Chapter 24 - Firsts

Harry took himself and the hat to the Isles, waved at the Sphinx on duty to watch that particular arrival point, and Apparated to the Fortress. He was surprised when he didn't land inside it, as had been his plan, but at the intimidating front gates.

"What the?" Harry asked.

"Who goes there?" a voice demanded from the other side before a vision slit opened, showing sharp eyes and part of a slightly alien face. "Oh, Lord Potter! My apologies." the goblin quickly said. "Open the gate! The Lord's apprentice is here!"

"Something new?" the hat asked.

"I didn't ask anyone to come here." Harry said.

"Harry." Moody said after apparating in next to them. He obviously knew what was going on… everywhere, these days.

"You did this?" Harry asked, as there was a heavy metallic sound on the other side of the gate and it started slowly opening, with the sounds of wheels and cogs.

"Ragnok wanted to do something." Moody said. "Said the Lord Mage built a pretty little castle here, but he thought he could make it into a real fortress."

"Lord Harry." a large goblin in sturdy black armour and the livery of the Mage Isles said, as he bowed to Harry.

"Wait, I know you." Harry said. "You're the king's body-double."

"Cousin, Lord Harry." the goblin said, nodding and smirking. "I should not be surprised that you know about that. The Lord Mage showed you his memory of our first visit?" he asked.

"He called it a learning experience and asked my findings of the memory. I didn't spot the swap, but then I'm not my teacher." Harry said. "Why are you here?" he asked.

"Our King was only here the once, but he liked the place and wanted to supply some things for the Lord Mage." the goblin said. "I was put in charge of upkeep and staffing, for the time being."

He pointed off to the side and Harry saw more goblins and people in black armour. They were walking in formation, with pikes in hand and wands strapped to their waists.

"Is it really necessary for guards?" Harry asked. "Nobody knows where the Isles even are. Why block apparition, and make an arrival point?"

"Those are questions above my station, Lord Potter." the goblin said. "I was told to make this castle liveable, and defensible. We Goblins are a warrior race, so we always have trained warriors on standby. Your master's fortress is just part of that training, now. The guards you just saw included volunteers who wished to serve the Mage Lord and some of our guards, doing a standard twenty-seven-hour patrol."

"Twenty-seven?" Harry asked, shocked.

The goblin chuckled. "It is an endurance test." the goblin admitted. "That armour isn't light. When they're done with that part of their training, the Lord Mage will have guards that can stand and fight, without breaks, for much longer than most forces can continue on. These walls will be the cliff, on which the waves of our enemies break. And they will break. I guarantee it."

"Once again, nobody knows where the Mage Isles are." Harry said.

"Yet." the goblin challenged. "As I understand it, your master tasked you with the objective to create the Mage Isles. He is the king, but you are the architect. He sees you as a possible equal, or stand-in, so we will treat you with the respect you deserve, Lord Potter. And as for enemies… the Lord Mage is wise and will likely one day decide to let your enemies come at you, to prove that even if they can find you, that you are not to be tried."

"I like that." Moody said, smirking evilly. "Keep the other islands safe, by making the Fortress the target of any attack."

The goblin smiled an evil, sharp-toothed grin. "As such, we have staffed the fortress with cooks and servants, and we've stocked it with enough provisions to last years. We've increased the size of the dungeons and added a few large underground caverns, set up as dormitories and places for your subjects to come to, should there ever be an infiltration and attack." he said, then. "Frankly, we're just hoping to impress the Lord Mage enough to be invited to the party when the fighting starts. It's been ages since we've had a good war."

"Well, I can understand your desire, but the Mage Isles are meant to be safe." Harry said. "I doubt my teacher would allow us to invite people that could hurt anyone here."

"Right now it's as safe as it can be, but with enough people focussed on it there might be a breakthrough into how to circumvent the Fidelius." Moody said. "We don't rely on hopes and dreams, Potter. We plan for the possibility of our protections not being enough. Constant Vigilance."

"Prepare for the unexpected, and it won't be." the goblin countered. Moody grinned at him again.

Harry just sighed.

"Come, Lord Potter." the goblin invited, even as he clicked his fingers, and he was replaced by another goblin at the gates. "I'd like to show you what we've been able to do. Maybe you can give me an insight into how your master would react."

The large goblin then started showing Harry everything that they'd been doing.

The unoccupied rooms in the lower sections of the fortress now seemed to be occupied by people, who were seemingly living there. There were a few humans walking about, dressed for their roles, like janitors, attendants and even butlers. There were also Veela, dressed as maids. They were not afraid to show skin either, and were walking around actually cleaning and polishing things, like the suits of armour that had not been there, before.

"Veela maids?" Harry asked, as they went.

"We realise that Lord Mage does not need such attractions to impress people, but the Veela were very insistent on what roles they wanted to fulfil." the goblin said. "We've tried to incorporate at least a few of every race, to come join the Lord's house, and it would surprise you how many volunteered."

"Oh?" Harry asked.

"Oh, yes." the goblin said. "Skippy!" he called.

"Goblin commander calls?" a house elf said as he appeared, bowing slightly, if uncomfortably, given he only had one leg and used a crutch to stand.

"I did." the goblin said. "This is your master's apprentice. Until the master arrives, you should treat him as your master."

The house elf looked at Harry and frowned. "Of… course." he said, as some sort of recognition made his eyes widen. "Welcome home, master." he said, bowing again.

"Hello, Skippy." Harry said, frowning.

"Skippy was forced to leave his family, after an accident cost him his leg, while he saved his old master's son's life. Fool that he was, he blamed the elf." the goblin said. "We did not think that that would be an issue, so we contracted him and a few other house elves, with different reasons to be unattached to staff the kitchens and to help out where they can."

"I's not being very fast, but I's can still hop." the house elf said.

"Come see me after the tour." Moody said, then. "Your master's apprentice showed me how to make artificial limbs, like mine. It moves like my old leg and can even feel. I'll sort you out with a new one."

Both the goblin and the house elf's eyes widened, before they looked at Harry. "What?" Harry asked. "He's more useful to my teacher with both legs, and I've seen what the magical world laughably calls prosthetics, even though they have magic."

"You's can fix me up?" the house elf asked.

"Let Moody do it." Harry said. "He's been wanting an opportunity to play with that magic anyway. We've not released that knowledge to anyone but him, and Madam Pomphrey of course."

The goblin looked at Moody with calculating eyes, then. "You've been holding out on us." he accused.

"You were the ones that insisted on keeping a separate government on the Mage Isles." Moody said back, smirking evilly. "I was told specifically to stay out of your affairs."

The goblin's glare lasted another second, before he grinned, too. "Expect a message from Ragnok." he said. "He'll want this, too."

"He'll just need to be flexible in his negotiations, then." Moody returned. "I'm thinking I'd like a contract for some goblin grog. The swill they are currently producing in Unity is far too sweet, and has almost no bite, for my tastes."

The tour continued after that, with the house elf disappearing with a look of excitement in his eyes. As Harry walked, he felt a few connections settle on him, and he opened his interface to see where the feeds were going. One connected to the already categorised house elf 'Skippy', in an automatically generated category of 'house elves'.

The other connections also went through that same category, so Harry knew that meant they had bonded with him, somehow knowing he was the true master here. Deciding to help out, he increased the feed to them a bit, so that they could recover. He knew house elves slowly drained of magic and life, without a proper connection. He'd have to set them up with a source of their own at some point, so that they could power themselves. That had been on the list ever since Gryff had told him of his speculations about house elf history.

The next thing that Harry noticed, was that the livery of the Mage Isles was everywhere. Banners and flags, and even some rugs that seemed far too old to have had that design on it when it was made. The uniforms the people wore also seemed to be universally black with different colour accents, likely due to Lord Mage's normal attire.

Then they inspected the levels that had been built on under the fortress. It looked pretty solid and made from stone. Hallways and dormitories where the dungeons used to be that could house many lined the walls, with obvious signs of expansion magics so that they could do more with the space. Below that was a cellar, of sorts. The goblin commander pointed out different rooms, where different foods were being kept. There was actually also a whole wine cellar. Harry would not be surprised when he was told that it already had quite a collection of fine wines.

Below that level, after quite a long walk down, were the new dungeons, because they needed to be moved and improved, right? Apparently, the architects in charge of that expansion had gone a little overboard in going down. The goblin informed him that they were still in the process of setting up separate wards for the dungeon, though. They'd be needing the Lord Mage there, to bind all the wards to him, when he showed up. Harry informed him that the Lord Mage already had a central control mechanism and would likely request that the wards connect there.

Then, they finally went back up and started going through the upper levels. Guest rooms were already set up with bedding and closets, lush carpets and drapes over windows. Apparently, these quarters were for when the Lord of the castle wanted to house guests and entertain other nobility.

"Not this one." Harry said, pointing one room out. "This one is to be kept as a storage room."

The goblin frowned at him.

"There's a hidden escape route in this room, which connects to the main bedrooms and the passage back to an underwater tunnel, that leads to Unity Isle." Harry explained.

The goblin smirked at that. "And why would the Lord Mage be interested in escape routes, if he didn't expect fighting to occur at some point?" the goblin asked, smugly.

Harry didn't want to admit he'd added that as a bit of fun, just because he could. Now the goblin thought that he was right, though, and Harry had no defence against that. He just shrugged. "Maybe he just used to have one in his original fortress and added it for that?" he offered.

The goblin's smirk didn't change, but he led them on and to Harry's workshop, which he'd later admit, he could have hidden better than just putting it behind an empty portrait-frame. Now there was a moving image of the Lord Mage, himself, looking on as Harry Potter used magic to raise a volcano out of the ocean. Obviously it was a new portrait commemorating the occasion of the Mage Isles' establishment.

"This room looked like it would be a lab, or experimentation room." the goblin said, as he pulled the portrait open. Harry had just put a few workbenches in there, with a few rune-etched boards, a bed and a rune-based fridge-freezer. There was also his old trunk, with a few changes of clothing. "We found a couple of things that indicated that this was meant to be your study, Lord Potter, so we didn't change much, besides make it more liveable, and added a bit of goblin indestructibility, with a break-away wall on the eastern side, so that if any explosions occurred, you'd not be instantly killed or destabilise the fortress and its upper levels."

"Thanks." Harry said, sarcastically, as the goblin grinned at him. "This was going to be my workshop, and I've only put a few items in here. I was going to bring more, over the holiday, so that I could stay here, permanently."

"Ah." the goblin said, nodding. "That explains the quarters across the hall, with the infirmary."

"Poppy?" Moody asked.

"She'd hardly let me spend my whole holiday working." Harry agreed. "She'll want me to stay there, and work here when I'm not on the Isles doing stuff for teacher, so that she can catch me out if I want to work longer."

"She's strict?" the goblin asked.

"She's trying to be accepting, but she wants me to stay healthy, and have a more rounded childhood." Harry said.

"Good." the goblin said. "A strict mother makes for a strong son."

Harry smiled lightly at that, as he nodded.

"That cold closet of yours was interesting." the goblin added, going to a new built-in cupboard. "We moved it here, and built it into this new cupboard, so that it's not just standing there on its own. The one to the right has an oven underneath, and a stove on top. There's pots and pans in the cupboard next to that, too. On the other side, there's a furnace that should accommodate you if you ever want to try your hand at forging or casting. The architect that handled this room saw the possibilities of your cold-closet and tied a few runes in, that should make everything work together." He paused there, for a moment. "He also stole your design for the cold-closet runes." he added, looking at Harry to see if he reacted negatively.

Harry shrugged, even as he considered the furnace, and went to check it out. "It was my ancient runes final exam project. Finished that years ago. He can copy it all he likes. Nobody owns those runes. Never claimed the application. Mundane people already use fridge-freezers." he added, as he inspected the furnace. He'd never seen one and might need some instruction on how to use it. "I'll need someone to show me how this works." he said, then.

"Try the dwarves." the goblin suggested, smiling at his easy acceptance. "They work with more mundane metals. We goblins don't like sharing our processes, and we don't make the best teachers anyway."

Harry nodded, accepting that. Cultural secrets were expected and accepted on the Mage Isles. "Thank that goblin for me, please?" he asked.

The goblin's smile just grew. Not only was the Lord's apprentice very accepting of someone copying his own magical creations, but he was grateful, too. "Will do, Lord Potter."

"How does this thing vent?" he asked, then, with his head stuck into the furnace, looking for a chimney.

"It doesn't need to." the goblin said. "Uses magic to get rid of fumes and smoke. An opening means you lose heat, with no benefit to the artisan. You just add blood… or I suppose direct magic, in your case."

"Do goblins use primarily only blood-magic?" Harry asked.

"Mostly." the goblin said, his face hardening.

Harry saw that. "You know, if it's an issue, I wouldn't mind looking into that? We already gave the sphinxes and some other creatures direct magic, with a bit of teacher's claim handling part of the storage and projection for pre-set spells." he offered.

"No." Moody said. Harry frowned. "They will need to earn that. It's not that I'm being a hard-ass. It's that you can't gift something like that to the Goblins. It's culturally against their honour to accept something like that for free."

"It's the debt." the goblin admitted. "We don't expect something for nothing. If we're using something that isn't ours, we'll expect to pay for every use."

"What if it's for the betterment of the Mage Isles?" Harry asked, easily. He didn't see a problem. "It would be a service then, rather than a debt. I think teacher would agree, and it should allow you to see the use of magic for personal gain, as a nice form of payment, as long as you spend time using magic for the Mage Isles, too? Maybe during production of necessities, and powering your own forges for your own use, too?"

The goblin stood there, slack-jawed. Just how quick was Lord Potter's mind? He'd not even seemed to need a single moment to consider that. "Um… Well, yes. That could work." he said, slightly shocked, still.

Moody just grinned. That really was a nice solution. "Nice one, Potter." he said. "I'll run it by your teacher in my next report. I think he'll agree, though. It is one of the tenants of the Mage Isles to treat people equally, and to promote that equality. If it supports the Mage Isles and the goblin nation in one simple act, then I don't see that being an issue."

"I think I see why you are the only apprentice to the Lord Mage." the goblin said, nodding respectfully at Harry. "You have a very quick mind, and you obviously have extensive power reserves."

"Meh." Harry shrugged. "What's next?"

"Oh, right." the goblin said, as he straightened. "Well, the last rooms would be the royal bedchambers, and your future apartment, Lord Potter." the goblin said, as he turned to the door, and started leading them away, again.

"My future apartment?" Harry asked.

"For when you marry." the goblin agreed. "It is currently the King's thought that the Lord Mage will be retiring at some point, as he's apparently done before, and leave the management or regency of the Mage Isles in your hands. Therefore, it will be essential for you to produce heirs. We also heard that you are already considering a romantic attachment to an intelligent young first-generation witch? Miss Hermione Granger?"

Harry blushed but didn't answer.

"He's not a goblin." Moody said. "They are not ready to consider marriage, nor children at this point, but I think she's a good pick if they do work out. I even trained her a bit myself. She's going to be an asset for his future, with how strong her magic, mind and memory are."

The goblin grumbled at that. "No offence Moody, but Lord Potter must start considering producing an heir as a duty to the people. The hopes and dreams of the Mage Isles will one day lay squarely on his shoulders. Unless he becomes as immortal as his teacher, it will be a necessity, rather than the desire of the people." He looked at Harry, then. "Is that a possibility? Do you think the Lord Mage will share that with you?"

"Um… Well, I may have figured agelessness out." Harry admitted. "Not immortality, perse, but I could choose not to age, not that I intend to do that, yet, nor want people to know that."

Both men stopped and looked at him, in shock, again. Then they both grinned. "I'll keep that to myself, then." the goblin said.

"Better hope that doesn't get out, Potter." Moody said. "This is the sort of knowledge that would turn you into the most wanted man on the planet."

"Why do you think I only told you two?" Harry asked. "The only other person that knows, is Hermione."

Moody nodded, and the goblin did too, but he also tapped his chest in a form of solute, accepting the compliment, and the trust Harry had apparently already given him. Harry suspected that he'd be telling his cousin, the Goblin king, though.

The rest of the tour was rather quiet. The 'royal' bedchambers were large and had a lot of decorations with shiny and likely expensive metals. There were several rooms, and a few extra beds, for possible concubines, something the goblin mentioned with a chuckle, because the Lord Mage had not mentioned any attachments like that, but it was apparently expected. There were also a few security wards which the Lord Mage would, once again, be expected to accept and bind to himself.

Harry's apartment was only slightly better. It was homier, with expensive looking wooden tables, but also a small, attached library, and a den, with comfortable-looking couches, arranged around a centralized fire-pit, which had a magical ventilation system, already built-in. In all, it looked like it would be quite comfortable. The number of bedrooms, however, made Harry worry that the goblins expected him to produce many heirs.

It was pointed out to him that some of those rooms could be used for personal maids and servants, though. That, and close friends, perhaps.

The last stop was the throne room, on the way back down. Harry had not really seen it, since the original use, but now it looked very impressive, with a red carpet, that went from an entrance to the side, which was apparently only for Lord Mage to ever step foot on. The throne, which Harry had only spent a bit of time on, had been large, if rather plain, considering what he could have done, but now it had an inlay of gold with a few sparkly gems encrusted in the high back in the form of a door, which he understood to represent the symbol of the Mage Isles.

There were no other seats in the throne room, besides the throne itself, and a black stand for the Mage Lord's phoenix. Against the walls there were many flags, representing the different species that had come to live on the Isles. All of them had a form of reference to the Mage Isles, with a door in the upper right corner, except for the Goblin flag, which was something Harry noted, but didn't mention. He suspected that that was some sort of reference to the fact that they were part of the Isles, but didn't officially accept him as their ruler, or liege lord, or whatever.

Still, it seems there were actual glass windows in the window openings, now, instead of just a general purpose shield, which was how Harry had set them up. The fact that they all had stained glass, with images ranging from the Lord Mage punching a dragon, to Harry himself, with Lord Mage standing beside him, raising the Mage Isles with a wand in hand and explosions of lava, made that bit make sense. He noted that there was another of Reina, in dragon form, putting her chin on his head, along with her doing it in her dragonkin form, next to that.

"The histories of the Mage Isles." the goblin said, noting where he was looking. "Not really all that extensive, yet, but these images will be moved to other locations, as more impressive feats are placed in the throne room. When you do something at the request of your teacher, he'll be added, of course. We've got a few of this one, making contact and bringing a few more creatures to the Isles, placed around the fortress." he added, pointing a thumb at Moody.

"They are really well done." Harry said.

"Hookclaw is our glassworker." the goblin said. "He's a bit obsessed with the Lord Mage, and has been gathering what stories he can, and crafting these displays, as inspiration strikes."

"I'm sure Lord Mage will appreciate the effort." Moody said. "Not that I know if he appreciates art, perse."

"He's more practical." Harry said. "I like them, though."

"Good enough for me." the goblin said. "So, that's the tour. Do you think your teacher will like it?" he asked.

"I do." Harry said. "I mean, he'll probably never sit in this throne, or anything, but he does like surprises, meant in good faith."

The goblin shrugged. The Lord Mage was not his king. "So, what brought you to the Fortress, anyway?"

"Oh, right." Harry said. "I got permission to bring two friends to the Mage Isles. Hermione Granger and Neville Longbottom. We got the next two days off, and I decided to take a long weekend with them."

The goblin nodded. "Remember to take them to town hall first. The forbiddance is mandatory, according to the laws of the Mage Isles."

"For all except the goblins, who have their own laws, Potter and Lord Mage." Moody said, nodding.

"No." Harry argued. "We'll follow the laws, too, because we enforce them. The old man can't be bound by the forbiddance, though, and neither can I, but that doesn't mean we won't obey them."

Moody shrugged. "So, where were you planning on taking them?" he asked.

"Everywhere." Harry said, grinning.

"I'll ask the elves to prepare something for dinner." the goblin said, as he turned and left, without further word.

"I like him." Harry said.

"He's not permanently stationed here. He's sort of on loan to us, while things take shape here at the fortress." Moody said. "But I like him too. He's more sociable than most goblins, and he's got a sense of humour I like."

"Makes sense." Harry said, nodding. "We'll see you at town hall in an hour, or so."

Moody nodded, and apparated away.

It had been quite the tour. Neville and Hermione had been more than slightly shocked at everything in, on, and about the Mage Isles. Of course, they'd never stopped asking questions, but they'd met quite a few of the residents, many of which they hadn't known to expect and in far greater numbers that they had known, before they went to the fortress for dinner.

Hermione had not been shocked that Harry had raised the fortress in a day, considering he'd shared the memory of the sandcastle he'd built in a day, years back already, but she'd frowned at a few Veela maids in very skimpy maid outfits, serving them their dinner, as they sat in a small antechamber to the main dining hall, which looked akin to a large ball-room.

"Do they need to be dressed like that?" Hermione asked, once they were left alone. She didn't want to offend them, so she'd waited for them to leave.

"I didn't give them the maid-outfits." Harry said, lifting his hands. "As far as I know, they chose those themselves. I mean, I think so, at least. I know the goblins had a hand in recruiting volunteers, but I don't think they find Veela attractive, so I doubt they'd have prescribed the dress-code."

"I like them." Neville said, easily. "They're friendly." he added.

Harry smiled at that. With his occlumency, Neville had not once looked at them in lust, and Harry could tell that a hint of allure was active, as the maids strutted about, smiling invitingly and winking at them. Not enough to break the law, but enough still to be noticed.

"Well… they are." Hermione said, sighing. She'd realised that Harry hadn't given them a second glance, so she wasn't really upset with him, but it just seemed so demeaning. "It's just… They shouldn't have to act like that." she finished.

"You have to remember, Hermione, one of the reasons the Mage Isles exist in the first place is to allow these people to express themselves freely." Harry said. "Veela love attention. They are literally beautiful, for the purpose of attracting mates. They are flirty and like being looked at. It's in their nature. The difference here, is that they don't have to worry that someone will take advantage of them or lose control. They have rights here, that they didn't have back where they came from. They are also properly compensated for doing the work they are, rather than being paid less, as creatures, rather than people."

Hermione sighed. She'd seen many beautiful creatures on the islands. Even the dragonkin females had phenomenal bodies. They were apparently quite happy to strut about with very curvy bodies, even though the only one that ever treated Harry familiarly, was Reina.

Then there were the other naturally attractive creatures. Water Nymphs, or Nyads, and the snow-women, or Yuki Onna, had also been very friendly with Harry, and that didn't even mention the fact that nearly every single unattached female of every species apparently wanted to hug Harry. She'd been a little caught off guard with seeing all that. Dwarves, gnomes and even a bloody gorgon! She'd not even known those existed in the magical world, thinking they were just legends or fables, even in the wizarding world.

Harry had needed to explain that he'd helped the gorgon gain control of her powers too, and she could much more easily fit in with people now. Apparently, she was a caregiver at a kindergarten, having a real love for children and loving the fact that she wasn't a threat to them anymore.

Everywhere they went, they were just shocked by more revelations.

Vampires walking around in broad daylight, due to yet another protection Harry had set up for them, doing work at bureaucratic jobs, which they apparently excelled at, like town planning and communicating the needs of the people to the leaders. Some were also night-time patrolmen, working as night-shift police officers. They received a daily stipend of blood, which was donated by only willing donors, who took blood-replenishing potions after the fact so that nobody ever had any side-effects for being part of the very functional system.

There were creatures that were obviously not human, but who functioned in humanoid bodies. Another gift from Harry. Not that all of them did that or needed it. Some preferred to stay in their creature forms, but nobody even bat an eye. She'd even spotted a few giants, helping with construction of some sort of large building, which Harry identified as a colosseum. Some creatures liked to fight, and there were allowances made for them. Of course, fatal injuries would not be allowed, so there would be another job for Harry before the colosseum was ever used. He'd also explained that the Giants could, and usually did prefer to take on smaller forms, since it allowed them to interact with people more normally, and use the facilities offered to them in Unity. Not to mention that they ate less in those forms, much like the dragonkin.

"But, no mundane people?" Neville asked.

"We're trying to stay clear of going that far, for now, but we have a few, currently." Harry said. "Taking magical creatures in is one thing, but taking in many mundane people could prove difficult, at the moment."

"Why?" Hermione asked, glad for the change of subject.

"Let's say your parents come here, okay?" Harry asked. "What happens when they go visit relatives? Where do they say that they are staying? Would they want to leave their friends behind, or do they commute to and from the Mage Isles for work every day? Is that a risk we'd want to expose them to, or the Mage Isles, if they are compromised? There are many reasons for it, but the only mundane people we've currently got, are ones that had nowhere else to go. People that needed a new start, like homeless people, or people on the run, after being wrongfully accused of crimes."

"Does the forbiddance work on mundane people?" Hermione asked, wondering how that would work with people without innate magic.

"It does, now." Harry said. "I set up a power-pool for creatures with low magical capacity. The Vampires are in charge of ensuring that pool remains functional and in operation, with sources I set up for them."

"Clever." Hermione said, with Neville nodding along.

"Who all knows who you really are?" Neville asked, in a whisper.

"Quite a few creatures, actually." Harry said. "I don't know how, though. It seems that some creatures have instincts for things like that, though. All the ones that can instinctively tell who I am, can also instinctively tell when they shouldn't say anything in front of others."

"How do they keep it a secret, then?" Hermione asked.

"Excuse me, Lord Potter?" a soft voice asked, from the side, where a Veela stepped out of a hidden location. "I could explain that, if you want?" she offered, with a deep bow that showed a lot of cleavage.

"Please do." Harry accepted, nodding. He wanted to know, too.

"It's not very difficult." the Veela woman said. "Magic speaks to us. It knows that you are two people, or that's how it communicates it. Lord Mage is the strength of the Isles. That which is seen, the power behind the power, to hide the real truth. We who are connected to the magical world, in such ways, can feel the need to protect this secret, much as we need to protect our own. You are, but you are not, the Lord of these lands, and we can understand that, on a certain… almost instinctive level. Those of us with the required understanding can usually understand the need, at that point."

"You commune directly with magic?" Harry asked, frowning.

"Not really, and sort of, yes." the Veela said, nonsensically. "It's not a person, who speaks in words, but it feels our understanding, and it relays things on a personal level, how we would understand it. For one of my sisters, it's a secret of a shameful yearning that she won't speak of. For me, it's the secret of a personal nature, which I keep, to protect myself. All of us have our own way of understanding it, but it always tells us to keep what we can feel in the Isles, to ourselves."

Harry nodded at that. It made sense to him, on a certain level. He knew that magic didn't understand words, only intent, and only on some levels. The many times he'd felt the presence of magic, it had been as a witness in his mind. Not really there to listen to the letter of the oath, for example, but to acknowledge the spirit thereof. There was a form of intelligence there, but it was not something that could change easily. He personally suspected that it had to do with the fact that there were so many differing peoples, all with a different understanding of magic. If everyone thought the same, and spoke the same language, maybe then Magic would be able to understand more universally, but there were just too many differing perspectives, to do something like that.

"I think I understand." Harry said.

"I knew you would, my Lord." the Veela said, before she stepped back behind the pillar, where Harry knew a separate servant's entrance was, now. The goblins must have added it. He could feel it through the fortress's interface board which he'd connected to, to find out how the woman had been there. The entrance was well hidden, and looked like a normal wall, but would swing, silently, when pushed on. He'd taken a moment to add that change as a permanent one, so that he didn't accidentally revert it, when he decided to make a change, much as he'd done during the tour with the other changes.

He'd need to call a staff meeting, to ensure everyone that was there, knew that neither he, not 'Lord Mage', would be spending loads of time there. He didn't want them wasting their days, waiting to work, but with nobody there. He'd later find out that when nobody was there, and there was nothing to do, they simply went back to the Unity Isle, where they all had lives. The Fortress was their day-jobs, and in some cases, their home, but they could all freely leave, and often did.

"This, 'my lord' thing, doesn't work for me." Hermione said, frowning again.

"It's just to show thanks for giving them better lives, Hermione." Neville said, reasonably. "I've been living in the wizarding world for all my life, and I've never seen its creatures so happy, and free. I get where that comes from."

"Well, that, and the protection they are offered here." Harry said. "I've spoken to at least one of every species, and it's just something they feel they need to do. I didn't ask for it. Once again, I don't dictate how they live their lives, and if calling me 'lord' makes them happy, I'm not going to deny them their rights to choose.

"The fact of the matter is, this is more like what we have in England." he continued. "A democratic monarchy. The leaders of the isles form a council that makes the decisions. I only serve as a figurehead, and a sort of head-of-state. Lord Mage has the right to make decisions without asking permission, but he doesn't because he likes to be fair and understanding. It's the whole point, after all. I made the decision to make the Isles, without permission, and brought the creatures here, also without permission, but then, I never forced them to come either. This is my land, but they rule themselves. Freedom is the goal, after all. Getting away from a world that treats people like they aren't people. Like other cultures are lesser, just because they aren't like themselves."

Hermione sighed, again. She knew most of this, and agreed, but something about it just chafed at her sense of right and wrong. No man should be held above others. She knew, of course, that some might prefer to have someone, one person, to look up to, and to get protection from. She herself looked up to Harry, and would always look to him as her protector, but she didn't feel the need to treat him like he's royalty.

"Let it go, Hermione." Neville said, sternly. "If you force your beliefs on them, then you're just like the wizarding world. Allow them to choose how to treat Harry. It is their choice, after all."

Hermione's eyes opened a little wider, before sighing a final time, a little smile coming to her face. "When did you get smarter than me?" she asked, self-deprecatingly.

"I just believe in Harry." Neville said, shrugging. "He's not just smart, you know? He's got people like Moody and Madam Pomphrey to give him a bigger perspective. I don't think he did all this, without their input. I know he's discussed quite a bit of this with us, as well, though I would have preferred to come visit sooner."

"I told you that I wanted things to be more developed first." Harry said. "This is my biggest project to date. Of course I'm going to want to surprise you."

"And it was a very impressive surprise." Neville said, smiling. "I wonder what you'll do to top this one?" he challenged.

"Oh, I'm not halfway finished, yet." Harry said, smirking. "Once this place is properly up and running, I intend to add things like tours to the different islands, with different attractions, that the different creatures can host, to introduce people to the way that the different creatures live. I want people to start not just accepting each-other, but understanding each-other as well. When I'm done, I'd like to see people hanging out, in groups of different species, making friends and finding common interests. That may be a long-term goal, but I think it sounds wonderful."

Hermione smiled at Harry, for that, taking his hand. "I think I'd like to see that, too." she said.

There was a bit of a moment, when they just looked at each-other, making eye-contact, and not looking away. Hermione's eyes had just flicked to his lips, when Neville coughed, reminding them that he was there. Then they both blushed and let go.

Neville smirked at that. It seemed that they were almost there. He'd been watching this romance develop over the last few years. He only had a bit of a fear, that they would start spending less time with him, but he'd also be happy for them.

"So, I'm looking forward to staying here." Neville said, then.

"Stay here?" Harry asked, as his blush faded.

"Yes." Neville said. "Maybe starting this summer. Gran is still trying to set me up for many social events. If I'm here, she can't do that." he said, brightly.

"Your gran still scares me." Harry said.

"Really?" Neville asked. "You literally have dragon friends and a goblin army to call to your aid, and my gran scares you?" he asked.

"I don't know what it is." Harry said. "It's either that vulture, or the vein in her forehead, as she stares at me, sometimes. It looks like she's trying to make my head explode with her mind."

"Why does she do that?" Hermione asked. She'd not seen it, but she'd heard about the old 'battle-axe', and met her only a few times.

"She thinks Harry is a bad influence." Neville said. "From her perspective, he actually might be. From most perspectives, though, he's just helped me be a better me."

"Well, Moody helped." Harry said. "And I'm afraid I can't offer you sanctuary on the Mage Isles. You're underaged. You don't have the legal right to choose, yet. Once you're of age, though, feel free. I'd love having you here."

"Can I at least come visit?" Neville asked, plaintively. He knew Harry was right. It would be kidnapping, if Harry let him run away to the Isles. Or, at least it would seem like it.

"Sure." Harry said. "Just, you know, ask first. Can't know that I'll always be available. You could always also join Moody. I think your Gran would more easily allow you to visit, if you say it's for training, too."

"Hey!" Neville said, his smile coming back. "I can even actually train! I love that idea!"

"You're welcome." Harry said, smirking at him.

"Why do you love training so much?" Hermione asked.

"I don't know." Neville admitted. "Maybe it's the war wizard blood in me? Moody once said my ancestors were war wizards, so maybe I'm just built for fighting?"

"It's partially that, I suspect." Harry said. "The other part would be the endorphins and adrenalin. Your brain releases certain hormones that makes you happy, when you train and exert yourself. Well, technically it reduces stress, relieves pain, and improves the mood, but it comes down to the same thing."

"Why didn't I think of that?" Hermione asked. She did know a bit of that science, after all. She'd studied the human body, just like Harry had. She even had her very own body model that was as in-depth as Harry's own. She'd been slowly modifying her body, to make herself feel better about herself, starting with her teeth. There was also a bit of unevenness in her development, which she did not like, at all. Poppy had helped her with that, too.

"We can't all think of the same things." Harry said, smiling at her. "Otherwise the conversation would get boring, right?"

Hermione smiled back, before she went back to her food.

Dinner was followed by a trip to the Unity Isle open-air bathhouse. It was a recent addition to the island, something that the Japanese residents had requested. Harry had only seen the construction underway, a few weeks back, but he'd wanted to give them a try, at some point. They'd been taken through the process by a professional aesthetician, who informed them of the customs and the routine. They washed first, and then they could enjoy the baths. Hermione went to the female section, of course.

It was as Harry and Neville were relaxing in the water, with towels around their waists, when a canine creature jumped up onto the ledge of their bath and watched them. Harry frowned, for a second, before he said something. "Hey! Kimiko! You're not supposed to be on the male side!" he objected.

"Aww! But you never came to the bathhouse before, Potter-dono!" the creature said in Japanese, before it started shifting form into the shape of a young Japanese girl, but with orange hair and slitted pupils. She also had triangular orange ears on top of her head, with little tufts of white hair in them. Fortunately, she was wearing a towel, too.

Neville blushed, as he realised it was another person, a girl, a year or two younger than them. "Animagus?" he asked.

"She's a Kitsune." Harry said. He quickly added a connection to Neville's interface, which would help translate when he spoke Japanese, which Neville almost instinctively accepted and activated. "A fox-spirit. They're native to Japan, and she came here shortly after the Yuki Onna." He looked sternly at the girl, and switched back to a language that she would understand. "They are mischievous, and Kimiko-kun has been very active in the leprechaun community, using their gold to prank people who don't know that the gold is temporary, to think she's accidentally dropping her money."

"They keep on giving it back!" Kimiko complained. "They're supposed to go and use it, and be caught out, but everybody here is just too nice!"

"I told you that it would be a bad thing if someone used that gold, Kimiko." Harry said, still sternly.

"I know. I would explain because that's the rule, but I can't earn my tails without bigger pranks!" she complained.

Harry shook his head. "That's yet to be seen, but it's also beside the point. Please go to the girls' side, Kimiko? You can introduce yourself to my other friend, Hermione-san. But no pranks, okay? I don't think she'd like that sort of thing. She was teased a lot before making friends, and she'll think you're teasing her, too."

The Kitsune deflated, before nodding, turning back into a fox-like creature, and leaving, her two tails hanging low in disappointment.

"She's a good kid, but she can be a little disruptive." Harry said, switching back to English and disconnecting the translation. He'd developed that ability, in part due to the understanding he'd received from that Chinese dragon, and in part due to his uses of translation in the past, the first application being the one he did with Hedwig.

"Her nature?" Neville asked, not even mentioning the translation. He'd been able to figure out what was happening, when he heard Harry and the girl speaking in another language, and somehow just understanding what they were conveying.

"Yes, but it's also more than that." Harry said. "She wasn't welcome, where she came from, and she loves attention, so she's been getting underfoot. It's not normally a problem, but she recently caused a bit of a mess at a construction site, making the workers need to redo a section of cast flooring, when they couldn't just remove the tree she'd planted overnight, in the set concrete."

Neville frowned. That did sound like the bad sort of prank. She shouldn't be causing people more work, with her pranks. "I see what you mean." he said.

"Still, she's slowly learning." Harry said.

"What was she saying about earning tails?" Neville asked. That bit had translated in his mind, when he'd wondered what she'd said, before the translation magic was up.

"It's a Kitsune trait." Harry said. "The more successful they are as pranksters, the more tails they get. The ultimate goal is to have nine of them. From my investigation and scans, it seems that they store their magic in their tails. The more tails, the more powerful they can be."

Neville nodded in understanding, with a little smile. It was interesting lore. "Well, it does make sense that she'd want to do anything, if it's natural for her kind to want to achieve that, then. Fear of rejection, like she was, where she came from, would mean that she'd want to get more powerful quickly, so that she can feel more secure."

"She's relatively new." Harry said. "The residents that have been here the longest, have started letting go of the fear they'd lived with most of their lives, but it takes time. She'll eventually realise that she's safe, and I suspect that she'll do better, then."

Neville nodded, accepting that, and leaned back, looking up at the sky, again. "Why is it doing that, by the way?" he asked.

"What?" Harry asked.

"The sky." Neville asked, nodding his chin upward.

Harry looked up and at the sky. The ward was only barely illuminated in a display of whatever magics were prominent in the Mage Isles. It was a simple effect, on a grand scale, but with his own magic running that feature. Currently, he saw a lot of greens and light blues, on a surface that looked like an Aurora Borealis. "It's a reflexion of the magics in play on the Isles." Harry finally said. "It's a feature of the Mage Isles."

"Nice." Neville said.

"I thought it added something." Harry said, smiling, as he enjoyed the view for himself. He'd not looked at it in a while, but he thought he'd done a good job of making it look special.

"I'm thinking Hermione will have some questions, when we meet up again." Neville said. "I hope we're not taking too long." he added.

"Hot-springs are meant to be enjoyed Neville." Harry said. "She'll be relaxing in the water, just like us."

Neville frowned. "Do you think she'll be okay alone?" he asked.

Harry snorted. "The women love this place. I've no doubt that she's already deep in discussion with Yinara."

"Yinara?" Neville asked.

"She's a Chinese Divine Dragon, who's made the move to the Mage Isles recently." Harry said. He nodded to another pool, nearby, where there was an Asian man with long black hair. "That man is her counterpart. Yangon. Her husband, and also a dragon. If he's here, chances are that his wife is on the other side."

Neville looked at the man and frowned. "Don't you usually leave them with some draconic features, when you give them their Dragonkin forms?"

There was a flash of light, as the man suddenly disappeared, only to reappear in their own pool, shocking Neville, but not Harry. "Good evening, Mister Potter." the man said in perfect English, smirking at Harry, and then looking at Neville, and nodding at him. "Mister Longbottom." he added.

"Um." Neville said, eloquently.

The man chuckled. "Have no fear, young man." the man said. "Our kind has what you would consider immensely strong perceptive capabilities. Bordering on the divine, even." he added, sending Harry another smirk, and confirming that he'd heard what Harry had said, or probably just confirming that what he'd said was correct.

"Oh." Neville said. He was suddenly not all that comfortable. There were a few other men about, but they'd been left mostly to themselves. He didn't know that he liked sitting in only a towel, in front of someone who was similarly nearly naked, themselves.

The man simply chuckled again. "I merely decided to come greet you, and to confirm Mister Potter's suspicions. My darling wife has decided to indulge your friend's curiosities. She finds much joy in instructing the young, and Miss Granger seems to be a wellspring of questions."

"She's not being too mysterious, is she?" Harry asked, already developing a smile. Yinara could give answers easily, but she also loved to be mysterious on occasion. Supposedly that was just how they were.

"She may have drawn your friend in with an answer or two, and now she's just enjoying the verbal exchange as your friend tries to delve into her mysteries." the man said. Then he turned to Neville. "And the reason we look human, rather than what Mister Potter kindly offers the younger dragons, is because we were not changed by his magic. At least, not physically. We've been capable of this change for many thousands of years."

"Thousands?" Neville asked, his eyes widening.

"As I understand it, the divine dragons are as old as the Chinese culture." Harry said. "They've not deigned to give me a straight answer, but that should make them around five thousand years old."

The man seemed to pout at Harry. "That's not very nice Mister Potter." he chided. "We are meant to be a mystery. Part of our power lies therein."

"Then you should have skipped telling him that." Harry said, not allowing the reprimand to stand. "You like to do the same thing as your wife. Make them curious and then leave them wondering. Neville won't be a source of entertainment for you, just like I won't. I just informed him of what I could confirm, anyway."

The man sighed, before finally nodding. "You are not of our people, so I suppose you're right." he said. "I wasn't honestly trying to gain another 'source of entertainment'. It's just a habit I've picked up."

Neville didn't understand most of that exchange, but it seemed that the man before him was really not a man at all, and likely older than any living thing Neville had heard about. Well, besides certain trees and plants that he knew could live forever, theoretically.

The man smiled again. "It has been an age since I've had the conversation of someone so unruffled by our mere presence, though." he said, sighing and laying back. "It still surprises me when that happens. For so long have we been knelt and grovelled before, begged for miracles and fortune, that when you speak to me as just another being, it's a breath of fresh air. If I'd appeared before someone, back home, like I did here, they'd have gotten out of their own bath to offer me my privacy, before sending a servant for some snacks."

"You can always call for Skippy." Harry offered.

"Master does not need to call." the elf in question suddenly said, as he appeared, standing, seemingly, on top of the water, and holding a tray filled with snacks and small bottles. Harry looked at the prosthetic leg and realised that it looked completely natural. Moody probably just made it look that way for the elf's peace-of-mind. He'd worked quickly, too. He'd only made the offer that morning.

The elf snapped a finger and the tray transformed into a wide flat curved shape, like a square boat. He placed the reshaped tray on the water's surface and then he disappeared.

The man smiled as he sat up and looked at what was on offer. "Ah, your elf is well-trained. I've missed Baijiu. It's not common in your kingdom, yet."

Harry made to get up, knowing that as the technical host, it would be proper for him to serve the man. It was customary in China.

"No." the man said, lifting a hand. "Please? Let me serve myself." he added, as he picked up a bottle and poured some into a small cup. He looked up, and to the side, before smiling. "Your elf really is well-trained. He's serving my wife the same."

Harry had already sat back down and lay back to just enjoy the water again. "I didn't train Skippy. He was in service to another master, who let him go once he lost his leg."

"I had wondered about that." the man said, after taking a sip and sighing. "The new leg shows different magic, but I could tell it was connected to your source."

"Do you know the history of the house elves?" Harry asked, since he'd just thought to ask. A being as old as Yangon might know the answers that nobody else would.

"I'm afraid we didn't have those in our lands." the man said. "I did learn of them, but I don't know how they came to be what they are now."

"You've heard of the academic theories?" Harry asked.

"Yes." Yangon said. "I do also believe that the most commonly accepted one is likely correct. House Elves, or as they were called then, Brownies, are very similar to the more spiritual beings from the magical world. They can choose to be seen, or not, and are very capable and could be very powerful.

"It is therefore quite likely that someone trapped a Brownie and used one to capture more, before using enslavement rituals and claimed magics to make them reliant on magicals for what they were likely capable of themselves in the past. Magical regeneration. I would think some form of magic to make them forget themselves, as well. With no history, they would be more susceptible to influence. When you forget your history and culture, you become less than a dog." the man finished.

"Making them the perfect willing slaves and stealing them from the world." Harry said, nodding. He really would need to get on that one, soon. He didn't think that he'd be making himself any friends in the pureblood houses of the world, if he started abducting and freeing their house elves, but he didn't think he could leave things as they are, either.

"Are you… are you saying that House Elves weren't always House Elves?" Neville asked.

"As you just heard, it is a theory about their origin, with a bit of educated speculation from myself." Yangon said, before Harry could answer. "As I understand it, Brownies were the antibodies of the Earth, for some parts of the world."

"Like, white blood cells?" Neville asked. He'd learned a thing or two in his life, after all. Difficult not to, when you were best friends with brilliant people.

"Something like that." Yangon nodded. "They are obviously more than just that, but they were creatures responsible for cleanliness and recovery. The theory that we are discussing is that they were part of the world's natural defence against things like pestilences and plagues. It explains their natural desire to find more work to do and their obsessiveness about protecting children. It was theoretically a trait that could not be wiped out of their personalities, by whatever process turned them into house elves."

"Supposedly, House Elves entered our history very shortly before the Black Plague hit Europe in the 1400's." Harry said. "That is one of the largest contributors to the theory that they were responsible for stopping things like that."

Neville looked down as he frowned. "The wizarding world did that?" he asked.

"It's a theory, Neville." Harry said. "Plagues and diseases happen. It's part of the natural cycle."

"Had it not been for that, medical knowledge would not be where it is today." Yangon agreed. "You could say that if the theory is true, that the wizarding world did that, too. Thereby leading to a world that is more resilient to such things in the future."

"I don't like it." Neville said, stubbornly. He looked at Harry. "What are you going to do?" he asked. He'd known Harry long enough to know he probably had a plan to fix that situation.

"I'm still considering my options, to be honest." Harry said. "I'd need to find a free house elf, who is willing to let me experiment and examine them for what magics are affecting them, so that I can fix their dependence on magicals, first. There is a possibility that their magic and instincts can bring them back to their role in the world, if I can remove the bindings on how their magic works, currently.

"There's also the statute, of course." Harry continued. "If we somehow free the house elves, and they become what they had been, would they be capable of stopping themselves from helping mundane people? Even if they can remain hidden, would the ICW allow them to do as they pleased?"

Yangon's smile grew on his face. He'd been seeing a lot of that sort of thing on the Mage Isles. There were many creatures that would not normally present themselves before humans, who were freely doing so, here. Fairies and Nyads, a Gorgon, Oni and even Kappa. These creatures were sometimes from myth and legends older than himself, but the generous young man before him had striven to correct an injustice that had long plagued the world.

Giants, who were usually quite territorial and slow to trust others, had easy smiles on their faces, as they helped construction efforts, or dug into the earth to help the werewolves who were working on irrigation and water-supply. Nobody was ever judged on the prejudices that had plagued their kind for so long.

It was the reason why he and Yinara had decided to come see the place for themselves, when some of the magical creatures from their country made the move. It wasn't their duty, per-se, but it was something that they'd wanted to see. To evaluate the true purpose of the place, and maybe warn some creatures if they were being abused.

They'd not expected it, when the Mage Isles turned out to be exactly what they had heard and more. And then his wife had grown attached to the place, after she met some of the transformed dragons on the Mage Isles. Harry Potter was aware that he was doing more than changing their form, but he didn't know if he knew how big of an influence he was actually having.

Dragons were some of the more territorial and animalistic creatures of the magical world. They didn't normally understand humans, or even other dragons from other countries. It had been frustrating them for the last few hundred years, where they were corralled and forced to live in much closer proximity to others than they were used to.

From that frustration and the possibility that Harry Potter presented to his dragon mother, Reina, that the change was stemming. Their relationship, and the power and nobility of the young king, had impressed the other dragons, and a yearning to achieve the sort of support and understanding that they had, had awakened in the others of their kind.

He was certain that Harry didn't know what it meant that Reina treated him that way, thinking she was just showing affection. It was a much more intimate thing than a familiar bond. She'd adopted him, but in doing so she'd put her strength behind him. Any and all dragons who feared her, would fear him the same way. The fact that Harry didn't act aggressively, as would be his instinctive right as a dragon, not only reassured the other dragons, but also made Reina proud of her ugly non-dragon hatchling. It was very honourable.

Then there was the growing instinctive drive to achieve the dragonkin form. It was starting to frustrate the dragons who had not yet received their forms. It was yet another reason why he and his wife had decided to stay. They were not aggressive, but they were respected in the dragon community, and none would act on their frustrations, while they were there to support the young king. They had yet to inform Harry that that was the reason for their presence, but they really did like being mysterious, so they likely never would.

And now the young man was contemplating helping yet another disenfranchised race.

Yangon's smile was just as large as his wife's, who'd heard everything, of course. She was currently sitting close to Hermione who was currently catching up with a friend who'd just showed up. Fleur and Hermione were talking about how she and her sister had helped Harry get the other Veela around the world to make the move. They'd become the ones to apply the control that the Veela boasted these days. Fleur's family had all moved to the Isles, and her mother was the representative for all Veela, on the Mage Isles Council of Race and Entities, C.O.R.E., while her father worked on collaboration between the different races for applied changes and installations around the islands, which included setting up new locations for Teleportation Doors. Harry was apparently considering making him the official Mayor, since he was basically fulfilling that role already. Fleur was already gushing about her family's involvement on the Islands.

Harry and Neville continued discussing the House Elves for a while before Neville allowed his mind to be put to rest. He'd be following up on that one, because he suddenly felt a deep anger at what he suspected was the real truth behind where house elves came from.

Yangon was happy to note that Harry had chosen wisely in his friendship with the boy. He was an honourable young man, and he could detect the strength of both his body and his magic. Neville wasn't the sharpest, but he had put his faith behind Harry, and he could tell that the young man would need no more than a single word, to rally behind the young king, should there ever be a need, and be an asset too.

By the time the two were ready to depart, Yangon reminded Harry to have something cool to drink before leaving, as was tradition, while Yinara informed Hermione that Harry and Neville were making preparations to leave. He couldn't have known that Harry had already sent her a message, but then, he didn't know everything that Harry had achieved.

The group of friends, now including Fleur who'd followed after Hermione, drank a tasty milk drink on their way back to the public transport location, from where Fleur would transport back to her family home, which they'd moved to the Mage Isles.

When Hermione asked why she didn't just apparate, Fleur had explained that the magics on the house had been adapted to include that of the Mage Isles, so that she could invite someone to her home, using a Teleportation Portal. It was a reasonably new application of the system, but also made the house much more secure. They'd since blocked off apparition and now used the Teleportation Portals exclusively.

The added bonus of the new system being that now even school-aged children had access to such simple forms of transportation. Her father was even in talks with Madam Maxime from Beauxbatons to allow Gabrielle to commute to school in the future, which was a possibility for them, now. Not everyone would be allowed to know about it though, obviously.

Hermione added that to her mental list of questions, and they finally said goodbye to the older girl, before she went to a pedestal and placed her hand against it, whispered a password in French, which opened a portal and allowed her through.

Harry showed Hermione how to go to the fortress using the same system, and explained how the system accessed land registry, checked a person for if they were allowed to request access, and would then open a portal to take them to their designated location. For the moment, Harry had added the entry-point to the entrance hall of the fortress. He suspected that the goblins would be suggesting that it opened at the main gates in the future, but he refused to be delayed and the likely escorted everywhere.

Harry and Hermione were still discussing the latest revelations in Harry's workshop when Neville begged off. He wanted to get to bed, because he'd already arranged a tour of M.I.P.D for first thing in the morning, and he had no doubt that Moody would be testing if he'd slacked over the last few months. He'd need his wits about him, and he wanted to get a bit of a morning workout in beforehand, so that he'd be at his best.

Harry was about to show Neville to a nearby guest room, when a female house elf he'd not met yet appeared.

"Master's friend's room is ready." the elf said. "Missy is to be taking care of rooms and guests in Master's home."

"Um." Harry said. "Okay, then." he finished, as the elf started leading Neville away. He'd not met her yet, but he could tell that she was one of the elves that had bonded to him, without even needing to check the interface.

"How many elves are at the fortress?" Hermione asked, once they were alone.

"Five, I think." Harry said. "That's how many bonded to me earlier today, at least."

"We'll need to discuss that." Hermione said, her eyes narrowing at Harry, playfully. She knew about Harry's understanding and perspective on the elves, after all. She'd not make the mistake of accusing him of anything.

"I was actually hoping to discuss some things with you, regarding them." Harry said, as he fell comfortably into a large sofa that had been placed in the room, next to a fireplace.

Unbeknownst to either teen, Gryff, who was currently disguised as a stack of papers on Harry's desk, was watching them as they got comfortable on the couch. He'd taken the tour, and been with them most of the day, but when bathing became the topic, he'd asked to be left to explore the fortress on his own.

Now, he was simply enjoying watching as Harry and Hermione chatted and relaxed in each-other's company. They weren't overly friendly, and the hat almost chuckled as they both blushed, when Harry accidentally rested his hand on one of hers.

The talking came to an abrupt halt, then, as they both looked at their hands. Slowly, but simultaneously, they turned their hands and interlocked their fingers, before they looked at each-other. They were still blushing, but there was a certain readiness there, as they both started leaning forward.


"Harry." the muffled voice of Madam Pomphrey said through the portrait which served as the door to the workshop. "Are you in there. The elf, Missy, told me that you were here."

'Oh for Merlin's sake!' the hat shouted in his head, when Harry and Hermione both jumped apart, like they'd been doing something bad. When were these two going to catch a break?!

"Oh, erm." Harry said, as he stood up and stood awkwardly next to the couch. "You can just pull the portrait open, Aunty Poppy." he said.

Harry was shocked then, as Hermione walked to the opening portrait. She walked right up to the portrait, whispered something to the woman on the other side, and Harry heard a muffled, "Oh, I'm sorry, Hermione. I'll…" before her voice became indistinct. They didn't chat for much longer, as Hermione pulled the door shut, with a huff and shake of her head, and then she marched back to the couch, took Harry's hand as she passed him, and pulled him back onto the couch.

"Um." Harry said, intelligently.

"Merlin help me, Harry." Hermione said, in a huff. "If you say a single word before you kiss me, I'll lose my mind." She'd been quite patient, she thought. Sure, Harry was extraordinarily dense when it came to emotions, but she knew that he knew how she felt, and she was tired of walking around the subject. At this point, whenever something happened to interrupt the moment, when something was finally going to happen, she felt like the universe was doing it to her on purpose.

Then, as if she was worried that he wouldn't follow her command, she leaned forward until she was just an inch from his face. She looked him in the eyes, and a sort of urgency became apparent in them.

Harry's emotions system had no idea what to make of this and ended up showing nothing.

Not that they needed to. Harry wasn't even looking at them. He just saw Hermione. Giving in to the emotion and desire that had been building in him for the last while, he closed his eyes, leaned forward, and gave in to her demand.

AN: Hi there! Sorry for the long delay. I've never been on hiatus before, and I don't know if the break I took counts, but just so all of you know, I'm studying in my spare time, and this year is, hopefully, my last one. My finals were a stressful time, and I just finished with them last week, so I think I'm back rather timeously. Now, on to more important information:

Having never taken such a long break, I didn't know I could have so many ideas, given time. Therefore, I don't think this will be the final chapter, after all. I'm still contemplating the possibilities, but for now I think I'll just you an idea. Harry may find his way to a new world. I'm thinking of making my own for now, so please no suggestions yet. It's still taking shape in my head, but I've got a doozy of a plan in the works that I'm really excited to write.

Thank you all for your continued support, and look out for updates on this story, because if I start a new story, I'll likely still add an update here. I may even write a proper epilogue here, first.