Title: Music Beneath the Mountains
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairing: None, gen
Content Notes: AU, minor angst, present tense
Wordcount: This part 3600
Summary: AU. Little Harry Potter wanders away from the Dursleys' home one day and is found by a goblin on a mission from Gringotts. Harry grows up in the goblin deeps.
Author's Notes: This is a story being written for my "Samhain to Solstice" series of fics being posted between Halloween and the Winter Solstice this year. The title is a variation of a line from J. R. R. Tolkien's poem "Song of Durin," quoted below, and the section titles likewise come from that poem. This is a twoshot, with a second part to be posted tomorrow.
Unwearied then were Durin's folk;
Beneath the mountains music woke…
Music Beneath the Mountains
The World Was Young
"What is this?"
The boy looks up. He's been wandering by himself for a long time. His stomach aches, and he thinks that his aunt is going to be so angry with him. But he can't find the way back by himself, he really can't.
Bending over him is what looks like an ugly person. But the boy is used to his uncle and cousin being ugly, and he just looks at the person's jagged teeth and narrowed eyes and claws on his hands. He doesn't flinch when the person reaches out and picks him up. He thinks that maybe they're going to take him home.
"Why are you here?" the person asks him.
People rarely ask the boy questions. He has to think about it before he finally answers, "I went out of the garden."
The boy nods. That ought to explain it, he thinks, and now the person will take him home.
But the person just goes on staring at him, as if lost boys are strange. Then he reaches up and brushes away the boy's hair. The boy flinches. He's sure, he's sure, that any second the person is going to laugh at his scar. His aunt is always telling him how ugly it is. Sometimes the boy thinks he would like it if she didn't call it ugly, but that never happens.
"Your name is Harry Potter?"
The boy hesitates. "I don't know?"
"You must know. Human children are old enough by your age to know their names!"
"Well, I mean, I just get called boy and freak," the boy explains, even though he doesn't like explaining it. "Maybe my name is Harry Potter? I think Aunt Petunia called me Harry once."
The person closes his eyes and mutters to himself in what sounds like another language. The boy listens with interest. "Can I learn that language?" he asks, when the person falls silent and opens his eyes again.
"Listen to me. I called you a human child. Don't you know what that means?"
"You're not human?"
The person starts to answer, and then pauses. "And that doesn't bother you?"
The boy shakes his head. He feels a little hopeful. Maybe he's found a freak, like him. Maybe the person will take him away to the land where all the freaks live, and then he'll be with people like him and won't have to wash the dishes or weed the garden again. "Can I come with you to where your land is?"
The person just keeps staring at him. Then he asks, "What are your relatives like?"
"They don't like me. They call me freak. I sleep in a cupboard—"
"A cupboard," the boy repeats, glaring at the person. He can't tell the truth if the person keeps interrupting! "It's under the stairs. My cousin has two bedrooms, but they say I can't have one. Because I'm a freak."
The person chatters his teeth together sharply. It makes a noise like something dangerous. The boy hopes he can learn to do that, too. Before he can ask the question, the person smiles. "So they won't come looking for you?"
"I don't think so. They don't know where I am right now."
The person nods and says, "Then you can come with me. There is a land for my kind—we are called goblins—and I think we should have the charge of raising you. Since your guardians have done such a poor one." He laughs deep down in his chest. The boy thinks the sound is kind of scary, but it makes the goblin's chest underneath him vibrate pleasantly.
"Okay. Can I learn your language? Can I chatter my teeth like you do?"
The goblin nods and begins to carry him away. The people walking by don't seem to notice them, the boy realizes. It's as if they have a magical bubble traveling with them. "You may need some help with the teeth. But you will receive all the help you need, and more, from my clan."
"I suppose you don't know what you're doing."
"Of course I do."
The goblin who rescued the boy is called Ripclaw, he has learned. He thinks it's a wonderful name. He plays next to the desk in the office that Ripclaw has brought him to. They don't think he's listening, but he is. The boy learned how to listen when he was young. Sometimes that means he can avoid Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia when they're in a bad mood, or Dudley when he's coming with his gang.
"The wizards are going to come looking for him."
"Let's ask him. Potter!"
The boy stands up and walks obediently around the desk. They're underground, he knows that much, from the stone walls and the cool air around them. But the desk really does look exactly like the one in offices he's sometimes seen on the telly, when Dudley doesn't notice him standing in the kitchen doorway. It's huge and made of white rock and has gold lines in it. Another goblin leans down from behind it and stares at him.
"What is a wizard?" the goblin asks.
The boy considers it carefully. He hopes this isn't some kind of test. He'll probably fail it. "I don't know," he finally has to say.
Ripclaw laughs. The goblin behind the desk, who also has gold in his teeth, gives Ripclaw a harsh look that makes the boy step back. He doesn't want to be in between them if the desk goblin attacks Ripclaw the way Uncle Vernon attacks Harry.
But instead, the desk goblin turns back to Harry. "A wizard is a person like you who can do magic."
"I can't do magic."
"Surely something has happened around you? Something strange that the Muggles couldn't explain?"
"I don't know, because I don't know what a Muggle is." The boy hopes that the desk goblin is calmer than he looks, because otherwise he's probably going to get tossed out. Then he'll never get to learn that language or chatter his teeth like Ripclaw.
"The Muggles are humans like your aunt and uncle who don't have any magic." The desk goblin lowers his hand and rips the side of the desk up with a screeching sound. The boy hopes he can learn to do that, too.
"Oh." The boy thinks about it. Then he offers, "Once I got up on the roof of the school without knowing how I did it. Dudley, he's my cousin, he was chasing me with his friends and I knew they were going to beat me up, and I ran fast, and then the wind tossed me up on the roof of the school."
"That's not the wind. That was your magic."
The boy gives that some consideration. Uncle Vernon says there's no such thing as magic. But then, Uncle Vernon probably thinks there's no such thing as goblins, too. The boy feels that maybe Uncle Vernon isn't as smart as he always thought he was.
"All right. Then I suppose I'm a wizard?"
"Yes. You are. And famous among them, for surviving a curse that no one else could survive." Ripclaw leans forwards, and the boy holds still as he traces the zigzag path of the scar on his forehead with one talon. "You have the most inspired luck. Or perhaps someone did powerful magic to protect you."
The desk goblin says something in the language that the boy wants to learn. Ripclaw answers, and it sounds like they're arguing. The boy hunches his shoulders a little. He doesn't like arguments. They always seem to end up with him getting hurt.
"But they must know where he is," the desk goblin finally says in English.
"I suspect not." Ripclaw glances at the boy. "I want you to tell Gorgeslitter what you told me. About what your relatives called you and where you sleep."
"They call me freak. I sleep in a cupboard. My cousin beats me up a lot," the boy adds, because Gorgeslitter's face is getting dark but the boy is starting to think that he isn't angry at him. "They want me to make meals for them. Sometimes I have to do it and sometimes I don't. They don't like it when I act like a freak—I mean, use magic."
Gorgeslitter stands up and leaves the office. The boy glances at Ripclaw. "Do I get to stay?"
"Gorgeslitter needs to check some things." Ripclaw takes a long knife from somewhere. One minute his hand isn't holding it, and the next it is. "In the meantime, why don't you come here and I'll show you some of the finer points of using a blade?"
The boy thinks he's getting pretty good at holding the knife and twisting it so that it will cut flesh or fur by the time Gorgeslitter comes back. There are more goblins behind him. The boy holds the knife so that it points at the floor. The first thing Ripclaw told him, besides who made the knife and how old it is, is that you never point it at another goblin unless you're challenging them.
The boy is still determined to be a goblin. It sounds much more interesting than being a wizard.
"We have decided," says Gorgeslitter, motioning at the goblins with one claw. The boy watches them. They wear all sorts of blades, and some carry spears. They have bracelets and collars and rings of metal, too, and some of them have caps. Helmets, the boy thinks that's the word. "If the humans do not want him, we will take him in."
The boy whoops and dances around with the knife in his hand, taking care to keep it pointed at the floor. He makes it all the way around, and stops to see Gorgeslitter staring hard at Ripclaw. "Was that necessary?" he asks, pointing at the knife.
"He wants to be a goblin. You can't start him too young."
"And I'm already six," the boy thinks he has to say. "I'm six years behind all the other goblins."
There is a murmur from some of the goblins behind Gorgeslitter, and one that Harry thinks is a woman moves forwards. She has a chain of teeth around her neck and thick bracelets on her wrists. The boy looks at her. "What's your name?" he asks.
"Toothsplitter," she says. "I am a smith. Do you know what that is?"
The boy shakes his head. Toothsplitter touches him gently on the forehead. "Then I will tell you, as soon as you tell me your name in return. It is very rude in goblin society to offer your name and be scorned."
"Oh." The boy flushes. "Sorry. My name is—Harry Potter." When he says it, he says it more confidently than he ever has, and he knows that he is leaving "freak" and "boy" behind forever.
"Better. I make weapons and jewelry and many other things out of metal. Come and see the smithy."
Toothsplitter takes his hand, and Harry gives the knife back to Ripclaw with a whispered thanks. Or he tries to give it back. Ripclaw steps away and shakes his head. "Keep the knife. Your first knife is always lucky. And you'll remember old Ripclaw when you're great and powerful."
Harry thinks that's kind of silly, because he doesn't want to be great and powerful, he just wants to be a goblin. But he nods and smiles at Ripclaw, and then Toothsplitter takes him through a hole in the wall and down a long tunnel that's lit by fires. Harry thinks they're brilliant. They're not torches on the walls, but fires that dance on the walls. Toothsplitter lets him stop at one point and reach out so that he can touch one.
"They're geodes," she tells him. "Bits of gems that we've embedded in the walls, so that they can reflect any sort of faint illumination and fill our lives with light."
Harry is learning all sorts of new words today, but not the ones he wants to learn. "How do you say those things in your language?"
Toothsplitter laughs and tells him. Harry rolls the words around in his mouth like rocks as they go down and down.
They finally come to a huge archway that has darkness behind it. No, wait, not darkness. When Harry squints, he can make out red flashes in that darkness. It looks as though something's on fire in the distance.
"Come and see," Toothsplitter says, and she guides him under the archway. There's a snake with spread wings over it. But Toothsplitter tells him it's a dragon, and their image brings good luck to smiths, because dragons have the hottest fire.
They step into the darkness, and Toothsplitter says something in the goblin language. The darkness suddenly flashes harder and harder, and Harry is looking out into the largest cave he's ever seen or dreamed of. He can't even see the walls.
There are glowing red fires everywhere, and huge lakes that are silver and gold—Toothsplitter tells him there are actual metals in those lakes, not just water—and goblins walking around with stones and axes and geodes and rings and knives, and hissing steam as water gets poured over the fires, and ringing hammers, and voices singing. Harry isn't sure about the singing voices at first, but then he listens, and they're there. He hops up and down in delight.
The songs rise and twist back and forth. They're in the goblin language. Harry wants to know what they say. He wants to know what they say more than he's ever wanted something in his life. It sounds like the earth itself is singing.
"Welcome," Toothsplitter says softly in English, "to the Realm of Song." And then she repeats it in the goblin language, so Harry can learn that, too.
Many-Pillared Halls of Stone
Harry grows to maturity in the embrace of the Realm of Song.
It sprawls everywhere underground, breathing in the darkness, the deepness, the vents of warm air from the smithies and the lakes of silver and gold that surge back and forth in the deepest caverns. Harry hangs over the edge of red-glowing abysses and stares down, and goblins like Toothsplitter or Gravensword, her burly apprentice, teach him the names of all the stones and the exact shades of light that he can see.
He walks through shadows, and learns how to see in them better than in the daylight. In fact, when he comes up sometimes to walk through Diagon Alley in disguise, he has to hide his eyes from the sun. They see so much better in the darkness.
He learns how to wield a hammer, although Toothsplitter is an exacting master and keeps stopping him so that she can show him how to grip the shaft better, or aim it at a place in the metal that needs to be beaten smooth, or lecture him about how he can't just get lost in the blows and all of the tools he makes will need a different strength. Then Harry goes back to using the hammer again, only for her to stop him a minute later and teach him something else.
But the day comes when Harry gets through sixty strokes uninterrupted, and Toothsplitter studies the blank of metal and proclaims that it will be a good sword.
Harry is so happy that night that he nearly bangs his head on the low stone roof above his sleeping quarters, something he hasn't done since his first night here.
He plays tag with the goblin children through the abandoned mines and quarries, always together. Although there are few dangers here coming from gas—which the goblins cleared out long ago—or from the darkness they can all see through, sometimes the mines plunge deep, and wake the Deep Ones.
Harry learns all the warning signs from the goblin children: the way the earth shakes under your feet in jerks too sharp for it to be an earthquake, how the walls turn purple instead of black or grey, how a sweet smell like nightshade fills your nostrils. Then you run, and run, and never look behind you, until the things that sleep in the deep places of the world go back to that sleep.
There's only one of the children eaten during the time that Harry grows up in the Realm of Song. But the screams of that one, the way that flesh sounds when it's pulled apart, remain in Harry's dreams forever.
He learns the names of jewels finished and rough, the veins of ore that run through all the tunnels of the joined world, and how to judge at a glance whether a tunnel is supported well enough to run through or not. He learns Gobbledegook, as he wished, and he learns Latin because Toothsplitter says that's proper for a wizard to know, and he learns knife-fighting because he's not going to be strong enough to lift a heavy goblin sword even if he's taller than they are.
He learns laws and customs and proper behavior, and exactly how far he can go to break them before someone snarls at him. He wants to file his teeth to points like the bank guards do, but no one will let him. Harry tries to do it himself, but all he does is break a tooth and get a long glare from Blackeyes, the chief goblin healer.
No one wants to anger Blackeyes. Harry meekly submits to her healing and then tosses the file he tried to use back where he found it.
He learns maths by counting the coins that pour through his fingers when he and the goblin children sneak into unclaimed or abandoned vaults. He learns natural history with dragons and underground plants. He learns history from the legends of the Deep Ones and the goblins' side of the wars—which are always started by something stupid the Ministry does because they don't understand goblins. Harry has to shake his head when he hears the tale of how the Eighth One started. Imagine, not letting a goblin with an iron knot on his sword take the first seat at the table. Harry doesn't understand how wizards can be so stupid.
Sometimes, he despairs that he was born human.
On the other hand, the goblins teach him magic, too, and Harry can learn both human and wizard magic. Goblin magic involves speaking to things. The first time he asks the fire in the forge to reach his desired temperature instead of building it up with a bellows, Harry laughs with exhilaration, and not just because his arms and shoulders are going to thank him for this later.
He spoke, and the fire listened! It's wonderful.
There are always things that he can speak to, Harry finds. Swords listen when he asks them to sharpen themselves, and they might do it or they might not, but they hear him. The walls throb with the voices of metals and rock, the voices of the earth, older than anything else. The water sings to Harry as he walks through the darkest places, and once a river asks him to help turn its course, because it wants to run through a deeper bed and rejoin a current that it can hear on the other side of a wall. It takes Harry several days and wizard spells to blow up the wall and let the waters flow together, but he manages it.
And the water sings its thanks, and Harry smiles at it.
Wizard magic is fun, too, juggling light and calling fire and opening locked doors and summoning objects, but when Harry asks what wizards talk to, Gorgeslitter shakes his head.
"They talk to themselves," he said. "And sometimes us and centaurs, or merfolk if they know Mermish. But even then, they don't listen."
Harry stares at him, appalled. "But—they have to be able to hear."
"Hearing is different from listening."
Harry nods, chastened. He learned that as his very first lesson. "But really? They don't even listen to us—I mean, you?"
"They don't know that we have anything valuable to say."
"I'm so glad Ripclaw found me."
They're in one of the offices at the bank, covered with a vulgar display of marble and gold to impress the wizards. In truth, Harry knows the marble would like to return to the quarry and the gold would like to be running free in one of the molten lakes. It's a depressing place with all the yearning voices he can't answer.
Gorgeslitter smiles at him. "So are we, young amaraczh."
It's the name they call him when they don't use his wizard name, a combination word that means "human" and "speaker." Harry beams. He knows they'll never call any of the stubbornly deaf wizards that.