If I owned Harry Potter, I'd publish thirty chapters per year, not one.

A/N: My little note about Congress got a surprising amount of attention in the reviews and comments. One person—unfortunately anonymously so I couldn't PM them—asked about bills like the Affordable Care Act which are passed by the Senate first but clearly spend money and even create new taxes.

Well, the answer is that the ACA didn't originate in the Senate. You can tell because its bill number—HR 3590—starts with "HR" for "House of Representatives". The House passed it first; then the Senate amended it, the House approved the amendments, and the President signed it into law.

Of course, when the House passed HR 3590, it was six pages long, titled the "Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act", and had nothing to do with health care. The Senate deleted everything but two lines of boilerplate at the beginning of the bill, pasted in 2,406 pages of health care regulations, titled it the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act", and passed it. Since the bill technically originated in the House—even if nothing of the original bill survived—the House couldn't complain that the Senate was overstepping its bounds by originating a revenue bill.

And that, boys and girls, is how the sausage is made.

Chapter Eleven
The Pretense

"So what is this…'ritual', anyway?" Lance Granger asked as they exited Blackwall Tunnel.

"I have to provide three drops of blood to the Potter Family Vault," Harry said, "to renew its tie to my bloodline."

"Does a lot of magic involve, well, blood?" Jane asked, nonplussed.

Harry shot Hermione a worried look. "No," Hermione said quickly, "it's not even taught at Hogwarts except to warn you about it. Magical Theory by Aldabert Waffling says, 'Blood magic is potent beyond all other kinds, but its power is difficult to control. It seeks to bind things tightly together, and scorns attempts to direct its power elsewhere. Unless correctly used in a properly designed ritual, it will do as it will, and bugger all to your plans.'"

"Then—this ritual you're doing, is it dangerous?" Jane asked.

Hermione shot Harry an apologetic look. "No!" Harry said. "No. The goblins do it all the time. Er, I already completed the first two parts of the ritual over the summer. This is the last one."

"Oh," Jane said, "alright."

"We're almost there," Lance said. "We'd better start looking for somewhere to park…"

A few minutes later, Harry and the Grangers were standing in Diagon Alley.

"Alright," Jane said, "we'll meet you two in the Leaky Cauldron at noon for lunch?"

"Right," Lance said, and Hermione nodded.

"Try not to get too many books," Jane said.

"You can never have too many books," Hermione said, scandalized, and she and her father headed for Flourish and Blotts.

Jane chuckled. "Come along, Harry, I doubt goblin bankers like being kept waiting any more than human ones do."

"Thanks for bringing me here," Harry said as they walked. "I didn't mean to put you two out so much."

"Nonsense," Jane said. "Hermione wanted to do her Christmas shopping here anyway. Besides, I've been meaning to catch up on my reading."

She reached into her large purse and pulled a large book out far enough for him to read the title: Hogwarts, A History.

"Hermione swears by it," Jane said.

"You don't know the half of it," Harry said. "It's her favorite topic."

Jane laughed, but there was something secretive in her expression that Harry couldn't quite put his finger on.

"Actually, Jane, I was wondering if you could help me with Hermione's gift…"

Eventually they reached the bank. Harry spoke to a teller and, a moment later, Inkeye emerged from the tunnels.

"Mr. Potter?"

"Hello again, Inkeye. Are the preparations made?"

"Yes, Mr. Potter. If you'll follow me, I'll show you down."

"Mister, um, Inkeye," Jane said, "are you sure Harry has to do this alone?"

"I'm sorry, madam, but Mr. Potter's business this morning requires privacy," Inkeye said. "You'll be shown to a waiting room in a moment."

The boy and goblin walked away. Once they entered the caverns and Inkeye whistled for a cart, Harry turned to him. "So I'll be able to leave the bank and return in a couple hours without Jane or my companions in the Alley knowing?"

"That's right," Inkeye said, clambering into the cart. Harry followed him. "What did you tell the woman you were doing, anyway?"

"A blood ritual to bind the Potter vaults to my line."

Inkeye roared with laughter. "A blood ritual! How absurd!" He pulled the lever and the cart jerked into motion. "If we bound our vaults to a customer's blood, how would we ever repossess a delinquent customer's assets?"

"Jane is a Muggle," Harry yelled over the wind. "She doesn't know anything about magical theory."

"Is she? I can never tell humans apart. Even your genders are tricky!"

The cart didn't travel very far or deep; it was only a moment until they stopped before a ladder cut into the rock. They clambered out of the cart. Harry looked up; the ladder led into a long, narrow vertical tunnel, lit only by two pinpricks of light at the top.

"Once you leave, you will forget the location of this exit," Inkeye said. "You can reenter through the lobby—we will ensure this Jane woman is elsewhere. Ask a teller to summon me again and I will take you to her."

"Thanks," Harry said. He fished a bag of gold from his pocket and gave it to Inkeye, who tossed it in his palm to judge the weight. "I don't know how I'd get to meet Awlthrow without you."

Inkeye started so badly that the money bag hit the ground with a jingle. "Awlthrow? That perverted surface-dweller?"

Harry frowned. "What, is something wrong with Awlthrow?"

"What isn't wrong with Awlthrow? Living under the sky! Selling goblin craftsmanship to wizards! Keeping that wife! Their beards rubbing together every time they kiss!" Inkeye spat upon the ground at his feet.

"Is—should I not buy from—"

"Oh, of course you should! The merchandise will be finer than anything a wizard could craft, and you're sure to be able to negotiate a good bargain with a degenerate like Awlthrow. Always kick an opponent when they're down!"

As he began climbing the rough stone ladder to the surface, Harry resolved to never fall down around Inkeye.

By the time Harry knocked on the door of Awlthrow's Armory, he had forgotten that he'd emerged from a manhole behind Florean Fortescue's ice cream parlor. It was an impressive spell.

The goblin who swung the door open was a bit shorter and thicker than most of the ones he'd seen at Gringotts, with a neatly trimmed goatee. He wore a thick leather apron over simple but well-fitted clothes. "Harry Potter?" he asked.

"Yes," Harry said.

"It is a pleasure to meet you." The the phrase sounded unnatural coming from the goblin's mouth. "I am Awlthrow. Please come in."

The room Harry entered was much larger than the store's outside. The structure was wood, except for the floor, which was made of hardened stone. Racks of weapons and armors filled much of the room. Harry fought the urge to examine every single one.

"So, what can I do for you today?"

"I'm looking to get a set of throwing knives."

"I'm afraid I've never heard of such a thing."

In response, Harry pulled one out of his pocket, offering it hilt-first.

Awlthrow took it, shifting it in his long-fingered, callused hand. "Interesting," he said. "This is of Muggle manufacture, of course—mass-produced and unenchanted, but decent steel and precise machining. Exceptionally well-balanced, no handle padding, rather light…"

"I prefer them around seven ounces," Harry said. "You can learn to throw a knife with odd balance, but it's easiest if the center of gravity is in the middle."

Awlthrow held the knife out to him again. "Can you show me how you use it?"

Harry took the knife and sized up the distance to a post in the wall at the far end of the room. Then he flipped the knife to hold it by the blade, took two steps forward, and threw. The blade flew across the room, making seven revolutions before embedding itself a little to the left of the post's center.

"Impressive," the goblin said. "And without magic, too—I can tell. Oh, that brings back memories…"

"Memories?" Harry asked.

"Do you know where a goblin's name comes from?" Awlthrow asked.

"I'm afraid not," Harry said.

"Goblins are not given a name when they're born," Awlthrow said. "When I was young, I was simply called 'seventh child of Polepull and Stoneshield'. Each goblin earns a name the day they become a warrior, and they become a warrior by defeating another warrior in combat. And only warriors are taught to use weapons, so we must earn our names with whatever tools we can find."

"So you defeated a warrior by…throwing an awl?"

"Yes," the goblin said. "It was, oh, thirty years ago now. Blazearm—though she had not yet earned her name—and I were both apprentices in the same workshop, and I was courting her. She was interested, but we were both still children, so our marriage would have been forbidden. One day, a warrior came into the workshop and asked for her hand. She refused, but he did not want to take 'no' for an answer. He pinned her to her worktable; she was fighting him off, but he had the superior position. I took up the awl on my workbench and threw it into his back. He let go of her, turned to me, drew his sword—and Blazearm pushed him into the fire. His sword arm lit up like a log soaked in oil! That day, we became warriors together, and that night, we wed. It was the most romantic day of my life," Awlthrow said wistfully.

"Erm, I bet it was," Harry said.

"But enough nostalgia," Awlthrow said. "To business!"

The next half hour was spent discussing the particulars while Awlthrow scribbled down notes. "I will, of course, select some enchantments as I forge these," he said, "but one in particular that I could add is a guidance magic used on some goblin arrows. It would ensure that they always found the heart of your target."

"What if you don't want to aim for the heart?" Harry asked.

"That's why I'm asking."

"No thanks," Harry said.

Then they started haggling on price. After another half hour, they had reached a satisfactory conclusion.

"So, that will be two hundred Galleons for a sale under goblin law of three knives and associated sheaths and other hardware to a Mister Harry James Potter, for delivery before you return to Hogwarts on the Fifth of January."

"Actually, for legal reasons I need it to be sold to House Potter," Harry said.

"Oh," Awlthrow said. "In that case, it will need to be two thousand Galleons."

"What? Why?" Harry asked.

"Goblin-made objects are sold only for the lifetime of the buyer; at the end of that time, the object returns to the craftsgoblin or their heirs. When an object is sold to a line, that line is expected to live longer than a single person, and so the price is ten times higher."

"Okay," Harry said, "five times higher."

Awlthrow shook his head. "I've heard your name many times in the last six months, Harry Potter. Most wizards consider us either beneath their contempt, or too terrifying to risk disobeying. Many both at the same time. You do neither; you honor my people with your willingness to meet us in economic battle."

Harry tried very hard to look like he'd been meaning to do that all along.

"But the multiplier is set down in the Great Tables of Actuary, the book written by Gringott the Great himself. It is based on the expected longevity of a wizarding line, and it cannot be changed."

"I understand," Harry said gravely. "I did not mean to disrespect your culture." After a moment's thought, he said, "On the other hand…is there a different rate when the house is at risk of extinction?"

Awlthrow laughed.

A little while later, Harry was walking through the entrance to Gringotts, stuffing his Invisibility Cloak back into his mokeskin pouch, when he heard the voice of the last person he wanted to run into.

"Honestly, Hermione, I don't know how you manage to spend so much on books," Lance Granger said as he scooped Galleons off a teller's counter into a moneybag.

Harry slipped into "don't notice me" posture and tried to walk by them.

"Well," Hermione said from behind a stack of books that reached her nose, "it's partly because you want your own copy of almost everything, so you can 'at least get a feel for the theory'"—she spotted Harry at this moment, and her eyes widened—"eep!"

"What is it?" Lance said, and started to turn.

Hermione hesitated only a split second before dropping the entire stack. Books scattered across the floor. "I'm sorry! My hand slipped!"

Lance stooped to start picking up the books. "Not to worry," he said. "They all look fine. Sorry, Mister Forkthrough, this won't take a moment—"

Harry gave Hermione a little wave, and Hermione nodded to him before joining her father on the floor. Then Harry hurried to the teller farthest from the Grangers and asked to see Inkeye again.

"I hope your business went well," Inkeye said, steering Harry through a maze of hallways.

"It did," Harry answered, trying not to imagine how Inkeye might have earned his name. "Oh, I have another request for you—if a person named R.J. Lupin sends me anything, I want to receive it immediately. And could you send me anything from him that's currently in my postal vault?"

"For a price," Inkeye said.

"Naturally," Harry murmured.

They haggled as they walked, and had just settled on a figure when they entered the waiting room.

It was low and dim and windowless. In a corner, three goblins were arguing in a language Harry didn't understand—Gobbledygook, presumably. Near the middle of the room, a witch and wizard in threadbare robes talked in low tones. Jane Granger sat beneath a flaming torch; she looked up at their entrance and snapped her book shut.

"Harry!" she said. "Did it go alright?"

"Yeah," Harry said, "not a problem."

"You're not hurt?"

Harry shook his head. "Not a scratch now. Magical healing is amazing."

"Alright. Let's go run your errand, and then we can meet my new library for lunch."