The Falling

The Dark Vault

Hermione awoke early Saturday morning feeling rested for the first time in a week. She slipped out from underneath her covers, stretching fiercely as she stood up. She just couldn't sleep any longer, her dreams emulating all the things she wanted to accomplish. After Harry expressed concern about finding a better means of communication, Hermione's mind had been buzzing with ideas of how they could send messages to Sirius and the Alliance without being detected. They needed something that wouldn't be detectable, even if they were personally searched by Umbridge herself, and Hermione knew exactly how to do it.

The sun had already risen over the horizon by the time Hermione finished and she knew that this meant she had probably missed breakfast. Fay and Alice were already gone, and Hermione wondered whether without Parvati to mediate, the two girls would ever speak to her again. It wasn't that she had ever done anything to them, but they had always just treated her differently and she couldn't help but wonder why. However, she was thankful that they hadn't chosen to change their habits this morning. The task she had set out to complete had needed her full concentration, thus she had drawn the curtains about her bed shut. As she beheld her accomplishment, she knew that it was the most complicated magic she had ever performed.

Satisfied, Hermione dressed, snatched a couple of books from her trunk, bundled up her new creations, and headed down to the common room, which was alive with the hustle and bustle of her fellow Gryffindors. Fred and George were busy selling contraband, otherwise known as Weasley's Wizard Wheezes merchandise, while Cormac McLaggen and Angelina seemed to be having a very heated discussion about the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Normally Hermione would have carried out her Prefect duties and chivvied the twins away, trying to confiscate their merchandise, but now she just smiled at the thought of the irritated look on Umbridge's face. Hermione settled herself onto the couch, and began to read the latest book that had piqued her interest (Mysteries of Ancient Magic), while she waited for Harry to come down. They would need to discuss how the Alliance was going to cover for her absence tomorrow. Ever since the attack in the Owlery, Harry always knew where she was, no doubt thanks to the Marauders' Map, and she knew he would be along shortly once he noticed that she was up. At first, the idea of Harry knowing where she was at all times troubled her, but now it gave her an odd sense of safety, knowing that he was watching. The strangest thing was that all the chaos surrounding her life was beginning to feel... normal.

When nearly an hour had passed without any sign of Harry, Hermione started to worry. She closed her book, about to stand and leave when she heard a "hem, hem" from behind her. Hermione stood and turned around to look into the face of Professor Umbridge, a cruel look covertly hidden behind a toad-like smile. The whole of the common room had fallen silent, watching the scene unfold.

"Ms Granger," said Umbridge, in a sickeningly sweet tone "first you missed breakfast and, more importantly, morning head count. Now, I find you reading a book while illegal contraband is being distributed inside your common room. This is NOT the type of behaviour that is expected from a Prefect."

"Who was distributing illegal contraband, Professor?" asked Hermione innocently.

"If you had been paying attention to your collective duties, then we both would know, Ms Granger." replied Umbridge, her tone cold and harsh.

At that moment the portrait swung open, as Harry entered the common room, followed closely by Professor McGonagall. Umbridge's smug expression shifted slightly as she turned to see who had entered the room. The look on Harry's face told her that he had seen Umbridge on the Map, and may have even stopped to collect Professor McGonagall on the way.

"Minerva, what brings you here this morning?" asked Umbridge politely, her girlish tone returning.

"I am Head of Gryffindor House, am I not?" retorted McGonagall. "Why wouldn't I come visit my students?"

"I simply meant that I wasn't expecting you, Minerva, that's all." replied Umbridge, smiling devilishly.

"It seems that you were having a discussion with Ms Granger when I walked in." said McGonagall briskly. "Is there something wrong?"

"Why yes, Minerva, there is." simpered Umbridge. "It seems that Ms Granger has been neglecting her duties as a Prefect."

"Oh – how so?" asked McGonagall calmly, her lips thinning.

"Well, for starters she failed to show up for the morning count," replied Umbridge. "Then I found her reading a book while illegal contraband was being dispersed in this very room."

"Ms Granger, why did you miss the morning count?" asked McGonagall kindly.

"I overslept, Professor." replied Hermione.

"Well now, that seems to be an acceptable reason, Dolores." said McGonagall. "Ms Granger is an exceptional student and was probably up late studying. Besides, I don't see how missing morning count is shunning her Prefect duties. As for this illegal contraband, Dolores, did you see it being distributed in front of Ms Granger?"

"Being a Prefect means being a role model for other students, Minerva." Umbridge hissed. "How is oversleeping and being ignorant of her surroundings Prefect material?"

Hermione could see Professor McGonagall bristling up hard, her nostrils were nothing but slits now. Harry looked outraged, preparing to lash out at any moment, his temper getting the best of him. Then and there she made her decision, confident that it was the correct one.

"No need, Professor," said Hermione, unpinning the Prefect badge from her robes. "I resign from my duties, effective immediately."

Hermione handed the Prefect badge to Professor McGonagall, and then swept past all of them before anyone could protest. She had just passed through the portrait hole when Harry caught up with her, grasping her arm.

"Hermione," said Harry, as she turned to look at him "you sure you want to do that?"

"What does it matter." said Hermione flatly. "I don't care about being a Prefect. None of that matters to me anymore. Besides, she has to appoint another Gryffindor to replace me, so it's not like it'll be someone hostile."

"Okay, Hermione." said Harry, smiling at her. "As long as you're okay with it, then I am too."

"What took you so long this morning?" asked Hermione, as they slowly began to walk down the corridor.

Harry's smile grew wider. "Let me show you." he said, taking her by the hand and guiding her.

They arrived in the corridor, where the Room of Requirement sat hidden from all. Harry pulled out the Map and examined it closely before quickly pacing back and forth in front of the wall three times. Her curiosity was peaked, as she wondered what he had been up to. When the door appeared, Harry motioned for her to enter ahead of him. She did so, studying the wry smile on his face.

"Well hello again, Hermione." said Sirius, as Harry closed the door behind them.

"Sirius!" squealed Hermione in shock. "What are you doing here?"

"Admiring this amazing room." replied Sirius. "I cannot believe that we never found this room in all my years here."

"Dobby showed it to us." said Harry with a smirk. "It pays to befriend a house-elf sometimes."

Sirius sighed at his godson's remark. Hermione knew that Harry and Sirius did not see eye-to-eye on house-elves, especially when it came to Dobby. Kreacher was always foul to Sirius growing up and it had given him a harsh opinion of house-elves in general.

"Why are you here, Sirius?" asked Hermione. "I thought the trip to Gringotts wasn't until tomorrow."

"It isn't." replied Sirius. "Harry sent Dobby this morning to fetch me here, so I could help him with an issue."

Sirius nodded towards a nearby corner. As Hermione turned to see what he was looking at, she nearly fainted. There – unconscious, bound, and gagged laid Draco Malfoy.

"Harry!" shrieked Hermione. "What did you do?"

"Something completely brilliant." interjected Sirius. "It was an absolutely spot on idea."

"Attacking Malfoy is brilliant?" asked Hermione in disbelief.

"As far as Malfoy is concerned, he'll think he drank too much fire whiskey last night." said Harry. "He was really easy to overtake. The signs of a hangover were impossible to overlook, unless you wanted to."

"What good did it do, Harry?" asked Hermione, trying to wrap her mind about it.

"Good? What good, you ask?" repeated Sirius, barking with laughter. "Tell her, Harry."

"We've confirmed where your parents are." said Harry, the biggest smile on his face.

"W-Wait – w-what?" stuttered Hermione. "How do you know he told you the truth?"

"Trust me, my dear," said Sirius "a little veritaserum and some memory modification charms go a long way."

"So – you know where they are?" squeaked Hermione, hardly able to control herself.

It was too good to be true. Her dreams weren't even this good. Her mind was still spinning, trying to desperately catch up. Harry was really taking risks, though she couldn't deny that it was brilliant.

"They're at Malfoy Manor." said Harry, a dark smile curling his face. "They're keeping them in the basement."

"And what about – about the Owlery?" asked Hermione, choking slightly. "Was that Malfoy?"

"If it had been," replied Sirius darkly, glancing at Harry "you'd be slapping his corpse."

"He doesn't know who did it either, Hermione," said Harry "but he does know that the witch or wizard responsible is still here at Hogwarts."

"So, how are we going to rescue my parents?" asked Hermione.

The thought that the Death Eater was still within the castle walls made her shudder. Trying to displace the idea was hard but Hermione knew she had to. If she didn't put it out of her mind, fear would take its place.

"Well, seeing that Harry won't send Dobby in alone to retrieve them, we'll have to come up with a better plan." said Sirius, clearly put off by the idea of not using the tiny elf.

"I agree with Harry." said Hermione, smiling at him. "It's too dangerous for him alone."

"Well then, I guess tomorrow is one part Gringotts business, one part rescue –" began Sirius.

"No, Sirius." interrupted Harry. "We need a better plan than that. We need one that guarantees Malfoy Manor to be nearly deserted." Harry hesitated before saying, "We need the Death Eaters to ambush us."

"Pardon me?" asked Hermione, shocked by Harry's declaration; her mouth slightly agape.

"I was going to say, one part rescue scouting mission, before being interrupted." said Sirius, eyebrows raised. "How does Death Eaters ambushing us help rescue – wait – THAT'S BLOODY BRILLIANT!" Sirius clasped his hands together hard. "Just the way James would have done it!"

"How is that bloody brilliant?" asked Hermione, trying to remain calm.

"Simple really," replied Harry "in 1892, the England Quidditch team drew up a play that bunched their chasers together, drawing the French team to one side of the pitch, tossing the quaffle to their seeker for the score." When Hermione didn't respond, Harry continued. "The play was extremely risky but the score was necessary for the win. They knew that their seeker couldn't beat France's seeker so they had to score as many points as they could."

"You're trying to convince me – that a plan involving you – drawing out Death Eaters so that someone can rescue my parents is a brilliant idea – by comparing it to a Quidditch match?" asked Hermione, attempting to control her rage.

"Excellent – you understood where I was going." replied Harry, looking as though he sensed danger. "However, I didn't say that I was going to do it alone, Hermione."

"HARRY JAMES POTTER!" roared Hermione, marching up to him until they were literally nose-to-nose, not caring that Sirius was present. "You will not sacrifice yourself to save my parents!" she hissed through gritted teeth.

"Would you relax if I told you that you would be with me?" asked Harry calmly, his eyes closed against her gaze.

Hermione drew breath, and then took one step back from Harry. She was trying to regain her composure; trying to allow him to explain; trying to have faith that he was not a fool; trying to not vomit. He wouldn't place her in harm's way if he was planning a suicide mission, she assured herself.

"Hermione," interjected Sirius calmly "let's hear Harry out. If his plan is completely mental, we won't go through with it."

Hermione nodded, but refused to look at either of them. She felt that she might get sick right there on the floor if she made any sudden movements.

"I really don't have a complete plan yet, Sirius." said Harry. "Just an idea: one that's been forming in my head since the day I asked Dumbledore to clear your name."

"Well then, why don't we all take a seat at the table and hear out what you've formulated so far?" said Sirius, motioning to the conference table. "Mr Malfoy won't mind, I think."

Hermione glanced at the unconscious lump, which was Draco Malfoy, drooling into the corner. Where was Creevey and his camera when you needed him, Hermione mused to herself.

"Mr Crabbe and Mr Goyle might." said Professor McGonagall, stepping out of the shadows. "They've already noticed his absence."

"Professor McGonagall!" squeaked Hermione, her stomach lurching dangerously.

"Minerva, we didn't hear you come in." said Sirius, pleasantly surprised.

"I entered while Hermione was shouting at Harry for planning to do something foolish, I presume." said McGonagall with a wry smile.

Hermione looked at Harry, exploring his face for answers. Sirius smirked as he took a seat at the table, joined shortly by McGonagall.

"In answer to your unspoken question, Hermione," said McGonagall, adjusting her glasses "I have known of this room's existence for many years. Only its whereabouts have eluded me." She chuckled, "It was no surprise to me when Harry showed me the room this morning. If anyone here would have knowledge of such a room, it would be him."

"In all fairness, Professor," said Harry, as he and Hermione joined them at the table "it was Dobby who showed me the room."

"Yes, but it was you who befriended the elf." McGonagall retorted. "Not many wizards would have shown him such kindness. That is what makes you special Harry, not the Boy-Who-Lived moniker for which you are so famous."

Hermione saw Harry blush slightly at the compliment given by Professor McGonagall. He needed to hear from others that there was more to him than just his tragic past, which he often dwelled upon.

"Hermione, are sure that you want to do this?" asked Professor McGonagall, opening her hand to reveal the Prefect badge she had been gripping.

"Yes, Professor." replied Hermione. "As I've already told Harry, it doesn't matter to me anymore."

Professor McGonagall nodded before placing the badge inside her robes. Sirius gave Hermione an approving smile, now comprehending what she had done.

"You hid Mr Malfoy's presence from me earlier, before we went to check on Hermione." McGonagall's expression hardened as she turned her focus to Harry and Sirius, staring at them. "Why then, have you abducted him?"

"We've gathered information from him as to the whereabouts of Hermione's parents." interjected Sirius.

"I assume you will be modifying his memory so that he has no recollection of his interrogation?" asked McGonagall, and Harry nodded. "Then might I ask that you go ahead and do so, as his friends are beginning to become concerned by his absence. I do not think it wise to wait for it to be brought to Professor Umbridge's attention."

Sirius nodded, then pointed his wand at Malfoy. A wisp of silvery light spread from Sirius' wand to Malfoy's forehead. After a minute or so, Sirius lowered his wand and the silvery light dissipated.

"Please be so kind, Harry, and check the Map for me?" asked Sirius.

Harry glanced at McGonagall as he pulled the Marauder's Map from inside his robes to check the seventh floor corridor.

"Is that a map of Hogwarts?" asked McGonagall, raising her right eyebrow.

"The corridor is clear, Sirius." said Harry, glancing again at McGonagall's thinning lips.

Sirius waved his wand, levitating Malfoy into the air and towards the door. McGonagall withdrew her wand and waved it at the doorway, almost absentmindedly, causing one of the doors to open.

"Thank you, Minerva." said Sirius with a nod, as he levitated Malfoy out into the corridor before shutting the door behind him with another wave of his wand.

"Won't Malfoy – or anyone who stumbles upon him – wonder why he's in a corridor on the seventh floor?" asked Hermione.

"The smell of fire whiskey on his robes will suffice." replied Harry.

"Where did you get that map?" asked McGonagall firmly.

"James, Remus, Pettigrew, and myself made that map while we were here at Hogwarts." replied Sirius. "It's the only one of its kind and cannot be duplicated."

Hermione mused as McGonagall spied the map; no doubt linking it to years of mischief in her mind. McGonagall's presence had allowed Hermione's anger to simmer, allowing for clearer thought. She wanted to ask Harry how he knew to come to the common room, if it wasn't the Marauder's Map. A pain in her head gave her the sensation as though some part of her was dying to scream out, while something else kept it at bay. She rubbed her eyes, attracting unwanted attention from Harry, his green eyes staring at her as he probed her face with concern. She cleared her mind and pressed forward, wanting to hurry this unprompted meeting before she got sick.

"So, you were explaining to us your plan." said Hermione, staring at Harry.

"Well" Harry cleared his throat "we need to find a way to lure everyone away from Malfoy Manor so we can get them out unharmed."

"It's going to take a lot of coordination to prevent anyone from getting killed." said Sirius.

"I think I have a solution." said Hermione, pulling a small bag from inside her robes. "We need to be able to communicate with each other, no matter the distance. Also, our form of communication should be as discreet as possible."

"So what do you have there, Hermione?" asked Sirius, staring at the bag.

"The one thing that everyone carries and is never questioned – gold; fake gold in the form of galleons. I got the idea from the Leprechaun gold at the Quidditch World Cup." She poured twelve gold galleons onto the table. "These fake galleons have a Protean charm on them, allowing us to send messages to one another."

"Very impressive, Hermione." said McGonagall, picking up one of the fake galleons. "Very advanced spell work."

"Thank you." said Hermione, smiling slightly. "There's one for each of us. The galleon will heat up when there's a new message. The new message will show in place of the serial number."

Sirius and Harry examined the fake galleons, admiring her work and nodding their approval.

"Excellent work, Hermione." said Sirius, pocketing the fake galleon, then turned his attention to Professor McGonagall. "As you know, I will be escorting Harry to Gringotts tomorrow to deal with some Potter family business. What you're not aware of is that Hermione will be joining us. While in London, we will attempt to find out as much about the 'state of things' as possible."

Hermione waited, as did Harry, for Professor McGonagall to explode; her eyebrows had closed to form one long line above her eyes, while her lips had all but disappeared. She was staring at Sirius, the most complex of looks on her face.

"Being that Professor Umbridge will never permit it, I presume that you will be smuggling her out of the castle." said McGonagall evenly. "Well – I can help cover for her absence, providing that you swear upon your soul, Sirius, that nothing will happen to her while she is with you and Harry."

Sirius was just as surprised by McGonagall as Harry and Hermione were. Hermione hadn't even considered Professor McGonagall's reaction to be as such. She was less concerned about breaking the rules and more concerned about Hermione's safety. To top it off, she was willing to cover for her absence.

"Minerva, I swear that I will keep Hermione safe while she is in my care." replied Sirius solemnly. "Now," continued Sirius "Umbridge has no idea that we will be going to Gringotts, so our presence in London must be discreet. We will disapparate from just outside the Hogwarts grounds, directly into Hooktooth's office, as he's expecting us. From there, any exploration outside of Gringotts will be very tricky. I'm hoping however, that will not be necessary."

"What do you mean?" asked Harry, looking confused.

"Goblins are very clever and cunning." replied Sirius. "They're also extremely knowledgeable about the comings and goings of the wizarding world. They can be very helpful – if you're from a wealthy and ancient family."

Hermione rolled her eyes at this and Sirius gave her a knowing smirk. More pureblood antics; they were all too common in the wizarding world. Her parents had taught her to look upon all people as equal, no matter their financial status. Special treatment for family lines that were both ancient and wealthy was responsible for creating the Lucius Malfoys of the world.

"So, what will be your cover story, Hermione, for your absence tomorrow?" asked McGonagall.

"I think a simple round robin will suffice," replied Hermione "with my location changing every time one of the Alliance is questioned."

"Won't that become rather confusing?" asked McGonagall. "How would you coordinate such a complicated hoax?"

"With the assistance of the fake galleons, of course." replied Hermione. "Each time the story changes, it can be passed along with a simple word like, Library or Lake, designating where I'm supposed to be next."

"Sounds solid to me." said Harry, a smile curling the ends of his mouth.

"Yes indeed." said Sirius. "And so it begins."

He pulled a small bottle from within his robes and sat it on the table before conjuring up four small glasses. Professor McGonagall looked at the bottle with much distaste. Hermione shared her enthusiasm.

"Do not tell me that you intend to serve Harry and Hermione fire whiskey?" snarled McGonagall. "In my presence and in this school?"

"Yes Minerva, I do." retorted Sirius. "They are about to risk their lives very soon for the most noble of causes, so I can no longer look upon them as children. And I expect you to take part in this toast too, Minerva. It's tradition. Besides, when have you ever been one to say no to a good round of spirits?"

"Harry and Hermione are not of age, Sirius!" McGonagall snarled with even more vigour.

"What tradition?" Harry asked.

"During the first wizarding war," began Sirius "we would toast each other before we set out on any dangerous task. At first it was to settle the nerves, but soon it became a bonding tradition amongst those fighting Voldemort."

Despite Professor McGonagall's stern face, Sirius poured each a small glass of fire whiskey. He then raised it into the air, as to toast. Harry mimicked the motion, followed resentfully by Professor McGonagall, and finally by Hermione.

"To the safe return of your parents, Hermione, and the eventual fall of Voldemort." said Sirius solemnly.

"And to the fall of all those that stand against us." added Harry, a dark undertone to his voice.

Hermione stared at Harry, a mixture of awe and fear, for there it was again; the hint of something darker, as even his eyes looked a darker shade of green. Sirius and Professor McGonagall looked at him too, though neither seemed as concerned as Hermione. Sirius and Harry drained their glasses while McGonagall and Hermione simply sipped theirs in protest. Hermione felt the urge to be sick once more before it finally passed. They had turned another corner and now it felt as though they were on the Hogwarts Express while heading down a steep grade, no brakes to slow them down. How many more would die before it all ended, wondered Hermione, a shiver to trailing her spine.

The next morning Hermione woke feeling much better and ready to face the day. Last night's session with the Alliance had gone extremely well. Renewed energy, spawned by Harry and Seamus being back amongst the group, sparked a swell of support for Hermione's cover plan. The fake galleons were another element that fuelled the group's resolve. As Luna put it, "They might actually have a chance of not dying". To shift away from Luna's knack for the blatant, the twins said that they would raise the bar while Harry and Hermione were away, making it difficult for Umbridge or Filch to notice the absence of a single student. Not knowing what that might be, Hermione sighed as she thought about what they could possibly do to top the third floor monsoon.

Not surprisingly, Draco used what should have been a quite embarrassing predicament to only bolster his 'bad boy' persona. As there was virtually no mention of him being found in a corridor smelling of fire whiskey by the staff, let alone any punishment, it was seen by his Slytherin peers as a sign that the influence and power of the Malfoy family was back on the rise. Crabbe, Goyle, and Pansy seemed thoroughly impressed by this, causing Malfoy's head to swell almost insufferably too much. He strutted into the Great Hall for dinner that night, acting as though he was the king of Hogwarts.

Professor McGonagall had requested that her part in the cover plan be kept secret from the group, as not to allow for any slip-ups. She wasn't ready for the students or Umbridge to recognize her assistance of the soon to be notorious Harry Potter. Hermione agreed that if anyone suspected Professor McGonagall of helping them, it would be detrimental to Harry's rescue plan. Even though Hermione did not let on, she had to admit to herself that his 'divide and conquer' idea was brilliant; no matter how dangerous it was.

Harry was eager to get going, pacing the common room after breakfast, and was growing irritable while waiting for Sirius to arrive. Hermione was glad to hear the portrait of the Fat Lady swing open and see Sirius step through. Fred let off a new invention, the Weasley Retcher, which cleared the common room in a matter of seconds, as everyone made for the dorms or the portrait hole. It was the combination of a Zonko's Stink Pellet and a Fabulous Fogger, though much more potent. It also made an ear splitting whistling noise to add to the effect. Hermione yelled at the twins loudly, watching as Fay and Alice made for the corridor, then proclaimed that she was headed up to her dorm until the smell was gone. Under the cover of chaos, Harry threw the invisibility cloak over her and the three of them made for the portrait hole, stepping through into the corridor beyond. Once clear from the bustle of the students, Sirius and Harry casually walked down the staircases, laughing all the way at the twins latest invention; Hermione right beside them under the cloak. Umbridge roared past them, Hermione having to leap out of the way. She barely made notice of Sirius and Harry, her intentions on making the Gryffindor common room. The twins really were making Umbridge's post as Headmistress quite the stressful one.

When they finally reached the gates of the outer wall, as though they were headed towards Hogsmeade, Sirius whispered for Hermione to take hold of his hand before apparating both her and Harry away from Hogwarts and directly into the office of a very stern looking goblin. Hooktooth was one of the goblin account managers at Gringotts Wizarding Bank and judging by his office, a very senior one at that. The large mahogany desk, lavish leather desk chair, and high-back guest chairs were complimented by the miniature chandelier and polished stone floor. A brass ink pot sat in the middle of the desk just behind a brass name plate that proclaimed him as a Gringotts Account Manager. The goblin sat working behind his desk, writing on parchment with a long golden quill, but upon their arrival he stood to greet them.

The sensation of all the air being squeezed from her body during apparation had been too much for Hermione, and she retched on the goblin's office floor. Harry quickly stowed the invisibility cloak beneath his robes and handed his handkerchief to Hermione as Sirius immediately scourged the floor with a wave of his wand.

"So sorry, sir." said Hermione, wiping her face with Harry's handkerchief.

"It is a stone floor." croaked the goblin. "It makes no difference to me as long as someone cleans it up."

The goblin grinned, showing very pointed teeth, and Hermione felt her skin crawl.

"Hooktooth," said Sirius "I would like for you to meet Harry Potter and Hermione Granger."

"Honored." said Hooktooth, bowing his large head slightly. "It is truly my pleasure to finally meet the Harry Potter."

Harry bowed slightly, as Sirius had instructed him to do so that morning. Hermione also bowed slightly as the Hooktooth turned his gaze to her.

"Granger – Granger, I do not recall any vaults here belonging to any Grangers." said Hooktooth.

"Ms Granger is a muggleborn." said Sirius. "Her and Harry are in a courtship. He wished for her to join him today."

Hermione blushed in spite of herself. She was just starting to get use to the idea of dating Harry, but hearing it called a courtship made it sound like they were betrothed or something. She was already secretly envisioning spending the rest of her life with him, but she was secretly envisioning it, not shouting it from the astronomy tower; not yet.

"Very well." croaked the goblin. "You will not oppose a quick test, Mr Potter, to assure that you are the real Harry Potter?"

"Course not." replied Harry. "What must I do?"

"Simply prick your finger here, Mr Potter." said Hooktooth, pointing to a sharp pen on his desk. "If you are indeed Harry Potter, the pen will glow. If you are not Harry Potter, you will die."

Harry blinked before reaching out his hand and pricking his finger on the pen. At once, the pen glowed a golden colour. Hermione let slip a slight sigh, and Hooktooth looked at her, a frown upon his face.

"Why the sigh, Ms Granger?" asked Hooktooth.

"Death is such a rash course of action." said Hermione. "What if your test didn't work properly and it killed someone by mistake?"

"Ms Granger, our test hasn't killed a Gringotts customer in over five hundred years – at least none that we know of." replied Hooktooth. "However, we goblins believe in dire retribution to those that attempt to deceive us."

"Hooktooth, sir," said Harry "you told Sirius that there was some business that I needed to attend to."

"Yes Mr Potter, there is." said Hooktooth seriously. "Lord Black visited Gringotts, as your guardian and godfather, to check on the Potter account at your request. While I was happy to oblige, there is one portion of family business that can only be handled by a Potter himself. Once you reach legal age, you will have unrestricted access to your vaults and will assume the title of Lord Potter. Until then, you must be accompanied by your legal guardian. We will visit your other vaults first, before visiting your family's dark vault."

"Dark vault." repeated Harry. "What is a dark vault?"

"The oldest and most ancient of vaults are referred to as dark vaults." replied Hooktooth. "They are the largest vaults here and they reside at the bottom of Gringotts. You, being the last of the Potter lineage, are required to visit the vault at least once in your lifetime or forfeit all that is inside to Gringotts."

"Why wasn't I told of this vault when I first visited Gringotts four years ago?" asked Harry tensely.

"Your guardian at the time, Albus Dumbledore, requested that we keep all but your trust vault hidden from you." Hooktooth frowned. "I wasn't given privilege to meet you at that time."

Hermione could see Harry's blood boiling and his temper close to the surface. It was another betrayal of Dumbledore in Harry's eyes and Hermione had to agree. There was no reason to keep Harry's family fortune a secret from him, unless Dumbledore was doing exactly what Sirius had found him to be doing; stealing from Harry.

"I feel I must also inform you," croaked Hooktooth, a sour expression upon his face "that the Ministry has attempted to take claim of the Potter Estate three times since your parent's demise."

Harry looked at Sirius, then Hermione, before looking back at the goblin. Now, Hermione wondered what it was that resided in the dark vault that the Ministry would be after, or whether they just after the family fortune.

"Hooktooth," said Harry "we have travelled here discreetly and do not wish for others to know that we are here. May we visit my family vaults undetected?"

"Mr Potter, the business of any Gringotts client is not known outside these walls." replied Hooktooth. "So yes, Mr Potter, you may visit your vaults without passing through the main hall of Gringotts or being seen by other wizards. I am pleased to have this account receiving its proper attention. My work load was becoming far too light for my liking." he croaked, pointing to a stack of papers on the edge of his desk that would have made Ron Weasley faint.

"Please follow me." said Hooktooth, straightening his vest.

Hooktooth stepped to the back of his office and tapped a stone on the wall with one of his long fingers. The wall immediately opened, revealing a stone passage that lead to a rail cart. Torches blazed into life as they made their way through the passage. Hermione looked at the rail cart curiously, while Harry approached the cart apprehensively. Sirius stepped in without hesitation, as did Hooktooth. Once they were all aboard the tiny cart raced ahead at tremendous speed, causing Hermione to close her eyes tightly. Being a muggleborn, she had never seen the wizarding vaults that resided beneath the bank; however, her fear was greater than her curiosity for the moment, so she kept her eyes closed. When the cart stopped she opened her eyes to see a row of doors with numbers, all very close together.

"Your trust vault, Mr Potter." said Hooktooth. "Do you wish to inspect it?"

"Not today, Hooktooth." replied Harry. "I've seen this vault many times. Now, I would like to see the other family vaults."

"Very good." croaked the goblin, as the cart sped away.

Hermione closed her eyes again, as they went up, down, and around before coming to a halt again. She opened her eyes to see higher ceilings and more doors with numbers, though the vaults were not as many, nor were they as close together as the trust vaults. The goblin exited the cart, followed by Harry, Hermione, and Sirius. They approached a vault, with a large 493 on the door. Hooktooth dragged a long finger down the center of the door and a thousand metallic clicks rang inside the vault, followed by the sound of a chain sliding away.

The door slowly opened, torches blazing to life to reveal a room larger than the Gryffindor common room filled with many objects including swords, shields, gold and silver goblets, gold and silver plates, shelving full of scrolls of parchment, and piles of gold; not gold galleons, but solid gold bars. Hermione figured there was probably two or three tons of gold sitting before her. She shook her head in disbelief, unable to comprehend what she was seeing. She was sure that this vault alone made Harry one of the wealthiest in Gryffindor House.

At the back of the vault, mounted up high on the back wall, was a crest with a shield bearing the lion, knight's helmet, and boar's head. Beneath the shield was inscribed, 'Virtuti Moenia Cedant'. Hermione's parents had persisted that she learnt Latin when she was younger. It was a little rusty, but she roughly translated it to be 'The strongest walls yield to persistence'.

"Would it be possible to obtain a ledger of all that this vault contains, Hooktooth?" asked Harry.

"Of course." replied Hooktooth. "It will be ready before you leave today."

"Thank you." said Harry, bowing slightly.

Sirius smiled as he watched his godson charm the goblin and gain his trust by showing him respect. Hermione was glad to see Harry showing the goblins respect, even if it was some sort of act.

"Anything that you see here can be easily transferred to your trust vault at any time, if you so desire." croaked the goblin.

Harry nodded.

"On to the next vault, I think." said Hooktooth, gesturing to the cart.

As they boarded the cart, Harry asked, "How many family vaults are there?"

"Only one more standard vault, Mr Potter, then on to the dark vault." said Hooktooth, as the cart sped away again.

Harry had told her that his mother was muggleborn, so she wondered as they sped away why his family would have two family vaults. In the muggle world, when people married they typically merged their accounts together. Was this not the case in the wizarding world, she wondered.

When Hermione opened her eyes this time, she beheld another underground corridor with slightly higher ceilings, giving the impression of entering a gloomier Kings Cross Station; a row of vault doors with numbers on them, spaced a good distance from each other. They exited the cart and approached a vault, with a large 231 on the door. As before, Hooktooth dragged a long finger down the center of the door, followed by the sound of a thousand metallic clicks, then a chain sliding away. The door opened as more torches blazed into being to reveal an even larger vault, filled with many things similar to the first one. Large amounts of gold and silver bars sat stacked upon the floor in the center. She thought that there must be another two to three tons here. The shear amount of wealth was mind numbing; not even Harry could keep from gaping this time, as his mouth seemed to slacken more and more as he looked about the vault. Sirius, however, did not seem fazed by the overwhelming wealth.

At the back of the vault, mounted up high on the back wall, was a crest with a shield similar to the first vault bearing a boar's head with a snake in its mouth and a triangular symbol with a circle inside, divided by a line down the center. Beneath the shield was inscribed, 'Deo Non Fortuna', which translated to mean 'From God, not from chance'.

"Mr Potter, would you like a ledger of this vault also?" asked Hooktooth.

"Indeed." replied Harry, still gaping. "Thank you."

The goblin nodded before gesturing for them to return to the cart. They climbed back into the cart and descended further into the earth, though much slower than before. Hermione was able to keep her eyes open this time, admiring the magical enchantments that were noticeable everywhere; the safe guards of Gringotts were most impressive. The tiny cart slowed to a halt, coming to rest against two large buffers, at what looked like the end of the railway. Hooktooth exited the cart and took hold of a nearby torch, which sprang to life at his touch, then motioned for them to follow him.

As they approached a large entry chamber, something moved in the firelight of the torches as they sprang to life, casting a monolithic shadow upon the outer wall. Hooktooth withdrew a silver device and began to shake it, creating a metallic clanking noise. To Hermione's surprise and horror, a large pale dragon stood shackled to the wall with large chains, which shrunk away from the noise, thus allowing them to pass. It was apparent that the dragon associated the sound with pain and it revolted her to see any creature treated in this manner; especially just to protect wizard valuables. Harry reached over and squeezed her hand knowing what she must be thinking. They entered a long corridor that curved around the chamber, shielding them from the dragon.

"These are the oldest and most secure vaults in all of Britain." said Hooktooth, full of pride. "Here, we will find the final Potter family vault."

They approached a series of vaults that looked to be as large as the Great Hall, while the ceiling suggested them to be twice as tall. They stopped in front of a large door with the number 73 engraved into the door itself. Hermione waited for Hooktooth to run his finger down the door as he had done twice before, but instead he turned to face them.

"This vault has been sealed and only a Potter heir can open the door." said Hooktooth.

"What do I need to do?" asked Harry.

"A drop of blood upon the door will suffice." croaked the goblin, showing his pointed teeth.

Hermione could tell that goblins must enjoy watching wizards injure themselves, as Hooktooth seemed to find delight in such. Harry did not protest, but simply pricked his finger upon the silver dagger offered to him by the goblin, before smearing his blood upon the door. The door immediately responded with thousands of metallic clicks, followed by the sound to several chains being dragged away from the door. When the door opened however, it wasn't the light of many torches magically coming to life that glowed within. It was the light from Fawkes the phoenix, perched silently upon the back of an ornate chair, staring at them as though he had been waiting for them to arrive. He bowed his magnificent head when his eyes fell upon Harry.

"What is Dumbledore's bird doing here, Hooktooth?" asked an outraged Sirius.

"This phoenix cannot belong to Albus Dumbledore, Lord Black." croaked Hooktooth. "It can only be loyal to the house of Potter to have entered this vault."

"Could it be loyal to both?" asked Hermione, feeling calm yet alarmed.

"No, Ms Granger," croaked the goblin "the laws of magic here in Gringotts are perfectly clear. Creatures such as these can only enter a vault if solely loyal to the owner. This applies to house-elves as well. Security here is of the highest in our world."

Harry marveled at Fawkes, his presence overshadowing the massive vault that stood before him. Harry wondered if Fawkes had really changed loyalties. The magnificent phoenix opened its mouth and began to sing in phoenix song the same song as in the Room of Requirement. Harry looked at Hermione, who had already teared up while biting her lower lip. Sirius looked on in wonderment while Hooktooth looked quite irritated by the song. Harry reached out and stroked Fawkes' head as it filled him with hope and courage. Fawkes slowly ended his serenade, fixing Harry with an intense gaze.

Harry tore his gaze from the phoenix and looked about the vault, which was half the size of the Great Hall, with a higher ceiling, and seemed to house a small library. Hundreds of ancient looking scrolls lay in neat stacks on shelves, lining the back wall, next to rows of about a hundred leather bound books. Swords, long bows, brooms, shields, and suits of armour lined the wall to his right, while the wall to his left was covered with shelves containing hundreds of small enchanted objects that extended all the way to the ceiling. Only a small stack of silver nuggets sat in an open trunk in the middle of the room.

"Everything in this vault is transferable to your trust vault upon request, except for the trunk of silver." said Hooktooth. "It is held as collateral for the expense of the vault. Should you ever remove this trunk from the vault, it will be closed. We will create a ledger of the contents of this vault as well for your records."

"Thank you." said Harry, nodding to the goblin. "I believe that there is enough gold in the other vaults to suffice."

Harry absentmindedly stroked Fawkes' head as he continued to take in the room. Hermione made her way around to the far wall, torches springing to life in her wake, to examine the many books and scrolls. Sirius had made his way past Harry and was admiring one of the swords that sat in a clear bubble case against the right wall.

"Harry!" gasped Hermione, examining one of the books. "Some of these books predate Hogwarts!"

"This vault opened in 1741 when the bank itself was built." croaked the goblin. "At that time, many wizarding families transferred their most precious treasures to Gringotts. Before Gringotts, we goblins used a cave system in Ireland. Many muggles believed that they were the gates to the underworld."

"Hooktooth, didn't a muggle throw his seven daughters into one of the cave openings, thinking he was sending them to hell for disgracing his name?" asked Sirius.

"Yes." replied Hooktooth. "It was around 800 A.D. when that transpired, I think. The muggle women thought that the goblins were demons and that our treasure trove they had fallen into was the treasure of the underworld. They took goblin spears and killed themselves before the goblins could stop them, thinking they were in the underworld. Most goblins back then only spoke the goblin tongue, so it was probably impossible to communicate with them."

"How awful!" exclaimed Hermione, covering her mouth with her hand.

"After that," said Hooktooth, seemingly unphased by Hermione's reaction "the goblins set protective spells over the opening, so that if someone fell in again they would be instantly transported to the beach below the cliff. We still use those same caves today as holdings for goblin treasure."

"Hooktooth," said Harry "you said this vault opened in 1741. How many families have used this vault?"

"Only one bloodline has ever used this vault." replied Hooktooth.

"James never showed me this vault." Sirius smirked. "Guess he thought it wouldn't suit me."

Harry continued to take in the massive vault. He started examining the thousands of small magical objects, all of which sat neatly on what looked to be about twenty of thirty shelves. He would need a broom to examine the upper shelves. Some of the objects reminded him of the ones that sat in the Headmaster's office. Fred had told him that the rumour was around Hogwarts that the Headmaster's office had denied Umbridge access and that was why she was still using her previous office.


Harry spun around to see Hooktooth standing just outside the vault, holding his silver dagger in one hand while pointing a long finger at someone or something in the corridor. Harry, Hermione, and Sirius had immediately drawn their wands and made for the door, Harry getting there first. As he stepped into the corridor he saw a cloaked and hooded figure standing in front of a nearby vault, wand drawn. The figure pointed their wand at Hooktooth, red light bursting from its tip. Harry reacted before he could even think; holding his free hand up towards the figure and shouted, "STOP!" He could feel waves of energy rush over him as an invisible barrier expanded in front of him and the goblin; the figure's spell rebounding upon them. The cloaked figure dove out of the way of the rebounding spell, causing their hood to slip.

Hermione gasped as Harry's mind raced for comprehension, unable to take in what his eyes were telling him.

"WOTCHER HARRY!" shouted Tonks, an odd smile curling her lips. "I see ya've learned some new tricks, but ya lost yer advantage by protecting the goblin. Should have done to me what ya did to Snape."

He could not believe that this was the same witch he had just met only a little over a month ago at Hermione's house. Her strawberry blond hair and wispy grin were just as he had remembered from Grimmauld Place; however her eyes were cold and calculating as she studied her new opponents. She was wearing some sort of leather jumpsuit beneath her robes and her crouching stance reminded him of a tiger preparing to pounce.

"Put down your wand Nymphadora!" shouted Sirius.

"DON'T CALL ME –" shouted Tonks, her hair blazing red.

Harry realized what Sirius had done, as two spells shot past him causing Tonks to dive around the corner of the corridor. Her momentary distraction had almost cost her dearly; only barely managing to recover in time. Hooktooth snapped his long fingers, the noise magically magnified.

"Wizards and goblins are on their way, Mr Potter." said Hooktooth. "All we need to do is keep the witch at bay."

"Very good, cousin!" called out Tonks, jesting tones filled her voice. "Still have ya wits about ya, no matter what Dumbledore says!"

Suddenly the wall that separated the corridor from the large chamber groaned ominously, causing the four of them to back away. Tonks took advantage of their distraction, casting four jets of purple light in their direction. Harry and Sirius shoved Hermione and Hooktooth to the stone floor to avoid the purple jets as Tonks darted past them, casting more spells to cover her way. Harry pushed himself to his feet, determined to pursue Tonks, ignoring the shear madness of the moment. Tonks darted out of the corridor, Harry hot on her heels; Sirius and Hermione racing to catch up.

Harry skidded to a halt as he realized what he had done, then launched himself back into the corridor, colliding with the oncoming Sirius and Hermione. He forcefully shoved both of them backwards, causing Sirius to fall, as a blast of dragon fire bellowed over them; striking the wall like a cannon blast. A deep husky laugh filled the air, causing Harry's hair to stand on its end. Harry stood up to see another figure had joined Tonks; a short stocky red-haired figure that Harry recognized immediately.

"Excellent reflexes, Harry!" shouted Charlie Weasley. "But I'd expect no less from a seeker!"

Charlie Weasley stood there, wand raised in their direction, the picture of health. He too wore some sort of strange black attire beneath his robes, reminding Harry of some muggle military dress. His eyes were hard and calculating too with just a hint of Weasley mirth to them.

The mighty dragon remained in the chamber but seemed dazed and sluggish, as though it was unable to react. Anger surged through Harry as he thought about how he, Hermione, Fred, and George had been so worried about these two; about these – these "TRAITORS!" The last bit escaped from his lips in a growling scream. They had betrayed their families and the Order. Hermione now stood beside Harry, wand pointed at the pair, clearly at a loss for words.

"Traitors?" retorted Charlie, his wand trained on Harry. "We're not traitors, Harry. It's the Order that has betrayed all of us."

"Doesn't matter much." said Sirius bitterly, wand raised. "All of Gringotts is on their way."

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Hooktooth lingering in the shadows; no doubt awaiting goblin reinforcements.

"It ALL matters, Sirius." shouted Charlie. "Have you forgotten who left you to rot in Azkaban?"

"NO REASON TO JOIN VOLDEMORT!" shouted Hermione, her tones full of venom.

Both Tonks and Charlie visibly shivered at the sound of Voldemort's name.

"WHAT DID YOU DO WITH HAGRID?" shouted Harry angrily.

His anger was boiling and he was ready to strike, but he wanted to know where Hagrid was; if he was still alive. Their answer would determine what he did next.

"Hagrid, Harry?" retorted Charlie. "I suppose he's shacked up with Madam Maxime in some cottage in France. Don't think he'll ever return to Hogwarts again."

There was a finite to his voice that made Harry think Charlie knew more than he was letting on about Hagrid's whereabouts. Just as Harry had made up his mind and solidified his resolve, the sound of grinding metal announced the rapidly approaching rail carts, loaded with both wizards and goblins.

"OVER THERE! TREASPASSERS AND THIEVES!" shout Hooktooth, racing forward and pointing a long finger at Tonks and Charlie.

"Stupefy!" was the cry, as Gringotts wizards turned the corner into the large chamber. Goblins also hurried into the chamber, shaking the same metallic objects as Hooktooth had. Tonks and Charlie dodged the jets of red light, striking two wizards with blasts of purple jets. Harry, Hermione, and Sirius also sent stunning spells towards Tonks and Charlie, who took refuge behind the dragon.

"CHARLIE!" shouted Bill Weasley, sliding to a halt as he joined the group of Gringotts wizards.

"TIME TO DEAL WITH YOUR DRAGON, BROTHER!" shouted Charlie from behind the great beast.

The sound of large shackles colliding with the stone floor and the unmistakable roar of a very angry dragon echoed all about the underground cavern, reminding Harry of just how far below the surface they were. The great beast roared again as it moved forward, causing the wizards and goblins to flee back towards the exit, shooting spells at the belly of the dragon. The goblins rattled the metallic objects as hard as they could but they had no effect upon the dragon, which belched flames all around the chamber. Harry, Hermione, Sirius, and Hooktooth shrank back into the corridor to avoid the flames. Two Gringotts wizards lay motionless on the floor, directly in the path of the advancing dragon. "Confr–" shouted Harry as he pointed his wand at the ceiling above the dragon, but had to retreat again to avoid another blast of dragon fire. He saw Hermione cover her ears as two bone chilling screams echoed through the chamber. Harry wanted to try and work his way around the dragon, so he could pursue Charlie and Tonks, but it was just no use. The dragon seemed to have no sense of its surroundings, swiping and belching flames at anything that moved. Another ball of fire rolled towards the corridor, pushing them further back away from the exit.

"What do we do?" asked Hermione, panic filling her voice.

"The dragon must be subdued before we can leave." croaked Hooktooth. "It will burn us to dust if we try to sneak past. Though it is mostly blind, its other senses are as sharp as its claws."

"Any suggestions?" growled Sirius.

The wall groaned again, as large chunks fell to the floor. Harry knew that this wall wasn't going to be able to withstand much more from the dragon lashing about. He could hear more cries from the Gringotts wizards as they tried to recapture the out-of-control beast. Harry looked up at the ceiling to see a large shaft heading up.

"What's that, Hooktooth?" asked Harry, pointing up.

"Air shaft." croaked the goblin. "Leads to the surface, but impossible to manage; even with a broom. Too many protective spells."

Not seeing many other choices, he made up his mind. The only way to get out alive was up.

"Sirius, Hermione, Hooktooth – grab hold of me!" shouted Harry.

"You cannot apparate out of the Gringotts underground!" shouted Hooktooth.

"Don't plan to!" shouted Harry. "Now grab hold!"

Hooktooth took hold of Harry's leg while Hermione wrapped her arms around his torso; Sirius grasped hold of Harry's right arm. Harry lifted his free hand into the air and shouted, "FAWKES!"

The phoenix flew from around the corridor, towards Harry's free hand. The moment Fawkes' talons touched him, a sensation of warmth covered him from the tip of his fingers to the soles of his feet, followed by a blinding light. The next moment he was standing in the middle of Hooktooth's office, Fawkes perched upon his arm.

"Bloody hell!" shouted Sirius, staring at Harry.

"Harry!" shouted Hermione, also staring at him. "How did you do that?"

"Me?" replied Harry. "How did Fawkes do that?"

The phoenix merely stared at Harry, who looked at the great bird in bewilderment. He had expected Fawkes to carry them up the air shaft, like he did when they escaped the Chamber of Secrets. He had never expected the phoenix to be able to perform such a feat. Fawkes flew over to Hooktooth's desk and perched himself on the edge, looking tired.

"Only you could have given the phoenix the power to do that, Mr Potter." croaked Hooktooth. "Magical creatures, such as phoenixes, draw strength from those that they are loyal or bound to. Only a truly great wizard could have done that. While I am thankful that you saved my life, it does bring to light a flaw in our magical wards that guard the lower vaults."

Harry shrugged off Hooktooth's proclamation, as the ground trembled slightly beneath their feet.

"What will happen to the vaults?" asked Hermione, and Harry could tell she was trying to avoid the mention of Tonks and Charlie.

"The vaults are magically protected." replied Hooktooth. "We will repair the chamber walls atop the bones of those two trespassers."

Harry frowned at the goblin, who smiled at his own mirth and wit. He looked oddly at Harry's expression, as though unsure of what to make of him.

"I do not understand you, Mr Potter." said Hooktooth. "You call them traitors, yet now you act displeased with their demise."

"Demise." scoffed Sirius. "Tonks would have fought to the death – not hidden behind a dragon. No – that was their diversion – they escaped."

A rumble came from below and Harry thought that it was getting louder.

"I need to check on my bank and you need to –" began Hooktooth, but he was cut off by another loud rumble.

Harry, Hermione, and Sirius followed Hooktooth out of his office into the main hall, just behind a row of tellers. One of the goblin tellers looked around nervously, searching for the source of the noise. Hooktooth said something to the teller in gobbledegook, who then looked completely alarmed. Another loud earth-shaking sound came from below that made the great chandelier above them sway.

"Leave, Mr Potter. NOW!" shouted Hooktooth, but it was too late.

The floor shook violently as a loud boom came from the center of the main hall. Debris from the marble floor sprayed into the air, causing the goblin tellers to flee. The large pale dragon pulled itself from beneath the floor and into the main hall. The dragon let out an almighty roar, sending the chandelier plummeting to the marble floor below. The dragon turned its head, as though it was looking for something. When the dragon focused onto them, Harry realized that whatever Charlie had done to the dragon; he had centered its attention on finding and destroying Harry. The dragon reared back its head, like a snake preparing to strike. It reminded him of the dragon he had faced in the first task, though not as fierce. Stunning spells were now striking the dragon, being cast by wizards in the main hall, but having no affect.

As the beast made to strike, Harry, for the second time that day, did something rather foolish without even thinking. He threw his arms wide in front of Hermione and shouted, "NO!", as though it would somehow protect her from the dragon's flames. Again, energy rolled across Harry's skin, this time creating a strange sensation in his chest and physically blowing his hair. The air in front of him visibly rippled like heat, as some unseen force struck the advancing dragon directly in the face. The dragon howled in pain, lifting its head towards the ceiling, before staggering like a drunkard. With the effect of a mighty tree giving way, the dragon began to topple; forcing wizards and goblins alike to flee for safety from being squashed.

Sirius grabbed Harry and Hermione, as he dragged them back against the wall hard. The great beast fell across the marble teller counters, smashing them into dust, which created a billow of smoke that did not clear for several minutes. When it did, Harry looked around to see every witch, wizard, and goblin in the bank looking as dazed as he felt; most of them staring at the unconscious dragon, while a few stared at him. He was sure that absolutely none of them had missed what had just happened. Harry's attention immediately fell to Hermione, who seemed to be out cold. Sirius threw his cloak over Hermione and scooped her up.

"Hooktooth, back to your office, if you please." said Sirius firmly.

The goblin was still staring at the fallen dragon, but snapped back to at Sirius' request. He looked as Harry felt: in complete shock. He hurried to his office and waved them inside, shutting the door behind him, leaving the growing crowd in the bank behind. Sirius placed Hermione into one of the high-backed arm chairs in Hooktooth's office.

"It will take months to complete the repairs." moaned Hooktooth, scratching his face as he stared at the ceiling.

Harry glared at the goblin before turning his attention to Hermione. He wondered how the goblin could remain so indifferent. Did this type of thing happen all the time, yet no one knew of it?

"She's okay, Harry." said Sirius, catching his eyes. "Just bumped her head as we fell."

Hermione stirred, blinking her chocolate brown eyes at him, a small smile on her face at the look of concern on his. Harry turned his attention back to Hooktooth.

"There's a bloody dragon laying in the main hall of Gringotts, Hooktooth," exclaimed Harry "set loose on all of us by – by a set of intruders – and you're worried about repairs?"

"Mr Potter," replied Hooktooth calmly "dragons can be moved and investigations will be performed, but the bank must remain open. That said, it will now be tomorrow before I can send you your ledgers." The goblin's eyes became blacker, if possible, as he stared at Harry. "The true wonder is the feat that I just witnessed, for no wizard alive today has brought down a fully grown dragon with a single spell; not even the Dark Lord."

"Sure they have." retorted Harry.

"Not – without a wand." said Hooktooth, holding out Harry's wand. "You dropped it as you ran forward to face the dragon."

Harry's mind froze as he stared at his wand in the goblin's hand. He had been performing wandless magic more and more, but this wasn't just a shield charm or making objects move around the room. If he had just brought down a fully grown dragon, shouldn't he feel tired too; like Fawkes? A noise beside him made him jump slightly. Fawkes had fluttered over to him, nudging his arm with his head. Harry glanced at Hermione and Sirius, who were both looking very alert.

"We should be getting going." said Sirius. "News of what just happened will undoubtedly spread very fast. Several wizards witnessed that as well. So much for a discreet visit." He growled.

Harry could tell that Sirius was anxious to leave so that they could discuss what had just happened. Harry felt something in his pocket burn as Hermione pulled out the fake galleon from inside her robes. He watched as she inspected the galleon before placing it back inside her robes. Harry noticed that Hooktooth was eying the fake galleon with suspicion and figured he was trained to spot fake currency.

"Hooktooth," said Harry seriously, turning to face the goblin "you are the Potter accounts representative, correct?"

"Yes, Mr Potter," replied Hooktooth, handing Harry's wand back to him "and in answer to your question, everything that you tell me is held in confidence; bound by goblin magical law. So if you request me not to speak of what you have said and done today, I will not."

"Thank you." said Harry. "Hooktooth, this is Potter family business, so please respect it as such."

The goblin bowed low, grinning and showing his pointed teeth. A bell rang out, though Harry could see no bell inside Hooktooth's office.

"The Aurors have arrived." said Hooktooth. "You should apparate away now, before they seal off the bank."

"I'll lead this time, Harry." said Sirius, grasping hold of him with one hand and Hermione with the other.

Just before they disapparated, Harry looked over to see Fawkes disappear into a whirl of flames.

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