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Chapter 18 : For Richer for Poorer
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Hermione had to be his best bet as an advisor, he thought. She was a girl and friends with both of them. That was it, he would ask Hermione to accompany him to Diagon Ally to see if they could come up with something.
“Can I borrow your girlfriend for the day?” Harry asked Ron with a mischievous grin.
Ron looked somewhat startled.
“My...what, what did you say?” Ron replied disconcerted.
“You heard what I said perfectly well! Don't you think I have eyes and ears! Don’t go saying that she is not your girlfriend because on one occasion you pretended not to be interested, you ended up attacked by a flock of canaries!” Harry reminded him containing his laughter.
Ron blushed and nodded, keeping his gaze down.
“What was that?” asked Hermione who had now entered the room.
“I was just wondering if you would come with me to find a present for Ginny?” asked Harry.
“Why do you leave me out?” Ron now protested openly. “What do you expect me to do - amuse myself all day in Malfoy’s company?”
“Oh, I’m sure the two of you’ll get on like a house on fire!” mocked Harry.
“Yes, the house may end up on fire quite literally!” Ron snapped.
“Look, it’s nothing personal, mate, but I just thought I need a witch’s opinion, that’s all. Please, try not to tell Ginny where we are going, ok?”
Ron nodded grudgingly in semi-acceptance.
"And we better not tell your Mum either," added Harry. "Well, you know what she's like, she'll send a troop of Aurors to protect us."
Harry and Hermione apparated to The Leaky Cauldron. The place was still quiet. They ordered some breakfast and a pot of coffee. Tom, as usual, was quite glad to see them.
"Ok, Hermione, any ideas?" asked Harry hoping that perhaps Ginny had dropped some hints.
"No, I'm afraid, none, Harry, sorry," she replied. "Well, do you have anything at all in mind yourself?"
"Too many things really but, it's just..., it's just that I don't want to sound too, well, committed, I suppose..." He blushed a bit.
Hermione couldn't help but laugh. She looked at him straight in the eye and smiled.
"Harry, I really don't understand what game the two of you are playing. I mean, are you going out?"
Harry blushed again. "Well, that is the question isn't it? You know I have feelings for her, but what if Voldemort finds out?, especially now that she appears to have some sort of connection with him too! It's all so very worrying..."
"I know," she empathised giving his hand a squeeze. "Don't play with her emotions, though. I know you wouldn't do that, well, not on purpose. The girl has been through some roller-coaster with you, you know," she said a little reproachfully.
Harry sort of nodded apologetically.
"She really, really likes you and she is aware of the risks. Look, we could all end up dead, it's not just you or her," she continued "it's just a little tiresome to see the two of you back and forth all the time. I'm not saying that you should get engaged or anything daft like that but this war may last years, Harry, we don't know. If you weren't sure that she is what you want, I would say stay away but something is telling me that you really feel for her. She gets frustrated with you, especially because you keep on going on all the time about going to die soon and all the rest. I'm not saying that I don't understand how you feel because I do, but it comes down to this in the end, do you want to buy her a present as a friend or as a boyfriend? Think about it, Harry."
He remained silent for a moment.
"Ok, I've been told!" he replied still avoiding dealing with the real question.
"The thing is there is not much point in me keeping my money at Gringotts, is there? Well, with Umbridge trying to take it all and that, I may as well splash out. I’d rather she has something really nice," he said trying to convince himself that he was doing the right thing.
"Something like what, Harry?" Hermione was under the distinct impression that he had thought of something that even he considered well over the top.
"Maybe jewellery, I don't know, what do you reckon?"
Hermione smiled knowingly. "Well, unless you want to formally propose I wouldn't touch a ring, that's all I can say."
"It doesn't have to be a ring!" protested Harry. Had he been really that obvious? In fact, he would have actually liked to be able to give her something from his own mother. Then again, he didn't really have anything from her, did he? That brought his thoughts back to the subject of her wand, which was in fact only a couple of doors down the road from them.
"Harry, what are you thinking now, you look lost in thought?" she asked a bit concerned.
"Oh, it's nothing. I was just thinking about my Mum's wand. I think it may be a plan to retrieve it from Gringotts. Well, with Umbridge now as Minister..."
"For what you told us, Hagrid seems to have placed it somewhere really secure. I know Dumbledore gave it to you in his Will... Ok, ask the goblins when you are there. Let's see what their reply is," she told him a little unconvinced.
"Ok, are we going to Gringotts first, then?” He asked a little impatiently.
"Well, you'll need to get some money for the present, but do you really want to carry the wand around with you all day? You know that it's important and not just because of the sentimental value. Harry, you know what the last thing that was done with it was, don't you? Hermione reminded him.
"Ok, I'll get the money first and I'll ask. If it's ok, I'll collect it when we leave."
With this agreed, Harry left the pub. Hermione had said she would wait there and try to think of a possible gift. She had somewhat sensed that the goblins might resist his request. She thought that maybe his best hope was to go on his own and to remind them, if necessary, of what a wealthy customer he was.
Harry crossed the road and, in no time, found himself facing the familiar white marble building. He walked up the steps. Instead of the customary goblin in gold and red robes who used to flank the bronze doors, he encountered a pair of wizards who inspected him with their Probity Probes. Harry hadn't used any concealed magic and he was quickly welcomed into the next entrance hall. As he reached the silver doors, he remembered the inscription that had captured his attention the very first time he had entered the bank:
Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.
"A treasure that was never yours." So, according to this, it was alright to take what legitimately was his. Interesting, Harry thought raising an eyebrow.
He walked from this hall into the circular main one. Hundreds of goblins were busy at their tills attending a variety of customers. In fact, Harry spotted his last year's Potions teacher at one of them. Slughorn nodded politely but seemed to be too much in a hurry to engage in conversation. Harry thought this was odd because, in his experience, he seldom missed the opportunity to be seen in the company of the Chosen One. This was just as well, especially as the main business that had brought him to Gringotts was the retrieval of his mother's wand and he didn't particularly want to have to ask for it in front of him.
Harry proceeded towards one of the counters and asked to see the person who had sent him the owl upon his coming of age.
"If it's just a few galleons you wish to withdraw, Mr Potter," the goblin at the counter tried to oblige. "I can assist you myself."
"Urm, sorry, there is also something I need to collect. No disrespect, sir, but I think it's better if I see him in person," Harry replied.
"Very well, sir."
Some five minutes or so later, Garbhan, the Chief Banker himself greeted him politely and made a motion for Harry to follow him. They went through one of the many doors that sprang from the central hall and arrived at his office. The goblin made a gesture for Harry to take a seat. The place was covered in shelves. They were absolutely packed with catalogues on objects and with items of treasure. The fact that these seemingly valuable items were on display and not tucked inside a high security vault slightly surprised him.
"What a pleasant surprise, Mr Potter. How can I be of assistance?" started Garbhan.
"Well, I wanted to withdraw some galleons to buy a present but also..." Harry paused for a moment. "Urm, I believe you have my mother's wand in your custody. Dumbledore left it to me in his Will and I believe Hagrid placed it here."
"Ah, the wand..." murmured the goblin scratching the back of one of his pointed ears "Well, the wand, urm... it is not in your vault. We are offering this item our highest level of protection, as we indeed should." Garbhan's facial expression indicated that he was not particularly comfortable with this topic.
Harry remained silent, his green eyes locked onto the goblin's dark ones, waiting for a further explanation.
"The thing is, as I said, that Dumbledore stated specifically in his Will that I was to have it. Also, as you can well imagine, this holds for me a strong sentimental value and plainly and simply, I want to take it with me!" he said firmly not wishing to beat about the bush.
"Harry, now," Harry noted that he was now addressing him by his first name and he frowned wondering what was to come next. "I'll be honest with you, we have strict orders from the Ministry not to allow this wand to leave our premises," the goblin admitted sternly.
"The Ministry!" Harry yelled almost in a panic. "What does the Ministry have to do with my mother's wand!" he cried.
"Mr Potter, you must understand, we are just running a business, and we have to comply with ministerial instructions. We want nothing to do with wizarding politics. Experience has taught us better than to get involved!" exclaimed Garbhan in a bitter tone.
"I get it!" said Harry not sounding too impressed "This is another one of her little games, I'm well aware of the plans that Umbridge has made in respect of my inheritance."
The goblin coughed and tried to compose himself.
"You have to understand that the Ministry has no right to interfere with people's personal objects!" Harry continued. "I take it that the rest of the contents of my vault are still fully available?" he asked hoping to be reassured.
"Well, not exactly, Mr Potter. You can withdraw from it, yes, but not all of your gold at once, or immediately." The goblin was obviously trying to break the news in a soft way.
"Ok, let's clarify this," Harry was now clearly very angry. "If I remember rightly, it was you in person who invited me here only a few days ago to notify me, to my absolute shock, of the extent of my wealth. And now, you're trying to tell me, in a round about way, that no, I cannot dispose of it as I wish. Is that what you're saying?" Amazingly enough for someone who had just come of age, thought Garbhan, Harry could sound rather intimidating when he put his mind to it. The goblin hesitated.
"Well, you can take with you twenty percent today if you wish. I can assure you, Mr Potter that we do all we can to protect our customers, but ultimately, the Ministry has the power to take over Gringotts. This would destroy generations and generations of banking tradition, and we cannot give them a reason to do that," the banker tried to explain, half way between protesting and apologising.
"It seems to me that it is you who doesn't fully understand," Harry said assertively.
"That Umbridge woman is known for her hatred of non-humans, goblins included. She's vicious and she'll stop at nothing, she will take your treasure regardless of whether you back her schemes or not," Harry pronounced the word treasure slowly and he did so whilst purposely glancing at the proudly displayed trinkets.
"She will have you all killed if that is what it takes!" Harry concluded.
"Mr Potter, please listen to me!" shouted the goblin as if calling for order. "We are aware that you are one of our best customers, we have done more than is reasonable to protect your estate. For Merlin’s sake, hear me out!" he shouted again.
Then the goblin lowered his voice, reducing it almost to a whisper. "We have not told the Ministry the exact value of your estate, hence twenty percent is available to you. They have frozen your assets pending a new law that is about to come in, so we can't do any more. But maybe there are ways for you to prove your right to the Black estate, for instance. Also we gave you the credit card, did we not?" the goblin tried to justify.
"You did, but," Harry bit his lower lip really hard for want of something better to launch an attack on "that is no use in our world, is it? And what's more, how will that work exactly? I always assumed that the equivalent wizarding money to the amounts spent would be deducted from the contents of my vault. Now, if the Ministry has my vault, how is this going to work? Could you please explain this!" Harry exclaimed sounding incensed.
"Well, it would still come out of your vault," Garbhan mumbled in a low voice and at fast speed "only, if they attempt to take your vault, we will need to justify keeping it ourselves on the basis that we would have sent you an owl asking you not to use the credit card but that you have taken no notice and that we are out of pocket as a result," concluded the goblin showing a twinge of complicity in his dark smallish eyes.
"Ok!" Harry was now nearly laughing, chuckling in fact. "Alright, so I'm to become a fraudster of sorts. It's a good job then that I lived through my childhood not knowing that my parents had left me anything at all! Good job that I haven't had the time to get used to the high life!" he commented sarcastically.
"Mr Potter, please, calm yourself down!" Garbhan commanded.
"Ok, then, and what about the wand, Mr Garbhan? This is all I have left from my mother!" he protested.
It became clear to the goblin that Harry wasn't just going to leave without putting up a fight, even if a verbal one.
"I'm really sorry, sir, I know how you must feel about heirlooms, we goblins understand that. Put it this way, we are neutral in this conflict, which is a wizarding one. As you well know, one faction in your war seems to rally around your persona, to go and support you openly would mean as much to our neutrality as backing up You-Know-Who..." the Chief Banker reasoned.
"Very well, I'm grateful for what you've done but it's just not good enough. I know to you goblins, we wizards are just customers and trouble-makers at that, but at the end of the day you won't be able to stay neutral and they will take all you've got, mark my words!" With this, he attempted to walk out but then remembered that he couldn't possibly carry twenty percent of his estate with him through Diagon Alley and realised that some arrangement had to be made.
"Let's see…" said Harry, now trying to sound composed, before the goblin had a change of heart about the twenty percent. "You opened an account on my behalf with a Muggle bank to activate the credit card?"
"This is correct, sir," was Garbhan's answer.
"Ok, can you then, please, arrange for the amount available to me at present to be deposited on a Muggle current account with that bank under my name?" requested Harry.
"That would be in order, sir."
"Ok, that's settled then, minus of course, a little pocket money for my current expenses, which I will withdraw now. Also, can I convert Muggle money into galleons and sickles?"
"You can come to the counter, sir…. but if you are in breach of our terms, then, maybe you could get someone else to do this for you," replied Garbhan with a grin.
Without much ceremony, Harry proceeded towards one of the counters, collected some money and left.
Hermione had been looking at her watch for a while now. She knew it, something had gone wrong. Harry should have been back ages ago! As she ordered more coffee, he appeared and came to join her. It was still relatively quiet in the pub but he performed the Muffliatto charm anyway. Harry proceeded to explain what had happened at Gringotts. Hermione put her hand over her mouth horrified. She admitted that she had expected a possible problem with the wand but not with the money.
"But the legislation hasn't been passed through yet, Harry," she protested.
Harry went on to explain that that didn't seem to make a tiny bit of difference and decided that it was time to cheer up regardless and try to spend as much as possible with the Muggle credit card.
"Come on, don't be reckless!" advised Hermione "I think you better talk to my Dad, he'll know what's best for you to do," she volunteered.
"Thanks, Mione, but I think he has enough on his plate as it is without having to go worrying about my money, don't you? I'm more concerned about the wand, actually."
"I know Harry, you don't want to inconvenience anyone but look, I notice you seem to have this laissez faire attitude towards money," she said a bit worried.
He frowned not quite understanding the term.
"It's French, Harry, it means that you are too easy going really. I mean, my family are what Muggles call middle class, we have to work hard, you see, and we tend to invest... You are, well, upper class, I suppose, you see things differently," and she went a bit red when she realised what she had just said.
"Am I now?" Harry was laughing for the first time in a long while.
"Anyway, if that's what you want, I mean, splashing out, let's make a proper Muggle upper-class gentleman out of you!" she announced now cheerfully. "Follow me!"
They proceeded into Muggle London. They found a branch of Harry’s bank where they confirmed that, what Hermione considered a staggering amount had been transferred into Harry’s current account. Harry politely rebuffed the teller's advice to put most of it in an investment account on the grounds that he would give that a thought at a later stage. However, he asked to open a safe deposit box, where he placed most of the wizarding gold he had withdrawn.
They boarded the underground at Charring Cross and went up the Bakerloo line as far as Oxford Circus where they joined the Jubilee for one stop up to Bond Street.
This area was heaving with activity, packed with shoppers, in contrast with the desertedness they had just seen in Diagon Alley. For good or ill, the Muggles seemed to be oblivious to the threats that, in Harry's knowledge, faced them as well. Harry wondered where they were going but decided that Hermione seemed to know what she was doing.
Finally in New Bond Street she stopped at the window of a most impressive establishment, Aspreys. Hermione pulled Harry by the sleeve of his jacket motioning for him to follow her.
A rather smart looking female staff member gave them both a strange look. Obviously, she was not accustomed to people their age, especially dressed in jeans, coming into their shop.
"We would like to see some emerald jewellery, something discreet, really," Hermione started.
"Anything in particular?" enquired the sales lady.
"Not really," Harry now took the lead to Hermione's approval. "Just show us a few things, I don't have anything specific in mind." Harry felt a bit like a fish out of water.
The lady went inside to pick up some samples. Hermione then whispered in his ear that emeralds were considered to be the stones of successful love. They also promoted friendship and serenity and helped with accepting one's path in life.
"I think it's a very good stone for both of you, actually. I reckon you should buy something for yourself too. I mean, not something girlie, you silly!" she added as she noted that Harry looked slightly horrified. We can take your item and hers to Opals and Rubies in Diagon Alley and get them enchanted, so that you can remain in tune with each other's emotions even when you are apart." she advised.
"Goodness, Hermione, you have done your research. I'm impressed!" said Harry wanting to give her a hug there and then.
The assistant got back armed with several trays of truly beautiful - if a bit ostentatious - pieces, and a couple of male colleagues. Harry and Hermione understood at once that she hadn't trusted them.
"Just something discreet," reiterated Harry "and no, the price tag is not an issue," he added in response to the lady's facial expression. "You see, we are not going to have the chance to go to many events this coming year, just something wearable, really."
"Fashionable but timeless," added Hermione hautily. "Ah, a pair of very discreet emerald cufflinks for the gentleman, please.”
“Oh, this is beautiful!” exclaimed Harry looking at a white gold bracelet encrusted with tiny emeralds. This is perfect in fact!” he decided.
The assistant placed the bracelet on Hermione’s wrist. It was impressive yet not at all over the top. Ginny was a sporty person who worn mainly casual clothes, she wasn't the showy type. “I agree, Harry, perfect!” she said.
“Now,” the sales woman simpered “if the lady would leave us in private for a moment.”
“That will not be necessary, ma’am, she is my friend, my advisor, you see,”
Hermione nearly choked when she heard the price. Harry indicated by eye contact that all was under control, that it was what he wanted. She shook her head in horror but let him be. The lady swiped the credit card through the machine. To her surprise, it was accepted. She smiled with relief as she hated embarrassing situations, but nonetheless double-checked his signature.
As they were about to leave, snowed under in brochures and discount vouchers, she smiled and said to him almost flirtatiously: “Sir, emeralds match the colour of your eyes.”
“So I’ve been told, madam,” Harry replied.
As they went back into the street, Harry hoped with all his heart that Hagrid had been able to arrange his other present, the one that didn’t cost money but that could mean so much.
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