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19 Years by marauder5
Chapter 79 : Year 8: Gringotts
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8

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The April sun was bright that morning, reflecting in the bronze doors of Gringotts Wizarding Bank and making the snow-white walls look even whiter than usual. The guard goblin stood immobile next to the entrance; he could have easily been taken for a lifelike statue, had it not been for the way his eyes followed the movements of all the people passing by below on the main road of Diagon Alley. His gaze lingered for a moment on a witch dressed in rags, who was carrying a surprisingly luxorious-looking suitcase, and then he turned his head slightly to the right, and froze.

Hermione gulped as the goblin met her eyes. Instinctively, she stepped a little closer to her brother-in-law, who was walking next to her, and grabbed his right arm. She had never been more thankful for Bill’s slightly fearsome, but impressive, appearance (his ponytail, beard and fang earring had recently been joined by a sleeve of tattoos that Mrs Weasley absolutely detested).

“Just relax,” Bill mumbled out of the corner of his mouth. “I’ve warned them you are coming—and you’re not going anywhere near the vaults anyway, right?”

The goblins had not strayed from their unforgiving ways since the end of the war, and both Harry, Ron and Hermione still dreaded going near the wizarding bank since their break-in eight years earlier. More often than not, Bill did their bank business for them whilst at work, but the need to talk to Draco Malfoy had brought Hermione there anyway that morning. If she had to pick, she would choose visiting Gringotts over Malfoy Manor any day of the week.

The goblin’s eyes narrowed as Bill and Hermione made it up the steps to the entrance.

“Borghild,” Bill greeted him, reaching out a hand to open the doors.

“Mr Weasley,” Borghild replied, “hold it right there, please.”

“You knew she was coming today, Borghild,” said Bill warningly. “Ragnok is meeting us inside, and will be taking her to Draco Malfoy’s office.”

Borghild hesitated, his eyes still narrowed as they inspected Hermione up and down. Then he nodded, just once, snapped his fingers and made the bronze door swing open. Hermione smiled unsurely at the goblin and followed Bill inside.

Ragnok looked kinder than his colleague Borghild; he was old, with white hair and silver spectacles resting on the tip of his nose. He greeted Bill by his first name, and even granted Hermione a hint of a smile when Bill introduced her.

“Okay, Hermione,” said Bill then. “My office is upstairs to the right.” They were standing by the foot of a gigantic marble staircase, which split in two at the first landing, one set of stairs leading up to the left and the other one to the right. “You’ll be going to the left,” Bill continued, smiling reassuringly one last time before they parted ways. “Good luck.”

“Thank you,” Hermione breathed, wishing he would go with her instad of Ragnok; but they had decided against it, because Malfoy hated the Weasleys, and everyone thought that Hermione talking to him alone was their best option. As she watched Bill disappear up the opposite staircase, however, Hermione couldn’t help but wonder if he wouldn’t be an exception. She would not go as far as to say that Malfoy might like him, but there was something about Bill’s posture, the scars on his face, and his style in general, that made it difficult to imagine that he wouldn’t at least respect him.

“This way, this way,” said Ragnok suddenly, and Hermione realised he was already at the top of the stairs waiting for her. She hurried after him, and was shortly out of breath when they starting walking along a wide corridor with soaring ceilings and beautiful ornate cornice so shiny that Hermione suspected it was made from real gold.

Ragnok stopped abruptly outside a massive chestnut door. “Draco Malfoy’s office,” he announced.

“Thank you so much for helping me, Ragnok,” said Hermione nervously. “Will you… should I just knock?”

Ragnok smiled again, and Hermione didn’t know if it had anything to do with Bill’s absence, but this time he looked more tantalizing than kind. “Or walk right in,” he said, “whichever you find more polite.”

And with those words, he span around and started walking back down the corridor, leaving Hermione feeling even more nervous than before.

Suddenly, the image of Rose appeared in her mind, and she was overcome with decisiveness; this was her first time being away from her daughter for more than an hour or so since she had been born, and the sooner Hermione knocked on Malfoy’s door, the sooner she would be back at Ron’s office to hold her again. So she lifted a shaky head and knocked on the door twice, took a small step backwards, and waited.

At first, Hermione thought the door had opened by itself. Then she lowered her eyes and met a giant, blue pair in about the same height as her waist. It was a house-elf. He blinked up at her for a moment, then he bowed his head, his eyes suddenly rimmed with tears.

“Pip never thought he would meet—Pip is so very honoured—if only he had known, he would have worn his best suit—“

And Hermione looked down and smiled as she realised the elf was wearing a pair of purple pants and a bright yellow tail-coat. It was partly hidden by Pip’s large head, but it appeared a glittery bowtie completed the look.

“I like this one. It’s very nice to meet you, Pip,” Hermione said, reaching out a hand to shake his.

Pip’s entire body was quivering as he reached out his own hand, and as his long, thin fingers closed around Hermione’s. When they let go of each other again, he sniffed and lifted the hand to his face to wipe a large tear from his wrinkly cheek.

“Pip needs to thank the mistress for setting him free!”

“Please, call me Hermione. And you’ve got nothing to thank me for. Setting you free was long overdue. I am just sorry it took us so long. I assume you are working here, then? And they’re paying you well?”

“I’m paying him as much as he allows me to,” said a voice behind Pip, and Hermione looked up as the elf gave the door a little push so that it opened up completely.

Draco Malfoy was in the middle of standing up from his chair at a riddicolously large desk inside the office. He was wearing jet black robes, and his hair was slicked back and so blond that for a brief moment, it seemed to melt in with his pale skin and make him look bald. As he approached the house-elf and his visitor, Hermione noticed the many different rings on his fingers, all in shiny gold, and a large watch on his wrist that looked like it cost more than Ron and Hermione’s entire house.

“I can’t say I was expecting you,” said Malfoy now, stopping right behind Pip and meeting Hermione’s eyes with unexpected self-assurance.

“Are you too busy to talk?” asked Hermione nervously; she didn’t feel half as composed as he looked.

“No. Come in. And close the door on your way out, Pip, will you?”

The house-elf nodded several times, and as Hermione stepped out, he slipped out the door and closed it softly, not making as much as a sound. Hermione caught herself staring at the closed door for a little while after he was gone. She rarely saw any house-elves anymore, and she certainly hadn’t seen many who knew what she looked like and what she had done for them. Then again, she realised, she and Malfoy had worked on the House-elf Reform together when they had been in the same department at the Ministry. Maybe that’s how Pip knew—though she had to admit, she had trouble picturing Malfoy chitchatting to a house-elf about his previous employments in between counting his piles of gold.

If she hadn’t known before that Malfoy was successful at Gringotts, the office would have let Hermione in on it; not that he actually kept piles of gold out on his desk or anything, but the signs were obvious. The crystal bottle of Firewhiskey on the barcart in the corner with matching glasses, the grand chandelier hanging from the ceiling, the flawless, Persian rug underneath the desk… Everything about the room oozed with luxury.

“I’m paying him minimum wage,” Malfoy said, stealing Hermione’s attention away from a large, antique globe that was stood in the corner of the office. Its oceans seemed to be made up of actual water, and as she turned away from it to look at Malfoy, Hermione could have sworn she smelled salt and a hint of wrack.

She was just about to ask, “Whom?” when she realised he was still talking about Pip.

“I’ve offered him more,” Malfoy continued, “but he refuses. He says ten Galleons a month is more than enough. Apparently, he gives half of it to beggars in the outskirts of Knockturn Alley. The rest he uses to buy clothes.”

“I’m not here to check on whether or not you’re being decent to your house-elf,” said Hermione, and Malfoy shrugged and made a gesture towards one of the chairs along one wall. Hermione went over and sat down, and Malfoy placed himself behind his desk once again.

“I read the article in the Prophet,” said Hermione then. “When your son was born. Just the day after Albus, right? Congratulations.”

Malfoy’s face was blank. “Thanks.” After a moment of silence, he added: “You too. Congratulations on your baby.”

“Thank you,” Hermione replied, forcing herself to smile. “So how is he? And your wife?”

“They’re fine. But I suspect you’re not here to check in on how my family is doing either, are you?”

Hermione took a deep breath. The conversation wasn’t exactly flowing smoothly, and she would have preferred if things were at least a little less tense before she started asking for favours. But, she reminded herself, Rose and Ron were waiting for her at the Ministry, and the faster she got this done…

So she straightened up in her chair and said, “No, that’s not why I’m here either. We might as well get right into it. But before I tell you anything, I need to know what you think about Hamish Burke and his grand plan to turn all non-magical people into witches and wizards.”

For the first time since she had come, Malfoy showed a reaction to anything she had said—one of his eyebrows moved upwards, just a tiny bit, and he let out a snort.

“Do you need to ask?”

“I need to be sure,” Hermione insisted.

“Well, his plan is rubbish, is what I think,” Malfoy said. “Absolute madness.”

“Does that mean you would be willing to help, if I told you I knew a way to stop him?”

She walked quickly on her way out a little while later. Just as she reached the top of the stairs and turned to place her hand on the brass railing, a movement in the corridor she had just left caught her eyes. She smiled as she realised that Pip was watching her from behind one of the massive marble pillars that blocked Malfoy’s office door from her view. She waved at him, and he smiled and waved back before snapping his fingers and dissolving into thin air.

“Albus is finally down.”

Ginny’s head appeared in the doorway to the living room, where Harry was sprawled out with a letter from Hagrid on his lap. They always took turns putting the boys to bed and it had been Harry’s night with James, which meant that he had finished almost half an hour before Ginny and the fussy sleeper that was baby Albus. Now, Ginny pulled her fingers through her hair, stretched her arms over her head and yawned. Then she rubbed her eyes, walked over to the couch and sank down into it. Harry followed her with his eyes; she was wearing nothing but one of his slightly too big t-shirts, and knickers. He may have been partial, but he thought there was no way of telling that she had had a baby in the past year.

“Hey!” said Ginny suddenly, making him lift his eyes to meet her. “You’re staring,” she said, grinning, and he scooted over on the couch so that he was close enough to touch her. “It’s rude,” Ginny added.

“Can you blame me?” Harry said, reaching out and grabbing both her hands, and Ginny snorted.

“Yes, Harry, I can! My hair is a mess—I haven’t even brushed it today! I’m not wearing makeup. And don’t tell me that this t-shirt is flattering, because I know it’s not. Plus I think Albus spat up on it earlier.”

She grabbed the fabric and brought her up to her nose to smell it, and Harry grinned.

“Who cares?” he said, pulling her closer. “You don’t need makeup or any of that to be sexy.”

Ginny raised an eyebrow. “Not even clean clothes?”

Harry leaned even closer, so that his breath tickled her ear when he said, “Not even that.”

And Ginny forgot all about her hair and lack of makeup when he kissed her, pushing her back against the couch and placing one knee on each side of her, leaning over her and blocking the rest of the room from her view. Not that she was looking at anything else but him—she had grabbed the collar of his denim shirt and was pulling him towards her, kissing him again, even more intensely so this time.

Suddenly, Harry stopped and pulled back, making Ginny frown at him.

“Hey, none of that!” he said. “I just had to tell you—right now—how much I love you.”

Ginny’s facial expression softened. “You don’t have to tell me. I know it.”

“But I love you more than you know.”

“Seems fair,” Ginny grinned, “because I love you more than you know too. Now stop talking and kiss me again before the boys wake up and ruin a perfect moment, will you?”

Harry was in a terribly good mood the next morning, even though Albus had woken him up at 5.30. He went as far as whistling on his way to his desk in the Auror Office, and granted a surprised Jack Marwick a smile and a wave as he passed by. Ron couldn’t help but laugh at his friend’s cheerful disposition when he arrived about a half hour later, looking much less like a morning person than Harry.

“What’s with the humming?” he grinned (Harry had given up whistling and was now singing Weird Sisters songs to himself).

“Oh, you know,” Harry said. “I’m just happy. I’m in love.”

Ron chuckled. “Did you just realise that? After four years of marriage?”

As it turned out, neither his laughter nor Harry’s good mood would last very long. Percy showed up at the Auror Office shortly after Ron, carrying a bunch of parchment rolls full of dates and names. The names belonged to Squibs all around the country, and the dates were deadlines. By that date, the Aurors had to bring the person in question to the Department of Mysteries to begin the tests.

“I’m surprised you’re participating in this,” said a voice behind Ron just as he sat down at his desk to take a closer look at the list that Percy had assigned him. He jumped high enough to hit his knees on the desk and cussed loudly as he looked up and realised that Jack Marwick was leaning against the doorframe to his office with an amused look on his face.

Ron frowned. “I can’t say the same about you.”

Marwick’s eyes narrowed, and he stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind him. “You’re up to something,” he said.

“No, I’m not.”

“You don’t think I’ve noticed the looks you and Potter give each other? The way you’ve been whispering with Finnegan all day?”

Ron smiled. “That’s not about work. You are aware that the three of us are good friends, right?”

Marwick crossed his muscular arms over his chest, his eyes still narrowed and refusing to break contact with Ron’s. “Are you planning a revolt?” he asked defiantly.

Ron forced himself to laugh, a little more nervously than he would have wanted, and said, “Have you gone mental?”

Truth was, he did feel amused by Marwicks question. Was this Burke’s way of testing his allegiance? If so, he couldn’t have picked a worse spy. Everyone knew that Ron and Marwick had never got on very well. Ron wouldn’t trust him with his dirty washing.

Marwick seemed to contemplate on whether he should push the matter any further. After a short moment of thinking, he shrugged and reached out a hand to open the door again. He paused with his hand on the door knob, glanced back and Ron and said:

“If you were to do something about this… let me know, so I can help.”

With those words, he left to let Ron go back to inspecting Percy’s list of Squibs. There were about twenty names on it, and Ron felt his insides squirm as he read them. Donald Cracknell. Age: 42. A few lines further down: Ruth Grimblehawk. Age: 4. Ron shook his head and put the list aside. Strapping a four-year-old little girl to that stretcher down in the Department of Mysteries and injecting her with a gene that would probably make her a danger to herself, like what had happened with Topher Fernsby? Just the idea made Ron feel sick.

As he leaned back in his chair, a movement to his right caught his eyes. His lips curled into a smile as he realised it was Rose, who was kicking her legs in the air while sleeping in one of his photos of her. What if they couldn’t stop Burke, and she would grow up and not be able to perform magic? They would have to move, Ron thought, maybe they could get a house near Charlie’s in Romania. But they would hardly ever see the rest of the family, and one day his parents would be too old to travel…

“Whoa,” he said out loud, lifting a hand to scratch his chin and shaking his head again. “I’m going mental, aren’t I? And now I’m talking to myself.”

He knew he probably wouldn’t have to move the family to Romania. After all, Draco Malfoy had already convinced a few family friends from the Wizegamot to join their side, and they were only going to need a few more now. They were most likely doing it for all the wrong reasons; Ron was convinced that Malfoy was only helping because he didn’t believe Muggles and Squibs were worthy of the magical gene. But whatever his reasons were, he was getting results. Ron could picture Malfoy now, in that fancy office at Gringotts that Hermione had described to him. He was probably serving his parents’ old friends whiskey in his expensive crystal glasses and talking about how the meaning of pure blood was vanishing before their eyes. How Burke was making their family names less significant every day. How, if they let the process continue, their children might marry someone who used to be a Muggle and not even know it. If Ron knew Malfoy right, he was probably worried that it would happen to his son. He couldn’t help but laugh at what he imagined Malfoy’s facial expression what be if he found out that his son- or daughter-in-law had been born without any magical abilities.

Just then, the photo of Rose caught Ron’s eye again. “You, on the other hand, can marry whoever you like,” he said, reaching over and grabbing the frame. “Anyone, except for maybe Scorpius Malfoy, okay?” He paused, shook his head and put the picture down. “And I’m still talking to myself. I should go home and see the real you, shouldn’t I?”


A/N: Thank you for reading this chapter! If you feel like it, please let me know what you thought of it. I'm sure no one is surprised that I still don't know how to properly express how grateful I am to everyone reading this story, and to those taking the time to leave reviews.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter so we can talk more about the story there, or so you can keep up with how the new chapters are coming along! (@marauder5HPFF)

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