still in its sheath.
"Show some balls, will you?" Chokebar hissed.
The sound of a stifled snort from James's nose reminded both goblins that his dossier had noted a near-fluency in Gobblygook.
The junior executive approached the rocking chair like a condemned prisoner faced a dragon's opened mouth. He reached for the armrests as he started to lower himself onto the seat, then lost his balance and almost fell to the floor when his weight caused the rocker to rock forward.
The raucous laughter that was brought up from Chokebar's belly allowed James and Lily to similarly express their amusement.
James felt bad enough for the other goblin to walk up to the rocking chair and hold the back steady for him.
"Guess they don't have this sort of thing below?" he asked.
Brainbleed snorted, and shook his head as he made a more successful second attempt at sitting down. James let go and let the goblin find a steady balance point while his wife walked over to small bookcase. On top of that shelf was a book that was far too popular to be shelved.
"It's his favorite," Lily explained, as she showed the cover to the two goblins. "I'm sure that's why he is acting this way…not that it excuses our son's behavior."
Chokebar shook his head.
"Children are to be cherished," he replied. "All children, whether they live topside or below." Chokebar then chuckled, and added, "And for this child to reach his arms out to us at first glance? Perhaps you might imagine a more typical response from little wizards and witches when they first visit the Bank."
Not waiting for a response, the account manager turned towards the rocking chair and asked, "Are you secure enough to handle a child?"
"Yes, well, I appreciate you doing this for me, Brainbleed," said Lily, as she gingerly placed him down upon the nervous goblin's lap.
Harry's mum shook her head in disbelief when she stepped back and watched him settle onto Brainbleed's lap and giggle.
"Even more proof that he's a wizard," Lily muttered. She smiled, and explained, "Last Christmas we took him to a department store to have his picture taken with Father Christmas, and he cried and screamed and squirmed the entire time."
James laughed as Lily tucked Harry's blanket under Brainbleed's arm, then handed the goblin her son's favorite book.
"So maybe this should be this year's Holiday picture, then?" he joked.
Lily's eyes darted towards her husband's.
"Why, that's a wonderful idea, James!" she declared. "Quick! Go get the camera!"
Brainbleed eyes darted towards the other goblins, in an expression that was part pleading and part deer-caught-in-the-headlights.
"Start reading," Chokebar ordered.
The junior executive sighed, and reluctantly opened the book to the first page of text. In halting English, he read, "The night Max wore his wolf suit, and mischief of one kind, and another, his mother called him…"
Brainbleed looked up from the page towards the child that had just joined along. Harry smiled back.
The goblin glanced back down at the page.
"And Max said…"
"I eat you up!"
Brainbleed actually smiled when the human child voiced that promise.
"So he was sent to bed, without eating anything…."
As the pages were turned and the story unfolded, Brainbleed tried not to flinch when he heard a camera click….or when he overheard Chokebar offering the Potters good galleons for a copy of the photograph that had just been taken.
It was dark by the time that the Jaguar XJ backed out of the gate and began its short trip back into the city center…too dark for Brainbleed to find new things to gawk at as he stared out the tinted windows.
Not that he didn't already have enough things to occupy his thoughts.
"So what did you think of the meeting?" Chokebar asked.
Brainbleed snorted. "I think that you would have been better off bringing your secretary…Sir."
Chokebar ignored the subordinate's tone of voice and shook his head.
"No, Malice wouldn't have worked out at all," he replied.
"But she has the bits to be a nursemaid," Brainbleed replied.
"And doesn't speak a word of their language," Chokebar countered. "And while she is quick with a knife and even quicker to service me…well, she isn't the brightest crystal in the cavern, is she?"
Brainbleed shook his head.
"So what is your initial assessment of my clients, then?"
The junior executive frowned.
"The child…he did magic without a wand…is that common for a human that young?"
Chokebar shrugged. "I had no idea, actually. Something for others to mull over back at the office. Although…given the breeding stock?"
"Yes, Sir. They were the top students in their class-year," Brainbleed stated.
"Were there any other incidents like that while you were reading to the child?"
"Not that I am aware of, Sir," Brainbleed replied. "He fell asleep as I was reading the story a seventh time."
Brainbleed shrugged. "The child was insistent…and participatory. Is that level of verbal skills common in humans that young?"
Chokebar chuckled. "You are asking me? My time topside was devoted to corporate takeovers, not humanology. I expect you to provide me with answers to both of your questions."
"Must be human books that describe routine patterns in infant growth and development," Chokebar replied. "Think of it as another opportunity to practice your English."
"So, what about the parents?"
"I didn't really have all that much time to observe them, Sir."
"Of course you did!" Chokebar declared. "They revealed a great deal while you were still downstairs."
"Did your ears fail you when they were hit with the English?"
"No, Sir, I'm pretty certain that I understood most all of what was said."
"Well, then…you should be able to tell me why we met them in one of the smallest, least-protected properties in the portfolio."
"It seemed to me that they are living there now, Sir."
"Based on what evidence?"
Brainbleed shrugged. "The house appeared lived in. The female told us that the moving chair was where they usually read to the child. The child appeared to be comfortable within his living area."
"But the Potters are well off," countered Chokebar. "They have four different residences to choose from, and based on our Trust inventories there are certain pieces of furniture that are located within each one."
"So there are similar furnishing in each residence?" asked Brainbleed. "Why bother moving from one to the other, then, Sir?"
"Security?" asked Chokebar. "But that is conjecture. Focus on the facts as they were provided to you."
"They said that the meeting location was selected for our convenience, Sir. That it was the residence closest to our tracks."
"No, Brainbleed," said Chokebar. "What they said was that the cottage was the property closest to a branch of Prescott's."
"So….they know that we own and operate that Muggle bank?"
"That's not much of a secret for those humans who care enough to notice," scoffed the older goblin. "Do you think Lord and Lady Potter care enough to notice us?"
"Of course, Sir. It was rather…extraordinary…that they trusted me enough to leave me alone with their son."
"Ah, but that is the very reason why we are managing the Potter Trust, my young friend."
"Really, Sir?" Brainbleed asked. "Are we now including babysitting services within the bank's scope of services?"
Chokebar chuckled. "Yes, actually…in a way we are."
"I don't understand, Sir."
The older goblin gathered his thoughts for a moment before responding.
"Brainbleed," he finally replied, "while I was downstairs discussing investment strategies for the Trust, you were upstairs protecting something that is a hundred times more valuable to them…something valuable enough for them to willingly pay hundreds of thousands of galleons each year to safeguard."
Brainbleed grinned. "Well, if that is what the humans are willing to pay for a babysitter…"
"Then you would have to fight me for the right to submit your resume," Chokebar quipped.
The senior account manager then turned far more serious, and said, "Now then, Brainbleed, I am going to share with you a few extra pieces of information…and if you can't use them to figure out why the Potters are wily enough to be goblins then I'll curse my misguided belief that you are worth my time and feed you to the dragons myself…got it?"
Brainbleed sucked in a deep breath. His mind raced back and forth between wondering what that information might be, and wondering if Chokebar's temporary handicaps were large enough to give him even a fighting chance to challenge the senior account manager.
"Yes, Sir," he said cautiously.
Chokebar nodded. "First, consider the fact that we were offered obscenely high fees by the Potters to manage their Trust….probably a dozen times greater than what we could reasonably expect as payment were a similar amount of money deposited by the Ministry of Magic….are you with me here?"
"Second fact…we just visited the entire Potter clan tonight. It's just the three of them, and if they all die before another child is born or before the heir reaches adulthood, then their Ministry will confiscate the entire estate and shut down the Trust."
Brainbleed sucked in a deep breath. "They can do that, Sir?"
Chokebar nodded. "They already have to other human clans."
"Those magnificent, money-grubbing sons of bitches!" Brainbleed declared, his admiration ringing through his voice.
"Indeed," Chokebar replied. "So how many galleons would Gringotts lose if the Potter line ends? How quickly would I lose my head if they all lost theirs?"
"But they can't expect us to provide bodyguards, can they?" Brainbleed asked, going half-way towards connecting all the dots. "There are the treaties to honor…and the Nation's commitment to profits above partisanship?"
"Yes there are," said Chokebar. "We can't openly provide security services to my clients beyond the creation of passive wards. At least nothing aboveground."
"We can offer humans sanctuary within our caverns?"
"No…at least not at the moment," Chokebar replied. "Might be something for the Board of Directors to consider once I issue my first report on the Trust, but in the meantime…"
"What are you planning on doing, Sir?" Brainbleed asked.
"You tell me, Idoit!" Chokebar replied. "Think!"
The senior account manager let out a deep breath.
"Think back to that off-hand comment made by both Potters about that cottage being close to a Prescott's branch," he told his young protege. "And once we get to the Bristol branch, and go below to the track head, and get in the cart that brings us back to the home caverns in but a few minutes, ask yourself why…why let it slip that they know we travel across Britain by tunneling beneath it? And why, when they showed me their basement, did they have close to a years' worth of food supplies stored there…and why was that basement twice as large as the rest of the cottage?"
"Twice as large?"
Chokebar snorted. "Big enough to fit one of our smaller cart stations within it."
Nothing more was said during the remainder of the short trip back to the goblin-owned Muggle bank. The Squib driver who worked at that branch steered the car into the underground garage, and pulled up in front of the long set of stairs that led down to the tunnel track.
Brainbleed thought that he had figured out enough of Chokebar's riddle during that time to save himself from becoming dragon snacks, but he still thought that it wouldn't hurt to try to get more information out of the bastard.
"So, Sir…I'm not very good judging topside distances," he admitted, as they started down the stairs. "How far was it from here to Godric's Hollow?"
Chokebar snorted. "About thirteen of their miles...forty-five track lengths."
"Thank you, Sir," Brainbleed replied.
Gringotts identification gemstones were used to get past the warded door at the base of the stairs and into the subterranean system of tunnels that linked every major city in Great Britain.
Brainbleed reached out and dragged his fingernails across the wall just as soon as Muggle concrete was replaced by bare stone.
"Soft rock," he noted. "I think that you could probably dig two track-lengths a day through this stuff."
Chokebar nodded his head, and let out a hearty chuckle.
"And I think, Brainbleed, that I chose the right companion for this trip after all."
The two goblins spent the next five minutes racing across the charmed tracks that led back towards London, and the next five hours drawing up contingency plans and cost estimates.
A/N: This story started as a back-story for "A Boon for Bill." And then it grew into a stand-alone prequel, and then….it really took off, and gave me the chance to write an homage to what is probably still my most favorite book in the entire world (think it's complete coincidence that my only son's given name is Max?). So now I'm torn…torn between bending this story close enough to canon to serve as a prequel for "Boon for Bill," and taking this story where it seems to want to go…to a place where young Harry is, if not raised by goblins, at least looked after by them once tragedy strikes and he becomes the last Potter. To a place where the cupboard under the stairs becomes a sanctuary for a real-life King of the Wild Things. Any opinions offered on which path to follow would be welcomed.