Summary: Hermione learns some history.

Chapter Two

Hermione looked up from the meditation she was attempting to master as a shower of debris from the empty vault rained down upon her from above.

She winced, rubbing her head. "What on earth was that?"

Hardtack, the young goblin who was studying with her, shook his head. "The king is angry because everyone wants him to choose a proper queen, to settle down and make some goblets."

Hermione's eyebrows raised high into her curls. "I wasn't aware that you even had a king."

Hardtack bared his teeth as he shrugged. "He was detained on official business for quite some time."

"I take it that choosing a proper queen does not entail picking out a talented she-goblin from around here?"

Hardtack chuckled. "No. He must pick himself a suitable queen from amongst you humans, one who is willing to marry him and live amongst the Nation. It is because of a treaty that was made by our previous king."

"I've seen those epic murals painted in the vault corridors," Hermione mused. "They aren't terribly clear about what happened to him."

Hardtack levitated a pebble and turned it into a vault panel, using a swift hand gesture to set it securely in place on the wall.

"The old king went into mourning when his queen was killed in an unfortunate avalanche— the lower vaults had not been fully excavated yet. It was a tragic accident." Hardtack frowned. "Goblins are immortal—with only one exception."

Hermione tilted her head in an unspoken question.

"They can be killed only by another immortal," Hardtack said, "and only outside the Goblin Underground. The great castle looms over the greater labyrinth there, and the land itself bends and shifts to the king's will."

Hermione frowned. The pebble she was trying very hard to turn into something else was simply refusing to do so. "So, she died because she was outside the goblin world— the Underground in the murals?"

Hardtack nodded. "And because it was a goblin that had, albeit unintentionally, caused the avalanche." Hardtack tried to steady Hermione's hand and refocus her. "The king was utterly despondent, wrathful— he almost killed the goblin that did it in his terrible pain and grief. Realising that goblin could never turn against goblin, he left his kingdom in the hands of his son, Jareth."

"But the king's son was both young and grieving too— and he found no comfort in the goblin world, so he travelled the world as an owl, looking in on the mortal lives that he had no place in. He fell for a young human whose dreams included him. It allowed her to see him. She wished her baby brother to be gone in her anger and jealousy over their parents' love— and the king did listen and take the baby away for her. But she was a fickle girl and soon changed her mind. She demanded her brother be given back."

"Attempting to appease her, but unable to simply give the child back, he offered her a challenge to win his return. He constructed an even more vast labyrinth than his father did, and said should she successfully reach Toby before the clock struck midnight, she could take him home."

"He moved mountains to live up to her grand expectations," Hardtack said heavily. "And in the end, she left with her baby brother to pursue her dreams, taking the friends she had made within her heart and exiling him. Her choice to spurn Jareth utterly broke him. His tale of rejection and heartbreak was so powerful that it seeped into the waking world— this world— and became a thing of legend."

"How terrible for him," Hermione said sympathetically.

Hardtack bared his teeth and nodded his agreement. "I fear it will be much harder for him to find a good queen in this world, and yet he must. The treaty was made by his father to broker a peace between the Goblin Nation and the human world, for he must find love in someone who was not born a goblin. And she must be willing to become one, leaving her humanity behind to build a life with him within the Goblin Nation."

"That's asking quite a lot."

"To trust someone outside the Nation is— a difficult thing for us."

Hermione's shoulders slumped. "And then we go and smash our way through your vaults with a dragon, which hardly helps matters."

"You alone came back," Hardtack informed her. "I may be quite young as goblins go, but I have never known another human brave enough to face our judgment and honourable enough to accept it."