I was working two jobs until a couple weeks ago. Now I have more free time, I should be able to write much more. Thank you for your patience and well wishes.

12K Words. Enjoy!

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-=REVISED 7/27/2023=-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Since I finished my other fic, Chain of Ascension, I have more time and I thought I'd do some simple revisions-mostly grammar stuff, but also including changing the narrative from present tense to simple past tense. Hopefully, it's a better read this way.


Whatever the Cost

Between the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables, in the middle of the Great Hall, the group of witches and wizards targeted by goblin assassins stood in contention. After the tragic news of her father's demise, Daphne compartmentalized, remained stone-faced, holding her sister's hand, and refused to leave to express her grief in privacy. Harry immediately felt responsible but would not ask for her forgiveness so long as she remained composed. The Greengrass sisters simply wrapped their arms comfortingly around each other, and waited patiently for the Headmaster to leave.

Nodding in sympathetic understanding, Sirius accepted Daphne's decision to stay before turning to the Headmaster and asking him, "If you would, Headmaster," while extending his hand toward the exit of the Great Hall. "I'll come to you soon to discuss our needs."

"I am this castle's guardian," Dumbledore tried again to assure them.

"Then guard these old stones," Nicolas coldly quipped from behind Harry. "Your presence here is a danger to us and if you will not leave willingly, then I will withdraw Ares immediately!"

"The great house of Malfoy will also withdraw Draco from your stone death trap, Dumbledore," Lucius suavely voiced, clearly enjoying Dumbledore's exclusion—if his smug grin was any indication.

"You know Hogwarts is like a second home to me," Sirius spoke to the aged Headmaster. The soon-to-be father then glanced at Tracey before assuring Dumbledore, "But I can't risk her life any longer. This is too much, Headmaster, and it's gone on for far too long. Please, see to the castle's defenses and I will do everything in my power to make certain these children remain safe."

The great sage took many silent moments to consider their united voices before nodding and slowly expressing to all of them, "I would very much hope you all know you can come to me any time you wish, for anything."

"We know," Hardwin called out from beside Lily. Harry could easily tell he wasn't the only one upset about excluding the revered wizard. Ginny, Fred, and George were a little uncomfortable, while Ron quietly argued with Charlie the same topic Molly argued with Lily.

"No, no, this'll be the death of us; I'm certain of it," Molly heatedly assured Lily, who tried to assuage her fears. Harry could imagine being away from Dumbledore's influence must feel like the sun suddenly disappearing from the sky. He could understand their panic was like an addict abruptly cut-off, but fortunately, they were the minority in this group.

After Dumbledore stepped far enough away, Harry ensured their privacy by erecting his strongest privacy spell underneath the Muffliato charm. Sirius took out his wand and whispered what appeared to be a diagnostic spell. Seemingly satisfied, he nodded before turning to the eight families. Raising his hands to call their attention, he announced, "So we're clear, the point of all this is the security and safety of everyone in this room. All of our lives are in danger-"

"Because of him!" Ron brazenly remarked, pointing directly at Harry. "We're all in danger because of him!"

It still irked him that Ron could be so against him for no other reason than the color of his tie when they've been best mates for so many years. Still, Harry understood that Ron was simply unaware, and that was enough to never be bothered by the redhead's animosity.

That didn't mean Daphne, Fleur, or Hermione appreciated his opinion as the three girls glared at him, and Hermione called out, "If you don't have anything positive to say, please keep your comments to yourself."

"She's right," Sirius voiced loudly yet compassionately. Anger and resentment were not helpful when dealing with a large and scared group, so the experienced Auror patiently explained, "This isn't about assigning blame. It's about discussing what's going to happen next."

"Without Headmaster Dumbledore, I should think that'd be obvious," an upset Molly called out. "You've spelled out our doom!"

"Molly, please calm down," Lily spoke privately with the madam of the Weasley household. "Arthur and Bill will be fine, as will we."

Harry eyed Daphne, but she was stoic as ever.

Sirius continued his speech to the group. "This protection detail will be managed by three official individuals and one unofficial individual. The students will remain here in Hogwarts while I secure the rest of you somewhere safe. Nicolas Flamel, Lily Potter, and a third party will be the only ones with the knowledge of the children's whereabouts and I'll pass along any letters or such you'd all like to-"

Stepping forward, clearly affronted, Narcissa cut him off to ask, "You're separating us?" Her gloved hand reached for her blond son, and Draco allowed her concerned hand on his shoulder.

Tracey's mother voiced a doubtful, "Siri?"

Sympathizing with the mothers, Sirius attempted to argue, "The students need to stay in Hogwarts-"

"You are not separating me from my children," Molly called out, her ginger brows furrowed yet her brown eyes were large and cross. "No sir," she continued. "Not after you've banished our best and strongest chance of surviving this! I refuse!"

"Molly, Dumbledore left because he understood it was for the best," Sirius carefully explained before returning his attention to the group of parents. "I understand this may sound unreasonable, or even heartless, but what's the alternative? Joining them in class? Walking em to the loo and waiting outside the stall? We shouldn't make it easier for the enemy by remaining together in one spot. Dividing this group has a strong probability of dividing their plans, thus adding more difficulty to their objective."

Since the dragon pit, that had also been Harry's thought process. No matter how much they fortified their position, unless they were completely cut off from the world, there was always a way in. It could be as extreme as destroying the entire castle or as tame as poisoning the air or their water. Even if they split their group up—the students in Hogwarts and the adults elsewhere—Harry was certain the team of Dark Goblins would still attack them in unison. In that scenario, it was still preferable for Harry to guard a smaller number of people. Ultimately it didn't matter because the second Harry could get away, he was hunting for Dark Goblins.

"You can trust us," Lily spoke out in support of Sirius.

"Believe me sirs, ladies," Sirius implored. "I'll more than make certain Dumbledore fortifies the entire school with every charm and enchantment in the book. It'll be the safest place for them-"

"Which only means we need to stay with them," Molly loudly insisted.

"…If you'd like to stay with your children, I'm not going to keep you from them," Sirius begrudgingly admitted. Like Harry, Sirius must've thought this wasn't an argument worth fighting, however, he made certain they understood the scope of this decision. "But, for however long it takes us to resolve this situation, you will not be able to leave. You can't go home nor can you have any contact with others outside the castle. We can't risk compromising their location."

"We won't leave our daughters," Apolline voiced with a thick French accent.

"Nor will I leave my children," Molly firmly declared.

"Same," Tracey's mother told Sirius. After letting out a long exhale, the husband-to-be agreed with a nod. With that point resolved, Harry was eager for this to wrap up so he could leave. However, before Sirius could continue, Lucius stepped forward to address the group.

"As a highly respected Governor of Education for Hogwarts and Lord of the esteemed House Malfoy," Lucius sternly voiced, annoying Harry straightaway as the blood supremacist looked down on nearly everyone present. "It's rather evident that I should assume supreme authority when the Auror is absent. I do not wish to risk my own family's affluent nobility or that of the esteemed Delacour's on incompetent or inexperienced leadership-"

"NO," Harry's voice boomed menacingly throughout. Harry's mind was anxious to leave, and the last discussion he wanted to be dragged out was the merits of giving Lucius fucking Malfoy any authority whenever Sirius wasn't around.

Outraged by the curt interruption, an offended Lucius turned to Harry—in fact, everyone turned to Harry—and outcried, "I beg your pardon!"

With squared shoulders, Harry contended, "Let me be absolutely transparent about this," glaring daggers at the taller silver-haired Lord of the Malfoy house. Surprising many to hear, Harry firmly yelled, "I don't trust you—at all! And proof-be-damned, there's no doubt in my mind you're a fucking Death Eater. Which means the very last thing I'd ever do is trust you with any authority over me or mine."

That immediately ruffled spines and raised hackles as many of the witches and wizards stood straighter by the brazenly public accusation. The Delacours instantly turned hostile gazes on the silver-haired lord. It may be uncommon to be so vocal about what's obvious, but at the moment, Harry couldn't care less. He simply wanted his friends properly cared for before he left.

Lucius was visibly shaking in clenched anger, slowly growling, "How dare you accuse me-"

"Yeah, go ahead and deny it, Lady Locks!" a determined Harry spat back, taking an aggressive step toward the entitled nobleman. Despite the witnesses, Harry made it abundantly clear to Malfoy senior, "In case it hasn't sunk in yet, I'm not afraid of you, your pissant buddies, or the leader of your little circle jerk. I HATE Death Eaters!" Like wind whipping up bright flames, Harry's eyes grew furiously green as he declared, "And if you want to keep acting like one, I'm going to treat you exactly like I treat all the others."

With wide feral eyes, Lucius took his own threatening step forward, his wand-hand immediately swinging around to the wand hidden in his cane, shouting, "You-"

"Go ahead," Harry challenged, ready to flick his wand in place as Nova raised her feathery head. "I fucking dare you."

Stepping between them, Sirius shouted, "that's enough!"

Taking hold of her husband's arm, Narcissa attempted to calm the situation by making a point of saying, "I've no doubt we're all quite anxious over these events-"

Riping his arm hard enough to pull her unbalanced, Lucius demands of his wife, "Don't you ever correct me." Draco stepped ahead of his mother to keep her from falling before glare up at his father. Harry was certain Draco wasn't a fan of his silver-haired mother, however, anyone could tell Narcissa was under Lucius's thumb. When he spoke, she fell in line.

Lucius seemed genuinely surprised by the hate emanating from Draco's ice-gray eyes while Sirius interjected, "I've made my decision, Malfoy. "

Hesitantly pulling his attention away from his defiant son, Lucius obnoxiously asked, "How mistaken you are, blood-traitor. No one beneath my station and purity will ever dictate my actions."

"I am the Head Auror of the DMLE, Malfoy," Sirius pointed out. "Which means your purity and station can stuff it. You will accept my protection in whatever manner I deem appropriate or you can leave. It may be my job to protect everyone equally, but I won't fight you if your precious sensibilities are too offended by the company."

"Music to my ears," Lucius spat before turning to Narcissa and Draco and commanding them, "Come. We're leaving."

"No," Draco sternly told his father as he held his cowed mother in place.

Lucius' cold eyes turned angrily on his son as he declared with adamant authority, "I am your lord-father and you will do as you're told-"

"I won't stop you if you want to leave," Draco aggressively rebuked, standing firm against the taller man. "But mother and I are not going anywhere. Leave by yourself or stay; those are your only options."

In horrid disbelief, Lucius gasped, "To shame your own family so vindictively…" The snickering from a few of the Weasleys made the defiance painfully worse for the controlling man. Lucius' attention flickered from an irate Harry to his son before rebuking, "Such disgrace… bowing to him like some wretched house elf… pathetic." The elder Malfoy implored his son, "Stop humiliating our great name-"

"The only pathetic one here is you," Draco loudly retorted over his father. "Irrespective of your shallow opinion, short of physically forcing us, we're not leaving."

"What'll it be, Malfoy?" Sirius asked. "We don't have all day."

Taking in air through enraged nostrils, the long-haired pureblood tried to hold onto a modicum of respect as he haughtily retorted, "As Governor of Hogwarts Board of Education, I demand to know who this third unofficial individual you plan to leave in authority is?"

"Isn't that obvious?" Draco told his father, casually pointing a lazy thumb at a very sinister-looking Harry. Other than muttering to himself, "ridiculous," Lucius said nothing further.

"You can't truly mean to leave a boy in charge," Molly voiced with palpable concern.

"Only after Alice, Nicolas, and Lily," Sirius assured Mrs. Weasley.

"If I may," Stéphane called out, drawing their attention. Walking to Harry, he explained, "My duty to my country will not allow me to remain witz my famille-"

"Papa?" Fleur asked with concern.

"'Owever," Stéphane continued over his eldest daughter's clear concern. "I leave comforted in zhe knowledge zhat zhey are in zhe safest 'ands imaginable." Turning to Harry, Stéphane asked, "vill you give me your word zhat you will look after zhem to zhe best of your ability?"

"Of course, with my life," Harry undoubtedly assured the man. "But you shouldn't risk being in the open until the threat is neutralized."

"'Ave no fear, Arez, I vill 'ave zhe best security," Stéphane assured him with a supportive nod from his Veela wife. "And no one frightens Stéphane Delacour from serving zhe country he loves."

"I doubt they'd risk starting a war with France," Sirius voiced. "But Flamel is right, you should remain in a secure location-"

"No man 'as a wife as beautiful as Apolline wizhout surviving a few thousand death threatz," Stéphane declared with a mighty grin. "Auror Black, if I may 'ave an escort see me to 'Eadmaster Dumbledore."

"If you'll permit me a moment, I'll join you, Deputy Minister," Sirius offered and the French statesman nodded.

Moving to her husband-to-be, Tracey's mother called, "Siri?"

"It's okay, love," he reassured her. "I trust the Flamels and Lily. Tonks and Alice will be here as well." Turning to the group, Sirius announced, "Everyone, it shouldn't take me long to secure where we'll be staying. Until then, Alice Longbottom is in charge, followed by Lily."

Not a moment after Sirius left, Molly, followed by Charlie, wanted to express her opinions with Harry. Fortunately, Perenelle and Lily took it upon themselves to placate the irrepressible Weasley mother. Nicolas took to assuring Governor Malfoy and a silent Narcissa of the Flamel's stance on Death Eaters, Apolline joined Sharon Davis's conversation with the Grangers, and the younger witches and wizards congregated together.

Harry felt stuck. Though he'd have liked some privacy with Nicolas and Perenelle to discuss his plan to deal with the Goblins, he didn't want to voice his intentions around so many ears, nor did he want to leave his friends so exposed. They needed to be safe before he felt comfortable leaving. Tonks, Charlie, and the teenagers sat at the Hufflepuff table in two factions linked together by Luna and Ginny. The girls talked about their fathers with Hardwin and the Weasleys hovering near Ginny, while Harry and everyone else near Luna. Those excited or anxious enough gossiped about the attack, the effects this might create, and conclusions of the current threat as Daphne, Astoria, and Tracey silently comforted each other.

Watching them out of the corner of his eye, Harry remained silent, still, and brainstormed the immediate steps to end this threat. Though Daphne's father was the only confirmed victim, truthfully, Harry had grown too apathetic to have any grief for such a man. His only source of anxiety was his concern for Daphne and Astoria. Watching Astoria cling to her stone-faced older sister made Harry feel responsible for their tragedy, which made him uneasy and angry. Their father may have been a hard man to live with, but he wasn't always that way, and to have that pillar of your life taken away so abruptly, Harry knew they'd have much grief to cope with. Watching them reassured Harry's decision to take a break from hunting Death Eaters and Voldemort in favor of hunting Dark Goblins.

When Sirius finally returned, the gruff Auror directed them to their new lodgings. As the group silently walked through the Great Hall, Harry was happy to note they were smart enough to stay away from the House dorms of Hogwarts, but he was surprised when Sirius stopped at the storage room across from the Great Hall entrance. 'Room Eleven?' if Harry remembered correctly. It was the room Dumbledore had turned into an indoor forest for Firenze to comfortably teach divination.

Walking into the wide circular room, Harry half expected a mossy grass floor, thick shrubbery, lush trees, and large rocks. Instead, the carpeted room was furnished to feel very much like the Gryffindor common room with red and gold couches, carpet, love seats, curtains, tables, and a roaring circular fireplace at the center of the spacious room. The color theme felt like a small dig from Dumbledore, but Harry didn't care.

The eight windows were large and currently allowed the afternoon sun to stream in; however, the scenery could be adjusted to any sight they wished. Rather than opposing stairs separating the genders, four-poster bunks with privacy curtains similar to the infirmary lined the circular wall. Aside from the privacy curtains available around the beds, there was no true place to hide, which Harry didn't mind.

Rather than segregating the group by gender, Mrs. Weasley made certain Sirius knew she wouldn't allow her children to sleep away from her, making the Malfoys move opposite them. Perenelle had Daphne and Astoria bunk by the Flamels and the Delacours, and Lily helped the Grangers settle in as Sirius addressed the group.

"I know you'll need your amenities," he began, "However, we'll go with chaperones one house at a time."

Looking around their comfortable prison, Harry didn't have time for that. His friends were in danger, and he'd waited long enough. Tapping shoulders as Harry passed both Nicolas and Perenelle, he walked as far away from the others as he could in the round red and gold common room.

Erecting Muffliato, he told them, "We need to split up."

With growing concern, Perenelle asked, "What are you going to do?"

"End this," Harry emphatically answered. Before they asked for specifics, he explained, "We don't know where Týr and the other Goblins are, but I reckon Ragnuk can point me in the right direction."

Voicing her palpable concern, Perenelle expressed to Harry, "I don't like the sound of you taking on the Dark Goblins by yourself, and I can't imagine speaking with Ragnuk will end well."

Harry sullenly rebuked, "They went after my friends, Nelle." Glancing at his friends as they listened to Sirius, Harry heatedly repeated, "My friends- No! No, I can't let this go and I won't be restrained. Whatever the cost, they fucked with the wrong wizard."

Perenelle didn't even admonish him for his language as Nicolas took his wife's hand to comfort her. With her reluctant nod, Nicolas told his wife, "Stay here and fortify this room. I'll go with Ares."

Her brows knitted together, and her eyes were worried as she pleaded, "Be safe, you two."

With a nod, Harry was about to flame away when he took a final look at his friends and was taken aback by their approach. Nicolas and Perenelle made themselves scarce to give Harry a private moment with them. As Tracey, Daphne, Fleur, and Hermione drew near, Harry felt he didn't need to say anything to them but was glad Draco followed them.

Before addressing the girls, Harry ordered Draco, "Knock Lucius out, take his wand, and keep him out until I get back."

Though the girls were taken aback by the first thing he said, they were positively stunned when Draco simply nodded and replied, "Yeah, fine."

With worry, Hermione pleaded to know, "Do you have to go?"

Accepting what he had to do, Daphne asked, "Can you tell us where you're going?"

While Fleur smiled as she inquired, "Can you take me with you?"

With half a smile, Harry answered Hermione, "I do," Daphne, "I'm going to end this," and Fleur, "Sorry, I can't. This is my fault—"

"No," Hermione emphatically interjected, whipping her hair as she shook her head. "No matter the part you played in this, you didn't want or intend for any of this to happen, so it's not your fault."

Gently, Daphne added, "You're not responsible for their actions," and Harry could feel the loss behind her words despite the gentle voice carrying them. She lost her father, and she wasn't blaming him. It squeezed his heart for tears he had no time to shed.

"What will you do?" Fleur asked.

"I don't know exactly," Harry honestly answered. "But it won't end well for them."

"Don't," Hermione immediately protested, moving ahead till all of his view was filled with Hermione's worried face. Taking a moment to swallow nervously, she shook her head before proclaiming, "I only mean… Okay, I understand there are times diplomacy isn't the answer—I know that now—but try to imagine how easily this can lead to a cycle of violence. They attacked us, so you retaliate, then they retaliate, and it continuously escalates."

"What would you have him do?" Draco argued. "Appear weak by putting away his wand for some pretty words? He may as well get on his knees and pucker up as he raises the white flag."

"No," Hermione retorted before returning her bold focus on Harry. "By all means, make a statement—a bloody one, if need be. I know how powerful you are, but if there's a chance—a real chance—to resolve this conflict using diplomacy, peace may last longer than brute force. That's all I mean."

"Someone wants to be Minister," Daphne dryly joked, attempting normal banter that caused Hermione to blush.

Harry was effortlessly reminded of his Hermione and what a relentless pillar of strength she was for him. Taking her hands in his, Harry gratefully told her, "Thanks, Hermione. I hear you." Turning to the others, he told them, "For now, I think the most important thing to do is know my enemy."

"And how will you do that?" Daphne wondered aloud.

"By speaking to the King of the Goblins," Harry answered, leaving them with one final shock before turning to Nicolas. As the immortal elder walked back, Harry told them, "Keep training, watch out for each other, and I'll be back as fast as I can."

Harry palmed Nicolas' shoulder, and they flamed away, causing a bright light in the room. Landing in the Chamber of Secrets, the pair decided on the best way to meet the king was through Flitwick. Through Hedwig, Harry sent the half-goblin a message to meet them in Gringotts before momentarily tending to a slumbering Nāga.

Brightly flaming to the stone street of the bustling Diagon Alley frightened and startled the witches and wizards nearest them. Exposed with innocent bystanders around, both wizards were on high alert as they began walking. With the immortal alchemist beside Harry and a midnight black phoenix on his shoulder, they were the center of attention all the way to the white marble entrance of the towering Goblin Bank. It wasn't until they were ushered into a private room to await Flitwick that the pair spoke.

Taking a seat on the black leather sofa, Nicolas asked, "Did you finish that book on speaking Gobbledegook?"

"Yeah," he slowly answered, walking around the room and verifying the room's safeguards. "But I can only understand it. Speaking it is more effort than I care to dedicate to mastering."

"I don't mind telling you this situation must be handled with the utmost care," Nicolas pointed out, eyeing the clear carafe water pitcher. Turning to the elder, Harry could feel how worried he was about meeting King Ragnuk. Rather than remind him of the obvious, Harry settled Nova on a stand before taking a seat on the chair across from him and pouring Nicolas a glass of water. Hands shaking slightly, Nicolas accepted the glass as he said, "We're not in the same situation as before. We have to be ready. Or this can go downhill quite fast."

"I know," Harry thoughtfully agreed. After what happened to his friends, Harry would admit he had been running rather hot. Sitting in Gringotts, however, surrounded by goblins, Harry understood aggression would not get him what he wanted, and if Nicolas needed to talk to distract himself into remaining calm and collected, he'd sit and listen.

"Being in the heart of goblin nation would be unnerving, to say the least, but there's also our shared history," Nicolas spoke, delving into the comfort of talking history. "For those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and the history between us is not as improved as it should be." Gaining a sense of comforting balance in the knowledge behind his words, he word-vomited, "There have been many reasons for Goblins rebelling against wizard-kind: the infamous allegation by Ragnuk the First that accuses Godric Gryffindor of stealing the Sword of Gryffindor; the pursuit and imprisonment of Ug the Unreliable, who was peddling leprechaun gold; the accidental death of Gringotts goblin, Nagnok, at the hands of an untrained Security troll sent by the Ministry of Magic; imprisonment of the notoriously violent Hodrod the Horny-Handed in Azkaban, who attempted to kill three wizards; and the Ministry of Magic decree of 1631 preventing magical beings other than wizards and witches from carrying a wand." With a nervous chuckle, Nicolas added, "For Merlin's sake, the Fountain of Magical Brethren in the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic shows a goblin, among a house-elf and centaur, gazing admiringly at a witch and wizard!"

"I get it," Harry interjected, pointing to the glass of water and reminding the elder to drink. "Not only will we be in enemy territory, but we'll also be negotiating with a group that's been subjected to injustice and bigotry by wizard-kind. The fact that I need to protect my friends with information only they can give me is irrelevant to them."

"It'll be like asking slaves to actively assist in finding more of their kind to enslave," Nicolas remarked, shaking his head disapprovingly. "Goblins have fought against discrimination and prejudice while maintaining our economy for centuries, and they're still considered subservient by many wizards. Do you know how difficult it is to appeal for cooperation from a segregated group like that?"

"Which is why we need to find common ground," Harry prudently stated. "I get it won't be easy, but it's necessary, because I'm not leaving without the information I need."

"That doesn't fill me with a sense of relief," Nicolas admitted, shifting in his cushioned seat. "I've never met King Rognuk; however, I'm certain he's the champion of their values."

Having heard it a few times from Nicolas, Harry lazily repeated, "The rightful and true master of any object is the maker, not the buyer. Meaning all goblin-made objects are, in their eyes, rightfully theirs."

"Exactly," Nicolas chimed. "Which has led to many disputes, and the belief that wizard-kind cannot be trusted."

"I don't need them to trust me," Harry slowly proclaimed, sitting up and leaning forward. With soft and confident eyes, Harry affirmed, "I need them to trust the lengths I'll go to protect the people I care about. That's all."

There was a knock on the door before Professor Flitwick entered the furnished private room. After greeting each other, Flitwick easily assumed, "I gather you'd like to speak with King Ragnuk in regards to today's attacks."

"Unless you can tell me where the Dark Goblins are," Harry alternatively bid.

"If I knew where they were, I'd tell the Aurors right away," Flitwick admitted. "Targeting children makes them, far in a way, unfit to share the goblin name. Their repugnant attack will only hurt us all."

"Guilt by species," Nicolas remarked, sarcastically adding, "release the dogmatism."

With doubtful thoughts of the future, Flitwick sighed before agreeing, "quite so, I'm afraid."

Setting aside their concern, Harry only asked to know, "When can we meet Ragnuk?"

"I've sent the request before even stepping into Gringotts," Flitwick informed them. "All we can do now is wait."

Nicolas asked, "for how long?"

"He's been eager to meet with you for some time," Flitwick admitted, alluding to expectations of involving Nāga. "He'll call for us when he's set the field in his favor."

"This isn't a power play or manipulation tactic," Harry heatedly asserted. With the faces of the living in peril on his mind, he argued, "My friends and their families are in danger, professor."

"I understand that, Mr. Flamel," Flitwick sympathetically remarked. "But what good will it do you to storm the palace? How will threats and destruction bring about peace and cooperation? Surely you must see the thing you seek will cost you dearly."

Harry knew the diminutive professor didn't mean gold or property and contended, "I'm not giving him a basilisk he thinks I have."

Flitwick sagely professed to Harry, "'Divine right of a king,' my young student. Please keep this to yourselves: among our kind, the populous mandate that only the strong may be King. That isn't unheard of throughout history, I grant you, but allow me to ask, why? Why only the strong? The strongest warrior may defend us certainly, however, every goblin would be as eager to fight the enemy as the King, for no goblin is lacking in courage and grit. So, then, what is this strength? Is it cunning? Wealth? Nationalism? No, for our kind, it's the ability to allow subjugation. Earning the divine right of a King means that honorable goblin becomes the physical representation of our collective soul. He is transcended so our strong-minded populace can actively be governed and progress in serfdom under one."

Nicolas pointed out, "You all agree your King is a divine class, and this doctrine allows you to avoid war among yourselves."

"For the most part, yes," Flitwick answered. "It's why Vorkalth's challenge isn't simply for a jeweled crown, but for the united soul of all goblins. The King of Goblins is given the divine right as a metaphysical act of humility or submission among us all; a rare thing for such prideful beings. He is the governing right by which no goblin is above, uniting us into the force we are today. We've had a King since the 11th century, but before that, we were killing ourselves nearly to extinction over petty squabbles, which is why King Ragnuk's line is so important and why Vorkalth's challenge is so disheartening."

"Offending Ragnuk is like offending all the goblins," Harry simplified.

Nodding his head, the professor explained, "I say all this Mr. Flamel, because when King Ragnuk demands a thing, whether you claim to possess it or not, it means that all goblins demand it; it means give it to us or all goblins are against you."

Tentatively, Nicolas asked, "Yourself included?"

Flitwick scoffed and answered, "Dear me, no. I may be part-goblin, but I know where my home resides. I've never felt more joy than when I'm in a classroom educating the young minds of the future."

A small smile broke the tension on Nicolas and Harry's faces. Once again, the devoted teacher proved his steadfast sincerity despite the difficult situation they were in. Still, with loved ones at stake, Harry couldn't compromise and confessed, "Professor, I think of you as a kind, caring, and strong person, certainly one of the most positive influences in my life. But, if King Ragnuk wants to hold my friends' safety hostage to ransom for something that isn't an option, I promise you this day will not end well for the goblin nation."

Flitwick stared at the conviction steady in Harry's green eyes for a moment before nodding and answering, "We shall see."

Less than a minute later, a white-haired goblin in a clean, black and pressed suit entered their waiting room. Harry noticed the insignia on his breast pocket was gobbledegook for the letter R as he proclaimed, "The mighty King Ragnuk has granted your request to meet him."

They were escorted out of the waiting room, and down the teller's corridor vaults. Sitting in a cart, they rode the twisting and turning roller-coaster of the dark and deep stone cavern to the lowest level of the bank's vaults. Harry's ears popped, and his waist ached as they walked the path to an impregnable stone wall with a large ornate double door numbered 000. Three goblins moved to press their palms against silver panels on the stone wall before simultaneously using their magic to unlock the mechanisms keeping the thick doors closed. They heard slow yet loud clanking and the shifting of metal for several moments before the doors finally began to open, and they were led to a six-passenger train-car in the shape of a bullet.

Aside from the bullet cart, shooting down a tube-shaped cave like a water park slide, there was nothing else to the train stop. Harry wondered where else the underground tunnel led as they took a seat before taking off again. The cart was much smoother and faster than the Gringotts carts that led to vaults, and they went much deeper. No matter how deep and fast they went, it was never pitch black, but there was nothing to see but stone. Moving so swiftly through the tubular cave as the air hissed around them for many minutes. Eventually, the stone walls around them disappeared, suddenly revealing the largest underground cavern Harry had ever seen. An entire metropolis could fit in the massive subterranean cavity.

The bullet car sped over the mega-town, giving the wizards a bird's eye view of goblin life. The buildings were close together—stacked one on top of the other—and were made of varying degrees of gray granite stone and dark oak wood. The style of architecture was very similar to Gringotts, with many pillars and beveled edges. There were high archways over oddly glowing streams, and vegetation littered the entire metropolis; however, instead of green trees, they were blue, yellow, or white.

Though they were rushing high above the city, Harry could tell the major veins of the streets were dedicated to various types of vendors. His green eyes spotted all sorts of craftsmen peddling their wares or pushing carts through the streets. Shooting out of the chimneys was green, red, or orange smoke that reached the vents in the ceiling. Steadily reaching the center of the city, nearly all of the buildings seemed to be dedicated to smithing weapons. From their distance, Harry could only note the shiny glint of the metal; however, there were a lot.

The main veins of the bustling streets led to Ragnuk's palace at the center of the goblin capital, the only structure made of white marble and towering above the other edifices. The main entrance of the palace was four stories high with stairs constantly patrolled by a dozen pairs of guards. At the top of the stairs before the long pathway toward the palace gate was a large statue of an armored goblin, triumphant with a sword raised high and a decapitated head of a wizard that morphed into a giant that then morphed into a werewolf, and finally a vampire.

As they neared the landing platform, Harry was incredibly impressed with the royal residence. The center of the palace was a seven-story large edifice connecting a five-story left and right-wing with a golden dome over it. It was difficult to judge how many floors the palace had through the plethora of windows as the center section holding the golden dome had three-story-tall arching windows. Every column was designed with an intricate pattern, and statues were on every cornered edge of a beveled divide. Despite the squadron of guards walking them to the large double doors of the palace, it was a phenomenal sight.

"Welcome to Puk`Wud-Gie," Flitwick happily yelled as they waited for the security commander just outside the doors. "Or in English, Gobelin," he translated for them.

"My word!" Nicolas continued to gasp at the astonishing sight. "Oh, oh, the wife is going to be very sore for missing this, I don't mind telling you."

"It's a shame no human is allowed in the city," Flitwick voiced, turning to the city's roofs and towers just below their visual horizon. "There are all manner of creativity and invention going on there."

Turning to the active stone and wood metropolis with green, red, and orange smoke, Nicolas lamented to say, "I suppose I'll have to settle for this lovely view."

A second squadron of goblin guards walked out of the opened doors toward them. All the goblins that seemed to work at the palace wore armor, mostly stitched and interwoven leather with steel wrist and shoulder guards. The security commander who approached them was wearing full metal armor, and Harry noted small runes etched around the border of the metal. The armored goblin extended his hand, but rather than greeting them with a handshake, he demanded, "wands."

Surrounded by armed goblins, Harry and Nicolas looked at each other and acknowledged with their eyes that there was little choice but to comply, though it was a comfort that at least one of them would still be able to use magic without a wand. With a nod, they slowly withdrew their wands and handed them to the security commander. The goblin then turned his dark eyes to Nova on Harry's shoulder and asserted, "The phoenix will remain in a secure location."

"No," Harry sternly voiced as Nicolas quickly asserted, "this phoenix is currently bonding with Ares, and at such a young age, is incapable of staying away from him for longer than ten minutes."

"It's his familiar and a divine creature," Flitwick argued for Harry, adding, "even by goblin standards, that bond cannot be infringed upon. You cannot separate them."

The commander groaned irately before asserting, "They will wait until called upon." Harry and Nicolas were then taken inside the palace while Flitwick was led away. The inside of the palace was bright with white polished marble, red plush carpet, large crystal chandeliers, portraits of likely famous goblins, silver and gold statues, and ornaments; wealth and opulence were the impressions left on Harry and Nicolas.

With Nova on his shoulder, Harry and Nicolas were led into a circular assembly hall just outside of the throne room. Harry set Nova on a stand, and they took a seat under the watchful gaze of seven guards. In all the visual splendor, it was easy to forget why they were there. However, one room away from meeting the King of the Goblins, Nicolas felt he had to talk out his anxiousness.

Nervous, Nicolas pointed out, "Beautiful, isn't it? I've never been to Gobelin, much less the Goblin palace. I didn't even know the city is named Gobelin. Can you imagine? Me? Not knowing something like that?" he commented with a nervous chuckle. Harry casually smiled in support as Nicolas added, "They're truly craftsmen of the highest order."

Harry softly yet confidently asserted, "We're going to be okay, Nic."

"I'm not worried about myself," Nicolas replied with a thankful smile. "Perenelle and I have been on the outside looking in for so long, it's slightly unnerving to be at the center of it all now. A meeting that can effortlessly alter the fate of history is not an activity we often participate in. What we say and do in that room can damage or hinder wizard-goblin relations for generations to come."

"If you focus too much on how things can go bad, you won't be able to see the moment when you need to make the right call," Harry argued. "Just try to think about something else."

"Easier said than- Oh!" Nicolas sprightly sat up at a thought. "There is something I need to discuss with you. Keep in mind, this was completely unexpected by myself and Perenelle. Otherwise, we may have used other methods to heal you."

Quirking his brow, Harry cautiously asked, "What?"

"So, when I was you under polyjuice, I took a gander at your penis-"

Shaking his head with the shocking expression of something sour in his mouth, Harry blurted in disbelief, "You what? You looked?"

"Well, of course, I looked," Nicolas replied as if it was commonplace. Tilting his head, he asked, "Who wouldn't?"

Estranged fingers from rising palms shot up to the air as if to ask, 'Why?!' when Harry answered, "Oh, I don't know, everybody! Normal people!"

"Ares, the primary reason the polyjuice potion was invented was for the purposes of sex," an amused Nicolas educated. Harry felt like a preteen getting the sex talk as a humored Nicolas gently explained, "The first recorded use of a polyjuice-like potion was by Merlin himself. He created a potion for King Uther Pendragon to change into the image of his ally Goloris, Duke of Cornwall, to sleep with his wife, Igraine, which resulted in pregnancy with Arthur Pendragon. Uther lusted after Igraine, you see, and demanded Merlin help him, thus the Welsh design of Polyjuice was born, which eventually led to the potion currently used today. Since then, the potion's primary market is for sexual purposes, second only to deceptive practices."

"…Great," Harry unenthusiastically groaned. "So I'm the weird one for not checking a bloke's junk while under polyjuice?"

"In our society, I'd say so, yes," Nicolas plainly answered. Harry simply rolled his eyes and shook his head before Nicolas continued. "I say all this because after I looked, I noticed an unnatural increase in size. I've seen you naked while injured, if you recall-"

"Merlin, I can't believe we're talking about this," Harry groaned in disbelief, feeling phantom aches in his stomach.

"Would you rather it be Nelle explaining this to you?" Nicolas challenged.

Turning to the elder in disbelief and surprise, Harry asked, "She knows too?!"

"Well of course I told my wife," Nicolas answered, as if it was undoubtedly obvious.

"About my… Ugh! First Malfoy and now you and Perenelle…" Harry paused to look at the goblins nearby and wondered how good their English was.

"Listen," Nicolas voiced with a comforting pat on Harry's shoulder. "We believed the Elixir was not only altering the length of your life-force, but also your physiology." Leaning in closer, Nicolas whispered, "The thing you have to understand is, it took nearly all my life to finish creating the philosopher's stone and the elixir. Perenelle and I were already old when we first started taking the potions—well into our declining years—and didn't think it would do more than extend our lives."

AN uncomfortable Harry pointed out the obvious difference by noting aloud, "But I'm young… so you think it's making me… more?"

"I do," Nicolas answered. "I mean, Nelle and I still have a healthy sex life because of the elixir-" At Harry's groaning face, Nicolas protested, "Oh come now, Ares, it's only sex."

"That doesn't mean I'm comfortable talking about it with you!" Harry emphatically whispered like the teenager he was.

"Well, you should be," Nicolas affectionately asserted. "I can't imagine it'll be very long before you engage in a romantic relationship of your own. You'll need to know things, and I'll always be here to talk about anything you need to know—Nelle and I both will."

Not only was the topic of sex awkward and embarrassing, but it was also unnerving to have their support in an area of his life he always figured he lost with the death of his parents. Harry knew sex was something parents discussed with their children, but he never got that talk. Despite the monumental pile of embarrassment smothering him like bugs crawling all over his skin, Harry's brain had a couple of questions he ought to have answers for.

"So… bloody hell…" he cursed before trying again. "So, you're sure my- You're sure it's the elixir?"

Nicolas hummed before he answered, "I can't possibly imagine what else it could be. Since the early stages of magic experimentation, there have likely been millions of attempts to create concoctions for enlarging the male genitalia by now, and I know not a single one exists that's permanent or without terrible side-effects."

Considering the battles to come, another question Harry's mind needed answering was, "Does that mean I should stop taking it?"

"Well, you've only ever taken it to save your life," Nicolas mused aloud. "I assume emergencies are still your requisite for taking the elixir?"

"It is," Harry responded, assuring the old alchemist, "I've lived long enough."

"No, you haven't," Nicolas plainly stated, garnering a curious eye from Harry. Nicolas expanded by saying, "You've been physically alive for quite some time, yes, but I wouldn't say you've lived. I don't say this to you often, but I don't mind saying my greatest wish is for you to experience many of the wonderful aspects of life; love, success, discovery, children, family. There is so much this world has to offer, and you deserve to experience it."

Though Harry could feel the man's honesty through his genuine eyes and comforting smile, he was far too embarrassed to say anything—he simply nodded instead.

Nicolas only smiled as he returned to the topic at hand and answered the young time traveler. "As for your question, life knows more than we give it credit for. By that I mean studies by zoologists with a background in medicine have always wondered why the male human has such large penises-"

"Ugh, you know what? Forget I asked anything," a pained Harry tried, attempting to move away from this topic.

"No, please, this is truly fascinating," Nicolas pleaded, pulling at Harry's sleeve. Harry only allowed it to distract the elder from the meeting ahead. "Take a gorilla, for example. An adult male gorilla can weigh around a hundred and eighty kilos (400 lbs), and yet their penis sizes average four centimeters. Humans average around eighty kilos (176 lbs), yet the average size is five inches. This stark difference is interesting because, before formal clothing, larger penises hanging loosely may have appealed to more women, thus passing those genes along to future generations—which, enter my theory for your sudden development. I believe your growth will stop after reaching a previous ancestor's more well-endowed length. After all, that genetic information is still stored within you. Would you like to hear the leading theory on the shape of a penis' crown?"

Before Harry could vehemently decline to hear any more, the security commander apparated before them and warned them with a murderous glare, "The King will see you now. However, at the slightest provocation or hostile movement-" taking out his lustrous short sword, he asserted, "we've been given the authority to kill you."

Anything to end his sex-talk with Nicolas, Harry voiced happily, "Thank Merlin."

The throne room was round, lavish in gold and silver, and with a ceiling unduly high when considering their small stature. The golden ceiling was nearly six stories high, with intricately designed sculptures of goblins looking down at the royal proceedings. Many wide white columns lined the walls, with hovering torches that glowed like the copper in a light bulb. The middle of the circular room was divided by a very wide pathway leading to the grand ornate chair that sat the King of the goblins, Ragnuk the eighth. On either side of the carpeted pathway, well-dressed goblins observed from their stadium-arranged, plush seats.

Walking what felt like the length of a Quidditch field, Nicolas and Harry were led by the commander with a pair of goblins on either side of them and another pair behind them. Harry saw Flitwick waiting at the base of the stairs leading up to the King. The higher-class goblins in the gallery around them sneered, conversed among themselves, and generally looked down on them as they passed. However, Harry didn't let them bother him. He only had eyes for the King sitting in his royal chair, elevated higher than all of them.

Moving closer to the leader of a nation, Harry noted the King was dressed as finely as could be expected; a finely tailored black suit with an elegant red cape. His eyes were pure black, the skin of his long nose was egg-shell white, and his hair was long and braided. His teeth were sharp, his nails looked razor-sharp as his fingers traced the leather-wrapped handle of the battleaxe leaning against his royal chair. With his sheepskin collar over his intricately designed black suit, his arms were longer and stronger than the typical goblin. Most of the goblins Harry had seen in his life were bankers. Ragnuk, however, was certainly made from a different stock.

Harry and Nicolas were escorted nearly thirty paces away from the elevated King, just in front of a rectangular metal outline on the stone floor, and Harry could feel the magic the closer he came to the flat rectangle, like moving close to a blazing flame. Harry could tell Nicolas felt it as well; the fatigue and nausea underneath prickling hot skin. Harry wouldn't let mild discomfort bother him, however, Nicolas wasn't made for battle. Despite that, the elder powered through until they were finally stopped just ahead of the rectangular silver platform.

It shined under the light when King Ragnuk spoke with a booming and deep voice. "Consider the platform before you as a statement of trust." To hear the powerful goblin speak, Harry's ears felt the impression of two stone bricks rubbing together. "Should you decide to step within the silver boundary, any hostile action you take against the crown activates the enchantment to immediately bind and torture you. It can activate with your very intention or I, the King, can activate it at will. Choose not to stand within the silver and I will know before you even utter a word that this meeting has no value to you, that you are without honor, and that you cannot be trusted."

Harry looked at the highly engraved silver platform wide enough for five people to step on. The magic floating off the silver was hypnotic as Harry silently considered his options. He didn't have a set plan for how to deal with the King to get what he needed. He only knew what was at stake and what had to happen no matter the cost.

Nicolas bowed his head slowly, and though Harry would prefer not to, he bowed as well. Even if nothing was gained by it, it cost nothing to show respect in someone else's home. "King Ragnuk," Nicolas began. "You bring up the question of trust and honor, yet, how are we to know this apparatus won't affect or harm us without cause?"

"How dare you question our King!" the wizards heard from the side, causing a ripple of angry grunts and cries from the gallery of onlookers and guards. "A goblin's word is all the trust a wizard needs!" another goblin yelled.

"Silence," the leader's strong voice commanded, to which his subjects followed without question.

Looking down at the enchanted silver platform, Harry bluntly proposed, "I didn't think a King needed petty tricks like this to take the measure of a man." The high-brow crowd quickly became restless, and without any intention of stepping on a foreign magical object, Harry walked around the silver platform to face the King. With his hard green eyes looking up at Ragnuk, Harry's defiance was clear, daring the goblin king to force him to comply. The gallery of goblins bristled and scorned in relative silence for several moments as wizard and goblin stared at each other down.

Unexpectedly, Nicolas slowly stepped on the intricately etched silver before announcing, "I trust in my son. Allow him to speak his mind, and I will stand in your snare."

Turning his angry gaze from Harry to Nicolas, Ragnuk contended, "Your son may speak his mind within the silver or it is an insult to the kingdom."

Harry immediately turned his back on Ragnuk, erupting several gasps from the gallery, and told Nicolas, "let's go," as he walked away from the goblin royal and the loud ruckus it caused.

Nervously eying the now armed guards stalking them, Nicolas immediately rushed to Harry's side, imploring him, "Just step on the platform! This is not the time to be prideful!"

Harry kept walking the long and wide walkway as he told Nicolas, "I can already guess how this is going to go, and I don't have time for games. There are other ways to get what I need."

"Maybe," Nicolas huffed as he walked beside Harry. "But this is the fastest and safest way to help our friends and family." As Nicolas tried to get Harry to reconsider, Flitwick rushed to Harry's other side.

"Mr. Flamel, please reconsider," Flitwick voiced as he and Nicolas stood in front of Harry, stopping him from advancing any further. "I promise you the silver rostrum is stood on by everyone who visits the King; even the Minister of Magic."

Nicolas' brown eyes urged him to reconsider as he pleaded, "Ares…"

The wrinkles on Nicolas' beseeching face were so expressive and telling that for the first time, faces of the living flashed in Harry's mind; Perenelle, Hermione, Luna, Fleur, Daphne, Tracey, Sirius, Lily, Hardwin, Ron, and the rest of the Weasleys. It was such a stark difference to the dead expressions he deliriously envisioned that he couldn't help but wonder if this was something the past timeline wanted.

For decades—and with the Horcrux's help—Harry had imagined his dead friends and family would tell him everything he did wrong; Their tortured faces would ask him why he didn't save them, listen to them, stop being so angry, so stupid, so useless. Now standing before a living and pleading Nicolas, Harry strongly felt an opportunity to avoid repeating the past by listening.

With a sigh, Harry turned around and walked up to the silver platform, paused to stare at the beautifully etched silver, then stepped on it. Immediately, he could feel the oddly oily goblin magic coat over himself and the flapping Nova.

"You are too prideful," Ragnuk accused Harry as Nicolas stepped on the platform.

"It's not pride that makes this intolerable," Harry returned as Flitwick remained by their side. "Bowing, waiting, speaking only when spoken to, sitting only after invited, more bowing, more waiting; all these rules of social vanity are a colossal waste of my time. I only need to know one thing from you, and I'll be on my way."

"In the next room, I have your Head of the DMLE waiting," Ragnuk stated. "She would also like to know one thing from me. Shall I instead tell her of the illegal creature you keep as a pet? Take great care of how you speak to me, boy, for I have the power to ruin the future of your house."

Untroubled by his threat, Harry calmly asserted, "Tell Madam Bones whatever you like. Nothing and no one will stop me from finding and eradicating every Dark Goblin involved in attacking me and mine. If you'd like to help and tell me where they are—Týr and his team, specifically—then I'll be grateful and on my way. If not, I can locate them on my own."

"You won't," Ragnuk's hard, confident voice replied. "They are well hidden."

"I will," Harry countered with just as much confidence. "Because I know what they want."

Ragnuk tilted his head at that, taking a moment to ponder Harry's meaning before asking, "…you would use yourself as bait?"

"Without hesitation," Harry assured the leader, adding, "I know exactly how to do it too."

Choosing to ignore that line of questioning, Ragnuk instead asked, "Then what are you willing to trade for this valuable bit of information?"

"Nothing but the death of your enemies," Harry answered.

Concerned with the direction Harry was presenting, Flitwick voiced loud enough for the chamber to hear, "Surely, there is a better alternative than mass extermination. Wrong some of them may be, but, innocent lives may be among them. They shouldn't be grouped together as enemies."

Ignoring Flitwick's humanitarian comment, Ragnuk championed like a badge of honor, "Throughout the centuries, the Goblin Nation has never once degraded itself by desiring wizard-kind to fight our battles. We are stronger and more honorable than any of your species can comprehend, and you'd do well to remember that."

"You're mistaken," Harry honestly accused the King. "The moment they targeted and attacked the people I care about, your battle became mine. They made an enemy of me, the worst of my kind there is, and I aim to see their end no matter what."

"Surely it would be enough to simply end the threat," Flitwick suggested. "I understand they threatened students and loved ones, which must be stopped at all costs, but all shouldn't have to pay for the actions of a few. We must be better than them, lest we become the very thing we wish to destroy."

Ragnuk laughed heartily before telling Flitwick, "This is why I do not revoke your citizenship despite your polluted lineage. While my advisers would promote monetary gain or war, you champion for the preservation of life, no matter how inferior the species."

Eyes fixed on Ragnuk, Harry told Flitwick, "I only mean to kill who needs killing, professor."

"…No thoughts of capturing and imprisoning," Ragnuk noted. "No, simply kill. I'm curious how you plan to determine who must be killed and who mustn't."

Becoming increasingly irritable by all the extra noise obstructing the only thing he needed, Harry sullenly declared, "I'm not some politician trying to solve the problems between our nations. I'll leave those issues for someone who cares more than I do. So you can stop trying to measure me up. I am only here to stop those who don't want to stop; those who won't quit until they've killed everyone they need to simply to have their way. I don't support that manner of results. If you have to go after and kill children to have what you want, then no matter the species, I will kill you. That's all."

"Your words do not upset the silver," Ragnuk noted before pausing for several moments to align his thoughts. The gallery watched in abstract silence before Ragnuk finally said, "You speak of killing goblins without fear of upsetting me… that the silver has not bound you is a rare thing to witness. Your kind is the embodiment of every quality of weakness there is, however, it is that weakness which has allowed us to work together for centuries. I am not opposed to providing you with the information you seek, wizard, but there will be conditions, as well as a heavy price to pay."

"As I'm certain professor Flitwick has informed you," Nicolas started. "The House of Flamel is in possession of a Basilisk carcass we would be happy to compensate with."

"Filius has informed me," Ragnuk retorted. "And I'm well aware you are in possession of a living basilisk."

"That is not a trade we're capable of making now or in the future," Nicolas fearlessly responded. "As we've said, you're welcome to tell Madam Bones whatever you like. The house of Flamel is prepared to weather any storm, legal or otherwise. After all, the world is large with many sanctuaries, and our family is well equipped to stand the test of time."

Harry wasn't going to let the Goblin King know the threat of disappearing for generations was a bluff and honestly tacked on, "The only trade we're willing to offer is some basilisk venom, the carcass—under the condition your craftsmen prepare armor for me and my friends—and a pair of specially crafted daggers."

Harry could tell even Nicolas was surprised by his counterbid as Ragnuk aggressively grumbled, "Oh, how I loathe wizards. To be so devoid of value that you would stand there, in my palace, and have the impudence to make demands of me, a King, as if to believe you are doing me the favor! Your smug and insolent proposition does not amuse me, boy."

Ignoring the insults, Harry promptly stated, "The trade is fair. I will deal with Vorkalth and his supporters, with or without your assistance, which solidifies your reign-"

"Under my reign, no goblin will ever outsource our battles to wizards," Ragnuk declared to the hollering approval of the gallery and guards.

Calling out after the shouts settled, Nicolas loudly asked, "If Vorkalth and his supporters are defeated by a single wizard, wouldn't that show other goblins that their claim to your crown is baseless? With or without your permission, we will deal with your enemies. In addition, we offer you the carcass of a basilisk and some basilisk venom. It's only natural we would want compensation for these offerings."

"You offer a goblin swill and call it gold," Ragnuk reproached. "You forget we know the value of gold and honor, and your house offers neither. No, Mr. Flamel, the price for your freedom, daggers, and armor will cost you a living basilisk."

"No deal," Harry sternly countered.

"If I may, your highness," Flitwick pleaded from his King. With his nodding approval, Flitwick moved closer to the wizards and asked Harry, "How confident are you in your combat capabilities?"

"Very," Harry tenaciously answered.

Flitwick sighed before asking, "Have either of you heard of Wager of Battle?" Harry and Nicolas shook their heads before Flitwick expanded. "It's similar to a trial by combat with the exception of not simply fighting for one's innocence. Wager of Battle is an ancient goblin custom still used today in criminal, military, or civil disputes to try cases in single combat rather than debate. In addition, a challenge cannot be refused without being greatly dishonored. The only exception to that is a superior is not bound to fight someone who is considered inferior which is why status and lineage are very important to goblin kind."

"So the question is," Nicolas thoughtfully hummed. "Will they regard Ares as someone superior enough to accept the Wager of Battle?"

Nodding, Flitwick answered, "That is correct."

Without a moment's hesitation, Harry called out loudly, "I challenge King Ragnuk to a Wager of Battle!"

Slumping his shoulders, Nicolas huffed, "Really, Ares," as Flitwick shook his head, protesting, "Mr. Flamel…"

Harry, however, added to his challenge, "if I win, you will give me the information I want, and we can trade the carcass for the armor and daggers. And if you win, you can have my phoenix and my life… to do with as you wish… forever."

The gallery broke out into hushed conversation as Ragnuk took a moment to answer, "…You are unworthy to face a King, wizard-"

"Then choose whoever you like!" Harry defiantly insisted. "I'll take on your best warrior. If that's not good enough, I'll take on your best team of warriors if you think so little of me." Looking around the gallery of assembled goblins and guards, Harry challenged, "Who here would like the opportunity to shut me up, or make a slave of a wizard, or possibly earn a legendary creature? I'm offering you the opportunity to back up your words free of retaliation! Will you accept like the honorable goblins you pretend to be, or will you balk at such a challenge?" Returning his strong emerald gaze on the Goblin King, Harry ignored the cries of the crowd to loudly dispute, "I hear you're the embodiment of your nation's soul, your highness, so what'll it be? Am I truly just a foolish boy in need of discipline, or are all goblins just talk?"

"In caput eius," Ragnuk growled to the bevy uproar of goblins in attendance. The King then called out goblin names in gobbledegook.

Though Harry didn't need the latin translation, Flitwick and Nicolas both voiced, "On your head be it." Harry watched four goblins in shiny and fierce armor walk forward from the crowd while Flitwick gripped Nicolas' wrist.

Pulling his arm away, Nicolas called out, "Wait, you mean to duel now?" Instead of answering, Flitwick hastened to pull the immortal alchemist away as he argued with the King, "He just fought a dragon earlier today! This is not right!"

"Only a fool would make a challenge he is not ready to meet," Ragnuk heatedly returned. "If he truly aims to earn the respect of a King, then he must duel as I do; defeating four of our greatest warriors."

Looking at a hesitant and worried Nicolas being pulled to the gallery, Harry simply nodded reassuringly, expressing, "It's okay, Nic." The wide and long walkway appeared to be the combat space as guards cordoned off the boundary.

"As goblins do not fight with a wand, neither shall you," Ragnuk informed Harry from his elevated plinth.

As the shield glowed blue before becoming crystal clear, Nicolas yelled at Ragnuk, "That's hardly fair!"

Ignoring the frenetic alchemist, Ragnuk continued to stipulate, "And to avoid damaging such a valuable prize, the phoenix may not participate."

Observing the finest goblin warriors surround Harry with dread, Flitwick pleaded, "Your highness, please reconsider-"

"Those are my terms!" Ragnuk yelled, interrupting Flitwick. Returning his attention to the young wizard at the center of an improvised dueling ring, the heated King declared, "Accept them or run with your tail between your legs, wizard!"

The moment Harry voiced the words, "I accept," the surrounding crowd began cheering for their warriors from behind the protective barrier. "To Nic, Nova," he said, and his legendary avian familiar rubbed his beak against Harry's head before flaming directly to Nicolas' shoulder, showing Harry that, at the very least, Nova could flame through their barrier.

In the round throne room, surrounded by jeering goblins on the rectangular walkway, the four general-like goblins were positioned around Harry like the cardinal points of a compass. They each had a short-sword, leather and plated armor on, making Harry wonder how similar their style of combat was to Týr and his team. He had only faced one of them, and their ability to silently apparate within striking range was a concerning possibility here as well. Without his wand, precision casting would be difficult; fortunately, strength wouldn't be an issue.

Despite the constraints dumped on him by Ragnuk, Harry didn't want this to last any longer than it had to. Vaguely noting the goblin King's smile as he drank from his tankard, Harry observed this was about worthiness, about value. Despite how haunting it felt to be disregarded—as if being thrown in the deepest darkest hole to be forgotten—he wasn't here to play games. He had people to protect and monsters to slay, so without hesitation, Harry dived deep into the ocean of magic always at the center of him.

His eyes immediately glowed a brilliant green, bringing a hush to the crowd. Harry felt heavy with concentrated magic, as if drowning in corrosive water, and without even the use of his vision, he could sense the four goblins to the north, south, east, and west of him. Analytical details about the four armed warriors immediately sprang to mind.

'Small black eyes; possible sensitivity to light. Large ears and nose; possible weakness to sounds and smells. Steel plates over vital organs and interwoven leather over joints; meant for speed more than defense. Goblin runes etched on the metal of their armor; likely increases defenses against elemental and other magical attacks. Their short-swords are easy to handle, versatile, and etched with enchantments that can possibly disrupt protego. Their formation feels practiced; they're a well-rehearsed unit which means quick and successive offensive attacks.'

As his mind played with the different possibilities of attacks and counter-measures, Harry's heightened perception sensed an elevation in aggression from two goblins—south and east of him—more than the other two just before the goblin king cried, "begin!"

With that momentary insight, Harry wasn't surprised when the goblins south and east of him instantly apparated to his left and spine, primed to stab him. With his mental acuity, he could feel the defense in their armor as well as visualize them without physically seeing them, and in the split second, Harry silently apparated a foot away before immediately erupting his entire being in a powerful, "lumos maxima!"

Everyone in the room was blinded and stunned by the pure blast of severe light for several moments; more than enough time for him. Without eyes, Harry could still see them, and absent any hesitation, he aimed open palms at the stunned warriors and incorporated an absurd amount of magical force in his dual-handed, "stupify!" The stone-ground around Harry's feet cracked as the force exploding out Harry's hands rocketed the two goblins to the dead-stop of the magical barrier protecting the others.

With his eyes still closed, the royal room, and everyone in it, appeared like colorful ghosts of light as if he could see the magical makeup of an object easily. It was this ability that allowed Harry to sense the other goblins' attack nearly the same instant Harry wandlessly cast, "protego!" Only for the shield to fail against their magical daggers—an effect exactly like Týr's weapon. Still, it was enough of a delay for Harry to apparate to the opposite end of the dueling ring.

Opening his eyes to glare at the remaining goblins, the core of Harry's eyes were practically white while the light raged out like a green flame. With their instant mobility, it wouldn't be in his best interest to stand still for long, however, Harry didn't need much time to interrupt their next volley. His magically-heightened senses warned him a split second before they disapparated. Rather than apparating away himself, Harry cast the shield he expected would fail against their weapons to buy enough time to voice the charm, "sonorus," amplifying the intensity of his voice to ear-splitting decibel levels.

To a human standing ten feet away, Harry's loud roar would cause permanent hearing damage without treatment. To the sensitive ears of a goblin standing right next to him, it was impossible to stave off 145-decibel sound waves from damaging the cells in the membrane of their long ears. The concussive sound exploding through their ear canal had them convulsing as if they were having a seizure.

Short as they were, Harry aimed both palms down on either side of him at a goblin face in agony before hitting them with a potent, "stupify." As before, detonating such a destructive wave of magical energy out of his palms spider-web-cracked the ground around him driving their armored bodies into the crumbling stone floor.

The entire fight didn't last more than thirty seconds—it took Harry longer to tie his shoes. Still, he didn't feel a sense of accomplishment or victory within himself. It was an obvious result, to begin with. He had more magic and ability than they did; than most magicals do. In addition to their numerical advantage, they likely didn't think much of a wizard without a wand as well, so it was an easy assumption to make that a fourteen-year-old boy would not defeat four trained imperial goblins.

Despite what this could mean for future negotiations, with what's at stake, Harry didn't see another way. Calmly, he straightened his school uniform as he walked toward the Goblin King. As Nova flamed back to his master's shoulder, his enhanced eyes could tell Ragnuk was angered, impressed, and partially anxious. Ignoring the hushed gallery of goblins and passing the enchanted silver platform, Harry demanded to know of the King, "Am I worthy now?"

What a fantastic learning experience this is. I had to do a lot of research, which is fun, so I hope I did the chapter justice. More goblin stuff to come but we're getting closer to the end of that arc. I know many of you are eager to answer some of the mysteries I proposed in the beginning, i.e. Lily and what happened to Harry. We'll get there!

If there are any errors or comments please let me know. I always love hearing your thoughts since they help me become better. The Last Prayer is next up. I'm already 2K words in but you all know that's not enough for me. Anyway, have a great one,


P.S. as a big fan of basketball, I just have to say RIP Kobe.