The Yule Ball, Harry talks to the Goblins, and Hermione asks a question.
She-Who-Must-Be-Mentioned and her Minions own the Potterverse. I play off in the corner for free.
Harry did not totally lack common sense. The country was still in a political uproar, as notices of meetings, demanding greater access to the Ministry and greater political rights, were appearing in various venues. Fudge was long gone, and there was no set response from any Ministry official on the social/class issues that had been raised, although Madam Bones had reordered much of the Ministry finances and augmented the auror corp by hiring 50 aurors from around the world on two year contracts. The Wizengamot was still debating and deciding nothing, although many of the more reactionary voices were accidentally doing their side far more harm than good with their speeches. Harry did not want to interfere with the process, as so far it was at least peaceful. Harry therefore put away his plans for dealing with Voldemort and the remaining Horcrux, Snape, Malfoy, Dumbledore, etc. etc. etc. for a few days, and put his efforts into what really mattered in the short term: Hermione and the Yule Ball. In almost any given dimension, Harry Potter was, at fourteen, a socially awkward and very shy adolescent. Even ‘Hit-man Harry’, before merging with the Harry of their current dimension, had technically been a virgin. Still, that Harry had become observant, and had also had to watch a lot of television in many different countries between ‘hits’. Perhaps because of the lack of romance in his life, he had preferred romantic movies, especially romantic comedies, to any other form of fictional viewing, and had also watched various ‘self-help’ shows, trying to figure out human behavior (not that he ever had, of course).
Still, that meant he had some idea of how to treat Hermione. He had invited her to the dance as soon as it had been announced; he had made certain that the dress robes she had brought still fit and inquired as to what kind of flowers she would like (white tea roses on a wrist corsage); offered her access to the Potter family jewels for the evening (she asked for and was given a choice of various diamond earrings and necklaces, and chose some very pretty but sedate selections); and made arrangements so that they could learn the formal steps of the opening dance together.
Harry was a bit surprised that his other friends had made their arrangements nearly as quickly as he had. Dean and Seamus had asked the Patil twins, although it seemed the quartet were going as casual friends. He wasn’t sure if Neville was much more interested in Luna than his other dorm mates were interested in the Patils, but Harry hoped he was. Luna had, to everyone’s surprise, blushed furiously when she had been asked. Being Harry’s friend, even a somewhat casual one, had improved her treatment in Ravenclaw in that she was not being harassed, but only a few of her fellow Housemates were more than casually polite.
The friend Harry had thought would have the more difficult time asking for a date had been Ron. Right after the Patils had been asked, however, Lavender had walked up to Ron and informed him she was his date. Ron had merely nodded, unable to speak. Of all Harry’s acquaintances, only Ron had to be dragged to the dance lessons Hermione had arranged. Lavender was thankful she had not had to do the dragging – Ginny, who had been asked by Ernie Macmillan to everyone’s surprise, had simply told Fred and George to bring Ron to the lessons. As their own dates had followed along behind, the twins had then realized they were taking the lessons as well. To the surprise of most of the boys, they actually enjoyed holding their dates more than they were embarrassed by the actual lessons. Ron was a bit distracted by Ginny’s tight hold on Ernie, but since neither Fred nor George made it an issue, Ron could only glare.
Harry had loathed the Yule Ball in the other dimension, but this Ball was a joy. Even though Hermione was still a bit sensitive about her teeth, she was still regarded by most observers as one of the true ‘belles of the Ball’. There were no incidents reported, although Harry had ‘accidentally’ stepped on a rather gaudy bug, squashing it, when he caught sight of it.
After the Ball, as the inhabitants of the castle drifted off into (for the most part) happy memories despite (in many cases) tired feet, Harry made his way out of the castle, then on to Gringotts. He had figured this would be his best chance to meet with the goblins without being discovered.
By nature, goblins were people of the dark, disliking the glare of daylight. The high management, therefore, often worked at night. The goblins had been amazed when Harry had shown up the previous summer with a magical trunk filled with gold. That, coupled with his Trust Vault and the Potter Trust itself, made him a major depositor for the bank. Compared to truly wealthy Muggles, no magical being would even be in the top 1000 wealthy, but on the magical scale, Harry was to be valued. The fact that Harry had invested most of his money, via Gringotts, into the Muggle economy where it was earning a very good return, albeit if only a short time, also made the head of the London Branch of Gringotts willing to meet privately with the young wizard.
“What can Gringotts do for you, Mister Potter?” he asked, without introducing himself by name.
“I find myself in a dilemma,” Harry answered.
“While I know that Gringotts prefers to stay well out of wizarding politics,” the goblin merely nodded at that – he of course knew that few wizards tolerated goblins outside the financial realm, “would I be correct in stating that you know that Voldemort would have been even more hostile to your people in the long run than any current wizard government?”
The goblin thought, and then acknowledged, “An interesting, and likely accurate, assessment.”
“There was a prophecy, not, I admit from a fully accredited seer, which claimed that only I would have the power to destroy him.” The goblin looked much more attentive. “Seeing how Dumbledore completely messed up my life and education, I have had to make other arrangements so that I would both win and survive. I discovered that Voldemort had made several Horcruxes.” Harry stopped for a moment.
“We had our suspicions he had done so,” the goblin acknowledged.
Harry nodded, satisfied. “Well, all have been destroyed, except one. Voldemort is under my control. However, he cannot be fully disposed of while the last Horcrux exists. Killing the construct he inhabits would, in fact, merely free him to stage yet another comeback. I certainly would prefer to take care of this problem now, and I would prefer not to do so in the glare of the public eye.”
“I take it you have come to us because you believe this last Horcrux is stored in Gringotts, not for privacy sake?”
“I know it to be here. Granted, I have come up with twenty-seven different ways to access and destroy it.” The goblin blinked at that. “By coming to you like this, I have, in effect, cancelled out at least twenty-one of those ways. However, even though I would prefer not to destroy this branch of Gringotts, or the public’s faith in your insitution, giving up most of those others was an acceptable risk.”
“I take it you have an alternative which would not damage us?” the goblin asked. Threats were a common goblin negotiation tactic.
“I do not need to destroy the object, just the soul fragment within. A tiny drop of basilisk venom will release the soul fragment. The object will be marred – there will be a hole about half a millimeter across – but nothing more.”
“And then Voldemort will discover if there is any afterlife or not.”
Ragnok looked at the teen sitting across from him. He could not have risen so far within the goblin hierarchy had he not been both a warrior and a business man, and a shrewd judge of character, both goblin and human. Every instinct and judgement within him was screaming out danger signals, that this average looking human teen was much more dangerous than he should have been. “I’m surprised you did not start off with a bribe,” was the only thing he said. “Most of your kind would have, unless they started off with an overt threat.”
“I doubt either would have been effective,” Harry answered with a shrug. “Even though I will be the only human who knows for certain what must have happened, the act will bring upon you great honor before your ancestors, even if few others know of it. You will have done more than anyone else in aiding my destruction of Voldemort.”
“Who else would have even an idea?”
“Dumbledore,” Harry said regretfully. “Although he doesn’t know it was me, he was tasked with this last September. Would I be correct in believing he has done nothing about it?”
“Nothing I am aware of, directly or indirectly.”
“I take it this presents a problem?” Harry asked seeing the look on the goblin’s face.
“Having you know we would enter a vault like this is one thing; you are a co-conspirator, after all. Having Dumbledore know, though?”
“I see the problem,” Harry acknowledged. “Difficult. . . .”
“What would merely be ‘difficult’?”
Ragnot frowned. “The timing of what?”
“Let me pass an idea by you, and see if you can agree.”
Five minutes later, a very startled, impressed, and even frightened, bank manager agreed to Harry’s plans. Fifty minutes later, a tired Harry was slipping into his bed for a few hours sleep. The last Horcrux was gone, but he would be very busy taking care of the loose ends.
The students in the Castle woke up New Year’s Day to find a pair of aurors stationed inside each common room. They would only find out later that most of the entire auror corps, and a fair percentage of the aurors of the rest of Europe, North Africa, and North America, would be in the Castle within the hour. The students were confined to their Houses until the next morning.
When the students awoke on January 2, each found a pair of notes on their beds. The first stated that they were free to leave their Houses. The second was a print-off of the press release/article from the night before’s ‘Evening Prophet.’
TRIPLE DEATH AT HOGWARTS! screamed the top headline. The second proclaimed, YOU-KNOW-WHO, DUMBLEDORE, DOUBLE AGENT DEAD IN BIZARRE RITUAL! followed by the actual stop-press article:
Aurors were called into a formerly sealed-off portion of the dungeons of Hogwarts early this morning, where the naked bodies of Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, and an artificial construct believed to be the temporary body of the He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named were found. There were numerous partially destroyed symbols, drawings, and inscriptions surrounding the bodies, the meaning and purpose of which were either not immediately clear, or at least not released to the Press at this time. Under enormous pressure, an Unspeakable actually spoke, with his department’s and the Ministry’s permission, right before press time:
“We will have to study the situation in detail, and with extreme caution. Right now, we cannot say what is the more likely solution. Dumbledore and Snape might have been using this ritual to destroy (name deleted)’s homunculus for good; Snape or even Dumbledore might have been trying to bring (name deleted) fully back, and the other interfered, destroying (name deleted), although that is the least likely. I suppose the two might have even been working together to bring (name deleted) back, and the ritual failed, killing them as well as (name deleted), although that’s also unlikely. It’s possible we may never know, as part of the ritual inscriptions were destroyed by some sort of magical backlash. We hope to determine with greater certainty, at the least, if the homunculus had been the temporary soul-housing of (name deleted) or if that was what the ritual was designed to create. We do know, beyond any doubt, that (name deleted) and death magic were part of the ceremony.”
Associated articles detailed Dumbledore’s sometimes controversial career, and there was one shorter article on Snape as well. The paper speculated that either Dumbledore and Snape had been working together (“most probably to destroy, rather than to resurrect, the Dark Lord”) or that Snape had instead played Dumbledore back in 1981/1982 and had actually stayed a loyal Deatheater all along.
Harry read the press article with great inner satisfaction, hoping that he had, with the goblins help (they were happy to assist in the killing of wizards, when they could get away with it), created enough confusing conditions that what had actually happened would never be suspected. If so, then Harry knew that, in many ways, he was free.
Harry would never have to see the Dursleys again. He would certainly never have to endure Dumbledore’s meddling again. Harry would not be free to live wherever he wanted to, but he should be able to live with Sirius, and really get to know his godfather, and Remus for that matter, much better. While Snape had largely been neutralized that year, it was good to know that the man would never again be even an annoyance, let alone a threat.
It was therefore with a light step that Harry made his way down to the common room early that morning, before most students were even stirring. He knew he would likely have to do some playacting at Dumbledore’s funeral, whenever that might be, but he was not too worried.
Harry was slightly surprised to see Hermione waiting for him, alone in the common room. He leaned over to kiss her hello, and Hermione turned her head so he kissed her cheek. Then she turned and whispered in his ear, “We need to talk. I need to know why you killed Dumbledore.”
Harry, although shocked, merely smiled, nodded, and held out his hand. Hermione hesitated a split second, but then took it, stood, and the pair walked out the common room door.
The pair was silent as Harry took Hermione to the Room of Requirements. It only took a little over thirty minutes for Harry to explain what had happened to him the previous summer and since, although he then had to backtrack and spend almost another hour showing Hermione memories of the ‘other’ Harry in the pensieve the Room provided:
Cedric’s death and Voldemort’s resurrection;
Scenes of Umbridge’s reign of terror;
Horrific scenes of Voldemort’s takeover, including Hermione’s parents, shredded by magic, and Luna’s broken body after she had been gang-raped by fifty Deatheaters;
Ron’s desertion of the pair on the Horcrux hunt;
Hermione’s execution by Draco, and the rampage Harry went on because of it, destroying the surviving Deatheaters.
Hermione saw tortures she had never imagined, more death than she could comprehend. Had she not been so emotionally close to Harry over the previous six months, Hermione would have been appalled first, and then (perhaps) come around later. As it was, Harry had been her emotional and (to her surprise) intellectual partner, and she had already known about some of Harry’s behind-the-scenes work in the anti-Puree campaign at Hogwarts, which she certainly approved of. Therefore, Hermione was not nearly as emotionally torn, or, once the initial shock wore off, really surprised, as she might have been. Still, to say Hermione was upset by much of what she had seen would be an understatement.
“Never again,” Harry stated as he hugged the sobbing teen. “I know society will never be truly good, never mind perfect. People are self-absorbed, selfish, even with the best intentions. I know I can be. But while I am alive, in this universe or some other, I cannot allow that level of inhumanity, that much injustice. If I have to, well, sin, so that people like you, kind sweet people like Luna and Neville, have a chance to spread the Light, then I will. I cannot be the Warrior of Light that being talked about to me. I am not Light. I am as Dark Grey as Dumbledore, maybe even more so. But I can be a Warrior for Light.”
Harry twisted around as he knelt before Hermione. “I love you. I cannot follow the Paths of Light you go determinedly on, because I see too much Darkness around us that must be fought at almost any cost. But please, if you can’t love me as we hoped, please still love me as a friend. I need you in my life. . . .”
Hermione grabbed Harry and hugged him to her shoulder, the tears still streaming down her cheeks. “Don’t be daft,” she managed to say.
After several minutes, Hermione released Harry and picked up several of the handkerchiefs the Room provided. As she cleaned up a bit, Hermione said, “Thank you for telling me all this Harry.”
“I’m glad you believe me,” Harry admitted.
“It is amazing, but is it that much more unbelievable than magic itself? It actually explains a lot of what has happened.” Hermione paused. “So now what do we do?”
“About changing society; about the remaining Deatheaters; about the Tournament.” Hermione shrugged. “About so much.”
“As long as we work together, we can at least find solutions for ourselves,” Harry answered. “I’ve given British magical society a push, and some day, we may even take over Hogwarts if things don’t improve. We have to be careful, and not become Dumbledores in turn – thinking our power allows us to manipulate everyone.”
“You have been manipulating a lot,” Hermione pointed out.
“True, and I don’t like it,” Harry could only say. “For now, maybe we should see if the people outside of Hogwarts actually act in their collective interests, or if they simply bleat a few times and go back to being sheep.”
“Fair enough,” Hermione replied. “At least for now.” She frowned, and asked, “Outside of Hogwarts?”
“The wards here actually influence everyone here a little,” Harry admitted. “It’s not absolute, of course – Malfoy could not be the git he is if it wasn’t possible to go against those wards, but it does push people a bit. That’s one reason why so many backed the anti-Puree stuff early on. They knew it was in their best interests, but that push allowed them to act on it instead of holding back for any but a strong reason.”
Hermione nodded, and said, “So, the Hogwarts wards push the sheep, and you control the Hogwarts wards?”
Harry shook his head. “After a thousand years, Hogwarts is more aware than any magical painting you’ve talk to. She’s close to the Sorting Hat, if not a match. I can suggest, nothing more.”
“Are you going to kill Malfoy?”
“I promised Snape not to . . . at least during the Tournament. Let’s see if that humbles him a bit.”
“I wish it would,” Hermione said, “but I rather doubt it.”
“So do I, but that’s up to Draco.”