Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

AN: This chapter is late because I am a notorious procrastinator; case closed. I might not be able to keep up the two week schedule I wanted, sorry.

This chapter is packed full of information so pay close attention my pretties.

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Too Have Fallen

First Cut is the Deepest

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"Charlus Leonidas Potter (1) was nothing if not an unforgiving teacher to his only descendent James. For years he witnessed and cautioned against the unbridled devotion that shone in his heir's young eyes as the boy naively followed the proclaimed Light Lord. Charlus knew one, not-so-distant day, that that loyalty might be called on, tested for its fealty, manipulated, in the form of the Potter Vaults and the family's heritage, or in the form of James' life as a soldier in the absurd vigilante Order Albus was leading. Just as it had countless times before, and no doubt plagues certain individuals to this day," Steelrick coldly stated while crudely washing the youth before him in a flinty stare, thin lips minutely curling in distaste at Harry's haggard appearance and ill-fitting attire.

Unworthy, not fit for one of his elevated status and esteemed blood; Harry did not have to be imbued with the power of Legilimency to pick up on that evident tidbit. Steelrick's mannerisms practically broadcasted his disgust at having one of his wealthier clients grace his office in such a state, and no doubt the goblin blamed his supposed guardian, Dumbledore, for that. And with just the limited amount of information he had gathered so far, and more of which he was bound to learn, Harry could not fault the creature for his acerbic thoughts, for he himself was harboring conflicting emotions towards the grandfatherly Headmaster that grew stronger with every proved accusation. But instead of rising to the goblin's testing taunt and the not-so subtle barb against Dumbledore trailing vindictively from his words and actions, Harry calmly weathered the intense scrutiny on the outside. Inwardly he was struggling to bolster his crumbling resolve for the long discussion ahead and hold his tongue from brashly questioning the goblin's motives by taking another sip of the proffered tea.

Blissfully he sighed, losing track of his claustrophobic surroundings with a slow shuttering of his eyelids as the pleasant warm, liquid traveled down his parched throat. Logically, Harry knew the brew was laced with something, preferably a mixture of some sort of Invigoration Draught and Calming potion, as he hoped the goblins had some vested interest in his survival and had not poisoned it. But at this point, he could have cared less since its refreshing essence melted his tiredness to a more manageable degree and helped clear the cobwebs from his mind. At least for now, anyway, because Merlin knows what kind of state he would find himself in once its affects wore off. Certainly worse than before, since energizing potions were notoriously known to temporarily heighten the system but at a high personal cost to its host, pulling heavily on the body's reserve stores and essentially crashing the drinker after the draught ran its course. But without it, his condition-sans-potion could not have endured the strenuous meeting and retain the critical information he needed; even with his stubborn Gryffindor pride blistering every time he began to nod off.

The energizing rush of adrenaline from the confrontation not a half-hour before on the bank's outer breaches and the initial encounter with the spiteful Gringotts' goblins had been waning thin. So, too, had the boost of pain-suppressing endorphins from successfully escaping the Dursleys and arriving in the wizarding world unrecognized. The potent chemical combination of both stimulates had been performing a remarkable job of deterring his bodily aches and burning away the fog impeding his thought processes. But his exhaustion quickly tipped the scales of his endurance and had come to rest like laden shackles around his throbbing feet and thick chain that weighed heavily on his mind and scrawny shoulders. Added to the fact, there was still the voyeuristic shade poking around in his psyche uninvited. But what little mental fortitude he had mustered to try and squash it must have just tickled, because he had only felt dense clouds peppered with dark humor floating off its vestige as it ambled about his head, focusing intently on his memories of the various documents Harry had shambled through earlier.

Several minutes prior, a tray of soothing, light-brown tea and all its numerous fixings and variable confectionery sides had been wheeled unobtrusively into the cramped room and along with bowls of food and water for Hedwig. The Head Account Manager had wasted little time before fixing a steaming cup for Harry and all but forcing the concoction down his gullet. With a thinly veiled command from the impatient goblin to drink his tea because he refused to repeat himself should Harry's ailing health divided his attention, Steelrick had delivered an ominous warning before regaling the teen with the necessary information he found crucial to building an understanding about the status of his accounts.

"First off, I would like to state that the information I am about to disclose to you is the truth to the best of Gringotts' knowledge. While our networks are vast and multifaceted, even we have our faults, Mister Potter, but seldom are we ever wrong - for being wrong is bad business, you see. Some of our more questionable information regarding the maneuverings, political or societal, that might affect the states of certain high risk accounts in our care comes from very reliable sources and we pay very handsomely for it. We also try to be as thorough as legally possible in our investigations as to how our more distinguished clients' coinage is used when generous amounts are withdrawn by Acting-Lords of Noble Houses – Retainers as they are more commonly known - and not the true Lord of House. But we, as an outside entity to the legal system of Magical Britain, can only do so much. While the Ministry cannot directly interfere in the running of Gringotts, certain bills of legislation can make things excessively difficult for us, especially concerning our cliental that enjoy a higher standard of living or have different cultural backgrounds and beliefs than the acceptable norm. While you might not understand certain ideas discussed with you today, or might balk at their very notion, they are the truth, copied down from an invulnerable quill in the courtroom or witnessed by the very mouths that spoke them."

Harry's mind digested the words as best he could, plucking out the hidden meanings stalking line after line while he had sipped absentmindedly at his second helping of tea. Wizards were innately greedy creatures, and ever the opportunist, the goblins have long since exploited that Achilles' heel to gather what information they could on matters that might affect or be of interest to their wealthy patrons. No doubt this clandestine service had lined many a goblin's pockets when pureblood social coup de tats were masterfully averted or suspect traitors revealed. Even the mighty Gringotts could not escape the tedious meddling of the Ministry it seemed, and their stubby, green hands were tied in how their client' money was used by Acting-Lords of Noble House or when legal action was taken out on certain Dark pureblood accounts. Or so he had gathered, but that brooked the question as to why? If the Dark-purebloods controlled the Ministry why would they propose legislation against their own kin? Or was someone else within the Wizengamot ambitiously targeting them? It also appeared that the goblins collected an excess of proof to back up any important information they gathered and left very little to be refuted when they did. Whether it be unadulterated copies of court records or statements from the very court members themselves; they tended to be thorough. It had left Harry with very little doubt that what Steelrick and the documents said were true, despite how a portion of his psyche had rebelled – faintly roaring in his ears - at the very concept of such backhanded deceit.

After giving Harry time to take in his forewarning, Steelrick proceeded to give him a familial history lessons in regards to his grandfather Charlus and the man's efforts to stave off outside tampering of his family assets - the last reliable Potter in the goblin's opinion, the young wizard summarized. A much needed narrative to begin explaining the perplexing state the Potter vaults were in and the various stacks upon stacks of parchment either were either smeared in red or teeming in legal amendments one after another. All of which confused the Potter heir much to his mounting chagrin.

"But this was not a chance Charlus was willing to take for his son despite the parental love he carried for him. The Potter legacy was far too important for a wayward youth like James to readily relinquish at the behest of a powerful man's ambition - an ambition Charlus and many others believed to be detrimental to their way of life." Harry broke from his earlier thoughts and curiously glanced across the grand, mahogany table at Steelrick as he continued his enlightening tale after pausing for a brief sip of his own tea. The statement had struck a chord of familiarity somewhere within his dusty memory but had been too vague to unearth the thought entirely. It teasingly lingered on the tip of his tongue with the heady taste of spice, colored red and bearing the smell of ciders as Steelrick commenced speaking again.

"Lord Potter, and the untold generations of Potters before him, followed a certain culture almost extinct in this day and age, and despite his, and those of his late wife Dorea's, greatest efforts to instill the same values in their son, James rebelled against them at every turn. The youngest Potter firmly believed Dumbledore's preaching that abandoning these archaic traditions to be the only way to advance to a greater future for all wizarding kind and welcoming Muggleborns warmly into their folds. A very effective tactic against the young James, I'm sure." The wizarding teen knew the goblin meant his mother, Lily. Being a Muggleborn and generally unaccepted by pureblood society, Harry could see how Dumbledore's words could be very tempting for his lovesick father, and James supporting any party that would agree with his marriage of his Hogwarts sweetheart. "Lord Potter understood that James would have to learn this lesson the hard way, for it was the only avenue from which the stubborn adolescent learned, and before his death, took measures to head off any meddling of the family possessions either Dumbledore or the Ministry was bound to pursue once James was convinced to denounce his heritage.

"The Lord of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Potter then ordered Gringotts to seal away the Potter's ancestral grounds of Althea and the vast majority of the Potter's assets into the deepest vaults where none but the true Lord Potter could reach. Upon the doors we were to lay our most deadly curses that would befall upon whomever unworthy or seeking theft of its guarded treasures that may attempt to enter, causing them to perish in agony for their slight against his family. Their bones would forever grace the corridor as a morbid warning to those who might persist where others had fallen. The vaults themselves were to be sanctioned by a guardian whom would only allow entrance to one it believed to be the true heir.

"Charlus then left James with only a few of the upper vaults lined with galleons to live from - a paltry sum in accordance to how much the Potter fortune holds but a great more than most wizarding families shall ever see - only certain books and trinkets to remember his ancestors by, and only one of the powerful artifacts he knew Dumbledore might covet and ask of his son until the time James came to his senses.

"Least to say, Mister Potter, James never had the opportunity to learn the final lesson his father wished to teach him and the vaults remain closed till this day. Yet, many have come forward after your esteemed grandfather's death to claim the title, but none have succeeded thus far."

"I don't understand, I have always been told I am the last of the Potters," Harry questioned, his heart suddenly jubilant at the idea of having a true family out there; somehow unknowing of his present orphaned condition, and waiting with open arms to offer him shelter and a loving home. But that was the hidden, wide-eyed child buried deep within the quivering chambers of his core naively hoping; abandoning all reason at the mere mention of the one thing he wanted most in this world. Dreamt about, wished for, pleaded for… but the disenchanted youth which that small boy he grew to be knew better. He had stopped pinning long ago under the heavy hands of his Uncle and the cruel shrills of his mother's sister. Things just did not work out that way for Harry Potter, and time and time again that statement proved to resonate true.

"Last of the main branch of the Potter Lordship, yes, but not the last of Potter blood. There are currently seventeen Lower Houses that are tied by Potter blood in some fashion and five Greater Houses directly descended from your predecessors. Nine out of those families sent representatives to rightfully claim their title as Lord Potter after Charlus' death and that of James in utter disregard of your birthright as Heir-Apparent," The Head Account Manager replied tightly, a dark tilt to his words.

"So I have a wizarding family out there?" Harry challenged, reaffirming that he had other family out there besides the dreaded Dursleys.

"Family is a rather loose term I would affiliate with most of these individuals Mister Potter. Despite your orphaned state at fifteen months of age and the court ruling to determine your magical guardianship, no objection from their ilk in attendance that day was made when it was suggested that you be governed over by Albus Dumbledore. In efforts to place you in a more unbiased environment, a second vote was proposed by certain skeptical members of the Wizengamot in hopes that a magical blood relation of yours would step forward and take the young Potter heir into their family, but none such spoke in your defense and the notion was passed. After the ruling went through all following objections and bids for guardianship were redirected to your present guardian for perusal," Steelrick brusquely finished, a dispassionate sneer stretching across his aged features as he waved one clawed hand at the bound parchment containing the Wizengamot's Ruling. The cream-hued pages twitched before rapidly fluttering like they were caught in a brisk wind to a certain page before coming to a stop in front of the young wizard.

Harry read through the sprawling paragraphs staining the expensive paper once more, analyzing each previously thought unfamiliar word or name in the new light of his recently obtained knowledge. He could just now catch a glimpse of the whole picture of which Steelrick was referring to. The legal actions taken by the Wizengamot's members that November day were all thoroughly copied word for word by the court's stenographer-quill.

Augusta Longbottom's name and a few others now reached out towards him and evoked weak strings of remembrance that he had missed before in his frantic reading earlier. Alongside Lord Davis, Lady Zabini, and Amelia Bones, the guardianship of his person was questioned by the Longbottom matriarch before the final ruling of the court was issued. A call to shelter one's blood was vehemently issued by the lordly woman to all Houses that claimed blood relation to House Potter present in the crowded chamber, but as Steelrick expressed prior, none answered. And with the last of the objections put to rest, the ruling was finalized and he became the ward of Albus Dumbledore with all rights and privileges over the Potter Vaults falling under the Headmaster's whims. A few of request for change of guardianship were documented after the trial by what appeared to be Houses not in attendance that day, but all were denied for some reason or another.

"Why? Why didn't they speak up or take me in?" Harry sadly asked aloud, distant bitterness dotting every I and childish hurt crossing every T. Darkened-emerald eyes floated up from the swimming print of the ruling's anti-climatic ending, peeking over the furled hump of the document's previous pages, and coming to rest on Steelrick's face in a last ditch effort to prove the prevailing motto of his life wrong. The young man's unvoiced desperation swam in their green depths as his somber thoughts barreled through his head. He did have a family out there, quite a few in fact, and they had known of his predicament but had chosen to leave him with Dumbledore. They had essentially washed their hands of him like an unwanted burden. The thought that someone at least had the decency to object to the decision or had tried to gain guardianship over him were the only things keeping his seething anger from slipping the reins of his control and not whipping a violent whirlwind through Steelrick's unsuspecting office. Already in the air surrounding him, the beryl currents of his magic – having been smothered down from the encounter on the stairs to a placated degree - were leaking out from his body and affecting the room: curling once-starch papers, rattling costly bottles of ink, and whisking at his mused hair and clothing.

"For some, their right for representation at the court ruling was outright denied by the Ministry due to alleged, Dark cultural practices or the Wizengamot's summons were regrettably issued too late for the family to arrive in time. For others it was a simple matter of financial legality for them, Mister Potter. They believed that after a certain period of time had passed and you continued to neglect taking your rightful title of Lord Potter, as they were certain you would do being under the influence of your… renowned guardian, your claim could be challenged by law and they themselves could be given the Lordship. With that they would hold the vast fortune and political power of the Most Noble and Ancient House in their hands and claim what they assumed was an endless treasure trove of valuable artifacts sealed away in Althea. But the crafty Albus Dumbledore was always one step ahead of them, and luckily for yourself, Charlus Potter a league ahead of them all.

By making himself your guardian and the Retainer for your position as Lord Potter, Dumbledore had direct control over the Potter vaults and the family's powerful seats in the Wizengamot. In the first years following the ruling and your parents' deaths, Dumbledore interfered little with the vaults, only ordering an inventory be taken and inquiring about the deeper vaults once he learned of them. He did, however, use the Potter family's seats within the Wizengamot to pass a few - at the time - innocuous laws regarding the rights of Heir-Apparents and the Retainers who governed over them. The crafty old man played it off as favorable protection for you and many readily rallied behind him as he continued to propose more laws for your safety. Only after a series of the bills had been passed, many building on top of one another to strengthen previously unforeseen clauses, was it discovered that Dumbledore was virtually stripping Heir-Apparents of their political and financial rights as Heirs until they came of age in by Wizarding law, even going so far as to propose the Wizarding age of inheritance be advanced to the age of twenty-one. Many of his supporters faltered and demanded answers, but the silver-tongued politician charmed them once more with his vision of a peaceful future and wanting to spare their young savior the trouble of dealing with the heavy burden that came along with being the Lord of a Most Ancient and Noble House until you were ready for the responsibility, and so the man was allowed to continue. Those that still questioned his authority were promptly gifted with lavish tokens of respect and good will provided by the very House the laws were targeted to weaken: yours."

Another stack of parchment was placed before his flummoxed person, and Harry uncertainly reached out for it and brought it closer for inspection. The dates were innocent enough and of no importance to him, but the large sums of galleons being removed suddenly at the end of March one year and then sporadically over the following months and years were a damning testament to Steelrick's allegations.

Two thousand galleons here, eight thousand there, over twelve thousand in the span of four months in the year 1986 alone - all dotted with lesser withdrawals and even smaller, annual deposits in between. It was dizzying to see all the seemingly innocent numbers snowball on one another until there was an avalanche barreling down the pages and crashing at the end with a resulting balance that was significantly lower than that of when the financial statement started. Some grander withdrawals had entries beside them, one or two lined sentences detailing on how the money had been used, and others had a colored asterisk implying that much larger reports were to be found in an accompanying documents. It all pointed to a foreboding conclusion Harry feverishly wished to be untrue. A betrayal of this size would cripple his trust in others not to mention eradicate any remaining confidence he still fostered towards Albus Dumbledore.

The on-looking shade shifted about his turbulent thoughts in ill-disguised interest unbeknownst to the distracted youth. Harry hunched over in his chair in efforts to think. Sharp elbows clashing painfully with his bony knees as they perched there, skinny fingers buried in his dark, tousled hair, and his eyes clamped tight to try and keep the malicious world at bay. His mind was a squalling sea of emotion and his tiny skiff of sanity rocked violently back and forth. Every memory of every conversation ever held with Dumbledore was replayed and examined for any hints of treachery, and once encouraging, yet cryptic words were unscrambled and edited for dishonesty. Everything he had ever known about the man was dredged up from the deep, laid out in the foaming waters before him and investigated with a critical eye. And Harry candidly confessed to himself that he knew very little about the enigmatic Headmaster he repeatedly put his budding faith in. Yes, over the years, that apparently unwavering conviction had been tested and strained. Even lessened this last year to a considerable extent when Harry glimpsed the hardened, somewhat ruthless man hiding behind that flashy, compassionate mask, but the orphaned teen still continued to carry a torch of respect for the man. Even Voldemort's words of callous caution had not shaken his credence in his belief that, in the end, no matter the secretes kept, or no matter how many white-lies told, Albus Dumbledore would do what's right, what's just, what was fo-

'For the Greater Good,' a honeyed voice mockingly finished his thought. Its frigid malice drawled in a near silent whisper alongside the pale whorl of his ear causing the downy hairs lining the base of his neck to spring to attention.

Harry started at the unexpected sound – uncontrollable magic spiking in reaction to his fright and causing various cracks to stretch across the hewn stone walls. Thin hands flew to the polished arms of his chair as he whipped his tense body around to find the source of the chilling vocals, wild hair flailing at every twist and emerald eyes blown wide in suspicion. He found nothing more than the crowded space of Steelrick's office, a grim Hedwig cooing at him in worry, and the apathetic goblin assessing him over the steepled lengths of his cragged hands and the now strewn mess of his desk.

But that voice, he knew that voice. It had spoken to him not a few days before while he was imprisoned within his room at Number Four. Voldemort. The memory had all but slipped his congested mind after the chaotic events following the short conversation but those dulcet tones were unforgettable. The same instinctual fear that crept into his heart then afflicted him now. No matter of talks of future truces or calm correspondences could rid that ingrained response from his wary body. It disturbed him greatly how easily the man could just enter into his mind and spy on his actions with no second thoughts spared for his privacy. So much of his scarred life left unguarded and bared to the compassionless man that would have no qualms about using those scars against him, to hurt him more than those deadened memories ever could. It was becoming a problem and he wanted it to stop. Snape had tried teaching him the one magic that would block the invasions but he had been too much of a petulant child to listen or study on his own, and now he was paying for that childishness. Occlumency was still out of reach at this point in time, but Harry bumped up the importance of learning the skill to prevent the man from making such unwelcomed commentary on the day to day ventures of his life or haunting his thoughts. Freaking out over the encounter would not help him now, there was little he could do about the situation sitting in Steelrick's office.

The rapid sputtering of his heart gradually descended as no threats were discovered or boogey men found to be hiding in shadowy corners, and the teen retrieved the scattered packets of parchment thrown to the floor in is frantic movements while subconsciously a few rogue fingers traced the buzzing flesh of his ear.

Risking a glance at the aloof expression on Steelrick's face and the wreck his magic had made of the creature's office, Harry sheepishly bowed his head in embarrassment and nervously fiddled with the cuffs of his robe. Inwardly, he berated himself for such a telling display and shattering the pureblood mask he originally indented to keep firmly in place during this meeting. Steelrick no doubt thought him just as barmy as the Daily Prophet once proclaimed and a floundering idiot in all things regarding his family and the Potter vaults. But he had to press on and see what else he might discover from this meeting. It was far too important for figuring whatever future allegiances he might take, so he shoved his embarrassment far into the foggy recesses of his mind, took another sip of his bespelled tea, and straightened himself the best to his ability.

"I must ask your humble apology for the damage to your possessions and I also ask that you excuse my earlier crass actions. I have not been in the best of state for the last few fortnights, and this news comes as quite the shock to me. I will of course compensate for any damages should you wish it," Harry said evenly after collecting his thoughts, trying to reign in his disagreeable magic, and quietly chiding himself one last time for acting like a skittish Hufflepuff. He then fixed an even stare to Steelrick's black eyes, silently intoning that it had been a simple mishap and that he could further the conversation without incident once more.

Minutes passed and the only sound to fill the room was the curious ticking of the machine working away in the corner as the two humanoids weighed one another. A pair of green eyes filled with determination to persevere despite the many challenges set out before him and the other a flinty hue of pitch quietly reassessing all Gringotts knew of one Harry James Potter-Black. This was hardly the first time some overly-emotional wizard had lost control and belted out their misgivings on the paltry trinkets of his office. No, that mattered little to the fervently turning cogs in Steelrick's mind. It was the unrestrained power of the magic that swept out of the boy in his moments of carelessness that intrigued the goblin.

Dark Lords or Light Lords, the grievances of wizards hardly phased the goblin race anymore – a mutual sentiment amongst many of the magical races that coexisted in this realm alongside the humans. For so long the fledgling magical race had gone at one another that it scarcely mattered anymore in their eyes as long as they followed the binding contract drafted between the different races almost a millennia ago. But now it seemed darker times approached, putting all at risk, fueled by this trivial war that Dumbledore fanned and that arrogant Dark Lord let draw out for far too long.

There had been worrying rumors as of late; dark, unfortuitous whisperings from the centaurs of the path of Mars traversing behind the Sun and never reemerging. As in all things, the goblins had sought council with other, forgotten races that read the future within nature's graces to legitimize the divination, and they too had foretold of grievous warnings. The Great Lady crumbling from the starry heavens, Yggdrasil toppling from its towering heights, and the Timeless Seas drying to torrid deserts. Certainly things to be taken with a grain of skepticism but the multitudes of ill-omens was distressing to say the least and even more so as other such premonitions poured in from around the globe. The future of this realm was uncertain and likely under threat, but the last of the Gates remained sealed away, far outside their reach. Even if the ancient relic still functioned, there was nowhere to run to now, not like before. The boy before him literally held the key to their salvation in his hands if he could only see around wizarding society's prejudice and come out from under Dumbledore's thumb in time to do something about it…

And who was he to stand in the way of that; Calamity, after all, was bad for business.

Finally, with the negligent wave of one claw-tipped hand, the office swiftly started to arrange itself back into a semblance of order. Another steaming cup of tea was floated across the breadth between the two occupants as Steelrick finished straightening his papers and addressed Harry as if nothing unusual happened. "Shall we continue then?"

"Yes," Harry quickly replied after releasing a pent up sigh of relief. He was sure the goblin had been crafting some way of cordially dismissing him for his strange behavior, and he had been preparing an adamant speech in his defense. But now there was no need and his mind promptly switched tracks and regurgitated his earlier questions.

"You mentioned before that the Potter vaults were used to fund… tokens of respect towards Wizengamot members that saw fit to disagree with Dumbledore's legislature. Is that not bribery, to buy someone off? I thought that was illegal?" he curiously questioned, eyebrows furrowing in confusion and head tipped slightly to one side.

"Yes it is, but this is not seen as bribery in the omnipotent eyes of British Magical law. No, it is perfectly legal for members of a political party or those lobbying for a bill to gift seated members with demonstrations of their gratitude. Often they are small, albeit expensive trinkets or favors to show one's appreciation for their laborious endeavors: dinner at a lavish restaurant, an exquisite bottle of Firewhiskey, the newest model of broom for the grandkids, or premium tickets for a sold-out Quidditch World Cup. If these gifts just happen to change hands after disusing an up-incoming bill waiting in the wings," Steelrick's smart-dressed shoulders minutely rose and his once-folded hands spread in an innocent gesture, "coincidence." The goblin's mouth broadened in a toothy grin but the whole statement was literally dripping in sarcasm - a telling gesture as to how Steelrick found the practice.

Harry, for one, would have thought the goblins agreeable with the costly exchange; money was being spent and thus gained, somewhere along the line of various transactions, finding its way back to Gringotts. But once he considered how much they loathed liars and thieves – the ominous warning at the bank's entrance of those seeking ill-begotten gains being your first clue – he amended his opinion of the cankerous creatures; well some of them, best not to get hasty. This back-handed tactic must have chafed against their minimal sense of honor and served as just another example of wizard's overwhelming greed.

Shaking the useless ponderings from his mind, Harry returned his tangent-wandering thoughts to the information he had just adopted. Frankly he felt numb and a tad bit darkly humored by the situation, though the latter was a little hard to discern why unless he wished to put his sanity into question. There was, however, a muted ringing of fury at the audacity of Dumbledore using the Potter accounts to fund his own ambition but that felt foreign yet a part of himself combined. And like hell was the jaded youth going to even entertain the idea that the man did this in his favor. It may have begun with good intentions, to protect the Boy-Who-Lived, but it had warped into Albus using the money to essentially bribe others into playing nice and him gaining more control over House Potter as its Retainer. It worried him honestly, to feel almost nothing at something of this scale, but what had he been expecting Dumbledore to use the galleons for? Feeding starving children in third-world countries…? Not likely. He felt as if he might as well have slapped himself in the head and pronounced to the world his native idiocy with a finely placed, "Well duhhh!"

The brooding teen was fished from his cynical musings as a dismissive snort sounded nearby. And Harry was uncertain if he had mistakenly said that last part aloud and Steelrick produced the noise in agreement or if he was once again regaled with a sardonic monologue by his peeping-Tom. But a quick glance towards the goblin proved unhelpful as the creature's face once again took up a fair impression of a brick wall and no other words of wisdom were imparted by his imaginary friend. Agitated, Harry decided to stop lollygagging and move the conversation along before he embarrassed himself further. And if the state of his mental ramblings and the developing twinge in his left side were anything to go by, he was not bound long for the waking world.

"That covers the minor charges, what about the larger withdrawals, the ones with the notations beside them?" Even before the question wholly left his mouth, a second spell-bound packet of parchment was making its way across the desk's surface and into Harry's hands. Words like excavation, charity, mutual funds, Hogwarts, research grants, and many others peppered the scrolling pages as the list of thousands of galleons was divided into sweeping paragraphs of explanations. The pages even contained notes on physical items removed from the vaults and where they had wandered off too. A few of the more dubious subjects listed in research studies made the raven-haired teen bristle in indignation: wool socks, lemon candies, and muggle musical instruments. The man had been throwing his money away.

"Dumbledore has been a very busy and generous man as you can see. Until recently the majority of the withdrawals were used to fund research into many areas such as Alchemy, the history of magical heritage sites, Potions, and Transfiguration – innocent educational, if not whimsical, endeavors. Or the other more substantial amounts went into non-profit organizations and charities, or donations to government run facilities. St. Mungo's, for example, was graciously gifted with a new addition to its Creature-Induced Injuries ward by the vulnerable Headmaster and the Ministry received expensive new sconces to redo the faulty lighting in the janitorial staff building." Harry's resident shade found this last entry particularly amusing and the bewildered teen prepared to ask the goblin why, because he had never heard of such a thing, before he was pinned with an incredulous black-eyed glare.

"There is no janitorial staff building at the Ministry Mister Potter," Steelrick cut in flatly, "not a fact the every-day witch or wizard would care to learn or deem important, but that is what the near six-thousand galleon donation was written off as. Varying amounts were also gifted to multiple organizations of which were found to be indirectly under Albus' control. The Hogwarts' Muggleborn/Orphan scholarship and the school's ground maintenance funds, a charity by the name of the Free Bird Organization, homes for those devastated by the war, and a newly developed Cursebreaking team out of France that specialized in archeology.

"However, over the last few years the seemingly sporadic flow of galleons has ceased and solely focused on geological research, procuring ancient tomes of history and legends, and excavating ruins of ancient magical and muggle metropolises. Every so often Dumbledore is reported at the dig sites he oversees and after every time it is reported he has returned to the British Isle displeased, the excavation is halted, funding cut, and another is commissioned elsewhere. All evidence suggests he is looking for something and spending a great deal of your money to find it."

"Do you have any idea what that might be Mister Steelrick?" the Potter heir asked evenly.

"No, we do not." Steelrick's voice was chilled in his reply; it irked the goblins terribly to be so blind to the machinations behind such maneuvering of this scale, and the observing presence within Harry's mind seemed to take a keen interest in the conversation at this point.

So Dumbledore was searching desperately for something that even the vast connections of Gringotts were unaware of. The Headmaster had been absent from the school periodically last year, Harry recalled, but he had not noticed anything out of the ordinary to suggest something like this. Coming to a conclusion, he determined to keep a closer eye on Albus when he returned for his sixth year to see if he did anything to warrant suspicion. And as just a general note, distance himself from the Headmaster altogether without drawing attention to his own shifted attitude towards the man and the war.

"And the other possessions removed?" he asked wearily after taking a short glance back down to the crisp pages. His anger towards the profuse situation seemed to have melted away to the outer-reaches of his mind. A handy defense mechanism towards negative emotions he learned from the Dursleys and the breeding ground for his figmented lion – or so the teen thought. Harry's abusive childhood had just never equipped him with the tools on how to properly deal with such overwhelming grief, anger, and pain. So like any child he reacted on instinct, separating himself from the cause and locking the emotions away when they became too great for him to handle. Hiding the pain or forcing himself into apathy as protection. But the suppressed emotion was poisonous and became volatile if kept in this state for too long. Often they would boil over and express themselves as his patented Gryffindorish-hotheadedness or reckless tantrums like the ones before in Dumbledore office or his room a few nights prior. This is not to say he never felt these emotions; he was not that stunted after all. But after seething to certain point they just became distant and muted, joining the others inside the deep chasm of his psyche to be forgotten and only allowing the more important points of his enmity towards certain recurring villains – Snape and Voldemort - in his life to be expressed.

"The books removed from the vaults were gifted to the Hogwarts' library. They could be considered antiques or impressive doctrines of literature but they were hardly the most important of the Potter family's possessions. Like I said before, Charlus knew something like this could occur and took measures to prevent it. He only left James with a few dozen books of value but none of the ones the Potter Lord knew Dumbledore coveted. Many trinkets or artifacts were either sold at charitable auctions for war victims, put on loan to the Ministry, or moved to Hogwarts. Of course there was a certain article of clothing withdrawn some years ago but to our sources it made it safely back into your hands."

"How could any of this be legal?" Thinking back on it all, Harry was certain there had been something illegal obtained somewhere.

"I assure you Mister Potter, Dumbledore has followed Wizarding law to the letter in all matters taken concerning your vaults. He was well within his rights to donate the money to whomever he wished as the Potter Lordship's Retainer as long as the money's use was well documented and not all deviated at one time. All the books were given fairly to a neutral party, the galleons to the charities and the charities themselves were all within legal limits, and the money used for his own personal research appropriate considering it went through a non-profit organization beforehand. Everything he did is perfectly acceptable. All this was made possible due to certain loopholes within old Wizarding law concerning Retainer's rights and responsibilities that Dumbledore bolstered with his legislation. And the fact that the amount of liquid and hard assets within the outer familial vaults was at such a lesser degree compared to that within the grander inner vaults Albus could not reach. A technicality Charlus was unable to work around by the time of his sudden passing of Dragonpox. Albus Dumbledore is a fierce political figure and made sure that none of his actions could be questioned. He was sure to never announce or leave an obvious paper trail as to where the donations were originating from. But it is hardly illegal that the public believed the man's generosity to come from his own deep pockets, now is it. He is untouchable. (2)" The goblin finished, addressing the silent wizard over his steepled lengths of his claws once more.

Harry calmly nodded his shaggy head at the news, pale hands messaging the tired planes of his face – paying extra attention to pain surmounting between his eyes. He could feel the effects of his potion-laced beverage coming to an end. Leaning back into the chair's hard embrace – digits mindlessly tapping a rhythmic beat against the seat's arm – he mulled everything over. His blood, wizarding kin had resigned him to Dumbledore, the Headmaster had been exploiting the Potter savings to bribe Wizengamot members into voting for legislation belonging to his own twisted agenda, and the man had drained a few of his accounts dry for promoting his own sterling image and masquerading as Indian Jones with whatever the hell it was that he was looking for. And it was all perfectly legal. 'Bloody hell,' was the only relevant thought to come to mind.

After taking a long, bracing breath he pressed on, fingers now folded neatly in his lap and adolescent brooding discarded for later. "Alright, so the upper accounts are all but emptied but what of the inner ones mentioned sir? What do they contain?"

"Your heritage and wealth does not exist on galleons alone, but in the artifacts that have been collected over the millennia wizards have thrived on these isles. The entire wealth of your family's ancestral knowledge and history: countless works of art, literature, and magical treasures all reside within the vast reaches of the inner vaults. And one item in particular that is famous for belonging under the Potter pennant that centers around it all. Suffice to say it is also the one item the Ministry, and many others, would do anything to obtain. That is not to say you are berth of liquid assets. The Potters own a majority of stock in most of Magical Britain's oldest companies, and through careful management and healthy holdings in the more capitalizing businesses of present, muggle and international. Despite the copious amounts plundered from the first depositories, you are hardly destitute Mister Potter." The last words uttered with another sneering looking over his dismal apparel and health. "All you must do is claim the Potter Lordship by passing the guardian's test and the vaults will become open to you and Dumbledore removed from his place as Retainer."

"And how would I go about passing this test?" Harry was very much relieved he had not been rendered a pauper by Dumbledore. He had forgotten all about the efforts of his grandfather Charlus to prevent that very same thing from happening. The man had saved his family's ancestry by locking the majority of the family's wealth away from James, and inadvertently Dumbledore. What many may have seen as cruel, he saw as protecting his family, and his premonition of meddling had rung true in the end. Charlus must have been a brilliant man to get one over on the Headmaster and Harry wished very much he could have had the chance to meet him. The man would have undoubtedly made one hell of a prankster.

"A willing bequeathment of blood and the partaking of a small sample of your magic will start the assessment, and when the guardian deems it fitting, you will stand before it to be judged. I take it you wish to begin this process today?"Harry nodded yes as exhaustion pulled at his consciousness and a small yawn slipped past his defenses leaving a blush on his face as he tried to smoother is with his hand. "But I see our time here grows short and there is one other matter I wished to speak with you regarding the Black inheritance."

Harry shook off the creeping sensation of lethargy making its way up his body to pay attention to the goblin's next words, correcting his slumped posture and running his fingers through his messy hair in a futile attempt to subdue it. This was important; it was the last precious gift his Godfather had ever left him and someone was trying to keep it from him.

"The Ministry has deemed fit to interfere in your inheritance of the Black name on the grounds that Sirius Orion Black was a criminal and therefore legally not permitted to name you heir. Investigations into when the heir-claim was filed have been made and remain inconclusive at this time. Gringotts has it on record that Mister Black made you Heir-Apparent after being named your first Godfather, however the Ministry evidently states otherwise. This is a very weak case against your Lordship, surely instigated by a Lower Noble House in efforts to try and gain control over the prestigious Black name. Moreover, there have been feeble objections made by other Lower and Greater Houses of you gaining Lordship over two Most Noble and Ancient Houses. All these allegations are just stalling tactics because by law, any genuine claim of improper inheritance must been overseen and investigate by the Wizengamot. It is a tedious process when Lordships change hands Mister Potter but I guarantee you that your inheritance of the Black name is completely legitimate, for I saw to it personally. Gringotts already acknowledges you as Lord Black and so do others, I might imagine. If you wish to know more of the Black accounts I would recommend scheduling a meeting so we might discuss them later, but at present time they are profiting, and besides this misstep in changing ownership, doing well." Steelrick began stacking papers away and turned to a mahogany cabinet beside him and withdrew a ruin-studded, stone dish. After collecting a small, sheathed dagger and a dark crystal from his desk he placed the items before the drowsy teen telling him to drop seven globes of blood in the bowl and then hold the black geode in his hands.

"The potion effects should be wearing off any minute now and I must ask what you wish of us to do with you then."

A mere second of paralyzed thought passed before the brilliant idea struck him. "Is there an inn anywhere you could take me away from the crowds; somewhere other than Diagon or Knockturn Alley? A district where I can finish my summer in peace without being recognized, get some shopping done perhaps, but be within walking distance of Gringotts to finish the guardian's test should the need arise? I will pay you for your efforts of course, and would it be entirely possible to make a withdrawal from the upper vaults to make some purchases while the test is being seen to?"

"Yes, I know of such a place. It is called The Midden and very few people will care for your name there, only the strength of your coin." The goblin's attention returned to the hidden drawers of his desk and lifted a stack of parchment from its depths, passing them over to Harry along with a golden-hued quill. "The upper accounts do contain sufficient funds for any purchases made during the remainder of this summer; however, any overtures will be relieved from the Black accounts sense Gringotts recognizes you as Lord Black the accounts are already tied to your name. This is a document stating you have agreed to start the guardian's test." As quickly as the last letter of his name was messily scrolled across the dotted line another stark page was presented before him. "This is a waver permitting our removal of your unconscious person from the bank to an unknown destination and you approval to take the mandatory inn fee from your accounts. I am legally required to state that should you not flaunt your notable identity within The Midden you should remain safe." A second of hesitation passed before Harry sloppily signed that one too and had another shoved under his nose. "Lastly, this is an agreement concerning your wish to withdraw currency at this time. This is the remaining balance in the vaults, place your requested amount here and an attendant will be sent to retrieve it before your removal." Harry's foggy eyes could barely make out the fine script on the pages and his fingers could hardly grip the shaft of the quill as he finished signing everything.

"One l-last question, w-why not someone else besides Dumbledore or a family member. Why not another wizarding family?" Harry fought not to slur his words but his limb grew too heavy to left and his eyelids impossible to wrench open. He knew the answer to this question but he could not help but hope there was a better explanation as to why. Surely there had to be families out there with stronger or comparable wards to the ones at the Dursleys.

"Blood is a powerful thing in magic, Mister Potter, little can compare to its potency. Dumbledore assured the Wizengamot that he had a secure dwelling where you would be adequately protected by the ablest wards possible. Bloodwards, and for them to be at their peak, you needed to be placed in the residence that contained your closest of kin."

"I see…" The teen mumbled out as the potion's hold depleted him of strength, a moment of panic ripped through him at the thought of being rendered defenseless in such a place but it soon passed as he was mercilessly drug into blessed sleep.

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xXx

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Large flames flickered within the grand hearth that they called home, sweeping out past the sturdy stone of fireplace's structure, and creeping across the quickly heating earthen-floor towards its master. The flame's heat licked at the flammable, wooden surfaces of bookcases and table-legs, fine tailored robes, and a pair of bare, pale feet they meet along as it crawled along the ground. Its orange fingers beckoning and dancing seductively to its own wild beat as it went to try and lure its solitary watcher closer, but the sole occupant of the dark room only slyly smirked at its sultry wiles and stubbornly stayed seated. Undeterred the catty conflagration grew bolder, flaring out to encompass the room in its oppressive heat: trailing up study columns to burn at the illusioned sky covering the ceiling, curling unused parchment to flaky char, and lovingly caressing the warded spines of worldly tomes as it tried to entice its prey into action, but was only rewarded with a husky chuckle from the man for its efforts. Growing frustrated at the lack of attention, the blaze retreated under its master's chair, tucking all its colorful plumes tightly together, and churned with pleasure as it changed its form on a whim and attacked.

Lithesome, humanoid arms made from emerald fire slowly trailed down the man's broad shoulders from behind his seat. Coiling long, dark strands of hair between its slender fingers as the fiery appendages drifted lower and lower down the man's clothed torso – mischievously plucking at random buttons and ties as they passed. A beryl glow softly illuminated the room as the flames playfully baited the amused man: tousling once orderly hair, slipping underneath heavy robes to kiss the pale skin hiding beneath, and gradually rounding the chair to perch on the man's lap.

Green flames swiftly engulfed the wooden throne as the living fire suddenly brought its semi-corporeal form flush against the one below it: breathing hot air against its master's neck as it touched every inch of him, teasing, soothing, and burning its power into the man's skin, claiming him in an animalistic way. And just as quickly as it came, the mirthful blaze swiftly swept back into its hearth and returned to its quant, orange façade with one last flicker at the man's feet.

With one dismissive motion of his hand the room righted itself and the unwelcomed feeling of clammy perspiration melted away leaving his body refreshed. With the fire's flirting over the man was once again plagued with musings of the boy who had being monopolizing the majority of his thoughts this day. Thoughts that were only fanned to a higher degree by the not-so-innocent color the blaze opted to display. To any other it would have seemed like pure chance that the boy would choose this day to venture to Gringotts, but Voldemort believed not in coincidences. He had felt the chaotic strumming of Potter's magic long before laying sight on the boy.

Oh, and what a tantalizing sting the whole of Potter's magic was, truly wild and unbridled, applying the zinging taste of ozone to the tongue as it swirled about, the complete opposite of his prowling magic in every way. What was once a dismal shoal was now a surging sea of strength. It uncontrollably flooded out around the boy, subconsciously trying to grant its master's wish to stay hidden, but instead, unwittingly drawing the mindless droves towards to the young wizard as he fought to climb the stairs. Like months to the flame the occupants of Diagon Alley were powerless to resist its allure, and the most amusing part, Potter had no inkling of what his errant magic was doing. The boy's magic was unrestrained and newly awoken, and it zealously guarded its new found freedom by reacting to every whim and change in emotion the boy had as if threatened. A dangerous liability to leave unchecked, the boy would need to learn to gain control over his magic before it lashed out again like it had at him on the bank's steps. Any lesser man would not have had the magical fortitude to quell its engorged anger and would have mostly likely succumbed to its wrath.

The foreign trace of the crown's poisonous presence running along Potter's magic was now easily discerned by Voldemort. And soon anyone with talent for such things would come to notice its existence as the sickly mauve threaded like spider-silk along once brilliant emerald grew and the leftover foul aftertaste of rotting flesh ripened. The taint was fueling the magic's disarray, barricading the boy's attempts at seizing complete control, and feeding off the magic's reserves to replenish itself. The purpose of its actions still eluded him, and a more in-depth inspection into the situation within the boy's mind was needed, and for that he would require Severus' expertise. Never before had the traces been present when he had encountered Potter before, and that was likely a side effect of the spelled-crown being misplaced and the recent release of the entirety of the boy's magic. Naturally he had spied the blocks regulating the boy's strength the night of his rebirth in the graveyard, and while they piqued his interest, Voldemort saw no need in informing Potter of these impediments. But now it seemed without the crown effectively controlling the lion within the boy's mindscape, Potter's magic had been broken free from its constraints over the last few days.

It all certainly warranted a closer look and his patience would be surely rewarded when he untangled the mystery behind Dumbledore's spell. Indenturing Potter's trust as well was decidedly an appealing side-benefit.

Confronting the boy on the stairs had been an inconvenient amendment to his plans, but as if by fate, the clumsy nuisance had tripped right into his person. Even if Potter's mangled vision could not perceive Voldemort's true visage hidden by the glamour he wore, his magic had instantly recognized him as a threat and subconsciously relayed that sentiment to its host, putting the Light's Chosen One on guard. Suppressing the newly unshackled magic that saw fit to test its boundaries by attacking him had been trivial, but leaving the unguarded savior there alone on the steps had rankled the old dredges of his once impaired psyche that all but bayed for Potter's blood.

It would have been hardly worth the effort, and he, not brazenly impulsive enough to pluck the little lion off a crowded street. With the unknown variable of the crown influencing the boy and with his grander display of magic, the reckless Gryffindor would have generated too much of a scene. Furthermore, the boy was no longer a concern of his; the letter he had received earlier that day had proved the crumbling foundations of Potter's allegiance and therefore no longer a high priority. Just the heedless bearer of a puzzle Voldemort wished to solve.

Mentally traipsing along with Potter for his meeting with Steelrick had been fruitful. A majority of the information shared was inevitably closed to public viewing, but with his followers so deeply imbedded within the Ministry, there was little beyond his reach. Expectedly, it came as a great surprise to the boy to see the devastating results of his blind trust in Albus Dumbledore, but the darker, more cynical musings of the young wizard had intrigued Voldemort. He had been preparing for a fight to remove Potter from the board but now he was uncertain those efforts would be needed. Steelrick's words had worked beautifully in his favor and now the boy was standing before a steep precipice, dangerously swaying back and forth before its rocky edge. He only needed those last few pushes to send him over, toppling from his lofty, golden heights.

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AN: Review please.

1. Leonidas means 'son of the lion.' I thought it was an interesting name considering the Potters long Gryffindor background.

2. I just wanted to say this; I am in no way familiar with financial law but I tried to make it clear there is nothing Harry could do about Dumbledore taking his money. I believe if Dumbledore was to ever do something like that to Harry then he would do it in such a way that no legal repercussions could be taken against him. I just don't see Albus stealing the money and leaving such a blatant way for his reputation to be smudged. Before you get upset, Harry does have a lot more money stashed away, no worries, but the political and financial woes of Britain are not going to matter much in the end of the story.

Recommending Reading:

Ok this week we will be jumping out of the box a little, venturing to another favorite HP pairing of mine.

Abyss by Lunalelle

Hermione takes in a serpent familiar that turns into a man by night. Kidnapping, deception, and unsaid words. Very long time in coming: Hermione/Voldemort. Some one-sided Hermione/Wormtail(one-sided) as well. A lot of three dimensional Death Eater action, too. Dark.

Don't let the 'Voldemort is a snake' cliché fool you, this story has a lot of depth and gets really dark… like really, really dark. As the almost innocent first chapters pass this story drops into dangerous waters and stays there. Voldemort truly is a Dark Lord in this one: ruthless, cunning, and diabolical. Hermione is perfectly in character –smart, yet not overbearing- and fights like a heroine through all the monumental travesties put in her way but does not come out unharmed in the end. Lunalelle is a true marvel at all her characters; she takes the Death Eaters to a whole new level and turns them into something to be feared. A very good read, very well written, and amazing imaginary. But I cannot stress enough that if you don't like gore, non-con, and torture this story is not for you. Please do not read if you are not old enough for mature content.

It has a sequel called Ascent but I won't ruin anything for you. Enjoy!