The first thing I noticed wasn't the comparative splendor within the bank, which looked like it belonged in Athens, or maybe Rome, at the peaks of their respective powers. It wasn't the ten goblins in full view guarding, or the thought that if there were ten that I could see, there were likely another ten I couldn't, at the very least. It wasn't even how casually all the other wizards were about walking into what, if I have not been lead astray, amounted to its own sovereign nation.
No, the first thing that I noticed was the threshold around the place.
It didn't physically stop me. I had permission, so it parted for me. But while some thresholds amounted to a heavy curtain, or a heavy weight settling on my shoulders as I passed through it, this one was certainly closer to the former in how it felt to wade through it. However, it felt as if my magic was being strained as I walked through the threshold, examined closely, before being gestured to move on by an uncaring TSA agent, and I actually had to exert myself to get through the thing.
I got the feeling that, had my magic, or more accurately, whatever imprint was on me based on what I had done with magic, not passed whatever test there was, I would not have enjoyed my first time in this bank very much. A bigger part of me doubted that I would have even been able to enter without permission… not without losing more or less all of my power upon entering, only for it to be returned to me upon exiting.
Glancing around at the blasé wizards moving in and out with no problems, as if they owned the place, and without any conversation between them and the goblins at the door, I wondered how these wizards all moved into Gringotts either without needing to deal with the threshold, or simply ignoring its effects.
I tried to shake it off. I was there for a reason, after all.
The place was big, though it didn't exactly take all of my deductive capabilities to figure that out. Maybe it was a trick of the architecture, but it looked slightly bigger on the inside than the outside. Grand white columns reached up towards the ceiling in two large, neat rows, each one as thick around as a redwood. There were about twenty teller windows, from what I could guesstimate without actually counting, and the goblins manning them moved through the worrying lines with quick, brusque efficiency. There was no doubt that this was a place of business.
That made the idea of their threshold being as strong as it was very interesting. From what I could understand, goblins weren't much for magic, so it was unlikely that what I had felt walking through were wards. Maybe the influences of a home being nonhuman in nature on a threshold?
That too was something to consider. These goblins were at least connected to the goblins of the Nevernever. But they couldn't be fully fae, otherwise they would have no free will, and build no threshold. The explanation for my work to get through the threshold could be the thing mirroring the mindset of the race that built it, always wary of outsiders, and ready for an enemy to come to their gates.
I shook my head. All of this magical speculation was starting to wear on even my patience for the technical aspects of magic. Rules seemed to be subverted and changed without thought, by the inhabitants of this 'wizarding world,' without rhyme or reason.
I promised myself I would save most of the rest of my thoughts on the magic here for when I had Bob as a sounding board. It just wasn't worth the headache, doing it by myself, and doing nothing but considering the impossibilities of certain things here.
Without too much preamble, I strode over to one of the quickly moving lines, and pulled out the slip of paper that Dumbledore had handed me, rather than a paycheck. You know, like perhaps an intelligent monetary system would go.
Handing it to the goblin, I waited for his eyes to flick over the paper. With a full-bodied sigh, he shook his head, and made a 'follow me' motion. He got down off of his chair, and behind the counter, moved off to the side, where he went through a goblin-sized door on his side that looked to be heavily reinforced, and opened a far larger, yet less intimidating door on the customer side of things just across the teller's counter. Impatiently, he waved me through the door, before we both sat around a desk.
"It looks like you hated that letter almost as much as I do," I grunted to the goblin as I sat, fingers tight on my staff, and prepared to gather my will at the slightest twitch. All faeries were inhumanly fast, and from what I'd seen of goblins of the fully-fae variety, they were a step above even some of the Sidhe in terms of skill and dexterity with a weapon. Sitting down in front of a goblin, even one I had begun to theorize as 'watered down,' did not strike me as a good idea. However, seeing as this place had a threshold, it really was their home. Which meant I was there under Guest Rights.
Which meant, if I didn't want to create a potential international incident, I would play nice.
Thankfully, it meant he'd do much the same.
He waved the piece of paper around, a scowl under his long, misshapen nose. "This," he spat, "tells me nothing except your name, and that you are to be paid out of his vault. It says nothing of how much. It says nothing of whether or not the funds are to be transferred or removed. All that I know," he scowls a little harder, "is that you have potential access to every ounce of gold in Albus Dumbledore's vault, if you want it."
I scowled back at that. What is this, old man? Some kind of test? Some way to gauge how trustworthy I am? A large, vicious part of me wanted to do just what the goblin said that I could, and raid his vault for every last penny. But, contrary to popular belief in the supernatural community, I have a set of morals that includes not stealing, outside of extreme cases. And while I held an extreme dislike for the man, this hardly qualified as such.
Dredging up the memory of the paper that grey owl had dropped off more than a month before, and shortly later the paper itself, from deep within the bowels of my duster pocket, I told the goblin that I was being paid something like two hundred and sixty galleons a week, and that it had been about six weeks since I had started. The goblin nodded, though I got the sense that he was judging me for not cleaning out the man's vault.
Setting up a vault wasn't all that much work, and seeing as I had a bit of shopping to do, I asked to have the gold deposited directly to my new vault, (Vault 1136,) and that fifty galleons be taken out immediately. After setting up and 'renting' the vault's use, essentially spending half of a week's salary on setting the vault aside to hold the other five and a half weeks' worth pay, and setting up the weekly transfer of pay supposedly without Dumbledore's knowledge, I withdrew fifty and got out of the self-identified Griphook's proverbial hair. As I left, the goblins at the door tightened their grips on their weapons, but said nothing, save for a muttered, deferential, if angry about it, "Druid."
'Druid.' I shook my head. The goblins worked with wizards on a daily basis. I was sure they knew that calling a Wizard anything but just that was something of an insult. As the Chlorofiend proved all those years ago, I had little clout with nature spirits, and the binding of them to my will would be no easier than it was for any other practitioner.
Finally free to do as I would, I enjoyed shopping for potion supplies, with a helpful list of commonly used and especially potent potion ingredients off of a particularly shady-looking street called 'Knockturn Alley,' and a shop very suspiciously called 'Potent Potions, Powerful Poisons, and Pickled Pixies.'
I was more than a little relieved to find that the pickled pixies looked nothing like the Wee Folk, and more like their Red Court equivalent. Though, unsettlingly enough, 'Fairy Wings' were on Snape's list. I bought them, but I was somewhat concerned over the ethics of the situation.
Heavily laden with potion ingredients, I left Knockturn Alley, glaring at a man in ragged clothes who seemed to be fingering his wand as he looked at me. At my look, he scurried off, and I sighed as I walked away. Apparently, even a fully-magical society can't keep from having people badly enough off to make crime seem appealing.
In spite of the dour turn to my thoughts though, I was excited.
I was going to get a wand, and then Bob and I would be able to properly geek out while studying the new piece to the magical puzzle that was this whole magical world.
The owl-eyed man behind the counter took one look at me, at the staff in my hand, and began shaking his head. Slowly moving away from the boxes that he had been shelving just behind the counter, he left the organized chaos that seemed to run through every nook and cranny of the shop. Small boxes, each perhaps a foot and a half long, and no more than four inches tall or wide, were stacked across the counter, jammed into shelves wherever they could find room, some pristine and shined to the point of the wood gleaming, others clearly older and comparatively untouched for long periods of time, judging by the dust, and yet others with boxes held together by nothing but the smallest splinters and prayers.
The place had a bit of a hectic feel to it. It reminded me, with a pang of nostalgia, of my basement lab, back when I had my own apartment. Potions ingredients scattered across the room in a controlled chaos, books inherited from my mentor and grandfather, Ebenezar McCoy, as well as those I had managed to acquire over years of surviving being myself, as well as copies of a few that the White Council allowed all of its members access to. Little Chicago parked in the center of the little sub-basement, with Bob looking down from on high, surrounded by candles burned down to the nub, and well-worn, well-read and re-read romance novels.
It had been cool in the summers, downright freezing in the winters, and my only place of refuge when a magical emergency rained down from above, surged up from below, or blew in from the next town over. It was where I went to focus, when casting particularly complex spells, where I studied and experimented both for my own satisfaction, for the joy of crafting new spells, and to find a way to keep my head on my shoulders, and where I had made some of my best memories in working magic.
"Sir, I cannot say that I remember ever having served you before. Do you need help with your wand?" He kept looking at the staff in my right hand with half-hidden disdain. "I must warn you, I have no experience with staves, and as such can promise no help with… that."
Feeling somewhat self-conscious, I tightened my grip on my staff, and cleared my throat.
"No, I don't need my wand serviced," I told him, the little tenth grader in the back of my mind laughing madly at the innuendo that seemed to go over the man's head. "I was planning on purchasing a wand from you."
"Oh?" He perked up slightly at that, eyes filled with interest and delight, as he gave me an evaluating look. "What was your most recent wand like? There's no guarantee, but it is not uncommon that your next one will be rather similar."
"That would be the issue. I haven't actually had a wand will be my first."
The man's face lit up with delight. "A first-time customer? And at such an age!" He clapped his hands like a giddy child. "Come, come! We have much to do!"
With that, he disappeared into the veritable library of boxes behind him, a grin on his elderly face, and his eyes far too wide for me to be entirely sure he wasn't part owl. I stepped up to the counter just as he burst out from behind one rather precariously balanced shelf, and reverently laid a box on the table.
"Holly," he rattled off at me, eyes locked on the wand box. "Fifteen inches. A little long for most, but I think it appropriate for one of your height… It possesses a Unicorn Hair core, and is rather excitable, but excellent for both Charms and Transfiguration." He offered the wand to me, and with some excitement, I reached for it.
Which was a big mistake, looking back. It generally isn't smart to touch magical objects without understanding how they work. In my defense, I was fully under the impression that, while these wands were specially crafted by experts, and made by only the finest materials that could be found, they were normal foci, simple channels through which magic could more easily be worked. Simply put, I was totally convinced that I understood them exactly.
I was proven very wrong when I picked the stick up, and felt it… vibrate. I turned, studying it, wondering why it was vibrating, fully in 'magic nerd' mode, and not in 'don't get my head blown off' mode. I changed gears pretty quickly, though, when a bolt of force flew from the tip of the wand, striking the storefront with the force of a thunderclap, shattering the glass of every store within thirty feet of the bolt, knocking the elderly wand-maker off his feet, and slamming me back-first into the counter, groaning as I struggled to keep my feet.
I made a quick check over myself, for any major injuries, and turned to the wand-maker sprawled out on the floor behind me. The reflexive scowl that had stolen across my face faded, as I realized that whatever happened wasn't meant to. For once, the unexpected explosion did not herald an attempt on my life. I sighed as I rounded the counter, helping the frazzled old man back to his feet.
"Are you okay, sir?" I asked, very much aware of just how fragile the human body was even for those in the prime of their lives. For the elderly, even a minor spill could be dangerous, life-threatening even, under the wrong circumstances. Thankfully, he was still in good enough health to grasp my hand, and let me more or less haul him to his feet.
Contrary to what I had expected, there was a massive grin on his face. "Remarkable!" He cried, bouncing in giddy excitement, practically dancing with glee. "That was perhaps the greatest expression of accidental magic I've ever seen, and in direct response to a wand of mine!" He slowly stooped down, his sharp eyes picking out the wand among the splinters, shattered glass, and other debris on the floor, and his hand deftly scooping it up.
"So… that was supposed to happen?" I asked warily.
"Of course not!" He cried with joy, "This wand could not possibly be any less suited to you!" Slapping the wand back into its case and shelving the box, he began to search through the boxes around him for… something.
"Well, that's not entirely true, using Unicorn Hair seems to have been a close fit, even if it was the wrong Unicorn… Ah hah!" He cried, triumphantly pulling a weathered old box from another shelf. "Ash and Unicorn Hair, twelve inches, this one's rather stubborn." With a wide smile still splitting his lines face, and his massive eyes blinking at me from behind his oversized glasses, he offered the wand to me handle-first.
Warily, I took it.
About three minor explosions later, progressively reducing in scale until only I was being tossed off my feet, Ollivander put a thirteen inch wand in my hand, a thin black rod that seemed to hum with power. When it met my fingers, I felt a surging warmth, along with the familiar tingle of shaking hands with a practitioner prickling along every inch of skin in contact with the rod.
"Very interesting wands you sell," I told the him, pocketing the odd little stick and paying the man.
"Always a pleasure to pair the wand to the wizard," the man said jovially. "Difficult customers are my specialty, and you're one of the hardest to place I've seen all year!"
I left the store only slightly concerned about what might have happened in the years before I bought from him, and morbidly curious whether or not anyone had lost a few fingers in that shop.
AN: Oh, wow. It uh… it's been a while, huh?
Yeah… I had excuses, but honestly, I've had so much time that none of them really hold any water now. Hopefully over the coming school year I can be a bit more dedicated with how I do things.
To be honest I'm not satisfied with this chapter. It feels like filler, and that's not good, but at the same time, I think I've cured myself of my former 'every chapter a climax' style of writing Fanfiction, which can only be good. It just feels great to get Dresden off of Diagon Alley, and having sown a few seeds of foreshadowing, hopefully I can get back into things without eight more months, eh?
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