Chapter Fifteen: A Prelude to Politics
Armtwister dragged the dead wizard from his "master's" sight, relieved that the failings of this servant had deflected Zabini's anger from the disgrace of his clan. Spinedancer will not understand it if I die on this island, he thought, feeling again that he should never have agreed to come to this place of strange, shining stone and chalky earth. And the magic stinks even as deeply under the earth as I am in these caverns.
He left the corpse in an earthen room that was filled with bones as he had been directed to do before returning to the main chamber.
"You," Master Zabini ordered. "Come here and tell me again how this is possible."
"Your witch must be with the Friends of Merlin," Armtwister explained. "Those goblins must have prevented my clan-brothers from apprehending the one known beneath this earth as the Vanquisher."
"Can you lead what remains of your clan-brothers close enough to their hole to place the devices?"
"I will try, but—"
"—you will do it, or I'll use your bones as mortar to seal what is left of your useless clan into the chamber you just visited! I cannot believe that Throatripper sent me such as you to aid my efforts!"
"We will not fail you, wizard."
You'd better not, Zabini thought, as he watched the cowed goblins take up their bombs and leave. If the vote does not go my way, the destruction of Gringotts will certainly sway the minds of my noble peers.
Gringotts was constructed over the Great Goblin Hall, and lay not far from the Ministry of Magic.
Giancarlo had decided that, in addition to visiting the heads of the One Hundred, his preparations for the debate should also include planning for the defeat of his proposal.
If one cannot make people see sense, then one had better insure that they see nothing, ever again.
And since it seemed that he could not secure his nephew's bride before the debates, killing her seemed like a more than reasonable course of action to the wizard.
Zoroastrid, who had entered her husband's laboratory while he was in the process of murdering Gordon Macalister, coughed delicately.
"Yes, my love?"
"Darling, we have a visitor."
The wizard took his wife into his arms. "This person must be very important indeed for you to have interrupted my work."
"The Widow Snape has come to call, dearest."
"It seems we have misjudged her."
"She wants to help us sway the vote."
"She's just outside the door. I'll allow her to tell you herself."
"Calm yourself, darling. Azalea knows everything. She brought Lucius' missing journals."
Giancarlo released his wife and strode toward the door.
He opened it and said, "Good evening, Mrs. Snape—Azalea—welcome."
"Thank you, Giancarlo. How well you look," the lady said, kissing the man's cheek.
"My wife tells me that you have something for me."
A pile of levitating books floated in behind the witch, and Azalea directed them into the wizard's arms. He took them and then set them on a table without so much as a glance.
"I appreciate the return of these, but, tell me. How did you come by them?"
"That idiot Narcissa sent them to my son's godson, who had no interest in them at all. I noticed them while visiting Severus at Draco's flat, and decided to relieve the boy of them. It wouldn't do to have evidence that could be used against you surface to cause your plan to relieve us of that mudblood-loving Minister to be undermined, now would it be?"
"And how do you know anything of my plans, dear lady?"
"Come now, Giancarlo. I shan't tell you my secrets, but I will tell you this: I never supported your Dark Lord because he was insane and impure. You, however, are a steady, pure-blooded wizard, a man of vision, and one whom I stand ready to support."
"As do I," Zoroastrid said fervently.
Giancarlo was uncharacteristically touched by the glowing admiration on the faces of the witches, and he smiled. "Why, Azalea, you can take your seat as is your right as the Head of Snape House in August."
"The Snape name still means much to many of our peers. Yes, I will do that, of course—but I do not wish to be blown to bits should the vote not favor us," Azalea said, looking about the room pointedly.
Giancarlo laughed. "Don't trouble yourself. You will leave the chamber intact to watch the fate of those who work against the best interests of our society from a safe distance, I assure you."
"It's such a lovely old building," Zoroastrid said. "I hope that our friends see sense."
"Do not fret, dear," Azalea replied, patting the younger witch's hand. "I intend to make the social rounds with a vengeance before the debate. I'm certain that my being back in society can only help our cause."
"Excellent woman!" Giancarlo exclaimed. "Come, you must take tea with us in more congenial surroundings. I insist."
"Nothing would please me more, my dear—but tell me that you have something stronger to offer me than tea." You've never held your tongue or your drink, boy, and I want your mind loosened wide. "Getting here without Severus learning about it was quite a task. He's been unforgivably attentive of late!"
Harry stood in the empty hall that was to house her Family and her clan. "You've done wonderful work, and so quickly," she told the craftsgoblins.
"You honor us, Vanquisher," the chief of the craftsgoblins said, bowing. "Will the Protector also inspect our work before you furnish the hall?"
"Impertinence!" exclaimed Sharpclaw, who now served Harry as the Voice of the Gift Clan.
The craftsgoblin cringed. "Forgive me, I meant—"
"—no offence. None taken, truly. No, my husband's duties keep him Above, but I know he would wish me to express his gratitude for your efforts. You are a credit to the Goblinate."
The craftsgoblins excused themselves under the glare of Sharpclaw, who, once they were alone, informed Harry that "the clan-parents and their representatives will expect to meet you before the Gathering of the Clans begins officially at the Meeting of the Voices and your Presentation."
When the twelve clans had assembled, the Gift Clan would be officially welcomed into the Goblinate by Bonestorm and Bloodbrewer, the parents of the Ruling Clan.
Which means that Severus will soon be here, but I'm not ready, Harry thought, concerned. For although Sharpclaw had agreed to serve her, the Gift Clan had no warriors, a state of affairs that could hinder her chances of being asked to serve as the Voice of the Goblinate.
"Sharpclaw, would it offend anyone if I invited into my clan wizards and witches?"
"No, I think not, for you are a witch—though I do think it would be prudent to include goblin warriors into the Gift Clan, Mother Snape."
It had been impossible, once Sharpclaw had accepted his new position, to dissuade him from referring to her by that title.
Harry sighed. "I'm not sure how to go about arranging that," she admitted.
"Mother Snape, perhaps you might like to meet the prisoners we captured trespassing on our territory? They will die for their transgression unless someone can put them to use."
"How many of them are there?"
"Forty of them."
"And that's more than enough goblins to create a creditable honor guard, isn't it? Take me to them, Sharpclaw."
Toothyanker rose to meet his death like a goblin as Sharpclaw and Harry entered his cell. "I die with stone in my heart!" he cried, while his thirty-nine clan-brothers cheered him.
"Are your pick-axes so rusty that death is now all you are fit for, brothers of the Earthmover Clan?"
"I do not speak to the females of the wizards," Toothyanker retorted, spitting upon the ground at Harry's feet through the bars of his cell.
Silence fell as the witch disappeared from Sharpclaw's side to appear behind the defiant prisoner and bend him to the stones. They struggled, but at last Harry pinned him and wrenched open his mouth.
"Lick back your offence, digger, or I will cut out your tongue and teeth and make you a gum-muncher for the despisement of all!"
Goblins were prodigiously strong, and Toothyanker was justifiably terrified of the slender, ugly woman. He quickly lapped up his spittle from the filthy, glowing stone before the strange female spawn of what had to have been a pair of demons could make good on her promise.
Harry released the goblin and drew him up easily from the floor.
"I ask you again, is your pick-axe so rusty that death is now all you are fit for?"
Sharpclaw watched his clan-mother with keen appreciation as Toothyanker and the other members of the Earthmover Clan considered Friend Harry's question. You know she's no thigh-mistress now, don't you?