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The Granger Defense
Chapter Nineteen - Coming to an Understanding
By Aaran St Vines
The portions of this chapter unique to the Harry/Hermione relationship are displayed in blue text.
and to my beta reader, Sparky40sw.
By 8:00 a.m. Wednesday Harry had already exercised for an hour and a half, attended Morning Prayer at St. Simons, had a huge breakfast, and read a theory book on how runes were first used to anchor spells to grant permanence to enchantments. With that accomplished he made his way to Diagon Alley.
Most shops didn't open until 10:00, but Clarinda and her seamswitchtresses were busy at work.
"Harry, I want you to see this new dress design," Clarinda exclaimed. "It's a regular day robe for going out, nothing fancy, but not just for sitting around the house either. What do you think?"
Harry was stumped, but went with the obvious. "I like the color." It was dark green, though not as dark as he liked, sort of a forest green.
Clarinda chuckled. "Of course. I knew from Teen Witch Weekly that dark green was your favorite color long before I met you. What I want to know is what do you think of the design?" She held it up in front of her.
After a moment of stupefaction Harry sputtered, "Have mercy, Clarinda. I'm a guy and I've told you, I'm more stunted than most about fashion."
"All right, Harry. Wait right there." She went into one of the changing rooms.
The shell of a shop Harry had acquired for her was turning into a fashion boutique. Carpenter-elves had put up changing rooms, display racks, and mirrors at strategic places all around, with Dobby and Winky looking over their shoulders to make sure no major mess was made. It was clear that the house-elves and carpenter-elves had little use for each other. The carpenter-elves were snobs about their specialized talents and in return the house-elves held them in contempt for their lack of neatness.
"Don't peek, Harry," Clarinda hissed from the dressing room.
Harry obediently closed his eyes. When Clarinda bade him open them, Harry was taken back because she looked stunning. He'd never realized how nice looking she was, and it occurred to him that the robe made all the difference.
"Wow! You look great. But... aren't these robes for a slightly younger crowd?" he said, "I'm guessing that most witches of a certain age, and er, deportment will find these robes less than flattering?"
"Yes, Harry, but like many Muggle women who find they're not slim girls any more, older witches will want versions cut for them as well. That's a very important segment of the fashion-buying population. Many of them have the Galleons to spent on such finery, but they are not that brave yet. We have to make our splash with the bolder, younger witches, and up-sell from there to their mothers once we're established. That Muggle business book you gave me about positioning has me wondering about the best way to do that, but first things first."
"It's gorgeous, Clarinda," Harry said. "And of course, you make it look good."
She beamed. "Flattery is always appreciated. You really do like it?"
He nodded. "I had no real idea why, but when I saw the clothes you created for me, I just knew you'd come up with something equally terrific for witches. I didn't know what it would be, but now that I see this, well, this is it."
Harry smiled at her. "You know you're going to be a smashing success, don't you? Probably the best investment I'll ever make will be starting you off."
Clarinda sighed. "I hope you're right. I'm so grateful to you--"
"None of that," he said feeling a little uncomfortable, "if people ever find out how little I've spent so far, I'll be accused of taking advantage of you once you and your brand name are famous."
"I'll know that's not true," she said, "and so will your friends. The rest, well, if what Fred, George and Lee say is anywhere near true, the public hasn't ever understood you. I'm guilty and so are the girls here for believing at least some of what we've read about you in the past, but now we know you better. We'd be willing to tell anyone who'll listen what a great guy you are."
Harry glanced around and the five seamswitchtresses were all nodding in agreement.
They were interrupted by an odd squawking sound. Clarinda excused herself and walked to the counter. She tapped her wand on a small box that was the source of the sound and called, "Clarinda here."
"Miss Jordan, just our random check. All is well?"
"Yes, Overseer, thanks for your diligence."
"Our pleasure and sworn duty, ma'am. By the way, would you be expecting Mr. Potter there this morning, perchance?"
She looked Harry's way.
The Gringotts Goblin Overseer Service provided topnotch security as far as Harry could see. He'd cooperate with whatever was needed.
"Yes, he is here now, as a matter of fact."
"Please ask him to visit Gringotts at his earliest convenience. Director Gultangk wants him to know that this is a mutual opportunity and no charges either way will be applicable."
Harry looked at his wristwatch as he walked over. "Please tell Director Gultangk that I'll be there at 9:00 if that suits."
"The Director said that any time before 11:30 would be acceptable, and that you will only have to wait a few minutes at most, if that long. Thank you, Mr. Potter." The call box squawked off.
"How's that working out, Clarinda, the Goblin Overseer Service?"
"Fine, Harry. A drunken hag rattled the locked doorknob late one evening when we were still here. I hit the alarm and a goblin rolled out of the Floo in seconds. There were no problems, and I was pleased he wasn't rough with the poor unfortunate creature. She was harmless, but we panicked. The overseer understood and assured us such false alarms are part of the job. He made it clear we shouldn't hesitate to call again just because we had called for help when it wasn't really needed."
Harry was pleased by her report. They discussed a few more items and he left for Gringotts
"Gadobble da' slababol, Gultangk'na," Harry said with a slight, sharp bow. "Flaunka Gobleena du'tow." A profitable day to you, Gultangk. The peace of the warrior to you.
"Gree-Gadobble du'tow, Potter. Trinksta Gobleena draa." Gultangk responded while giving him a similar bow. Equal profits to you Potter. The rest of a warrior, also.
"Thank you for coming, Potter. I believe Warrant Overseer Yagdill informed you this would be mutually beneficial?"
"Yes, Gultangk; I always expect profits for both of us when we speak."
Gultangk smiled in the toothy display Harry had come to recognize as true delight. "Ah, Potter, though said in English that was goblin thinking at its best. I approve wholeheartedly."
Dolderap snorted from his desk where he took notes. Dolderap was the nephew of Gultangk's staunchest enemy within Gringotts and Director Gultangk's private secretary. Gultangk's own nephew was private secretary to his enemy, Director Printdern.
Rather than roll their eyes, goblins made an equivalent to that facial expression by snorting in disdain while they alternated raising their eyebrows.
Ignoring his secretary, Gultangk continued, "Potter, we've discussed you having a full time private advisor to work on your behalf here at Gringotts. Several suitable goblins have expressed interest in the position, including Dolderap."
This shocked Harry for a moment, before he turned to the private secretary and said, "I thank you, Dolderap, for your interest. However, I would never want to end the education you receive in your current position, nor would I deprive Director Gultangk of your valuable assistance."
The goblin in question frowned menacingly, which lost a lot of its effect as it varied but little from his usual expression.
Gultangk continued, "There are several goblins that would meet your needs, but we've also discussed improving goblin-human relations. I feel, and so do others in my association, that you might be a client who would consider breaking new ground if it advances our mutual profitability of course."
"As I've stated, I'm always willing to listen to your proposals."
"Potter, the private advisor route is the inside track to advancement into the most important parts of Gringotts. There is no rule restricting a human from such a role--"
"Director, no!" Dolderap rose from his chair as he shouted and threw his dirk with deadly accuracy. Gultangk was off guard and could not move in time to dodge the blade or defend against it in any manner. Three feet from the director's chest a semi-transparent, silvery shield appeared, deflecting the blade.
A klaxon sounded from the room and six goblin overseers appeared out of nowhere. Harry dropped his wand and stood still with his hands raised high the second he saw Gultangk had his dirk drawn and was prepared to protect himself from Dolderap. The overseers all assumed the armed wizard was the attacker, and advanced on Harry menacingly.
A split second before Harry felt he'd have to dodge the spear of the nearest overseer; a harsh bark of Gobbledygook split the air. The overseers froze in place, but did not lower their spears. Harry exhaled for the first time in several long moments.
For Harry's sake Gultangk said in English, "Any of you touch Potter and I'll kill you with my own blade." Harry relaxed further. "Dolderap, not Potter caused the alarm."
All of the goblin security officers lowered their weapons and moved in hesitant fashion to take up positions between Gultangk and his private secretary.
The director ordered, "Chief Overseer Flanter, please assign an overseer to stand at Dolderap's side for the rest of the day, until I can deal with him appropriately. I must serve our client now and I need an accredited secretary to do so."
"SIR!" Flanter shouted. He stepped forward. "I am of Dolderap's clan. Since he dishonored us by this act of treachery, may I stand at his side and ensure he pays for such disgrace in the traditional manner should he act dishonorably again?"
"You do your clan, proud, Chief Overseer. Do as you will. Expect my approval for your actions to appear in your pay voucher and on your permanent record."
"SIR!" Flanter shouted. He stepped lively to the position described.
"After the other goblin overseers left, Gultangk stated, "Flanter, Mr. Potter did draw his wand, but in my defense. His quick reflexes produced a shield that neatly saved my life from Dolderap's blade. Please read that into the minutes of the security log later today."
He turned to Harry. "Well, Potter, I owe you my life. Please allow me to ponder how I will pay that debt." Harry tried to interrupt, but Gultangk held up his hand. "No, Potter, it's not like a Wizard's life debt. It is more like a financial debt that cannot be paid back in gold. I will tell you later, how we have decided to proceed in this area. Because of my position, this is a matter for my clan to decide.
"Now, before the disturbance, I brought up the idea of a wizard being your Gringotts private advisor. Our internal laws make provision for it, but one has never been appointed. The Gringotts Cavern of Directors voted unanimously to approve the possibility of a human in that role over fifty years ago. Most of us like the idea, but we have never seen it work, so many goblins, most vocally Dolderap and Printdern's cliques and association, think it a bad idea to try it.
"As you might have guessed, we have not made it known to the Wizarding world that this can be possible. All would have asked for a human private advisor and we would have no control over the internal checks and balances that allow us to prove how scrupulously we protect the confidentiality and best interests of our Wizarding clients, as well as their Galleons.
"Many goblins have said we should never do this, as I've stated. My clan feels differently. So, I took a young man under my wing years ago after I interviewed him. He told me upfront he wanted to be the first successful human private advisor though he didn't know if that was a possibility. I suggested he go into the ancient and honorable profession of grave robbing. You humans call if 'curse breaking.'" He pressed a button that appeared on his desktop when his finger hovered inches over it. "This young wizard has succeeded admirably and has one of the finest records of a human in our employ."
A single sharp rap on the door was followed by it opening. Harry turned around.
"Hello, Mr. Potter. A profitable day to you."
Harry stood quickly and extended his hand. "Bill, equal profits to you."
The director interrupted. "Potter, it is proper in formal settings to call each other Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley. Alone in Weasley's office you may do as you wish.
"I would like to recommend that you commission Weasley here to be your private advisor. He needs only a little more experience before he can guide you properly, but he cannot gain that experience until someone such as yourself accepts him as advisor. A which-comes-first-the-frog-or-the-spawn dilemma. If you take him on, I will oversee his final training myself. I will offer him up to three hours of my time each week at no charge for the first month to see if he meets your needs, and any time over that the first month or for the following three months I'll charge your account at half my going rate.
"I like the idea, Gultangk. Please consider that discount fulfillment of the debt for my efforts earlier today."
Dolderap inhaled sharply and growled.
"No, Potter. You don't know this, but you've just set the value of my life at a few hundred Galleons. I take no offense because I know none was meant." He turned to the other goblins in the room and said, "Flanter, do not hold this against Potter. You don't know this, but Potter calls me 'Gultangk' with my permission, as is right among associates, though he cannot take that place. I honor him because he first honored me and has never shown anything but courtesy. This was an innocent misstep on his part. I've not seen any witch or wizard genuinely consider us as equals or try as hard to understand and honor us as Potter here has."
"Your words are gold to my heart, Director Gultangk." Harry stated.
"You see, Flanter," Gultangk said smiling. "Have you ever met or even heard of a human trying to learn our ways with such sincerity?"
"No, Director. You speak the truth of Mr. Potter. I will inform my clan elders of these events."
"Potter, Advisor Weasley," Gultangk took on a solemn tone and Bill stood straighter and beamed at the title. "You must not tell any other human that Mr. Weasley is in this exact position. In public and in private with anyone but the two of you, you must state that Advisor Weasley is assisting me in advising you. Potter, you call him Mr. Weasley. Advisor Weasley, in front of any humans you will be addressed as Assistant Weasley by all goblins. That is a lateral move from Grave Robber. Were you unable to take that blow to your ego at this juncture, you would not be in this position.
"Goblins and humans are equal in their dislike of humility, but I trust you to understand and accept this necessity, to advance your personal situation and perhaps even advance the overall state of goblin-human relations."
Gultangk stared both wizards in the eyes during the moments of silence that followed. Finally he said, "Weasley?"
"Thank you, Director, for this opportunity," said Bill. "And thank you Mr. Potter for your trust. I shall endeavor to earn it everyday. Shall we adjourn to my office and discuss increasing your profits?"
They spent the next hour discussing Harry's four-pronged approach to investing. At the moment the bulk of his wealth existed in land or gold holdings. The gold was placed in Gringotts savings at the moment, giving a four percent annual return. Harry also owned considerable shares in a number of Wizarding companies, though he held no majority positions. Though no company was Dark per se, some of them from the Black side of the inheritances were questionable.
Harry asked Bill to first sell his shares in anything Bill himself wouldn't feel comfortable in owning - be it Dark, or a poor investment. Next, Bill was to find companies with smart, innovative management that were being held back from prospering by a lack of capital. That included start up opportunities that would be hard to find.
Because goblins were miners as well as bankers, they did invest in specific commodities in and around coal, oil, metals, and such. Harry asked that Bill place a certain amount into these futures trading, and pay the best goblin advisors and traders to help since no goblin at Gringotts would ever train a human in their understanding on these matters.
Finally Harry asked that Bill discuss with Gultangk joint goblin-Potter investing in Muggle stock exchanges.
"Harry, you'll make even better friends with Gultangk and his clique quite rapidly doing that. Wizarding laws prevent goblins from such investments unless a witch or wizard is an equal partner. Goblins feel sure they could profit greatly there, but are held back by us. It really rankles them."
"Gultangk politely told me that, Bill. As I understand it, Muggle stock exchanges can buy and sell quickly. If something came up I could sell in minutes if need be and have the funds available shortly thereafter. It's not like holding shares in magical companies."
"Essentially so. I'm guessing you don't want to know the intricate details of how that works."
"No, not at this time, and probably never. I like being involved on the level I am with George and Fred, and Clarinda. I'd like to help a number of other startups and Wizarding businesses needing funds to grow. That's where I'll be more involved. It's simpler than finances in the Muggle world."
Harry then spent the next half hour discussing his desire to spend money that may never produce a return in efforts to "fix" magical society. He asked that Bill contact Dumbledore and see if the Potter Educational Trust could help more students with their Hogwarts tuition, particularly Muggleborns and Half-bloods, but not excluding purebloods.
"I'm glad you feel that way, Harry. I was a Potter Trust Fund student, and so was Percy. Ron still is. Dad and Mum do well by us, but they would probably have had to home school Ron and Ginny had your family benevolence not been in place."
Harry displayed a worried look. "Ron doesn't know, does he?"
"No, and neither does Percy. I only know because I advise my parents now with their finances. When they won all those Galleons after your second year and took the whole family on vacation, I chastised them about spending it that way. I agreed with the basic decision after they explained about Ginny and the diary, but they should have saved a bit of it.
"Dad let me in on their finances after that, and I'm proud to say they are on a firmer financial foundation than they ever have been, not even counting the inheritance from Sirius. But that's how I know I was a Potter Student."
"I love Ron as a brother, Bill, but he has a volatile mindset when it comes to me and money."
"Believe me, Harry, all of us Weasleys know that. We've all experienced it, too, to a lesser degree. Ron's seen Charlie and me, and the twins succeed in our chosen endeavors, and even Percy, and he's glad for us. But he doesn't really have a clue about his future. He'd like to play professional Quidditch, but he's not that good and never will be, and he knows it. He's in this Paladin Program heading towards Auror training, but I don't think he sees himself as an Auror long-term. He's doing it to be prepared to fight in this war. Perhaps he'll like it and stay in the Corps, but I doubt it."
Harry pondered this. "Hmmm. Interesting observation."
Bill asked Harry what other directions he had for investing Potter funds in improving the Wizarding world. He told Bill about his new relationship with the solicitors Tonks & Tonks and what he hoped to accomplish. This provided Harry a great opportunity to kid Bill about dating their Auror daughter. Bill was obviously uncomfortable being teased and Harry didn't have the heart to press. Both of them thought Tonks was a special person, and Harry felt Bill might really like her a lot more than he was admitting out loud, or even to himself.
That afternoon, Harry and Hermione performed a demonstration of Spell Mongering for Professor Dumbledore. The Headmaster could not see the slug of magic, but he could see a vague outline of it. He was delighted to hear that Hagrid had seen the slug, and approved Harry's plans to take the Groundskeeper to Diagon Alley for a new wand. He even asked that his personal vault at Gringotts be charged for the wand as a gift to Hagrid in congratulations.
Dumbledore also approved the notion that Harry could Monger inside of Hogwarts following the Monger's Safety Rules, but suggested Harry and Hermione only do so in an unused classroom off of the Charms corridor. He stated that he'd put additional Safety wards up and would password protect the room for them.
Thursday, 15 August, 1996 - In the Wizengamot
"--and that is why I wholeheartedly recommend the awarding of the Order of Merlin, Second Class to the esteemed forty-three year member of our Foreign Diplomatic Service, Ambassador Carver Westmoreland Glean."
Cornelius Fudge had spoken for over ten minutes describing all that Glean did to bring about the Vampire Negotiations in the first place. He then went on to tell of how Glean had handled the tricky negotiating with such skill and diplomacy. Finally Fudge outlined all Glean had done to convince the vampires, as well as the rest of the delegates to sign the treaty.
Glean, to his credit, sat there sweating profusely. He was only present in the Wizengamot chambers because the Minister Fudge had so ordered and no one else had refused him entry.
Fudge pointedly ignored Harry. Meanwhile Dolores Umbridge watched him as if daring Harry to speak up, and Florence Sheets stared daggers at Potter, Smith, Tiller, Bread and company. The three elder members in Harry's corner had contacted a number of their friends in the Assembly. Now there were nine of them in that right hand corner.
When Glean saw Harry in attendance his uneasy smile had vanished, and he had begun to perspire. He had grabbed Fudge's arm and spoken several quick words. Fudge had merely laid a hand on Glean's arm, spoken to him, and then invited the ambassador to sit beside his chair while Fudge spoke. Glean's uneasiness had increased even as Fudge extolled and exaggerated his role in the peace process.
Acting Chief Warlock Brownlea asked if there was any discussion on the matter before the vote was called. Smith had told Harry that this was fairly standard procedure when a treaty of such import was completed. However, most ambassadors were awarded an Order of Merlin, Third Class, not Second Class.
The terrible trio of Fudge, Umbridge, and Sheets probably expected Harry to protest. Or at least Isaiah Smith to do so.
Instead, Darance Bread took to the floor and began. He spoke of knowing Glean for years. They'd attended Hogwarts at the same time, but in different years and houses. Bread recounted warmly actions Glean had taken in his early days of service with the Foreign Diplomatic Service.
Then he said, "And all of this brings me to a matter of great pondering. Why would Carver Glean intentionally try to ruin the Vampire Negotiations after working so hard to arrange for the conclave to occur?"
Small outbreaks of quiet pandemonium popped up all over the chamber.
Brownlea asked, "Miss-TAH Bread. What do you mean with this accusation?"
"Chief Warlock, I have in my possession a copy of the Actualites Magique, France's newspaper of record for their magical nation. It has confirmed quotations from France's Magical Premier stating that Ambassador Carver Glean acted as if his aim were to deliberately irritate and insult the vampires, and that even a recent graduate of any nation's Diplomatic Corps school would have known better. According to this eyewitness account our own Minister of Magic joined him in these sabotage efforts. It goes on to state that the vampires stayed at the negotiations only because Bulgaria's Acting Minister of Magic Oblansk pleaded with them, and promised to use every means possible to bring about a resolution to their concerns." "This is libelous," Fudged shouted, but his face showed fear. "That newspaper is a forgery, or a gross mistranslation at the very least."
"No," Bread answered calmly. "Here is the Gringotts seal of accuracy on the transcription. It goes on to state that you, Minister, couldn't have been more insulting to the vampire delegates if you had tried."
"Well," Fudge blustered. "The French have never liked me. They're envious of my stellar record as Minister of Magic."
Alexius Tiller stood up. "Mister Fudge. I have here a copy of the German Zauberer Nactrichten also from the day after the completion of the successful negotiations. Their Magical Chancellor and their Ambassador to France both state that you two were most disruptive and nearly destroyed the chances for peace. Oh, and look, this newspaper also has Gringotts seals of accuracy for the translation."
"If I might add, Chief Warlock," Isaiah Smith stood and spoke. "I have Gringotts approved translations of the magical newspapers of Romania, Hungary, Russia, and the Ukraine. They all confirm what Misters Bread and Tiller have said. Our Minister of Magic has lied to you for the last half hour."
"Chief Warlock," All heads turned from Isaiah Smith's corner to the special seating arranged for those few Ministry officials high enough to also be in the Wizengamot. Amelia Bones, Director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement stood.
"I too, was at these negotiations," she said. "It saddens me to confirm that everything these foreign newspaper have printed, at least what these gentlemen have read here today, is true." Madame Bones sat back down.
"Mister Fudge," Brownlea said. "Do you want to withdraw your motion in light of these, er, revelations?"
Before Fudge could say anything, Florence Sheets stood up and shouted, "I second the motion to award Ambassador Glean with the order of Merlin, Second Class, and call for a vote by written ballot."
"I too, call for a secret ballot vote," stated Umbridge.
The ballots were passed out, marked, returned, and tabulated. Glean had his Order of Merlin. He still looked very nervous.
Smith told Harry that the odds were that the Fudge faction would carry the motion because of Umbridge's forty-seven votes. The only way to undercut support would be to shame those voting for it into not doing so. The secret ballot removed all shame from those voting the Fudge/Umbridge/Sheets line.
The only good point, Smith would later point out, was that the measure passed with less than the typical vote count their enemies might carry in a less controversial issue. Their words and actions had helped.
The Acting Chief Warlock called for any final business.
Smith raised his hand and was given the floor. "Ambassador Glean, congratulations on your Order of Merlin." He walked slowly towards him, reaching into a robe pocket. "I have something for you too, Ambassador. This is an empty box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. It's worthless, just like your Order of Merlin. I know your award is worthless, the delegates to the summit know this and so does everyone in this room. But that's not what's most important; what matters most is that you know it's worthless, too. Do remember that every time you put the other trinket on.
"That's all, Chief Warlock." Smith returned to his seat next to Harry.
After the Wizengamot session, Harry Apparated back to the gates of Hogwarts and then walked to Hagrid's hut. He'd sent the half-giant a post by Hedwig to tell him of his intentions to take him to Ollivander's for another wand.
After surviving the obligatory slobber-fest with Fang, Harry accepted Hagrid's offer of tea and rock cakes. Harry dunked the rock cake into the tea; this made the cake chewable - barely - and actually brought out the sweetness of Hagrid's infamous treat.
"I just don' know, Harry. I've made out fine by my old wand bits in this umbruller here. I'm sorta fond of it actually."
"You can keep the umbrella, Hagrid, but you need a proper wand. I know that wand chose you way back, but it's broken, so it will never be what you need. Ollivander fits Auror's out with second wands all the time, so that means there is no one wand that will only work for you. I'm certain that another wand will work better than that one now."
"Ah, p'shaw. I never was no great shakes as a wizard back then. It was in third year that I had that bit o' trouble and was kicked out, but I was barely holding on in the classes when it happened. It's a waste o' time to go, and a waste of Dumbledore's money. Great man, Dumbledore, wanting to buy me a wand, it's just one more thing to add to the long list."
Harry knew he had to make this very clear if he were to convince his big friend that he was a capable wizard. Then it came to him.
"Hagrid, what happens if you try to harness a Thestral to the carriages when it's too young?"
"Well, it makes tha' p'ticuler thestral skittish 'bout 'em fer quite a long time afterwards. T'aint good for the other thestrals either to see a colt actin' up about it." "Okay, now why don't they let nine year olds into Hogwarts?"
"Dunno, Harry. Guess the tykes woo'nt be ready fer it. Not mature enuff. What you goin' on about?"
"One last question, Hagrid. When did you stop growing?"
"Oh, I dunno. I suppose I wis twenty-five er thereabouts."
"Regular witches and wizards stop growing around seventeen or eighteen. I discussed this with Dumbledore, and he agrees. You started Hogwarts too soon. Giants grow up over a longer time period that we do, and you probably weren't magically mature enough to start Hogwarts at eleven. You were always behind your classmates, Hagrid, but that's because you shouldn't have started school until you were older--thirteen or fourteen, I guess.
"Hagrid, many powerful witches and wizards can't see a raw slug of magic. Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin couldn't. Dumbledore himself can only see a vague outline of it, so not seeing the raw slug doesn't mean you aren't powerful. However, if someone can see the raw slug of magic, it always means that they are pretty powerful.
"You could see it, Hagrid. You can do magic with a broken wand embedded in an umbrella and you aren't even touching the bits of wand. That takes a lot of power. You, my friend, are a powerful wizard, we just have to buy you a new wand matched to serve you, and train you to use it."
Harry looked at his watch. "Can we hitch up a couple of Thestrals to the carriage and go to Diagon Alley? I guess you haven't received an Apparation license, and I don't think there is a fireplace big enough for you to Floo from."
"Don't need one, Harry. Dumbledore's give me a perm'nent round-trip Portkey. 'Hit goes to the backroom of the Leaky Cauldron an' back te me hut to use fer Hogwarts business. 'Twas plannin' on goin' soon enuff anyway. I need to check on a new creature I've ordered for N.E.W.T. Care of Magical Creatures class. We could go do that too and then it 'twould be Hogwarts business."
Harry developed a guilty look on his face. "About your classes this year, Hagrid. I... I'm not... not going to take it. I'm sorry, but--"
"Codswallop, Harry. No one hardly ever takes N.E.W.T.s Creatures unlessin' they plan on a career workin' with 'em in some way; never 'spected to have you there, lessin' you took it fer your Auror e-lective, and a mighty few do that, I tell you. Don't feel bad about that."
Harry's face showed his relief. Hagrid found the Portkey under a bag of boarhound chow, and they were in Diagon Alley in no time.
The bell chimed. The door closed. In an instant they heard the man before they turned and saw him. "Ah, Rubeus Hagrid. Sixteen inch, oak, rather bendy. Do you still have the parts, Hagrid?" Harry chuckled at the sudden appearance of the elderly wand maker. Harry had spent several days helping Mr. Ollivander take inventory during the weeks the rising third year had stayed at the Leaky Cauldron after blowing up Aunt Marge. During that time Ollivander had told Harry the story of his family and how Ollivander's had been founded in 382 BC. The silvery-eyed wizard was a kindly, but very reserved man. Harry knew the sudden appearance in front of his customers and the trademark announcing of their names and wand type was all part of the Ollivander mystique and shopping experience.
As was common with many, it unnerved Hagrid.
"Er, yes sir, Mr. Ollivander. I've kept 'em as a me-mento, so to speak, er, never did anythin' untoward with 'em. No sir. Not hardly that is."
Ollivander peered into Hagrid eyes. "Yes, well it is a good thing, now that you've been cleared of that travesty of justice and can resume using magic. Albus Dumbledore has asked that I charge his account for the purchase, and... I wonder..."
This pause seemed to make Hagrid even more nervous.
"Mr. Potter," the wand maker snapped out. "Do you remember the fighting mace wands we inventoried three years ago?"
As Ollivander walked briskly into the aisles, Harry replied, "Yes sir. You said a few wizards who also fought in the armies of King Alfred the Great commissioned maces with magical cores back in the ninth century, wasn't it? None of them ever could raise a spark out of a one of them if I remember your story correctly."
"Yes, Mr. Potter. Widrey Ollivander was fascinated with the idea. He made nearly two-dozen of them and didn't sell a one." He walked out with seven oversized boxes.
"Your hands were smaller back then, Hagrid, but if you recall I stated that I'd have to make a custom wand for you once you reached your full maturity. We might need to go to a custom-made wand now, but I'd like you to try these first. A wand that waits for centuries before it chooses its Wizard quite often portends great and wonderful things."
"Er..." Hagrid said.
"Give this one a try, Hagrid," Harry said as he opened a box for his big friend.
"Your last wand had a dragon heartstring. These seven were all made with dragon heartstring cores," explained Ollivander.
"I likes dragons," said Hagrid.
"Oh, really?" said Ollivander who winked at Harry - much to Harry's amazement.
Two of the mace-wands gave off a weak spark or two in Hagrid's oversized hands, but the other five did nothing.
Hagrid dropped the last one with a dab of disgust and said, "I knew it was no use."
"Mr. Ollivander," Harry asked quickly, "just because Hagrid likes dragons doesn't mean he has to have a dragon core now, does it? How often do you fit out an Auror with a second wand that matches the core of the first?"
"I was about to encourage Hagrid along these same lines," Ollivander said. "Three in ten Aurors do not find their second wands match their first wands in anyway. I'll bring out the others."
"He was a Gryffindor, Mr. Ollivander." Harry looked at Hagrid and then said, "No, he is a Gryffindor."
Hagrid smiled at that and Harry continued, "I bet a phoenix feather core chooses him." "Interesting theory, Mr. Potter, although that never entered into any of my deliberations before, but let's start with the only phoenix core mace-wand, shall we? It took two phoenix feathers from different donor birds to fit into this twenty-six and a half inch, holly mace-wand - same wood and core type as yours, Mr. Potter. Well... give it a wave, Hagrid."
The mace-wands were over twice as long as most wands, and nearly three times as thick. They all had ribbed handles and a pointed knob head at the end. The phoenix cored mace-wand responded to Hagrid immediately, with a gout of red sparks and a not a few golden sparks.
"Oh, Hagrid," Harry said with genuine delight, "golden sparks. That's a very good sign, isn't it, Mr. Ollivander?"
"Very good indeed, Hagrid. Albus Dumbledore told me of young Mr. Potter's theory that you are a powerful wizard. I've seen more golden sparks than you just displayed, but not from very many other witches or wizards in my many years here in this shop. Like I told Mr. Potter on his first visit here, I shall expect great things from you, Rubeus Hagrid."
Even with the loose clothes Hagrid wore, the gentle half-giant was about to burst several buttons in his delight. A tear also winked at one eye.
"I wish me wee dad was here; he'd be sa proud."
"That he would, Mr. Hagrid." For the first time in Harry's memory Mr. Ollivander used the word 'mister' before Hagrid's name. "Your father, Rudrick was proud of you on the day he brought you here, and he is proud of you today, I am sure. Welcome back, Mr. Hagrid."
Harry and Hagrid made their way back to the gamekeeper's hut, and Harry offered to help tutor Hagrid with any magic he wanted to learn.
"Thanks, Harry," Hagrid said. "I'm sure I'll be taking you up on that, but first I want to see what all comes back to me."
"Sure thing, Hagrid. Just let me know if I can help. Well, I guess I'll leave you to it then," Harry said with a nod to his friend. He was reaching for the doorknob when Hagrid stopped him.
"Oh, Harry, I almost forgot," Hagrid said as he began rummaging through a bureau. "Your post about today started me a'thinkin'. I thought about you and me dad and you and the Wizengamot and then I remembered sumthin'..." During this last bit of conversation the gentle half-giant pillaged a table in one corner of his hut stacked with items and debris of all types. "Surely I couldna found it and lost it all in one day. Ah, here it is."
He took out an old and faded piece of parchment. He smoothed it out and set it on his dinner table, smoothing it once again and placing a teacup on one end and a teapot on the other.
"It's worthless, but back when me dad took up w' me mum, he knew I'd never be allowed in the Wizengamot. Hagrids were a Three-Thirty-Three Family, but my dad's great-grandad sold the Right to Rule for four generations. I'd've been a Wizengamot member iffen me mum... well, you know."
Hagrid stood up taller than he had been and sighed. "Me dad loved me mum sumthin' fierce, but in the end, his love and mine t'weren't enuff." Hagrid paused and sighed again.
"Anyway, me dad had talked to your granddad, Benedict about buying the Right to Rule offa him even though me dad couldn't use it himself. Nothin' ever came of it, but here's the contract my dad had the solicitors draw up, all legal like. I thought you might like to have it just as a cur'osity. Or toss it, your choice."
The parchment had all of the appropriate ribbons and marks of the transfer contract Harry saw signed in the Wizengamot several sessions earlier.
Harry studied the document for a bit, and then stepped towards a window for better light.
"Hagrid, look at this. Did you read the fine print?"
"Na, too confusin'"
Harry said, "This passage here: I'll read it; tell me what you think about it.
"I, Rudrick Hagrid, as the last pureblood Hagrid, do sign over the entitlement to the Hagrid Family Right to Rule to Benedict Potter, for the sum of one hundred Galleons. Since generations are not aligned and ages vary in this time of political unrest, I sign over the purchase of said entitlement to the Hagrid Family Right to Rule to Benedict, or his heir, or his heir's heir.
"Hagrid, that sounds like I could buy the Right to Rule from you even now, since I'm Benedict Potter's heirs, heir. There was no time limit set on this document, just the generational limitation. He signed it and I can sign and pay you to activate the contract. I'll have my solicitors check it out to make sure I do it properly. Do you know who has the Hagrid vote now?"
"No, me dad never said, but I can tell you he didn't like him one bit. If that blighter's son or grandson was anything like him, whoever he was, you'd be doin' me an' me dad a favor in takin' it back from him."
"If I can, Hagrid, I'll be sure to pay you whatever one hundred Galleons in 1921 are worth today."
"Keep your money, Harry, just get that Right to Rule away from that family, whoever they are. Even iffen it's someone you like now, I just don't want them to have it, fer me dad's sake."
"No, Hagrid, I have to pay you what's right so it will be properly legal. I can't have it fail on a technicality."
Friday, 16 August, 1996
"--and that's been pretty much it for the summer," Cho said. "A lot of folks might consider it boring, but I like Runes and Arithmancy, particularly in the historical and predictive areas. The notion that ancient texts might tell us of the future, our times even, just captivates me."
"Well," Harry said with a smile, "You won't find me there digging through dusty old scraps of parchment and piecing together broken tablets, but I'll be the first to congratulate you on finding something of interest. But how does that coincide with entering the seventh year Paladin Program? Being a Paladin in your year means you've definitely committed to being an Auror, doesn't it?" "Yes, and I want to serve that way. My plan is to join the Auror Corps and fight through this war and for at least several years beyond that. I owe that to Cedric and my friend Daylis Havermore, who was killed by Death Eaters right after school let out in June. It's not a matter of revenge. Although I want a measure of that, I have no real emotional investment in revenge. I just want to see this through. Also, and don't take this wrong, but I'm in this fight at this level for you to a degree."
"Me?" Harry felt a bit of confusion. Was Cho still interested in him?
Cho chuckled. "Don't worry, Harry. I realize we never were meant to be, at least as far as last year went and probably never. Although," she said with a smirk, "who knows what the future holds after this is all over?"
Then the look on her face turned serious. "I don't really know if you are fated to fight You-Know-Who to the death, or if that's just the way your life seems to be going, but I realize you're going to need help. I plan to be there when the time comes. I can't expect to be a part of the future if I don't help protect that future for all of us. That may sound melodramatic, but... there you go."
Harry was for the most part relieved to hear this. He didn't really admit it to himself, but deep down he had new feelings for Hermione. In certain times of contemplation he imagined the possibility of the remotest inkling of thinking for just a moment about the fact that if this were a different universe he just might possibly consider asking Hermione--"
"Oh," Cho interrupted his meandering train of thought. "The rising sixth year Paladins seem to be coming from their not-quite-conjugal visits. I'm so glad those of us going into seventh year only had a few of them and not nearly under the same potions-induced emotional turmoil. There's Hermione, Ron, and, oh... there's Ginny, too."
"She helping with a few of the Paladin visits when they need an extra girl because the participants are strung out all over Great Britain."
"That's right," Cho said. "I do remember hearing about the fact that some rising fifth years were helping in that way. So she's one of them. Well, Harry, I have to go meet Professor Vector. See you around."
Harry bid her goodbye and turned to his approaching friends. The four of them had planned to run together today. Hermione and Ron were still on the Acceleration potions for a few more days and as such, were required to run for the coming hour. Ginny had spent the summer doing the same Paladin exercise routine and was in great shape for a fifteen-year-old witch. Harry had exercised all he needed to that morning before breakfast, but was always up for another run if it fit into his schedule.
Harry had purposely planned the next few hours with his three best friends. He'd spent a good deal of time with Hermione the last few weeks working on their project to categorize and classify existing magical practice in order to develop a systematic approach to using Spell Mongery to improve a number of spells. It was an ambitious project and one Harry was glad he wasn't attempting without Hermione's help.
But all that time spent with Hermione that caused Ron to whine a bit. Ron had even admitted he was being whiney, but he bluntly stated that he missed his best mate and wanted to see more of him. Ginny was not as emotional about it, but she'd also made it clear that she'd like to see Harry more than she had this summer. So, here they were, all running together today after a Paladin visit.
When Dumbledore had told Harry he would not be needed for any of the last visits, he had also warned Harry about a change in the brewing. In an attempt to help make up for the emotional ground lost during the Aberration Day potions debacle, the potions would be increased in potency for the final week.
Harry was glad he didn't have to participate in any of these emotionally charged visits, and he had studiously avoided any of the participating girls because of it. The day before when he'd met Hermione two hours after a visit, she was still a bit hyped from the reformulated elixirs. Today he had brought two full doses of Pepper-Up potion for them in hopes that would take the edge off.
Ron was walking, almost trotting to make his way to him. Hermione was a few seconds behind him and Ginny followed. Her slower pace was explained entirely by the fact that Ginny was lugging all three of their book bags.
"Harry! How are you, mate?" Ron just about shouted. "I can't believe you were talking to Chang. Is she trying to bewitch you again? I thought you were sweet on Hermione!"
Harry knew in that instant that Ron should never drink anything more potent that butterbeer - or live with the consequences of loose lips.
Hermione waltzed up in an odd fashion, looking as if she were walking in high-heeled shoes, Harry guessed. Then she flung herself into Harry's arms and moved in for a kiss. The embrace was not unwelcome, the kiss was a bit of a surprise, but he really wasn't ready for open-mouthed kissing with his best friend. At least, that was his first thought.
His second thought was that he must be some sort of cretin to have not ever considered initiating a kiss like this with Hermione.
And that was the problem. Until this moment Harry had been firmly determined to avoid dating and have no girlfriends until after Riddle's death. No girl needed that degree of Death Eater attention, and Hermione was already a target in her own right because she was Muggleborn, brilliant, and known as his best friend. Harry had sworn to himself that he wouldn't increase her risk of attack, or any other girl's for that matter.
Where had his iron resolve gone?
Oh, he'd thought a good bit before Aberration Day about having a girlfriend, even going so far as to writing to Luna about the possibility before starting the Paladin Program - back when he thought Hermione and Ron were an item and mistakenly believed Ginny was with Dean. But since the Battle of Little Whinging on July 28th, he'd refused to consider romance as a part of his life in any way.
Where, oh where had that iron resolve gone?
That entire line of thought took only three seconds in the midst of an admittedly clumsy, yet delightful wet kiss before he thrust her from him, just in time for Ron to slap him on the back and loudly proclaim, "Good, now you're with Hermione, so stay away from Chang or I'll have to trounce you."
Ginny caught Harry's eye at that moment and he saw the concerned look on her face. Harry gently pushed Hermione into Ginny's arms and took out the Pepper-Up potions.
"Force this down her, Ginny, whatever it takes." The younger Weasley took the phial without a word and proceeded to put Hermione into a headlock. Harry heard Hermione protest about wanting to kiss Harry again as he turned to Ron.
"Drink this, Mate. You need it."
Ron said, "I've had more than enough potions today, thank you very much," and tried to knock it out of Harry's hand with his fist. The missing punch at the potion hit Harry roughly, though unintentionally, in the chin, just hard enough to anger Harry a bit.
In a flash Harry grabbed Ron's arm and subdued his redheaded friend in a strong grip, while stomping on his toes and forcing the potion down Ron's mouth as he attempted to scream. Ron coughed and choked, but took down most of the concoction.
The two dosed Paladins sputtered together. Harry looked at his watch and said, "It's 2:30. You two have to start running, right now! Run with me, please Ginny."
Without a backwards glance Harry took off through the main doors of the castle and ran towards the lake. Ginny caught him in less than a minute.
They ran for a bit. Harry looked back to see a mortified Hermione and a confused Ron more than twenty paces behind them.
"I told both of them to stay back for a while so we could talk," Ginny said. "Ron is sorry and Hermione wants to Obliviate everyone."
"It's like the first of the summer all over again," Harry said. "You remember how I threw myself at you those first couple of visits?"
Ginny chuckled. "I remember, but this isn't altogether like that. We were told that the potion's potency increase would be noticeable but manageable. However, we were also warned that events like this would happen only if the persons had real feelings for the object of their attack."
Harry stumbled a step but in a moment was back on pace, running perhaps a bit faster. They went on in silence for nearly a minute. He slowed a bit to maintain a pace where Ginny could keep up and still talk.
"So..." he said.
"Yes, she does," Ginny replied.
Silence ensued, except for the sounds of her trainers and his boots hitting the turf beneath them.
"You shouldn't be surprised, and I'm even less surprised, Harry."
Long seconds later he said, "What do you mean?"
Ginny sighed in frustration. "Harry, you two are best friends, but just about everyone thinks you two are meant for each other. You've spent major portions of the summer working together on Spell Mongering, which she can't talk enough about, and that gives the both of you even more in common than before."
They ran for another few moments before she continued, "Harry, in my opinion, you enjoyed that kiss as much as Hermione did, and before you say anything, please hear me out."
Ginny took several deep breaths before saying, "You haven't done anything to encourage her. She's lamented that fact on more than one occasion. She knows you plan on keeping yourself out of circulation until Tom's dead, and she has girded up her heart for that fact. It's easy for even me to read that in you, and she knows you far better than anyone else does."
Harry was stunned by these revelations, but agreed that Hermione did know him very, very well.
"So, Hermione is not one to throw herself at you," Ginny continued, "and she really wants to honor your decision. She understands that you might only think of her as a friend now and in the long term, and she is prepared to go her whole life happy for you if you find love in some other witch's arms. You know our best friend can do that; she's that strong-willed.
"But, you can't fool me. I know you fancy her, but I also know you've decided to wait on starting any relationship until you've offed Riddle. I think that's a bit extreme, but I can't fault you for it.
"So, you can turn around and make your best friend think this was merely a typical Acceleration Potion event, or not. If you act like that's all this was you'll keep her as your best friend, keep her as your assistant in your Spell Mongering research, and keep her from mortifying embarrassment. If you don't convince her that's all you think this was, she'll probably avoid you due to the agitation you know is even now growing out of proportions in her."
Ginny stayed silent and Harry thought through her words.
"So, what's it going to be, Potter?"
"Ginny, could you occupy Ron and keep him out of earshot?"
"Of course, he'll listen to me."
"Okay, let's do this, and Ginny?"
"You do know that after Hermione and your brother; I consider you my best friend, don't you?"
She smiled. "I've hoped that might be the case. Thanks for telling me."
After a little maneuvering, Harry found himself running beside Hermione with Ron and Ginny well ahead of them. Catching sideways glances, he could tell his best friend was nervous. He hoped he could do this as it needed doing. He could not lose Hermione - as a friend, or as anything else, either.
"Ginny told me that the Paladins still on the potions are on a higher dosage than ever before in the series. I'd heard that but didn't put the facts together to realize it was going to be like the start of the summer. Do you remember how your father had to separate us that first day?"
Harry heard her sigh in relief, but made no comment and shot her no look to indicate he was watching her that closely.
He said jokingly, "You're better at the kissing now - wish I could say the same, but I've not had the practice."
She winced. "Harry, honestly--"
"Hermione, I was out of line just now. I didn't mean to imply you've been taking advantage of the Paladin visits; I just wanted to tell you objectively that it was a good kiss - I enjoyed it. You know I'm a bonehead about such things. I've been a monk this summer and plan to keep it that way until Riddle's gone. I'm trying to laugh this off - but I think we both know that there's something real about our feelings under the Potion fog."
Silence for a long moment.
"Hermione, you're my best friend and my research partner."
"Partner, Hermione. I agree my name goes first on the research paper or papers we eventually write, but your name goes besides mine, not below it. If our work will ever make sense, it will because you make it so. I'm the Monger now, but since you can see the raw slug of magic at only sixteen, you too will be Mongering spells before we ever publish."
"But you're a great wizard, Harry--"
"And you're a great and powerful witch, Hermione. I admit in terms of raw power I'm probably ahead of you, but Mad-Eye Moody is a considered a great wizard, even though he is not as strong as Dumbledore."
After a moment Hermione said, "All right, I accept your praise simply because I'm delighted you're over your self-deprecating stage and have accepted my assessment."
Harry smiled. This appeared to be going better than he'd thought it would. He then decided to try to take them back to where things were before.
"Hermione, in the future who knows, I'd like to think I'd be worthy enough to ask you out on a date, but I have to concentrate on Riddle for now. In the mean time, can we go on like before?"
Harry didn't look at Hermione long, in order to not embarrass her. He saw a slight pinkness to her cheeks he assumed came from the running, and the typical Hermione look of concentration.
In a moment she stuck out her hand and said, "Accepted, Mr. Potter. Best friends and research partners."
They shook two quick shakes. It was an awkward thing to do while running.
Harry increased the tempo soon to catch up with Ron and Ginny. He thought that the talk went well, and he and Hermione were back where they were. He could now act like he didn't fancy her, and go on as usual.
In a moment he realized he had admitted in his mind that he did fancy Hermione. He'd have to be careful. She deserved a guy with a better life expectancy than him, and it would be no life for her watching out for Death Eater attacks every minute of the day.
Soon they caught up with Ron and Ginny and it took very few words to get Ron talking about the Chudley Cannons.
Hermione had schooled her emotions to remain calm around Harry ever since the two of them had started spending so much time together doing Mongering research and the like. She knew he felt like he couldn't date until Riddle's defeat. As stupid as she thought his decision was, Hermione would never try to argue with her stubborn best friend, particularly since Aberration Day.
Since that aberrant Acceleration potion had its mysterious effect upon Harry during his death-defying battle with all of those Death Eaters, he was a driven man, and virtually emotionless, most of the time. Oh, he could laugh at a joke and Harry was even more considerate of others than he'd been before, but the inner workings of Harry's mind had become an enigma.
Until a few moments ago.
Harry had taken the noble road, Hermione knew, trying to ignore her clumsy assault and restore their status quo ante. She had expected it, because she understood Harry better than anyone else in the world.
Harry was on his self-sacrificing noble tear, denying himself romance. Had she not been personally interested in him that way, she would have tried to convince him to give up such notions and find a girlfriend.
But she was interested in Harry, and keeping him uninterested in dating was the safest way, Hermione had decided, to keep him away from other girls until Harry figured out his own heart. It wasn't a good plan, but it was the best she had, and Ginny had agreed with Hermione; it was all they could think of - a plan full of holes.
Now, showing as little emotion as possible, Hermione, still slightly addled by the potions, was screaming with joy inside.
Harry had admitted that he liked the idea of dating her in the future.
She knew that was not much of an admission for most people, but for the single-minded, driven Harry Potter, who emerged from Aberration Day, that verbal slip was tantamount to a declaration of undying love.
Of course, Hermione was a realist. Anything could happen. Harry could meet and fall in love with any of the girls coming to Hogwarts from around the world for the two-year Paladin Pre-Auror Program. A part of Hermione actually expected something like that to happen. And if it did, maybe it wouldn't go anywhere and Harry would eventually come back to the girl who knew him best.
Her amazing intellect acknowledged all of this, but the female heart she had thought was under control, was now doing cartwheels over Harry admitting that he'd liked kissing her, and wanted them to be something more than friends one day in the future.
It would have to do for now.
At the end of the hour long run, they slowed to a brisk walk, and Hermione suggested walking around the perimeter of the castle proper. This sparked a brief discussion, which revealed that none of them had actually been around the back of Hogwarts. It wasn't surprising as any outdoor school activities took place towards the Quidditch pitch, the lake, or the paddocks, all of which were easily accessible from the front doors of the castle.
They walked on until the four came to a square-ish building. It was obviously new, made of stone similar to that of the castle so it fit in, but the style was definitely different. Curiosity caused them to knock.
"Hello! Anybody here?" At the knock the door shifted ajar, but no one initially answered Hermione's call from the outside.
Then from behind a set of unusual cabinets they heard, "Hello there," And a woman of perhaps mid thirties popped up. "Sorry I look like this. I just connected the generator and changed the oil in it. Stand right there and I'll be with you--"
Her gaze went from Harry to Ron and Ginny, then to Hermione for a second and back to the Weasleys.
"Stay there, please." She seemed a bit excited and Ron made the typical snort he gave when someone else met Harry for the first time. "Just let me wash my hands." After several moments she rejoined them.
As she walked to them she said, "If you're Harry Potter, then," she walked past Harry, grabbed Ron's hand and said, "you must be Ronald Weasley. Do you prefer Ronald or Ron? And this must be your sister? The resemblance is striking- Oh, where are my manners? I'm just so excited.
"I'm Pricilla Newcastle, and I bet you can tell I'm not from theses parts." She had a decidedly American accent.
Newcastle was about as tall as Harry and very slender, willowy. She had a full head of white-blond, almost Malfoy-esque hair, done up in a bun, from which many strands were falling out. She was neither pretty nor plain - the deciding factor was her grin. When she smiled her whole face lit up, starting with her blue eyes. It cast a delightful beauty about her face. When Newcastle frowned, which they would see later, she created a scrunched, pinched look that drew all of her features to the center, towards her nose. It was an odd contrast, but fortunately she was a jovial woman who usually smiled even when concentrating on something difficult.
"I'm Assistant Head of Information Technology at the Madison Academy of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Madison, Wisconsin. That's the school for Wizarding America, the Hogwarts of the USA as it were, because it was modeled closely on many of Hogwarts' fine traditions."
Remembering seeing a sign for the Salem Institute at the World Cup, Harry said, "I thought the Salem Institute was the Wizarding school in America."
"It was started as a school and was for a while, thus the name, but it's only been a historical society for over two hundred years now," said Newscastle.
Hermione spoke up in an agitated manner, "Ms. Newcastle-"
"That's 'Miss' Newcastle, dear. Like here in England, we female magicals in America don't mind telling folk if were married or not. But thanks for trying. What's your question?"
Now slightly flustered as well as agitated, Hermione continued, "Miss Newcastle, the phrase 'information technology' indicates computers, but you can't use computers in magical society, they--"
Newcastle's laughter interrupted Hermione. "We American magicals always think of those of you here in Great Britain as the 'can'ts,' where as we're the 'cans.' We maintain a closer tie to primaries and modern inventions. Oh, I'm sorry you call them 'Muggles,' but we call them 'primaries.' The first magical folks in America thought the name 'Muggle' sounded a bit like an insult, sort of like 'muddling through' or 'muddy it up.'
"But to answer the question that's about to kill you: you can't run computers under any circumstances inside your castle, and you can't have a lot of magicals around your computers, if they are unprotected.
"So, when this computer lab is up and fully operational, there will be no more than ten of you in the room at one time, and each of you will have to be tested to see what level of protective clothing you'll need to wear."
Ron said, "Will computers harm us, Miss Newcastle?"
"No, you could harm a computer, though. This device over here," she walked towards a wood inlaid metal cabinet about six feet high and four feet wide and deep. "I have just hooked this up to the generators, which we've placed outside of the wards of Hogwarts. They have their own specially designed wards to protect them out there."
She picked up a piece of oddly shaped material that looked sort of like piping. It was about twelve inches in diameter outside, and four inches at its inside diameter. The piece was shattered, and the cross section held a variety of different colored materials.
"This is called electron-shielding. I won't go into all of the different materials, spells, and charms put on it, but you can tell we've been generous with the lead and synth-gold. All of this goes together to create a null void between the layers that blocks the interference your magical resonances create. When you're at the computers themselves, we cannot create a complete null void, so you have to wear varying degrees of protective clothing to stop leakage. This size of null void shielding is for power cables. It's also made in sheets for placing computer cases in protective barriers. And there's a transparent version of it for monitor fronts.
"Which of you have primaries, er, you call them Muggle family members you visit or stay with?" When Harry and Hermione nodded she continued, "Yes, I remember your story, Harry, and you Hermione?"
"My parents are Muggles, or, primaries, Miss Newcastle. I think my dad will like that better, he's never liked the word 'Muggle' for the reasons you gave. Anyway, we have plenty of electrical and electronic devices at home. I even use a computer there and nothing happens to interfere."
"Please call me Cilla. I'm not a professor here, though I will be teaching computer classes and search techniques."
Ginny said, "Search techniques? Do computers get lost? Are they particularly hard to find?"
Cilla and Hermione almost kept their smiles from hurting her feelings. "No, Ginny. Many computers around the world are hooked together in a big confederation to share information. It is a network of computers we've started calling the Internet in the last few years. There is so much information out there that it is quite often hard to find what you're looking for. Some of our brightest minds have helped primaries develop a way to search for what you want. We helped in the creation of Altavista, the most powerful search engine in common use now. We call them search engines but they are just computer programs running on very powerful computers.
"But Altavista became too powerful for us to continue with. When those of us in the magical world in America help a company, we don't want to be involved with the biggest player in the field; that draws too much attention to us. So we stick to the higher priced more innovative route until a clear industry leader emerges, then we use the innovative and higher priced though cost effective third or fourth player in that field.
"Anyway, that's a little bit about how those of us in the magical community interact with primaries. Harry, what's your experiences with electronic devices?"
"I've never affected anything, but then I'm not allowed near... well, I did go near my cousin Dudley's computer once this summer, and the monitor went all screwy, and he said that the, how'd he put it? I thought it strange. He said that 'the window locked up,' or something like that, but they always lock every window except the one in my bedroom that Hedwig, my owl, uses.
Newcastle smiled, "Dudley probably said, 'Windows.' It's an operating system that is rather impossible for magicals to work with, it's difficult for everyone, but it is the industry leader, more's the pity.
"Let's test each of you for your protective level and then go look at our computers."
Cilla Newcastle flipped a switch on the back of the machine's cabinet. Several lights flashed and a small green screen attempted to light up, but then a major snapping sound occurred and everything went blank and silent.
"I should have guessed," said the technical expert. "Harry, you're too powerful for it to even test without initial protection. Here." She drew out a heavy black cloak with what looked like stiff panels on it, particularly the front.
She helped him into it and went back to turn on the device. The exact start up procedure, including the shut down occurred.
"All of you, put these on, and Harry you go outside for a moment."
Harry did as he was told and in less than a minute Newcastle called him back in. As he walked in, even from over fifteen feet away, the device snapped off again.
"Dear me," Cilla said, "I've read about this but never seen it. Wait right there; they arrived yesterday."
She left the room and came back in a minute dragging a heavy crate. Harry immediately cast a Featherweight charm on the crate and she thanked him, but asked him not to perform any more magic in that building. She placed the lightened crate on the table. She loosened four clasps and opened the lid. She had trouble trying to remove something from the case and Harry went to her aid.
"This, Harry, take it out and put it on. And I'll get the other stuff out."
Harry drew out another cloak of similar design as the first, except that it did have a red fringe on it. It also weighed three times as much as the first cloak she'd given him, and instead of small panels about a half inch thick on it, This cloak had major panels 6" x 10" on it, and they were overlaid like chain mail.
About the time Harry pulled this over his head and snapped the clasps shut properly, Cilla handed him what looked like a motorcycle helmet with a neck skirt around it and a pair of gauntlets for his hands. They had the palms and fingertips cut out but they were very heavy anyway.
She said, "We'll have to get a pair of glove liners for you and a special armored keyboard and mouse. They'll be here in a few weeks. Just don't point you hands towards the computer when we go in, if we go in. Let's test you first. Please stand."
Ron asked, "Computers have mice? Is that how they work, mice on treadmills?"
Newcastle, Hermione, and Harry chuckled, and Cilla said, "A mouse is computer parlance for what you might call a pointing device, and before you compare it to a wand, just hold on, I'll show you soon."
Harry's heavy cloak went all of the way down to the floor. He stood about ten feet from the measuring device. Cilla Newcastle turned on the machine and it came up and did not snap off.
"Walk slowly towards this, Harry, and stop if you see this monitor line start to squiggle."
Harry made it to within five feet before the line on the green screen began to curve and a speaker somewhere on the device started chirping.
"Okay, stop there. This device is more sensitive than the computers but you still need to stay behind the yellow line dressed like this. I don't know if we will be able to get you to a computer to work on or not. You may just have to rely on your friend's for information. At least the monitors are all 21" and I'll change the resolution to make the characters bigger so you can read them from five feet away. I never expected a student to do this, few adults do."
Harry said, "I didn't do this to Dudley's, and I got closer than I did outside, unprotected."
Newcastle explained, "You weren't in a magical environment at Dudley's place, and how much younger were you than now, several years at least I'd say?"
"Just two months ago."
Ron said, "But, Harry, remember you got a jolt-"
Harry gave him an angry look and Ron stopped in mid sentence. Newcastle looked on askance, but Hermione drew her attention.
"All right, Cilla, why don't you need protective covering?"
"Well, if a magical grows up around electronic devices, their body just seems to adjust to not disturbing such equipment too much. When they reach maturity they may gain enough power in spite of that environment to need some protection.
"In my case, I'm a Squib."
All four students gasped at the matter of fact statement.
"That's another thing we American do better than you Brits. And it perturbs me a little, but you don't know any better. There are a lot more Squibs out there than you think. You here hide them, shun them, and hustle them off to your Muggle schools like they are mentally deficient or something. It's a waste, a crying shameful waste.
"Our foremothers and forefathers in magical America felt differently, thank God, and we fought a revolution with your Ministry of Magic several times before they accepted our independence. It was over primaries, Half-bloods, Squibs, and Muggle-borns as you call them.
"Do you know that Squibs historically score better in all non-wand magic subjects and theoretical testing than magicals at the Madison Academy? We do better at Potions too, except when you have to cast a spell or charm during brewing. We also interface with the primaries in industry and business more readily, so we've formed the backbone of our successful economy. We Squibs are quite often the breakthrough geniuses in American research and development labs, particularly in the smaller, more innovative companies. Remember, we avoid the big industry leaders to avoid too much attention."
Newcastle stopped abruptly, took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. "I'm sorry. Some idiot at the Three Broomsticks last night chatted me up for a while - a good-looking guy or I wouldn't have let him talk for thirty seconds. When he found out I was a Squib, he got all angry and loud, mouthing off. Your Hagrid came over and threatened to drag him by his ears through a keyhole. Not that I needed protecting, I have my ways, but I do appreciate chivalry.
"But you guys are Paladins, or at least three of you." Ginny looked a bit displeased by that, but Cilla did not see it. "You just don't know what we know, or haven't seen what we've seen. I'm sorry for getting on my high horse."
Ron said, "What horse?"
Newcastle chuckled, "You have to not be so literal if you are going to be around Americans. We have a lot of expressions and analogies that aren't exactly what we mean, but say what we mean."
"Are we going to be around more Americans, Cilla?" Hermione asked.
"Yes. Twelve of our finest rising sixth-years are coming here to join your Paladin Program. They're taking the potions and going through the program right now at the Madison Academy. They call themselves the Eagle Squadron after the U. S. Army Air Corps fighter pilots that fought for you in the Battle of Britain in WWII, before America entered the war."
By this time they'd walked downstairs to a large room about 50' x 100' and it was only barely lit. Newcastle turned on a light switch, something the two Weasleys were only vaguely familiar with, and their guide said, "Near null lighting. It's a variation on neon lights but instead of creating electronic interference they actually suck up stray magical power. Don't you love it when I use technical phrases like 'suck up?'" She chuckled, and so did Harry and Hermione.
After examining the overhead lighting, Hermione finally looked at the computers. She exclaimed, "Macintoshes!"
Hermione's joy knew no bounds. "My parents first bought Macs to run their dental practice ages ago. I've used a Mac since I was eight, I think it was. Are these special Macintoshes for the magical world?"
Cilla Newcastle said, "No, Macintoshes arrive wizard proof for most wizards if no more than two or three get near it in a normal house. They are just better-built and more reliable than the Windows PCs." Harry barely understood what was being said, at least about half of it. Ginny and Ron were completely lost.
"The entire idea for the Macintosh line of computers was for witches and wizards to be able to use them in small groups and for larger groups to use them with proper shielding. Watch it, Harry, please stay behind the yellow line." There were five-foot radius yellow circles on the floor around each computer. "Sorry, hon, we can't have you blowing them up, can we? And please, I forgot to tell you, in addition to keeping your hands covered, you can never take your wand out in here. You'll wreck the place. Sorry. I'll acquire a larger screen and an armored mouse and keyboard just for you. Maybe that will do. Give me two weeks, tops."
She turned back to Hermione, "Where was I? Oh, yes. Steve set out to make a computer for magicals, and got the best Squib minds in the electronics fields to help him."
"Steve Jobs is a Squib?" Hermione asked.
"He's a wizard, hon. He's the mastermind, but most of the design crew were Squibs, or primaries that have a life time association with the magical world.
"Of course, Steve did rather too well. They started out pricing them way too high to keep most primaries away, but they were still very superior to the DOS machines that he competed with. It's a hard and fast rule - no wizard-based technology company can lead the field. So Steve had to leave and let someone with a non-magical mind take the helm for a few years. Seems a terrible waste what they did to the Apple Computer Company.
"They even had to send several of our Squibs over to help get that pathetic Windows up and running. Billions spent on something called OS-2, and you'd wonder if they had a brain in their classical little heads there at Microsoft. We call them 'MightySoft.' Now those were muddling, muddy-headed Muggles!
"Finally Steve secretly became associated again with Apple a few months ago, and let me show you." Newcastle turned on the nearest Macintosh and after a few seconds a blue screen appeared. Hermione squealed with delight sending Ron for his wand before Cilla stopped him.
"You've got OS X! I've read about it, but it's not due for several years."
"It's one of the benefits of being a wizard with a personal computer, if it's a Mac, that is. The Madison Academy is an Alpha-W site. That's before a beta site, Hermione, and the W stands for Wizarding of course. The base core technology of Steve's Mach operating and compiler systems is now in Alpha-W testing. Even with bugs in it, if a wizard or witch is at the keyboard it starts up in a self-correcting mode. It's a debugging thing. Run a classical or Squib programmer next to a magical with an identical machine with the same code, and you can make comparisons on screen about what should and shouldn't be.
"This is the UNIX based Mach operating system that Steve developed when he was away from Apple. This is only the second porting to the Macintosh, but it's stable enough for you to use it, but not me though. I still use the beta versions of OS 8." Newcastle sighed with a longing look at the screen booting "OSX_A_W_v2."
After several more minutes, Newcastle noticed Ginny, Ron, and Harry were a bit bored. "I'm sorry you guys, I really had hoped to get to know you better ever since I saw your name on the list of Paladins."
Harry polished off his I'm-tired-of-being-adored look, and Ron gave him his doesn't-suck-too-much-to-be-you look.
"Ron, I've so been looking forward to meeting you," Newcastle said. "And here I meet two Weasleys on the same day. I can't wait to write home. I'll be the envy of all my friends and co-workers."
Good thing there weren't any stray feathers floating around the room, or two wizards and two witches would have been knocked over.
"Me?" said Ron.
"Yes, you and Ginny. Don't you know?"
"Know what?" asked Ginny.
Newcastle looked perplexed. "Don't you know how important your great-great-I-don't-know-how-many-greats-grandfather was to us in America? Every American school boy and girl in our world knows the name, Sir Percival Bilius Weasley."
Ron gulped and said, "He went to America to help found magic there?"
"No, Ron," said Cilla with a mischievous grin. "He came to America with a charter for the Salem Institute, and to capture or kill our founding mothers and fathers."
Author's Note - I played a little fast and loose with the timeline of Steve Jobs returning to Apple, and when and how the Mach operating system was first ported to the Mac from the NeXT machine. But I do maintain that the brains behind Apple computers are all wizards.