On Archive of Our Own
On Twisting the Hellmouth
V: Carmen Avis!
Diana noticed an oddly unattractive woman in her forties or fifties enter the cathedral, wearing a black twin-set and a hair-bow instead of a hat, who had the look of someone who has smelled something bad but is trying not to mention it. Her clothes went badly with her complexion and features. She was accompanied by a tall red-headed man in his twenties wearing an old-fashioned looking suit. There was something familiar about him, and after a moment Diana realized that he looked like an older version of Ron. Possibly a wizard, which might mean that the woman was a witch. Ron hadn't said much about his family; the man didn't look old enough to be his father, maybe a cousin or older brother. They were ushered to a pew three rows ahead of Diana, and she kept an eye on them as the last guests took their seats. In a momentary lull before the service began she heard the woman start to say something about "awful muggles" then stop as she realized that nobody else was talking. The red-head looked embarrassed, the woman just looked peeved. Hypothesis confirmed.
During the service Diana thought about talking to them, but there really wasn't much point. The little she'd heard suggested that the woman probably wasn't on Harry's side, and she didn't know enough about either of them to risk it. At the end of the service they got up to leave, and for the first time Diana noticed the man who had been sitting next to them, a blond in his forties with nicotine-stained fingers. They met in the aisle.
"Hello John, it's been a while. How on earth did you wrangle an invitation?"
John Constantine grinned. "Bird I met clubbing the other night said I needed to be here and gave me an invite. God knows where she nicked it from, but I thought it might be worth a shot. How about you?"
"I'm an old friend of the family. But I do have some business for you if you're interested."
They made their way outside, and resumed the conversation once they were clear of the crowd. "Did you notice the people sitting next to you on your right?"
"Know anything more specific?"
"The frog-faced bint is big in their toy government, didn't know the other one."
"Heard any rumours about them lately?"
"Some sort of coup, last I heard. Old Dumbledore's bought it, and the death eaters are back in a big way. Triumph of evil, etcetera etcetera. Really tempted to summon up a demon or two and let them loose to show the arseholes what real evil's about."
"Better not. What about Harry Potter?"
"Hero type allegedly, never met the poor bastard."
"The Endless are taking an interest in him."
"Oh bloody hell... Which one?"
"Death definitely, probably some of the others."
"Wonderful. So you're helping him?"
"What gave you that idea?"
"C'mon, Princess, I know you. Always helping the underdog."
"Want to lend a hand?"
"Probably not a good idea, love. That boy's got all sorts of destiny riding on his shoulders, with my luck I'd screw things up for him if I get seriously involved. Plus I'm pretty sure you're all the help he needs."
"Well, if you're sure... Could you help me out with some information, at least, a couple of addresses?"
"Sure. What do you want to know?"
"Is this going to work?" asked Ron.
"I don't see why not." Hermione stared at the tent, which they'd set up in Diana's basement, and set up a magical light to make it look like there was sunshine outside. "There's nothing in there to say where we really are, and the wards on this house plus the ones on the tent should make it impossible to detect our location."
"What about noise?"
"The mufliato spell I cast on the room will keep out the traffic noise."
"That's not what I meant. Shouldn't there be... well, wind, and birds, that sort of thing?"
"Good point," said Harry. "Carmen avis!" Some small cartoon-ish birds materialised and began to chirp. "They ought to keep going for an hour or so."
"Ginny likes them."
Hermione giggled. "If you do it again make sure they don't make a mess of her dress. She wasn't very happy last time."
"She never said anything!"
"Of course not, it was sweet of you to make them for her, and it took her a while to notice the stains. Just... maybe next time a little less anatomical accuracy, they don't actually eat so there's no need for... the other end."
"Balls. Okay, thanks for the warning."
"Are we ready to do this?"
"I am," said Harry, "But Ron, you'd better stay out of it, you're still supposed to be ill at home. You can eavesdrop with an extendable ear, keep it down at floor level and the portrait won't see it."
"Okay. Anything I can do to help from outside?"
"Can you moo like a cow?"
Ron stared at him, then said "Moo," extremely unconvincingly.
"Never mind, it was just a thought. Just stir up the birds a bit if they seem to be about to start singing in chorus."
Hermione stared at him. "You really did steal the idea from Disney, didn't you?"
"Well... maybe, just a little. They shouldn't do it if Ginny isn't around."
"And thanks for the vote of confidence, Ron. Just keep them sounding natural."
"I can do that. Good luck!"
"Thanks!" Harry and Hermione went inside the tent, carefully shut the flaps, and made sure that there was nothing visible that might dispel the illusion that they were camping out somewhere.
"I think it's OK," said Harry. "Do you want to do the honours?"
"OK." She opened her bag, saying "Maybe he'll know what's happening in Hogwarts," groped around for a moment, and pulled out the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black they'd taken from Grimmauld Place. In the portrait Black seemed to be asleep, but Harry thought he saw one eye open slightly.
"Professor Black? Headmaster? Can we talk, please?"
The portrait stopped feigning sleep. "Do you have anything worthwhile to say, Potter?"
"We wanted to check that you're all right, and ask what's happening in Hogwarts. We thought your portrait there would know."
"Term has started, of course. The new headmaster is maintaining good order." They questioned him for several minutes, listening in horror to his version of good order, maintained by Death Eaters and frequent curses.
"Is Professor Snape in his office at the moment?"
"Do you know if he received an owl from me today?"
"Yes, I believe so. He seemed to be somewhat annoyed."
"Do you know if he's discussed it with Professor Dumbledore's portrait?"
"That would be between the Headmaster and Professor Dumbledore."
"Could we speak to Dumbledore? Can you call him to your frame or something so that we can ask him?"
"Only to my portrait in Hogwarts. Or my portrait there might visit Dumbledore's frame and pass on a message."
Hermione said "We were hoping that the Headmaster might have discussed Harry's message with Dumbledore, and that Dumbledore or the Headmaster might have some advice for us. Would it be possible for you to ask him?"
"Very well." Black walked out of the frame, and was gone for several minutes. Eventually he came back into view. "The Headmaster has not spoken to Professor Dumbledore today. Dumbledore suggests that you try later; if the matter raised required the attention of Mister Riddle, Professor Snape would have to deal with him first."
"Okay. We're probably going to have to move soon, we'll contact you again tonight or tomorrow."
Hermione put the portrait back into her bag, which was charmed to be soundproof, and carefully closed it, then let out a relieved "phew!"
"Right! Think he guessed anything?"
"Hope not. Let me just make some notes. Give Ron the all-clear and get rid of those bloody birds!"
After the service Diana went back to her hotel, changed into a conservatively-cut dress, put on the feather-trimmed cloak she'd worn in Paris for the ritual to summon Hades, pinned and belted to look like stylish robes, tucked the wand she'd taken the previous evening into her sleeve, and walked back to the Leaky Cauldron, this time undisguised. There were a few more customers, all of them eyed her suspiciously as she approached the bar and said "Un whisky de feu s'il vous plait."
"Sorry, love, I don't speak French. Was that a fire-whisky? Ogdens all right?"
"Pardon, monsieur, my English is not good. Oui... yes, a fire-whisky. Ogdens is bon... good." She put a couple of galleons on the counter.
Tom poured her one, and she swallowed it and belched. "Another. And one for yourself."
"Thanks! Visiting from France, are you?"
"Oui. Pardon, yes, I visit Gringrotts, then I 'ave business with a British cousin. Is your cheminée.. ah, fireplace... a public floo?"
"Bon. And is there one in Hogsmeade?"
"The Three Broomsticks is the one most people use."
"Bon. Merci. Another!"
"Are you sure, miss?"
Diana put enough money on the bar to cover the drinks with a generous tip. "Oui!" She took it in another gulp, and exhaled toward one of the lanterns that lit the pub, igniting the fumes as a cloud of blue fire. "Now I am ready to talk to les gobelins. Keep the change."
She stood, went out to the back room, and tapped the wall with the stolen wand, taking care to touch it with a finger as she did so. The wall opened for her, and she went through to Diagon Alley.
The barmaid murmured "Blimey, Tom, those Frenchies can knock it back."
"When she comes back out remind me to sell her a hangover potion, she'll need it."
Diana walked to Gringrotts, nodded courteously to the goblin guards, and ignored the human guard who waved a probity probe at her; she wasn't carrying anything it was likely to recognize as magical, apart from the wand, let alone anything Dark. Inside she moved to one of the cashiers, a grey-haired goblin with a sour expression, and said "I need acccess to my vault but I don't have the key with me." She'd deliberately left it in the safe in her room, but there was no need to tell the cashier that.
"One moment." The goblin got a ledger, leafed through it, frowned, and eventually said "There's nothing here."
She lowered her voice. "The vault was set up in 1928, I haven't used it since the sixties."
"Hrmmm..." He went and found another ledger, and eventually found her details. "Vault number?"
She leaned closer and murmured "Themiscyra."
He handed her a printed form with the vault number and other details, and a quill which Diana sensed was magical. "Sign here please, the fee for a temporary key is two galleons, or five for a permanent replacement."
"Temporary, please, I know where I left the original."
She tried to sign, but the quill didn't seem to want to work. "I think that something's wrong."
"Hmmm... it needs a little of your blood, for some reason the spell isn't taking it."
"You're welcome to take a few drops."
The goblin took the pen back, sharpened it, and stabbed at her finger. The quill splintered, leaving her skin unmarked. The goblin's eyes widened a little. "You'll need to see the Head Goblin." He climbed down from his stool as the ledgers closed and padlocked themselves shut.
"If you have a goblin steel blade I can probably get some blood for you, there's no need to go to a lot of trouble." Even if it was exactly what she wanted them to do.
"Follow me." He lowered his voice. "This isn't just for identification, it's our standing instructions for certain clients in the present emergency."
Diana followed him to a large opulently-furnished office where another goblin was reading through a stack of papers, and waited as the first goblin whispered to the Head Goblin for a moment then left.
"Thank you for waiting," he said a moment later, closing his file. In Greek he went on "I'm Tonguetongs, Gringrotts' current Chief Goblin. Your Highness, Gringrotts is as always ready to provide service to all of our customers. However, in view of the current political situation we are advising certain favoured overseas customers to limit their exposure in the British wizarding economy."
"You're expecting a financial crisis?" Diana replied in perfect Gobbledegook.
Tonguetongs grinned, showing sharp fangs, and switched languages to match her. "It's already begun. Why do you think the Ministry of Magic has guards here?"
"That's certainly one reason, but I can think of others."
"Before I do... While I have every confidence in Gringrotts, I need to ensure that you are not a thrall of the so-called Dark Lord or the Ministry of Magic. Will you permit me to verify this?"
"Veritaserum will not work."
"I have my own means. It is neither painful nor dangerous."
"I see you carry a wand, but truth spells are little use on goblins."
"It's for show, not for use. I have different methods."
Diana released the lasso and snapped it to loop around him.
"Interesting. Not Goblin or Dwarven work, I think, who made it?"
"Interesting if true. Now, how... ah, I really can't lie while this is around me, can I?"
"How did you know?"
"I was going to dispute the craftsmanship involved in its manufacture, and if possible persuade you to sell it to me."
"Very well. Are you under the control of the Ministry of Magic or the so-called Dark Lord?"
"I despise both, and neither controls me."
"Does Gringrotts support the Dark Lord?"
"Of course not, he's bad for business!"
"If I gave you an opportunity to cause him problems, would you do so?"
"If I could do so without endangering myself, the bank, or our profits."
"If you could minimise the risk?"
"I'd be delighted."
"And are you prepared to keep everything we discuss today secret, regardless of any other decisions you may subsequently make?"
"Thank you." The lasso untied and snaked back around Diana's waist. "Did you ever wonder how the Dark Lord survived?"
"Have you ever heard of a thing called a horcrux?"
His eyes narrowed. "Our curse breakers come across them occasionally. What of it?"
"The Dark Lord hid one in an underground cave, which made me think of your tunnels. It wouldn't surprise me if there was one or more concealed in your vaults, probably deposited by one of his associates. One of those who escaped from Azkaban, for example."
"More than one? That's a disturbing thought."
"Definitely. I can't see it as good for business."
"What would you suggest we do about it?"
"I recall that your regulations prohibit some dangerous dark objects from being deposited. Would horcruces be covered?"
"Not explicitly, but the rules might be interpreted that way."
"I'd suggest taking a look - discreetly - and neutralizing any you find. They're probably cursed in addition to their main function. Perhaps replace them with similarly cursed replicas, that will stop anyone looking too closely, then remove the Horcrux if you can, or dispose of them if you can't. Basilisk venom will do the trick, I'm told, so will Fiendfyre, or if you can get them to me I can do it. It's essential that their master doesn't know until they're all gone, of course."
"Interesting... We'll certainly consider it."
"As incentive... a thousand galleons per horcrux destroyed, subject to verification. Seven hundred if you bring them to me and I destroy them."
"Twelve hundred and nine hundred."
"Eleven and eight."
"Agreed. Given the circumstances we'll forego a written contract; I think that you are good for your word, and it may be inadvisable to keep records before the matter is concluded."
"Agreed. I should warn you, the containers may be important works of art and craftsmanship, possibly Goblin work. You will be reluctant to destroy them, but I must strongly recommend it if you can't remove the horcrux."
"I'll bear that in mind."
"Thank you. Contact me via my Paris bank if you have news."
"Of course. Now, I understand that you need access to your vault and don't have your key?"
"That's right. I need a few papers and a little cash."
"Your hand, please."
Diana held her hand out and with difficulty he made a tiny cut with a razor-sharp goblin blade. "Impressive. If you or others like you die we would be interested in negotiating for your hides. Almost as strong as dragon-skin, and presumably much lighter."
"That isn't likely to happen."
He handed her a golden blank key. "Press this to the cut." As she did so notches and grooves formed on the key, followed by the number of her vault. "Two galleons."
"Young Rathskull is waiting outside and will take you to your vault. May your day be profitable, and your enemies incur penalty clauses."
"May your enemies be audited and your accounts pay dividends."
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" asked Hermione, looking around the street nervously.
"We've got a few hours to kill," said Harry, "nobody's looking for us in Paris, and you said yourself we need more potions ingredients and supplies. Some papers would be good, we've missed the last few Prophets and Quibblers."
"We don't know for sure that nobody's looking for us. The Lestrange family come from France, so do the Malfoys, for all we know they've got relatives looking out for us. And there are probably a lot of British refugees here, people on the run from Voldemort, along with spies keeping an eye on them. It might be risky, especially if we go into the wizarding quarter without identification or French wizarding money. Come to that, we haven't got much of any sort of wizarding money. We'd need to change some muggle money."
"Diana left us the keys to the house," said Ron, "she must have realised we'd want to go out, so it can't be that dangerous."
"How about a compromise?" said Harry. "You've got polyjuice on you, right?"
"Naturally," said Hermione.
"So we'll take some just before we go in, and stay less than an hour."
"That's not a good idea. We've got enough left for four or five doses, and it would take months to make more. We should save it for real emergencies."
"Damn. Okay, what about muggle disguises? We could get wigs or something, maybe some makeup to cover my scar."
"Hmmm... that might work. But whatever we do, we'll need to change some pounds for francs first, and whoever does that will need a passport. I've got mine, but it says I'm 17, I'm pretty sure that's not an adult in muggle France. Plus my name may be on some sort of wanted list."
"Hermione, we're wizards. I'm pretty sure that we can fix the documents fairly easily."
"It's a bit unethical, Harry."
"It's not like we're trying to steal anything."
"Okay. We're heading into the tourist areas, keep your eyes open for a Bureau de Change sign. When we go in I'd better do the talking."
"Since you're the only one that actually speaks French that's probably a good idea."
"Thank you captain obvious," said Harry.
"Just trying to be supportive."
"I'm beginning to think that Diana might have some sound ideas about men... stop grinning, Ron. You too, Harry."
John Constantine is from DC/Vertigo's Hellblazer comics, and has worked with most of the DC universe's heroes including Wonder Woman.
Apologies - I tried really hard to avoid the cliche of Goblins sounding like Klingon-Ferengi hybrids, but it's still there to some extent. Believe me, it could have been MUCH worse...
Comments please before I post to archives.
Also posted at https://ffutures.dreamwidth.org/2136766.html, where there are comments. Please comment here or there using OpenID.