Harry Crow

What will happen when a goblin-raised Harry arrives at Hogwarts. A Harry who has received training, already knows the prophecy and has no scar. With the backing of the goblin nation and Hogwarts herself. Complete.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8186071/1/Harry-Crow

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16. A Centurion and a New Friend

Hermione was back through the looking glass again, at least that's what it felt like. She was clothed in pure white silk and the material flowed over her form like layers of liquid. Her robe was high at the neck and down to her ankles with a violet sash around her waist providing the only colour. That wasn't quite true though, apart from her gold bracelet, Barchoke had loaned her jewellery that belonged to his late wife. A golden necklace that had the same filigree design was almost like chainmail armour as it spread over her chest and the diamond tiara she wore was so beautiful, it wouldn't look out of place in the Tower of London beside the British Crown Jewels.

She was walking beside Barchoke down an aisle that had seating for about five hundred on either side, they were the main guests of honour and had to make their way to the very front. She could hear the murmurings as they walked to their assigned seats and, thanks to Professor Flitwick, Hermione could actually understand them.

Rowena Ravenclaw had invented a spell that allowed a witch or wizard to communicate with goblins, Helena had taught this now forgotten spell to the Head of Ravenclaw so Hermione could understand what was happening here today. It would have been considered the height of bad manners to be translating while another goblin was speaking, this solved the problem of Hermione not having a clue about what was being said.

Hermione thought the part of the bank that did business with the public was rather grand while those areas unseen, behind the scenes so to speak, were fairly spartan. There was no decoration, no paintings, tapestries or even pictures - just plain stone walls. The place where the Centurion Ceremony would be held blew all her goblins being a utilitarian race theories out the window.

The room was oval in shape with a domed ceiling, and Hermione couldn't spot a square inch of this massive cathedral-like hall that wasn't covered in at least one form of artwork. Some of this artwork appeared to be exquisitely carved directly into and out of the stone - with sculpture blending seamlessly into paintings. Add to that the effects created by flickering lighting being beautifully and creatively incorporated into each tableaux - carved goblins holding smokeless flaming torches and even a fire breathing dragon painting / sculpture - and it created the impression you could walk directly into some of the scenes. In any culture, art of this diversity and quality would have been considered beautiful. Given the starkness of it's surrounding rooms and corridors, it was breathtaking.

That most of these scenes depicted goblins battling foes or fierce creatures Hermione thought was to be expected from a race of warriors. From her seat beside Barchoke in the front row, she had an uninterrupted view of the raised stage that filled this end of the oval hall / cathedral.

There was a throne-like carved granite seat in the centre of the marble stage, with about another forty seats - in two banks of twenty - facing not into the audience but the lone seat in the middle. Hermione found herself sitting between Harry's father and Master Pitslay - she could hardly miss that Master Sharpshard was also sitting in the front row. She pitied the poor goblin who ended up sitting behind the massive master of the blade, Hermione didn't think they would be asking him to move though.

The sound of drumming reverberated through the now packed hall / cathedral and that was the signal for everyone to stand. The drumming was caused by goblin warriors banging their swords and axes off their shields and was in time to them marching down the aisle. They came to a halt as the lead goblins reached the front before performing a complex marching manoeuvre. This saw the warriors alined either side of the aisle, but now with each line facing the other. The drumming stopped as, with a loud cheer, all the warriors raised their weapons in salute.

An imposing goblin that Hermione took to be Director Ragnok walked down the centre of this salute. He was clad in body armour that was decorative and ceremonial but certainly still appeared sturdy enough to fulfil its primary function - and carrying the wickedest looking battleaxe she'd ever seen. Considering there were at least a hundred on display here today, Hermione now felt she had a basis for making such a judgement. Marching behind the director were the existing centurions and two things immediately struck the young witch. Harry could have his age trebled and he would still be the youngest centurion, the other thing was more in the form of a question, a question she would ask Barchoke later. Hermione wanted to know if the goblins had copied the Roman armies, or if the most successful troops the world had ever known had based themselves on the goblins?

The centurions wore tunics much like the one Harry did for exercising but these had strips of dragon hide that acted almost like a kilt. All tunics were festooned with goblin steel and she supposed the epaulettes signified their rank. They all had golden bands around their upper arms that, as she had come to expect, were intricately carved. Though able to understand and speak the language, Hermione again was left longing for 'the idiot's guide to goblins'. There was just so much going on in this culture and the young witch felt that she was missing out on a lot. It was the helmets the centurions wore that had her comparing them to Roman soldiers, with the crest running up the middle, they appeared identical to ones she had seen in museums.

That their tunics were an array of colours led Hermione to believe that this was based purely on the species of dragon they chose to make the tunic from. As Ragnok stepped onto the stage and sat in the centre seat, the other centurions filled the chairs either side of the director. It was then Hermione's breath caught in her throat, Harry had just walked forward and knelt in front of Ragnok.

His tunic was ivory in colour and his 'kilt' that had swayed as he walked was hardly longer than his exercise tunic. She had noticed that Harry, although a lot younger that the other centurions, appeared physically taller and broader at the shoulder than a good percentage of them. The director stood and began addressing the assembled crowd.

"My fellow goblins and invited guest, for millennia the position of Centurion has been coveted by each goblin warrior who has ever picked up a weapon. The young candidate that kneels before me now is no different in that respect. He may not have been born a goblin but has certainly been raised as one, embracing our beliefs and values to become a warrior of some renown. He attends Hogwarts but not as a wizard, Crow here is the first goblin warrior ever to attend that ancient seat of learning. There he still receives tutoring from some of our most illustrious masters, and extols the virtues of goblin learning to his classmates. Some of those classmates have actually joined Crow in these lessons - forsaking the offered wizard classes in the process."

Hermione was really glad of the translation charm now, otherwise she would have no idea what Ragnok was saying. She thought the goblin leader was laying it on a bit thick, but wondered how much of that was influenced by today's issue of the Prophet? Ragnok was certainly giving Harry the big build up.

"Our young warrior had hardly set foot in the castle before accomplishing the first of his achievements, the lost goblin forged blade of Godric Gryffindor is back in our hands. It sit's proudly on Crow's hip as the castle herself acknowledged a goblin warrior as her champion. This was no honouree position though, that sword he proudly wears has already tasted blood. The security of Hogwarts was breeched and a mountain troll was running rampage through the castle, it had three young witches and a female healer trapped in their infirmary."

Ragnok was an experienced orator and paused here to let the tension build, he also directed his gaze to Hermione. "The young witch who is our guest of honour here today is only able to attend because Crow saved all of their lives. He cut that troll down to size before jumping onto its back and administering the killing blow - almost decapitating the beast in the process."

This resulted in loud cheering, with all the warriors banging their weapons off their shields in appreciation of their brother warrior's victory. Hermione was blushing profusely at being singled out for attention, she couldn't imagine how Harry felt. He was still kneeling in front of Ragnok with his head bowed but Hermione didn't need to see his face to know it would be red from embarrassment. Harry was such a modest person that this must be torture for him. Unfortunately, the director wasn't quite finished heaping on the praise.

"If those achievements weren't enough to earn this young warrior the rank of centurion, his next deed certainly merited the award. Every warrior is taught that a sharp mind is their greatest weapon, and Crow's is every bit as sharp as that fabled blade he carries. With the help of his father, he engineered a coup that saw that disgusting ghostly spawn of Bloody Binns expelled from Hogwarts castle."

The cheering this time was tumultuous, and every single goblin was on their feet in celebration. Hermione hadn't understood the depth of feeling held against the ghostly professor, here was a very vocal and visual representation of just how much Harry's victory meant to the goblin nation.

Hermione couldn't help but compare her meeting with the Minister of Magic to that of the goblin DIrector she was watching here. She equated the bumbling Fudge with his green bowler hat to Doctor Watson, while Ragnok was clearly the Sherlock Holmes of the two. Fudge couldn't impress a class of eleven and twelve year olds while Ragnok had over a thousand goblins hanging on his every word - and the Director still wasn't finished.

Ragnok waited until everyone had returned to their seats before continuing. "Now for everyone else, getting the butcher's last remaining kin thrown out of the castle would have been enough - not for Crow. He didn't want one goblin-hating professor simply replaced by another of the same ilk. A teacher not tainted by Binns was brought to Hogwarts from Europe to teach proper history, and not the bigoted filth that ghost pedalled. How did Crow get Hogwarts to accept this professor - he paid for it with his own gold!"

This seemed to impress the crowd nearly as much as the killing of the troll. Ragnok let this sink in before proceeding. "You have heard of this young goblin's deeds and achievements, it was I who, being so impressed with his actions, bestowed this honour upon him. As tradition demands, it it now time to ask if anyone here objects to this appointment. As I missed the fight where Crow drew first blood against Master Sharpshard, I'm rather hoping someone will come forward..."

There were sharp intakes of breath as that news permeated the hall, anyone thinking Harry unworthy of this honour were now going to keep those thoughts to themselves. There were a few members of Barchoke's family waiting on him passing away in the hope they would inherit, his adopted son becoming the youngest ever centurion killed that notion stone dead. A centurion as a son would satisfy goblin law, and that son would stand to inherit everything. These family members also reckoned their fate would be the same as their chances of inheriting if they stood and objected - dead as stone. Objections were settled by a duel, and anyone who could draw first blood against the greatest blade in the nation was not someone you wanted to challenge.

Ragnok had known about the hyenas circling around Barchoke's wealth, but, like the cowards they were, these hyenas would never attempt a frontal attack on a stronger opponent. Crow's award was unopposed.

"Arise warrior, do you accept this position our nation bestows upon you?"

Harry stood, performed the centurion salute before answering the question loud enough for everyone to hear. "Yes Director, I do."

Hermione had been warned about the blood involved in the next part of the ceremony, she rose with everyone else and tried to stand tall and proud. Watching as Harry held his hand out and that deadly battleaxe of the Director's sliced his hand open was very difficult. Harry didn't flinch as his palm was cut deeply, he clenched his hand into a fist as he made his way to his chosen tableaux.

The scene displayed Bloody Binns and his band of wizards being captured and held at swords' points by goblin warriors, but it was the murdered victims depicted there that Harry focused on. There was a dead goblin child carved out of the stone, the realistic wounds were coloured bloody and here was where Harry focused his attention. He rubbed his injured hand over the part that was depicted as bleeding, adding his blood to the tableaux. The rock actually began glowing, spreading to illuminate the entire scene as the stone accepted his blood sacrifice. This was also the signal for the loudest cheer of the day.

Harry marched back to the director who held out his hand, Harry placed his there and the cut was already healed. "The centurion has offered his blood to the nation, and the nation clearly accepted. Step forward those chosen."

Barchoke, Master Pitslay and Master Sharpshard stepped forward as three caskets were carried in and placed on the stage. Master Pitslay opened the first casket and removed the two gold armlets that it contained, he handed them both to Ragnok.

"The symbol of our wealth and status is contained in these bands of power, may they bring strength to your arms in times of strife." The director placed one on each of Harry's upper arms. Master Sharpshard then stepped forward and passed the epaulettes the second casket had contained to the Director.

"The badge of office that signifies to the world you are a Centurion, wear them with pride."

These golden accoutrements were fastened onto each of Harry's shoulders. It was a proud father who opened the last casket and removed a beautifully crafted golden helmet, the plume running down the middle was the same ivory white as Harry's tunic.

Harry once more knelt before their leader as his father passed over the last piece to complete the ceremony. "A warrior's mind is their greatest weapon, may this protect you in your defence of our nation."

When the helmet was on, and the chin strap in place, Harry stood tall and performed the centurion salute three times. Once to the director, then his fellow centurions on his right before performing it lastly to those centurions on his left. Harry then turned to face the crowd, drew his famous sword and raised it high into the air.

"FOR GRINGOTTS AND THE NATION!"

The chant was returned by everyone present before the cheering once more broke out.

The first time Hermione laid eyes on Harry wearing his exercise tunic, she had mentally compared him to a young Ares. Harry standing there with his sword raised high increased the intensity of that comparison by a factor of at least ten. She didn't know if the colour of Harry's tunic and helmet plume was deliberate or not but Centurion Crow epitomised every historical image or representation of a warrior of the light Hermione had ever seen or even read about. The director's next statement heavily influenced her leaning toward the deliberate option.

Ragnok held his hands up for silence before making an announcement. "Some of you may have read the lies printed in today's wizarding press, we have sent our representatives to this newspaper to register our displeasure in the strongest terms possible."

This fixed everyone's attention. To a goblin, that statement was only one step away from blades being drawn.

"We announced to the press, the ministry, the WWN and posted notices in Diagon Alley that Centurion Crow would make a statement on the steps of Gringotts after this ceremony. This will mean a slight delay to the feast, but should be 'entertaining' for anyone who wishes to accompany us."

That was an invitation most of them would love to take up. That Gringotts steps wouldn't hold anywhere near a thousand goblins meant there would be a mad scramble for places after the Director's party left the hall.

Ragnok was in the lead, Harry - with Hermione once more on his arm - was right behind him. His father and their guests of honour followed on behind, flanked by the forty centurions and at least sixty warriors. The massed audience were behind the troops and all edging for a place where they could at least hear what would be getting said.

-oOoOo-

With the Wizarding Wireless Network announcing they would be broadcasting a live statement from the boy-who-lived later today, anyone who couldn't make Diagon Alley had their ears glued to their sets.

In a castle in Scotland, an old wizard with a long white beard sucked on his lemon drop but found little solace from his favourite tart sweet. Harry's words broadcast live to the nation could do untold damage, and would be hard to refute. He had immediately contacted Cornelius to see if this could be stopped, even although he knew it was virtually impossible.

The minister had quickly pointed out what Albus already knew, Gringotts was sovereign soil to the goblins - ministerial interference could start a war. There was no point in banning the WWN from broadcasting since the entire thing would soon appear in print anyway. With hundreds - if not thousands - expected in the Alley, there was just no way to contain any damaging information the boy saw fit to disperse.

Albus thought it was a bad day when his only point of comfort was that the students would all be in class, he had no way of knowing that Professor Hobson would have a recording crystal containing the full incident for her classes by Monday morning. His new professor was a great believer in making history lessons relevant to what was happening today, and this could be history in the making.

In Devon, a young redhead sat beside the wireless with her mother. Ginny had gotten over the disappointment of not being able to go to the Alley today, once she had looked at the problem from a practical point of view. As small as she was, Ginny wouldn't see much in the crush that was sure to form. The fact that she was counting the days until she would be introduced to her hero helped quell that disappointment too. Hearing his voice would do - for now.

-oOoOo-

Amelia was in Dagon Alley with every auror she could throw a uniform on. Even with the cadets supplementing her force, she was still shorthanded for maintaining control over a crowd the size of this one. The crowd kept building as the wizards and witches of Britain turned out in their thousands for their first glimpse of the boy-who-lived. The aurors were stretched thin, not helped by those spectators arriving late and attempting to push their way to the front for a better look. This created surges within the crowd and Amelia thought it was only a matter of time before fights broke out.

That everything suddenly went quiet and the crowd actually took a step back surprised Amelia, that was until she turned around. Heavily armed goblin after heavily armed goblin just poured out the bank, their very numbers made the head of the DMLE's heart sink. Here was a force trained and ready for battle, that they outnumbered her aurors by at least two to one had Amelia worried. Like everyone else, she was expecting a verbal statement from Harry today, it would appear the goblins were making a bold visual statement too.

Then her eyes settled on the couple in the centre and she was left not knowing what to think. Mr Crow with Miss Granger on his arm appeared like a young prince and princess, standing there with their conquering army behind them. She could already see the press cameras snapping the pictures that would be front page tomorrow - and for most of next week too!

Ragnok's deep baritone voice rang out over the entire length of the Alley, his voice obviously charmed to carry so everyone could clearly hear his words. The WWN reporter had the microphone tight to his mouth as he described the scene for those who couldn't make it to Diagon Alley. When Ragnok began speaking, he had the good sense to shut up, hold out the microphone and let the radio listeners actually hear what was going on.

"Witches and wizards of Britain, you are being lied to. I know this for a fact but, relations between us being what they are, my words are easily dismissed. Instead, I'll hand you over to someone I trust you will believe."

Ragnok applied the same charm to Harry as his voice rang true around the Alley, and, thanks to the wireless, the entire country.

"I hope you will forgive me if I make a few mistakes here. This is my first ever attempt at public speaking, and we seem to have drawn quite the crowd." Some laughter rang out at that as the crowd settled to hear what the boy-who-lived had to say.

Harry had worked on this speech with his father so knew exactly what he wanted to achieve here. "Yesterday, my father took myself and my best friend Hermione to visit my parents grave. As you can hopefully understand, this was an intensely private occasion. Someone managed to sneak into the cemetery, eavesdrop on our private conversations and take that photograph without our knowledge or permission. To make matters worse, it all appears as an exclusive interview with me on the front page of today's Prophet. I have never given an interview and certainly never met this Daily Prophet reporter. For this Skeeter woman to claim I have makes one of us a liar. I'm standing right here and prepared to face her, publicly calling a goblin's honesty into question is a very serious issue."

In the silence that followed that remark, Amelia took it upon herself to officially ask a question. "Mr Crow, are you willing to make a complaint to the ministry?"

This was unexpected but again Harry let his training take over. "Well met Madam Bones, and it's Centurion Crow now. We've just come from the ceremony where this great honour was bestowed upon me. All goblin complaints to the ministry have to be routed through the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, I am unaware if they have staffing issues but it's been years since we got a positive result from them. I would rather stand here as a goblin and call her a liar to her face, an action I am prepared to defend with my blade if necessary. My father had that area warded yet she still managed to sneak through and spy on us, I would have though that would have been worrying to the ministry too - unless she is on the ministry payroll?"

Amelia attempted to quash that notion at once. "To my knowledge she is not, and it does concern me she was able to get so close to you. I also notice she is conspicuous by her absence today, Rita Skeeter is not one to miss such things."

"If she has the ability to spy on us in a graveyard, my guess is she would be here and using that same technique to remain hidden today. This time though all these good people have heard every word I've said, including that Skeeter is a liar. To me, that she does not stand and refute those claims confirms her guilt."

"Miss Granger, can you corroborate Centurion Crow's claims?"

She looked toward the director who cast the same spell on Hermione before she answered. "Yes Madam Bones. As you can tell from the picture printed today, I was at Harry's side the entire time. Neither of us spoke to anyone other than our parents. We are also concerned with who passed on the information that we would be at that cemetery yesterday, that information was known to very few. I can also confirm Harry is Centurion Crow..."

The charm Professor Flitwick cast now came into play as Hermione turned and bowed to Director Ragnok. When she spoke, it was in the director's own language. "I would sincerely like to thank Director Ragnok for inviting me here today. It was very moving to watch my best friend receive such a great honour, I felt honoured myself just by being there."

This had an effect on all present, not least the goblin leader. He had gambled somewhat in awarding Crow centurion status, and even more so by inviting his young friend to the ceremony. Ragnok thought that gamble had backfired after reading today's Prophet - a piece of astute manipulation by Dumbledore.

The only response the nation could give such an attack was to come out fighting, so that's why they were all standing here on the steps of Gringotts. He'd heard from Barchoke and their tutors that these two complimented each other, Ragnok had just witnessed this for himself. Crow stood there a proud Centurion for everyone to see, and the witch on his arm had just done more to instigate better relations between wizards and goblins than had been achieved in decades. Her display of respect and use of their language couldn't fail but have an effect on the hundreds of goblins currently watching and listening.

Ragnok paid her the deserved complement of returning her bow before addressing everyone once more - in English.

"For those of you who don't speak our language, Miss Granger was just thanking me for inviting her to the ceremony where her best friend became a centurion. I would like to say she bestowed our nation great honour in attending, and by her words here today. I would also like to say she will be an honoured friend of our nation anytime she chooses to visit Gringotts."

A quick glance at Harry was all that was needed to know this was something special, she bowed respectfully to the director once more, knowing it would be explained later.

The director returned his attention back to the gathered crowd of witches and wizards. "As you have now heard, the supposed exclusive interview in the Prophet is nothing but fabrication and lies. We have asked the newspaper to print a retraction, they naturally asked us for proof. This proof is now standing before you, though I fail to see Miss Skeeter in attendance. As well as a retraction, we demand to know how this was achieved. It's in everyone's interests that we discover if someone has stumbled upon a method of bypassing wards."

Amelia stepped forward and officially introduced herself to the goblin leader, before confirming her department would be investigating this phenomenon thoroughly. A warrant would be issued so Miss Skeeter could be brought in for questioning.

Ragnok thanked her before offering a closing comment. "We must now take your leave and return to the feast arranged to celebrate our newest centurion, I wish you all a good day."

The director had hardly finished speaking before his troops were shepherding the goblin spectators out of the way to clear a path back into the bank, Amelia couldn't fail to be impressed with their efficiency. The crowd had come to see and hear the boy-who-lived, they had gotten far more than they bargained for. The Prophet interview had portrayed Harry as a typical young wizard enjoying his first year at Hogwarts, today had told an entirely different story. Since they had stood and watched the entire episode unfold before their eyes, even the gullible witches and wizards of Britain could see the Prophet's version was a pack of lies.

-oOoOo-

As the commentator described the young couple following the goblin leader back into Gringotts, an old wizard in a Scottish castle knew his manipulation had spectacularly backfired.

"...I came here today like most of the crowd to get my first look at our saviour, the boy-who-lived. Instead of seeing Harry Potter, we were introduced to Centurion Crow. Here is a young man who has been raised by the goblins, and may I just say witches he's clearly thriving in that environment. The beautiful young witch on his arm compliments him perfectly, I suspect hearts will be breaking the length and breadth of the country when today's pictures are printed. That Centurion Crow bears no resemblance to the picture the Prophet painted of this young man leaves only one conclusion, we are being lied to..."

This was the point at which Albus turned the radio off. If the mindless cretin that WWN employed to ask inane and downright idiotic questions could figure that out for himself, the rest of the country would to. He expected a visit from William Weasley soon, that young wizard was far too smart not to figure out who had pointed the Prophet at the cemetery.

Albus would have to reel him in, that sounded so much better than blackmail. William would now have to play the game Albus' way, otherwise Gringotts would discover just who leaked that information. He didn't feel the least bit of sympathy for William, more than ever Albus now needed information. The worst that would happen to the eldest Weasley was that he ended up teaching defence at Hogwarts, that wasn't much of a sacrifice to make for the greater good.

He also expected to be hearing from Skeeter within the hour, Rita was about to discover Albus Dumbledore was a recognised expert at this game decades before she was born. When you played with the big boys, sometimes you got burned. Should Rita attempt to pass any of the blame onto Albus, the legs would soon be cut from under her. He mentally prepared his statement for the press / DMLE, just in case it became necessary to give one.

He had heard Harry would be visiting the Potter graves on Halloween, and passed that information on to Miss Skeeter. All he asked in return was that any article she wrote would show Hogwarts in a favourable light. He expected the reporter to ask Mr Crow a few questions before or after his visit, not spy on the entire thing and then report it as an interview.

He was certain Rita wouldn't disclose how she was able to spy on the boy, meaning Albus wouldn't need to mention that he knew Skeeter was an unregistered animagus.

-oOoOo-

The plan was always for Hermione to stay the night at Harry's but, with her new 'friend' status, a different world opened up for the young witch. She was in her training clothes and running beside Harry as he followed his usual underground route when at home. He was in his normal training gear with the sword strapped to his back. Hermione learned the gold armbands never came off, and the epaulettes were worn on everything except pyjamas. Thankfully the helmet was reserved for ceremonial duties, and wars.

As expected, they were drawing a fair bit of attention from everyone they saw or passed. Harry knew the next part of their routine would receive a lot more attention, and had planned accordingly. While Hermione was a quick learner with the wooden sword, she was no where near ready to practice those fledgling skills in front of an audience of goblins.

She was improving with her goblin shield though, and it was those skills they would practice this morning. Normally, this would be the only time Hermione removed her bracelet, but not today. The certainty that their practice was bound to draw an audience, and that audience would probably make Hermione nervous, Harry wanted to have that extra security of knowing any curses getting past her guard would still be nullified.

Harry led them into a large cavern that was occupied by goblins practicing fighting, though there appeared to be just as many simply here to watch. In some strange way it reminded Hermione of a seedy boxing gym, and now it would take her hours to get the Rocky theme tune out her head. Harry had small portable ward stones that would stop any low level magic escaping, placing them on the ground to define a safe area. They started firing stinging hexes at each other and escalated from there, blocking with their physical shields when they couldn't dodge and erecting magical shields when they had to. The had escalated to stunners, and had worked quite a sweat up, when the cry of 'stop' issued.

Both stopped and turned to see who had issued such a command, they were faced by a wizened old goblin who was storming in their direction. Hermione was again in Rocky mode as here was 'Mickey' coming to chew them out, even his gruff voice was in character.

"Put those devil toys away at once, this is a place for real fighting."

Hermione was about to comply when Harry's voice stopped her. "Watch our backs." Those three words just dumped a shedload of adrenaline into the young witch's body as she took up position guarding Harry's back.

Harry almost casually reduced and clipped his shield onto his scabbard, their attracted audience could see he was deadly serious the instant he reached back for his sword. "Who are you to decide what real fighting is? Are you so old or just blind stupid that you can't see my rank? How dare you interrupt my training..."

"You snot-nosed whelp, get a bit of rank and forget who trained you..."

"You sir will address me properly, or there will be blood spilled here today."

The old goblin's face split into a grin that had many gaps before he gave the proper centurion salute. "Just remember Centurion Crow, never give the bastards an inch..."

"...or they'll walk all over you, I remember Whitefang, You've shouted that at me since I was five, how could I bloody forget. Are we done here, or are you planning another one of your surprises?"

Whitefang let out a rich laugh at that. "Well centurion, I can see that rank was earned. I had intended a couple of my boys would attack from behind but your little witch there seems ready for them."

Harry knew what Whitefang was trying to do, deliberately unsettle him while seeing just how far he could be pushed, but there was still more than a trace of anger in his reply. "That 'little witch' is Miss Hermione Granger, she is under my protection and named friend by the director himself. Insult her and I will introduce you to my blade."

The writing was on the wall - he'd pushed too far - and it was his understanding of such things that Whitefang eked his meagre living from, a bow and apology were quickly offered. "Sorry if I insulted you Miss Granger, that was not my intention."

Hermione returned the bow. "Apology accepted Master Whitefang ..."

This led to a loud burst of sarcastic laughter from Harry. "The only thing Whitefang is master of is the most disgusting mouth in the nation, and I don't mean dentally." None of the small crowd knew what Harry meant by his last remark but it made Hermione smile, and reduced her apprehension. If Harry was cracking jokes, the situation was well in hand.

"Since Whitefang has disrupted our exercise session, I suggest we head home for breakfast. My father has taken the morning off to spend some time with us before we visit your parents later." They picked up the ward stones and Harry had a few words with goblins he obviously knew, Hermione also noticed Whitefang watching everything closely.

As they left, Harry began supplying the answers he knew his best friend was dying to ask. "Whitefang is ... Whitefang. I know that doesn't help but I don't have any words you would understand to describe him."

"Harry, Rowena's charm is still working, just tell me in your own language." His answer had her blushing. .Ok, I get the picture, part scoundrel, part loveable crook? How do you know him, and what does your father think of this?"

"When I was a good bit younger I used to get my arse kicked - a lot. Whitefang watched this happening one day - didn't stop it mind you - and had words with me afterwards. Said I had guts, but was stupid. You know me well enough now to guess how I would react to that."

Hermione actually smiled. "Not well I'll bet."

"Well Whitefang said I needed to learn to fight, not just stand up and get knocked back down again. He took me to the training place we were today, and gradually taught me every dirty way to fight there is."

This confused Hermione. "Then why were you so hostile to him if he helped you?"

"Oh he certainly helped me a great deal, but it's complicated. Had I shown him the respect I offer, say Master Sharpshard, Whitefang would have spat in my face and insisted I had insulted him. By treating him the way I did today, as a dangerous character I shouldn't be around, that to him is a form of respect he can accept. My father pays him for information occasionally, he's very good at blending into the background and missing nothing. Whitefang would accept gold for that, but never for helping me."

A sigh of exasperation came from his best friend. "Every time I think I'm beginning to understand goblins, something else comes along and changes it."

Harry just laughed. "We're a very simple race Hermione, let's run back and you can have some more of that ale you like so much. I must admit, I really miss it when we're at Hogwarts. Pumpkin juice is far too sweet for me, and the wizard's attempts to copy our ale - butter beer I think its called - is supposed to be disgusting."

"At the feast I noticed every one was drinking ale, that or wine."

"Hermione, we only have four drinks and one of them is water. Grog is never drank in public - it knocks you on your back after only a couple of tankards."

This was hard for Hermione to believe, her mother drank more types of coffee than that. This prompted another question. "Surely there must be more than four drinks, don't you have any hot beverages?"

"Sure we do! Hot water, hot ale and hot wine. Master Sharpshard is the only person I know who can drink hot grog - a good indication of how toxic that brew is when heated. I told you Hermione, simple."

Hermione was shaking her head, simple - right! This was going to take her years to figure out. That thought brought a smile to her face as she ran beside Harry, heading for his home.

-oOoOo-

Padma found her twin waiting on her as she left Ravenclaw tower, they hugged in greeting before Parvati told her why she was there. "I said to Neville I would walk you to breakfast this morning, we never get to spend as much time together as we used to. I don't think I like being in separate houses, and we won't even be together over the holidays."

Unlike her sister, Padma was enjoying being in a different house from Parvati. They really were two very different witches, with her more gregarious twin attracting all the attention while quiet little Padma faded into the background. Padma didn't resent her twin for this, you might as well blame the rain for being wet, it was just who Parvati was. It was only now though, being in a different house and having her own group of friends, that Padma felt she could let out the witch that - until recently - only she knew was in there.

"Pav, you seemed happy with Gryffindor, you and Lavender had a fight?"

"What, no! It's just that I thought it was going to be so different. I mean, look what we have to put up with - Ron Weasley - please! Seamus and Dean aren't much better, neither are the second years. One decent wizard and my twin sister has to snaffle him."

"Neville and I are good friends Pav, but I'm not expecting a marriage proposal soon. We hope to see him during the holidays but he won't be staying at Hermione's."

"No, you'll just have to make do spending the holiday with Harry. I still can't believe you marched down to the front of the great hall yesterday, that boy is a bad influence on you."

Padma had trouble believing it herself, but she thought Harry and Hermione were great influences on her. Without their friendship, she would never have had the confidence to stand up for them yesterday.

"Have breakfast with me this morning? I do miss spending time with you Pav, we can still be together more than we have been lately."

Parvati quickly agreed, before coming to the main reason for wanting to speak with her twin. "I heard Hermione mention shopping, presents and parties - can you swing an invite for me too?"

Padma was well aware Parvati would drive both her friends nuts with her constant chattering so tried to nip this idea in the bud. "Did you also here her mention running every morning, lots of studying and living without magic for two weeks?"

"Running ...and no magic? How are you supposed to live without magic?"

"I have no idea Pav, but that's the whole point. I want to learn new things, and living with muggles for two weeks will certainly do that." Suddenly the idea wasn't so appealing to Parvati. When Padma said she would try and include her when they met up with Neville, she was delighted.

Both sisters entered the great hall and sat at the Ravenclaw table, being quickly joined by Neville. Padma was sitting between her sister and friend and thought the morning was just about perfect, until the Prophet was delivered and it got so much better.

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