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In Their Own Secret Tongues He Spoke

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With Dwarves and Hobbits, Elves and Men,
with mortal and immortal folk,
with bird on bough and beast in den,
in their own secret tongues he spoke.

-J. R. R. Tolkien, “Frodo’s Lament for Gandalf”

He Walked at Will

Harry stands with his head cocked to the side. He can hear something speaking in a gentle voice from deep underground. The odd thing is that he can’t tell exactly what it’s talking about, other than boredom. And it’s mingled with another voice, as though two objects of the exact same kind have decided to sing in chorus.

“Harrikins! What are you—”

“Doing here, little goblin-friend?”

Harry glances up at Fred and George with a faint smile, but he really wants to solve the mystery of the two different voices right now. He started hearing them sing last term, and he never managed to find out where their songs were coming from. “Hi, you lot. I’m listening.”

Fred and George never seem to doubt him now, although they don’t practice the listening magic much themselves. George nods. “Did you know that that this is the third-floor corridor?”

Harry blinks. “What do you mean? Of course I knew.” If nothing else, the walls and stones underneath this corridor complain all the time about the weight they bear. It’s a particularly fussy part of the castle.

“Don’t you remember the feast at the start of the year?”

“Of course. It’s where I spoke to the Sorting Hat for the first time.”

Fred and George exchange some glances that almost look like they’re exasperated. Harry is sorry for exasperating them, but he also wishes they would explain what they’re thinking. Harry is good at listening, but not at mind-reading.

“Headmaster Dumbledore said—”

“Everyone should stay out of this corridor—”

“On pain of death.”

“Oh, right.” Harry nods. Now that they’re talking about it, it does sound familiar. “Well, but he couldn’t have meant me. Nothing here will harm me, so it’s perfectly all right if I’m here. And I want to figure out why two things have chosen to sing in chorus at the same time. One of them sounds like a stone, but stones are pleased to have their individual voices, most of the time. Even if we have to listen to them from a distance because the voices sound like one murmuring choir to us.”

The twins exchange glances. They do that a lot. Then Fred says, “For our sake, Harrikins—”

“We just get worried, you know,” George says. “It’s silly of us, but we do.”

“Why don’t you try to hear the voices while staying out of the third-floor corridor? For us.”

Harry decides he can do that. Besides, it’s sort of getting boring to stand here when he can’t tell where the voices are coming from. “Fine,” he says, and walks out of the third-floor corridor. A set of stairs is already waiting for them. They like to do that, since Harry can talk to them. But sometimes they’re terribly competitive about which one carries him down, and Harry has had to speak firmly to the flights that want to swing around and bang into each other.

“Thank Merlin,” Fred says under his breath as they trot after Harry.

Harry shakes his head a little. Sometimes he thinks the hardest thing about relating to other wizards is the sense of unnecessary fear they have.

Without a Word

“Sir, I have a question.” Harry is lingering behind in Defense Against the Dark Arts despite the strong smell of garlic that fills the classroom. He’s had to resign himself to that, too, that some humans would rather frighten vampires away with garlic than just stab them.

“Y-yes? S-speak, young Potter.” Professor Quirrell is putting away old defense shields that he had them practice casting magic at. Harry is happy to find that they can enjoy their work, since otherwise he doesn’t think he could hit things that can’t hit back.

“Why doesn’t your turban talk, sir?”

Quirrell stumbles, and the shields go all over the floor. They complain in the voices of wood that remembers being trees; the floor makes a mild comment. Harry helps pick the shields up and stack them in a corner.

“Wh-what did you say?” Quirrell whimpers, turning to look at him.

Harry frowns. Oh, dear. Is this another of those human things that he doesn’t understand? Most of the time, wizards don’t listen to objects or they don’t want to, but he’s never seen someone so flustered just by a question. “I asked why your turban doesn’t talk, sir. Most of the clothes around here do, you know? They remember being plants sometimes, or they remember being woven. Silk talks in an interesting way about coming out of the rear ends of worms.”

“My turban does not talk, Mr. Potter. It never has.”

“Okay,” Harry says slowly. Well, he supposes that he’ll have to give up. He doesn’t know how Quirrell can be so certain about that when he probably doesn’t listen any more than most humans do, but Harry will have to accept it if Quirrell states it that definitively.

“Get out of my classroom, Mr. Potter.”

“Okay, sir,” Harry replies, trying to be polite so Quirrell can see that Harry didn’t upset him on purpose. He would prefer if people knew when he was trying to upset them on purpose.

Harry sighs as he leaves the classroom. He would never give up the knife that hangs on his belt or the Gobbledegook words that hum in his mind for anything, but he does wish that he understood humans better. The goblins have an ongoing argument about whether wizards are stupid because they live aboveground or because they don’t forge enough metal, with more people favoring the first one.

But Harry is starting to think that it isn’t either one. It’s just not listening.

A Deadly Sword

“You didn’t do your homework again, did you, Potter? Did you really think that that potion is dark purple instead of just dark? But then, I forgot, you ruined your eyesight by peering down tunnels or some such thing.” Professor Snape sneers as he walks past Harry’s cauldron.

Harry puts down the stirring rod he was about to use. “Did you insult my eyesight, sir?”

Terry Boot gives a little hiss next to him and shakes his head at Harry. Harry only frowns at him. Too bad. This has been going on for a long time, and Harry tried to give Professor Snape time to adjust. Professor Flitwick dropped a hint, just a little one, about how Harry’s father was Snape’s enemy. Harry knows about hereditary enemies and respects that Snape might be trying to get honor back in the limited ways allowed in a human school.

But now he’s on the verge of going too far.

“I did not insult your eyesight, Mr. Potter,” Snape says, and sneers at him again. Harry is about to assume he was mistaken, when Snape adds, “I insulted everything about you. You should never have come here. You do not deserve to be in these hallowed halls. Five points from Ravenclaw for dishonoring your House.”

Harry isn’t the only one who stares at Snape, but he’s the only one who seems to know the right thing to do. Harry takes a small iron bit from his pocket, one that come from Toothsplitter’s forge, and hurls it to the floor in front of Snape. The man takes a step back and stares at him, but doesn’t try to pick it up.

Harry sighs. Does he have to do everything around here? “I challenge you to a duel, Professor Snape,” he explains. “Pick up the iron if you agree.”

“That is ridiculous, Mr. Potter!” Snape hisses, seeming to recover. “Students and professors do not fight duels.”

“Well, you’re not acting like a professor right now, and you just said I shouldn’t be a student. I don’t see why we can’t.”

Harry can feel everyone staring at him. He wants to sigh again. He’s the one who’s fighting within the goblin rules, and he’s trying to go by the rules that Snape stated, too.

It occurs to him that maybe Snape didn’t mean it when he said that Harry dishonored Ravenclaw by being here, but that’s even more puzzling. Why would you say something if you didn’t mean it?

“I am not picking up the Knut you have thrown at me, Mr. Potter. I am not succumbing to this farce, this insistence of yours that you are special. Fifty points from Ravenclaw.”

There’s gasps of dismay around him, but Harry is still studying Snape. Then he finally says, “You’re afraid, aren’t you?”

Snape’s back stiffens and his eyes blaze the way Gravensword’s did when Toothsplitter told him he wasn’t ready to advance to journeyman. “Are you aware of what you are saying, Mr. Potter?” he whispered, his voice filling the classroom like smoke.

The goblins taught Harry how to handle fires. He nods. “Yes, and I think that you’re afraid.” He flicks his eyes at the iron bit on the floor. “You didn’t even look closely enough to see that the duel bit was made from iron and not copper. I wonder if you need your eyes checked, or if you can only see things you make up.”

“Detention every night,” Snape says. “For the rest of term. With Mr. Filch.” And he turns away and goes back to the front of the classroom as if Harry doesn’t exist.

Harry shakes his head and leaves the duel bit in the middle of the floor. If he picked it up again, it would mean he was retracting the challenge, and he doesn’t respect Snape enough to do that.

 

When Evening Was Grey

“I heard about your challenge to Professor Snape, Harry. He asked me to speak to you about it.” Professor Flitwick puts down the teakettle on a little charmed mat on his desk, which seems to be keeping it warm. Harry smiles. He finds some wizard magic useless, but he’d like to learn that charm. “You cannot go around challenging professors to duels.”

“But he said that I wasn’t worthy of being a student. Wouldn’t that mean I could challenge him to a duel, since I wouldn’t be a student?”

Professor Flitwick hesitates for a long time. When he speaks again, it’s in Gobbledegook, which always makes something in Harry relax because that means he’s talking the right way. “I’m afraid that Professor Snape was exaggerating.”

“But he really does hate me. He really does insult me.”

“I know…”

“And he even does it to students whose fathers he doesn’t hate. So why does he insult them? Why does he think he can? Is it just because no one’s challenged him before this? Someone should, to make sure that he stops saying those things and being dishonorable.”

Professor Flitwick frowns into his cup. He nudges the plate of copper-smeared biscuits closer to Harry. Harry takes one to be polite. Thanks to magic and tolerance, he can eat the heavy metals goblins prefer to ornament foods with, but he really likes gold better than copper.

“I don’t think that no one wants to challenge him,” Professor Flitwick finally says, which isn’t really the question Harry asked, but it must be important, so he listens. “I think the problem is that they realize the challenge would go nowhere, so they don’t try.”

“Why would the challenge go nowhere?”

Professor Flitwick hesitates again. Harry finishes one copper-topped biscuit and renews the charm on his teeth that will keep them from cracking. He eyes the rest, but they seem to be more metal than chocolate.

“Professor Snape is not a good teacher,” Professor Flitwick finally says, which surprises Harry a little, because it’s so obviously true and yet no one says it. “But he didn’t become a teacher from the love of it. He’s here because he was a spy for our side during the war, and Headmaster Dumbledore gave him a place here to protect him from the political consequences.”

Harry can understand that—goblin history is full of deals and bargains that people have made in place of having to give up their honor or weapons—but it still annoys him. “He should have to face the personal consequences, right though, sir? Someone should be able to challenge him as long as they’re not from the Ministry?”

“Even that is difficult. Headmaster Dumbledore is the one who is in charge of acting on the complaints.”

“That’s not right, though. That’s a conflict of interest.” Not for nothing did Harry attend a lot of meetings with Gorgeslitter where the goblins debated politics.

“Perhaps so, but there is no one who can tell Headmaster Dumbledore not to make that kind of exception for Professor Snape.”

Harry sits and thinks about that, and eats yet one more biscuit to be polite. Then he swallows and says, “Can you explain more to me about the structure of wizarding government, sir? I thought I understood it, but there must be some things I’m missing.”

Professor Flitwick smiles. “Of course, Harry. Keep in mind that it’s really no more difficult to understand than goblin government, once you get used to it.”

Harry shakes his head. “But goblin government is based on strength and honor. It makes sense. What are the guiding principles behind wizard government?”

*

Harry wanders outside later that evening, after a detention that wasn’t that much work because the mop and the bucket and the scrub-brush can work on their own when Harry gives them a little help and asks politely. He just had to make sure that he was in the right position and looked like he was “using” then when Filch came around the corner.

The evening is cool and grey. Spring is coming soon. Harry looks into the darkness and watches the centaurs pacing along the edge of the forest. They’re nervous, defending far more of their territory far closer to the castle than they should be.

Harry thinks about going over to ask them what’s wrong, but honestly, he’s a bit overwhelmed by what he’s learned. He sits on the grass next to the lake and throws stones into it that want to go into the water and frowns as it ripples. He wishes it was molten silver, like some of the lakes in the Realm of Song. It would help him think better.

Professor Flitwick did a good job of explaining, but it was sort of depressing. Harry understands now what guides wizarding government.

It’s self-interest.

The Minister wants to get elected again, and he does whatever he has to do to get that. The Wizengamot want certain laws passed that will benefit them, or sometimes people argue and convince them that those laws will benefit other groups. But only certain groups. Professor Flitwick told him about the horrible laws passed against goblins, which means that the Wizengamot isn’t willing to listen to goblins argue, and no wizards want to stand up for them.

Headmaster Dumbledore wants to have Professor Snape around in case the war starts up again. Professor Snape wants to be dishonorable to people and not face the consequences. And it looks like no one thinks they can duel him, because he won’t accept the duel.

Harry stands up and goes to the Owlery. He doesn’t use the birds a lot, because most of the time he can get a message to Gringotts through the paths of stone and blood under the earth. But an owl will get there faster and get back faster, and sometimes Harry doesn’t understand the messages that come through the earth because he’s still learning. He wants to know things right away, and clearly.

He wants to know what he should do about this.

Through the Hidden Door

Harry quietly walks into the room with the mirror behind Professor Quirrell. It was easy to sneak past the dog with the music still playing, and he slipped through the tendrils of the Devil’s Snare when it relaxed. He simply chopped the lock off the door in the room with the flying keys, told the chess pieces that it was silly to involve him when they could play themselves, avoided the unconscious troll, and sniffed the potions until he found the ones that smelled like ice and fire. Now he’s here, and watches the turban wrapped around the back of Professor Quirrell’s head.

Gorgeslitter and Toothsplitter and Blackeye all wrote to him, and they suggested the same thing: he has to make himself a person wizards will listen to. That has to mean performing some great deed, because they don’t think enough of him for being this Boy-Who-Lived and they treat him like a little boy.

So Harry watched Professor Quirrell, and saw how strange it was that his turban didn’t speak and that he was always lurking around the door that even the Weasley twins avoided. And he followed him down here when he was ready.

Now Professor Quirrell is lurking in front of a giant mirror and scowling. Harry sighs. “What’s under your turban, sir?” he asks.

Professor Quirrell whirls around to face him. “The Potter boy,” he says, with no trace of a stutter. “Here to get the Stone for yourself?”

“I don’t have that much use for emeralds or diamonds right now, because I’m still learning how to forge metal,” Harry tells him. “And there are more rubies than wizards think underground, you know. Sapphires might be special, but there are some in my vault that I could give Toothsplitter if she ever needs them.”

There’s a long moment when Professor Quirrell shakes his head a little, the way adult wizards tend to when Harry talks like the person he is. Harry sighs again. That means Professor Quirrell isn’t listening to him and he’ll probably have to duel him instead of just stop him.

“I don’t mean a gem,” the professor says, and glances over his shoulder at the mirror. “I mean the Philosopher’s Stone that can turn lead into gold and give you immortal life.”

“But why would you want to turn lead into gold? I think they would both object. Gold’s kind of haughty, you know. And lead is perfectly happy being the way it is.”

Another stare, another head-shake. Then Professor Quirrell says briskly. “All you need to know is that the stone is hidden in the mirror, and I want it.”

In the mirror?” Although Harry studies the glass carefully, it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere in particular. There are no hidden tunnels behind it, and it isn’t a door set flush with the wall; he makes sure of that by stepping around it to check. “I’m not sure you’re right, though. What about behind it? Or in the floor underneath it?”

In the mirror,” Professor Quirrell insists. “And you are going to retrieve it for me.” He reaches out and shoves Harry forwards a little with a hand in the middle of his back.

Harry registers the insult, but dimly, because figures are moving in the mirror. He watches curiously as he stands in the middle of a wide stone floor that looks like some of the Audience Chambers under Gringotts. He’s wearing the steel medallion of a Master Smith, and behind him, Toothsplitter is beaming with pride. Blackeye is smiling for the first time he’s ever seen. There are a few wizards in the distance, mostly his friends, but they look like they’re happy for him instead of angry.

“Huh,” Harry says, after studying the surface of the mirror for a second. “I can see something I hope will happen, but I don’t see any stone that isn’t formed into walls and floors. What does it look like?”

“Bright red. Red as hope or morning.”

Harry frowns a little at Professor Quirrell over his shoulder. Hope is as grey as a finished sword, everyone knows that. He won’t argue with the morning comparison, though. He faces the image, which hasn’t changed, except that the Harry with the steel medallion is waving at him. “I don’t see it.”

Professor Quirrell curses and pushes him out of the way. Harry stumbles, but regains his stance, and studies the turban carefully for a second. Then he hurls one of his small knives directly at it.

There’s a horrible shriek that goes on and on and up and up, until Harry claps his hands over his ears to keep himself from going deaf. He retreats into a corner that will protect his back and watches in disbelief as grey smoke boils out from under Professor Quirrell’s turban.

The only way that a thing like that should have happened is if Professor Quirrell was carrying something incredibly evil on the back of his head. Harry has daggers that have an ancient protection song on them, but most people he might strike with them just don’t qualify as evil enough.

Professor Quirrell falls over and starts screaming and babbling something. The grey smoke swarms around for a second, and then flies towards Harry.

Harry stands up. He’s sure that he knows what this is, now. He remembers feeling something a little like it when Blackeye took the piece of Voldemort’s soul out of his scar. “You cannot come near me,” he says, and he grips his daggers and roots himself in the earth.

The grey smoke tries to dive into him anyway, aiming at his scar. But Harry faces it, and his magic flares, and there’s steel all around him, and iron, and the soul doesn’t have the same kind of protections. It recoils, and screams again, and then goes skidding through a small crack in the stone.

Harry releases his daggers slowly and takes a deep breath. Then he goes to help Professor Quirrell, taking one more glance at the mirror.

He’s startled to realize that he can see a red stone in the mirror now, held in the hand of a boy who might be him, although weirdly this boy looks like he has a redder scar and is smaller. He winks at Harry and holds out the stone and then takes it back, and Harry feels a little sagging weight in his robe pocket.

Well, I suppose I can give that stone back to Professor Dumbledore or whoever it actually belongs to, Harry thinks, and starts to apply some rudimentary healing techniques that Blackeye taught him to make Professor Quirrell calm down.

He’s content in one way. He’s performed the great deed that will make wizards respect him. He’s defeated a shade that wanted to possess him and rescued someone from being possessed. Wizards will have to listen to him and the goblin perspective now!

*

“I am sorry, my dear boy, but you cannot tell anyone about this.”

Harry stares very hard at Dumbledore. They’re in his office, which was up an interesting moving staircase and has a very old wooden perch that complains the bird perching on it lives too long. But now Dumbledore is saying this thing that doesn’t make sense. “Why not? I thought you would agree with me, because you’d want people to know that Voldemort is alive.”

“Ah, but we cannot reveal what happened in those hidden rooms without revealing that someone here at the school was possessed by Voldemort, and that means it would be easy for many people to guess it was Professor Quirrell.”

Harry blinked. “So what?”

“You would destroy an innocent man’s life if you revealed the truth now, Harry.”

“He’s not innocent! He tried to steal the stone and he might have killed me and he sneaked around with Voldemort in his head the whole school year!

“Ah, but he says now that he was simply possessed, and I believe him. It is few people who would have the mental strength to resist possession by Voldemort, even if he was only a shade.” Dumbledore peered at him over his glasses. “How did you do it, Harry?”

“I did it by asking the earth for strength and gripping my daggers.”

Dumbledore sighs a little, but doesn’t try to disagree, just nodding instead. “But poor Professor Quirrell did not have your goblin training. It is not surprising that he was a victim. And so we will restore the stone to its rightful owner, and say that Professor Quirrell suffered from a brief fit of dragonpox, which in its less destructive forms is known to make people wander and speak nonsense, and say nothing more about it.”

“Wait, the stone wasn’t your stone?”

“Indeed, no.” Dumbledore beams. “I was holding it for my dear friend, the alchemist Nicholas Flamel.”

“Oh,” Harry says, and then shrugs. The only thing he’s happy about is that he’s solved the mystery of the twin voices that he heard earlier in the year. It must have been the stone and the mirror, the stone speaking from within the mirror.

He does want to ask Dumbledore something, though, since they’re here in the same office and so close. “Why don’t you listen to people when they tell you Snape is a terrible teacher?”

“Professor Snape, Harry.”

“Really? But he doesn’t act much like a professor, and he says I’m not a student.” Since that day in class when Snape refused to pick up the iron bit and accept Harry’s challenge to a duel, he hasn’t used those exact words, but he’s told Harry that he’s not worthy of being at Hogwarts, many times.

“I am afraid there are complications here that you cannot understand.” Dumbledore shakes his head. His smile has gone away. “Much like the need to keep Professor Quirrell from suspicion, we must protect Professor Snape. He made great sacrifices in the war, and he must be kept safe.”

“But why do you have to have him be a teacher? Why not just have him brew potions for Madam Pomfrey or something? Get someone else to teach potions.”

“Surely you are not questioning my hiring decisions, Harry?”

Dumbledore says that like it’s supposed to mean something to Harry, but Harry just keeps his eyes on Dumbledore and says, “The goblins didn’t teach me a lot about hiring. But I know that if they have someone who turns out not to be a good smith or healer or translator or warrior, or anything else, they take them out of the job.”

Dumbledore is definitely frowning at him now. “I must ask you to cease questioning me, Harry. And respect Professor Snape. And not spread the tales about Professor Quirrell around.”

Harry gets up and leaves the office without responding. He has a lot to think about, and a lot to talk about when he sees his people at home again in a few days.

A Trumpet-Voice

“And that’s what happened,” Harry finishes. He’s speaking for the first time in front of the Halazhmacharan, the General Council, which consists of a representative from every clan. They fill the huge round Audience Chamber. It’s a little like the scene in the mirror, but not really.

The goblins exchange glances, and some of the representatives begin murmuring to each other. Harry politely doesn’t listen, but waits for someone to ask him a question.

“What was the justification that the old one gave for not wanting to tell the wizards the real story?” a Master Smith finally asks. This is a huge, squat goblin woman, as tall as Harry, with not only a steel medallion around her neck but a huge linked chain of them around her waist, and sapphires set into her ears. Harry knows that she’s Stone, just Stone, representative of the Nelakhkhakan Clan, one of the few goblins in the world to be honored by such a simple name.

“He said that it would ruin Quirrell’s life because he was an innocent man who just got possessed by Voldemort.”

Stone laughs. The laughter ripples from goblin to goblin, and is joined by the banging of hafts and axes and spears and blades on the ground. Harry perks up. He can hear the voices of all the weapons, and they’re saying the same thing as the voices of the goblins.

War! War! War! War! Truth! Truth! Truth! Truth!

“We will speak the truth,” Stone says, and stands, so that other goblins have to copy her if they want to honor her. Most do. Stone ignores the few who don’t, probably people from other clans that have feuds with Nelakhkhakan. She stares directly at Harry. “We will make it clear that there is little honor in Hogwarts, and that there are lies.”

Harry beams at her. Those are some of the strongest fighting wards in Gobbledegook. Only a weak person lies, because that means that you don’t trust the strength of your weapons.

“We will carry the truth to them,” Stone says, and glances around, as if making sure that everyone is listening. “And if they will not listen to the truth, we will have war.”

War! sing the weapons.

Truth! sing the walls.

Harry smiles wider. This is everything he hoped for. They agree with him about Dumbledore and Snape not being honorable and Quirrell not being innocent…

But even more, they are treating him like a goblin.

He has not stopped being a goblin because he’s a wizard. It’s all Harry wanted to know.

Chapter Text

 

Shall Come Into His Own

“Did we pick all the best people we could send the owls to, though?” Harry studies the list of names in front of him with a frown. He knows that ordinarily the clan representatives would be the only ones to see it, so this is really flattering.

On the other hand, he’s the one who told them that Dumbledore would probably release lies instead of what actually happened in that hidden room between him and Professor Quirrell.

“Of course.” Ripclaw stands next to him, one hand on Harry’s shoulder. He’s the one who gave Harry his first knife all those years ago, the blade Harry would have used in the duel with Snape if the coward accepted. “These are prominent people in wizarding society, yes, but also humans in the Ministry who are noted gossips, and some of the ones who work for that paper, and the professors in your school. Not all of them will do something, but some will.”

Harry nods slowly. He doesn’t know if he can count on the professors to do something, even Professor Flitwick. He cares, and he’s half-goblin so he knows a lot, but he also seemed to think that nothing would happen to change Dumbledore’s opinions.

“Well, I hope we get some reaction,” he says, and goes down a tunnel to work with Toothsplitter at the forge for a while. When he can’t do anything productive with his mind, creating with his hands is always the best solution.

*

“They want to interview the amaraczh.

Harry looks up when he hears that, mopping sweat away from his face. The name is one that the goblins use for him sometimes, which means “human who can speak.” Toothsplitter shoots Harry a glare, and he hastily turns around and pounds a few more times on the blank in front of him, to make sure that she can take over where he’s leaving off.

Just because someone is talking about him is no excuse for shoddy work, as Toothsplitter has told him many times.

The goblins who were speaking come to get him a short time later. Harry nods to them, young Jumpgold who he played in the caverns with before he went to Hogwarts and Blackeye, the best healer in the Realm of Song.

“We will want to make sure that these wizards know their limits,” Blackeye tells him.

It’s smart to have people with him when confronting the wizards, Harry is sure, because humans almost never do know their limits. These people are a blonde-haired woman with huge glasses, and someone with a camera around his neck, and a wizard in robes that Harry has heard described as Aurors’ robes. He hasn’t had any interaction with Aurors on his own, though.

“This is Harry Potter?” the blonde woman asks the minute she sees him. She smiles hungrily at him and steps forwards. “My name is Rita Skeeter, reporter for the Daily Prophet. You can be sure that I’ll report the truth.”

Harry would like to trust that declaration, but he’s seen stories in the newspaper that are lies with her name on them. And she’s trying to shake his hand as though an introduction is all she needs. Harry stares at her until she steps back.

“Mr. Potter,” Skeeter says, and tries to smooth down her robe and recover. “This is my photographer, John Westfall, and my associate, Auror Oliver Kaliman.”

“I’m not your associate, woman,” the Auror says, and curls his lip.

Harry gives Skeeter a sharp look. Lying in the articles was one thing, as long as it didn’t affect him, although it made him think Skeeter and the Prophet in general were dishonorable. But lying to him is a dueling offense.

“I’m here because I’m one of the Ministry people who received that communication you sent out,” Kaliman says, and folds his arms. “We just happened to show up at the same time.”

“Do you believe us?” Harry asks.

“I think we need some more proof before we can say for certain what we believe.” Kaliman tries to glare down Blackeye, but that’s like trying to glare down a mountain, as Harry could have told him. After a second, the Auror coughs and looks at Harry again. “And I think you would do well not to let Ms. Skeeter write an article on this.”

“How dare you! My articles are the most widely-read—”

“We certainly won’t be letting Ms. Skeeter write anything but the truth,” Blackeye interrupts, and everyone in the room grows silent as she lets one hand rest on a dagger. “Otherwise, the Prophet can send us another reporter.”

Skeeter actually wavers on her feet for a second. Harry thinks she’s going back and forth between wanting to lie and wanting to write the article, and he’s a little astonished. He didn’t think anyone would show the struggle that clearly. At least not if they’re an adult human.

Then she nods and throws away the bright green quill she’s holding in one hand. “All right. The truth. For as many papers as that’s going to sell,” she mutters under her breath.

“Oh, trust me,” Jumpgold says, looking at Harry and then back at the reporter with a little smile that makes Harry remember when she would try to get away with pushing other goblins into crevices. “You’re going to make more money than we will.”

*

“Is it really true that you got insulted by Professor Severus Snape?”

“Is it really true that Headmaster Albus Dumbledore refused to let you tell the truth about what happened in the hidden rooms under the school?”

“Is it really true that you faced down Voldemort and lived?”

Harry gets the questions as he walks through Diagon Alley and meets other children, as he goes to Knockturn Alley to get rid of some of his own fears, and even sometimes when he goes to Hogsmeade via blood and tunnel to get some of the materials that will aid him in making finer weapons. Harry tries to remind himself, each time, that wizards don’t understand how insulting it is to question a goblin’s honor or accuse him of lying. He tries as best he can to be polite and smile.

And if sometimes his smiles are wide and people look from them to the knife on his belt and decide to stop questioning him, that’s all right. As long as he doesn’t make any actual threat, no one has any crimes they can report him for to the Ministry.

He does get one owl from Dumbledore, a huge, heavy, sad letter that describes how Professor Quirrell had to leave the school and go live in some other country with a cousin of his because his reputation in wizarding Britain is ruined. Harry ignores that. As far as he’s concerned, Professor Quirrell was never innocent anyway.

And he was in the cursed Defense Against the Dark Arts position. Most people thought he would die or leave at the end of the year anyway. If Harry helped the curse along its way, can anyone really blame him for that?

Professor Flitwick comes to Gringotts himself to see Harry about a fortnight before school starts. Harry comes up from Toothsplitter’s forge with soot all over his face and his hands covered with the woven-steel, magical gloves that protect him from the heat, and has to strip them off before he can shake Professor Flitwick’s hand. “Sorry, sir,” he says, taking a seat on the chair in the corner of Gorgeslitter’s office. He’s agreed to supervise this meeting. None of the goblins trust Harry’s professors very much.

“Quite all right,” Professor Flitwick says, and he’s smart enough to speak Gobbledegook. “It’s amazing and humbling to see a human who wants to learn the ancient goblin arts.”

“We have ensured that he was instructed in wizarding magic as well,” says Gorgeslitter, and hands both of them thick cups of dirt that has been sung to and blended with water enough that it forms a potent magical brew. Harry drinks in delight. He only became considered old enough for this brew when he got his journeyman status in the winter, and then he didn’t get to drink it much before he had to go back to Hogwarts. “There is no reason to give up any advantage when you are a warrior.”

“Do you see yourself as a warrior, then, Mr. Potter?” Professor Flitwick asks, and turns to Harry with some surprise. “I thought you were a speaker. A diplomat.”

Harry smiles. “Compared to other wizards, I’m a skilled speaker, sir. But that’s only because so many wizards don’t listen. I’m not as skilled as most of the other goblins in talking between clans, and the wizards don’t seem to really have clans.” He pauses for a second to let the thickest part of the brew swirl in his mouth, and then adds, “Did you think that my releasing the information about what Dumbledore told me was really diplomatic?”

Professor Flitwick shakes his head and takes up a lead biscuit. “No. But on the other hand, I didn’t think you would dare do so at all.”

Harry stiffens. “What do you mean?”’

“I thought you were afraid of him.”

Harry relaxes after a second. It’s honorable to speak the truth, and Professor Flitick has never seen him fight. If he thinks that Dumbledore can defeat Harry, then it makes sense to say so. “Well, some people might think that. But after we released the information, then I think you can see I’m not.”

“No.” Professor Flitwick dips his biscuit in the brew, which impresses Harry a little. Those clashing tastes would be too much for him. “One thing I am afraid will happen is that Hogwarts will become much more uncomfortable for you.”

“Why is that, sir?”

“Professor Snape will want his revenge. And although he will take it in infinitely more subtle ways, so will Professor Dumbledore. I am afraid that you might find yourself outcast from your House, even though you made good friends there last year.”

Harry shakes his head. “Not all my friends are Ravenclaws, sir. And not all of my friends can be intimidated.” He wonders if he should tell Professor Flitwick everything he’s thinking, but then he decides that he should. Honesty, and honor, demand it. “And I’m a goblin more than a human. If this somehow made every human in Britain hate me, I’d get over it.”

“You will fight Professor Snape and Professor Dumbledore?”

“I would prefer it if we could just duel and get it out of the way. But I will, sir.”

Professor Flitwick swallows the last of his biscuit and puts down his tea. “Then I would like to offer you private lessons in the matters of wizarding diplomacy and some history that will explain why Professor Dumbledore is so prominent in Britain, rather the way I offered you some explanation of our government last year.”

Harry blinks. “Why, though, sir? You seem to have chosen the course of accepting that you can’t fight.”

“I did not have any conception of how far you would go, then.” Professor Flitwick actually chuckles, his eyes twinkling, which makes Harry think that he must be one of the least serious goblins Harry’s ever met. “I didn’t realize that you considered yourself a warrior. Now I do. Now I have an ally who can fight with me and shield me if necessary.”

Oh. Harry relaxes even more. He understands now. Professor Flitwick seemed like a human most of the time, except when they spoke Gobbledegook and ate goblin sweets in his office. Harry didn’t realize that he simply hesitated to fight back because that’s not what he’s good at.

“What can you tell us, sir?” he asks.

Shall Be Upholden

RAVENCLAW!”

Harry claps politely as he watches the newest student hop off the stool and walk towards their table. She’s a small girl with brilliant blonde hair, so pale that it looks like sunlight, and protruding blue eyes that interest Harry a little, because it makes him wonder if she peers at books or darkness. And—

She has a necklace of corks around her throat.

Harry cocks his head. He doesn’t remember hearing about any wizardly or goblin traditions that reference that, but on the other hand, that just makes her more interesting and distinct. And anyone who’s willing to stand out in wizarding society is someone he wants to talk to.

“Hello,” he says, clearing space beside him for her on the bench. “I’m Harry Potter.”

The girl takes the seat, but studies him so much that she nearly falls over her feet. “You don’t look like a Harry Potter.”

Harry smiles before he can stop himself. “Well, that’s my human name. My name in the goblin tunnels is very different, you know.”

“That explains it. You can’t stop being a goblin even when you’re out of the tunnels.”

“You seem to have a good grasp of it…”

Harry trails off, but she doesn’t speak, instead watching his blade and nodding a little. Then she says, “I’m sorry, were you waiting for my name?”

“If you feel like giving it,” Harry says, a little amused. “If you don’t, then I can give you a name. But the ones that get chosen by other people don’t always speak to our true soul, so I thought I’d let you decide.”

The girl smiles at him, and it lights up her whole face. “I like my name well enough. It’s Luna Lovegood.”

“A name for the moon,” Harry says. “That suits you, when you have hair that looks like light and eyes that look like they need light.”

Terry Boot hisses next to him. “Harry, don’t be so rude.”

“What? They do.”

“Of course they do,” Luna says, and Harry is glad to see that she agrees with him and isn’t perturbed. “That’s the way they are, though. Just the way they grew, without me being in the tunnels.” She sighs. “Is it true that you grew up with the goblins?”

“For the real part of my life.”

“That must be so fascinating. Tell me, is it true that they have secret treaties with the Nargles?”

*

Harry and Luna become fast friends, especially because Luna is the first completely human wizard Harry has met who doesn’t need to be taught how to listen. She listens to animals more than to objects, but that’s fine. In fact, Harry is always interested in learning how to communicate more, and he likes learning the languages of chirps and tail-flicks and rustles and growls that Luna knows.

She’s the one who introduces him to the thestrals. Harry is very impressed by them, and wishes that he’d pursued the faint glimpses he had of them last year. He sometimes saw a winged horse-like shadow trotting through the woods then, but he didn’t spend any time in the forest. Detentions and maintaining his listening and just being a goblin in a human castle took up a lot of his time.

“You can only see them if you’ve seen someone die,” Luna announces, right after an intense language lesson where Harry has spent time learning how to distinguish tail-flicks about food from ones that discuss danger.

“I know,” Harry says, and looks as gently as he can up at her from the leaves on the forest floor. “Who did you see die?”

There’s a long pause, and Harry wonders if it was rude even by Luna-human standards to bring that up. Then again, he only started discussing it because she did.

“My mother,” Luna finally whispers. “She died in an experiment when I was nine, and I witnessed it.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry says gently. “I think it must be hard to have your parents die in front of you. Supposedly mine did, but I really don’t remember it.”

“Who did you see die?”

“One of the other young goblins. She was called Crisplock. She was dragged down under the earth by one of the Deep Ones, and then I saw the beak take a bite of her. I didn’t know it counted as seeing her die all the way until I knew I could see thestrals, though.”

Luna sits down on the leaves near him and watches him, head tilting a little to the side. A thestral lips her hair. She doesn’t notice. “Who are the Deep Ones?”

“Enemies of the goblins that live under the earth. Well, really they’re enemies of everything that disturbs their rest. They used to rule the earth a long time ago, you know. Now they only want to sleep and remember, but sometimes our tunneling wakes them up, and then they strike back.”

“Oh. You don’t want to move out of the tunnels?”

“Why would we? It’s our home.”

Luna smiles for the first time. “Daddy and I still live in the house where my mum died. He says it brings us closer to her.”

Harry understands exactly what she means. Sometimes he still goes and jumps over the mineshaft where Crisplock died. She and Harry weren’t that close as friends, but she was still alive, and that deserves to be acknowledged. “That sounds lovely, Luna. Do you think I could visit you sometime?”

“Oh, yes! Daddy would love to have company. Especially if you could tell him what some of the objects like the horns and skins we have are saying. He tries to talk to them, but he doesn’t have the goblin training like you do.”

“I’ve never talked to anything that was taken that directly from an animal,” Harry admits. “It’s mostly after they’ve already been polished or carved or made into other objects. But I could try.”

“Have you found out about the treaties with the Nargles yet?”

“Not yet. It’s possible that we know them under other names, though. That would make sense, Ripclaw says.”

“That must be it. I know goblins would never abandon a treaty once you made it. You’re an honorable people.”

Harry smiles at her. “Why do you know that and no one else does?”

“For the same reasons they don’t study the languages of thestrals and birds,” Luna tells him earnestly, squeezing his hand for a second. “They’re just deaf, and also their minds are filled with mist from how much their teeth hurt. Did I tell you about the Rotfang Conspiracy?”

All Sorrow Fail and Sadness

“I want you to tell me why you threatened Professor Snape, Harry.”

Dumbledore sounds a little broken, a little defeated. Honestly, Harry didn’t know what he expected. Once he knew that Dumbledore wasn’t honorable and wouldn’t defend people, then Harry had no reason to keep honor back. So he can do what he needs to do now, and not listen to the rules of Hogwarts unless he thinks it might be easier to follow them.

“He was bullying Luna.”

“Ah, yes, Miss Lovegood,” Dumbledore says, in a tone that suggests he disapproves of Luna, too, or maybe Harry’s friendship with her. “Well, Harry, you must know that all students have to take potions.”

“Until their fifth year, I know. But that doesn’t mean he has to bully them.”

“Professor Snape’s method of teaching—”

“It isn’t teaching. It’s bullying. And I might be able to ignore it, and other people in my House have told me not to stand up for them, and the Weasley twins can handle it in their own way, and I don’t think he ever gets angry at Cedric. But he made Luna cry.”

Dumbledore looks like he might be one second away from hiding his face in his hands. Then again, Harry thinks viciously, he does that metaphorically all the time. “That does not give you the right to put a knife to his throat, Harry.”

“Yes, it does. That’s literally the punishment for bullying someone young who lost a parent. Sir,” Harry adds, in case that makes Dumbledore more likely to listen to him.

“In goblin culture, Harry. You are a wizard.”

“And a goblin. Luna lost her mother. Snape didn’t have the right to sneer at her about that. And I told him what the consequences were. It was just a threat. I didn’t kill him.”

“He told me,” Dumbledore says, with something like confused anger gathering in his voice, “that you said you would castrate him next time.”

“Right. Next time. Now that he’s been warned, he shouldn’t have to do it anymore.”

“Harry, to threaten professors is unacceptable.”

“Then what’s the alternative? Standing by when they torture students? I know that my father did something to Snape that made Snape hate him. And then Snape hates me, and tortures me. And he takes out his bitterness and hatred on people who did nothing to him, too. I think standing back and doing nothing is far more harmful.”

Dumbledore’s mouth is tight as he looks at Harry. Harry doesn’t really care. He knows that the newspaper articles haven’t had as profound an effect as he could have hoped, but they’ve had some. Dumbledore is being questioned in the Wizengamot, and there are rumors that the board of governors is meeting more often, too.

“I can expel you, Harry.”

“That might be for the best,” Harry agrees. “Then, of course, I’ll need to return home, and Gringotts will help me sue to recover my tuition fees.”

Dumbledore closes his eyes. “You are causing chaos,” he whispers. “It is hardly conducive to the orderly running of a school.”

“Neither is hiding a Philosopher’s Stone in the school and practically begging someone to go steal it.” Harry thinks now that the traps that protected the stone last year were too simple. Oh, most wizarding children wouldn’t have his advantages to get through them, but obviously adult wizards and goblins could.

“Have you ever thought about the fact that you don’t fit into human society very well?”

“The goblins taught me wizard magic and made sure that I kept up my lessons in English even when I just wanted to speak Gobbledegook,” Harry explains. “Now they’re making sure that I know more about wizarding government and laws and history. And I do well enough in most classes that aren’t Potions and Astronomy.”

“I wonder,” Dumbledore goes on, “if my approval of this informal custody agreement that the goblins have over you should be rescinded.”

Harry met his eyes evenly. “It’s not informal.”

“Technically, Harry, your Muggle relatives are still your guardians.”

“Not by honor,” Harry says. “They forfeited the right by blood when they made me sleep in a cupboard and neglected me so much I could wander away and get found by my true people. And not by law.”

“Harry, you must know that—”

Harry shrugs. “The right people in the Ministry signed the custody agreement years ago, giving me to the goblins. It has your signature on it, too.”

“That is impossible.”

“For some reason,” Harry says, “the Ministry never pays much attention to goblin paperwork. I don’t think that I know anything about why, of course. I am only a simple goblin.”

Dumbledore lets him go in the end. Harry doesn’t think he has any idea what to do with the situation.

And as long as Snape doesn’t bully Luna anymore—and the Ravenclaw students who started to call her “Loony” remember Harry’s thoughtful stare and his remarks about how many pieces he could cut bodies up into—then Harry doesn’t have to push forwards on it himself.

*

“I can hear the hissing in the walls,” Luna tells Harry softly after the first Petrification , of Mrs. Norris, and the writing on the wall. “But I can’t tell exactly what it’s saying, other than it’s hungry. And I think it might be insane.”

Harry hesitates. “Do you think you could find it and calm it down?”

Luna is silent for a long time before she shakes her head. They’re sitting by the lake, waiting for some of the merfolk or the Giant Squid to come talk to them, and the sunlight doesn’t make it easy to see that her eyes glitter with tears, but Harry makes them out. He always does. “It’s really gone,” she whispers. “I think—I think it Petrified Mrs. Norris because it doesn’t remember how to kill the ordinary way. If it was really shut in the Chamber of Secrets for hundreds of years, it must be starving. Reptiles can survive long periods of starvation, but…”

Luna leans her head on Harry’s shoulder and closes his eyes. Harry strokes her hair. “It’s okay,” he says. “I know what to do.”

Luna blinks at him. “But you said that you didn’t hear it talking.”

“I know,” Harry says quietly. “But I know what to do when someone has gone insane and deserves mercy. I’ve heard all the songs.”

Luna swallows. “Don’t tell me about it, please. Don’t sing me those songs.”

“I won’t.”

Songs of Yore Re-sung

Harry speaks to the walls and the floors, and in the end the pipes, to find out where the giant snake is crawling through. They lead him to the bathroom Mrs. Norris was paralyzed outside, which annoys him. Of course he ought to have looked there first, but he thought the snake might be emerging anywhere.

It makes him wonder why the professors couldn’t find this place and give the serpent mercy themselves, but then he knows when he thinks about it. They won’t listen to Luna when she tells people about the beasts she hears, just because she sings the truth as stories. They won’t listen to the serpent that’s hungry, or the pipes that cry out their warning when Harry learns to distinguish their voices from those of the water they carry.

Humans so rarely listen.

Harry goes down the right pipe, and finds his way to the somberly impressive Chamber of Secrets. He has to get the doors open with a bit of Parseltongue that Luna taught him, but then again, it’s also the word that opened the sink. Harry doesn’t believe Salazar Slytherin was very imaginative, which pretty much fits with the way most students of that House act.

When the doors open, Harry steps into a partially-flooded room and looks around. There’s a huge statue of an ugly human in the corner, and the floor whispers of danger. Harry listens.

Basilisk. Basilisk.

Harry nods grimly. He thought it was probably that, what with the Petrification, but he couldn’t be sure until now. He enchants the thick blindfold into place around his eyes. Ripclaw taught him blind-fighting, and he has another advantage: the Chamber will tell him where his enemy is.

There is a sudden shifting sound of stone. Harry turns to face it. It’s coming from the direction of the statue. Then he hears the sound of scales on the stone, and the floor shrieks in fear for him. Harry draws his blades.

You’re doing this because the poor thing is insane and has to be put out of its misery, he reminds himself, and the battle begins.

*

Harry sighs as he lies on his back not far from the basilisk corpse. In the end, it was his smallness and quickness that saved him, along with the voices of the stone and the water and his training in blind-fighting. He kept dodging into corners that the basilisk couldn’t reach, and it kept trying to paralyze him—which of course had no effect when he couldn’t meet its gaze.

He also made it twist its head sideways and break off both fangs, one against the statue when he ducked behind it, and one against the floor when he stood in one place until the last moment and then rolled out of the way at a helpful flagstone’s suggestion. The basilisk could still have hurt him with the stumps of the teeth, but it was a lot less likely.

In the end, Harry got the basilisk into the largest puddle in the room and then asked the water to rise up and bind it in place. The water could only do so for a little while because it was so large, but that was enough for Harry to scramble up its neck and plunge his knives into its eyes, and the brain behind them.

Now, Harry undoes the blindfold charm and looks at the poor, dead, beautiful thing. He feels a slow stirring of anger in his stomach. The basilisk should never have been left here to starve. It should have been fed and honored. He wishes he could have taken it back to the Realm of Song with him, but Luna was right. It was insane, as proven by the way that it kept trying to kill him instead of backing down after he broke its fangs and asking to be spared.

Harry hesitates. There is one way to honor it, although not everyone would agree with him doing this.

He finds the broken fangs and carefully sheathes them in place of two of the knives he lost in the battle. Then he sings a single, deep, throbbing note that stone sometimes responds to.

The flagstone that helped him break the basilisk’s second fang convinces the others to help, and a huge ripple travels towards the basilisk and heaves the body up. For a moment, the wave of the floor assumes a sharp edge, and then twirls the body around and comes down like a guillotine.

Harry carefully wraps the head up, too, and then takes it back up with him through the entrance of the Chamber and the pipes, where some water is kind enough to lift him back to the bathroom. A ghost shrieks at the sight of him and dives into a loo there.

“What are you doing with that thing?”

“I’m going to bury one of the fangs in a secret grave, make one fang into a weapon, and hang the head on the wall to honor a fallen enemy,” Harry explains. It’s more usually done with goblin claws, true, and the head-hanging has been replaced in modern times by more discreet hair, but no one can say he isn’t being traditional.

“Oh.” The ghost sighs. “That sounds better than just not being honored at all.”

“I can try to come up with something for you,” Harry offers. “If you fight me so that it can really be honoring a fallen enemy.”

The ghost smiles at that. “I’d like that! Did you know, no one has ever asked me how I died before, or how I’d like to be remembered? My name is Myrtle.”

Harry listens for a while, until he remembers that he still has to get the basilisk’s head and fangs to a good hiding place, and then he bids Myrtle farewell and leaves the bathroom.

*

The torches and the wailing are solemn as the goblins wind through the Realm of Song into a place that’s punctuated by crystal pillars and a single large, sparkling purple geode in the center of them. Harry carries the basilisk head, and he walks in the center of the procession. Gorgeslitter and the others were indeed impressed by his intention to honor the basilisk in the traditional way, but they said that if he did, he had to do everything traditionally.

No matter how heavy the head is.

The fang that Toothsplitter helped Harry forge into a new dagger with a silver hilt and silver tipping the broken end hangs from his belt. Harry buried the second fang in the Forbidden Forest, after thinking about it for a while. The basilisk’s head will spend eternity in the Realm of Song, but he thinks that perhaps the basilisk would have liked living in sunlight and fresh air, too, after spending so long in a cavern. So the Forest it was.

Now, Harry has to prove that he killed the basilisk in the proper way, and that he is indeed honoring his enemy in the proper way.

“I battled this basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets beneath Hogwarts,” he says, grimacing a little as the English name of the school breaks the smooth flow of Gobbledegook. “It was insane and starving, and I gave it mercy on the request of a friend. Stone and water helped me, but it was my daggers I drove into its eyes. I buried one fang. I carry one fang. I will hang its head here, if the earth approves. Thus I remember my enemy while I walk the earth, and while I wield my weapons, and while I draw breath in the Realm of Song.”

The cavern around him is still, and Harry is afraid for a second that he did something wrong, or the Realm just doesn’t think this is a worthy kill. But then the dirt and stone in front of him mold up, and thrust up, and a new crystal pillar arises. There’s a delicate, lacy, but incredibly strong projection of stone in front of him now, and Harry smiles and steps forwards.

He hangs the basilisk head on the crystal pillar, which grows further and further, lofting the head almost to the height of some of the oldest kills in the grove. The goblins of Harry’s clan around him throw back their heads and let out a single, massed yell of one of the Sacred Words, no longer used in ordinary, everyday Gobbledegook.

WARAZCASAAR!

It’s the cry to a fallen, honored enemy, and Harry joins in. Then he takes up one of the torches, and holds that in his left hand while drawing the fang-dagger with his right hand.

“My next kill will be with your tooth,” he tells the basilisk’s head. “Thus you will thrive and carry forwards the process of death and life, and I will know that it is partially your kill, too.”

Toothsplitter puts her hand on his shoulder and squeezes, hard. Harry beams up at her. It’s the loudest approval she’s ever given him.

Then they walk back out of the Realm of Song, to the Darkness Feast that is waiting. Harry smiles. In a few days, Luna has invited him over for Christmas. The papers are printing more sympathetic articles to him, and Snape hasn’t dared bully anyone, including Luna, for nearly a month.

It’s really wonderful to know that he isn’t going to be lost in the world of humans, or lose his identify among the humans, the way he used to think he would.