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Chapter Eighteen: A Clash of Voices

"Once-son or no, it is not customary for our women to speak at the Meeting of the Voices," a goblin clan-father said, addressing the now thirteen clans of the Goblinate. "I say that the Vanquisher shall not speak! I say--"

"--a great deal more than I desire to hear, Father Brainscrambler," Bloodbrewer retorted, standing and pointing at the goblin. "You who have bred seven daughters would deny the right of a clan-mother to guide her affairs?"

"With respect, All-Mother, Mother Snape of the Gift Clan seeks to perform the work of the entire Goblinate, not merely the affairs of her own Family. This should not be permitted!"

A murmur of agreement rippled through the room, though not all of the other clan-parents spoke.

Bonestorm stood, and his wife immediately sat again.

"My wife has asked an excellent question, Father Brainscrambler. The speech of women is not enough to dull my axe. Why should we be guided by tradition at this time of harmonious blending between goblin and wizard in our own hall? The Protector and the Vanquisher have brought strength to the Goblinate. Why should not Mother Snape present our shared views to those Above? Surely, a witch speaking as one of our own would be a powerful voice to wield against the voices of our enemies."

"Agreed!" called several goblins, pounding their weapons upon the great table around which the twenty-six clan-parents were now all again sitting.

Severus stood, and everyone quieted. "My wife is favored among wizards, respected, and much-missed. Her return to the Wizarding World as the Voice of the Goblinate would cause many Above to listen to reason. I stand ready to vote on the matter."

Harry stood, as well, and was followed by Brainscrambler, who thrust back his chair in anger.

"This is not done! A wife standing with her husband? Are we not goblins here?"

"Not anymore," Harry replied firmly. "And where else should a wife stand but with her husband? Severus and I are not always of one mind, but we are of one flesh. We support each other. Is this not the goblin way?" she challenged Brainscrambler, who glared at her. "The greatness of the Goblinate has been forgotten by the people of my birth. That is indeed a problem. I would see my new people remembered by those who owe them more than they now know. A voice must be raised in our defense, a persuasive voice, and I stand ready to be the Voice of the Goblinate."

"And those are words that would turn a weak goblin's axe toward the ground!" Brainscrambler exclaimed, "but they are not enough to persuade me to send a witch to do a goblin's work!"

Organchurner, Brainscrambler's wife, rose. "I stand with Mother Snape, as should all clan-mothers. There are no witches here--only goblins!"

As one, the other clan-mothers rose, as did their husbands.

Bloodbrewer chuckled to see the look of stony resolve on the faces of the other goblin women and said, "Your axe may turn as it likes, Father of the Twist Family, so it would seem."

Bonestorm called in a commanding tone, "I stand ready to vote, friends, as do we all." He then turned to his wife. "Bloodbrewer, today you do not attend this meeting as my helpmeet, but as the co-leader of our people. I say that you shall call the vote this day, and that all the clan-mothers shall, as being of one flesh with their husbands--though perhaps not of one mind--cast their votes on the matter before us."

You are indeed a force for change, Vanquisher, Severus' voice spoke in Harry's mind. You have wrought an alteration in the Goblinate that Bonestorm has desired to make for some time. I am proud to stand with you on this day, my love.

Harry smiled as the vote was taken, thinking to Severus formally, Thank you, Father of the Gift Clan. I trust that whatever the outcome of the vote, it won't prevent you from falling with me later?

Waves of amusement caressed Harry in a warm bond-send from Severus, and then it was time for them to speak.

"We cannot allow her to address parliament," Giancarlo said to Azalea over a pot of tea. "The fools of that body will listen to her."

"Then we'd best cleanse it," Mrs. Snape replied, "But I do wish you'd allow the Roman goblins to deal with ours before you go blowing things up. I shudder when I think of being overrun by such creatures."

"We've two weeks, dear lady, and I've made plans. Never think I intend to leave any of our enemies in a position to harm us."

"Yes, darling. Quite right," Zoroastrid commented, her eyes shining with the fervor of a zealot as she continued, "Let those who would oppose us feel your strength!"

Most unseemly. Azalea thought in distaste. You aren't a wife, but a convert.

"If the Roman goblins, as you put it, Mrs. Snape, cannot subdue the others, then my devices will take care of them."

"You have most wisely prepared, my lord. But how can you be certain that your . . . pets won't inadvertently set off the bombs?"

"Why, dear Azalea! You flatter me."

"The title is no more than you deserve, my dear." May it serve you as it served Riddle. "Do pardon my concern. Goblins distress me."

"You've nothing to fear," Zoroastrid said, "and everything about which to be pleased. Congratulate me, Azalea, for I am expecting again."

The old witch clasped her hands in apparent delight. "That is wonderful news. But are you not tired from all this excitement, Zoroastrid? I think you must be. Indeed, I feel it very important that you get all the rest you may before things go any further."

The younger witch suddenly felt her strength leave her. "Perhaps you're right. I . . . I believe that I will rest now, darling," she told Giancarlo before leaving the room with a smile for her guest.

Azalea watched the woman leave, and then turned to her host--whose wand was drawn and pointing at her.

"I don't appreciate such magics being worked against my wife. What are you playing at?"

Without flinching, the witch replied, "I did not wish to upset the girl in her condition, as no doubt discussion of what to do about Blaise would."

"Ah," Giancarlo said, lowering his wand. "I see. Still, you must not do that again."

"As you wish."

"What do you suggest, then?"

"The boy has his uses. Send him to monitor your devices, my dear, and then have your pets kill him once everything has been settled."

"That is a good plan, but how can I control the boy?"

"You can't," Azalea replied, pulling a small black phial from her robes. "But I can. My son isn't the only potion-brewer in the family, you know."

A nasty smile cut across Giancarlo's face. "Very well then, Chief Counselor Snape. I hereby approve your most excellent plan."

"Oh, I do like the way that sounds, my lord."

The keeping chamber that the diggers of the Earthmover Clan had dug in which to place Master Zabini's devices was empty when Armtwister led the wizard's son to it for the inspection.

"What trickery is this?" the goblin asked, looking about the empty room in disbelief. "But we left them here--with my clan-brothers--where are they?"

The air began to shimmer, and Blaise, who had been expecting it, did not draw his wand as the goblins drew their weapons, several crying out, "We are betrayed!"

The diggers surrounded the shapes coalescing into coherent form in the chamber.

"Clan-Father Throatripper!"

"Yes, Armtwister," the squat, one-eyed goblin replied. "I have come, and brought with me your wife," he told his clansman, indicating the female goblin who had appeared with him. "Go to your husband, Spinedancer, and welcome him to his new hall."

Armtwister embraced his wife quickly before thrusting her behind him when he saw the witch standing behind Throatripper. "Clan-Father, you have been ensorcelled, but we shall free you--axes up, men!"

"Yes, that is an excellent suggestion," Harry said, waving one hand unconcernedly toward the ceiling.

The goblins' axes flew from their hands to stick to stone above them in a sharp series of clanging sounds, and they stared in horror at the witch as she began to hiss in some foul language they did not understand.

The axes began to writhe and hiss as they slithered across the ceiling of the chamber like a nest of angry snakes.

Goblins, Harry recalled, did not truly care for snakes.

The result of her spell was instantaneous.

"It is an omen! She is a demon! What is happening?"

But Armtwister was not so easily cowed as were his brethren. "I need no weapon to do you harm, witch! I shall rend you with tooth and nail!" he cried, rushing the woman's position.

It was empty when he reached it.

From behind him, Harry said, "Attend to the words of your clan-father, who stands before you unbowed and unbroken. Why should he be here at my word? Think you he came lightly to this place?"

"The witch speaks the truth," Throatripper called over the din of the exclaiming goblins, most of whom cowered in the entrance to the room. "I have cast off our bonds of kinship to the Earthmover Clan. We dwell in this earth now, as the first goblin family of the Gift Clan. The kin of the Sifter Family is even now journeying here from the Roman earth."

"But why?" Armtwister asked.

Blaise moved to address the crowd. "Because my father is using you. He means to destroy you and all goblins with the help of his Roman brethren."

"Is this true?" Armtwister asked, disbelief plain in his tone.

"It is, my husband," Spinedancer said. "I know the truth of it. Mother Snape," she said, indicating Harry with a nod of her head, "is the co-leader of the Gift Clan of the Goblinate. She sent warning to us of the treachery of Master Zabini."

Armtwister turned to Throatripper. "But Clan-Father, to serve a witch may be no different than to serve a wizard."

"Zabini and his kin in Italy have long," Harry said, reaching an arm high and grasping one of the transfigured axes in her hand, "sought to blunt your weapons. But I," she continued, handing the goblin his reformed axe, "will not do so once you have consented to join my clan."

"Are we to have a choice, truly?"

"Yes, Armtwister. Only free goblins shall serve my husband and I. We do not wish to deal falsely with you, or compel you to leave the home of your birth. The choice is yours, all of yours," she said, looking at the other goblins. "What say you?"

The opening of Wizard Parliament to the public was a momentous occasion, and the clash of voices outside the legislative chamber was deafening as witches and wizards pressed excitedly forward, grumbling as aurors supervised the checking of their wands.

"I'm terribly sorry, Sir," a harried looking clerk told one of the would-be spectators. "I simply must insist you hand over your wand. The security of the proceedings must be ensured!"

No one stopped Giancarlo Zabini as he passed the gaggle of angry citizens. He was a happy man. His wife was expecting his child, many of his peers had quietly assured him that they would vote his way, and Armtwister had sent word to him that his troublesome nephew would not be able to attend the debates. He took his place in the chamber and smiled confidently at the empty seat across the way. The "Vanquisher," he had been assured, would also not be attending the proceedings.

I wonder who the beasts will send in her place?

It was not until after the first break in the debates that Zabini had cause to curse the changing of titles.

"Please allow me to present The new Voice of the Goblinate, Mother Snape of the Gift Clan, as she joins these proceedings," Minister Weasley called.

"What?" Zabini almost shouted, his eyes flying to Azalea's. The old witch looked quite shocked indeed, which reassured him greatly. So I am not betrayed.

The main door opened then, and Giancarlo watched in stunned silence as Harry Potter walked down the aisle toward the Minister's podium, shook the man's outstretched hand, and proceeded to take her seat.

The applause from the gallery was thunderous.

Fool, Zabini thought, adjusting his expression from that of murderous rage to bemused interest and clapping politely. You may have survived Voldemort, but you shall not survive me.


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