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Complete header information may be found in Chapter One. You may find all parts of this story by clicking the Remembrance and Reunion tag.

Chapter Fourteen: Negotiating Customs

The news of Bill Weasley's miraculous recovery was on the front page of the Daily Prophet the next morning, and the Wizarding Wireless Service was buzzing with pundits essaying possible explanations for it. Thus far, Minister Weasley had issued only a brief statement of thanks to the public for the expressions of goodwill his family had received, but had not provided any details about his eldest son's condition.

Arthur, though overjoyed by Bill's improvement, had been forced to leave that young man's side to attend to Ministry matters. He was currently in a meeting with a representative of the Muggle government, a man who spoke for the queen of his people.

"Her Majesty is most concerned about recent developments, Minister Weasley, and has asked me to convey to you her continued support of Gringotts. She feels that to permit the establishment of a new financial institution in Britain's Wizarding society might very well undermine both its stability and the security of all her realm."

Arthur did not bristle at the other man's assumption that his government was part of the Muggle queen's. When Fudge had explained to him about the connection between the Muggle royals and Merlin, and of how every wizarding minister had negotiated with whomever ruled the Muggle part of the isles since the incorporation of Wizard Parliament, he had been stunned. Such a situation ran counter to everything he had ever known about his culture, but he understood the pragmatic nature of the unsigned agreement.

There are far fewer of us than there are of them. "I understand, Ambassador Bowles, yet it is not in my power to prevent our parliament from voting on the proposal, and the idea of the bank has taken hold of my people's imagination."

"I see. Will there be some formal debate on the proposal?"

"Yes, in August."

"I trust that you intend to speak against it?"

"Of course."

"I have another concern, one that touches on the possible influence of the Wizarding governments of France and Italy on members of your Great Houses."

"I am aware that . . . outside interests are attempting to sway members of parliament to vote for the establishment of the Wizard Bank of Merlin, Sir."

"What are you doing about it?"

"Ambassador, that question borders on the impertinent."

"Forgive me, Minister Weasley. I only meant to—"

"—you may convey my regards to Queen Elizabeth on behalf of her . . . friends in the Wizarding realm, Sir," Arthur said firmly, rising from his chair, "and assure her that I am doing all I can to persuade the citizens of my corner of Britain to see sense."

"Her Majesty will not tolerate foreign powers acting upon her soil," Ambassador Bowles replied haughtily, though he rose, as well.

"Neither will I, Sir."

"Excellent."

The two men shook hands, and Arthur walked his guest to the door.

"It's a pity that your parliament remains open only to the heads of the Great Houses, Sir. Popular opinion would go a long way toward swaying the vote of the One Hundred, you know."

"Indeed I do, which is why I intend to make the debates open to the public."

"That is good to know, Sir!"

"I'm pleased you approve," Arthur replied dryly. "Our system of government is somewhat antiquated," he said pointedly, "but it has served us tolerably well. The Muggle world has no idea of its magical neighbors because of it."

"This is," Bowles remarked as he stepped through the door, "largely true. Your Merlin laid the foundations, and our Queen Elizabeth—the first Elizabeth—established several policies between our peoples that have greatly aided in keeping the existence of the magical inhabitants of this realm a secret."

Oh, good. You've done your homework. "And I'm certain that my people would appreciate the support of the Muggle queen if they knew about her interest in keeping them safe, of course."

"But that would never do."

"No, it would not."

"Nor would it be wise to see civil war come to wizard-kind."

"I assure you, Ambassador Bowles, I am very clear on that point. Good day to you, Sir." I hope to Merlin that it doesn't come to that. I've seen enough of war.

***

When Harry woke up on her fourth morning in her rooms in the Great Goblin Hall, it was to find yet more heavy leather volumes being added to the books in her study.

"Good morning," she said to a goblin, who looked much like any Gringott's employee she had ever seen, who was adding to her growing research library.

"Vanquisher. I have brought a history of your father's line, and also several books on the laws of the clans, their history, and etiquette, as you requested."

"I didn't ask for the genealogy."

"No. Brother Cracknuckle suggested that you might find it useful."

"Thank him for me, please."

"Of course. When you have eaten, there is a deputation of thigh-mistresses from Sister Gnashstrangle to see you. She is the wife of Cracknuckle, and would attend you herself, save that her pregnancy prevents it."

The witch knew that the clerk was being polite. She'd learned from her reading that a pregnant goblin abhorred the company of any female of breeding age who had failed to birth a live child. Goblins had great difficulty during pregnancy, and were very superstitious about the process.

"I'll join them directly, Brother . . . ."

"Sharpclaw, Vanquisher. I am at your service."

"Thank you. Sharpclaw?"

"Yes, Vanquisher?"

"Could I possibly persuade you to call me Harry?"

"As you wish, Mother Harry."

"Sister Harry."

"As you wish, clan-sister Harry."

Well, that's a start, the witch thought, grateful for the clan affiliation that made the goblin so ready to abandon more formal titles.

"Clan-sister Harry?"

"Yes, clan-brother Sharpclaw?"

"Cracknuckle has asked me to convey to you that Friend Snape is concerned about you."

"Does . . . does Severus know that I'm here?"

"Not yet—that is, no—but the Voice of the Bones Family is compelled to speak to Friend Snape of what he knows about your whereabouts, should our clan-brother ask him directly. Cracknuckle would like to know if you would like to contact your husband," Sharpclaw said, looking rather uncomfortable.

"Please ask Brother Cracknuckle to join me in the Heart for the midday meal if he is able to do so."

"He will certainly be able to do so, Sister Harry."

"Excellent."

Sharpclaw seemed grateful to leave her then, and Harry ate rapidly so that she would not keep the thigh-mistresses waiting long.

"Oh, Vanquisher! You are known to us. Mother Gnashstrangle had bidden us to prepare you for the Gathering of the Clans."

"Prepare me?"

"Yes. Your Family must have a clan crest and colors."

"Forgive me. You are?"

"She asks our names!" a young-looking thigh-mistress squealed.

The older goblin woman who had first spoken to Harry smacked the excited girl on the back of her head. "Be silent! The Vanquisher is teasing us."

"No, I am not. I wish to know your names, so that I don't have to address you by your . . . function."

All three of the goblin ladies-in-waiting gasped in astonishment and pride.

Harry addressed the spokesgoblin of the three. "You are?"

"Sineweaver, and this is Marrowmasher," she said, indicating the goblin who had not yet spoken. "Tonguepuller has made herself known to you," she continued in a disapproving tone.

"Tell me, Sineweaver, do you not give your clan affiliation because you serve the Mother of the Bones Clan?"

"Oh, no, Vanquisher. We are but thigh-mistresses. Our lineage matters not."

Hermione would be incensed, Harry thought. I'm incensed. "Well, it matters to me."

"See!" Tonguepuller exclaimed. "I told you the Vanquisher would be diff—ow!"

"Sineweaver! I do not wish for you to cuff a clan-sister for speaking."

The goblin looked thoroughly shocked. Marrowmasher spoke to cover her clan-sister's confusion.

"We are sisters, Friend Harry. Daughters of Razortooth, wife of Cracknuckle."

"Wouldn't that make you daughters of—wait—Cracknuckle has two wives?"

"No, our mother has left us, Vanquisher," Sineweaver answered. "Gnashstrangle is our father's second wife."

"Oh, I see. I'm very sorry for your loss."

"We did not lose her, Friend Harry. She died," Marrowmasher said, appearing confused.

"It is a wizarding custom, you gum-muncher, to express condolences."

"Sineweaver," Harry said patiently, "please, would you refrain from cuffing and the use of expletives?"

She had learned that "gum-muncher" was as foul a term to goblins as "mudblood" was to wizards.

"As you wish."

"Now then, is it customary for a clan-mother to select her crest and colors without the participation of her husband?"

"Give her the box, Tonguepuller," Marrowmasher instructed.

The young goblin did so, and Harry opened it to reveal an intricate silver ring, wrought to represent a pair of coiling serpents. One had glowing green gems set into it as eyes, the other black stones which seemed to shine, and when the witch touched it, the snakes slithered through their coils in a seamless circular movement.

"This is very fine. But what is it?"

"The Sigil of Authorization of the Snape Family of the Gift Clan. We expected that you would want your crest to be of the same design. Would that please you?" Sineweaver asked.

"Yes, and I think that our family's colors should be black and green."

"Yes, the green of your eyes," Marrowmasher said approvingly. "It will be done."

Tonguepuller clasped her hands together in excitement, reminding Harry powerfully of Dobby.

"Yes?"

"I can't wait to start sewing!"

"Yes," said Sineweaver, gracing her sister with a look of fondness before turning to Harry. "Have you your husband's measurements?"

The question caught the witch off-guard.

"Just the one," she said before she could stop herself.

The goblin ladies giggled in appreciative amusement.

"Perhaps you would like us to send for the Protector?" Sineweaver asked.

Ah, Severus has another fancy title, I see.

"I'll know more about my . . . husband's plans later this afternoon."

After Cracknuckle's daughters had left her, Harry found herself feeling uneasy again, but not completely because she was nervous about seeing Severus. There was a great deal to do to prepare herself for the battle to come. Only this time, she'd be fighting in the political arena.

I've gone completely nutters, haven't I?

Her plan was to parlay her clan affiliation and the respect in which the goblin's held her to be appointed the Voice of the Goblinate, so that she could address the members of Wizard Parliament—and cast a vote there. Harry knew that, in the forthcoming debate of that assembly, her opinion would be influential to both the general wizarding population and the heads of the Great Houses who would vote on the proposed bank.

But what they are truly voting on has nothing to do with finances, Harry told herself. I've got to do what I can to avoid further bloodshed among my people. . . . All of my people.