To Mr Harry James Potter,
Your presence is requested at Gringotts Wizarding Bank at your earliest convenience. There are a number of discrepancies in our records which, being of great concern to our record-keepers, it is hoped you will be able to resolve. The exact details of these discrepancies will not be committed to such insecure means as owl-borne parchment, for reasons which I trust will become clear to you soon.
Yours in the service of finance,
Records Processing Clerk
Gringotts Wizarding Bank
Fortius Quo Fidelius
The odd letter in hand, Harry stepped up to the grand entrance of Gringotts. The war had been over for about a year now, but it seemed like there was another complication that he had to deal with. He supposed he shouldn't really be surprised that he would be hearing from Gringotts sooner or later.
Beside the Potter estate, now fully under his control since he'd turned seventeen — though he hadn't had much chance to do anything with it during the last year of the war — he would also be in control of the Black estate, since Sirius had left everything to him. Who knows how much would be needed to get those two sorted out.
He just hoped there wouldn't be too much paperwork to deal with in getting everything with the two estates sorted out.
He pushed the heavy doors open, and paused again in the entry as his eyes adjusted to the odd combination of shadows and gleaming brass. As he stepped forward, one of the goblins came forward, and bowed to him just deeply enough to not be obviously rude, but not a hair further. Perhaps a hair less.
"Mister Potter, yes? Are you here in relation to our summons, or on your own business?" The usual goblin bluntness. Harry tried not to read too much into it or get offended.
He held up the letter, "The request, yes."
The goblin nodded, and gestured to him to follow. Instead of one of the usual high desks, from which the goblin clerks could look down on visitors as the visitors usually looked down on them, he was led down a corridor and through one of a dozen identical doors. Inside there was a plain desk, with two fairly utilitarian chairs set at it.
"Take a seat, Mister Potter, someone will be with you shortly." The unnamed goblin waited a moment, then turned and hurried off, with all the air of someone who would rather be anywhere else right now, possibly with an extra scent of distate.
Still trying not to take offence at the less-than-ingratiating treatment — he'd had enough dealings with various goblins to know that wizards weren't popular among them, and he might be less so himself — Harry stepped over to the nearest of the chairs, and sat down.
And he waited.
And he waited.
It must have been at least half an hour before the door swung open behind him. He saw three goblins march in, each carrying a heavy parchment tome, which they dumped on the table in front of him. A fourth goblin, a woman this time — Harry tried to think if he'd met a female goblin before, and couldn't come up with an example — who was carrying just a large roll of parchment, along with an ink bottle and quill. The others exited, while she took the seat opposite him.
Harry smiled at her and, trying to make friendly conversation said, "You know, I don't think I've ever actually met a female goblin before. All the staff out in the main hall are always older male goblins."
She sighed, pausing in her preparations. "Yes, that's usually the case. We aren't exactly considered to be equals to the men, especially when it comes to money. But then, most of them consider needing help with your finances, such as you seem to, to be a sign of weakness as well. That, combined with your popularity around here given a ... certain visit of yours ... to be honest, I believe my assignment to this case is meant as an insult."
Harry nodded slowly. "I suppose I can understand that..."
"Anyway, on to business. Thank you for coming today, Mister Potter. As you can see, there's a lot for us to get to grips with. I am Tuzva Longfingers, one of the records processing clerks here." Harry couldn't help but look down at her hands, just for a moment, and could see that she indeed lived up to her name. Even for a goblin, her fingers were rather long and slender.
She unrolled the parchment, revealing that it was blank. As she started to set up her writing supplies, Harry asked, "All of this for a couple of estates? I mean, I knew the Black family had a lot going on, but this seems a bit much."
She froze, staring at him for a moment, then laughed. It wasn't exactly the warmth of genuine laughter that he was used to, more a couple of short noises that showed, if not amusement, then at least bitter irony.
"So, nobody's explained this to you, then? Of course they'd leave that to me."
Harry blinked. "Explained what?"
"How should I put this... Wizard law is, as I'm sure you've noticed, bizarrely reluctant to join in any sort of modernity."
He nodded, "I had gathered that, yes. My friend Hermione is rather keen to see that changed, but everything takes too long."
"Well, in this case, we come across a relic of the law even older than most. I believe the particulars date to 1219, 1344, and 1406. With case law for a hundred years either side of that. I'm afraid that I'm more interested in record keeping than legislative history, though."
Harry's mind raced as he tried to put together the clues about what might be going on. An idea occurred to him. "Don't tell me, the Black estate has a hundred different things of goblin manufacture, that wizarding law says isn't goblin property? I really am sorry about that, but if you'll give me a list of—"
She cut him off with a wave of her hand. "That is undoubtedly the case, but not the current matter of greatest urgency. I do appreciate your willingness to see the true laws in that area, but the laws in question for today are between wizards."
Harry fell silent, and nodded slowly. He hoped that things would make sense soon.
Tuzva opened the first of the enormous books in front of them, heavy parchment bound in rich green leather, and started to glance through it as she spoke. "It is the common belief of wizards that their inheritance laws are simply a matter of blood. This belief is mistaken.
"You have, I understand, already encountered one of the exceptions to this sanguine line, by being designated the heir of House Black." She closed the book with a loud thump. "Had it been a matter of blood alone, I believe that the House Black estates would now reside with the heir to House Malfoy."
Almost choking in surprise, Harry shot to his feet. "MALFOY? THERE'S NO WAY SIRIUS WOULD LET HIM—"
She cut him off again, "Indeed not. But, as I said, this is one area where blood is not, ha, at the heart of the law." As he sat down again, she paused, making sure he was calm enough to hear her. "There are other parts of the inheritance law which are not purely based on bloodlines. The core of the estates is never split, nor truly joined, but sometimes a wizard may find themselves in nominal control of more than one of the great Houses' estates. Such as in your case."
"So, what, I need to work out the way my two estates will work together, is that it? This seems like an awful lot of fuss for all of that..." Harry looked at the huge books on the table, not daring to try looking inside just yet.
Tuzva laughed again, still an unpleasant noise to Harry's ear. "Two estates? Mister Potter, whatever gave you the idea that it was only TWO?"
He could only stare at her in shock.
"Mister Potter, according to our records, which I assure you are of the highest order, you are the current title holder of some nine wizarding estates, of varying levels of antiquity and magnitude."
Harry said nothing. Which was exactly as much as he could think of right now.
She opened the first tome again. "We have you as holding the titles to the Houses Avery, Black, Carrow, Crabbe, Goyle, Macnair, Malfoy, Mulciber, and Potter."
Those names. Harry recognised those names. He hadn't wanted to hear them again. That was enough to break him out of his shock. "WHAT? But those other ones are all Death Eaters! Why would I even want them?"
A big toothy grin, as only a goblin could give, "Yes, exactly. Which is where we return to my point about the stubborn inability of wizards to consider even the slightest changes to their laws."
"I don't understand how I could own a bunch of Death Eater's estates, though. Surely they had family remaining..."
She sighed. "Please do try to pay better attention. Inheritance in wizarding law has almost nothing to do with bloodlines. The law doesn't care for parentage, or for families. It cares for designated heirs. It's just that, usually, the heads of the Houses will designate their eldest son as heir, almost be default."
"But not always?"
"Not always, and heirs can be changed. Which brings us to the recent war, and the one previous." She started to leaf through the book again, trying to find a particular passage. After a moment, she found it. "In wizarding law, specifically of the years 1219 and 1344, the exact laws of inheritance were clarified as regards wizarding duels. As I understand it, the growing violence of that age was causing some lack of clarity as regards the inheritance of those who lost such fights."
"Okay then... and the other year? Fourteen something? I'm pretty sure I didn't beat all of those Death Eaters in duels myself..."
"Ah yes, the relevant law of 1406. A legal clarification as to the nature of fealty oaths." She grinned at him, as though this answered all questions.
Harry, however, was not as swift in following the chain of logic as she perhaps thinks he ought to be. He didn't say anything, just blinking silently as he tried to catch up. After an awkwardly long pause, he asked, "Fealty oaths?"
"Yes. When the various Death Eaters swore themselves to the service of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, he used a very specifically worded oath. Given their adherence to tradition, you'd have thought that some of them might have spotted what was going on, but fear makes fools of many. I believe they thought the ancient flavour of the oath just enhanced the feeling of tradition."
She ran a long finger down the page. "The oath that he made them swore, which we have recorded here, is in fact a form of magical medieval fealty oath, where the servant's claims are passed in full to their liege. So, for those with claims as the head of a House at the time they swore the oath, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named became the actual head of their House."
"But... how did Gringotts get their hands on the oath? Death Eaters were nothing if not secretive..."
She grinned at him, "I've read your history, Mister Potter. I suspect many have, at this point. Surely you're aware of the fickle nature of binding magical contracts? One thing that makes them so tricky is the enchantments surrounding wizarding law. Whenever a magical contract is made, a copy appears in one of our vaults. Even verbal or unintentional contracts."
She looked at the page again, and began to read, " I, Lucius Malfoy, of the House of Malfoy, do solemnly swear and commit myself to the service of my lord and liege, Lord Voldemort. On my life and the honour of my House, I swear to serve him in all things, however he may direct, for as long as he may choose to retain me, for the whole duration of my life. On my life and the honour of my House, I swear all that I am and all that I have to his service. This I do swear. "
"So you see, Mister Potter. They each swore all that they have. Which would be the whole of their House's estates, in some cases. Any matters of active control aside, the moment they swore those oaths, the entirety of each House's estate was the property of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, long may his memory be insulted.
"Now, this is the first time where a single person has been the holder of more than two House titles. Or, you are the second person, but you won the situation in combat from the first, and he thankfully never entered Gringotts after these oaths. The Houses have always been kept separate until now, with any unions by marriage being split in the following generation. That, at least, was unavoidable given the odd proclivity for the pureblood lines to inter-marry."
Harry's mind started to catch up with the situation, and he laughed somewhat louder than was necessary. "So, you're telling me that I'm in control of my parents' vault, Sirius's family vault, and then vaults for seven Death Eater families? Oh the ones who are left aren't going to be happy when they hear that."
"Indeed not. There are currently standing permissions for members of the actual House bloodlines to make transactions as necessary, however you may revoke that at your leisure. So far, that has kept them from finding out the nature of the ownership.
"If you consider owning nine of these titles to be problematic, then perhaps consider yourself lucky that some were more careful in what they swore, and many more were not, in fact, the title holders of their Houses and so had little to transfer into He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's Name-That-Must-Not-Be-Named."
Tuzva leafed through the oversized book some more, pausing on certain pages, but not mentioning their contents to Harry. Then she slammed it shut, and pushed it away. "So, on to the matter of your new property." She pulled the next book towards her.
"I think... at least for now, I'll probably leave things where they are? It's not like I need another seven vaults worth of coins at this point. I might be able to find some good to put all the money to, but that will need working out in detail I think."
She nodded at him, "As you say. There is, however, a number of other items in the vaults, other than money. These two books," she indicated the one in front of her and the one as-yet untouched, "contain a complete inventory of all items, as well as the total of the hard currency now at your disposal."
Harry paused, his face becoming somewhat serious for a moment. "I've seen the inside of a Death Eater's vault before. I'm not sure I want to know some of the things in there..."
"Indeed. But, please do not mention that visit here again, it will... cause friction, shall we say."
She shrugged. "While the effects on me were minimal, in the record-keeping department, and to be honest some of the people most inconvenienced were people who needed a little inconveniencing, you will make nothing but enemies here with talk of it."
"Right..." He squirmed in his seat, glancing at the two huge books he apparently had to come to grips with. You'd think that, not being at Hogwarts anymore, he'd be past the days of struggling to understand things written in books this size. At least they weren't screaming at him.
"You mentioned a desire to see goblin property returned to us. A number of the things in these vaults would come under that description. However, might I recommend that any attempts to retrieve items from these vaults be accompanied by one of our own staff of curse-breakers? While the vaults themselves will respect you as their owner, any extra traps left by the previous owners may not."
Harry grimaced. "Yeah, I think having an expert with me would be a good idea..." He considered for a moment. "I think, without seeing what's there, I can say that I like the principle of returning goblin items, but can't give any firm promises yet."
"We," she gave him a stern look, "are familiar with wizard promises."
"I... that's not what I meant." He bent down and thumped his head against the table in frustration.
"Look." Harry paused, trying to work out how to say it without making her more upset. "The last time I gave something back to the goblins, the deal got all sorts of messed up."
Tuzva looked unimpressed at this line of logic.
Harry thumped his head against the table again. "I really can't afford to have the entire goblin population angry at me. I have enough people who are upset about how the war turned out, without this."
Opening the second book again, the goblin started to run her finger down a list on the first page. "Shall we start with looking at what's actually in your new property?"
He nodded quietly.
"In the Avery vault, total coinage seven thousand, four hundred and six galleons, five hundred and thirty sickles, one thousand, nine hundred and eighty seven knuts. In the Black vault, six thousand, three hundred and twenty galleons, one thousand, five hundred and twenty-two sickles, two thousand and four knuts. In the Ca-"
Harry cut her off, "There's no need to go through the entire list... It's a lot of money, is the point."
"And the rest of these books is all the non-coinage inventory?"
She nodded again.
"This is going to take me forever... Can I at least take them home? Or is there some rule about Gringotts records that they have to be kept on site?"
She considered for a moment. "The books are Gringotts property, however there is some precedent for them being loaned out the the owner of the contents described, for short periods."
Harry sighed with relief. "Good. Because it's going to take a long time to get through all of this. And if I'm at home, I don't need to worry about saying something TOO stupid in front of you while I'm trying to figure it all out."
"Yes. That would be unprecedented." Apparently, dry sarcasm was popular among goblins.
Looking at the books on the table in front of him, Harry wondered for a moment, then asked, "So, if these two books are the contents of the vaults... what's in the other one? It's just as big as the others..."
She pushed the book in front of her away, and brought the one being discussed back to her. "Several things. Partially, it's the records of the transfer of ownership of the estates, going back quite some way. But also, it is the record of the holdings not contained within the vaults, both tangible and intangible.
"For example, there are the deeds to a number of properties, both the Houses' manor estates, and a number of other properties for which rent is being paid to the Houses." She flipped through the pages. "Various other titles of ownership for distributed property, and of course, records of the Wizengamot seat claims of each House."
Harry blinked. "Wizengamot seats?"
She looked at him with an air of 'is this idiot child completely unaware of the world?'.
"Yes, Mister Potter. Surely you're aware of the fact that seats on the Wizengamot are owned by the various wizarding families?"
He shook his head. "Honestly, I just kind of assumed they were elected or appointed somehow?"
Pause. Silence. A harsh goblin laugh. "If only that were the case. No, each family owns and hoards its seats jealously."
"Well... that would explain how slow the wizarding world is to update its laws about anything. And why they're always so conservative."
"Yes." Tuzva didn't seem to see any need to comment further, if Harry was actually going to work things out for himself.
"Tell me, does Gringotts hold the records for absolutely everything about the wizarding world?"
"Mister Potter, please tell me. What was the actual mathematical education you were offered at Hogwarts?"
He thought for a moment. "Well, there was the arithmancy class I could have taken..."
"Exactly." She sighed. "Wizards have no interest in numbers except when they can do strange things to them. Goblins are more realistic, and teach things such as basic maths."
After Harry had considered this for a while, Tuzva continued, "The various Houses have long hoarded their seats, and traded them sparingly for various political favours, or when pushed to extreme need. The sale of a seat has, more than once, saved an old wizarding family from ruin. The previous record for most Wizengamot seats held by any one family was..." here she consulted the book in front of her, "seven."
Harry nodded slowly, considering this. "And, how many do I now have?"
She grinned at him. "Twenty-nine. House Avery holds two, House Black holds five, House Carrow three, House Crabbe and House Goyle each two, House Macnair three, House Malfoy six, House Mulciber four, and House Potter one."
"That's quite a few."
"Indeed it is." She made a few notes on the scroll in front of her, though it was still mostly empty. It seemed they had not made the progress of decisions that she was expecting.
Harry looked at the scroll, then thought for a moment. "I have some ideas of what I'm going to do. But first, I need to think." He smiled at her. "You've been very helpful, and patient. Thank you."