Title: Senses of Magic
Fandom/Genre: Harry Potter & Sentinel Fusion
Relationships: Parental Sirius Black and female Harry Potter; no main pairings; mentions of secondary pairings
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Canon-typical violence (from a canon that made children soldiers in a civil war, a school a battleground, and turned an infant into a messianic figure. And killed multiple characters. In children’s books). Seriously, canon-typical warnings in Harry Potter fandom covers pretty much everything except rape. Of which there is none in this story, though there will be some purely intellectual discussion of the unique threats girls might face.
Word Count: 18 917
Summary: Ellie Potter’s introduction to the magical world is a little more complicated than intended. No one, not even Dumbledore, expected the Girl-Who-Lived to Awaken as a sentinel. Which just goes to show you how little wizards understand Sentinels – nothing like being thrust into a new world, filled with dangers and enemies to Awaken a sentinel’s instincts.
Goblins have little use for wizards, but sentinels and guides are another matter entirely. Sentinels are warriors; ruthless, fierce, and without mercy on the battlefield. The kind of being a Goblin can respect. So when the Girl-Who-Lived comes into the bank, Awakening…well. There’s little they could do to aid an underaged witch without a magical guardian. A Sentinel? Anyone who tries to interfere in affairs between Sentinels and Guides and the Horde courts war.
Ellie leaves Gringotts with far more than she might have. The goblins send send her off, already plotting. Change is coming. A storm is building. There will be profit and battle in the coming days.
Notes: Magical Sentinels and Guides. A Primer.
Purebloods have no idea what to do with Sentinels and Guides. They are obviously powerful and show up in magical families. Great! They show up even more in muggleborns and, worse, muggles. And muggle Sentinels are a match for even a strong magical Sentinel. Bad! Also, Goblins like them. Obviously, this is a bad thing. Also, this Guide thing…they aren’t real because that would mean we have to let our pureblooded children breed with anyone they claim is their Guide even if that guide is. . . muggleborn. So Guides aren’t really real.
Also, Goblins like them.
Oh, and the Horde has separate treaties with the Sentinel and Guide communities, including the muggle ones, because hiding magic from Sentinels…didn’t work so well.
So, Ellie is a latent sentinel, up until the moment she walks into the Leaky Cauldron, surrounded by strangers who think they know her, who touch her — and shakes the hand of Quirrel. Who, you know, is consorting with the man who murdered her family. That would Wake a dormant Sentinel, much less a latent child of a powerful Sentinel and Guide.
The Goblins can see her Awakening. And meddle. A lot.
Ellie Potter still wasn’t sure if she was going to wake up in the cupboard under the stairs in the house at Privet Drive. Dreams didn’t usually last this long, but Ellie was used to only having nice things happen in dreams.
It wasn’t all nice, though; Hagrid was brilliant, especially the way he’d given Daisy a tail, and magic was amazing. But now she knew that the Dursleys had lied to her all her life — which was a little good as well, since it meant everything they told her about her parents was also a lie — and the way people had reacted in the pub. . . Ellie shuddered at the memory of being crowded and touched by excited strangers. Absently, she scratched her arm. Someone must have been wearing strong perfume, like last year when her substitute teacher’s scent had made her itchy and headachey.
Unless you could be allergic to magic. Could Ellie’s luck be that terrible?
“Alright, there, Ellie?” Hagrid asked.
“Yes, of course. Where are we going?”
The huge man pointed. “There: Gringotts, the wizard bank. No finer place to keep yer gold and treasures.”
Still scratching, Ellie followed him to the huge, crooked marble building. Didn’t anyone in Diagon Alley own a ruler? Or did magic make everything go wibbly-wobbly?
The carving on the door was interesting, and between in and the vicious weapons held by the goblin guards, Ellie hardly needed Hagrid to tell her that goblins weren’t terribly friendly. She decided the her best manners were the way to go with these bankers. It was just as she had this thought that everything went odd.
Considering she was a real witch, that was saying something.
“And does Ms Potter have her key?”
Hagrid began digging through his pockets and Ellie, still itching, asked, “Why do you have my key, Hagrid?”
“Dumbledore gave it to me — it goes back to him, mind.”
“But. . . why?”
The goblin’s teeth bared. “Yes, Mr Hagrid, why does Albus Dumbledore have the key to a vault that isn’t his? And why has he ignored all attempts by the Potter Account Manager to contact him in regards to the accounts in question?”
“I have an account manager?”
“Indeed.” Ellie noticed that the goblin was eyeing the way she was scratching her arm and stopped, worried he might think it was rude.
“Here it is — slipped to the bottom.”
The goblin — Ellie looked for a nametag and found none — took the tiny golden key and examined it minutely. “Very well. Griphook will escort you to vault 713 and I will escort the Lady Potter to her account manager.”
“Here, now, Professor Dumbledore told me —”
“Dumbledore has no say in the banking business of a family not his own, or a child who has no magical guardian.”
“The Headmaster is Ellie’s guardian.”
“He is not. His own actions have prevented anyone from taking guardianship of Lady Potter. Since she is now able to carry a wand, she may also assume limited control of her accounts and title — unless there is a magical guardian. There is not. Griphook.”
None of the goblins paid any attention to Hagrid’s sputtering. In short order, Ellie found herself drawn along a stone hallway lined with intimidating bronze doors. “Am I really Lady Potter?”
“Lady Eleanor Potter, Viscountess Glamorgan; yes, you are.”
“Oh.” That was. . . how was she supposed to deal with that? Surely viscountesses didn’t live in cupboards. Magic was brilliant, but it also seemed very complicated.
Her escort stopped at one of the bronze doors — this one studded with gleaming stones that surely couldn’t be diamonds — and entered. The goblin behind the huge expansive desk was taller and fiercer than the first, and looked up with a frown. The following conversation was spoken in a language Ellie didn’t know.
Finally, the seated goblin nodded sharply. “Very well; Ironfist, retrieve Grimjaw and Stonefist; both the Potter and Black account managers have a dragon in this fight.” He eyed Ellie as the first goblin left, leaving her alone and nervous.
He came around from his desk. “Hello, child. I am Ragnok, Director of Gringotts Bank and Chieftain of the Goblin Horde.” Long clawed fingers caught her wrist, pushing up her sleeve and revealing her red and raw arm. “When did this start?”
“Um, I think at the Leaky Cauldron. It’ll go away in a while; it did the last time.” She bit her lip. “Chieftain. Is that like a king?”
“A comparison could be drawn.” He drew one finger down her arm, speaking in that growling language again. Ellie gasped as the burning itch vanished and the rash began to fade.
“Oh! Thank you!”
“You are welcome, child. Have a seat.”
She did, puzzled. “Excuse me, sir. Hagrid said that goblins aren’t very friendly, but —”
This earned one of those toothy smiles. “We are not particularly friendly to wizards, true. However, you are different.”
“Because I’m a witch?”
“No, child. Because you are a sentinel.”
An hour later, Ellie’s head was still spinning. On her finger, she wore a gold ring set with an engraved ruby, bearing the Potter crest. On her wrist was a slim gold cuff, etched with gold runes and inlaid with a platinum winged sword. At her throat was a new golden key on a delicate chain. In her hand was a small wooden chest with a stained glass lid, which she clutched tightly.
Her mind was wild with questions and too much information, but Ragnok was kindly giving her time to adjust by taking his time pouring tea. The goblin healer who had been by had snarled and shouted so fiercely after examining her that the goblin king had immediately sent for a meal.
Stonefist, the Black Account Manager, muttered viciously in Gobbledygook as he went over the account books; furious over the discovery that the family solicitors, who had been making decisions for the absent Lord Black, had been taking gold from several family members to act against the best interests of their Lord. There was something else going on there, Ellie knew, but the goblins had been careful to avoid the identity of Lord Black and his connection to her. Ragnok assured her that when he had made further inquiries, she would know the whole of it. Since all evidence pointed to the goblins being the most honest adults Ellie had ever met, she was content with that.
“So, what now?”
“Now, you will purchase that which you need for school. A team of warders have gone to Privet Drive; their work will insure that no one may harm you there, including the Dursleys,” he sneered the name. “It is only temporary, as Grimjaw’s priority will be finding a suitable guardian and unsealing your parent’s will by legal means.”
That was infuriating; her parents had made arrangements, and someone had not only disregarded them, but blocked their will from being executed. Not even Grimjaw knew the full contents.
“By Yule, we shall have answers in regards to the irregularities uncovered. Someone will check on you frequently,” Ragnok assured her. “Now that we have reworked the mail ward placed on you, Gringotts may communicate easily with you, and you may do the same. The Sentinel Ward,” he pointed to her bracelet, “will protect you from spikes and zones as you Awaken.”
And wasn’t that a shock; Ellie only knew as much about sentinels as they taught in schools, and the Dursleys had objected even to that. No surprise that they would hate sentinels and guides since they despised anything not normal. It surely hadn’t helped that Lily, her mother, had been a guide and her father a sentinel.
Her hand tightened around the little chest. It was full of pretty hair pins and delicate earrings, necklaces and rings. Her father had started collecting them for her when she was born, a tradition for the parents of pureblood witches. Unlike many family jewels, these were hers entirely, no matter whether she married or whom. The box had been tucked in the Family Reliquary along with the Glamorgan ring and several other treasures that passed along from the Head to their heir.
The little box was proof her father had loved her.
Ellie hid her threatening tears in her teacup. Kindly, none of the goblins commented.
“You remember how to charge purchases directly to your account,” Grimjaw asked roughly. He was a stern goblin and seemed a little baffled at dealing with a child. Several times he had looked to his leader when Ellie had become upset.
“Yes, I use my key and press an imprint in the wax seal.”
“And you are comfortable using the bracelet store?”
She lifted her wrist, making the gold cuff gleam. It already contained many of the things she’d found in the Lord’s Reliquary, including an invisibility cloak, the family seal, and the master grimoire. Other things, like the ritual knife and the keystone to the wards of all the Potter properties remained in the Reliquary until she was older. “Yes, sir.”
“You will write Grimjaw if you need anything, child,” Ragnok stated. “If the bracelet is too sensitive or not sensitive enough, it can be adjusted easily. He will make an appointment with a healer for you as well; expect a visit in the next week.”
“Thank you very much, Chieftain,” she managed, desperately grateful. She had no idea what might have happened to her if she wasn’t a sentinel; would anyone have told her anything useful to prepare her for Hogwarts? She already knew that Ragnok and his people wouldn’t have been able to interfere as much as they had if she was just a witch; the treaties between the Horde and the Sentinel-Guide Centre, as well as the old magically binding alliances of days past gave them more freedom than British magical law.
All three male goblins cleared their throats and looked awkward. Ellie hid a grin.
“May your gold pile high and your enemies fear your name, Lady Potter,” Ragnok smiled fiercely.
“May you grow rich at the expense of those who anger you, Chieftain Ragnok.”
Hagrid had long completed his secret errand, but he still looked a little green when Ellie left the depths of the bank. By the time they reached Madam Malkin’s, he looked worse, so she sent him off the the pub — though how beer could settle a stomach was beyond Ellie. It only seemed to make Uncle Vernon flushed and loud.
Madam Malkin was with a very demanding boy, who was ordering lavishly and insisting that he did need silk-lined school robes, so the madam’s niece, Anna, took Ellie into a private dressing room to measure her.
The young woman frowned slightly at the state of Ellie’s clothes. “Just school robes today?”
“Actually,” she began. “My account manager said I should make sure to get everything I need for Scotland in winter.” Ellie paused, biting her lip. “I don’t have any boots, either. And,” she looked at the witch’s brown hair, caught up in an elegant coil, “are their spells for hair? Or a magic brush?” She thought of her father’s gift box and pushed her tangled curls away from her face.
“Wait, Account Manager?” Anna looked from her ragged hand-me-downs to the golden key around her neck, and the caught sight of her ring. “I think you should start from the beginning, sweetie, while I finish measuring you.”
“Today is my birthday, and I just found out I’m a witch.”
By the end, Anna was steaming, muttering choice words under her breath. Finally, she nodded sharply and snatched the measuring tape from the air. “Right then, sweetie. Let’s get started.”
The stitch witch quickly piled up school robes and warm jumpers, casual clothes for the weekend and thick tights for the cold Highland winters. There were pretty day robes in lovely colours, flannel nightdresses and two pairs of silky pyjamas; slippers and socks and three pairs of shoes, plus a pair of knee-high snow boots. To that was added two cloaks, one for autumn and spring, the other a warm grey and red wool for winter.
The blonde boy watched enviously as it was all shrunk and packed. Ellie pressed her key to the bottom of the bill, feeling a little breathless at having new things and spending so much money.
But they weren’t done.
“Where are we going?” Ellie asked as the older witch drew her along the street.
“To get you a brush.”
Madam Primpernelle’s was a shock to Ellie’s senses, but not in a bad way. The counters of potions and displays of beautiful bottles were nothing like the cosmetic counters at the department store; more like a witch’s workroom, she thought with a smile. She sneezed only once, when passing under bundles of drying lavender, which was very different from a muggle store.
“Ingrid,” Anna called to a tall and lovely blonde witch. “This is Ellie. She needs everything.”
Everything was a little book of hygiene spells, a bottle of hair cleansing potion — which was both shampoo and conditioner — and self-foaming soap; a brush spelled to smooth and detangle the knottiest knots, a small bottle of Sleakeasy’s Hair Potion (“Don’t let anyone tell you to pour it on, sweetie; a few drops on your brush every Sunday night is all you need”) and a jar of honey-scented cream for her skin, all with refilling spells.
Ellie asked to smell everything, which made the wix smile. Nothing bothered her nose, but she was a little worried that something might make her itch.
“What’s the matter, sweetie?” Anna asked.
“It’s just. . . I get rashes a lot.” She toyed with her warded cuff.
Both ladies had sharp eyes. “Is that. . . ?” Anna asked. Ingrid caught her wrist, turning it until the winged sword that marked a sentinel was visible. “Morgana bless.”
“Oh, I have something for rashes — don’t worry, everything we picked is sentinel-safe,” Ingrid told her, offering a slim bottle of green potion. “Just a drop on any irritated skin; it spreads itself.”
It did indeed, making Ellie jump a little at the sensation. The last bit of redness that remained despite Ragnok’s spell vanished. “I’ll take it.”
Everything was tucked into a plain dressing case that Ingrid assured her would serve her all through Hogwarts and likely beyond.
Hagrid found them as they headed towards Flourish and Blotts. “Here now, what’s this?”
Anna huffed at the big man. “That’s what I want to know, Hagrid. Why on earth wasn’t Ellie given a proper muggle-born introduction? Or the full school list? Her letter only included school supplies, not a packing list.”
“Well, she ain’t a muggleborn, is she?” Hagrid looked baffled. “And the headmaster told me Ellie only needed what was on her list.”
“The headmaster isn’t an eleven year old girl going away to school for the next ten months! And he can pop off the village if he needs new socks! She would have shown up at school without winter boots and a muggle toothbrush.” She frowned fiercely. “I’m going to tell Minerva the next time I see her.”
Hagrid looked flustered. “Well, now, Anna, there’s no need for that, surely?”
“There certainly is! I’m taking Ellie to get her books, and not just textbooks! She needs things to read for fun, and a book of manners, and all sorts of things. She’s the head of a noble house, for Merlin’s sake! What if she’d accidently started a blood feud?”
Ellie looked back at Hagrid’s flabbergasted face as Anna led her away. “Who’s Minerva?”
“Professor McGonagall, the Deputy Headmistress.”
“Why does she scare Hagrid?”
“Because he has common sense.”
The bookstore was a whirl; Anna requested the full first year package from Mr Blotts, who told Ellie she had her mother’s smile. Then there was stacks of books: spellbooks and histories, a dozen novels, a magical encyclopedia and books full of moving pictures. There was two books of etiquette, one of which was dense and full of pompous words that purebloods swore by, and three different books about the magical world for muggleborns. All this and more was shrunk into brown packages with the admonishment to return anything she didn’t like and send an owl if she needed more.
The trips to the apothecary — ingredients and tools for potions class — and to Globeflier to buy luggage went quickly. The quill shop took a little longer, with all the choices of quills and pens and lovely inks — invisible, rainbow, colour-changing, and every colour imaginable — not to mention the endless options for parchment and writing paper. By the time Ellie had made her choices — four rolls of parchment for classes, scented stationery for letters, five different inks and twelve assorted quills, plus a pretty little case to store it all in — she was exhausted. It had been a very long day!
Anna finally lead her back to the robes shop. When they entered, the blonde boy from earlier was complaining bitterly to a beautiful woman.
“ — and they let anyone in here, Mother, you wouldn’t believe the kind of riffraff who shop here. Like that filthy mudblood they were falling all over themselves for earlier.”
Anna hissed and Madam Malkin’s face hardened. But it was the beautiful witch who reacted.
“Draco Lucius Malfoy.”
He looked baffled by her sharp tone. “Mother?” Then he saw Ellie. “That’s her — honestly, why they let her kind in — what are you looking at, Mud —”
He was cut off by his mother’s hand covering his mouth. “I’m ashamed of you, Draco. How dare you use such vulgar language — in public no less.”
“But — Father —”
“Your father may say as he likes, I cannot stop him. You are my son, and a Black. You will behave like one.” She sighed. “Obviously I made a mistake, letting you father take over your lessons this summer. I suppose I can’t expect anything else.”
“Enough.” She turned to Ellie. “I apologize for my son’s poor language.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” The witch smiled faintly, apparently pleased with her manners. “Excuse me, did you say you’re a Black?”
“Yes, that’s my maiden house.”
“It’s just, my father was related to the Blacks.”
Pale eyes sharpened. “And who was your father, dear?”
Her gaze flickered over Ellie’s clothes, then landed on her ring. “I see. Welcome back, Lady Potter.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Lady Narcissa Malfoy, dear.” She studied Ellie, then Anna. “You’ve been taken care of properly, child?”
“Yes, Lady Malfoy, Anna’s been very kind.”
Narcissa nodded and offered Anna a small smile. “I’m glad to hear it.”
“Lady Malfoy, do you know anything about Lord Black?” Ellie continued rapidly, despite the woman’s stillness. “It’s just that the goblins said he was supposed to be my guardian and that there are irregularities in how things were managed. But I don’t know what things they mean.”
“Irregularities. I see.” Lady Malfoy drew herself to her full height. “Lord Black is my cousin, but I have not seen him in many years. Did the goblins say anything else?”
“That they were going to make inquiries.”
“I will be sure to speak with Stonefist; I may have useful information.”
Draco frowned. “Father said that when Lord Black dies, I’ll be the new lord.”
“Your father is about to get a rude awakening,” the lady stated, and drew her son away with the admonishment for Ellie to write her.
After all of that, buying a wand was positively tame.
Many hours later, ten goblins entered Azkaban. They were warded against the Dementors, and there were no human guards to see them either. They moved swiftly through the barren halls, ignoring the cold and the screams. Their chieftain was angry, and no one wished to earn his ire by being late.
The wizards had placed a sentinel in this hell; without trial or questioning. That he was a pureblood lord would horrify the wixen public when they found out — and they would — but it was the fact that he was a sentinel that violated British and international law, and every treaty with the Horde.
No one knew if Sirius Black was still sane; nor did they know if he still had his heightened senses. If he had betrayed his friend and fellow sentinel, he would have gone dormant within weeks.
If he had not. . .
The door was pathetically easy to open; the arrogance of wizardkind meant that they hadn’t warded against anything but their own magic.
Several goblins cursed. Inside the small, freezing cell was a matted and emiciated Grim. Curled around it, feathers broken and dull, a huge griffin stared at the goblin warriors, eyes full of intelligence and fury.
Their chieftain was going to cut off someone’s head.
Ellie followed Grimjaw through the crowds of King’s Cross Station. They drew little attention, due to the fact that Hedwig’s cage was covered and the goblin wore an illusion ward.
“Is there anything wards can’t be used for?” she asked. Turing a fierce-looking goblin into a redheaded human dwarf was surely a feat even for magic.
“For quick spells or short-term actions, wand magic is better. Wards require time and planning to cast. However,” he smiled toothily, “with preparation, there is no magic more stable, powerful or long-lasting than a well-made ward.”
“Can only goblins make them?”
“No, though we excel at it. Where wizards learn basic charms, we learn the skills needed to cast wards. But others learn as well. Runes, arithmancy, and cleverness are needed in warding.” He guided her around a group of crying travelers. “You will be able to learn the first two at Hogwarts in a few years.”
Before Ellie could say anything in response, Grimjaw caught her wrist and tugged her. Through a wall.
“Wha — ?” she managed on the other side.
“Better you did not know in advance. Hesitation draws attention and makes it difficult to pass through the ward.”
Ellie didn’t have it in her to be upset; before her was a gleaming red steam engine, a crowd of wix in their weird and wild clothing, and dozens of children her own age and up.
“Are you alright, dear?”
A couple heading for the exit had stopped to speak to her. They wore nice muggle clothing; the lady wore glasses and had wildly curly hair and the man had bright blue eyes. He was eyeing Grimjaw sharply, as if he knew there was something odd about him. Since Ellie could almost see the edge of the goblin’s illusion, the gold winged sword on the man’s lapel didn’t surprise her.
“Sentinel.” Grimjaw stated calmly, releasing his ward. The man immediately relaxed.
No wonder the wixen world hadn’t been able to hide from sentinels and guides; even if they couldn’t see through spells, they could tell where at least some of them were. “Will I be able to do that?”
“When you awaken fully, yes.”
The lady offered her hand. “I’m Helena Granger, and this is Iain.”
“First year, dear?”
“So is our daughter, Hermione.” She looked from Grimjaw to Ellie. “May I ask. . .?”
“My parents are gone, and my relatives aren’t very comfortable around magic. Grimjaw is my account manager; he made sure I got here on time.”
“And now I must see Lady Potter on to the train.”
The Grangers still seemed a little concerned about her, and she was instructed to write to them if she had any trouble with her senses; both Drs Granger had ties to London’s Sentinel-Guide Centre. Since Grimjaw seemed to find that amusing, Ellie figured that ‘ties’ actually meant someone important.
Then Grimjaw escorted her to the train; her large steamer trunk and matching wardrobe trunk were unshrunk and sent to the luggage car and Ellie, Hedwig, and her traveling case were deposited in a compartment near the front of the train.
The goblin hesitated, seeming reluctant to leave. “You have everything you need?”
She smiled at him. “Yes, Grimjaw. I promise I’ll write if I need anything.” The manager had visited her twice a week all of August; after the first visit, the Dursleys were far more afraid of him than Hagrid. There had been several conversations about her family estate, about what had happened to her family, and many questions about magical society — Ellie was now aware of just how terrible Draco’s language had been.
He patted her hand once then departed, leaving Ellie alone.
To distract herself, she watched the crowds of parents and students on the platform. There were children of all ages, squirming in humiliation as mothers kissed them and cried; more than one last minute scolding or plea for good behaviour. Older students greeted friends and sweethearts cheerfully and younger ones pretended not to be nervous.
A beautiful dark-skinned woman kissed her handsome son on the forehead; a witch with an entire vulture on her hat lectured a nervous boy. She considered going to greet Narcissa Malfoy, but the lady appeared to have her hands full with a sulking Draco and a man who could only be his father; Lady Malfoy appeared to be scolding both of them.
As the train filled, a redheaded family entered the platform in a chaotic rush; the mother had her hands full with five children. The youngest, a girl, whined about wanting to go while her mother scolded a pair of twins, who soon escaped and dragged their younger brother out of the line of fire. The eldest, who seemed only a little less stuck up than Draco, assured his mother that he would keep an eye out for someone.
“I don’t know what could have happened,” the witch fretted. “Albus told me she would need help getting to the train, but. . .”
“Don’t worry, Mother, I’ll be sure to look after her at Hogwarts. I can only imagine how much guidance she’ll need, and I am a prefect. And of course I’ll do my best to keep the twins out of trouble, not that they ever listen to me,” he ended bitterly.
“Oh, Percy, you’re a good boy.”
“Mum, why can’t I go?”
Ellie tuned them out at that point, instead listening to the conversations outside the compartment door.
The whistle blew, and they were off to Hogwarts.
Narcissa settled in the chair across from Stonefist. “May your gold and slain foes pile high, Stonefist.”
“May your enemies fear your wrath and your purse overflow, Lady Malfoy.” He laced his fingers. “What may I do for a daughter of the House of Black today.”
“I spoke with Eleanor Potter,” she told him, noting the barest flicker of his eyes. “A lovely child.”
“A strong one, which will serve her far better.”
She tilted her head. “Perhaps, but so many people underestimate a beautiful woman.” A lesson learned long ago. From her purse, Narcissa drew a bundle of papers and offered them. “Proof that Lord Malfoy has paid the law firm of Wright, Watson, and Ward significant sums over the last ten years to encourage their lack of interest in upholding their duty to Lord Black. Also included are letters between Lord Malfoy and Hieronymus Wright which detail the specifics of their arrangement.”
Stonefist’s smile grew wider and toothier the longer she spoke. “I see. I believe this will go very well with the evidence that Walburga Black has done the same.”
“She would have happily bought Sirius’ freedom if had truly joined the Dark Lord.” She made an effort to uncurl her fists. “Wright is well aware that Lord Black had no trial; the barest effort on his part would have brought the matter before the World Court. Even if Sirius had been tortured or Imperiused into betraying the Potters and gone dormant as a result, sentinel law would apply.”
Stonefist straightened his papers. “Indeed. Wright is guilty of law breaking, oath breaking and fraud, as he is under retainer and has drawn on the maximum funds permitted since the day Lord Black was sent to Azkaban. He and his firm will be dealt with in due time. However,” the goblin stated calmly, “Lord Black is not dormant, was not tortured or cursed — and was never the actual Secret Keeper.”
Narcissa exhaled. “A decoy. Sirius was such a Gryffindor, except when he was ruthlessly Slytherin.” A thought occured. “How can you know his current status? Only Ministry officials can visit Azkaban.”
He grinned, and one of the walls of the office opened up. “Why visit when you can just break in?”
“And out,” Sirius Black added.
He was thin and pale and he looked ten years older than his age. Despite that, his pale eyes were bright and sharp and a smaller version of his cheerful smirk played over his mouth.
“Damn you, Sirius, I haven’t cried in public since giving birth.”
The smirk became a grin. “Nice to see you too, Cissa.” He made his way over to the seat beside her.
She flicked away a tear and frowned. “You need a Healer.”
“Bloody hell, I already have three.” He pointed a finger at Stonefist. “Don’t get any ideas.”
“Our healers can undo the damage done to you, but you will need a human healer for future care. We are already looking into it.”
“A healer with experience with Sentinels would be best,” Narcissa told Stonefist, ignoring her cousin’s huff. “Perhaps one from Paris; the War Mages have an office there and many magical Sentinels gravitate towards the ICW.”
Sirius sighed. “There are several healers with that kind of experience in Britain, but they work for the Department of Mysteries; many of the sentinels and guides that here that don’t work for the bank or join the ICW end up in the DOM.”
“How do you know that?” she asked, as it was news to her. “I thought most worked for the Aurors?”
“Where the DOM recruits heavily from.”
“Sirius. . .”
He smiled faintly. “I wasn’t an Auror, Cissa, I was a Hit Wizard.” She knew that. “Hit Wizards don’t answer to the Ministry, but the Crown; it’s part of the agreements with the Crown made when we separated.”
“Because they’re too close to a standing military force, which we are forbidden from having except in a state of war.”
“Research is only part of the DOM’s mandate; they’re a body of the Crown.”
Her jaw dropped. “Wait. . . you were an Unspeakable?”
“Technically, I still am. I broke no oaths and my codename was never deactivated.” He looked a little bitter. “I have no idea what the Minister told the DOM to get them to ignore me; they should have at least interrogated me to see if I passed on any secrets.”
“They may have been shown manufactured evidence,” she offered gently.
“Maybe.” He shifted his shoulders, as if trying to shake off negative thoughts. “So Lucy thinks that if I die, his son will be the Duke of Ravensmoor.”
Narcissa met Stonefist’s gaze. If Sirius wanted to change the subject, they would let him. “He did; he certainly knows better now.”
“Hexed him, did you? Excellent, you were always quick on the draw.”
“Oh, he hasn’t begun to suffer. Stonefist, I’d like to start replacing all the funds I’ve used from my Trust on behalf of the House of Malfoy. I think we’ll start by selling those hideous Malfoy diamonds.”
The goblin looked bloodthirsty, but Sirius frowned. “Why are you using your funds to float the Malfoys? And how much money are we talking about?”
“Lucius and his father spent a fortune funding the Dark Lord’s warchest, and Lucius made several very poor investments early on after the war.”
“He focused on blood politics instead of business models, didn’t he?” The sentinel shook his head. “Stupid. Plenty of purebloods are willing to ignore blood status when it comes to making money; grandfather and father certainly did.”
“Indeed. I agreed early on in our marriage to pay for our daily living expenses and Draco’s needs and education, in exchange for control of both our assets and household budget.” Narcissa smirked. “Not that he had a choice; Lucius hasn’t been able to set foot in Gringotts in ten years.”
Stonefist explained. “Lord Malfoy and several of his compatriots were arrested on charges of treason and sedition — which is exactly what being a Death Eater entailed. Minister Bagnold, in exchange for money, influence, and their support in future endeavours, dismissed the charges. They were not acquitted or found not guilty.”
Sirius started laughing. “Bleeding morons. How many did you capture before they got wise?”
“Only two.” He looked regretful, then smiled. “Both were tried under Crown law and executed by the Horde.”
Lucius had been horrified and furious to find out that the Horde considered the charges active; only the Crown — the current Regent, or a full Wizard’s Council — could acquit or pardon a charge of treason. The goblins had a treaty with the Crown that required them to uphold Crown law — and to execute warrants for capital offenses.
“Pity they got word out so quickly,” Sirius mused. “Is Bagnold still alive?”
Narcissa nodded. “Yes, though she retired five years ago.” Stonefist looked satisfied. “What?”
“She retired because her magic began to fail; she can barely light a candle at this point.”
“She betrayed her oaths to uphold the laws of Magical Britain and the Crown.” Sirius shrugged. “I’m sure there are several other members of the Ministry whose magic has been decreasing. There would be more if not for power enhancement rituals. Will Lucius notice you replacing your funds from the Malfoy coffers?”
She abandoned her musing on Lucius’s ability to cast high-level curses, but not basic charms. “Yes, but not for months and I have a perfect excuse; I’ve always punished him by spending lavishly, and I’m very put out with what he’s been teaching my son.” She frowned. “Draco actually called someone a. . . well, you know — in public no less. A witch who outranked him. And he sincerely believed that it was a perfectly acceptable thing to do.”
“I’m trying to imagine what would have happened if you or I had done that — well, unless it was my mother who found out, but she was crazy.” They pondered that, and shuddered. “Who was it?”
Narcissa looked away, and Sirius huffed. “It was Ellie, wasn’t it?”
“I’m working to correct his behaviour, cousin.”
“I believe you, but teach your son some manners, Cissa. I would never hurt a child, but my tolerance for such behaviour towards my girl is negligible.” It wasn’t her cousin, but Lord Black who made this declaration.
“I understand.” He nodded, and the subject was dismissed. “What next?”
“You could find me a new lawyer while Ragnok makes sure the Ministry is too busy to announce my escape —”
“I was wondering about that,” she mused.
“The ICW has made it their business to investigate a number of legal irregularities of late,” Stonefist smiled widely. “And the Crown has become concerned about several new laws favouring purebloods.”
“ — and Grimjaw keeps Albus Dumbledore running in circles trying to claim guardianship of Ellie without unsealing the wills.”
“And you will be following healer’s orders,” she told him tartly. “What about you, Stonefist?”
“I will be ensuring the attention of the Department of Mysteries.” He displayed a terrible number of teeth.
“Never cross a goblin,” Sirius murmured with a smile.
Ellie scrambled into a boat alongside Hermione, Ron, and Neville, her new friends, as they chattered away in excitement.
She’d met Ron first, one of the redheaded family she’d been watching, when he’d stumbled into her compartment with his older twin brothers. He had asked a couple of awkward questions about her scar, but they’d quickly been distracted by more serious matters.
“Your mum seemed worried about someone earlier.”
“Merlin, she’s been going on about something for days — you should have seen it, we must have circled the station five times! — but I don’t know what about. Some favour to the Headmaster, I think.” His face fell. “Mum doesn’t tell me anything; she’s been weird ever since I awakened as a guide.”
“Oh, really?” He’d showed her a bracelet a little different from her own, with a silver winged crescent circle.
“Bill got it from the goblins; it’ll stop me from projecting if my shields fall. My control isn’t perfect yet,” he admitted. “Bill says it’ll come. He’s a guide too, it runs in the Weasley family. He came home from Egypt for the summer to help me. He’s a cursebreaker for the goblins, but they like guides and sentinels so they weren’t upset. I think he got special training while he was here.”
“Does you mum not like guides?” Some people just didn’t.
“She doesn’t really understand them; Mum’s a Prewitt, and they’ve never had a sentinel or a guide.”
Neville and Hermione had been next, while searching for Neville’s toad.
“Oh, I met your parents at the station. They’re very nice.” Ellie turned to Ron, who was eyeing Hermione like an alien lifeform. “Her mum and dad are a sentinel-guide pair.” The redhead had perked up, and a conversation swiftly ensued.
“Wait, how can you not believe in guides?” Ellie demanded. “I’ve heard of people not liking them — my relatives hate anything they think isn’t normal — but to not believe in them?”
Neville, who was her godbrother since his mum was her godmother, and her dad had been his godfather, had shrugged. “It doesn’t make any sense, of course, and it’s only a handful of pureblood families. Mostly it’s because, if you accept the sentinel-guide bond, you have to let pairs marry and even reproduce regardless of bloodlines. Since it’s impossible to deny that sentinels exist, they ignore guides.”
“That, and there are more muggleborn and half-blood sentinels and guides than pureblooded ones,” Ron added. “And there are some people who are empaths without being guides, so they just claim it’s a magical gift.”
Hermione frowned. “Guides are a scientific fact! And if it’s a magical gift, then why are there thirty million guides in the muggle world?”
“No one said it made sense,” Neville offered.
Hagrid set the boats in motion and they laughed and clung to the sides. In a nearby boat, Draco sulked. He’d shown up in their compartment with a pair of thugs that reminded her of Daisy and her friends, trying to make trouble. Ellie had called him ‘cousin’ and asked after his mother, then told Hermione to remind her to write to Lady Malfoy. The blonde boy had fled with a scowl.
“You’ll see Hogwarts in minute,” Hagrid said. “There we are.”
Ellie gasped, the sound lost among all the others. Against a twilight sky full of stars, a fairytale castle lit with golden light rose before them. The Highlands rose behind it, and the lake they were crossing glimmered with reflected light.
“Beautiful, ain’t it?”
Hermione caught Ellie’s hand and squeezed. “Yeah.” They watched the castle come closer, excited and apprehensive. “Beautiful.”
Ellie swallowed the last of her eggs while sorting her mail. She broke the seal on a letter from Gringotts as Draco’s voice drifted from the Slytherin table.
“My Father says that there’s nothing to this business of guides,” he drawled, oblivious to the dirty looks he received from all over the hall. “He says that it’s just muggleborns and some families trying to make themselves important.”
Ellie and Hermione both snagged Ron’s robe, preventing him from rising.
“The Malfoys would know all about trying to look important,” a Ravenclaw prefect said loudly. Draco flushed red and opened his mouth.
“I’m sure Lady Malfoy had something to say about that, seeing as the Black family has produced both sentinels and guides since the time of Arthur.” Ellie smirked at Draco’s scowl.
Zabini smacked the blonde’s head. “Ow! Blaise!”
“For the love of Morgana, Draco — stop antagonizing Potter. She outranks you and has your mother as a quill friend. Also, the last fight you started with her cost you ten points and got her a place on the Quidditch team.”
“Thank you, Malfoy,” the Weasley twins chimed in. “You saved us —”
“ — from holding tryouts.”
Ellie hid a grin as Malfoy sulked into his oatmeal. Ron didn’t bother being discreet.
Grimjaw’s letter informed her that ‘attempts to resolve her guardianship were progressing’. There was also a name for her to contact; Remus Lupin was an old friend of her parents and the beneficiary of an unknown bequest in their wills. Also, apparently she now owned a small share in the chocolate frog company. Ellie grinned and wondered if it was possible to own a broom company. She decided to ask in her next letter.
“Come on Ron, or we’ll be late for Potions,” Hermione scolded.
Ellie rose to follow her friends. “What a tragedy.”
“Oh, Ellie, I know you have trouble in Potions.” Hermione squeezed her hand. “When is your bracelet getting an adjustment?”
“This weekend; Grimjaw is coming with Healer Royal.”
The muggleborn frowned at the mention of Ellie’s healer. The first time Pen Royal had shown up at Hogwarts, after the first week of classes, several uncomfortable conversation had resulted. Madam Pomfrey and Healer Royal had fought viciously over the mediwitch’s right to know about Ellie’s healthcare regime. Professor McGonagall had fed her tea and shortbread cookies, asked to see her school letter, and stalked off the shout at the Headmaster.
Hermione had wheedled the details out of Ellie, late at night in their dorm. When she found out that Ellie was being treated for long term malnutrition, the other witch had ranted and raved and cried, all while proclaiming that Ellie was coming home with her. There had been threats and promises to tell the London pride and only the assurance that the goblin Horde would put the Dursleys heads on pikes before letting her return had settled her.
Severus watched over the Slytherin/Gryffindor first years with a scowl. There was no more volatile classroom pairing than this one; he cursed Albus once more for his constant insistence that exposure would reduce the rivalry between the two houses.
Though the look on Minerva’s face whenever he stated that piece of idiocy was priceless.
He stalked between the divided houses; several attempts to sabotage Gryffindor potions were aborted.
The potions master scowled at the cluster of Gryffindors at the back; Potter’s spawn and the muggleborn Granger had their heads together while Weasley — another one, honestly, Molly Weasley was perfectly capable of brewing a contraceptive potion — and that menace Longbottom struggled with a potion already two shades too dark.
Granger was a know-it-all, but she could follow directions, and Potter was far less useless than either boy. Severus would have preferred to pair them off with one strong brewer at each bench, but Granger was uncharacteristically disobedient when it came to working with Potter, and Weasley was more distracted when working with her.
He started to call the brat out for her laziness, letting Granger do all the work while she sat and stared, when something about Potter’s posture stirred his memory. Severus was a bastard who would spend his life repenting for the arrogance and foolishness of his adolescence — but he wasn’t stupid.
The girl jerked when Granger touched her wrist; Weasley and Longbottom half-turned, checking on them until they were waved off.
His glower darkened. Foolish little idiots.
“Potter, stay behind,” he drawled when she brought the finished potion vial. The Gryffindors frowned at him while the Slytherins laughed.
Severus closed the door firmly on the hovering trio in the doorway. “You foolish child; what kind of idiot comes to potions, week after week, and doesn’t say anything about being a sentinel?”
Ten minutes later, he stalked into Minerva’s office; the older witch followed him, leaving her NEWTs class taking notes. “Severus?”
“I have two sentinels in my class that I didn’t know about!” he hissed. “Granger and Potter — for Merlin’s sake, Minerva, do you realize how dangerous that is?” He stalked along the room. “How many others are there? Do any of the other teachers know? Sentinels come online slowly — it’s entirely possible to zone before you even know you’ve come online. Even Astronomy class could cause a zone in a sentinel with sight issues!”
Minerva’s face was tight. “Albus didn’t tell you?”
Oh for fuck’s sake. Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. “Albus?”
“I told him about Ms Granger right away — her parents are a pair, and she’s a registered latent. I didn’t know about Ms Potter until she came to school wearing a ward, but I mentioned it to him. He was supposed to tell the staff and ensure that the wards on Gryffindor Tower were updated.” She frowned. “I don’t want those girls up half the night because of drunken louts in Hogsmeade.”
“Well, I doubt that’s been done, either,” he snapped.
“That man,” she huffed. “He’s never seemed to understand sentinels and guides. As if I don’t have enough to worry about with that bloody stone,” Minerva muttered.
“We have another problem.”
“Can it wait until after dinner, so I can have a dram?”
He almost smiled. “Unfortunately not. Potter’s senses spike in Quirrell’s presence. Worse? The day she started to awaken? Was also the day she went to Diagon Alley.”
“Not terrible surprising, a portion of our society is a direct threat to her.”
“She also met Quirrell that day.” He watched as she calmly drew her wand and shattered a vase. “His presence gives Potter headaches, and her senses increase after each class.”
“No reaction.” That was both a relief and a worry. If Quirrell was a threat to eleven year old girls in general, Granger would surely be awakening. However, it meant that the wizard was a threat to Potter specifically.
“So he’s potentially a Dark Wizard instead of a paedophile. What a bleeding relief!”
The wizard known only as Silence followed a goblin into the depths of Gringotts.
“This seems unlikely, Silence.” Amelia Bones murmured.
“If you can think of another explanations for Black’s escape, the complete lack of sightings, and now the removal of every one of his belongings from DoM storage and the DMLE evidence vault — all without a trace of a magical signature — I would like to hear it, Bones.”
“He’s a dark wizard,” Bode, one of his Unspeakables muttered. “That explains everything.”
Silence sighed. What a pity that he needed public faces for the DoM to hide it’s deeper purposeses. Bode made a good decoy, and he was a reasonable if uncreative researcher, but he was far too straightforward for the more esoteric research or intelligence work of the department.
“Don’t be an idiot, Bode; dark magic is easy to detect, if difficult to undo,” Bones snapped. “But why on Earth would the Horde break a Death Eater out of Azkaban — much less steal his belongings?”
“That is exactly what I wish to discover,” the Head Unspeakable — and commander of MI4 — replied.
The goblin Chieftain smiled toothily when they entered. “Good profit and war, wixen.”
“And to you, Ragnok.”
They declined tea and sat. “What can the Horde do for the Ministry today?”
“Are you harbouring Sirius Black?” Bones looked horrified by his blunt question, but Ragnok chortled.
“Harbouring implies guilt.” He leaned back in his seat, black eyes gleaming. “The Horde rescued Lord Sirius Black from his illegal detainment, as was permitted by our treaties with the ICW and the Sentinel-Guide community. Incidentally,” he spoke over Bode’s attempted outrage, “the Ministry will be sanctioned for the violation of international sentinel law and its treaties with the British Crown.”
“What?” Silence and Bones demanded.
“You sent a sentinel to Azkaban without a trial!” the goblin roared. “Violating the Magna Carta — one of the foundational documents of the agreement to separate magical and muggle society! Sirius Black is a member of the Wizard’s Council — his ancestors helped found the Council — and that makes him an agent of the Crown’s rule over Magical Britain!”
“He betrayed Lily and James!” Amelia declared. “He was going to go dormant!”
“If that were true, he was still required to have a trial and be assessed by the ICW or the Sentinel-Guide Centre. That kind of betrayal is unheard of in a sentinel and surely indicated magical coercion!” Ragnok bared his teeth. “How many people claimed Imperius and weren’t even assessed by healers — despite Crown warrants for treason? The one man who seemed likeliest to be under that spell wasn’t even asked!”
“Stop,” Silence interrupted the building fight between goblin, Auror and Unspeakable. “Sirius confessed.”
“He did nothing of the kind! He wasn’t even questioned!”
The head Unspeakable leaned back, thinking rapidly. He waved off Bode, who tried to interject. “This is why the ICW has been so stirred up lately. I thought I recognized the hand of the Horde in their recent inquests.”
“The Ministry’s current troubles are only a prelude as evidence is gathered. The Queen is tempted to overturn the entire government, and if the ICW finds too many complicent, Britain may lose its seat entirely. And the International Council of Sentinel-Guide Affairs hasn’t even found out yet,” he added viciously.
“Oh goddess,” Bones groaned.
“We have a bigger problem.”
“Bigger than sanctions at every possible level?”
“Damn it, Amelia! I know you demanded the documents on Black’s arrest and trial — so did Moody. Don’t you remember?”
Slowly, the DMLE Head paled. “Bloody buggering fuck.”
“What?” the Chieftain demanded.
“I insisted on seeing everything — Sirius was one of mine.” He sighed, remembering the grief, denial and fury. “He was brilliant, dangerous, and loyal. The bond between Sirius and James was fierce. They awakened within minutes of each other.”
“The attack on Hogsmeade their fifth year,” Amelia recalled. “They awakened, went berserk — they even took their lycanthrope friend, Lupin with them — and tore a swath through the attacking Death Eaters.”
“Exactly. It made so little sense, so I checked everything. There was a stack of evidence, a confession, and a healer’s report that Black’s senses were already reduced. There was also a declaration of imprisonment,” Silence added. “Bearing a Crown Seal.”
Ragnok snarled in Gobbledygook, leapt from his seat, and started shouting.Bode cowered as goblin warriors poured into the room.
“Did you see this?” Ragnok demanded of Bones.
“Yes. Moody did as well — he refused to believe that Black would betray James.”
“The Queen did not place that seal — she has already overturned all charges against Lord Black.”
“Which means someone in the Office of the Minister has access to the Crown Seal — or a forgery that can pass inspection.” Silence was furious at that violation of the law. “Bagnold and Crouch’s signatures were on most of the documents — along with Fudge, who was the first on scene.”
“And soon after that, Fudge found a patron in Lucius Malfoy,” Amelia hissed. “Malfoy has been trying to get the Ravensmoor seat ever since.”
“The Wizard’s Council hasn’t been able to exercise veto powers since Sirius’ imprisonment,” Silence pointed out, working through Bagnold and Crouch’s motives. “The other members of the Council have a lot of power in the Wizengamot, but all twelve seats of the Council must be filled to act as ruling body. Without an heir, the House of Black’s seat has remained empty — despite Malfoy’s attempts.”
“They knew he might be innocent, and sent him to Azkaban anyway, to increase the Ministry’s power,” Silence fumed.
“Aided by the money from Malfoy and a handful of others, who all hoped to inherit if he were to die in prison,” Ragnok added.
“Wait — where’s Ellie?”
Ron and Neville paused in their ascent of the staircase. “She didn’t want to come to the feast; you know that, Hermione,” Neville offered.
“Exactly! There’s a troll in the school! Where’s Ellie?”
The froze, immediately being pushed out of the way by panicking students. “Wouldn’t she be in the dorm, Hermione?” Ron asked. “She burrows in when she’s upset.”
“Yeah, but when she wants to think, she goes up high,” Neville worried. “Like the Astronomy Tower.”
“She likes to be away from the noise of the school so she can relax and practice extending her hearing,” Hermione explained. “You know she hates being crowded.”
They did know; the three Gryffindors had learned very quickly that Ellie would shrink in on herself, hiding behind her hair or her collar if other students started trying to get close. The invasive questions and whispers and stares of the first weeks of school had made all three of her friends very protective of their youngest member, often forming a physical barrier or even telling off the insistent. It had cost them, as it left all four of them fairly isolated amongst their peers and House; several students had even tried to tell them off for ‘hogging’ the Girl-Who-Lived. That had not gone over well; Neville was surprisingly capable of shaming people for poor manners, Hermione could scold like McGonagall on a tear, and Ron had the sharp tongue and insults of a child with six siblings.
“If she’s not in the dorm. . .” Neville whispered.
“We have to find her!” Ron hissed.
“We need to tell a teacher!” Hermione snapped.
But there were no teachers anywhere in sight; only harried Prefects. The first they found was carrying two first years, and obviously no help. The second was Percy.
“Percy! We need help!”
“Honestly, Ron, I cannot deal with you now — this is an emergency, and the staff are counting on we Prefects — you, there, move along! Quickly now, there’s a troll about!” He scolded a group of students. “Go on, Ron, back to the dorm.”
“But Ellie —”
“Her?” Percy sniffed. “She doesn’t want my help!” Since Percy had spent two weeks constantly trying to get Ellie to accept his overbearing advice on everything from finding her way to class, to what she should eat at breakfast — and been soundly rebuffed — he was nursing wounded feelings. Or at least a damaged ego. “Go to the dorms, now.”
“But we don’t —”
“I’ll take points from each of you! I won’t let being your brother to interfere in my duty!”
They stormed off, and ducked away from the other students once around the corner.
“I told you he’s a prat!”
“Fine, apparently not everyone with a badge is a font of wisdom,” Hermione conceded huffily. “Now what?”
Neville rocked on his heels. “If she’s in the dorm, she’s safe. If she isn’t there, she has to be in the tower, right?”
“Then,” he inhaled, “we should go straight there to check.”
Ron looked at him admiringly and breathed, “Neville.” Hermione looked horrified.
“There’s nothing for it; if we go looking for a teacher, we might run into the troll. The Tower has narrow stairs; a troll won’t fit up there, so once we get there, we’ll be safe.”
“And if they expel us for it?” Hermione asked pertly.
“We blame Percy,” Ron grumbled.
Ellie was tucked up under her cloak — the lovely gray and red one that Anna had picked for her — and pondered that this was the best Halloween she could remember. Even though she now knew it was the anniversary of her parent’s deaths.
At Privet Drive, she spent the night in the cupboard. Any day that involved candy was one Daisy demanded to take part in, and Petunia didn’t want to risk Ellie sneaking even a single treat from the dish given to trick-or-treaters.
There had been a few stares today, but most people seemed to forget the exact date she became the Girl-Who-Lived. Still, Ellie had not been able to bear feasting and celebrating today. Her friends had understood.
Not only her school friends; she had a stack of letters in her hand, all thick and full of sympathy, stories, cheer and information.
Anna’s letter came with a pair of gloves and a tiny bottle of scent — her family was Irish, and apparently many of the old Celtic families still acknowledged the old calendar which marked Samhain as the end of the year. The scent, picked by Ingrid for her, smelled of apple blossoms and was a traditional gift for the new year.
Remus, who she had been writing to for several weeks, had sent a long letter full of stories of her parents while at school. Pranks and arguments and names like ‘Lily-flower’ and ‘toerag’ made her giggle and shed a few tears for the people she would never know. Even better was the stack of moving photographs; Ellie now knew she had her father’s hair and her mother’s eyes.
But Grimjaw’s was the best, if only barely.
The older students had spent a week talking about the events in the paper recently; the arrest of the current Minister of Magic and his two predecessors, as well as several other members of the Ministry had been all over the news. The staff had been solemn, and Dumbledore had missed several evening meals. She and her friends hadn’t paid much attention, since it had nothing to do with them. Apparently this was wrong and it had a lot to do with Ellie.
She unfolded the last letter, included in the packet from Gringotts.
— so sorry I wasn’t there for you, Ellie. I never meant for this to happen; James and I both believed in the system to protect you. I would have never went after Peter if I had known where Dumbledore was taking you — I thought you would be safe at Hogwarts until I finished.
There were a lot of reasons that I was sent to Azkaban, including some we haven’t pieced together yet. Many are political, and I’ll explain in detail later. Both our families are old and respected Houses, and with that power can come resentment.
The goblins have been taking very good care of me, since I must be healthy to take care of you. I was wretchedly thin and weak before; I think I spent most of the last ten years in a zone. Azkaban is not kind to Sentinels. Only my spirit guide and animal instinct ensured I ate and drank enough to survive. The healers are terrifying — I know you have one of your own, but there’s no one like a goblin healer to make sure you take your potions!
I hope to see you at winter break, unless you prefer to stay at Hogwarts; the Goblin’s have helped me clean and renovate my family homes, including removing the pests. . . particularly my mother —
She had a godfather, and he wanted her.
Ellie folded the letter, tied all of them together with string and tucked them in her pocket as she rose. The feast was surely over by now.
From the depths of the castle, she heard a scream.
Ellie woke slowly to the sound of breathing, the quiet throb of familiar heartbeats, and voices.
“ — absolutely mad! If I knew anything about such a potion — which I don’t — I would never brew it! I would obliviate myself of the recipe!”
“You may believe that you are immune from repercussions, but I know better! If sentinels and guides knew that a potion existed which would prevent them from awakening or repress their abilities they would destroy our society, Albus! The vast majority of them are muggles, and the only reason that our separation was possible is because they aided us in hiding by not revealing us! Five hundred years of mutual support — they let us hide, we help them escape by our means if their societies or governments turn on them — all undone if you managed what you just suggested! For the love of Merlin, she’s wearing a goblin ward!”
“Which neither you nor Minerva informed me of.”
“It was none of your business! The ward stops her from sudden spikes or zones, but it also protects her and connects her to the master ward in Gringotts — a protective measure for all under age sentinels and guides. Even awakened, she’ll continue to wear it for years. Are you trying to start a war with the Horde?”
“I hardly think —”
“That is obvious!”
“1659 — a pureblood suppressed his guide daughter so that he could proceed with the marriage he’d arranged for her and not have to return the bride price — the Horde impaled him, alive, in front of the bank along with the potions master who brewed the potion. Every adult in the family who knew what he planned was imprisoned and the Horde spent a decade purging all knowledge of the potion. And no one stopped them because the moron who started the whole thing nearly caused a Goblin Rebellion!”
“It is too dangerous for her to be a sentinel, Severus. It draws attention — not to mention the ire of the pureblood families — and makes it difficult to guide her properly.”
“It is the greatest defense she has against those who would move against her. She began coming online the day she entered the magical world — because it is dangerous. Muggleborns awaken so often because simply being Muggleborn in our world is inherently dangerous. James Potter was a sentinel, Albus, surely you realized this was a possibility from the beginning?”
“I did not consider it likely.” A sigh. “Well, if you will not —”
“No, and do not ever ask or even speak of it again!”
“ — then the next best thing will be to make sure the Weasley’s are made her guardians. I have had no luck in doing so —”
“For good reason, you did overturn the will, supercede the law, act as her guardian without consent, and ignored her accountant.”
“ — but it is perfectly reasonable to see a Sentinel placed in family with active guides. Perhaps young Ron and Ellie will be a good match — Molly will like that.”
“If they were, we would already know.”
The voices faded as Dumbledore and Professor Snape moved away. Ellie waited before she sat up.
She was in the Infirmary, and she wasn’t alone. Hermione was curled up beside her, while Neville lay on the bed to the left. Ron was in a chair by the bed, slumped over her and Hermione’s legs. Each one of them sat up when she did, awake and having heard the conversation.
Hermione was tearful and angry. “That — its — how —what?”
“Bloody hell, Snape is the good guy,” Ron breathed.
“Oh, how could he?” Hermione managed. “How could he even think it, much less ask?”
“That’s insane,” Neville whispered. “Snape is right — it could start a war, or end the Secret.”
“Only Ellie,” the redhead muttered. “He didn’t say anything about Hermione.”
Ellie turned to her friend. “Hermione?”
“I’m not online — awake,” she corrected, “but when the troll came, I started to. I can visualize my dials already, and that’s something you’ve only been able to for a few days.” She frowned. “It happened so quickly that I didn’t awaken fully before —”
“What happened?” she asked. “I don’t remember much.”
“You —” Neville shook his head. “You were berserk.”
“Feral,” Hermione translated. “You’ll probably remember over the next few days. There was a troll in the school, and they sent us back to the dorms —”
“Wait, why not lock the doors of the hall?”
They all looked surprised. “I — didn’t think of that,” Hermione mused. “Well, that was stupid.”
“No one thought of it, including the teachers.” Neville sighed.
“Right, well, we tried to tell someone you weren’t there —”
Ellie made a face when Ron growled, “Percy.”
“ — but he wouldn’t listen. So we went to find you and. . .”
“The troll found us.”
“Blimey, so did I.”
“Better than me — I squeaked.”
“We tried to get out of it’s way, and I. . . well I could hear it move.”
“Dragged us out of the path of the club, she did.”
“And then. . . you came.” Hermione hugged her. “You came and saved us.”
Ron and Neville nodded. “No one’s gonna cross you, Ellie; you dropped a mountain troll with a levitating spell.”
Ellie grinned, then toyed with her bracelet. She could feel her senses straining against an invisible boundary; the ward was intelligent, and had lightened it’s protection in the face of a threat that required her full senses, but now it tried to keep her from reaching too far and hurting herself. Despite the ward, her senses were far stronger than even this morning.
“What do we do?” Their headmaster couldn’t be trusted. “No offence, Ron, but —”
He made a face. “Ugh, no. I like you Ellie, but not like that.”
Hermione shook her head. “Even without being completely awakened — which you and Ellie are — we would know if any of us were a match. A platonic bond would have already formed.” She frowned fiercely. “He’s a brilliant wizard and an educator! He should have a better understanding of sentinels and guides!”
“Ellie should write to Gringotts.” Neville looked up. “We need help, and goblin’s have a lot of authority with magical sentinels.”
“I’m going to write to Bill,” Ron decided. “He can help — even if it’s just with Mum. Does anyone have parchment?”
They wound up stealing paper and quills from Madam Pomfrey’s desk. Hermione looked confused when Ellie handed some to her. “I’m sure your parents want to know your coming online.”
“But they can’t do anything.”
“Yeah, but they should still know. Or do you want to get of the train and have that be the first thing they notice?”
“Oh.” She took the parchment and began to write, huffing at Ron, who muttered that she was brilliant, but a little slow.
Bill refolded his little brother’s letter as he waited outside the Chieftain of the Horde’s office. It wasn’t the first he’d received from Ron since school began, but it was the most shocking. In fact, Bill had dropped what he was doing in the Paris Branch — training in the use of the new ward breakers — taken a priority portkey to London, and presented himself with a guide emergency.
Now he was waiting.
The jewel-studded door swung open, and an armoured goblin beckoned him inside. Bill entered and went to address the highest-ranking goblin on earth, when that being’s attire gave him pause.
The Chieftain wasn’t an elected title, or a even a hereditary position, but one won in battle. Without a war or rebellion to prove themselves in, goblins fought in a gladiator-style tournament once every two hundred and one years. Despite that, Ragnok most often wore an elaborate version of the bank uniform; to see him dressed for war was. . . worrying. Especially considering Ron’s letter.
“William Arthur Weasley; son of Arthur of the line of Weasley, son of Molly of the line of Prewett. Guide, cursebreaker, mastery of arithmancy, Gringotts employee for four years and seven months.” Ragnok slid a battle axe into a holster on his back. “Oldest brother of Ronald Bilius Weasley, Hogwarts first year student.”
Bill gathered his Gryffindor courage. “Yes, Director. May your enemies be terrorized and your gold pile high.”
The goblin king bared his teeth. “The first is nigh, Guide. You told the Paris branch you had an emergency.”
“Yes, but I think you may already know something of it. I received a letter from my brother this morning.”
Another goblin entered the office by way of the hidden entrance that Bill knew led deep into the Horde’s living quarters. He was also armed, and even more angry than Ragnok. He eyed Bill with bared teeth.
“Grimjaw is the Potter Account Manager,” Ragnok said drily. “He is having a bad day.”
Yeah, the Horde definitely knew about what Ron had overheard.
“Ron asked me to come to Hogwarts; he’s especially concerned that the headmaster wants to place Ellie with our family and even encourage our mother to look at pairing he and Ellie Potter together.” Grimjaw snarled, but Bill was used to the dangers of curse breaking and didn’t flinch. “Though I can’t figure out what Albus Dumbledore has to do with assigning guardianship of children, if he does plant the idea in Mum’s head. . .” He shook his own. Angry goblins didn’t phase him, but Molly Weasley on a mission? Yeah. “I intended to go to the school, but I had to report the details of the conversation he overheard.”
“You mean the part when the ever-overstepping Albus Dumbledore believed he had the right or authority to even consider suppressing a sentinel? One wholly unrelated to him and who he has no legal authority over?”
“At least a few wizards have some sense,” the chieftain snarled lowly. “Unsurprising that it is a guide and a group of children.”
“And a former Death Eater,” someone grumbled.
“Severus Snape is a bastard, but he’s never lacked for common sense or survival instincts — barring a few instances during puberty,” the wizard who emerged from the bank depths stated. “Hormones overcome the most sensible of us.”
He was dark haired and pale eyed, sharp and just as furious as the goblins beneath his humour. Goblin minds were structured so differently that they didn’t project the way humans did; it was possible to actively scan them, but difficult. So Bill knew that the rage he was picking up belonged entirely to this wizard. Along with the war robes he was wearing, wand holsters on each hip, knives in his boots — and a dueling blade — he looked quite at home among goblins ready for war.
Even before you realized he was sentinel.
“I know you,” he realized. “You were friends with my uncles.”
“I was. You have the look of them.” His smile was sharp. “Sirius Black. Are you coming with us to fuck up Dumbledore’s day?”
“I guess I am.”
He could hear her heartbeat from the moment the portkey released them in the entrance hall. Hogwarts wasn’t heavily warded against sentinels — just the dorms as a matter of privacy and allowing young sentinels and guides to sleep. The stone walls of the castle did as much to dampen sound as anything else.
But Sirius was a Hit Wizard and an Alpha Sentinel, one trained for and tested by war and with three months of healing and training at the hands of the goblins. He might not be at his peak yet — but he was close.
Surrounded by ten goblin warriors and with a skilled guide nearby, he didn’t hesitate to extend his hearing. And immediately found the rhythm he’d imprinted on eleven years ago. Sirius didn’t exactly zone on the sound — but he did focus on it while they headed up two flights of stairs.
Which is why he heard that beloved beat spike.
“ — not taking it!”
“I’m in charge in this hospital wing and —”
“I already tried to leave, but you won’t let me! I’m not taking any potions — not until Healer Royal says so! He already told you not to give me anything except in an emergency since I’m taking regular potions. If you want me to drink it, get him here to tell me to!”
“Now, dear, you need to listen to Madam Pomphrey.”
“No she doesn’t, Mum!”
“Ronald, don’t speak in that tone to me! And why are you encouraging her?”
“Because she’s right!”
“And anyway,” another girl, but not his, pipped up, “Madam Pomphrey already said she has limited experience with sentinels. We react very differently to drugs and extreme care needs to be exercised.”
“Maybe for Muggles, dear, but Ellie is a witch.”
“I’d rather have that confirmed by a reputable medical authority, ma’am. And anyway, can mediwitch prescribe pharmaceuticals?”
“Poppy is only doing what is best for her patient, Ms Granger.”
“Technically, we’re all her patients, but she isn’t insisting on drugging Ron, Neville and I!”
“She’s tried to leave three times!”
“So you’re solution is to drug me? Sleeping potions are used to keep someone in bed? Ron, did your mum dose you and your brothers if you wouldn’t go to sleep?”
“Not that I know of, but who knows?”
“Of course I didn’t! What a thing to say! Really, dear, when you come to live with us you’ll have to —”
“I’m not going to live with you, and I’m not taking any potions!”
They reached the door of the Hospital Wing just in time to see a juvenile dragon appear at the end of a bed, wings flaring widely and a screaming growl sending the adult wix back several steps.
“Blimey, Ellie! Wait till Hagrid sees this!”
“I didn’t know magical creatures could be spirit animals!”
“I don’t think anyone is making you take anything, Ellie.”
If he wasn’t so furious, Sirius would have laughed at the various, unfazed reactions of the first years. The adults weren’t so composed; even Dumbledore seemed shocked.
The redhaired matron recovered first. “Eleanor Potter, you put that creature away this instant! You —”
From behind her dragon spirit animal — the first recorded in two centuries — a dark head popped up. It was disconcerting to hear a little girl’s voice with a feral edge.
“Shut up! Just shut up, I don’t care if you’re Ron’s mum! You aren’t mine! I won’t put her away because she isn’t a toy! And don’t call me by my full name like you have a right! I don’t even know you and you aren’t my mum!”
“Ms Potter —”
Before either Molly Weasley or Dumbledore could trigger a second feral episode — did that make them trolls? — Sirius broke in. “Enough!” He was an Alpha, and a wizard; his voice was rich with power and shattered the building tension.
“Sirius Black?” Minerva exclaimed. “But — how? You’re in Azkaban?”
“Apparently not. Perhaps Bagnold or Crouch will get my cell — unless the ICW drops them in deep, dark hole for their crimes against Britain, magic, and Sentinel and Guides.” He saw understanding dawn on her stern face, followed by fury. Severus Snape, who Sirius was feeling generous towards, eyed the goblin contingent warily. Poppy, holding a potion, had yet to regain her composure and Dumbledore covered his dismay with a twinkle.
Molly looked horrified. “You! What’s a Dark Wizard doing here?”
“You’re still a Black! That whole family is Dark as they come!”
“Including your mother?” he demanded. She flushed and paled. “Remember her? Lucretia Black Prewett? My father’s sister? We’re first cousins, Molly; any argument against me involving my blood is irrelevant because you share it.”
“But I wasn’t raised by dark wizards!”
“My mother being a vicious bitch had far more of an impact, actually.”
The kids — minus Ellie — chuckled, drawing Molly’s ire. “Ronald —”
“Mum, does Dad know what’s going on?” Bill asked calmly from behind Sirius. “Since it has to do with Ron being a guide?”
“Bill, I didn’t see you there! Of course not, he’s at work. This is a favour to the Headmaster — he wants us —”
“I know what he wants; Ron wrote to me last night. The headmaster doesn’t have the right to place Ellie anywhere, much less with our family.”
“Of course he does!”
“Why not your family, young William?” Albus twinkled. “A family known for guides is a perfect place to —”
“And will you be tapping the Potter accounts to pay for it?” Bill snapped. “Even with Charlie and I gone, there are five children at home.”
“I’m sure a stipend —”
“Which you don’t have the authority to grant, wizard!” Ragnok snarled. “Though that is the least of your overstepping. Lord Black, go to your child — the first to interfere loses a limb!” Albus drew back abruptly, leaving Sirius a clear path to his girl.
She was still mostly hidden behind the dragon — more of a drakeling, actually. Dark hair and green eyes peaked over a silver-blue wing, watching him carefully. So was the dragon, a young Opaleye with unusual colouring. Three other kids were also eyeing him.
“You’re Lord Black,” the sentinel with wild hair stated. “Ellie told us about your letter. I hope the people who did that to you do get dropped in a dark hole. There’s no excuse for that kind of violation of your human rights.”
“What she said,” the Weasley boy agreed. “Only I never talk like that, so not. But no one stands up to mum like that,” he added, admiringly. “Brilliant.”
A boy who could only be Frank and Alice’s son shifted slightly. “Hello Lord Black.”
The boy eyed him warily, then slowly relaxed. “Are the goblins going to cut off someone’s head?”
“It’s a distinct possibility.” Behind him, several squeaks and attempted comments were cut off by goblin growls.
“Can we watch?” Ron asked. “Ow!”
“You’re my godfather,” Ellie stated. Sirius inhaled sharply, automatically reimprinting her voice. “The goblins did a good job — you don’t look sick at all.”
“Should have seen me three months ago — I looked like a skeleton with eyes and hair.”
She shifted slightly and the drakeling settled her wings and curled up on the bed. Ellie leaned towards him slightly, then away, looking shy.
Never let it be said he couldn’t take a hint. Sirius stepped closer, smiling when he spotted the hair pins holding back dark curls. “Your father bought those pins the day he found out you were a girl.”
“Really?” She reached up to touch the delicate gold and pearl pins.
“Yes — when the healer told him he looked like someone had smacked him with a trout. When he came back to his senses, he took himself straight off. Lily sent me after him to ‘keep that prat out of trouble’.” She grinned. “Which was a good thing, because he almost bought Lily the most hideous brooch ever made. James tended towards overkill when he got excited.” His voice fell as he remembered that day; the war was still building and they were both run ragged as Hit Wizards, but it was before the prophecy and the fear that came afterwards. “I talked him into a locket instead — something your mother would actually wear instead of throwing at his head. She teared up when he came home with gifts for both his girls.”
Ellie looked a little teary as well. “Don’t do that, love, or I’ll have to give myself a boot in the arse.”
She giggled and sniffed back tears. “I don’t think that’s possible.”
“Someone’s probably come up with a spell. There are definitely stupider ones.” She giggled again. “That’s better. Right, that’s it for my self control — if you don’t want a hug, you should tell me now.”
Ellie ducked her head. Only sentinel hearing let him understand her murmured, “Hermione’s the only person who’s ever hugged me.” He damn near went berserk on Dumbledore right then.
Instead, he sat on the bed — immediately getting the warm weight of a dragon against his back. Cautiously, he gathered his goddaughter close.
She pressed her face against his neck, inhaling sharply. “I remember you,” she managed on a sob.
“Sense imprint,” he murmured. “You were latent but you still gathered sensory information.” He tucked her on his lap, opened his senses, and wallowed in the smell/scent/touch of his daughter in magic.
Eventually, Ellie sighed and stirred. Her godfather shifted, stroking her hair and smelling it. “You smell like apple blossoms and almonds.”
“Anna sent me perfume,” she explained. “For the Celtic New Year.” Of course she’d tried a little.
He hummed. “Your friend from Madam Malkin’s shop.”
“Uhuh. How’d you know?”
“Your Anna went directly to Grimjaw with the bill for your new things,” he explained softly. “She was ready to defend every purchase, because she didn’t want anyone to think she took advantage of you.”
Ellie sat up. “She didn’t! Everything we picked was nice and good quality, but not the most expensive thing there was! And —”
He did something no one had ever done to her — smiled, and kissed her forehead. Ellie was shocked silent. “I know, love. She could have sold you a dozen more things and not been taking advantage.”
She huffed, “I don’t have half as many clothes as Pavarti and Lavender.”
“Princess Di has less clothes than Pavarti and Lavender,” Hermione said tartly.
Ellie looked over to her friends; Ron and Neville were sharing a nearby bed with Bill Weasley, and Hermione was perched on the chair by Ellie’s bed. They all looked amused — and Hermione had that look, like she wanted to ask a million questions and was biting her tongue.
The elder Weasley pointed to the other end of the ward, where all the adults and goblins looked to be arguing fiercely. Ellie tilted her head, listening, but could only hear a staticky murmur.
“Muffling ward,” Sirius explained. “You can learn to hear past it, but it takes training and can be considered rude.”
“What are they saying?” Ron asked.
“Ronald! He just said it was rude!”
“Yeah, and so’s talking about people when they aren’t there,” Ron pointed towards the group. “Doesn’t seem to bother them.”
Hermione looked torn; manners, or information.
Sirius spared her the dilemma with a grin. “Ragnok is threatening Dumbledore with a public beheading; Minerva just found out why, and is offering to spare the Horde the expense. Molly. . .” he paused, glancing at both Weasleys.
“Is she scolding the Chieftain?” Bill asked worriedly. “I wouldn’t put it past her, but I’d hate to be fired.”
“No, but she is trying to convince Grimjaw that Ellie awakened for Ron and a marriage contract should be arranged.”
“What?” Ron and Ellie shouted. Bill looked upset, and Hermione puffed up, her hair poofier than ever.
“That’s barbaric! And, honestly, information about sentinels and guides is not hard to find — we already explained that if Ron was a match to Ellie or me, we’d already know!”
Ellie turned back to Sirius. “You won’t let anyone make me get married?”
He patted her shoulder, lifting her from his lap and onto the bed. “Sweet girl, no one will make you do anything you don’t want to. Why don’t you meet Godric while I sort this out.”
Before she could ask who Godric was, a mass of golden feathers rose from the floor at the end of the bed. A large head ending in a vicious beak settled on Ellie’s lap, trilling. The silver-blue dragon from earlier clambered after the griffin, and curled around her back.
“You should have seen it,” Neville confided. “The headmaster tried to disturb you and Lord Black while you were being all. . .”
“It was a sensory saturation,” Hermione explained. “It’s a little like imprinting, but usually between family members or spouses.”
“Yeah, that. Anyway, the griffin came out of nowhere, snarled until everyone else backed away, and then started grooming your dragon.”
“Do all magical sentinels have magical creatures for spirit animals?”
“No,” Sirius told Hermione. “But it does happen. It’s like regional differences in spirit animals — you see wolves in the Americas and Europe, but rarely lions and the reverse is true in Africa. Strong sentinels have apex predators; it just so happens that wixen are aware of a few more of them than most.”
“Where are you going?” Ellie asked. She wasn’t ready for her newly found guardian to leave.
“To make both your sentiments and my own known,” he grinned. “Loudly.”
Then he stalked down the hospital wing, drew his wand, and flung a blue spell that sounded like a gunshot.
Sirius shattered the ward, surprising all the humans and amusing the goblins. “Right, that’s enough.”
“My boy —”
“I am neither yours, nor a boy, Albus. The fact that you really don’t understand how serious a breach of law, ethics and decency you were willing to make —”
“Shut up before I murder you!” Sirius’s tenuous control frayed a little further. He didn’t want his goddaughter witness him butcher the aging mage — but he had plenty of gold to pay for a mind healer if she needed one. “You can’t begin to understand how much I would enjoy killing you, Albus. If you did, you wouldn’t willing get within a hundred miles of me. You will stop meddling in the affairs of the Houses of Potter and Black — or the goblins and Minerva will have to get in line to kill you.”
“You, Molly,” he pointed to the matron, who looked indignant and wary, “are going to go home and mind your own business. Don’t even speak. Maybe I could forgive you coming here at the headmaster’s request — and maybe you accepting the task he asked of you, despite neither of you having the right to decide such things. But,” he added sharply, “I can’t forgive your refusal to give up when it became clear you were neither needed nor wanted. And that’s nothing compared to my feelings about your mercenary pursuit of my girl.”
“You can’t speak to me like that, Black!”
“If you don’t like it, leave.”
“Enough, Molly,” Minerva snapped abruptly. “Lord Black can speak to you any way he wishes. The only thing you’ve managed today is to embarrass your children and bully a child on an already difficult day. Ye can leave now,” she added in a deep brogue, “or I can escort ye.”
The Weasley matriarch left in an offended huff that no one regarded; that made her even angrier, but Sirius didn’t care as long as there was one less person near his goddaughter.
He eyed Snape and Minerva. “Stop looking nervous; I’m not going to bite you. Certainly not when there are much better targets nearby,” he glared at Albus.
“We have already assured the potions master that, so long as he remains sensible, the Horde has no issue with him over recent events,” Rangok stated.
“That’s not our concern, Sirius,” Minerva told him. “There’s something else. I hoped that the Chieftain would be willing to remove and secure a certain item in the school.”
“Minerva —” Albus looked upset and. . . concerned.
“Enough, Albus! I’ve told you over and over that I won’t have it here! A castle full of children — one that apparently a troll can get into — is no place for an object like the Philosopher’s Stone!”
Before Sirius could demand an explanation, Ragnok and the rest of the goblins began laughing. “Alright, I missed the punchline.”
“She speaks of the stone that was kept in a vault in the London Branch,” the Chieftain explained. “It was removed this summer — the same day as a break-in attempt on the same vault.” He grinned toothily. “It is a fake.”
“What!” Minerva exploded. “Albus, you’ve had us in a panic trying to protect a fake stone?”
“Oh the stone is a real ruby,” Ragnok told her. “But it is not the lapis philosophorum. It is one of twelve decoy stones that the Horde created and protect in exchange for reasonable access to Flamel’s stone.”
“And the real one?” Snape asked. “Presumably hidden in an obvious and inconspicuous place.”
“Indeed, but it’s greatest protection is the fact that only the one who creates it may use it.” Ragnok eyed Dumbledore’s twinkling eyes with disdain. “However most do not know that, and might seek what they believe to be the real stone by any means.” He turned back to Minerva. “We will take the stone with us, and make a show of doing so.”
“Thank you, Chieftain.”
“There’s another concern,” Snape spoke quietly. He looked straight at Sirius, and his lack of a sneer was proof of his seriousness. “One of the teachers here is a direct threat to Potter.”
“What kind of threat,” he asked sharply.
“Granger showed no reaction or awakening in his presence; there are three other sentinels in the school currently, and their only trouble with him is the garlic he uses in his classroom.”
“Severus —” Grimjaw prodded Albus with a speartip.
“Be silent, wizard.”
“There are also several guides in the school, and none report anything more than a mild headache in his presence. Potter however, received crippling headaches, spikes, and an increase in her senses after each class — even after the sentinel ward was adjusted.” The potions master raised a brow. “The only other class she had trouble with was mine; mild zones related to scent and a few rashes from ingredients, which settled with an adjustment to her sentinel ward.”
“Give me his name.”
“Why do you have to go?” Ellie whispered.
Sirius pulled her onto his lap, and she pressed her face to his shoulder and inhaled his familiar and comforting scent. “Did your senses spike in his presence, love?”
“Yes — but he keeps garlic in his classroom! He’s afraid of everything, including vampires.”
He hummed. “Really? So you never had a reaction outside of class?”
She thought about that for a minute. “Well, I did meet him the day I went to Diagon Alley and I got a rash — but lots of people shook my hand or touched me.”
“What about at the feast, Ellie?” Ron asked. “You had a spike when you looked at the staff table — we thought it was Snape,” he explained to Sirius, “but it never happened again.”
Hermione bit her lip. “My parents taught me that if I had a sensory spike in someone’s presence, I needed to inform them.” She looked upset. “I should have made Ellie tell someone.”
“She did tell Professor Snape, who told Minerva and now me. Do you know why you were told that, Hermione?” She shook her head. Ron’s brother patted her shoulder comfortingly, but he looked worried. “It’s very rare for children to awaken; no one under five ever has. Under the age of twelve, the most common cause is an accident — automotive in the muggle world, and magical in ours. The death of a parent is the second most common.”
Ellie tipped her head back, watching Sirius’s solemn face. “Obviously things can be different in war zones or certain parts of the world. However, in Europe and the Americas we’ve learned that children sometimes awaken because they’ve been in the presence of a predator.”
“Like a werewolf?” Neville asked.
“He means paedophiles,” Bill explained gently. “That’s why sentinel authorities investigate children awakening — especially more than one in the same school or neighbourhood.”
Oh. That was. . . “You think Professor Quirrell. . . ?”
“I think Hermione would have awakened as well if that were true — you’re the same age.” He shared a dark look with Bill. “But there are other kinds of threats as well, especially for you. He could be a sympathizer to the Death Eaters, or even a previously unknown one.”
“Because I’m the Girl-Who-Lived.”
“And because your dad was a Hit Wizard. There are probably a few kids in this school related to people who your dad or I arrested — or killed — during the war.”
“What about after twelve?” Hermione asked.
Ellie felt Sirius’s muscles tense, then he sighed. “You and Ellie should both know this, actually. Do you know how many female sentinels and guides there are in the world?”
Hermione got her distant, reciting from a book look; Ron Neville and Ellie exchanged grins. “The numbers aren’t precise — some countries don’t publish numbers, or refuse to give the Sentinel and Guide authorities access to their populations — usually countries that have repressive laws or cultures leading to high emigration rates. But the world average for females online is approximately 22 percent of guides and 19 percent of sentinels. Latent numbers are hard to calculate because many countries don’t do genetic testing, and the accuracy of those tests can vary.”
“That’s about the same as the magical world,” Bill said.
“What you don’t know,” Sirius explained gently, “is that within that population — less than forty percent of latent males awaken, but eighty percent of women do.”
“Why?” Ron asked.
“Between the age of fourteen and twenty four, the second most common trigger for a woman awakening — is sexual assault.” Sirius squeezed Ellie. “After that age it becomes third — with pregnancy or children and accidents making the first two.”
Ellie looked at Hermione, who seemed as upset as she felt. “Why doesn’t anyone talk about that?”
“You probably would have been told in a few years — it’s not something that anyone, including me, feels comfortable bringing up to children.” Sirius sighed. “But also because, talking about it would force people to accept that there’s something wrong with society instead of pretending that each case is an isolated incident.”
Ron and Neville looked a little sick, but Ellie felt kind of. . . numb. “I. . . I don’t. . .”
Sirius hugged her firmly. “I don’t want you to think about this too much right now; it’s terrible, but you’re still just children and it’s not your job to fix the mistakes of adults. Not yet anyway. But, I wanted you to know why I need to deal with Quirrell, and why people might react oddly to the fact that you’ve all awakened young.”
“That’s why you asked me all those questions!” Ron told his brother. “Blimey, I thought you’d gotten too much sun!”
Sirius left his girl tucked away in one of the private apartments attached to Gryffindor, accompanied by her friends, Stonefist and Minerva. Technically, Ellie was entitled to one of those private rooms as a noble and a sentinel; so far she seemed content rooming with her clever friend. Pomphrey had objected to the removal of all four students, but he’d put his foot down. Ellie, and the other kids, didn’t trust the matron after the earlier debacle.
He could feel the sentinel under his skin emerging as Snape led the way to the DADA classroom. Grimjaw, Ragnok, Bill, and three other goblins accompanied him. Sirius could feel the young cursebreaker buffering him; it helped if only a little. He had a feeling there would be bloodshed soon; years of captivity, his first venture from Gringotts’ caverns, the return of his girl and a potential threat to her. . . Violence burned in his blood, demanding an outlet.
They all knew it; he’d even warned his companions to get out of his way if he went berserk. Someone, however, hadn’t gotten the message.
“I really must object.”
“File a complaint,” he snarled at Dumbledore.
“Quirinus is entitled to —”
“Privacy? Due process? To do whatever he wants as long as it doesn’t interfere with your grand plans? You’re the headmaster of a school and one of your teachers is a direct threat to a student — and you think it should shrugged off?”
He didn’t get an answer; they reached the door of Quirrell’s office. Sirius held up a hand and listened; he could hear a muffled hiss and low murmuring. “The room is warded against sound. Not a muffling ward, but something stronger.”
“Something to hide,” Ragnok stated.
“Or for privacy,” Albus offered. “My office is similarly warded.”
“As I said,” the chieftain drawled.
Snape entered first; apparently he routinely stalked the DADA professor and this behaviour was normal. He left the door cracked open, sneering out a, “Quirrell. Recovered from your traumatic ordeal last night?”
“P-p-prof-es-s-or S-s-nap-pe,” a second voice stammered. The heartbeat that Sirius could now hear didn’t falter or spike.
“How interesting that no one saw you after your. . . momentous announcement. Is that a dog bite I see?”
He breathed in, and nearly gagged on the garlic scent. No wonder all the sentinels in the school developed headaches around the man. Under it, however, Sirius could smell something far worse. Corruption and rot.
“I-I-I r-r-r-an back-k-k to m-m-m-y rooms-s-s. T-t-troll-s-s-s, you k-k-know.” Lie.
“Really?” Sirius sauntered in the room. “Because you smell like a liar who rolled in garbage.”
The quivering wreck of a man startled in truth this time, heartbeat spiking at the sight of the armoured goblins who followed him and closed the door. “W-w–w-ho?”
“Drop the act,” he snarled. “That stutter is more fake than my great-aunt’s wig.”
From beneath the turban, the faintest of hisses emerged. No one else seemed to hear it; Sirius assumed the fabric itself was spelled.
“Ward the room; he’s possessed.”
Quirrell’s fearful demeanor fell away; his eyes were wide and shocked even as he drew his wand. The hissing increased and the man flinched, muttering, “But Master. . .”
Bill and one of the goblins drew wardstones from their pockets, flinging them towards the windows and doors. The stones flashed and ordered themselves around each entrance, forming self-sustaining wards.
Quirrell reached up, pulled away his turban, and turned around
“Pathetic,” Ragnok hissed.
Sirius had seen the Dark Lord Voldemort before; he’d faced several times, in fact. He’d even drawn the bastard’s blood, though he’d lost some of his own as well. So he recognized the monster that had killed his brother Regulus, hunted his goddaughter, and murdered James and Lily.
Despite the state he was currently in.
“What the fuck did you do to yourself, you stupid fucking wanker?”
Apparently even Dark Lord’s could be struck speechless. Good to know.
“You dare,” he hissed, finally. “You dare speak so to me, Lord Voldemort? Fear my name, fool. Fear me.”
“Fuck, not on a wager. You were far more intimidating ten years ago, and you’d already managed to lose your nose and all hope of a tan.” He turned to Ragnok. “Ideas?”
“We could set them both on fire; Fiendfyre might take out both of them.”
Albus, Quirrell and Voldemort all squawked. “Might damage the castle and scare the kids.”
“True.” He eyed the possessed figure. “Do you have your full kit with you?”
“Yes — ah, I see.” Sirius reached into one of the pouches in his Hit Wizard uniform and withdrew a fist-sized crystal. It was one of the more obscure items in an Unspeakable’s kit, but he still knew how to use it.
“What’s this? You think a stone can defeat me?”
“Master —” Quirrell began, warily.
“Quiet, fool! If you had gotten the Philosopher’s Stone the first time this would not be happening!”
“You mean the fake stone in vault 713?” Ragnok grinned. “A pretty bauble — pity you didn’t get it, as trying to use it would have killed you.”
“Fake?” Quirrell managed.
“The last wizard who called me a liar decorated a pike in front of my bank,” Ragnok snapped.
“Any last words, Quirrell?” Sirius asked.
“I’m going to kill you, thus expelling the wraith possessing you so we can trap him in a Soul Shard.” He smiled darkly. “Though you’re half-dead already.”
“Sirius, you cannot kill —”
“He’s hardly the first Death Eater to die by my wand,” he told the shocked headmaster. “Besides, he’s been dead since he accepted that wraith’s possession.
Quirrell didn’t get a chance to speak his last words; the wraith of Voldemort abandoned his host in a rush of corrupted magic and stench. The DADA professor collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut, extremities already crumbling into dust.
“You’ll pay for this!” the wraith screamed, rushing towards the window . . .
. . . and bounced off in a blue-white flash of magic.
“What?” Albus echoed.
“As I told Lady Potter,” Grimjaw growled, “there is no magic stronger or more stable than a well-made ward.”
The former dark lord flung himself frantically at each window and door, repelled each time. Then he tried to pass through the ceiling, and screamed in rage when the wards created an arc between them, repelling him again.
“You dare? Foolish, wretched creatures! I am Lord Voldemort! I will not be defied! I will not be defeated!”
Bill was examining the wraith carefully, despite it’s frantic fluttering. “There’s something wrong.”
“Other than the obvious?” a goblin named Brassknuckle drawled.
But Sirius could see it too, and drew one of his wands — the ebony and dragon heartstring wand he’d received when he’d awakened — and cast the strongest freezing spell he knew. The wraith was forced into stillness for ten heartbeats, more than enough for them to see the problem.
“He’s missing pieces,” the guide breathed.
“You stupid, corrupt, scum-sucking cunt,” Sirius hissed. “You fractured your fucking soul.”
“Horcrux,” the goblins all growled, turning and spitting in unison.
“More than one, judging by the holes in his spirit. Buggering fucking bastard.”
“Horcrux?” Snape murmured.
Bill glanced over at the potions master. “An ancient technique for seeking immortality. You ritually sever a piece of the soul and place it in an object. The egyptians favoured it for a few centuries.”
“I have gone further than any before me in the search for immortality,” Voldemort breathed. “I am immortal!”
“You should have gone into alchemy if you wanted immortality,” Sirius snapped. “Horcruxes are the path of insanity and irredeemable evil. You violated Lady Magic and your own soul.”
“Did it ever occur to you that you’d never met an immortal ancient Egyptian?” Ragnok spat at the spector. “Horcruxes don’t work — if you were immortal, you would still be alive instead of this thing,” he gestured. “I tire of listening to these rantings. Lord Black, complete your business.”
“Wait, Sirius! What are you going to do?” Albus asked, frantically. “He can only be defeated by the child in the prophecy!”
“Fuck prophecy, Albus. We make our own fate.”
Sirius threw the crystal shard he still held towards the wraith, then hit the moving stone with a spell; activating and charging the shard in one. Voldemort tried to swoop away from it, but was caught in the acid blue light that emerged from the active stone. He screamed once.
The Soul Shard fell soundlessly to the floor, pulsing with an ugly glow from within. Grimjaw produced a warded box and wandlessly levitated the stone inside it. Then he handed the box to Sirius. “One Dark Lord in poor condition. No returns or exchanges.”
“What happened? Sirius —”
Ragnok pushed Albus aside. “You should take that to MI4, Lord Black. Inform Silence that the Horde will assist in the search for the Horcruxes. It will be made easier by having the trapped soul in our possession.”
“Sympathetic magic; we can use one part of the whole to find the rest.” Sirius considered for a moment. “I would prefer that this object be placed in Gringotts; while I trust the majority of the DOM, there was at least one traitor among us in the war and it would only take one error to see this piece of shite released.”
“Sirius, it must be studied —” Snape’s silencing spell cut off Albus before he could say something that might get him killed.
“If Sentinel Lord Black is willing to entrust the Horde with this task, then we shall secure, hide, and protect the Soul Stone containing the fractured wraith of the Dark Lord known as Voldemort,” Ragnok agreed solemnly. “Only you, myself, Silence, and those we choose personally, will have access to the warded cavern it will be contained in.”
“Agreed,” Sirius nodded, and drew a knife from his boot. He offered the blade — Damascus steel and dragon bone — to the Chieftain, and accepted a wickedly sharp Goblin-forged dagger in exchange.
“Profit and war, Sentinel Lord Black.”
“Blood and gold, Chieftain Ragnok.”
“What just happened?” The headmaster asked, having broken the silencing spell.
Bill smirked. “They just made an alliance and declared war on Voldemort.”
Iain Granger waited with his wife and guide at King’s Cross Station. He was anxious to see his daughter; four months without her heartbeat and scent had been an adjustment for him as a sentinel and a father. The old-fashioned train had only just come to a stop, and Helena gripped his hand tightly to keep him in place.
“Let her come to us, dear.”
“Helena. . .”
“Iain. . .”
He smiled at her cheerful mocking, but was distracted from responding by the exodus from the train. The platform rapidly filled with adolescents home for the holidays. Names were called, some tears were shed, and there were any number of voices saying ‘look how much you’ve grown’ and ‘mu-um’.
A cluster of children leapt down from a carriage near the end of the train; Iain dialled up to take in the sight of his daughter. She was smiling widely, happy and healthy. Her hair was almost tamed; a letter early in the school year had sent Helena to Diagon Alley to purchase a charmed brush. She was bundled up in a cloak and scarf, cheeks slightly pink from the December air, and arm-in-arm with the dark-haired girl that he and Helena had met in September.
Two boys followed them; he wanted to sigh. Months of letters full of Ellie, Ron and Neville told him that these particular boys weren’t a concern. Ron was a guide, though not a match to his daughter, and Neville was as mundane as a wizard could be considered and therefore not a potential future boyfriend. But he had a feeling that the sight of Hermione and Ellie being followed by eager males was a foretelling of the future.
“Don’t you start, Iain. She’s so happy to have friends.”
“I don’t know why she can’t make friends with other girls.”
“Because teenage girls are terrible, petty creatures.”
A man left the train and accepted Ellie’s hand, grinning at the chattering kids. Presumably Lord Black, who had spent the last month and a half at Hogwarts, training his goddaughter and the other online sentinels at Hogwarts. Iain had gotten a long letter full of outrage and fire over the treatment of Sirius Black; only the fact that the goblins were dealing with the issue had stopped him from informing the London Prides.
A formidable matron with — a vulture? On her hat? — strode towards the kids. He dialled up his hearing slightly, ignoring Helena’s huff of amusement. He was nosy — it came with the territory.
“Hello, Gran. These are my friends — Ellie Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. And this is —”
“I received your letter.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“You were. . . not wrong. Neville has an appointment with Ollivander on Monday.”
“Lord Black asked me if I was able to use my parents wands effectively, and reminded me that even within families, wand compatibility is rare. My mother’s wand never worked for me; in fact it disliked me a great deal.”
“My mother’s wand bit me.”
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that Walburga had a vicious wand.”
“Mrs Longbottom, can Neville meet my parents? If it isn’t inconvenient for you?”
“Ms Granger, correct? You have excellent manners. Neville, I will wait near the platform exit with your trunk. Don’t take too long, we have tea with Algie and Enid.”
There was a second exchange with a tall, elegant woman, full of ‘cousin’ and subtleties between her and Lord Black; Iain got the impression that they were conspirators in something. Also, her son was a brat but that Ellie Potter had his number.
A group of redheads approached; Ron looked wary and asked the balding man, “Where’s Mum?”
“At home; I thought it would be. . . simpler.”
“ — and sensible.”
“Is she. . .”
“She’s been. . . upset lately. Especially since Percy —”
“ — was robbed of my well-earned position?”
“Three first-years asked you for help and you threatened to take points, Percy. Professor McGonagall explained everything that happened to me, and I agree with her.”
“Your brother could have been killed. We’re going to have a family meeting tonight; Bill and Charlie are home for a week and we have lots of things to discuss. Now, I presume this is Neville, Ellie and Hermione? Lovely to meet you all.”
“Oh no, none of that. Arthur or Mr Weasley if you must be formal. I hope to see you during the holidays. Sirius.”
“Arthur. You’re looking well.”
“Sirius, I can’t tell you how sorry —”
“Arthur, you had nothing to do with what happened.”
“I should have —”
“You would have lost your job in a heartbeat; Bagnold, Crouch and Fudge all had a vested interest in keeping me where I was. Please, don’t blame yourself.”
He didn’t hear the rest of that conversation because Hermione spotted them and darted forward. “Mum! Dad!”
Helena caught her when she flung herself forward; Iain hugged them both, inhaling the scent of his child and his guide together. Hermione’s scent was different: the new hair products, a faintly bitter scent of potions, and an indescribable scent that said ‘sentinel’. She was definitely coming online, and very soon.
After a moment, Hermione pulled back. “Mum, Dad — these are my friends.”
Ellie left the platform with Sirius. Her small travel trunk was in her pocket, along with Hermione’s phone number and Ron and Neville’s floo addresses.
“So, we’ll go to the Centre tomorrow?”
Sirius nodded. “You need to be registered and tested, and I need to be retested.”
“I can’t believe that someone lied to the Centre and told them you were dead,” she huffed. “It’s so. . . stupid.”
“Technically, the previous minister didn’t correct them when they assumed I was dead.”
“Hermione would say that that’s semantics.”
Her godfather laughed mischievously. “Love, semantics and loopholes are a prankster’s best tools.”
“I’m telling Professor McGonagall you’re encouraging me to make trouble.”
He chuckled. “If I didn’t she might think I was an imposter.” He pulled her out of the way of a tourist carrying too many bags. “So: the Centre tomorrow, dinner at the Granger’s the day after and Yule next week. We also need to see the goblins at some point. What else do you want to do during the hols?”
“Ron said that they have room to play Quidditch at his house, but his mum. . .”
“I think Arthur Weasley is going to deal with Molly, but if you want room to fly we can spend a day or two at Castle Ravensmoor; I need to check on the repairs and warding the goblins have been doing.”
Six months ago she’d live in a cupboard at the dreadful Dursleys; now she lived with her godfather, who owned a castle. Magic was utterly mad; it was brilliant.
“You said that sentinels and guides need a second wand when they come online — awaken,” she corrected. “Can I —?”
“Absolutely. Actually, I think I’ll make an appointment with Bacchetta. A few days in Rome will be a nice change from the damp English winter.”
“Absolutely. I haven’t had a good pasta in years.”
Ellie considered that. Weeks in Sirius’ company — he and McGonagall had forced the Headmaster to let Sirius stay at Hogwarts — had shown her that, despite moments of depression and bitterness, Sirius tried to keep a sense of humour about what had been done to him. Sometimes Ellie thought that she was angrier about his imprisonment than he was. Sirius seemed so eager to make her happy; maybe she shouldn’t worry about being too much work and let him.
“Can we visit Remus?”
“Love, Remus is going to move in with us if I have to hogtie him. Actually,” he mused, “now that the curse on the DADA position is broken,” and that had been brilliant to watch, “I should get Minerva to offer him the job. Shacklebolt is only on medical leave for another two months.”
They dodged a group of crying families and a couple who were kissing like the end of a sappy movie — Sirius chuckled when she told him that — and made it to the exit before Ellie ventured to bring up one more thing. “Sirius?”
“Could we go for tea some time? I mean, a proper tea?” She rushed to explain. “It’s just. . . every month, Aunt Petunia and Daisy would get dressed up and go for tea in London. Daisy just wanted the fancy cakes and creams and to get a new fancy dress every few months. Petunia told her that all girls deserved to dress up and have a nice tea and. . .”
Sirius drew her towards a bench, sat down and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Love, we will go to tea any time you like. High tea, low tea, cream tea — absolutely.” He kissed her forehead. “In fact, that’s the best idea I’ve heard all day; I’ll eat as many scones and jam as you want me too.”
She giggled and hugged him back fiercely. “Not too many, or you’ll spend every day fencing with goblins to stay in shape.”
“Now that I think about it, there was a great place in Westminster. They had these brilliant salmon and cucumber sandwiches and scones as big as your head.” He looked cheerful. “Any more clever ideas, love?”
“Well. . .”
“Can I get a sword?”