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"… Harry Potter must not go back to Hogwarts."
Dan had been taking mental notes as he'd been listening and rhymed off a few questions that Harry's story had thrown up. "Okay, why would he call you Harry Potter? Travelling halfway around the world to give a warning makes no sense either, if he then pops away and doesn't tell you what you're being warned against? I'll probably have more but that should do to get us started."
Harry was eating his breakfast as he had told those around the table of his encounter. "All house elves call me Harry Potter. They just see me as a wizard and I can't hide my family ring from them..."
He was interrupted by Remus almost choking on his coffee, the tears in his eyes this time weren't emotionally driven as he stared at Harry. "You're head of House Potter? I thought Sirius was the one who arranged all this?"
It was actually Sirius who answered. "It's okay, people, I'll vouch for Remus. Moony, there are things going on that I can't tell you about, just know that it's in relation to my duties as a godfather. Everyone sitting at this table wants what's best for Harry, I know you do too."
Looking around at those present, Remus had to agree with that assessment. Barchoke, the Grangers and Sirius were all self-evident, Henrica provided her own reason.
"He's my boss, Remus, and a nicer, kinder employer you could never hope to find."
Henrica's pout in Harry's direction would have had grown wizards on their knees proposing marriage, he just continued eating breakfast before making a comment that brought the levity back to the table. "Still not getting a raise!"
Barchoke was delighted to see how well his son was dealing with news of this proposed threat. They had expected some backlash from the darker families, here was an indication of their plotting. "Distance would be no problem to a house elf, the fact it was obviously going against its master's wishes gives us some indication of the seriousness of the problem."
Harry spotted Hermione putting her knife and fork down in disgust and reached for her hand, her boyfriend was certain he knew what was bothering her. "Hermione, we talked about this, it's all about perception."
"Can you honestly say that poor creature was not a slave? He was going to shut his own ears in an oven door because he'd disobeyed his master and warned you - we both know this is wrong, Harry."
This was an issue they had talked about and obviously not resolved as well as Harry had thought. "You know my opinion on slaves, it's every bit as strong as yours. Goblins would rather die than be enslaved, and it's something we would never inflict on anyone else. Yes House Potter has house elves but I refuse to consider them slaves."
Harry squeezed her hand to prevent the interruption he knew was coming. "Potter elves have been part of my family for generations. You've met some of them, would you say they were happy?"
She was left with no other answer than to agree. "Most were so happy to see us, they were in tears."
Remembering something he had read, Harry tried a different tactic with his girlfriend. "Supposing your mum and dad decided Crawley wasn't for them any more. Both then joined a charity that saw them treating people for free, would that make them slaves?"
"That's not the same, Harry, mum and dad could leave whenever they wanted..."
"I told my elves the same, and the tears this time were certainly not happy ones. They are doing a job they love and having all their needs taken care of, they neither want nor need wages - freedom to them means rejection, shame and exile from their family. They look after us and we look after them, everybody's happy - that's the way it's supposed to work, Hermione. I do agree that there will be wizards who will abuse the system but I can't do anything about that - yet. You've seen the fight we've had just to kick goblin relations up a notch, recognition that house elves have rights too will be a much harder fight. It's a challenge I'm willing to fight, but now is not the time. Are you okay with this? Are we good?"
Those last three words cut right through any objection Hermione had left, she needed Harry to believe her on this. "Of course we're good, Harry, and I'm sorry if you thought for even one second we might not be. I know you would never mistreat elves, just as I know you will be trying to help this Dobby. I wasn't angry at you, just a system that allows a person to legally mistreat someone who's in their care."
Along with relief, Harry felt a hand on his shoulder. As well as that gesture of support, Dan had some kind words to match. "Just keep talking things out, you two, you won't go far wrong doing that. Now, what do we do about this warning?"
Harry looked toward his father, getting a nod of agreement before continuing. He thought his father would leave the decision up to him, it didn't hurt to check though. "If Hogwarts is going to be in danger, she'll need her champion. I have friends in that castle and two new Potter scholarship students will be looking to me for help with settling in. Unless we get more information, it will be a case of keeping our eyes open. Henrica will be there full-time, with Sirius, Curse-breaker Weasley and Master Pitslay paying regular visits. We tell Neville and Padma what we know but any more could see rumours starting, rumours that would grow arms, legs and a dozen fire-breathing heads before they were done."
Hermione was now very worried, she looked at both her parents. "I want to return with Harry. We'll have adult support and a method to get out of there if anything happens."
Her parents held a conversation with a few glances before Dan spoke. "At the moment, all we've got is some vague warning from a creature whose mental stability is at best questionable. We reserve the right to change our mind if more information becomes available, and will drag you from that school if we suspect you're not telling us everything..."
Barchoke interrupted before Dan could say any more. "It would actually be me who would be doing the dragging, something I can assure you I would do if I thought they were in danger. I have constant reports from the castle, we won't be missing anything."
Hermione was so pleased she was going back to Hogwarts with Harry, she would actually have agreed to just about anything.
That evening, the seven youngsters sat around a camp fire on the beach. They'd spent their day swimming, playing games and exploring the island. All were knackered yet far too excited to sleep. Stories of Florida, the Black Sea and Rome weren't helping to lower those excitement levels. That all seven of them would be going on to Tokyo was also a much discussed topic, especially since Harry had given Susan and Hannah their belated birthday gifts of a shopping voucher.
The adults were all lounging back on chairs, glowing lights now festooned the palm thatched umbrellas that had provided shade earlier in the day. Barchoke, Amelia and Augusta were sitting at the end table, a silencing charm up so their conversation was private.
"Barchoke, if even half of this is true, it's going to be the biggest political storm ever to hit magical Britain."
"Amelia, we have checked our facts - it's all true. I had to convince Miss Skeeter not to offer any conjecture, present the facts and let the readers make up their own minds. I take it you two already have?"
Augusta was fuming, and had struggled to hold her temper until she finished the book. Something that she and Amelia had spent the entire day reading. "How can we send our children to that school? Something needs to be done about Dumbledore and his death eater sidekick, Snape."
"Snape is no longer a problem, and we're hoping most parents will have the same reaction as you. We saw this as the best way of getting Dumbledore out the castle, only the parents of the children who attend really have the power to oust him."
The head of the DMLE had sat taking notes as she read the book, looking for things she could bring Dumbledore up on charges for. Barchoke's first remark set Amelia's alarm bells ringing. "Could you explain why Snape is no longer a problem?"
"That would be because we have him..." This news was greeted by silence so Barchoke explained how events had unfolded. "I tricked Dumbledore into revealing Snape's identity, the old wizard still has no idea I have that information. The minister actually helped with this deceit by banning Dumbledore from the ball. I originally had an agreement for Dumbledore to give me the name on that night, I have now put him off until term starts..."
Augusta loved the deviousness of that. "...and this book gets published on the first of September - leaving Dumbledore nothing to bargain with. You still haven't explained how you ended up with Snape?"
"He decided to run, and was in the process of emptying his vault when we arrested him. The charges were crimes committed in the name of Voldemort - namely costing Harry's parents their lives. He really is a despicable piece of work, the ultimate Slytherin with a foot firmly in both camps. He gleefully told his master, Voldemort, the prophecy and then nearly soiled himself when he discovered Lily's child matched the very same prophecy."
The goblin's disgust was obvious as he talked about Snape. "He's convinced himself that Lily Evens was the love of his life, and one day she would have realised this and left James Potter for him. I knew that couple well, and that view is nothing but an utter fantasy of a sick, twisted and delusional mind. He begged Voldemort to spare Lily's life, not caring about James or Harry. Snape didn't trust Voldemort to keep his word though, so he also approached Dumbledore and confessed everything. Dumbledore actually told a group of us in his own office that the power of love would defeat Voldemort, he must have ate up the story of Severus loving Lily with a spoon."
A shudder of revulsion passed through the goblin at the thought of all this bartering in the name of love, he was sure neither of those two men had any acquaintance with the emotion. "Whether Dumbledore believed him or not, that didn't stop the old wizard blackmailing Snape to spy for him - and he then kept his spy on a short leash at Hogwarts. In return, he told the Wizengamot his spy was no death eater."
Amelia was almost afraid to ask this question, but knew she had to. "What did you do with Snape?"
"We sentenced him to five years. At the end of that time, both Neville and Harry will be of age - if they want to take things further. We thought of having him toiling in the dragon pens but that would be a waste of a resource. He's working in our potions labs, last report I got he was asking if his sentence could be increased - apparently he's never been so happy. I can arrange for you to meet him to confirm any facts, provided you can keep it quiet until the book is published."
"Well, next week I'm in Tokyo with the gang, so it would need to be after that anyway. The minister has already distanced himself and the ministry from Dumbledore, so no damage limitation to be done there."
Content that Snape was out of the picture, Augusta wanted to know if the revelation that had her asking for a sherry before noon was really true. "Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald were really lovers?"
"Oh yes, that was actually a beautiful piece of investigative journalism by Miss Skeeter in Godric's Hollow..."
Hermione entered the Leaky Cauldron on Harry's arm, instantly spotting Professor McGonagall with the two people they were here to meet. The boy was as hyper as a springer spaniel being taken for a promised walk, he was literally bouncing with excitement. The girl reminded Hermione of the iconic poster for her favourite musical, there was a haunted look about Luna's eyes that just shouted 'Cosette'. Her clothes were certainly clean and well fitting but of such an odd assortment, Parvati would be left desperate for a chance to restyle the girl.
"Good morning, professor. Hi Luna and Colin, I'm Harry. This is Hermione, my girlfriend, and these two are Sirius Black and Professor Hobson."
Luna got in before Colin could say anything. "Didn't you use to be in the Hobgoblins, Mr Boardman? My daddy says it was your fault his favourite band split."
"Oh no, that wasn't me, Luna. Though, if someone had hit me in the ear with a turnip when I was on stage, I probably would have retired too!" This earned Sirius a wide smile from the girl, before the flash from Colin's camera blinded half the pub.
"Mr Creevey, what did I tell you about that camera?"
"Sorry, Professor McGonagall, I've to save it until I get to Hogwarts."
"Precisely, your family saw the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley on your induction day. There is no need for photographs today."
"But professor, they never got to meet Harry."
It was Harry who answered the excitable boy. "That's fine, Colin, but you've now taken a picture for them. We have a lot to do today, including meeting some of our friends for ice cream later. Are we ready to go?"
Harry felt Hermione squeeze his arm, drawing his attention to Henrica taking Luna by the hand. With Madam Malkin's being their first stop, both were sure she would see Luna kitted out properly for Hogwarts. This was all about getting these two settled into the castle, turning up in the right clothes was important for making those first impressions.
Ollivander's was every bit as creepy as Hermione remembered, though their circumstances didn't help with that. Old Ollivander was already pretty miffed that Harry didn't get a wand from him, the weird wizard actually got quite stroppy when Harry then refused to show the wandmaker his knife. Professor McGonagall had to intervene and remind Ollivander he had two customers in his shop. Colin didn't improve things any by insisting he wanted a knife like Harry too.
Having left Flourish and Blott's to last, they joined with their friends for ice cream before facing their final task. There were now nine students at the table, the adults wisely taking one of their own.
Minerva was fascinated, and a little shocked, with Amelia's tales of Tokyo. Augusta also proclaimed this as her best summer in many years. The Patils both said they'd considered Tokyo and were delighted their girls had the opportunity to go, but they had no complaints about choosing to spend a week in Rome instead. Henrica's comment that Rome was a city she'd always wanted to visit meant Sirius would be arranging that for next year, when she hopefully wouldn't be so busy with Gringotts.
Harry was pleased to notice Colin had quietened down somewhat, probably because of all the girls he was now surrounded by. Luna though remained really quiet. "Are you looking forward to Hogwarts, Luna? We have Ravenclaws, Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs at this table, so you should at least know someone if you get sorted into one of those three houses. We also have friends in Slytherin too, so don't worry about that."
"Oh, I'm not worried, Harry. I was just thinking it must be lovely to have so many friends..."
Hermione reached over Harry to take the little blonde's hand. "Luna, we want to be your friend too. Hogwarts can be quite daunting when you're new, but I want you to come to any of us if you need anything."
Luna looked around the table, seeing nods of agreement from Susan, Hannah, Neville and the twins. Her face broke into a simply beautiful smile. "Yes, Harry, I'm really looking forward to Hogwarts."
They headed into a crowded bookstore, noticing the person whose books made up this year's defence list was holding a book signing. Since they had no intention of purchasing those books, they didn't wait in that queue. Hermione was of course on Harry's arm - at least she was until someone shoved her out the way.
"Bless my soul, the boy-who-lived! Smile, Harry, together we rate the front paaaain!"
Harry didn't know who this perfumed and perfectly coiffed ponce was but nobody treated Hermione like that. An arm had went around his shoulder and Harry decided it was time to put some of Remus' recent lessons into practice. He grabbed the pinky of this hand, twisting it sharply backward resulted in a girly squeal of pain from its owner. Freeing himself from the arm, Harry then swept the man's feet from under him while still keeping a painful grip on that little finger. The wizard hit the floor with a thump and Colin still didn't get to see Harry's knife - the mere threat of having his pinky broken was enough to have Lockhart squealing like a banshee.
"Nobody touches Hermione, apologise - before I really lose my temper."
That girly voice was now shouting sorry over and over again. A blinding flash had Harry looking in Colin's direction, only to see innocence reflected back at him. The phantom photographer had now lost himself in the busy shop
Harry quickly went to check on his girlfriend, and then discovered this git had a hide on him that would put a Ukrainian Ironbelly to shame.
"I would just like to thank Harry here for helping me with that little demonstration, and take this opportunity to announce he's going to be seeing a lot more of me. Yes, ladies and gentlemen. I, Gilderoy Lockhart, Order of Merlin, Third Class, Honorary Member of the Dark Force Defense League, and five-time winner of Witch Weekly's Most-Charming-Smile, have great pleasure and pride in announcing that this September, I will be taking up the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!"
Harry couldn't help but wonder at the gullibility of witches and wizards. He'd just kicked this nutter's arse, yet here were people who'd witnessed that applauding like loons at the announcement he would be teaching their children. Supposedly teaching the very thing he was obviously shit at - defence. Harry waited until the applause had died down before bursting this clown's bubble.
"Excuse me, but you appear to have been misinformed. I have a private defence tutor, one I am very happy with. I will not be in your class." He took a quick look around and recognised some of the faces in the crowd. "Guys, anyone who had Curse-breaker Weasley for defence last year with me will have the same chance again come September. You also don't need to buy these books as we won't be using them. An autobiography as well as prescribing the defence texts for all seven years, someone must really need the money?"
Gilderoy was trying not to panic, and not doing a very good job of it. "Oh come now, Harry, don't tease these good people. Surely you and these lovely young ladies would rather have me teach you defence?" He was going for a reassuring smile but it came over as lecherous leer, one that saw Neville's arm slip protectively around Padma.
Parvati summed it up for all of them. "You're right, it really is no contest - we'll take Professor Weasley every time. He at least wears less make-up than me."
This drew laughter from the Weasley contingent in the crowd before Gilderoy found himself faced with a trio of very formidable witches.
"Oh dear, Minerva, it would appear Albus has really scraped the bottom of the barrel this time." The head of the DMLE was studying Lockhart intensely, as if waiting on a suspect to crack and confess his crimes.
Augusta agreed with her friend. "A defence professor who puts all seven of his own books on the required list - for every year mind - it's a disgrace! Is he going to be teaching the first and seventh years the same course?"
Minerva also took Hogwarts newest professor to task. "Lockhart, I don't remember you being awarded a defence O.W.L., far less an Order of Merlin. Centurion Crow's award was front page news, yours seems to have slipped past unnoticed."
Gilderoy missed McGonagall's implied insult, having just noticed the most gorgeous creature he had ever seen in his life. "Who is that?"
"That is Professor Hobson, our history teacher."
Gilderoy was thinking there was more to this job than book sales when McGonagall went and spoilt it for him. "She is here with her boyfriend, Lord Sirius Black." The name alone was enough to strike terror in Gilderoy, he would be giving that witch and her dark wizard of a boyfriend a wide berth.
Harry was now enjoying the show, watching as the three witches tore this character to shreds, when he felt a tug on his sleeve, Colin had a question. "He doesn't look a very good teacher, Harry, can we get our lessons from Curse-breaker Weasley too?"
"I'm sorry Colin, he's a very busy man. He wouldn't have time to teach first year as well."
Colin nodded in understanding but had another solution to the problem. "Couldn't you teach us then, as extra lessons? You beat him without even using magic, we would much rather learn from you."
Luna looked at him pleadingly too, "You said to ask if we needed anything?"
Hermione liked the idea. "We could make it a club, it would need to be sponsored by a professor though..."
Henrica jumped in before Lockhart could offer. "I got that covered, we just need to look at the new timetable and pick a suitable time."
The Weasley twins then got in on the act. "Hey, is this club just for firsties?"
"We don't want to buy his books either."
Gilderoy stood helpless as the entire event slipped away from him, this was already a publicity disaster - and then McGonagall really put the boot in.
"Last year, Professor Weasley held revision classes for our students sitting O.W.L.'s and N.E.W.T.'s, leading to Hogwarts best defence results in many a year. I shall personally be contacting Ambassador Barchoke in the hope we can call on this special favour again when the exams approach."
The cheer this received from those Hogwarts students in the shop had Gilderoy wanting to cry, just who was this Weasley person - and how could he possibly be more popular than him?
Molly was standing there with an armload of books she now wasn't sure she wanted signed. Harry had easily defeated this famous wizard, giving rise to the first ray of doubt. The reaction of the students toward her son, Bill, was a heart-warming moment for the mother. She'd heard from Emma how highly regarded Bill was amongst the four he was training, apparently that regard ran a lot deeper than just four students. Her son was going to be an Assistant Ambassador, one who worked with his father.
Her two eldest sons had made career choices she hadn't agreed with at the time, but both were now proving successful in their own right. Molly was going to have a lot of time on her hands when all her children left for Hogwarts, she was planning on using some of that for quiet contemplation. The world they lived in was undoubtably changing and Molly had brought seven children into the very same world. She was not going to be left behind like those Roman relics young Harry mentioned in his speech, Molly intended to talk to Bill about this.
Ginny was ecstatic, lessons from Harry and his friends was certainly something she would be putting her name against. She also hadn't missed Harry's reaction when that fool pushed Hermione out the way. He'd been calm and controlled at the ball but hurting Hermione instantly put an end to that, Harry had their new defence professor on the floor in seconds and it certainly wasn't planned - no matter what Lockhart said.
Amelia stirred the pot some more by pulling Minerva aside for a whispered conversation. "When you're speaking to Barchoke about Bill, ask him for a copy of a book that will be released in a week or so. Gilderoy Lockhart teaching defence might be the least of your worries at Hogwarts this year."
After completing their shopping, plans were made to meet up on the platform before getting on the express. McGonagall would take both her charges home while Sirius and Henrica dropped theirs off at Gringotts. Neville and his gran were with Harry and Hermione, both eager to see if there was any sign of improvement with either Longbottom currently undergoing treatment.
The young couple left the Longbottoms, their intended destination was much deeper into Gringotts. They heard their target long before setting eyes on him, the loud shouts and clangs of clashing metal reverberating through the tunnels. Harry led his girlfriend in, both standing respectfully against the wall and waiting to be called. He'd seen what could happen to those who interrupted a lesson, it was not something Harry wished to experience personally.
Finally the bellow came in their direction. "So Centurion Crow, what can I do for you?"
Harry and Hermione both came forward and knelt before the large goblin. "Master Sharpshard, a gift from a very grateful student." Harry presented his mentor with a katana.
The handle, guard and scabbard were all jet black but the blade was polished to a silver mirror finish. "This is exquisite craftsmanship, Centurion, where did you get this?"
"Gringotts in Tokyo. They tried to palm me off with the usual junk they sell to tourists, that was until I told them it was for my sensei, Master Sharpshard. Mentioning your name had a profound effect, they all wanted to be the maker who supplied Master Sharpshard with a katana."
"Even after leaving, he's still sucking up. Teacher's little pup!"
The insult was said loud enough for Harry to hear, and sarcastically enough to more than imply an insult. Harry had cursed his luck when he first spotted just who was in this class, he had no intention though of just kneeling there and swallowing this insult. "Why Dragonbreath, I didn't know you missed me? Speaking of pups, I see you still have the manners of a dog - poking that wet nose in where it's not wanted and whining like a bitch. I'm also amazed you can hear what we're saying when you're all the way over there, especially with those tiny ears of yours."
Dragontooth's insults had the class sniggering, Harry's reply had them laughing out loud. Insulting a goblin's name, ear size and nose in one go was impressive. The goblin those insults were aimed at didn't think so.
"You and your ugly human bitch strut around Gringotts wearing our sacred blades, you are nothing more than a festering boil on our proud nation, a boil that needs to be lanced before it poisons all of us."
Harry now stood and faced his antagonist. "Everyone here knows you possess neither the skill nor courage to do that lancing, Dragonbreath. We can settle this right now, and I'll even allow you to choose two friends to help - that is if you have two friends?"
The glint of triumph in the goblin's eyes alerted Harry he'd been duped, he was just about to find out how badly he'd been trapped. "...and I will allow your human bitch to fight by your side, let's see if she can even hold a blade."
At that, Hermione was by Harry's side, surprising everyone in the class by answering in their own tongue. "I accept! Fighting a female would appear to be about your limit."
Harry then pulled her to the side for a quick word while the class prepared for the fight. "Hermione, this isn't wooden swords we'll be fighting with, the duel doesn't finish until someone is bleeding."
"I know, Harry, I also know he baited you into this, I wasn't having you losing face over me. It would probably be a deadly insult to both parties but he reminded me so much of Draco Malfoy."
"His uncle was one of those my father fought in the pit, to say there is bad blood between us would be a massive understatement. They'll be cocky and showing off to their friends, stick to defence and I will take them out as quickly as I possibly can. Your dad's gonna kill me for getting you into this, and then your mum will dance on my dead body."
Hermione gave him a kiss for luck before enlarging and fitting her shield on her left arm. She could feel her bracelet expanding up the same arm, obviously recognising the danger she was in. Harry had been teaching her for a year but these goblins would have a lot more training and experience than that. This would also give her an indicator of just where she was with a blade, Hermione could only hope it wouldn't be too painful a lesson.
Like Hermione's top, Harry's T-shirt was loose enough to cope with his armour under it. Using his armour wasn't really fair to his opponents but Harry didn't give a shit. Hermione was in this fight, he intended to make it as short as possible. He knew the class would expect him to use his armour, no goblin would ever surrender an advantage they had in a fight.
Master Sharpshard found himself thrust into the role of referee, he called the five combatants forward. There were no flowery speeches, he just told it like it was. "First blood, fight!"
The trio of goblin's intentions became apparent at once, all three rushed at Hermione. Harry managed to intercept two of them but Dragontooth got through. Thankfully he was showboating for the audience, giving Hermione time to block with her shield. This form of attack also left the goblin wide open to the counter, Hermione took her gifted opportunity. With a triumphant cry, her thrust caught Dragontooth off guard and her blade nicked his shoulder - clearly drawing blood.
She glanced round to see Harry had already dealt with one, and just about to dispatch the other. That was her mistake.
With her guard now down, Dragontooth lashed out at Hermione - his blade slicing diagonally across her torso between shoulder and hip before Harry hit him like a golden version of the Hogwarts Express. Weapons forgotten, Harry was pummelling the shrieking goblin with his fists until the massive form of Master Sharpshard pulled him off.
Harry then remembered what happened and turned to see Hermione trying to piece her clothing back together with her wand, her repaired clothing once more covering the golden webbing that had prevented her being seriously injured.
A bloody Dragontooth couldn't believe he hadn't even damaged the human bitch. "She's wearing centurion armour, that's an instant death sentence!"
Harry's only thought was to protect Hermione. For this to work, he needed to change her status. "Everyone clearly saw my family design on that armour, it's not centurion. Hermione is my mate, and therefore part of my family." The entire class, including the instructor, were now gaping at this revelation from Harry, it was time for some proof. He retrieved his sword from where he had dropped it and sliced open his palm.
Realising what Harry was doing, Hermione didn't hesitate for a second. She used her own blade to mirror Harry's actions. Their bloody hands were then joined, clasped palm to palm, as Harry said the words.
"You are mine, and I am yours."
Hermione's eyes were sparkling with tears, tears that the pain in her hand played no part in, as she gave the required response.
"You are mine, and I am yours."
A silver glow started at their hands and spread up their arms, it had turned golden by the time both were enveloped by it - clearly showing that magic had accepted their vows. The young couple leaned forward to kiss each other, neither noticing their hands were completely healed. With his arm around Hermione's waist, Harry once more turned his attention back to Dragontooth.
"Today was nothing more than a thinly disguised assassination attempt on my mate. Even when she beat you in the fight, you proceeded with your plan. You will answer to me for that - in the pit."
Harry and Hermione then bowed to Master Sharpshard before leaving the class, a class that had just descended into utter chaos.
Hermione waited until they were out of earshot before speaking to Harry. "What just happened in there?"
"In the eyes of the nation, we are now mates. That bastard will face me in the pit for his attack on you, that entire family has no honour. The only question now is who will kill me first, my father or yours."
Hermione though was concentrating on something else, "Why does this pit sound so ominous?"
They were heading straight for Barchoke's office when Harry supplied the answer she'd dreaded hearing. "When two goblins enter the pit, only one comes out alive."
Hermione's legs may have kept going but her mind had shut down at that part.
This had to be done publicly, it had to be seen to be scrupulously fair and it had to be done today. Ragnok had already heard from Barchoke that Harry wasn't backing down an inch, with Sharpshard confirming that Dragontooth had struck after being defeated in the duel - the blow was also of such a nature and ferocity that Harry's claims of an assassination attempt could neither be ignored or dismissed as fanciful.
Word of this incident had spread like wildfire through the nation and the benches around the court were already almost full. Both families were now in front of him, Miss Granger at her mate's side. Time to get these proceedings started.
"Centurion Crow, you have made some very serious charges and invoked trial by combat. Do you wish to change your mind?"
"No, Director, I wish to proceed as our law dictates."
Having expected no other answer, Barchoke addressed the court. "Master Sharpshard was present during the entire event, I trust there are none here who would question the validity of his memories?"
No one wanted to make that challenge so they settled down to watch Sharpshard's memory of the incident broadcast. Some laughter at the initial insults soon died down as everyone concentrated on the fight itself. All goblins had at least some training in weapons, this knowledgable audience clearly saw the overconfident boy showing off to his class - only to get nicked on the shoulder by his less skilful but more focused opponent. His actions then set off roars of protest at a cowardly attack, an attack that could really have only one design - to cause major damage to this female. There was total silence as they witnessed two magical humans both become bonded as mates by the most goblin of ceremonies.
"How was my son supposed to know they were mates? I think it's disgusting humans allow this so young..."
He was cut off by Barchoke, in no mood to make any concessions whatsoever. "My son and his mate's honour was clearly displayed throughout this incident for all to see, as was your offspring's cowardice and treachery. Like us, the humans consider these two far too young to officially become mates. They have already made their choice known though, a choice we just witnessed being accepted by magic. Both certainly intend to wait until they are the appropriate age before taking the next step. This issue aside, Miss Granger was also very clearly under the protection of my house. If the councillor wishes to refute this protection, my family stands ready to instigate a blood feud."
With that, the lines in the sand were now very clearly drawn.
Dragontooth's father was raging at his son for being so blatant - and getting caught, that didn't mean he was going to stand back and let him be slaughtered in the pit. Even from watching Sharpshard's memory, the result of any such contest couldn't be in any doubt. Were Dragontooth to face Crow, it would be like sending a lamb to slaughter.
"My son is not of age, I claim the right to nominate a champion on his behalf."
Harry then spoke up. "Your son is over a year older than me, but I'm still prepared to step into the pit."
"That's your father's decision to make, I will work within the law to protect my son."
"Since my mate has already defeated your son, I understand this cowardice. Know this though, I will fight your nominated champion. After I defeat him, I swear I will cut your son's ears off if he ever comes anywhere near my mate again."
Spurred on by the gasps that this most severe of threats had drawn from the crowd, Dragontooth's father turned on Barchoke. "Are you going to stand there and let this boy issue threats, and even consider letting him enter the pit of justice?"
"My son is a centurion, a centurion who has also been awarded the highest honour the Ministry of Magic has to offer, he doesn't need to hide behind his father. As to making threats, let me reiterate my son's words. I will not stand idly by and watch these two young people be sniped at by those who think they are better. His mate already has friend of our nation status and can clearly be seen to be learning our ways. My son has publicly sworn on his blood to defend the nation, and will today fight in the pit of justice on a matter of goblin honour. What more would you want of them?"
Ragnok really had no option. He may be the Director, but the law had to be obeyed. "I find the claim against Dragontooth to be proven, and therefore I have no reason to block this honour duel. I find Dragontooth's cowardly attack to be particularly disgusting, but again I'm powerless to intervene and grant him the champion his father has requested. Now let's get this over with."
Hermione found they were quickly joined by Master Sharpshard. "Bear up, Lass, they will be watching your behaviour almost as closely as that of your mate. Crow, only I know what you are really capable of, now is the time to display it for all to see. Not only must you win, you must do it in a manner that ensures you and your mate can safely walk around Gringotts. Scrape a victory and you might as well declare yourself a wizard now, because they would be queuing up to get you in the pit - and they all now know just how to achieve that. A threat to your mate has you rushing headlong to defend her. This fight is not just for your safety, Hermione's life is threatened here too."
Harry nodded, his face a mask of concentration. He bowed to Master Sharpshard, kissed a trembling Hermione before bowing to his father - it was time.
Hermione knew Barchoke and Master Sharpshard were offering words of comfort as she sat wedged between the two, she didn't hear any of it. Her entire being was focused on Harry, and the large goblin that waited on him in the appropriately named pit. The enclosure had a sandy base - better for absorbing spilt blood - about sixty feet in diameter and with walls at least four feet deep. While the entire arena was lit entirely by flaming torches, Harry's golden armour made him easily visible - though the massive battleaxe the goblin held certainly grabbed Hermione's attention too.
They stood about twenty feet apart, bowing to each other before Ragnok set the proceedings under way. "To the death, fight!"
Apparently, normal behaviour for these fights predetermined that the two combatants would circle each other, probing to assess their opponent's strengths and weaknesses before making a move. The big goblin had other ideas, he thought he was facing a human child and wanted this over with quickly - unknowingly playing straight into his opponent's greatest strength. Dragontooth's 'champion' was merely hired muscle, not too smart and the large bag of gold offered had instantly destroyed any reservations the greedy goblin might have had about his opponent. He also wasn't too bothered about the centurion armour his opponent possessed, positive his battleaxe would penetrate it.
With a roar, the goblin charged as he swung that great axe in what would be a killing blow should it connect. In a move that Hermione had seen Harry use on Master Sharpshard, the sword of Gryffindor sliced right through the shaft of the goblin's axe. Harry was moving quicker than seemed possible. Having sliced through the shaft, Harry continued his move and pirouetted on his planted foot - bringing his sword back around so the goblin's own charge saw him skewer himself on the ancient goblin blade.
The point of Harry's sword entered the charging goblin's throat, and exited the back of his neck - severing his spine on the way out. With his spinal cord severed, the goblin's body hit the sand like a sack of shit - with Harry's sword still embedded in situ.
With the life visibly leaving his opponent's eyes, Harry retrieved the damaged axe and knelt beside his dying opponent - laying the weapon gently on the goblin's chest. "You faced me and fought with honour, unlike those you championed." When the goblin was finally dead, Harry removed his sword from the body and left the pit with his head held high - to utter silence.
Hermione wanted to race straight too him, she'd never seen Harry more in need of someone to hold on to - she really needed one of Harry's hugs herself. There was probably only her and his father who could see how much this was costing Harry, watching as Harry fought a duel to the death was certainly no picnic for them either. Barchoke held her arm and Hermione was thankful for the support, she didn't think she could have moved otherwise.
Harry took Hermione's other arm as the three of them left the still silent chamber.
It was Ragnok who finally broke the silence after the party had left. "I know there were those amongst you who silently questioned my sanity when I made Crow a centurion, I hope he has answered those doubters for both of us today. Master Sharpshard's opinion is that Crow will some day become one of our greatest ever warriors, and he fought today purely as a goblin. By using the magic he possesses, Crow could have ended this contest before his opponent even got near enough to use his axe."
This was more than enough to convince those watching that Centurion Crow was someone you wanted on your side, never facing you from the other side of the pit. The rumours that he had defeated Master Sharpshard were now being believed, how do you fight someone that moves twice as quick as you do? - and still has magic to call on if he needs it.
Harry and Hermione managed to hold themselves together while Barchoke led them back to their dwelling, the door was barely closed before both of them collapsed sobbing into each other's arms. As Barchoke watched his son and new daughter come apart at the horror they'd just performed / witnessed, the goblin took a leaf from Emma's book. Laying the couple down in the seating area, he gently tucked a blanket around them both. He would need to leave them like that for a few moments, Harry and Hermione needed the Grangers here as quickly as possible. Emma's gentle touch and soothing words were required while he would then attempt to explain to Dan exactly what had happened here today.
The front page picture of Harry standing over a clearly terrified Gilderoy Lockhart was not how Albus had hoped his new defence professor would announce himself to the country. It had all been so carefully set-up too, book signing, large crowd and guaranteed media coverage - how could that go so disastrously wrong? It was only when he opened the paper and his old eyes caught the vivid advert for a soon to be published book that he sensed the real danger. The title alone had his stomach in a knot, he could see 'The life and lies of Albus Dumbledore' becoming an instant bestseller. When the phrase 'will reveal all' jumped out at him, Albus felt his bowels loosening.
A/N thanks for reading.