WARNING: Major character death in this part! Remember that there is time travel coming up to fix it. Also there is a small amount of dialogue taken from Goblet of Fire.
Long after the snores of his year mates surrounded him, Harry lay in bed and thought about the conversation in the kitchen. Dobby had been enthusiastic about his situation, declaring his happiness to be a free elf despite the hardships he was now enduring. There was just something about it that didn’t ring true to Harry.
After all, Harry had also spent years yearning to be away from his awful home situation, and if he was given a choice of staying in that toxic life or living by himself, he’d be out the Dursley’s door in a second.
But that didn’t mean that Harry didn’t long for a family of his own, a family that would love him and care about him. Wasn’t that what he hoped to achieve with Sirius, if he could only get his name cleared? The thought of living with Sirius, a link to his parents and a man who had risked his life and very soul for him, because he loved him, had powered a patronus that had driven off over a hundred dementors.
Hermione was sure that Dobby was happy free, and that Dobby’s preference for freedom proved that all elves could be happy free from their bonded masters. But the response she was getting from every single elf aside from Dobby gave the lie to that theory. And she wasn’t asking Dobby the right questions to get all the information, both because she wanted to be right, and because she was desperate to free the elves from what she saw as slavery.
Sitting up, Harry decided the best thing to do was have a chat with Dobby, a chat where hopefully he wouldn’t feel the need to prevaricate since there would only be the two of them there. And there was no time like the present.
“Dobby!” Harry called softly, unsurprised when Dobby appeared almost instantly with a soft pop. Dobby looked overjoyed that Harry had called him, ears flapping wildly and his whole body quivering with happiness.
“Harry Potter sir has called for Dobby! What can Dobby be doing for the Great Harry Potter sir?”
“Shhh!” Harry shushed the excitable elf. “Dobby, I’d like to speak with you for a while, but I don’t want anyone else hearing. Is there a way for you to make it so our conversation can’t be overheard?”
Dobby nodded energetically, and snapped his fingers.
“Dobby is making it so that nobody outside the curtains is knowing about anything that is going on inside the curtains, Harry Potter sir. Harry Potter sir wants to talk to Dobby?” Dobby fixed his large bulbous eyes on Harry’s face. Harry frowned slightly.
“And you and I are the only ones on this side of the curtains? Last year we found out that Ron’s pet rat was actually the Death Eater that betrayed my parents to Voldem-” Harry broke off at Dobby’s flinch, and amended what he was saying “-that is, You-Know-Who, and he’d been sleeping one bed away from me for three years. Can you do anything to check that no one else is in here with us?”
Dobby nodded decisively before he brought his hands together sharply, holding them that way for a moment.
“Dobby used pest expelling magic, Harry Potter sir. Dobby and Harry Potter is the only ones here now sir.”
“Thank you, Dobby.” Harry sighed as Dobby’s eyes filled with tears, and waited through the resulting declarations of how wonderful Harry Potter sir was to be thanking Dobby. When Dobby had finished, Harry opened his mouth to start, and then hesitated. How should he go about this?
“Dobby, I want to tell you some things, including about my life at the Dursleys’, and ask you a couple of questions. But first, you have to promise me that you will listen, and not go anywhere or do anything until after I’ve finished. Okay?”
“Yes, Harry Potter sir. Dobby promises to listen, and stay sitting right here.” Dobby sat himself down firmly on the bed, facing Harry and looking at him attentively.
So Harry haltingly told Dobby all about growing up with the Dursleys, living in the cupboard, doing all the chores, being underfed, how they encouraged Dudley and his friends to bully him and spread rumours around the neighbourhood that he was a budding criminal. How Dudley made it impossible to make friends, that he had to wear Dudley’s enormous cast offs, that even his glasses came from the charity bin. How whenever he did accidental magic he was locked in his cupboard for days on end, and how he grew up being told that his parents were worthless nobodies who died drunk in the car crash where he got his scar. How he had wished with all his heart that he had other relatives that might take him, or his parents would come back and he would find out that it was all a misunderstanding, and that of course they loved him and would take him away to live with them. It wasn’t easy, and Harry had to keep stopping and starting, but he got it all out in the end.
Dobby sat listening, his already huge eyes widening and regularly filling with tears. He twisted his long thin fingers together, and his ears drooped limply on either side of his face.
“I’m telling you this, Dobby, because I want you to understand that I know what it’s like to want to be free at any cost. If I could never see my relatives again, if I could be shot of them… I would be so happy. I don’t think words can really describe it.” Harry hesitated for a moment, and then powered on ahead.
“But Dobby, while it would be wonderful if I could leave the Dursleys behind forever, it would be even more wonderful if I could live with Sirius, like he wants me to. He’s my godfather and he loves me, Dobby, and he wants us to be a family, but he was never given a trial and instead was just thrown into prison. Dumbledore won’t let me live with him while he’s on the run, although I would. I would, Dobby, I’d leave Hogwarts and live on the run with him if I could.” Harry stopped his impassioned declaration, breathing hard, and spent a few moments calming himself down.
“The reason I’m telling you all this, Dobby, is that I know how happy you are that you’re no longer bound to the Malfoys. I completely see that being free of the Malfoys would be worth the social stigma of being an unbonded elf, even an elf that wants to be paid in recognition of the service he performs. But I just want to be sure that being free is what you really want, rather than just being free of awful masters.” Harry took in Dobby’s woebegone face. “It’s just us here, Dobby. And I’d like to know what you truly want. If you could have everything. I promise I won’t be angry, no matter what you say.”
Dobby’s fingers were almost tied into knots. His eyes had dropped to the bed.
“Harry Potter sir is so very kind to bad Dobby.” The little elf whispered so quietly Harry had to strain to hear him. “Dobby would like a family to take care of very much, but nobody wants Dobby because he has been given clothes. Even Professor Dumbledore won’t bond Dobby and Winky to the castle.” Dobby was quiet for a moment, before he looked back up at Harry. “But the Great Harry Potter understands how Dobby feels. Dobby would prefer a short life in the castle, unbonded to a family than a long life with Bad Malfoys.”
“Wait.” Harry said sharply, straightening up from where he had slumped against the headboard. “What do you mean, ‘a short life in the castle’? Why will your life be short in the castle?”
Dobby looked taken aback.
“House elves need magic, Harry Potter sir. When Dobby was bound to Bad Malfoys, Dobby got his magic from them. It was bad, Harry Potter sir, nasty. Dobby didn’t like it. But then the Great Harry Potter freed Dobby, and he didn’t feel sick with bad magic anymore. But Dobby was without any magic for two years while looking for new masters. Dobby with no bond can live for ten years if he doesn’t use magic. In Hogwarts, the castle supplies magic for duties, but with no bond there is none left over for Dobby.”
Harry was aghast. By freeing Dobby, he had also sentenced him to death? Why did no one tell him these things?
“Dobby, would you like to bond to my family?” Harry was sure this was the right thing to do. He’d just have to convince Hermione later. Or maybe not tell her. “I’m happy to pay you if you like, and I’m not sure how much work I’d have for you to do until I leave school…”
“The Great Harry Potter sir would take Dobby as his very own house elf?” Dobby was transformed momentarily into a quivering bundle of happiness, before he deflated. “But if Dobby becomes Harry Potter’s elf then he will no longer be allowed to be working at Hogwarts and helping look after the Great Harry Potter and Winky. What will Winky do with no Dobby to take care of her?”
“What about my godfather?” Harry suggested. “Would Winky like to look after him, and be his house elf? Or maybe you could look after him while I’m here at Hogwarts. That way you’d have work to do, and I’d be happy knowing Sirius had some help. He came back to help me with the tournament, you see, despite how dangerous it is. He’s not far from here, and it wouldn’t take long to send him a letter. It would be better if I could speak to him face to face, but it’s too hard to get in and out of the castle, and I hate it when he puts himself in danger to have access to a floo.”
“Dobby can take the Great Harry Potter to see his Dogfather, yes he can! Dobby isn’t bonded, and there are no rules against it! When Dobby is Harry Potter’s elf, he will have to follow the castle’s rules, but right now there is nothing to stop him!” Harry gaped at the little elf in astonishment.
“Are you telling me that unbonded elves can just go wherever they want?” Harry asked to be sure that he had heard Dobby right. A thought occurred to him. “But you were popping into Hogwarts all the time while you were still bonded to the Malfoys.”
“Dobby wasn’t coming to work for nasty Malfoys, so the ‘no coming to work for your families while they’re being at school’ wasn’t broken,” Dobby assured Harry.
Harry blinked. “You mean… the wards aren’t an actual barrier to you, just a signpost saying what is and isn’t allowed?”
“Wizards aren’t making any kind of magic that is being a barrier to house elves, Harry Potter sir. But Elves are never going where they’re not supposed to be. We is having rules to follow, we is. Laid down on us in Ancient times by angry druids.”
“What rules are they?”
“Elves are not going anywhere if they is not having permission to be there,” Dobby recited. “Elves is not purposefully harming humans or part humans with magic. Elves is not exceeding population parameters set down in big book.”
Harry frowned. “Dobby, you used magic to get a couple of bludgers to attack me and knock me off my broom. How is that not harming me?”
Dobby gasped, eyes wide. “Dobby was saving the Great and Wonderful Harry Potter’s life! He was helping him, not hurting him!”
Harry shook his head. This wasn’t going anywhere, and besides, it was getting off topic. “So, does that mean you’d be able to take me to see Sirius?”
“Oh yes, Harry Potter sir, Dobby can take you there and back in a jiffy!” Dobby jumped and grabbed Harry’s hands, and before Harry knew what was happening he was shivering in a cave, directly in front of his very surprised godfather. “Dobby be bringing some food and drink and Winky!” he announced, before either wizard could speak, popping away again.
“What in Merlin’s name-” Sirius began. Before he could finish his sentence, Dobby was back.
“Dobby is bringing roast chicken, and potatoes, and pumpkin, and carrots, and peas, and beans, and-”
“Thank you, Dobby,” Harry said hurriedly, even as Sirius fell on the feast that had appeared before him like a starving man. “Hello Winky, I’d like you to meet my godfather, Sirius Black. He was framed by a death eater and sent to Azkaban with no trial, and now he’s come back to Britain to protect me even though he’ll be kissed if he’s caught. As you can see he really needs a good elf to take care of him, would you be interested in bonding with him?”
Even listing slightly to one side, Winky managed to peer at him suspiciously. “Winky is not telling Master Crouch’s secrets. Not even if Winky is bonding to a new Master!”
Harry was taken aback. “Of course not. I’m sure you would show the same loyalty to Sirius, and keep his secrets too.”
“Of course Winky would! Winky is a good elf!” She hiccoughed, and swayed again, her expression turning mournful. “Winky was a good elf.”
“Well, what about it?” Harry asked, ignoring the way Sirius’ eyes had gone wide with alarm. If it wasn’t important enough to stop chewing, then it was unlikely to be all that important.
“Winky will!” she declared.
Dobby made a noise that resembled what Harry thought a surprised seal would sound like, only louder. “Dobby always knew how Great and Wonderful Harry Potter was!”
Sirius crouched there, a piece of chicken in one hand and a cold roast potato in the other. “Harry? Is this really happening?”
Harry nodded. “Dobby and I were talking, and it occurred to me that if you and Winky bonded then you would both be better off. Winky will have the bond and magic that she needs, and you will have someone to make sure that you eat properly. Not to mention that with her help you’ll no longer need to skulk about in caves in order to be available to me.”
Sirius looked at the chicken, and then over to Winky. “Is there a reason that you didn’t bond with her yourself?”
“As soon as this tournament is over I’m going to ask Dobby if he wants to bond with me,” Harry replied firmly.
Dobby made the seal noise again, before pulling on his ears and giving Harry a wide-eyed beseeching look. “The Great Harry Potter will ask Dobby to be his house elf? Oh, Dobby has never been happier in his life! But Dobby won’t be bonding with the Great Harry Potter sir until the Great Harry Potter sir no longer goes to school at Hogwarts. Dobby would not be happy being kept away from his master, no he would not!”
Harry smiled. “Provided that waiting that long doesn’t hurt you, I agree.”
Sirius shrugged then stuffed the potato in his mouth. By the time he’d finished chewing, he appeared to have come to some conclusion. As he swallowed his mouthful, he squared his shoulders and turned to face Winky properly.
“Winky, I offer you a bond with me, and through me the House of Black.”
“Winky accepts,” she whispered in response.
There was a feeling not unlike static electricity, and then Winky was straightening up, no longer looking inebriated. She cast a swift glance around at the cave that her new master had been inhabiting, and a determined glint came into her eye.
“Wow, that’s great!” Harry said enthusiastically. “Now, find somewhere better and safer to stay, and I’ll try and visit tomorrow night. I should really be getting back to bed now, classes tomorrow, you know? You two enjoy getting to know each other. Dobby? Can you take me back to my bed please?”
The last thing Harry saw before he was whisked away by elf magic was Sirius’ mouth twitching up in a smile.
After that, Harry saw a lot more of Sirius. Dobby popped him to wherever Sirius was most nights. At first, Harry was worried that Dobby was using up his magic too fast.
“Oh no,” Dobby assured him. “The Great Harry Potter is a student at Hogwarts, and so Dobby can use castle-magic to help him out. There is being no drain on Dobby’s magic at all.”
Also, Sirius was no longer squatting in a squalid cave. He was now ensconced in one of the darkest, gloomiest, dirtiest houses that Harry had ever seen.
“It’s the house I grew up in,” Sirius told him. “My mother was stark raving mad, and her house elf wasn’t much better. Winky has taken him firmly in hand though, and assures me that she can have this place set to rights within a few months.”
“Wow,” Harry said, impressed. “She wasn’t put off by all the… everything?”
Sirius gave a short bark of laughter. “Are you kidding me? She looked like all her birthdays had come at once! She even managed to get rid of my mother’s portrait. The mad thing was all smug that it had been put on the wall with a permanent sticking charm, so Winky just replaced that part of the wall. It was worth coming back to this hellhole just to see my mother put in her place by a house elf!”
“Are you going to be alright here alone?” Harry asked, feeling a little worried.
“I won’t be by myself for long,” Sirius assured him. “Moony will be coming to stay in a few months, once he’s finished up with a job he agreed to do in Italy. But here, this is what I really wanted to show you.”
The room that Sirius showed him was clearly a library, freshly cleaned and smelling slightly of citrus. Several comfy looking chairs and a long couch were practically inviting people to sit in them, small but sturdy looking side tables within easy reach. One wall was devoted to shelves containing large, heavy looking books. Another wall had a smaller set of shelves attached to a lectern. The lectern had a book already open on it, an inkpot and quill next to it.
Sirius was quivering with anticipation. Harry looked at him sideways.
“The Black Library is one of the biggest wizarding repositories in the world!” Sirius said, throwing his hands in the air. “We can use it to help you with the Tournament!”
“Ah, no offence, Sirius,” Harry said carefully, looking at the number of books crowding the shelves in front of him, “but I’m pretty sure that the library at Hogwarts is over ten times this size.”
“This isn’t all the books, of course,” Sirius said with some exasperation, shaking his head. “The collection is kept in a blood-warded vault at Raven Rock. It would be madness to keep something so valuable right in the middle of London, regardless of how good the protections on the house are.”
“Well then, how is that going to help me?” Harry replied. “Is there some sort of floo connection? Although, since I’m not a Black I’m not sure how that would be any better.”
Sirius looked at him assessingly. “Your grandmother was Dorea Black,” he replied slowly. “Given permission by the Head of House, which is me, that would be enough to get you past the blood protections.”
“She was?” Harry asked, surprised. “Then we’re related?”
Sirius abruptly sat down in the nearest chair. “Harry, how is it that you don’t know who your grandparents were?”
Harry snorted. “What, did you think the Dursleys were going to tell me all about it?” he asked. “Even if they did know, they’d rather set themselves on fire than spend time talking to me about ‘that freak business’.”
“But Dumbledore,” Sirius tried. “He took over magical guardianship of you. Did he never explain how important knowing your family lines is in society? Or Moony, why didn’t he tell you this?”
“When would all this ‘telling’ have happened?” Harry said. “I never even knew I had magic until my eleventh birthday. The Dursleys told me my father was a drunk, my mother was a whore, and that they died in a car accident leaving me penniless and a burden on decent people. Then Hagrid brought me my letter, told me I was a wizard, and took me to Diagon Alley to get my school gear. I never even saw Dumbledore in person until the opening feast.”
“But-” Sirius broke off. He tried again. “And Moony?”
Harry shrugged. “I met him on the train in third year,” he said. “He mentioned during the year that he’d known my father, but it wasn’t until the big confrontation in the shrieking shack that I discovered how close they’d been. I’ll always be grateful to him for teaching me the patronus but I don’t really know him.”
“This is not how it was supposed to go,” Sirius said blankly. “Harry, you’re the heir to more than one house, you have hereditary seats on the Wizengamot. There are things that you should have spent your life learning.”
Harry shifted uncomfortably. He’d always known that there was a lot he didn’t know about the magical world, but it had never really worried him until now. He’d thought that he was just another guy, Boy-Who-Lived thing aside, and since he wasn’t planning a high profile career he figured that he could get away with concentrating his energies on whatever was trying to kill him at the time.
“Right,” Sirius said, sounding determined. “Looks like we have a lot to go through. Quite frankly, aside from the imminent peril aspect, the Tri-Wizard tournament might end up being the least of your problems. Dumbledore either wants you ignorant or couldn’t care less that you are. Either way, as far as I’m concerned he’s lost all right to have a say.”
“We are still going to be using the library to help me with the Tri-Wizard tournament, though, aren’t we?” Harry asked. “Because the ‘imminent peril’ thing is a real attention grabber, and I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to concentrate otherwise.”
“Of course we will,” Sirius replied bracingly. “What’s more, I’m no longer going to take your knowledge of anything for granted. I’m going to treat you like a first-year muggleborn who never received the introductory material.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” Harry said with a wince. “Especially since I don’t know what introductory material you’re talking about. I got my letter and a supply list. I take it there should have been more?”
“I suppose since you’re not technically a muggle-born it might have been overlooked,” Sirius raised his eyebrows. “But there seems to be a theme emerging, and I don’t like it one bit. So. Can I assume that you did not make a Will before getting on the train to Hogwarts?”
“Ah, no?” Harry blinked with surprise. “Don’t you have to be of age before a Will becomes legal?”
Sirius shook his head. “Making a Will is a rite of passage for most heirs at eleven,” he said. “While you don’t reach your majority until seventeen, at eleven you are allowed control over personally owned non-entailed holdings, and are therefore allowed to bequeath them as you choose. Also, as the last of your line you should designate a successor. This is where knowing your family tree inside out has its advantages. We should get onto that right away.”
Harry sighed, but nodded agreeably. Looks like he’d signed up for a lot more homework.
‘A lot’ didn’t really convey the reality of the volume of material that Sirius expected them to get through. Luckily, he’d discovered an ancient full-day time turner in the vault at Raven Rock which made things a lot easier. Dobby would take Harry over to Sirius early on Saturday morning; they would spend the day immersed in family lore, politics, history and magical theory. After a huge and delicious dinner, Sirius would go over the practical side of Harry’s magic use, making sure that Harry knew the spellwork backwards. Quite literally, in some cases. They also covered a much wider range of spells than Harry had been learning at school.
“Your school books are supposed to give you enough exposure to the different forms of casting that you build up a good basis to learn all the others without direct tuition,” Sirius explained. “Sometimes a more complicated but less efficient spell is taught in class because it’s important that you get used to using the correct wand movements. That’s what they’re testing you for on your OWLs. Oh, you can pick up bonus points here and there with interesting spells, but what they’re most interested in is your basic technique and your basic knowledge base. NEWTs are focussed on the more esoteric aspects of magic; they’re where you can get assistance to be more creative.”
With that in mind, Sirius had them working from a huge tome called ‘The Compendium of Spells’.
“It’s not up-to-date,” Sirius told him. “There’s an updating process that was discontinued sometime between my father dying and my grandfather’s death. But for our purposes, it’s close enough.”
“How hard is it to do the updates?” Harry asked.
Sirius shrugged. “It’s more time consuming than anything,” he replied. “You have to manually add the new spells in, making sure you’ve attached the correct labels and level quantifiers. Then the book rearranges itself so that everything is put in its correct place and can be found within its category.”
All of which meant that now Harry knew a lot more spells than he had before, and Sirius was drilling him on them once a week.
“There’s no point learning them if you forget them almost immediately. Also, this is a good exercise for both your magic reserves and your technical casting. Haven’t your teachers explained this to you? What exactly are they teaching you?”
The day would usually end with Sirius and Harry drinking hot chocolate in the library while Sirius told Harry stories about his parents and grandparents. The next morning, Harry and Sirius would use the time-turner and Dobby would pop Harry back to Hogwarts within a minute or two of him leaving.
At first, Harry was tempted to tell Ron and Hermione about his extra lessons, but two things stopped him. Firstly, he was still wary of Ron. They might have become friends again after the first task, but that didn’t mean that Harry felt he could trust him the way he used to. Ron’s jealousy hadn’t disappeared, after all, and it was unlikely that discovering that Harry was learning estate management for when he gained control of his properties and titles upon his majority was going to improve matters.
Then there was Hermione, who seemed to think that since Ron was no longer being a git of the first order Harry no longer needed quite as much help. She was spending a great deal of her free time working on SPEW, doing her best to drum up interest with impassioned speeches to anyone who would stand still long enough to listen. Harry wasn’t particularly looking forward to telling her all about how he’d been directly responsible for Winky bonding herself to the House of Black, nor that he intended to bond Dobby as soon as he left school.
So he kept his extra time with Sirius to himself. He justified it in his own head by pointing out to himself that neither Hermione nor Ron shared all the details of their home life with him, and since Sirius was the closest thing Harry would ever have to a parent then the time they were spending together fell under the same category.
To be honest, Harry just kind of wanted to keep Sirius to himself for a while.
When McGonagall took Harry aside and informed him that he would need to lead the opening dance with the other champions, Harry had a moment of panic, before remembering that Sirius would be able to help him.
“I don’t even know how to dance!” Harry exclaimed at their next meeting after relating McGonagall’s news.
Sirius frowned. “This ties into something I wanted to talk to you about. I’ve done some investigating, and you should have received a copy of the rules and regulations for the Tournament. Since you haven’t mentioned them, I take it this was something else that has been ‘overlooked’?”
“Of course,” Harry snorted. This was becoming such a recurring theme he was no longer surprised. “Maybe I could ask Cedric if I could borrow his copy next Saturday?”
“Bring it here and I’ll make a copy,” Sirius agreed. “Then we can see exactly what’s required and what isn’t. Personally, if anyone other than Moody was claiming that the Cup was confounded, I’d be extremely sceptical. It just doesn’t make sense that such a simple charm could result in your magic being bound to the competition against your will.”
This time when Harry tried to have a word with Cedric he faced a lot less open suspicion.
“Of course you can borrow my copy,” Cedric assured him with some surprise. “I thought you would have received a copy the night of the drawing, the same as I did.”
“Nope,” Harry said with a sigh. “Thanks for this, Cedric. I can have it back to you tomorrow; I just need to see if there is some way I can get out of this ruddy Yule Ball.”
“Good luck with that,” Cedric replied sympathetically. “Even if I wasn’t a champion I wouldn’t be able to back out now. Cho is really looking forward to it, and I’d rather face the dragon again than suffer through her wrath.”
Sirius made two copies, and he and Harry pored over them all day. In the end, it was inconclusive.
“Most of the language talks about the requirements that ‘the Three Champions’ must fulfil,” Sirius noted, rubbing his eyes with his finger and thumb. “That’s better for you than if they used language like ‘each Champion’, but it’s still slightly ambiguous. You could argue that as the ‘fourth’, you shouldn’t be considered as one of the ‘Three’, but it could be counter-argued that the ‘Three’ should be taken to mean ‘All’.
“Your real best bet is in the wording in the opening clause. ‘In volunteering as a Champion of the- blah, blah, blah, -successful applicant agrees to the following-’. I think that provided you could prove that you didn’t volunteer, that your name was entered without your permission, you could be excused from any official Tri-Wizard activities aside from the actual tasks themselves.”
“Well, how would I go about proving that?” Harry asked, throwing his hands up in the air. “If I knew how to do that I would have done it at the start of this whole mess, and maybe I wouldn’t have had to deal with the entire school turning against me, again.”
Sirius grinned wickedly. “You make a request in front of the whole school – at dinner or something – to be taken to Gringotts in order to have a statement about your unwilling involvement Notarised by the goblins. It’s a brilliant move – under law no one can insist that you do this, but then they also can’t insist that you don’t. It’s a safe method for underage witches and wizards since your life and magic aren’t at stake. It costs five hundred galleons, but you can afford that easily. Worth it, one piece of paper will turn you from the arrogant blowhard cheater into the persecuted but brave underdog. What’s more, no one will be able to argue against the results! Anyone who tries to say that you faked it will find themselves on the bad side of Gringotts, which is not something anyone with any sense will want to risk.”
“And I won’t have to go to this stupid dance!” Harry realised. “Let’s do it!”
Harry didn’t waste any time putting their plan into action. At dinner that same Saturday, he went over to return Cedric’s copy of the rules and regulations before making his way to the head table. By the time he was standing in front of McGonagall, the great hall had gone quiet. Every eye was upon him.
“Professor McGonagall,” he began. “As the Head of Gryffindor, I ask that you escort me to Gringotts in order to have the matter of my unwilling entry into the Tri-Wizard Tournament officially Notarised. According to the Hogwarts By-laws any student who is willing to pay for the Notarisation themselves is authorised to do so provided they are accompanied by a member of staff.”
McGonagall’s mouth pursed in disapproval. “Surely this is a matter that should have been addressed to me privately in my office, Mr Potter.”
Harry raised his brows, but remained perfectly polite. “A great deal of the slander and abuse that I have been subjected to on this matter has happened in public, Professor. Nothing in the By-laws indicates that such requests are to be made privately, and I wanted to be sure that this, at least, was not overlooked.”
“Now, Harry,” Dumbledore said kindly from his seat next to McGonagall. “I’m sure that going to all that trouble and expense for such a small matter is unnecessary.”
“Pardon me, Headmaster,” Harry responded without turning his head. “I happen to feel that being labelled as a cheat by the majority of the school is not a small matter, and I wish to see it addressed. Under the By-laws, I am within my rights. Are you saying that you intend to overturn the By-laws and stop me from clearing my name?”
“Of course not,” Dumbledore said hastily. “I would never abrogate the rights of my students like that. I just wondered if getting Notarisation from Gringotts was really the best way to go about this.”
“It is the way I have chosen,” Harry replied firmly. “What’s more, there is no time like the present and I happen to know that Gringotts never closes and offers a full range of services at all times.”
“I’m afraid that will be impossible, Mr Potter,” McGonagall stated severely. “There are some things I need to take care of immediately after dinner. Please come and see me in my office to arrange a time that is suitable for both of us.”
“I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you, since you are so busy,” Harry said with a polite smile. “I will also accept an escort from Professor Flitwick or Professor Sprout, if they would be so kind.”
“I’m free after dinner,” Flitwick piped up from a bit further down the table. “I’d be happy to take you to Gringotts, Mr Potter.”
“Thank you,” Harry said, inclining his head in the short bow that Sirius had taken such pains to teach him. “I’ll wait for you at the doors at the end of dinner.”
With that he went back to his usual seat beside Ron, doing his best to keep a blank expression on his face as the volume of people talking in the great hall picked up again.
That performance made both Ron and Hermione furious, for different reasons of course.
“You just can’t help flaunting your money around, can you?” Ron muttered angrily before shoving a forkful of food in his mouth.
“Harry James Potter, how could you be so disrespectful!” Hermione hissed. “I can’t believe you talked back to the Headmaster and Professor McGonagall like that! I’m surprised you didn’t get detention!”
Even a month ago Harry would have second-guessed his strategy and been eager to placate his friends to ensure that they weren’t angry with him. But he’d worked out this plan with Sirius, it wasn’t some knocked together reaction to an imminent threat but a measured response. It struck Harry for the first time that neither of his ‘best friends’ was acting in a way that was particularly beneficial for him. Ron’s reaction was to be expected at this point, but Harry had assured Sirius that Hermione would support him. Instead, she seemed more intent on telling him off for something he hadn’t actually done, and which had nothing to do with her anyway. So maybe Sirius had a point about being careful and not putting so much trust in their judgement over his own.
On the other hand, Fred and George were giving him the thumbs up from where they were seated quite a bit further down the table, and across from Harry Neville gave a shy smile and a nod.
“I was perfectly polite,” Harry interrupted Hermione’s ongoing diatribe, spearing the green beans on his plate with a grimace.
He wasn’t the biggest fan of green vegetables, but Winky had insisted that if he wanted her to make treacle pudding for dessert on Saturdays, he needed to get good nutrition during the rest of the week. That first week Harry had forgotten and Winky had been ruthless.
Sirius thought it was hilarious, and had been no help all. “She’s making me eat my vegetables too, you know,” he told Harry when he was complaining. “Deal with it.”
Hermione continued to berate him, but Harry tuned her out when it became clear she didn’t intend to stop anytime soon.
“Harry! Are you listening to me?” she demanded.
“No,” Harry replied, pushing his plate away. “You’re not my mother, Hermione. I wasn’t endangering my life, or anyone else’s, so I really don’t know what you’re so bent out of shape about.”
Hermione’s eyes widened with shock.
Harry sighed. “Look. These ‘important respected authority figures’ allowed me to be slandered and bullied, and didn’t step in to help me. It’s become quite clear to me that if I want to clear my name I’m going to have to do it myself. Have you even considered what a reputation as a liar and a cheat will cost me through my life if I don’t get it turned around now?”
“But you didn’t have to be so rude and confrontational!” Hermione insisted.
“I wasn’t rude or confrontational,” Harry disagreed again. “I was calm and polite, and you’ll recall I used their appropriate titles. Considering the severity of the situation and the lack of any kind of assistance I’ve received there is nothing unreasonable about my request. Just because they didn’t like me asking, it doesn’t make me the bad guy here.”
“You’re impossible! You haven’t been listening to me at all!” Hermione said with a huff, shaking her head and turning her body so that he was excluded from her view.
Across the table, Neville raised his eyebrows in Harry’s direction. Harry raised his back, unsure if he was supposed to be able to decipher eyebrow-speak. Neville gave him a quick grin and went back to his dinner.
With both Ron and Hermione ignoring him, Harry spent the rest of the mealtime imagining the expression on Sirius’ face when he told him about this. It might even be worth having Dobby pop him over to tell him tomorrow. They didn’t usually meet up on Sunday evenings, but Harry didn’t see why that meant he couldn’t if he wanted to.
Over the years, Harry had overheard several conversations in the Gryffindor common room about Flitwick’s goblin heritage, debates about whether it was true or just a rumour, and if it was true then what percentage of goblin blood the tiny wizard possessed. Looking at him standing beside a Gringotts goblin, it was clear that whatever the truth was, Flitwick was very much a wizard.
There weren’t many customers in the bank when Harry and Flitwick arrived. Once Harry explained to the teller what he wanted, they were shown into a side chamber. The chamber held several interesting looking devices. Two were chained to the floor, and another looked like it was growing out of the wall. There was a hyperbola-shaped table in the centre of the room, with three chairs on the curved bit facing the single chair on the straight bit. They sat along the curved edge to wait.
Ten minutes later, two goblins came in. It was only Flitwick’s reaction that gave Harry any indication that this was unusual, or that something was wrong. The smaller of the two goblins moved over to the device coming out of the wall, but the larger one came over to stand beside Harry, looking him over with what looked like a sneer.
“Baldok,” Flitwick said, getting to his feet. “What an honour to see you.”
“I am not here to speak with you, Fitlick,” Baldok said without taking his eyes off Harry.
Harry didn’t know if he should get to his feet or remain sitting. On the one hand, continuing to sit seemed impolite, especially since Flitwick was standing too. On the other, Sirius had informed him that goblins hated it when humans tried to use their taller stature to intimidate them. In the end he decided to bow while remaining seated, hoping that he wasn’t committing some grave faux pas.
Baldok grunted. “Heir Potter, why have you been ignoring Gringotts’ summons?” he snapped out. “Since the first of November we have sent you one a week, and have yet to receive any reply!”
“I wasn’t aware that I was,” Harry said cautiously. “I haven’t received any mail from Gringotts, summons or otherwise. I was planning to come in over the Yule break and discuss it.”
“You should have notified Gringotts as soon as your monthly statements stopped arriving,” Flitwick interjected worriedly. “Gringotts takes any interference with its responsibilities most seriously, and as an account holder you are obligated to inform them of such as soon as possible.”
“No, I mean I’ve never had mail from Gringotts,” Harry explained. “I didn’t actually know I was supposed to until recently.”
“Vaketan!” Baldok made a sound that sounded like he was spitting, although nothing came out of his mouth. “Are you willing to swear that it is so, human mage?”
“Of course,” Harry nodded.
“Mr Potter, you must be very careful,” Flitwick urged. “If Gringotts discovers you trying to mislead them there will be harsh consequences for you and your descendants.”
“Why does everyone automatically think that I’m a liar?” Harry said with some exasperation. “Look, Professor, if Gringotts says they’ve been sending me monthly statements then I believe them, since they’ve yet to give me a reason to distrust them. However, I have not been receiving them!”
“Very well, we shall test your words for truth,” Baldok said with some finality. “Gornuk! Is the venak ready?”
“Yes,” Gornuk replied, reaching into the wall device and extracting a long, flexible, steel tube. He attached something that looked a little like a funnel to one end. “We may begin when you are ready.”
“Is this the Notarisation device?” Harry asked, wondering how on earth it worked.
“It is,” Baldok confirmed. “You will speak your truth – that you have not received our statements – and we will test it. If you are not lying to us, there will be no cost. If you are lying to us, then the five hundred galleon price will be the least of your worries.”
“Mr Potter-” Flitwick began again.
“Silence, Fitlick!” Baldok snapped. “Speak into the focus, mage.”
Harry shrugged, and thought carefully before speaking into the funnel. “To the best of my knowledge I have never laid eyes or hands on any correspondence that Gringotts has sent me.”
There was a deep thrumming and the wall the venak was embedded in shuddered briefly. Seconds after it was over another small goblin entered the chamber, passing a single sheet of parchment to Baldok before leaving again.
Baldok scanned the parchment. “You were speaking truth, Heir Potter. So. It appears that we have an investigation to conduct.”
“What do you mean, ‘to the best of your knowledge’,” Flitwick asked curiously.
“I may have unwittingly been in the presence of my mail,” Harry explained. “Also, I’ve seen the memory charm in action. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible that I have seen or touched my mail and that my memories of that have been erased. I didn’t know if factors like that would have any effect on the outcome, so I thought I’d better make sure.”
“The venak measures the truth as you know it, Heir Potter,” Baldok told him, sounding much less aggressive than he was when he came in. “If you truly believe that the sky is green and orange stripes covered with purple spots and you speak to such, then the venak will record that as truth.”
“Wait, that means that you’ve never had mail from Gringotts?” Flitwick sounded bewildered. “But why did your guardians never say anything? How were you able to learn to manage your estate without up to date information?”
“My guardians are muggles,” Harry replied gently. “Until I got my Hogwarts letter I thought I was a penniless orphan, surviving on what charity my relatives decided to give me. Quite frankly, I’ve only just recently discovered that the vault I’ve been using since first year isn’t everything my parents left for me.”
“But the Headmaster assured us that he left you with appropriate guardians, and that they were teaching you everything you needed to know!” Flitwick sounded truly disturbed.
Harry cocked his head slightly to one side as he considered that piece of information. “I suppose that would very much depend on what Dumbledore thought was important for me to know then,” he responded eventually. “I’m very good at cooking, cleaning, weeding, lawn maintenance, and fence painting.”
Poor Flitwick was gaping with shock.
“This matter does not concern Gringotts,” Baldok said impatiently. “Since you are here now, Heir Potter, the matter that we summoned you about may be addressed.”
“Surely Mr Potter’s guardian should be present for any important discussion?” Flitwick said, gathering himself together.
“Heir Potter was declared to be ‘of age’ on All Hallows Eve,” Baldok replied bluntly. “According to Ministry Law he is no longer a minor and may receive his inheritance.”
That one left both Harry and Flitwick gaping in surprise.
“Fitlick is reminded of his oaths to Gringotts,” Baldok added.
Flitwick drew himself up proudly. “I assure you that no reminder was necessary,” he declared. “I am fully aware of the importance of client confidentiality and I am not in the habit of discussing one being’s private business with another!”
“Good.” Baldok seemed wholly unimpressed. “Heir Potter, you are now the only adult member of House Potter, and as such certain duties now fall to you.”
“I thought that I was only able to take full control over House Potter when I turn twenty,” Harry said, wondering how Sirius was going to take this news.
“You become Head of House and are eligible to take up Wizengamot seats at twenty, Mr Potter,” Flitwick corrected him. “Baldok is talking about general estate management and the day to day business of keeping your House in order.”
“Right,” Harry sighed. “When, exactly, am I going to find the time for all of this? I’m already stretched thin enough, what with school and trying to survive this bloody tournament that someone entered me into against my will!”
“You may appoint an overseer if you wish,” Baldok admitted grudgingly. “It is not a practice I find much favour with. Given access to your wealth many individuals will try and cheat you.”
“Yes well, my time is at a premium,” Harry replied. “My life is currently more important to me than my wealth.” He slid a sidelong glance at Flitwick. “There is actually someone that I would trust as an overseer, but there are a few complications. The Ministry has a ‘kiss-on-sight’ order out for him, even though he’s not been convicted of any crime.”
“You are speaking of Heir Black,” Baldok noted. “Gringotts has been bound rather strictly to obey Wizengamot Law when dealing with inheritance matters, but otherwise is not concerned with Ministry rulings. Gringotts has no objection to you appointing Heir Black as your overseer, provided you are aware of the limitations his perceived status as an escaped convict would place on him outside our walls.”
“You’re in contact with Sirius Black?” Flitwick squeaked out, going pale. “Mr Potter, he is extremely dangerous! You need to turn him in at once!”
“Sirius was framed by Peter Pettigrew and then thrown into Azkaban without a trial,” Harry corrected. “He only escaped to protect me.”
“You can’t believe anything he tells you!” Flitwick insisted. “He’s a death eater! He was responsible for your parents’ deaths!”
“He’s my godfather,” Harry said firmly. “My parents made Pettigrew the secret keeper and then told everyone they picked Sirius as another layer of safety. Pettigrew was already a death eater though, and it was he who betrayed us to Voldemort. He also blew up the street with the muggles on, framing Sirius and escaping in his animagus form. He confirmed it himself earlier this year, Professor. Sirius and Professor Lupin confronted him in the Shrieking Shack and he admitted it all.”
Flitwick had regained his colour, but was back to gaping.
Harry turned back to Baldok. “What about Remus Lupin?” he asked. “Does Gringotts have any issues with him being a werewolf?”
“As far as Gringotts is concerned the world is populated by goblins and not-goblins,” Baldok replied. “As Mr Lupin is not a goblin, he will be given the same level of service as any other not-goblin customer.”
“Right.” Harry nodded. “Well, when he gets back from Italy I might see if he’s willing to help Sirius deal with everything. I know people will be prejudiced against him if they know about the werewolf thing, but at least he won’t have his soul sucked out at the first opportunity.”
“That is a very good idea, Mr Potter,” Flitwick interjected, looking more like the enthusiastic charms teacher that Harry was used to. “Remus would benefit a great deal from having regular employment, and if you appointed him as your steward that would give him a layer of protection in Britain that I’m sure he would find very comforting.”
Harry decided not to point out that he had been thinking less about the convenience for Professor Lupin and more about making things easier for Sirius. He wasn’t going to complain if Flitwick was going to assign more altruistic motives to his actions than were actually there.
“Then I think that’s what I’ll do,” he decided with a nod. “I’ll need to discuss this with Sirius, of course, but if you’re willing to receive mail delivered by house elf then I can promise that one of us will be in touch by the end of next week. In the meantime, I still need to get my declaration of innocence Notarised. I have no wish to be labelled as a liar and a cheat for the rest of my life over this business.”
“Please forgive me, Mr Potter,” Flitwick said solemnly. “I confess that until tonight I myself believed that you somehow arranged to put your own name into the Goblet. I want to assure you that I believe you now. It does raise some very real concerns about who did put your name in the Goblet, however.”
“I may not know who physically performed the action, but I’m pretty sure I already know who’s behind it,” Harry said cautiously.
“You do?” Flitwick asked.
“Well, yes. It was Voldemort.”
“Mr Potter, You-Know-Who is dead,” Flitwick said gently, exchanging a look with Baldok.
“No, he’s not. At least, he’s not all the way dead,” Harry disagreed. “In my first year he was possessing Professor Quirrell, drinking unicorn blood and trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone. In my second year, a younger version of him came out of a diary that Lucius Malfoy planted on Ginny Weasley. He was stealing her life force somehow, and was becoming more real by the moment until I stabbed the diary with a basilisk fang. Then, a few months ago, I started having dreams about him and Pettigrew – he’s currently in a body that looks a bit like a shrivelled up baby. I knew they were planning something, but I didn’t realise what until my name came out of the Goblet.”
This time Flitwick, Baldok, and Gornuk were all staring at him.
“What makes you say You-Know-Who was possessing Professor Quirrell?” Flitwick asked hesitantly.
“Because I saw him, right there on the back of Quirrell’s head,” Harry told him, wondering why all this appeared to be news. He distinctly remembered Dumbledore informing him that the whole school knew what had happened with the Philosopher’s Stone. Something wasn’t adding up here. “He was underneath the turban. Quirrell said he met him in Albania, but I don’t think the full possession happened until after Quirrell failed to get the stone from Gringotts, because when I met him in the Leaky Cauldron he didn’t make my scar hurt.”
Baldok no longer looked shocked. Now he was back to looking angry. “Are you telling me, Heir Potter, that you know for certain that the thief who broke into Gringotts three years ago was Quirinus Quirrell? And you didn’t report it to us?”
“Well, he told me himself that he did it,” Harry confirmed. “I didn’t see him doing it or anything. He died shortly after that, and I made sure that Dumbledore knew. I wasn’t aware that I was supposed to report it to you.”
“You were a minor at the time,” Baldok admitted grudgingly. He stared hard at Harry’s scar. “I am most interested in several parts of your tale, Heir Potter. However the hour grows late, and I am aware that you have yet to achieve what you came here to do. There are also matters that I must see to regarding the investigation into your mail. Are you able to return here tomorrow?”
“I am quite willing to escort you, Mr Potter,” Flitwick volunteered. “I am happy to tell the Headmaster that I have agreed to assist you as much as I can in your preparation for the Tournament. And then to ensure that my words are true, I will of course give you what help I may.”
“I would appreciate that,” Harry said thankfully. He hesitated a moment, before deciding to bite the bullet. “Would it be okay if Sirius came as well? We weren’t sure what Gringotts policy on him was, or he would have been with me this evening.”
“We have no issue with Heir Black’s presence,” Baldok replied, rising to his feet. “If what you say about his innocence and lack of trial is true, he may find it useful to avail himself of the venak. I will see you tomorrow, Heir Potter, Fitlick.”
With that he nodded briefly at Gornuk and left the room.
“Very well, Mr Potter, shall we get on with what we came here to do?” Flitwick suggested. “Also, if I might request your indulgence? I would prefer that my goblin name not become public knowledge.”
“That’s quite alright, Professor,” Harry agreed with a faint smile. “I must say that I was curious, but I wasn’t going to say anything.”
Using the venak wasn’t nearly as exciting as the first time, and within a few minutes Harry had documented proof that he wasn’t responsible in any way for his status as a champion.
It was past curfew when they finally made it back to Hogwarts. Harry dodged Hermione’s questions and went straight up to his bed, pulling the curtains around him tight and writing a quick note to Sirius before calling Dobby.
Soon he had Sirius’ agreement to join him the next day at Gringotts. Harry settled down to sleep, feeling exhausted.
The next few weeks practically flew by. Copies of Harry’s Notarised declaration were posted on the notice boards for all four houses as well as sent off to The Daily Prophet. He noticed a result immediately.
A number of people approached him with apologies, several of them students that he had never even met before. The majority were Hufflepuffs, with a smattering of Ravenclaws and a few of the more moderate Slytherins. No one in Gryffindor bothered, although Neville did congratulate him on clearing his name.
The Daily Prophet made no mention of it, although Harry did notice that Rita Skeeter’s column started to carefully avoid any mention of how he became a champion. It had already started focussing more on his imaginary love life anyway.
The visit to the goblins produced much more dramatic results.
Firstly, the goblins had tracked his mail to a holding box held in his name at the Owl Post Office in Hogsmeade. According to one of the newer workers there, Harry’s box was the largest receptacle of mail on record. The expansion charms had required re-working on a yearly basis just to accommodate it!
At Baldok’s recommendation – and with Sirius’ endorsement – Harry hired a team of mail sorters located in Uganda to deal with everything. He also had a mail re-direct placed on the box in Hogsmeade so that all new mail would be sent there automatically.
“They have a great reputation for discretion,” Sirius had assured Harry. “Lily once told me that their indexing system was the best that she’d ever come across. During sixth year she actually started learning Swahili in the hope of working there.”
With that matter out of the way, Harry completed the required steps to give Sirius command over his assets. Until Remus Lupin returned from Italy, Sirius had agreed to use a Gringotts-employed magical human as a go-between for those matters that needed a personal touch.
Harry was about to remind Sirius that he was going to ask for the use of the venak when Baldok derailed that thought completely by demanding to know the truth of the matter surrounding the diary and the basilisk fang that Harry had mentioned the previous evening.
Somehow, Harry hadn’t gotten round to telling Sirius this story yet. He started at the beginning, with Dobby’s visit to Privet Drive. By the time Harry got to the part where the diary was showing him visions of the past, his poor godfather looked just about ready to have a heart attack. Flitwick wasn’t looking much better.
“Heir Potter, if that diary is what I believe it is, you have had an extremely lucky escape from an incredibly dangerous object,” Baldok said gravely.
“I know,” Harry agreed. “It managed to suck out most of Ginny Weasley’s life force.”
“Continue, Heir Potter,” Baldok instructed. “I would hear more of this.”
Sirius and Flitwick’s reactions when Harry told them about meeting Aragog in the Forbidden Forest made him wonder if they were going to be able to cope when he told them about the basilisk.
“A whole nest of acromantula,” Sirius croaked out. “Led by a half-century old acromantula that was introduced to the forest by Hagrid, and was going to eat you. I’m going to kill Hagrid!”
“A whole nest of acromantula,” Flitwick echoed. “Right next to the school. Actually on school land, no barriers, no wards, nothing to stop them straying but the leader’s verbal agreement with Hagrid. And Hagrid is not immortal. Merlin, what is he thinking?”
“Hogwarts is not licensed to carry class five restricted creatures,” Baldok remarked with a disturbing gleam in his eye. “As such, the nest is illegal. According to the Ministry Edict of 1903, which has yet to be repealed or superseded, any illegal concentration of class five creatures may be eradicated by those holding level four or above clearance. Ownership of the spoils of such an operation is held by they that performed the task.”
“Right, so a bunch of people from Gringotts will be heading into the Forbidden Forest to kill some spiders,” Harry noted. He felt a little bit sorry for Hagrid, who was sure to be devastated, but mostly glad. Hopefully his nightmares about the castle being overrun by giant spiders that killed them all in their sleep would stop now.
“If I have anything to say about it, they will,” Baldok confirmed. “But continue, Heir Potter. I wish to hear about this basilisk fang. I don’t suppose you brought it with you?”
Harry shook his head, but relaunched back into the tale. There wasn’t much more to tell. Flitwick gave a rather large start when Harry did the anagram thing, but other than that they all listened intently. The hardest part was trying to give an accurate description of the size of the basilisk.
“I wasn’t particularly focussed on measuring it!” Harry exclaimed when Baldok pressed him. “Here, this is where it bit me.” He wiggled his way out of his clothes enough to display his scar.
“It bit you?” Sirius shrieked, even as Flitwick and Baldok leaned in to inspect his skin. “It can’t have bitten you! You’d be dead!”
“This does look less like a bite mark and rather more like a single puncture,” Flitwick agreed almost apologetically.
“Only one fang went in,” Harry replied with a shrug. “It was when I stuck the sword in its mouth. I suppose if I want to be exact, the basilisk didn’t actually bite me. I shoved my arm on its tooth. Although, it was trying to bite me.”
“That is the mark left by a single fang?” Baldok sounded contemplative. “How is it that you yet live, Heir Potter?”
“We’ve gotten ahead a bit,” Harry explained. “I think I very nearly did die. But then Fawkes came and cried into the wound, and I felt better again almost immediately.”
“Fawkes was there? What? When in Merlin’s name did Fawkes get there?” Sirius asked.
“A phoenix cried for you?” Baldok murmured to himself. “More and more interesting.”
Going back in the narrative slightly, Harry quickly told them about Fawkes blinding the huge snake giving Harry the Sorting Hat, and how he got the sword. He fast-forwarded through the very one-sided fight, ending with Fawkes bringing him the diary, and how he’d used the fang that he’d recently pulled out of his own arm to stab it, killing Riddle and restoring Ginny. He stopped there, figuring that they wouldn’t be interested in hearing about their trip back up to McGonagall’s office.
“It sounds like the wildest of tales, something your father may have dreamed up to get himself and his friends out of trouble,” Flitwick said, sounding rather dazed. “But there is too much evidence for it not to be true. I had not made the connection between Tom Riddle and You-Know-Who, but now that I know I can see it. It’s so obvious I wonder that I never realised before.”
“Why did you go back there?” Sirius was asking, looking bewildered. “You were running away when I saw you, why didn’t you just keep running? Possessed teachers, thousand-year-old basilisks, dementors, and now this thrice-damned Tournament! That school is going to get you killed!”
“Listed together like that it does sound like rather more excitement than the average student faces during their years at school,” Flitwick agreed, his usually cheery expression missing.
“What treatment was prescribed to you in the aftermath?” Baldok asked, his tone back to his usual practised neutrality.
Harry was a little baffled. “No treatment,” he answered. “Fawkes had already healed me.”
“Tell me you were at least checked over by a healer?” Sirius demanded. He didn’t take Harry’s shake of the head well. He was getting angry again.
“What was Dumbledore thinking?” Flitwick asked, shaking his head. “If Minerva knew about this, she would be livid.”
“She does know about it,” Harry replied. “She was there when we got back up from the Chamber. We went straight to her office, and she heard the whole story.”
“But-” Flitwick looked a little lost. “She always professes to be deeply concerned about her lions. She argues on behalf of Miss Granger all the time.”
Harry just shrugged. In his experience, McGonagall’s ‘concern’ had manifested in shanghaiing him onto a quidditch team that he hadn’t intended to try out for, docking him fifty house points for his first infringement outside the dorm after curfew – thereby making him a pariah inside his own house – assigning him detention that was not only outside curfew but held in a forest where something had been killing unicorns and a nest of acromantula had made their home, ignoring his warnings and refusing to listen to his reasons about why he thought the Philosopher’s Stone would be in danger. And that was just his first year! Her ‘concern’ hadn’t manifested itself since in any way that challenged the impressions he’d received in first year.
He didn’t think it would help matters to express these views, though. Poor Flitwick already looked as dejected as Ron after a Cannons loss.
“Perhaps Heir Potter would consent to being seen by our healers?” Baldok suggested smoothly. “Just to allay any lingering concerns about possible long-term effects.”
“How much will that cost him?” Flitwick asked suspiciously.
“The fee will be purely nominal, I assure you,” Baldok said. “There is one other matter. I was hoping to get your permission to have our arcanists examine your curse scar. That is purely for my own curiosity, and so I will be taking responsibility for the expense.”
Harry looked to Flitwick to see his opinion, and got a nod back. “Sure,” he replied. “When do you want to do that?”
“There is no profit in wasting time,” Baldok announced. “Come with me, Heir Potter. We shall get this seen to at once.”
It turned out that his scar was housing a parasitical magical syphon. It had been steadily draining his available magic since the day he’d got it. It was likely the primary reason that Voldemort had survived all those years as a disembodied wraith.
“We have to get rid of it!” Sirius demanded, eyes wild.
“Oh, we will,” Baldok assured him. “The procedure to detach it will be simple enough. The difficult part will be removing it in such a way that it can be studied further. It is truly astonishing that there are no hooks, that over time it has not rooted itself more permanently into your magic. There is some kind of barrier over your skin that is keeping it at bay. Without that barrier, the removal procedure might have killed you.”
“Over time,” Flitwick repeated grimly. “Hypothetically, if Mr Potter did not have the benefit of this barrier and the parasite had been discovered soon after implantation, what would the chances have been? How difficult was it to identify?”
“The magical syphon is unusual rather than rare, and easily identifiable to those with the correct training,” Baldok explained. “Any Healer with a year or more towards their mastery would be able to diagnose it after a cursory scan. Identified early enough – within the first month or two of implantation – the removal is simple. Had Heir Potter been seen by a qualified healer during that time, we would not now be having this discussion.”
“Which means that he was never seen by a qualified healer,” Sirius said, rubbing his eyes the way he did when he had a headache. “Or if he was, Dumbledore made a decision to do nothing. I’m not sure which is worse.”
Flitwick looked startled. “Surely the decision to do nothing is the worse option?”
Sirius sighed. “Choosing to do nothing is a deliberate act. One that we obviously condemn. But a deliberate act at least has reasons behind it, a plan, even if we don’t agree with it. If this was just negligence? That is terrifying in a completely different way. Generations of children have been under his care. He holds three of the most important positions in our country. No, negligence on this level, across the board – not good.”
Harry had remained silent, trying to keep himself together. “I want to get rid of it as soon as possible,” he said, his voice wavering despite all his efforts to keep it level. “I don’t care how much it costs, I want it gone.”
“Not the wisest words to say to a representative of Gringotts,” Baldok said with an approximation of humour. “It is understandable that you are overwhelmed, however, and I will control the urge to take you at your word on this occasion.”
Harry returned to Hogwarts that afternoon parasite free. Baldok had warned him that he might find his magical levels unpredictable for a while.
“Your core wasn’t affected, thanks to the barrier,” he’d said. “But it is most likely that you will find yourself with rather more available magic than you are used to.”
Harry’s casting did become somewhat erratic over the next week or so, but an hour each evening doing the spell practice that Sirius usually had him do on Saturday’s soon fixed that up. His control improved steadily until it was back to where it had been before the procedure to remove the syphon.
Hermione and Ron were both giving him the cold shoulder for the moment, so Harry ended up spending more time with Neville. It didn’t take long for Harry to start feeling guilty about how his quiet year mate had been ignored over the years. It had never been purposeful, not on Harry’s part at least, but the end result had been Neville spending a lot of time alone.
Neville turned out to have a streak of practicality in him that rivalled Hermione’s, only without Hermione’s impressive memory and drive reach to the top. He had a lot of difficulty getting his magic to perform spells, and so compensated by learning the theory inside out and practising each spell again and again.
Harry and Neville started doing their homework together. Neville turned out to be very good at explaining the theory in a way that Harry could understand, and Harry discovered that Neville made great strides with his casting when Harry paid attention and gave him pointers.
Also, Neville had spent a lot of time watching the people around him, and he had some interesting insights into their behaviour that Harry enjoyed hearing.
“Fred and George always ramp up their antics if Angelina and Katie are in the room,” Neville murmured one evening when the twins were holding court in the centre of the common room. “Alicia doesn’t get the same reaction.”
Once Neville had mentioned it, Harry was able to see the truth for himself.
Harry spent Yule that year with Sirius. Flitwick had organised a meeting of the judges and coordinators, and Harry had successfully argued that as he didn’t volunteer he wasn’t bound to display himself at the ball.
Bagman and Dumbledore seemed intent on making him attend, but when he replied that he didn’t want to take attention away from the true champions with his presence, he was supported by Maxime and Karkaroff. Percy Weasley was filling in for Mr Crouch, and he came down on Harry’s side.
Harry wasn’t sorry to be away from all the drama, and Rita Skeeter used all her venom up on Hagrid.
Harry and Sirius weren’t even in the same hemisphere. Sirius had made arrangements with Baldok for transport to Sydney for a week. While there, he and Harry were able to walk the streets openly. They ate in restaurants, they went to the beach. They even did some shopping. Mostly they just spent time together, marvelling at the heat. It was the best week of Harry’s life.
Then it was back to Britain, and time to concentrate on the golden egg for the second task. Kreacher ended up being the one to tell them that the awful screeching sound it made when opened was actually Mermish, and could only be understood underwater.
The song made it clear that the second task would require swimming, most likely in the Black Lake since the Tournament was being held at Hogwarts.
“I can’t swim!” Harry said, feeling slightly panicky.
“I don’t think swimming is going to be required as much as a way to breathe underwater,” Sirius said, staring at the words of the song.
“The most important thing about learning to swim is not drowning,” Sirius explained. “If drowning is taken out of the equation, it’s more about moving through water than actually swimming. And if you have to get something from the Mers, then swimming would help you, but isn’t actually necessary. What you need is a way to breathe underwater, and practice moving in a resistant environment.”
After some research, it was decided that Harry would use a recently created Cyprean potion whose main ingredient was gillyweed. The potion allowed the drinker great versatility in the water, while also allowing them to breathe out of the water, whereas straight gillyweed restricted the user to the water until the effects wore off.
Upon returning to school after the break, Ron and Hermione both seemed to have forgotten they were angry with him, since they were now angry at each other. Harry listened to both parties’ complaints, before giving them his opinion.
“You’re both at fault,” he told them. “Hermione, you decided to keep your date a secret because you knew that Ron would react badly. Now, you don’t need Ron’s permission to date anyone – although an eighteen-year-old wanting to date a fifteen-year-old is pretty gross, especially since its not like he wasn’t able to get a date closer to his own age – but if he’s your friend he was owed the courtesy of the truth before he had to find out with the rest of the school. If he’s not your friend, then I really don’t see what this conversation is about.
“Ron, Hermione doesn’t need your permission to date whoever she pleases. She can even date Malfoy if she wants to. You are allowed to disagree with her choice, and if you really feel you must explain that to her, you should tell her in private without some kind of ultimatum. Making a big scene about it in public is not the action of a friend.”
“I can’t believe you’re taking his side-”
“I really don’t care,” Harry interrupted them both. “How was your night, Neville? Did you have a good time? You took Ginny Weasley, didn’t you? Did she enjoy herself?”
“There was a lot to see,” Neville said with a faint smile. “I had a tolerably good time, I suppose.”
“Are you saying my sister is only tolerable?” Ron asked pugnaciously.
Harry rolled his eyes. “Get over yourself, Ron. No one wants to fight with you right now. And please don’t butt in on my conversation with Neville.”
The time leading up to the second task was fraught with tension. Ron and Hermione couldn’t seem to stop sniping at each other, and were continually trying to get Harry to act as referee. Harry was doing his best to ignore their fighting, and did his best to bring Neville into their group. He was met with a fair bit of resistance, not only from Hermione and Ron but from Neville too.
“To be perfectly honest with you, Harry, I don’t actually like either one of them very much,” Neville confided when Harry asked him about it. “Maybe in first or second year I might have ignored that just to fit in, but while you were gone I actually realised that spending time alone is better than being talked over, talked down to, and insulted. So I’d really rather keep my distance.”
“Oh,” Harry said, faltering a bit. “Well, I want to keep being your friend, Neville. I’m not sure how to work that if you and my other friends don’t like each other.”
Harry didn’t know what to do, so he just left it. He tried to make sure he spent some time with Neville every day, but it was hard since Ron and Hermione were trying to live in his pocket again.
Cedric, who seemed to be a pretty decent chap after all, approached Harry to ask if he’d managed to decipher the egg. Harry really appreciated the thought, even if the action turned out to be unnecessary. They parted on good terms, each wishing the other well.
The second task passed with minimum drama. Harry ended up arriving back with his hostage last, since he wanted to make sure that everyone made it back alive. Hermione scolded him for being so literal, insisting that the Tournament organisers would never have allowed the hostages to be in any real danger. Harry – who remembered the Hungarian Horntail very well – wasn’t so sure, but didn’t openly disagree with her in order to keep the peace.
Harry wasn’t invited with the three official champions to inspect the maze that the quidditch pitch had been turned into. He didn’t know if his exclusion was an honest attempt to follow his expressed wish to not be considered a champion or a petty retaliation for his lack of attendance at the Yule Ball, but either way Harry really didn’t care. It wasn’t like the maze was a big secret, the day after the champions had been informed it seemed like everyone knew about it. Also, Cedric stopped by to keep him informed.
Sirius had really stepped up his training. They were now using the Black Time Turner three times a week, focussing almost primarily on ways for Harry to protect himself. This included a number of offensive spells, because as Sirius said, “Sometimes the best protection you’ve got is a dead enemy.”
Harry didn’t want to kill anyone, and he felt that killing creatures who had as much choice to be in the maze as he did wasn’t fair. But he learnt the spells that Sirius wanted to teach him without protest, privately planning to keep them as a last resort.
Finally the day of the last task dawned. Harry was looking forward to it all being over. Once his life was no longer on the line, he could concentrate more on getting the rest of his life in some sort of order. He was looking forward to a summer with Sirius, and even better, no Dursleys.
Harry and Cedric stood together in front of the Goblet of Fire.
This was it, the end of this bloody Tournament. Once one of them touched the Goblet it would be over. As soon as Harry was out of danger, Sirius would release his Notarised Statement of Innocence to the Daily Prophet and at last receive the trial he’d never had. From there, things could only get better.
After some argument, Harry and Cedric agreed to take the Goblet – and the win – together.
The Goblet was a portkey that took them to what appeared to be an overgrown graveyard.
“Wands out?” Cedric suggested.
Harry nodded, his wand held at the ready.
There was a cloaked and hooded figure moving through the dim light towards them. It appeared to be holding a baby, and Harry dropped his guard, looking towards Cedric to see if he had any idea what was going on.
Cedric shrugged, lowering his own wand as the figure drew nearer.
“Kill the spare.” The voice was high and cold, and for a moment Harry was frozen in place. That voice tugged at pieces of his memory that had been pried loose by the dementors the previous year.
Time seemed to slow down. The hooded figure raised a wand. Even as he started moving, Harry heard the beginning of an incantation, “Avada Ke-”
Harry shoved Cedric out of the way of the curse just in time, leaving him directly in its path with no way to escape.
The world went green.
From where he’d fallen, Cedric watched with horror as Harry Potter was struck by green light before toppling over.
“Idiot!” the voice that had given instructions to kill him exclaimed. “Quick, Wormtail, grab the other one!”
Cedric had fallen on his wand arm, and he struggled to move quickly enough to bring it up in defence.
Before anything could happen, there was the familiar pop that heralded a house elf’s arrival.
There was a brief moment of stillness as everyone adjusted to the small being that was now standing between Cedric and the attackers, and then the house elf went crazy.
“You killed Harry Potter!” the house elf shouted, raising his hands. There was an explosion of sound, like fireworks only much louder, and it shook the ground, knocking Cedric back down from where he’d been trying to regain his feet. There might have been an infuriated shriek that turned into a wail before dissipating, but Cedric’s ears were ringing slightly, and he wasn’t sure if he was just hearing things.
When he was next able to focus, he saw that the situation had changed. The cloaked and hooded figure that had murdered Harry Potter was in a crumpled heap on the ground, and the house elf was kneeling at Harry’s side, sobbing piteously. He got to his knees and joined the small creature, looking down at the boy who had saved his life at the expense of his own.
“Dobby was too late,” the elf wailed. “What is Dobby going to do now?”
“Dobby?” Cedric said, inferring that that was the house elf’s name. “He pushed me out of the way. Is he really-”
“The Great Harry Potter is dead,” Dobby confirmed between sobs. “Dobby should have gotten here sooner, but the Great Harry Potter was too far away, Dobby had to find him. Dobby was too late.”
“I’m sorry,” Cedric offered, feeling terrible. The spell had been meant for him, that much was obvious. Why had Harry done that? They weren’t even really friends.
“The Great Harry Potter was a truly Great Wizard,” Dobby informed him, making Cedric realise he’d said some of that out loud. “He saved Dobby from bad masters, promised Dobby a bond. Dobby should have said yes right away! Dobby would have been here sooner! Dobby is a bad elf!”
“I don’t think Harry would have wanted you to blame yourself,” Cedric said hastily as Dobby started punching himself in the head.
“No,” Dobby agreed sadly, lowering his hand. “The Great Harry Potter was always telling Dobby that he shouldn’t punish himself.”
They sat in silence for a few moments before Cedric looked over to the crumpled form lying some distance away. “What about that one. Are they dead? Are you going to get in trouble?”
Dobby snorted, a disgusting wet sounding snort that Cedric tried to ignore. “Dobby is not killing rat wizard, no matter how much Dobby is wanting to,” he replied. “Harry Potter sir would want rat wizard to be arrested so that his dogfather can be made free. He has told Dobby several times that if Dobby gets a chance, he should capture him. Dobby was not able to save Harry Potter, but he can help his dogfather.”
“Why?” Cedric asked. “Who is it? Why are you calling him rat wizard?”
“The rat wizard is Peter Pettigrew, he was spending years pretending to be a rat,” Dobby replied. “The Great Harry Potter sir’s dogfather is Sirius Black.”
“What?” That couldn’t be right. Sirius Black was You Know Who’s right-hand man! “Are you sure?”
Dobby nodded. “The Great Harry Potter himself told Dobby all about it. The rat wizard was really the secret keeper, and the dogfather was sent to the awful prison without a trial. Harry Potter’s dearest wish was for his dogfather to be free.”
Well, if this really was Peter Pettigrew then Dobby’s story made a lot of sense, especially given the recent kidnapping and murder.
“Alright,” Cedric said, making up his mind. “If what Harry wanted more than anything was for Sirius Black to be free, then I am going to do my very best to help you with that. It’s the least I can do.”
Dobby gave Cedric a tremulous smile. It only lasted a moment, but it was there. “Dobby is thinking that perhaps Cedric Diggory is a great wizard too.”
Dobby transported Harry’s body along with Cedric and Pettigrew back to Hogwarts. They appeared right beside a panicked Amos Diggory, and Dobby waited just long enough to ensure that Harry Potter was deposited gently on the ground and laid straight before he popped back out again.
“This man tried to murder me,” Cedric said urgently to his father, indicating the prone form of Pettigrew. “He did murder Harry Potter. We need Madam Bones here right away, Dad. Send for Madam Bones.”
Amos grabbed hold of Cedric, appearing to pay no attention to what his son had just said. “Cedric, you’re here! You’re safe! You won!”
Cedric shook himself free. “That man tried to murder me! Get Madam Bones!”
“He did what?” Amos gave a start. “Murdered? You’re right, my boy. You, Jorkins, get Madam Bones here on the double! Use your emergency portkey if you have to, I want her here now!”
Jorkins cast one horrified look at Harry’s still form and did as ordered, activating her portkey.
After that things moved very quickly. Dumbledore and Fudge both appeared, looking shocked and horrified. Dumbledore stood staring in horror at Harry’s body. Fudge tried to order his guards to take Pettigrew away, but Cedric insisted that they wait for Amelia Bones.
Fudge might have overruled him, but Jorkins had clearly managed to convey the urgency of the moment to her boss because less than a minute later Madame Bones was there, immediately taking charge of the scene.
“Step back, Cornelius!” she snapped out. “This falls under the purview of the DMLE. I don’t want you interfering. If I hear you’ve tried to throw your weight around with my aurors on this matter, I’ll clap you in a holding cell myself.”
“I am the Minister for Magic!” Fudge insisted. “I am your direct superior! How dare you try to threaten me!”
“During the investigation of line extinction due to murder, nobody outranks me!” Bones informed him, eyes hard. “If you want me replaced, you need to get either an edict from the Queen, authorisation from a special session of the ICW, or a unanimous vote in the Wizengamot!”
Fudge puffed himself up. “Don’t think that can’t be arranged, Amelia. Don’t get above yourself!”
“I’ll remind you that for a vote to be recorded as unanimous, all living Wizengamot members must be present and capable of casting a vote,” she replied. “Good luck with that.”
Turning her back on the Minister – who gathered his tattered dignity about him and departed with his auror escort – Madam Bones approached Cedric and his father.
“Amos, Cedric,” she greeted them. “I hear that you have a story to tell me, Cedric. Give me the basics. We can go into detail later. Who do we have here, and why?”
Cedric pointed at Pettigrew. “The Goblet of Fire took us to a graveyard, and that man cast the killing curse at me,” he told her. “Harry Potter pushed me out of the way, taking the curse himself.”
“I see,” she said reaching out and giving his shoulder a compassionate squeeze. “Do you know where this graveyard was?”
“No, I’m sorry,” Cedric shook his head. “I didn’t even think to check one of the stones for a name.”
“It’s understandable that a school-boy in shock wouldn’t react to a situation like a seasoned auror,” Madam Bones said consolingly. “You’re doing well, Cedric.” She cast a sad glance to where Harry had been laid out before moving over to the prone form that was now guarded by red-robed aurors. Madam Bones held her own wand at the ready as she removed the hood hiding his face, hissing with shock. “Peter Pettigrew! He’s supposed to be dead! How could this be?”
“Harry was certain that Pettigrew was the Potter’s secret keeper, that he framed Sirius Black, and that Black was thrown into Azkaban without a trial,” Cedric offered, slightly ashamed at how his voice was wavering. “Also, I haven’t personally seen it, but I have been told that he can turn into a rat, and spent years living that way.”
“Sounds like an animagus. Well, you can be sure that I’ll be getting to the bottom of this,” Bones promised. “Where’s Moody? I thought he was supposed to be here?”
“He fainted,” Amos volunteered. “Not long after my boy disappeared. He was taken to the hospital wing.”
Bones frowned. “Mad-Eye Moody has never fainted in his life,” she said flatly. “I’ll be going to see him as soon as I’ve finished here.”
“Amelia, my dear,” Dumbledore said, looking to have recovered from his shock somewhat. “It’s vitally important that I speak to young Cedric about what happened tonight. The fate of our world might very well rest on the information he’s able to give me.”
“You can talk to him once my investigation is concluded, Albus,” Bones replied crisply. “Providing he agrees to, of course. Cedric, until I give you leave otherwise I would prefer if you don’t talk about what happened tonight to anyone but me. It’s too easy for other people’s reactions to prejudice the way we remember events.”
Cedric nodded. He didn’t really want to have to tell his story again and again, maybe with Madam Bones’ orders to fall back on he’d be able to avoid it. For a while, at least, until he got his composure back.
“I really must insist,” Dumbledore said, his tone bordering on a demand.
“I said no,” Bones snapped. “Cedric, if anyone comes to you saying that I told you to tell them, they’re lying. Make a note of their name and let me know.”
“Yes, Madam Bones,” Cedric agreed.
Amos bristled angrily. “I’ll thank you to leave my son alone until he tells me he’s ready to talk to you, Albus. He’s just been through a great shock, and I won’t have you bullying him!”
“Very well,” Dumbledore said, giving every appearance of giving in gracefully. “Amelia, please let me know when I may collect young Harry’s body for burial.”
“You are not his next of kin,” Bones returned, eyebrows high on her forehead. “Part of the investigation that the DMLE will be conducting will include finding the correct person or persons to release his body to. I assure you that we will be most diligent.”
A brief look of frustration crossed Dumbledore’s face before it melted back into his usual expression of grandfatherly benevolence. “As you say, Amelia. Very well, since I don’t appear to be needed here. I shall take my leave.”
“Don’t go too far, Albus,” Bones called after him. “I’ll no doubt have questions about how Harry Potter was able to be abducted out from under your nose.”
Cedric watched as special magic inhibitor cuffs were placed around Pettigrew’s wrists, neck, and ankles. As each cuff was closed, a key emerged from the metal. Once all five cuffs were in place, the keys were handed over to Bones, who pocketed them.
“Alright then,” Bones said, casting a swift glance around. “I can’t see the Goblet, where is it?”
Cedric’s mind went blank, before he remembered where he’d last seen it. “We left it in the graveyard,” he admitted.
“A house elf arrived just after Harry was killed,” Cedric said. “He was very upset when he saw Harry dead, and that’s how Pettigrew was knocked unconscious. He brought us back here.”
“Interesting,” Bones mused. “House elves don’t usually involve themselves quite that much. Still, it’s good that you left the Goblet where you did. The Goblet of Fire has tracers on it, so when we find it we’ll be able to do an examination of the primary scene.”
“That’s as much as can be done here, I think,” Madam Bones said after Pettigrew had been portkeyed away. “Shacklebolt here will escort you to our healing department to make sure you’re in good health, and then my office. I’m sorry, Cedric, but I really need to get a detailed statement from you tonight.”
“I understand,” Cedric said tiredly.
“Amos, you may go with him, but he is not to be asked any questions about what happened here tonight until I get there, understand? Now, I need to find out what has happened to Mad-Eye Moody. I’ll see you within the hour.”
Sirius, Dobby, and Winky had been gathered around the wizarding wireless listening to Ludo Bagman’s commentary on the third task when Harry and Cedric disappeared.
The moment it was determined that the Goblet hadn’t taken the two champions to the winner’s dais, Dobby popped out to go and find ‘the Great Harry Potter’.
The wireless stopped broadcasting only moments later, reverting to a Celestina Warbeck song. Sirius turned the stupid thing off, rising to his feet and pacing back and forth. A big part of him wanted to rush straight to Hogwarts. The only real thing stopping him was a promise that he’d made to Harry.
“The third task is going to be dangerous, we know that. You have to promise me that you won’t run into there all willy-nilly,” Harry had insisted. “As soon as this is over we’re going to work on getting you your freedom, and there’s no point if you manage to get yourself kissed before then. If I need you, I’ll send Dobby to let you know. Until then, I want your promise to stay put, no matter what happens.”
Sirius had reluctantly given his promise, and now he was regretting it.
After what seemed like forever, Dobby popped back in, alone. One look at his face and Sirius knew that it was bad news.
“What happened?” he asked, heart in his throat. “Is he-”
“Harry Potter is dead,” Dobby answered mournfully. “Dobby got there too late. Rat wizard had already killed him.”
The world around Sirius went white.