Harry examined his cards. The projection display of what could be occurring in the official match did not align to what he held – which meant the Fools Brigade clause applied. Glamours on the cards themselves would alter their values every thirty seconds, until the next phase. Turning, he activated the Wireless, listening as the breathless announcer whispered card values. While old-fashioned, the Wireless was dependable.
According to the reporter, Lord Granger’s representative just smiled, biding his time. In hand, the cards flipped values, drawing gasps from the audience as they shifted from the Dead Man’s Hand – well known even in the Wizarding community – to the Piano Keys. Values clicked across the tiny images, sorting its compendium into yet more values.
Harry nodded to himself. Each player had three minutes to make their next wager; which would lock in the values at the moment the wager was made. Speaking could trigger another numeric shift, if the player had fulfilled the required parameters before that point. Such things changed every game, rendering an enormous number of variables to coincide for any would-be card counters. That is – any normal card counters.
Lady Granger’s hands flew across the keyboard, text matching her pace on the computer screen. Without looking she spoke up. “Fifty percent probability, changing to thirty. Next shift?”
The cards flickered in Harry’s hands as he adjusted the Charms holding the Glamours in place. Listening to the radio, he altered their value again.
“Sonneret, Ace and nine.”
Clicking keys responded. Her voice rose to an almost screeching height. “Ninety percent! Do it!”
Harry twirled the ring around his finger, feeding power in rapid-fire pulses. A second later, cool metal warmed to the touch. His teeth bared themselves without thought.
Hermione felt the power flow in her ring. One of the Gnomes glared at her, Improper Use runes glowing on his tablet. “Heiress Granger, if you are intending to –“
She brought herself up in the true Pureblood manner, Slytherin crest prominently displayed below the Granger crest on her robes. “Bankkaufmann Rolf, if you intend to accuse me of cheating, I suggest you first be very sure of yourself.”
The short being’s sharp ears turned a darker shade of green. His face, however, remained impassive.
“Duly noted, Heiress Granger. However, I am compelled to remind you that any sign of malfeasance in our sacred halls will be met with absolute reprisal, Section Five, Part Three sub-section twelve, Paragraph Seven.”
Hermione gave her sweetest smile. “But of course Bankkaufmann. Just as I am compelled to notify you that an unfounded accusation will be met in accordance to the Compensation Clause. I direct your attention to Paragraph Five.”
The gnome’s impassive face didn’t change, but the shadows surrounding his body grew sharper. The renowned viciousness of a wronged goblin once had been the fear of nations, but the cruelty of an insulted gnome knew no bounds.
Meanwhile, down on the dais, her father slapped his cards down. A charmed field enveloped the cards, freezing their value in place, edges sparkling as the randomizing agent failed to activate. The dealer turned to the next player, whom scowled at the muggle Lord. With a sneer that nearly reached Snape levels, he studied the cards dealt, and slipped them into the stasis field himself.
Hermione spared a glance at the coruscating field of sparks that appeared, altering every value Lord Helspin attempted to save. By her calculations, there had been less than a five percent chance of randomization, but the probabilities of both her father and the professional card player’s hands receiving the odds in sequence like that? Less than a quarter of that. Lower, if the previous two players were incorporated within the variables.
She didn’t notice when the gnome stalked away, his tiny two-foot height drawn as tall is he could make it. Instead, her hand gently stroked Freekey’s ears, rubbing the short fur.
Cards shimmered in Harry’s hand. He discarded one, selecting a replacement from the open array spread across the table before him. “Deuces high,” he commented aloud. “Is that good?”
Lady Granger squinted at his hand. “Can be,” she mused. “If he gets another, he’ll have the minimum for a winning hand, if he gets another of higher value. Joker would be best, but an Ace or King would work too.”
Harry shook his head. “How did you learn all of this? We’ve been through five separate rule sets, and at least that many variations!”
A whirring sound drew his attention, emanating from her hands. He looked up, to see Lady Granger’s fingers nimbly shuffling a set of cards. “How do you think Dan and I paid for everything in Uni? Scholarships don’t cover everything you know, and it’s not like we were secret agents with unlimited funding or anything.” The cards froze in Harry’s hands. That would explain a few things. Not to mention she’d left an obvious caveat possible ….
“And Lord Granger draws an Ace of Clubs,” the announcer intoned, voice hushed as if the privacy charms surrounding the booth were about to fail. “Combined with the pair of twos, he has the makings of a very strong hand indeed. Lord Granger is making this a very fine round indeed, despite his unfortunate background.”
Harry noticed the cards flex under pressure in Emma’s hands. Her eyes locked on a point somewhere on the far wall, vaguely towards the East. “You get ‘em, Danny.”
He felt a little embarrassed.
Alexandra Black, safely Polyjuiced, counted down the seconds in her head. Too early weakened the entire endeavour, reducing their odds of success. Too late would be worse, scuttling their chances almost entirely. The countdown accelerated as she saw the Malfoys enter the chamber; High Stakes rounds were the most popular form of gambling, for obvious reasons. According to the lists of unwelcome guests, the Malfoys were not allowed to observe or participate, due to circumstances shrouded in enough red tape that even Lord Slytherin had been unable to decipher. However, they knew the Malfoys well enough to predict their appearance: Malfoys loved to demonstrate power, or at least the appearance of power, if it suited their purposes.
High-stakes gambling, in a stronghold of their opponents, with the ability to make bets on betting? Malfoy wealth would easily stand a wager or two. Or so they thought.
Alex rose from her seat, still watching the clock, only the centre of which was visible to Muggles. The clock tower gate held unusual properties she would have loved to study if there had been more time, but ironically, that was precisely what she lacked. Quickening her pace just a hair under noticeable, she made her way to the betting table. She could see the Malfoys out of the corner of her eye, ostentatiously filling out the massive gold-coloured charts, and marking down numeric values.
“Card, please?” the gnome at the teller station was much friendlier than the one that had attempted accosting Hermione in the game’s observation lounge. He still watched her, Alex could tell by the raised hairs on her neck. It made her Black blood boil, that a friend of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin would be subject to such indignities. There were older houses, the Drakon and Julian families of Central Europe, and there were truly ancient family lines going back beyond records in China. But even in Switzerland, a country known for frequent visitors of auspicious parentage, the Slytherin name was considered powerful and old.
She forced her attention to the present, pretending to study the reports scrolling across the projection behind the teller’s desk.
The card twirled between her fingers, sealed by the official Zurich symbol. “Here. Beard for the chaulk, parlay for the Final.”
The gnome didn’t blink an eye, until the card unfolded in her hand. Then her eyes bulged. “A-are you certain? This is a … formidable quantity.”
A superior smile smirked across her face. Lord Slytherin had accurately predicted this response, and prepared accordingly. Months of planning would pay off in a matter of seconds, “Here.”
Parchment, folded over in a hasty action, passed hands. The material was too thick for hasty movement; and the seal within perfectly emulated the Malfoy Coat of Arms. Two dragons faced a shield with the green-and-black colours, Latin inscription coiled along its base: Purity Will Always Conquer. Moreover, it had been affixed to the parchment by an ostracized, but not rejected, squib. If one looked hard enough, and approved it through the correct channels, almost anything could be accomplished.
The gnome studied the crest carefully, before calling over her superior. This gnome studied the crest through a monocle, scowling fiercely. Finally, he gave a sharp nod. “Correct. Blood verified through intent. A trifle Dark –“ He glanced up, a hairsbreadth too slow to cut himself off.
Alex waved a hand depreciatively, inwardly squealing like a child. “Well, they are the Malfoys. Dark is their political leanings of choice, after all.” Relieved the banker bobbed a short nod. “I will process this immediately, will there be other bets?”
She let an easy grin slide across her face. “Of course. This is the place to have a friendly flutter, no?”
Just as she walked away, Alex could see Malfoy Senior finishing his card. Technically, his second card, but that wouldn’t be evident until long after she was gone.
For the first time, she began to understand her father’s fascination with pranking. It was like a scam, putting a scheme under her opponent’s feet, and reaping benefits without the danger.
Ten long minutes passed, forcing Alex to undergo the painful rituals of drinking the free beverages, eating the provided snacks, and watching the Plan unfold. It wasn’t exactly the worst task she’d had to undergo; necromancy forced some – unsavoury practices, after all.
Then, it happened. Alex watched the Gnomes march up to Hermione, gesturing at her to follow them. The curly-haired brunette visibly protested before acceding to their commands, the monkey perched on her shoulder like a deformed parrot. Part of her longed to charge in wand blazing, but her role was clear.
Moving at a languid pace, she made her way across the forum. People she did not know nodded to her in a familiar fashion. That was dangerous; she’d worn that skin long enough – time to don another face.
The restroom was shielded as all others in the Gnome stronghold. Balancing privacy with security was a never-ending cycle; too much of one negated the other. So long as she remained a card-bearing individual of importance, her own privacy was moderately good. As soon as she became a suspect, however, that privacy would vanish.
In one of the stalls, Alex downed a negating potion, purging the Polyjuice from her system. It tasted wretched, like something burned in the oven, fried in rancid butter, and covered in spices an attempt to hide the flavour. Grimacing, she performed a Breath Freshening Charm, removing the taste if not the memory. The next Polyjuice keyed to a different bookie tasted more flavorful, like mint on garlic. Not that the flavour meant anything now – she was uniquely suited amongst all the members of Lord Slytherin’s people for withstanding odd sensations of the palate.
She grew upwards once more, this time her clothes too tight in the other direction. Straining, she managed to unbutton her blouse before the buttons burst, pulling a new one from her bag. It, plus more clothing, changed her appearance from an individual dressed as a Malfoy retainer to the free-agent colours. Black and yellow were not her colours, but would suffice for the duration of the scam. Alex drew a breath, then swept her way out. A proper sweeping motion took presence, training, and above all, attitude. A Black had a right to the first, access to the second, and personified the last.
She accosted the first Gnome teller she could find, not quite the actions of a desperate bookie, but an eager neophyte. She gave the little man a dazzling smile. “Hello, I am here to place several bets for the Lord Granger.
The gnome gave her a polite smile – in that regard, they were far better than goblins who were as likely to stab you as smile. “Madame, I am afraid that you might want to hold onto that bet. You see, Heiress Granger has just been taken into custody for attempting to subvert the Official Processes.”
Alex chuckled – giggled really, but the larger throat deepened the sound. “I know. But if I were you, I would not bet against Lord Granger. Ever.”
The computer hummed, crunching more numbers in a single moment than a hundred wizards could hope to finish in a year. Perhaps the end results could be divined by the most intelligent representatives of their race, but that would require methods banned by the ICW centuries before. Fortunately.
“Bid high, on a King.” Lady Granger threw propriety out the window, almost screaming at the man whom technically was her superior.
Harry pulsed more power through his ring. It struck him that rings were a popular item amongst Wizards, but as of yet, none granted powers of invisibility. Perhaps he could get the Twins to research that angle? A Doom line of production? Later, he’d think about it later. “Sent.”
A maniacal chuckle reverberated from Emma’s direction. “Take that you sanctimonious, unwashed bastards!”
Harry watched Emma continue typing, listening as the Wireless announcer commented on yet another amazing ploy by Lord Granger. He wasn’t worried; nothing could phase him. But the cackling woman sitting in a chair outright scared him.
Hermione watched the Malfoys resume their seats, several minutes after Alex had resumed hers. The polyjuice would last another fifteen minutes; a good thing there was enough on hand for another five hours. Variables included a possible necessity for blood verification of the bookie, which would have required the usage of blood willingly given from the Malfoy’s normal bets-arranger. A simple Confundus for time perception, and a paid vacation in the Azores, and the position had been rendered permeable.
She had to hold back a smirk. Blood drives were considered barbaric to Wizards; who in their right mind would willingly give something of so much power? The gnome appeared again, glaring at her just as her ring pulsed. He leaned closer, veritably hissing in her face. “If you interfere with the Privacy Wards one more time, you will be detained for private investigation.”
Hermione matching him, irritation plain. “For the record: I, Heiress Hermione Jane Granger, am not interfering in any way, shape, or form, with the Security of the Gnomes.”
Dark eyes stared into hers, promising violent retribution. “We shall see.” She kept her feet flat against the floor, smiling the vacant, pleasant grin incumbent of her position. The gnome snorted, stomping off, the very image of restrained fury. If it weren’t for his two-foot height, it would have been vaguely intimidating – even so, the pointed cap spelt disaster if she imagined it red, and a white beard curling around his tiny chin.
Where had the muggle world learned of Garden Gnomes? It wreaked havoc with her concentration, imagining the little man in different garb.
Popping sounds summoned her attention to the main dais, her father had pulled off another spectacular win. The security detail Harr – Lord Slytherin had arranged stood at attention on each corner, wands holstered, but ready at a moment’s notice. The more staid guardians wielded battle-staves, adherents to the older Scandinavian line of combat, perfect counterpoints with the faster wand-wielders.
Power and flexibility, mercenaries with good reputations for quick action. Her father practically bounced from the gaming table, pushing forwards, hand outstretched. Of the other players only Lord Krum, a lower noble from the Bulgarian sub-nation deigned to return the gesture. Hermione carefully noted each individual that spurned the offer of friendship, memorizing each name. One hand slipped a new morsel to Freekey, who stood un0characteristically still. “Helgin, Burke, and Rathbone.”
The New World monkey, initially a popular feature of the photographers, nodded once. Then it seized the grape from her hand, devouring it in three bites. Canines, the envy of any vampire, glimmered in the obscure lighting. It chittered, stopping in disgust.
Hermione nodded silent agreement. Purebloods were an improper variable; so easy to predict, but difficult to manipulate. They did it to themselves so often it was like breathing; how could an outsider hope to compete? Unless they had insider information, the effort was pointless.
Freekey chittered at her, a warning squeak. The Gnomes were approaching once more.
Harry tensed. The entire venture hinged on a single action. Had he read the players alright? Were there enough variables added to the calculations?
Shuffling cards rippled across the table. Lady Granger toyed with the individual bits of enchanted material, parlaying them into separate stacks. “Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades,” she muttered under her breath. Under her fascinated gaze the cards danced into pyramids, flipping upwards against the laws of gravity “I tell you, Harry, if we’d had these cards back in the day, we could have paid off our loans in half the time.”
“Good thing you didn’t, then.” Harry tried to remain calm. He knew what she was doing, and appreciated the effort at normalcy. “Magical Artifacts would have been sent after you. Maybe given a big fine. They’ll be keeping an eye on you after today, if possible.”
A smirk crossed Emma’s face. She flicked a card across the room at the fruit bowl, burying its corner in an orange. “There are so many wards set up here, even I can see them. Dan’s been going crazy with that Wards book; he set up a variable runeset, alternating runic schemes between usage.”
That caught his attention. “He did what?”
“Alternating runic schemes,” Emma caught a card by the edge, slipping it back into the deck before making it pop out again from a random location. “You know, separate warding patterns, but activated in different degrees? Say, if three people approach the Mansion three seconds apart, the first one will trigger the Flaming Pants schematic, and the second one will get the Random Teleport setting. Clever, I thought, and Dan’s been looking through everything he can find to add a sparkle effect.”
Harry’s face could have been used in a dictionary to define surprise. “That’s … not supposed to be possible.”
“Oh.” Emma considered the deck of cards, and set it down. Reaching forward, she slipped a Joker out of Harry’s ear. “Guess that’s another patent then? We’re starting a collection. Dan wants to build a little fort out of the certificates.” Harry shook his head, then cocked an ear to the Wireless. It was beginning. He raised his hand, preparing to send another burst.
“Heiress Hermione Granger,” the gnome sat on a wooden throne, set upon a dais high enough to look down on a giant. Acoustics, designed for perfection, carried his small voice all the way down to her ears. “You are accused of attempting to subvert the Privacy Wards of three Platinum-Grade guests. You will surrender your magical artefacts and submit to interrogation.”
Hermione followed the protocol she’d memorized, and placed a hand on her chest. “I protect my belongings, and myself. What grounds do you bring, and what proof do you have to accost me?”
Gnomes wielding the strange half-sword, half-staff weapons their people carried became more wary. Enacting the older protections indicated stronger protections; she knew their Curse Breakers could break the protections on her belongings, but it was the difference between an amicable buyout and a hostile takeover, with dragons. Just as they’d predicted.
Behind her, Freekey fought the gnomes. They’d made a mistake in attempting to pull him off her shoulder – it had leapt at them, teeth gnashing, tiny claws gripping at their equally small throats. No one noticed a pouch, dark brown like its fur, slide off the monkey’s back and skid under a bench.
In that lack of perception, no one additionally noticed the fire-red salamander emerge, change colouration to match the black marble floor, and begin to run with a pouch on its back.
Hermione brought her focus back to the front; her wandless capabilities were strong enough to subdue at least a handful of gnomes, she was certain, but no one wanted to turn the entire Gnome Society into an enemy. There were better ways of fighting – and she was engaged in a different kind of warfare.
“König Zwergishtein,” she managed to correctly pronounce the last word, “While it is true I have received messages through my Ring, those messages have nothing to do with the Tournament. Rather, I have been set as the message recipient for several emergency communications, should the need arise, and their tests were imperative for the well-being of our business ventures.”
The little gnome leaned forwards, a grin lighting up his face. “Well then, please translate what the messages have said. Repeat them, if you can.”
Confidence filling her once more, Hermione flicked the Ring to a visible spectrum, and fed power into its width.
Almost immediately, power fed back, alternating long and short bursts. “My Lord Slytherin bids you greetings, and his compliments on your excellent security measures,” she translated.
A tiny eyebrow raised. “Lord Slytherin communicates with you directly? A – Muggle-born, I believe you English say?”
“He has seen fit to induct me and my family as under his protection, yes,” Hermione answered. “Perhaps you would like to ask him a question? Something only you and he would know?”
The gnome pursed his lips. “I am not privy to such information. The Lord Slytherin has not granted the Society the favour of his presence.”
Hermione felt an expression more at home on a shark’s mien spread across her face. “Then perhaps you would like me to arrange a meeting? Face to face?”
The room went still. Eyes from the various courtiers whipped in her direction. The enthroned gnome stared.
Faint chuckles emanated from the top of the dais. Hermione’s heartbeat quickened; this was the part unforeseeable. Those sometimes known as the Unseelie were … unpredictable, at best.
“You would arrange it?” The crown became visible, an elegant affair made of some unknown, blue-tinted metal. “Would the Lord Slytherin be so daring as to make a mockery of the Tournament?”
Hermione lowered her arm, a letter dropping from the hidden pocket in her sleeve. “My Lord Slytherin foresaw that you might be interested in opening lines of communication. If that happened, I was instructed to give you this letter, and his compliments.”
The gnome continued chuckling. “A very clever human, your Slytherin is. Someone, bring me the letter!”
The envelope whisked out of her hand, leaving Hermione to count down the seconds. She needed to buy time. That was her role; gnomes loved words almost as much as the Sphinxes, and while Luna might have been the better choice for plying the Little Folk, she had a different task. Besides, to a Gnome, contracts were a source of endless enjoyment, almost as much as befuddling humans. Not all the old tales were incorrect.
Tense seconds ticked by. She could see the small leader going over the letter, line by line. Behind her, the monkey was still squabbling with the gnomes, but it seemed to be more of an agreeable disagreement. The guards tried to get close, it would bound around them. Given its mass approximating perhaps half of their body weight, it seemed to be having an enjoyable time.
Minutes began to pass. First five, then ten. Hermione was relieved at not needing to use her preciously hoarded arguments, but the unpredictable nature of the interaction did not reassure her.
Fifteen minutes later, the letter snapped shut. “Very well. I will meet with this Lord Slytherin at his requested time. I anticipate an engaging exchange at that time. Guards! Have you not subdued that creature yet?”
One of the guards landed on his back, Freekey sitting squarely on his face for a moment. “Sire – uff!”
Hermione gestured at the monkey. It immediately bounded to her leg, and climbed up to her shoulder, somewhat clumsily. She pursed her lips. “I hope they did not hurt you, did those mean people hurt you little one?”
Freekey chittered at her, making faces at the same time. Its protruding eyes bulged even further, before receding.
Quickly, Hermione rubbed it between the ears. “There there, I have you.” She turned her attention to the throne once more. “Thank you for your time; may I return to watching my father? He is in the Final challenge.”
The little gnome laughed. “But of course! The Muggle Lord of Mages is providing quite a bit of entertainment. I’ll be able to sell recordings of this to half of Europe after the Tournament!”
Thumping from a wardrobe broke Harry’s concentration. His wand leapt from the table to his hand before he flung the door open.
Ginny Weasley blinked at the light. “Ow, bright.”
Harry gathered the gear he’d arrayed just for the occasion. “Everything is in place?”
“Yeth,” Ginny spat at the floor. “Ugh, dirt. When did they last clean the Vault? It had to –“
“Ginny!” Harry stood, poised at the door. “Are you ready?”
The red-haired girl spat at the floor once more. “Blech. Yes.”
Harry vanished into the wardrobe’s depths without a word, leaving the girl to scraping at her tongue with her fingers.
“Here dear, use this.” A glass of water appeared by her hand.
It almost teleported to her mouth, spilling part of its contents en route. “Oh, thanks, Lady Granger!”
The Wireless came to life once more. “Lord Granger has entered the dais for the Final Match! Will the Muggle Lord be able to pull off one more win? Or will he suffer defeat at the very end? Stay tuned, don’t cast that charm!”
Emma cracked her knuckles, resuming her seat. “Very good. Let’s get ‘em, girl.” Ginny set the glass down, and grabbed her Ring with one hand. “Just give me the word.
The wardrobe door opened to pure darkness. Harry didn’t dare activate a light, the interior of the Vault could have any number of sensitive wards. His Cloak protected him from most charms, but even then, with it draped over the wardrobe, it was one of the riskiest moves they were making that day.
Levitating the rune stones around the wardrobe by memory alone, Harry sat down to channel power. Instead of a single Fidelius, this particular event needed an additional Space-Folding charm; small spaces could be crossed by enough gnomes holding hands, which would betray the Fidelius without any magic used. Adding the Space-Folding condition rendered that particular approach useless, and required minimal additional power.
He concentrated for fifteen minutes, taking the time to ensure every last mote of runic inscription was fully charged. It would be just his luck to fill a rune stone with a partial charge, and have it fail at a critical moment.
After the charge was given, Harry waited another five minutes, listening. It would have been better to spread the effort across the span of days, or even months, but the Tournament guaranteed the most distraction. Few enough actually visited the Vaults, making the Fidelius possible, but the power fluctuations caused by the actual charm drew attention like moths to flame. Only someone with Sorcerer-levels of power and control could maintain the concentration necessary for keeping the ‘noise’ as it were, inconsequential.
Harry had to laugh at himself. Here he was, Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Actually-Lived, with Lord Voldemort’s memories, charged by Fate and Death themselves, robbing a bank.
There were worse jobs, he had to admit.
Waiting period over, Harry opened the wardrobe door the rest of the way. Safe inside the Fidelius, he risked a Night-Vision charm.
Stacks of gold ingots came into view, sorted into orderly rows, unlike the Goblin penchant for creating raw piles. The stacks rose out of sight, pillars of wealth rising to the ceiling. Harry felt the urge to rub his hands together, cackling madly. The urge was resisted, by a gnat’s eyelash.
Deeper in the Vault, Harry could see other metals stacked by the carboy. Silver bars lined the further regions in honeycombed stacks, and he could feel the power of that rarest of metals, mithril, coming from even further back.
Glee written all over his features, Harry settled down to close examination of the protective enchantments surrounding the interior of the Vault. Almost immediately he found what he needed: a tiny scratch mark in the nearest section of floor, turning ehwaz into glin, silencing the warning portion of the rune scheme. The space provided by that tiny, tiny error was less than three feet across, but it lay directly in front of the wardrobe door, eliminating the chance of contact detection.
A thought struck, freezing his motions. The Gnomes were paranoid, to the point of nearly matching the legendary Grandmaster Auror Moody. It was very possible that such a marking could have been deliberate, a way to maintain a record of the Vault’s interior, just in case of such an attempt as he was making. Simple, effective, it was something he’d do in their stead.
Harry shrugged. It was an easy fix. Just scratch out another ehwaz in the next pattern, set up a second Fidelius, and take down the first.
Reaching into his bag, Harry pulled out the Granger’s portable engraving iron – literally created of iron untouched by magic – and set to work.
Alex maintained her composure. The pulses had gone through her ring, but the second ring inhibiting the output worked. A gnome guard walked past her, his detection tablet faintly glowing for a moment, but not enough to draw the little being’s attention.
On the main dais, Lord Granger gave his opponents a cheerful smile, flourishing his cards with expert skill. None of them responded, except for the dealer, a professional Veela, chosen for her skill and heritage.
She glanced through her programme. Details about each of the players were written throughout the parchment’s pages. The gnomes had included data on the various traditional exercises, why they only used Veela for their table dealers – officially – and more. Alex was suspicious at all the information freely given, if she didn’t know that half of it was outright lies and misdirection.
The best way to strengthen a lie is to add truth. Lord Black had taught her that. Her respect for the Gnomes grew. It wasn’t even illegal, as the very front page of the programme stated the content wielded commonly held knowledge; nothing was guaranteed, or promised to be truthful. Muggle techniques operated on a similar fashion, she’d been told by Hermione; a single by-line negated lawsuits for dozens of inane reasons. The Gnomes had learned well.
“Lord Granger holds the Dead Man’s Hand,” a mellow voice announced to the crowd. “Not the best sign for the Muggle Lord.”
Tension in the audience was already keyed to a high point. Various high-powered wizards held court in their own corners, followers or sycophants arrayed at their tables like miniature armies situated at their feet. Alex maintained her position in the Neutral territory; oddly fitting given her Lord’s predilection for Gray, and her own Black reputation. She had to stifle a giggle.
One of the players dropped his cards in disgust. Lord Gregorovic, an internationally famous member of the famed wand maker’s family, was a cunning player. Consolation prizes were well and good, but the massive sum guaranteed to the Final winner dwarfed all of the consolation prizes combined.
“Lord Gregorovic concedes his hand for this round, but there are two more rounds!” the announcer echoed her thoughts. “And – Lord Helwyn also concedes. Lord Granger seems confident; does he know that Lady Adalwin holds two aces? If she receives one more card higher than a Joker, she’ll win this hand, and Lord Granger will lose just over three million galleons!”
Alex’s palms grew clammy in an instant. Three million galleons? When had they started playing with that kind of money? Most tournaments reached that point only after being propped up by old families with a grudge!
She glanced around the room, noting every position, and understood. Families, Old Families, were making a point with their pocketbook. In one corner, the Drakon family representative held court; vampires held enough time on their hands to watch long-term interests unfold for centuries.
In another corner, she could see an Italian representative, one of the Families. Alex squinted harder, disguising the action by rubbing the bridge of her nose. No, he represented an entire group of Family, judging by the white bar on his upper arm denoting neutrality. The white bar was only given to intermediaries between rival factions in the Families, and just one Family line could bankrupt a small nation if they chose.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the judges have made a surprise decision. In an event not seen in half a century, a game that all of the old players will know will count for both Round Two and Round Three! According to the Rules of Play, first compiled by Archduke Magellan before his famous trip around the world, the players will have thirty minutes to draw and arrange their cards. Special card decks, unsealed since their creation by none other than Zauberer der Küste himself, will be donated to each player. I give you Round two: Basilisks and Law-givers, Constantinople rules!”
Alex stiffened. This was an old game, there was no muggle equivalent. Each card represented a champion, and spells or equipment meant to strengthen that individual. In the Constantinople rules, once a player used a card, it could not be removed. Players tended to either become overly cautious, or aggressive. Only a supremely skilled individual could retain the confidence – why was Lord Granger laughing? Didn’t he know how serious the matter was?
She winced at the potential pun her father loved so much.
“Round one is down,” Ginny folded the cards back into their original stack, handing it to Lady Granger. Emma received the cards, shuffling them without a thought. Life was long
Then, she heard the next round. “Basilisks and Law-givers? Why did they put that in the Tournament? It hasn’t been used for over fifty years!”
A strange look was on Emma’s face. “Dear, is this game something like having a character fight monsters? Or other champions? With dice or some such” Ginny blinked. “Um, yes. Vaguely.”
Emma threw her head back and laughed. Not a mild chuckle, but full-blown laughter that came from the depths of her abdomen. It grew to the point where Plato appeared, mystified by her reaction. It wasn’t until the announcer began giving a rundown of the basic rules that Emma managed to calm herself to the point of rational conversation.
“Ginny dear,” she had to pause, wiping tears from her eyes. “My Dan is one of the biggest nerds that ever graduated with a medical degree. This game is very similar to something he played from Primary through University – and he was the Corpus Christi champion five times running. Those old boys probably haven’t picked up a set in years, while Dan ….”
Silently, Plato picked up on her unspoken thought and popped away, reappearing with a small figurine in hand.
Ginny took the thing, turning it over and over in her hands. It looked like a dwarf, an expression of ludicrous rage spread across its face. Intricate paintings depicted a coat-of-arms on its shield, a work of art so well done that even the sword looked sharp through its shading.
“Lord – I mean Dan – uses this?” Ginny set the surprisingly heavy piece on the table.
Emma touched it with one finger, rotating its base so the look of tiny fury pointed at the Wireless. “My Dan made this. Last month.”
They both listened, watching the Wireless as if it could somehow grant them knowledge by visual transfer. Ginny considered it a great pity there was no magical equivalent for Cable; she’d witnessed so many wonders through its miraculous operations. That was something she’d have to add to the list of projects; the Wizarding World needed a televised broadcast.
“Oh, they’re starting!” Emma perked up.
“Lord Granger has selected a champion. Given the time constraints, a normal building phase has been restricted to thirty minutes, enough time for expert creation, but will he know what to do?”
Ginny snorted. “They’re not even hiding it anymore. They want him to fail.”
Emma made no response, other than to groan theatrically. “Oh no, Dan is going to be so smug after this. I’ve been after him for years to grow up – and now this?”
“An interesting choice,” the commentator added helpfully. “Lord Gregorovic has selected the Ancient Mage as his champion, whilst Lord Helwyn chose the Elven Archer. Perhaps he’s looking to add to his Coven? It’s well-known that Lord Helwyn has been courting the Lady Ainippe, could this be a subtle gesture?”
“Subtle my left –“ Emma glanced at Ginny. “Back molar. He knew the announcer would pick it up, he’s been practically fawning over this Helwyn fellow the entire day. All week.”
Ginny shrugged. “Daphne might know better, but I think the announcer might be one of the associate families. He’s important enough to get funding, but not quite important enough to be considered worthy of true patronage.”
“The man’s disgusting!” Emma continued. “Philandering, misogynic, self-aggrandizing idiot of a wizard. How many of them are there?”
Shrugging, Ginny turned her ear back to the Wireless. Before she could focus, the wardrobe door opened, spilling one dusty wizard and an armful of shining brilliance.
“Harry!” She leapt to her feet, dashing to his side. “You did it!”
The dust-covered wizard dropped the armload of gold in a mighty clatter. “We did it, Ginny. All of us. How’s he doing so far?”
Emma picked up one of the golden ingots, turning it over in hand. “They figured they’d stump the outsider, and give him an obscure game that barely anyone knows. He’s beating their pants off at the moment, maybe he’ll stop toying with them in a few minutes, but they’ve been very – condescending to him.”
Harry pumped a fist. “We have to use the last charge?”
Ginny took that one. “No, they’ve been giving announcements every two minutes, and he hasn’t signalled once!”
“Good. Call everyone home. We need to be out of the line of fire before the fireworks start.” Harry reached for his ring, paused, then nodded at Ginny. “Would My Lady do the honours?”
Something in her tummy gave butterflies at the term. Ginny just smiled as widely as she could, and pulsed the signal through her Ring. It vibrated back acknowledgement, and a time estimate.
“Fifteen minutes for Hermione and Luna, five for Alex,” she reported. “What about Daphne? Where is she?”
Harry surprised her by setting down another pile of gold ingots; she hadn’t heard him leave or return. “She’s at a family gathering, working the Hogwarts crowd for side bets. By this time tomorrow, we’ll have enough promissory notes to make a mint.”
The gold ingots rose into orderly stacks, guided by House Elf magic. Ginny helped, keeping an ear on the radio. Less than ten minutes later, the Portkey alert rang throughout the Mansion. Seconds later, Alex’s unfamiliar form ran into the room. “Did it work? Do we –“
Ginny covered her ears as the full-volume squeal filled the room. It seemed out of character, but she supposed the girl had stored up the sounds over a lifetime of overly-enthusiastic self-control.
Several minutes later, Hermione’s portkey chimed. Freekey leapt into the room before Hermione could make it half-way through the hall, if the sound were any clue.
“Luna?” Ginny cocked her head at the monkey. It aped her movement, before jumping onto her waist, small paws grabbing everywhere. “No, wait! Stop! You – don’t grab me there!”
Harry returned through the wardrobe carrying another armful of ingots – a strange bluish colour this time. He stopped, dropping the pile of metal. Before the mass made contact with his foot, they froze, then shifted over to the other ingots, creating a new stack. “Luna? Are you all right?”
The monkey leapt to him, chattering at a furious pace. He stumbled back, hand reaching for the monkey’s neck. “Hang on, let me get this collar off you,” Freekey fought back, then submitted at his touch. Seconds later, the small hominid fluctuated, growing into the blonde-haired, blue-eyed form of Luna Lovegood. She stared at the ceiling, a dazed, happy smile on her face. “Thank you, Master. Please, may we do that again some time?”
Harry swallowed. Fortunately, Hermione entered, giving him a distraction. “Hermione, everything going well?”
The curly-haired brunette gave a cheer when she saw the gold, dashing over to give Harry a hug. She ignored Luna’s position on the floor. “Harry! It went exactly like you said! The Gnomes want to talk to you, I think Alex’s part went off well. The Malfoy’s will have to –“
Ginny cleared her throat. “Maybe we should wait until everyone’s here? We don’t want to do this more than once, right?”
Hermione blushed, finally letting go. “Oh. Right.”
[Slytherin Island, later]
Daniel Granger, MD, PhD and card player extraordinaire, settled into his chair with a heavy sigh. “So. What did we just do? I get that you didn’t want us to know beforehand, that Legal-romance thing. But can I know now?”
Harry leaned back in the throne of gold he’d constructed. It would likely be the only time he could make it possible, but it was well worth it. “You won House Granger over fifteen million galleons. That, plus the adaption to the Mirror Communications system will make sure your house is well-respected for years to come.”
“Yeah,” Dan reached down, tenderly rubbing the underside of his foot. “But the vibrations really buzzed my feet. Did you have to install it in my shoe?” “Dragon leather blocks magic,” Harry shrugged. “With the Mirror in your shoe, using you as the conduit was the only possible choice. I doubt anyone will ever figure that out this century.”
Emma took her husbands foot into her lap, rubbing it slowly. “It better not. I think I’m giving him foot rubs every night for a year now, thanks to that darn game.”
Clearing his throat, Harry moved on. “The Malfoy bet will transfer all of their Goblin-made items to the Goblins. Given how old the Malfoy family is, they won’t have as many as say, the Blacks, but it should be a respectable number. Ginny’s excellent work as a salamander—“
“I named that form Atom,” Ginny interjected. “He’s my newt.”
Harry stared at her for a moment, then gave a long-suffering sigh. “Atom then, managed to bring the Travelling wardrobe to the inner Vault, after Luna delivered her to a safe location.”
“Wearing my Master’s collar,” Luna’s dreamy voice added. “I felt his power over me at every moment. I can’t wait until we can make babies together.”
Clearing his throat more loudly, Harry pushed further, ignoring Dan’s amused look and Hermione’s red face. “With the Malfoys distracted by the Goblins, and seeing this as punishment from Voldemort, I’ll gain ground in the Wizengamot. The gold will pay off my debts to the Goblins, your winnings will set you up as a powerful family, and the balance of power will start shifting a little sooner than we anticipated. A good job all the way around.”
Emma nudged Dan’s leg with one arm. “And you said we wouldn’t need to play cards after Uni.”
Part II Edit
Part II can be found here: Card Game II Omake
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