The Yule Ball
Harry, Ron at his side, left Gryffindor Tower the next morning on the way to the Great Hall for breakfast.
Ron's eyes bugged out just after the pair stepped through the portrait. Harry looked over to find his two fiancÃ©es standing in the hallway, clearly waiting for him. Tracey was wearing her Hogwarts robes, but Daphne was wearing a jean and sweater outfit that hugged her figure.
"Good morning, my lord."
"Good morning," Harry said back, subtly elbowing Ron. "Did you two sleep well?"
"As well as can be expected," Tracey said. "Yourself?"
"Very well, actually. Our discussion last night wore me out."
Harry glanced at him in confusion. The girls gave Ron cool looks before they fell into step with Harry, one on each side and a step behind. Harry tried to slow to allow them to come alongside, but both girls immediately slowed as well. This cycle repeated and then Harry finally stopped.
Ron, now several strides ahead, stopped and turned. "What's up?"
"I'm trying to let these two walk with us, but they keep trying to stay behind me," Harry said in aggravation.
"Our position dictates that we walk behind you, my lord," Daphne said quietly.
Harry made a rude noise. "To hell with that tradition. I will not force you two to act subservient to me. Come on, walk beside me." He held out his arms, elbows away from his body in clear invitation.
Tracey and Daphne looked at each other for a brief moment before smiling. Each clasping an arm, they again started moving forward.
Upon entering the Great Hall, a sudden hush fell. Trying desperately to keep his composure, Harry moved woodenly toward his regular seat. When he reached it, he found Hermione already sitting across from him, Ron's regular spot open beside her.
"This is the Gryffindor table. What are those two tramps doing here?" Lavender asked acidly.
"Yeah, send the snakes back to their pit," Parvati said, backing up her friend.
Harry fixed both girls with a glare that rocked them back in their seats. "If you must know, Snape has already disowned them. At the moment, they have no house. Now if you two are quite through insulting my fiancÃ©es . . ."
Both Gryffindor girls audibly gulped and fixed their attention on the plates before them.
Seamus looked an apology to Harry from his place beside Lavender.
Ginny, having watched the entire scene, turned to the third year beside her. "Budge over. We’ve got guests."
Soon, there was enough room at Harry's usual spot for all three of them, which they immediately took advantage of.
Both girls ate sparingly, their stomachs tied up in knots over the whole situation. Finally giving up the task of eating more, each took out parchment and quill.
Hermione, sitting across from them, noticed that they both shielded their work from everyone around them but made no attempt to keep the contents from Harry. Harry, for his part, paid them no mind aside from an initial look of curiosity he gave each girl.
"Oh, look! It's Potty and his two slaves!" Malfoy's voice called loudly.
Everyone in the Hall hushed, awaiting Harry's reaction.
When he did not respond, Tracey answered without looking up, "It's thanks to your father that we'll be slaves in the first place."
"And it's thanks to Harry that we aren't your slaves," Daphne added, finishing her note with a final flourish.
Harry, keeping his head up from the moment he heard Malfoy's voice, saw more than one smirk among the watching students.
Malfoy flushed but kept his attention on Harry. "Hiding behind your women, Scarhead?"
Harry shrugged. "They're more than capable of dealing with you. Why should I spend more effort dealing with a little ferret like you than I have to?"
A few people around the room laughed aloud at this.
Malfoy flushed even darker. "You'll get yours, Potter!"
Harry opened his mouth before visibly catching himself. With a grin, he said, "Originally, I was going to suggest you get someone to write you new lines, but I realized that for once you're actually right. Thanks to the duels against you yesterday, I am indeed getting what’s coming to me."
Laughter from all around the Great Hall drove a fuming Malfoy to his seat. Once the situation calmed down, Harry leaned over to each girl in turn. "My apologies for speaking of you like property, but that line was too perfect to pass up."
Daphne shrugged and gave him a small, sad smile. Tracey simply said, "It's the truth."
When Harry stood up from the table, both girls immediately stood with him and flanked him on the way out of the Great Hall.
"My lord," Daphne started, once they were in the Entrance Hall, "may we stop by the owlery?"
Harry gave her a strange look. "You don't have to ask my permission."
"Actually, we do," Tracey corrected him in a matter-of-fact tone, "though we are still technically free until the twenty-fourth. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t go out in public unless you’re with us."
"So in order for you to get to the owlery, I have to go to the owlery?" Harry asked.
Harry sighed and changed directions. "May I know what you're sending, or is it none of my business?"
"Harry," a voice behind them interrupted.
All three of them spun and pointed their wands immediately. Distantly, Harry was impressed that the reaction times of the two girls were nearly as good as his own.
Neville Longbottom, well aware of Harry's reflexes, had his hands empty and away from his body in a non-threatening gesture. When the wands came down, he climbed the last flight of stairs, huffing a little at the fast pace. "I heard the last question," he stated. "Harry, you still aren't thinking like a master. By definition, anything they do is your business."
"I will not treat them as property," Harry said forcefully.
"I understand that," Neville said patiently. "And I apologize to the ladies for how this will sound, but you must start thinking that way. If you don't, then everyone around you will think they're fair game, much like a discarded toy. They have no right to defend themselves. If you aren't seen as taking interest in controlling them, and therefore showing concern for their actions, they will be abused by anyone who wants to do so." He smiled apologetically to Tracey.
"What?" Harry asked in shocked confusion.
"As we've been trying to teach you," Tracey said calmly, "if you don't start treating us as your chattel, some of the people around here will start treating us as community property."
"That doesn't make sense!"
"Yes is does," Neville returned. "If you don't pay attention to their actions, people will start thinking you don't care about them. If you don't care about them, they can be treated poorly by anyone else, and you wouldn't defend them. Or so the logic goes, anyway."
Neville shrugged. "To you, maybe, but most of the pure-blood families have elves. In public, how are elves treated?"
Harry blanched as he thought about it. Between Malfoy's blatant mistreatment and utterly controlling attitude toward Dobby, that one was clear enough. From the few times he had seen elves in Diagon Alley, that attitude was not uncommon, though Malfoy took it to extremes.
Neville nodded, seeing from Harry's expression that his point had been made. He went on, "And for your sake, you shouldn't start treating them as friends, girlfriends, or wives, either. If you're seen treating chattel as equals, then everyone will conclude that they're actually dominating you. Socially and politically, that will hurt you."
Harry gaped for several seconds before he turned to them. "That's why you walked behind me and try to defer to me in everything." The girls nodded. "Why didn't you warn me?"
"In public?" Tracey asked pointedly.
Harry winced. "Good point." He sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. "I refuse to treat you like property. I don't care what the social conventions are. You two are fully expected to protect yourselves from unwanted advances." He gave a wry grin. "If you want the advances, let me know, and we'll see what we can do."
Neville's eyes were wide. "You'd let them date?"
"Why not?" Harry answered with a shrug. "I took them in to protect them from Malfoy's goons and to try to let them live as normal a life as possible. Keeping them from dating would defeat the purpose."
Neville scowled. "Harry, you have to understand: from every pure-blood's point of view, they're not much different in status than a couple of house-elves. You don't let house-elves date. If you want more elves, you tell them to breed."
Neville shrugged. "Elves aren't human. And as of the twenty-fourth, Tracey and Daphne won't be considered human, either. They’ll be chattel, Harry; their parents bargained away their status as persons."
Neville raised a hand, cutting his friend off. "Look, I understand that you weren't brought up in this culture. That's why I'm telling you all this. The fact is that you're a Potter. You're expected to live according to our traditions and customs."
All three shrugged. "That's the way it is," Daphne quietly pointed out.
"Argh!" Harry paced back and forth for several seconds.
"If you're going to pace, at least head somewhere more private than this," Neville said reasonably. "Anyone who knows you would understand what you're saying. A pure-blood who doesn't know you would lose all respect for you if they overheard any of this conversation."
Harry made an irritated noise as his only response but did start moving toward the owlery again. The other three rushed to catch up with him.
"As a matter of etiquette, nobody is supposed to address them directly, either," Neville said conversationally as they walked. "They should direct all comments to you."
Harry simply growled in response, not breaking his angry, jarring stride.
Once in the owlery, each girl tied their letters to school owls and sent them on their way.
"As you asked, and certainly have the right to know, my letter was to my family, explaining my change in circumstance," Tracey answered an earlier question.
"Mine as well," Daphne said. "I suspect they will want to meet you soon."
Neville just laughed.
Hours later, Hermione found Harry was working on an essay for Professor Flitwick in the Gryffindor Common Room. "Hey, Harry."
He looked up. "Hey, Hermione."
She looked at him carefully.
"You okay? The girls told me about how you were acting after breakfast."
He grimaced but nodded. "Yeah, I'm alright. Just trying to adjust to everything, still.
"Hey, I thought all you girls are off doing that mysterious 'girl thing' you always do before the balls."
"'Mysterious girl thing'?" she asked with a grin.
Harry nodded solemnly. "I started to ask Ginny about it once. She stopped me before I finished asking the question. Something about having to kill me if I learned too much."
Hermione laughed. "I'll have to thank her for that. No, I'm here on behalf of some of the girls who are indeed doing the 'girl thing'. Grab your dress robes and come along."
Harry looked at her in confusion for a moment but then shrugged and obediently collected his school materials. Hurrying to his room to trade the books for his robes, he came back down to the Common Room.
She led him straight to the Head rooms. Ignoring the disapproving look on Violet's face, Hermione led Harry into the small common room. "Harry's here," she announced. She turned to him, ignoring the sounds coming through the open door to Daphne and Tracey's room. "I'm going to go get ready now. Good luck, Harry." Patting him on the cheek, she went through the door to her suite.
Harry contemplated just how dire that sounded.
Tracey came through the open door, levitating a tray full of nail polish, creams, combs, and assorted tools and jars whose purpose utterly baffled the lone male. "Harry! I'm glad you're here."
Harry took half a step back, eyes riveted on the tray that the former Slytherin levitated to one of the study tables. "Uh, Tracey? I sure hope you aren't planning on doing anything to me."
She blinked once before she looked back and forth from the tray to his scared expression. A small snicker escaped. "No, this is for us girls. I'm not going to beautify you, my lord."
"Unless you want us to, I suppose," Daphne said as she entered.
Harry vaguely noticed Susan Bones, hair encased in some contraption that undulated slowly, had entered at the same time, but his attention was firmly captured by Miss Greengrass. She was clearly just out of a shower, hair still glistening with water. Wearing only a towel that stretched from just above her breasts to mid-thigh, Harry had a view of a great deal of toned, flawless skin. Slender yet muscular legs moved her soundlessly across the room as bare arms worked a comb through her long hair. Her face, scrubbed clean, had that perfect complexion that Harry had only seen in magazine advertisements and on the BBC.
"Uh . . ." Harry intelligently said.
Smiling at the reaction she had produced in Harry, Daphne casually settled into the full-sized reclining chair that Tracey conjured.
High amusement clear in her voice, Susan said, "Unless you want to watch, Harry, the shower's free."
Tracey called after his retreating back, "Leave your robes on the bed, please!"
After wasting as much time as he could - perhaps an hour, all told - Harry cautiously exited the Head Boy suite to find all four girls fully clothed. They had moved on to working on each others' hair.
Hermione spotted him first. "Ah, Harry. Did you have a nice shower?"
"Very . . . stress relieving?" Susan asked with a wicked grin.
Harry tried to muster a glare through his brilliant blush.
"Be nice to the poor boy," Tracey admonished them with a grin. "He is, after all, only a boy."
"Perhaps, but for how much longer?" Susan asked, trying to smile innocently.
Harry groaned and buried his face in his hand as all four girls broke into a fresh round of giggles. "Did you all ask me to come here for a reason, or just to tease me?"
"But teasing you is so much fun!" Susan objected.
Harry gave her a dark look.
"Enough," Tracey said to Susan. She turned to Harry. "We asked Hermione to bring you here for a couple reasons. I wanted to change the colors of my robes to match yours."
"Me, too," Daphne said without looking up from her hands working something or other into Hermione's hair.
"Next, and I don't mean to offend you with this, but there has to be something we can do with your hair. We may not use as many cosmetic charms on a daily basis as those two Gryffindor tarts Hermione used to have as roommates, but that doesn't mean we don't know any."
Harry hesitantly said, "So long as it doesn't end up smelling all flowery, you can try, I suppose."
"I've thought about this," Hermione said, surprising them all. "The most obvious one is a non-shiny version of Sleekeazy's." She carefully turned so as not to disturb Daphne's continuing work. "That's what I used in fourth year to tame this mop." She gestured irritably at her hair. "If it can work on me, it can work on you. The other thing I thought about is letting it grow out and gathering it in a ponytail in the back."
Daphne and Tracey brightened at this. "Oh, yeah; try that. Long hair is very fashionable. Makes you look mature."
Harry thought about that for a moment. The only two people he had ever seen with hair like that were Lucius Malfoy and Bill Weasley. Despite his violent differences of opinion with Malfoy, even Harry had to admit that he presented himself well. And Bill was . . . well, Bill.
"Is there an easy way to grow my hair out?"
Hermione and Daphne let loose quiet noises of glee. Susan and Tracey simply smiled. "I know a charm to lengthen your hair, but it's only temporary," Susan said.
Harry shrugged. "Let's give it a shot."
Harry, with each of his ladies a step behind and flanking him, walked into the Great Hall. As in previous years, the hall itself was decorated beautifully. Huge evergreens stood along the walls, and an enchanted snowfall fell from the ceiling before it stopped above his head. Instead of four House tables and the Head Table, smaller, round tables for eight were scattered about the room.
After spending a moment gazing around, Harry moved toward the table containing only Luna Lovegood. "May we sit?" Harry asked her politely.
"If you wish," Luna replied. "You look quite handsome tonight, Harry," she observed in her usual dreamy way.
Harry smiled over at her as he seated Daphne and Tracey. "Thank you. These two, Hermione, and Susan deserve the credit, however."
Luna smiled abstractly. "Actually, I would think your mother and father had more to do with it. The hair and the robes aren't important, Harry. I would have thought you knew that by now."
He nodded. "My apologies; I thought you were referring to my superficial appearance. As you apparently were not, I am even happier that you consider me handsome. In the same vein, I must say that you are as lovely as ever, Luna."
She smiled again, and it finally reached her eyes. "You must not do so, but I thank you for doing so."
Tracey blinked rapidly. "Did any of that make sense to you?" she asked Daphne.
Harry grinned as he sat down. "Luna, though she may sound confusing, is actually the most direct person you'll probably ever meet. It's truly a shame that most students in the school don't make any effort to understand her. She is quite intelligent and as loyal a friend as you could ask for."
Luna blushed slightly and looked down, clearly embarrassed by Harry's staunch defense.
"Good evening, Luna," Hermione said as she approached on Ron's arm.
"It has been acceptable thus far," Luna agreed, looking up again.
Ron and Hermione, well familiar with the slightly odd Ravenclaw, simply took seats.
"Where were you all afternoon, mate?" Ron asked.
"Learning more about hair charms than I ever wanted to know," Harry answered sardonically.
Harry turned his head slightly to let Ron have a look at his much longer hair. It had been lengthened in the back until it now reached his shoulder blades. Hermione had gathered it into a pony tail with a conjured band.
Ron muffled a snicker. "Your hair looks almost long enough for you to be a girl!"
Hermione gave him a frosty look. "I think it's very becoming. Besides, that's a lot like how Bill's hair looked at his wedding."
"Yeah, but that's Bill," Ron said with clear confusion.
Hermione let out an explosive breath in exasperation. Daphne and Tracey gave the oblivious Ron narrow-eyed looks.
"His hair is becoming what?" Luna asked Hermione.
Everyone turned from Ron to stare at Luna.
Harry snickered. "Good one, Luna."
She smiled at him. "Thank you, Harry." She looked over his shoulder at the approaching couple. "You did an excellent job, Susan. Harry's hair makes him look very distinguished."
"Thank you," she said, clearly disconcerted by the younger girl.
"It does look good for you, Harry," Stephen Cornfoot opined, arm intertwined with Susan's. "Are you going to keep it that way?"
Harry shrugged. "I dunno, yet. Maybe."
"You should," Susan said as her date seated her. She tilted her head to indicate the rest of the seated students. "I think the other women in the room agree with me."
Harry glanced around and saw that Susan was correct. He was getting far more than his fair share - and even more than his usual level - of attention from the females of Hogwarts. He groaned and slouched down in his seat a little more.
Susan and Hermione laughed.
"Admit it, Harry, you're just a smoldering, sexy hunk of wizard," Daphne whispered to him.
Harry's head shot up, looking at Daphne in surprise.
She smiled enigmatically back at him. Luna, after looking back and forth between them once, also smiled, but not in quite the same way.
Stephen broke the uncomfortable moment by complimenting Hermione and Luna on their dress robes. When he started to compliment Tracey and Daphne, carefully directing his comments toward Harry, the Gryffindor laughed. "I'm not so overbearingly controlling that you can't talk to them."
Stephen smiled at Tracey and then lingered on Daphne for slightly longer, complimenting both girls on how they looked.
"Careful, Harry," Ron teased, eyes on Cornfoot. "He'll be after your fiancÃ©es in a minute."
Harry grinned at the stammering Ravenclaw. "Don't worry about it, Stephen. I understand that it's tough to keep your eyes away from them. They have much the same effect on me."
Both girls fought smug smiles at his words.
Tiring of the talk, Ron ordered his meal, causing the others to look over their menus and do the same. Throughout dinner, the topics of conversation were kept light, mostly complaints about the stress of the approaching N.E.W.T. exams.
After pudding was finished, Headmaster Dumbledore waved his wand and created a dance floor and a stage. As several people climbed up onto the stage with musical instruments in hand, he said, "After that delicious feast, I would ask that you help me welcome the entertainment for the rest of this evening, The Sirens." Everyone applauded politely, and the band started playing.
Draco Malfoy, with Pansy Parkinson on his arm and Crabbe and Goyle following, walked up to their table. Crabbe and Goyle glowered at Daphne and Tracey. Malfoy kept his eyes on Harry. "So, Potter, enjoying your new toys?"
Not bothering to answer, Harry kept his attention on Draco and his wand hand free.
Failing to get a rise out of his nemesis, Malfoy turned. "I'm surprised at you, Greengrass. Voluntarily whoring yourself out to Potter like some common half-blood?"
"Leaving aside your pitiful attempt at an insult, you're proving once again that your parents failed to teach you etiquette," Harry said calmly. "As their master, anything someone wishes to say to them should be directed to me."
"What would you know of the noble, pure-blood customs?" Malfoy spat.
"I'm not the one who got caught trying to break the Code Duello," Harry returned, unruffled.
Malfoy's eyes narrowed in a vain bid to look angry and intimidating. Abruptly, he turned. "Come, Pansy. Let’s find a table that isn't so muddy."
"Oh, very clever. Took you all year to think of that one, did it?" Ron asked with an eye roll.
Malfoy's cheeks flushed and his shoulders tightened, but he did not turn back to the table, instead striding away with Pansy scrambling to keep up with his pace. Crabbe and Goyle glowered for a few more moments before wandering off in Malfoy's wake.
"I must admit that sitting near you provides a great deal of entertainment, Potter," Cornfoot said into the resulting silence.
Luna suddenly laughed loudly for several seconds before stopping just as abruptly. The students at the nearby tables blinked owlishly at them in surprise before turning back to their own tables.
Chuckling at the varied expressions on his tablemates' faces, Harry stood. "Luna, would you care to join me for a dance?"
Luna smiled brilliantly at him. "Thank you, Harry, I believe I would." She stood and took his hand, letting him lead her to the dance floor.
Harry danced with Luna, Hermione, Susan, and Ginny (with permission from their respective dates first) as the evening wore on, interspersed with dances with his fiancÃ©es.
It surprised none of them that nobody asked to dance with either Daphne or Tracey.
With everything running through his mind, Harry Potter found himself incapable of finding sleep that night. Finally giving up at two, he climbed out of bed. Feeling restless, he grabbed his Map and stuffed his Invisibility Cloak into a pocket. The Fat Lady continued to snore as he exited Gryffindor Tower.
Harry wandered, his mind running just as aimlessly as his feet. Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle would have turned those two girls into slaves and toys of the upper class Slytherins. Both girls looked absolutely gorgeous in their dress robes. Though he was going to be vilified by everyone who did not know the whole story, he had saved Daphne and Tracey from a horrible fate. Unfortunately, to save them, he had to take them as slaves after marrying them within the week. Despite their soon-to-be status, the two of them seemed genuinely grateful to him. It was fully expected by everyone, even the two of them, that he would be bedding them frequently.
Why did these things always happen to him?
Surprising himself, he found himself standing in front of the portrait guarding the Head suites. Violet stared down her nose at him, her expression vacillating between disapproving and amused. "Well, are you going to just stand there, young man, or are you going to give me the password?"
Harry was of half a mind to simply leave, but then he heard feminine giggles come from the room beyond. "Fidelis."
Harry stepped into the room and found Daphne, Tracey, and Hermione sprawled on the couches. Empty bottles of butterbeer littered the floor near each of them.
All three girls froze at Harry's entrance, Tracey with a bottle to her lips.
Harry stared. All three girls' faces bore traces of makeup from earlier in the evening. Their hair was still up, though a fair amount of Hermione's had escaped its confines and was spilling about haphazardly. All three were wearing bathrobes, giving Harry an eyeful of six bare, shapely, feminine legs.
After a long, silent moment, Tracey gave a slight shrug and continued drinking her butterbeer. Daphne flushed and looked down to pick at the label on the bottle in her hands with one painted thumbnail. Hermione squeaked and dove behind a couch, out of Harry's line of sight. In the process of moving, she accidentally kicked her pile of empties, sending them sliding in all directions.
Harry tore his eyes away from Daphne's sculpted legs and looked up.
Only Tracey seemed capable of meeting his gaze, eyes sparkling in mirth. "Good morning, my lord," she said evenly. "What may I do for you?"
"Uh . . ."
Hermione stood up from behind the couch. Smoothing her dressing gown down, she held her head high. The only sign of her nervousness was the color in her cheeks. "Good evening, Harry."
Concentrating on the face of his best friend, Harry found his mental equilibrium. Fighting to keep his expression neutral, he nodded politely to her. "Hermione. Sorry for barging in, but I couldn't sleep. I was wandering around and heard noises in here."
She smiled, relaxing minutely when Harry did not start teasing her. "Sorry, but I think I'm about to leave this party myself. Morning is going to come too early the way it is, and I need to get some sleep tonight. Good night, Harry." She turned and nodded her good-night wishes to the two girls as well before turning on her heel and entering her quarters.
"She's a lot more fun than I first thought," Tracey observed.
One side of Harry's mouth curved upwards. "She can be," he agreed. He smiled at both Tracey and Daphne. "I don't think I said it earlier, but you were both lovely tonight. I was quite honored to be your escort for the evening."
Daphne looked up and gave a small smile. "Thank you for the compliment, my lord."
He frowned. "I really don't like to be called that."
Her eyes fell. "I know, but it is correct and proper."
He sighed. "I know. Much as I dislike it, I know. Oh, I know it isn't your fault," he assured Tracey, who had looked up in sudden concern. "Well, okay, maybe it is your fault," he said with a wry grin. "Under the circumstances, though, you didn't have much of a choice."
"Of course we had choices," Daphne said quietly.
"We could have killed ourselves or accepted the situation as it was and married those two idiots," Tracey pointed out.
"Those aren't acceptable options."
Daphne shook her head. "Which is why we chose you instead."
"I still think you could have found a better way out."
The two glanced at each other. "Believe us; we tried finding another way out. No offense to you, but being slaves for the rest of our lives wasn't exactly what we wanted to do."
"Don't blame you," Harry muttered.
Daphne closed her mouth on the rest of what she was about to say. His tone had caused her instincts to flare. "Harry? What's wrong?"
Harry looked up and smoothed his features away from his previous dark scowl at the floor. "Hmm? Oh, nothing."
Tracey frowned. "I don't believe that," she challenged him flatly.
Harry shook his head. "Nothing."
"Liar," Daphne observed calmly.
Harry released a long breath, looking down again.
"Talk to us," Daphne gently urged him.
Long minutes passed in the silent room. The girls waited patiently, eyes on the most important person in their lives.
"I know that being a slave isn't something anyone wants to do. But sometimes life just gives you really shitty deals," he whispered.
Daphne stood and pulled his unresisting form down into the couch. She sat down next to him, swinging her legs primly across his lap and wrapped her arms around his chest. Almost of its own volition, Harry's arm settled across her shoulders. Nestling her head under his chin, she whispered, "Talk to us."
Slowly, haltingly, he did. The previous day, he had given them much of the story of his time in Hogwarts. Now he told them of the time before he knew he was a wizard. The abuse - physical and emotional - that he had received at the hands of his only family. His desperate attempts to get a kind word from them. His continued failures, no matter how hard he tried to please them. In a flat monotone, he revealed the crushed hopes, great and small, of the boy who slept in the cupboard under the stairs.
Finally, as the clock struck four, his eyes closed. A few tears escaped before he surrendered to his physical and emotional exhaustion.
Hermione, still rubbing sleep from her eyes, stumbled out of her suite. Bringing her hand down, she blinked at the unexpected sight.
Someone had expanded one of the couches and Harry and Daphne were entangled together upon it, covered by the duvet obviously dragged in from Daphne's bed.
Smiling tenderly at the scene, Hermione quietly stole over to the couple and shook Daphne's shoulder.
The girl slowly blinked her eyes open and stared at Hermione for a moment in blank confusion. As her memory came back, she looked at the arm thrown over her hip, and a small smile formed. She looked up at Hermione and simply nodded.
The other girl nodded back and left as quietly as she had entered.
After the door had closed behind the Head Girl, Daphne snuggled back into Harry's warmth, absently stroking his arm. Harry quickly roused, pulling away from her.
With a little frown of disappointment, she let his arm go.
As Harry woke further, he relaxed back down, curling one arm under his head and laying the other along his side. "G'Morning," he mumbled.
"Hey," Daphne whispered.
Harry luxuriated in a jaw-popping yawn. "Feels good to wake up like this," he observed.
Daphne allowed the small smile to return to her face. She reached back and pulled his arm back over her and around her front, careful to keep it from straying into dangerous territory. Not too dangerous, anyway.
Harry tensed as she took his arm but slowly relaxed again as she simply lay there, absently playing with his hand.
"Uh, I'm not sure whether I should be apologizing for . . ." Harry started.
Daphne gave a low, raspy chuckle. "We didn't do anything untoward. Besides, if we had, you would have no reason to apologize to me, my lord."
Harry frowned. "How many times do I have to tell you -"
"I know, Harry," she emphasized, "but I'm making a point. And anyway, I assure you that if we had done something, I certainly would've been a willing participant."
Harry blushed, his arm still around the beautiful girl.
Tracey chose that moment to exit her shared room. She took one look at the blushing Harry and the smug Daphne, both dressed but still curled up on the transfigured couch, and burst into laughter.
Harry grumbled inaudibly for a few moments before gently untangling himself from Daphne and climbing out of the couch. Harry stretched out the kinks. "What time is it?"
"If we hurry, we can still make breakfast," Tracey said.
Harry nodded and headed towards Hermione's door. He knocked and waited.
"She's already left," Daphne informed him.
His head whipped around, eyes wide.
She rolled her eyes. "Yes, she found you, fully clothed, lying on a couch with your betrothed, soon-to-be chattel. I'm sure the scandal is making the rounds as we speak," she finished dryly.
Tracey laughed as Harry shook his head and headed toward Hermione's shower.
He pretended to ignore Daphne's offer to wash his back.
Harry, again with the two girls flanking him and a step behind, entered the Great Hall and headed toward his usual seat.
Ron and Seamus smirked at them. "Noticed your bed was empty, Harry," Ron said with an obscene leer.
"Found somewhere more comfy to sleep?"
"Don't forget the curves."
"Yes, mustn't forget the soft, warm curves," Ron agreed with a lecherous smirk at Daphne.
Harry rolled his eyes. "You two aren't funny, you know," he informed the two as their respective girlfriends gave them frosty glares. Ignoring his snickering roommates, Harry seated himself and filled a plate.
The sounds of utensils on plates was interrupted by Draco Malfoy. "Hey, Pot Head," he said from behind Ron, "I haven't gotten anything for Goyle for Christmas yet. What're you charging for Whore Number One, here?" He nodded his head toward Daphne while smirking at Harry.
"You can't afford either of them, Malfoy," Harry said evenly.
"I'm far more wealthy than you, Scar-Head. Come on, name a price."
Harry slowly shook his head and sighed sadly, ignoring the looks of concern both Daphne and Tracey shot him. "I'm afraid you'll never be able to afford them, Malfoy. You're proving conclusively that you don't understand the right kind of coin."
Malfoy's face twisted into an expression of confusion. "Huh?"
"If you don't understand it, I can't explain it to you," Harry said simply, returning to his meal.
Tracey and Daphne turned full wattage smiles onto him. Hermione gave him a pleased grin. Even Dean and Neville nodded approvingly.
Most of the rest of the table - as well as Malfoy and his two sycophants - looked at the Boy Who Lived in confusion. "What do you mean, Potter?" Malfoy tried to sound as if he were sneering, but it came out more as whiny confusion.
Harry waved his fork negligently. "Maybe I'll explain it when you're grown up."
The listening Gryffindors broke into laughter. This finally drove Malfoy away and let the table finish their breakfast in peace.
"So, you three are going to be here over break?" Dean asked after he had pushed his empty plate away.
Harry looked over at Tracey with a raised eyebrow.
She gave a slight shrug. "We go where you go, my lord," she answered the unspoken question quietly.
Harry turned back to Dean. "I suppose we are."
Dean nodded. "Right. See you Wednesday."
Standing, Ron smirked down at the three. "Well, do enjoy yourselves."
Daphne watched him walk away then turned her head. "My lord?"
Harry looked at her with a raised eyebrow.
"Has he always been such a boor?"
Harry sighed. "He can be a thoughtless git. For a while, it looked like his going out with Hermione was having a good influence on him. Our new status apparently strains his bonds of tact."
Daphne snorted quietly, not the least impressed by Ron's sense of restraint. "I had wondered. As former Slytherins, we had little contact with him. Now that we're at your side . . ."
Harry nodded. "He's been worse than usual. Hopefully after the hols, he'll be more polite to you."
Tracey made a rude noise. "I highly doubt it. As I keep telling you, from a pure-blood point of view, and the Weasleys can trace back as far as anyone, chattel don't require any more consideration that you'd pay to a footstool."
Harry frowned. "You keep bringing it up, Tracey."
Her voice dropped as more and more students stood and moved toward the Entrance Hall and the waiting carriages. "And I'll continue to do so, my lord, until you realize the truth of what I’m saying without trying to argue it."
Harry's face twisted into a grimace. Intellectually, he knew what she was saying, but emotionally was another matter entirely.
After the crush of students had left, he stood and assisted his two ladies to their feet. The three ambled toward the doors of the Great Hall and then toward Gryffindor Tower. "So, what do you two want to do today?"
Tracey opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off. "No, wrong question. Let me try again. What do you two think I should do today?"
Daphne's mouth twitched into a smile. "You're learning, Harry, you're learning.
"To answer the question, there is a fair amount of business that requires your attention in Gringotts. After our marriage, you will inherit all of our property."
"You two own homes?" Harry asked in surprise
Tracey shook her head. "We don't own real property like houses or land, but what she's saying also covers everything from our personal vaults all the way down to our knickers."
Harry blushed brilliantly. Both girls laughed.
"There's also some paperwork at the ministry that needs to be done," Daphne went back to the previous topic.
Harry nodded. "Okay, then. Do you two have your apparation licenses?" They both nodded, giving him 'of course' expressions. He raised a hand. "I had to ask. Okay, let's get our cloaks and head on down to Hogsmeade and Apparate to the ministry, then."
"If we're right there, why not Floo?" Tracey asked.
Harry ducked his head and mumbled something.
"What was that?"
Harry sighed and looked up. "Cuz the Floo doesn't like me."
Both girls looked at him oddly. "The Floo doesn't like you?" Daphne asked carefully, lip twitching.
"I'm serious," Harry whined. "I wish someone could explain it to me, but every time I Floo somewhere, I end up falling flat on my face."
The girls glanced at each other and then burst into laughter.
Harry huffed and crossed his arms.
"I'm sorry," Daphne said, still chuckling. "That's just something that is an old, old tradition. Everyone has to have a spell put on them. Sort of a specialized stabilization charm. Something about our sense of balance. That'll fix it."
He stared at her. "And nobody ever bothered to tell me this?" he asked incredulously.
Tracey took over, "That's the tradition. Nobody's supposed to tell you the reason why everyone falls after Flooing at first. Now that you asked, we can tell you."
"Why isn't this a more widespread a problem, then?"
They shrugged. "Wizard-raised kids generally ask their parents when they're still real little. Muggle-born kids get it put on them by whichever professor visits their home, I understand. I think you said it was Professor Hagrid who visited your relatives' home?"
Harry grumbled and nodded.
"And as he isn't allowed to do magic . . ."
"Yeah, yeah, I get it. So I can just ask McGonagall and she'll put the spell on me?"
"Figures. I go through years of falling on my face and getting laughed at. You'd think one of the Weasleys would mention the solution. Well, someone other than the twins anyway."
They shrugged. "Tradition."
He leveled a glare at them. "May I point out that it is also a tradition that forced you two to pick me as your champion in the first place?"
He held up a hand in apology, face contrite. "I'm sorry, that was inexcusable."
"No, actually you're right. Well, more or less. That particular law should've been rescinded centuries ago, but tradition," Tracey sneered, "kept it in place. And here we are."
Daphne, face a grimace, nodded agreement.
"Well, look at it this way," Harry said in a clear attempt to cheer them up. "At least this gets you out of the dungeons and among a better class of people."
Daphne laughed, but Tracey took on a haughty expression. "Slytherin, I will have you know, has far more class than Gryffindor."
Harry smiled back good-naturedly, holding back the comment that it also included the people who had literally enslaved the two of them.
Professor McGonagall had seemed genuinely distressed that Harry had never received the Floo Stabilization Charm. She cast it upon him without further delay.
Afterward, she was hesitant to let the three out of the castle to visit Diagon Alley and the ministry. Harry testily pointed out that not only did they have perfectly legitimate business in both locations, but all three of them were of age. McGonagall bowed to the logic with only an admonition to be careful.
"Like I haven't proven capable of protecting myself," Harry grumbled on the path from Hogwarts to Hogsmeade.
Tracey, moving quickly to keep up with Harry's angry pace, said, "Hey, don't knock it. She cares, Harry. It'd be worse if nobody tried to stop you, considering who you have after you."
That cooled Harry's ire slightly. "You're right," he admitted.
"Don't you forget it," Tracey said with a grin.
He gave a grunt of semi-amusement. "Hey, I noticed something about you."
"My sparkling personality?"
"Her suspicious and cynical nature?" Daphne suggested back.
Tracey glared at the innocent-looking Daphne as Harry laughed.
"No," he said, fighting down the chuckles. "Well, yes, that too, Tracey, but not what I was going to say. No, what I meant was that in front of others you're quiet and . . . well, subservient. When it's just the three of us or with Hermione, you're much more outgoing. A lot like a girlfriend is supposed to act or like my friends who are girls - you know, how Hermione or Ginny are around me."
Tracey nodded. "I act subservient in public because I must. I act like a girlfriend for you because you've said that that is how you want me to act. Well, not in so many words, but as we're going to be married in two days, I figure it's appropriate."
Harry nodded acceptance of her words before he turned to Daphne. "You're quieter in front of others, but more affectionate in private."
She smiled brightly at him. "Thank you for noticing."
"Little hard not to after sleeping together," he said dryly.
"That could've been either of us," Tracey pointed out. "You and I will be married in a couple days, after all."
Harry nodded again, privately surprised that he was actually getting used to that thought. "True, but also some other things. She's more apt to touch me, whether to lay a hand on my arm, run a finger over my shoulder, whatever."
"You're right," Daphne said quietly. She sighed. "I don't like how it's happened, but I don't mind the end result. Harry Potter, you're one of the few wizards in the school that I find attractive. In all the ways that matter, we're a good match from my point of view."
Harry looked at her in surprise. "Before this whole thing blew up in our faces, you never gave me any kind of indication."
She shrugged. "Gryffindors don't date Slytherins."
He gave a crooked smile. "We don't?" he asked pointedly.
"You know what I mean. If this weren't forced on us all, would you have ever seriously considered going out with me?"
He thought about that for a few moments. "If I thought you were attainable, I may have," he said eventually.
He shrugged. "You have a reputation as cold and aloof."
"Ooh, big words," Tracey teased him.
"Hermione has rubbed off on me."
Daphne pointed a finger at Tracey, cutting off the other girl's comment. "Don't say it."
Harry, realizing just what it was that he had said, stammered, "I mean . . ."
Daphne laughed. "I know what you meant. It's what you said that is the problem, my husband."
"Not yet," Tracey said pertly.
Daphne's eyes sparkled at Harry. "Not yet," she agreed.
The clerk at the licensing department in the ministry was by turns awed at Harry's presence, surprised at the requested forms, then shocked at the girls' status after the ceremony. Once the pimply young wizard had recovered himself, he looked up the appropriate forms and handed them over.
The three looked at the form, written in Olde English. Pursing his lips, Harry blew at the parchment, sending up a small cloud of dust. Waving the dust out of his face, he gave the clerk an eloquently expressive, arched eyebrow.
The clerk shrugged nervously. "Hey, I don't make the laws. I agree that this should've been removed a long time ago, but I don't have any choices here." He leered from one girl to another. "Besides, what're you complaining about? Seems to me you're on the good side of this transaction."
Tracey's hand grabbed his wrist before his wand cleared its holster. "Easy, husband. Young Mister," she glanced at the nametag on the now pale clerk, "Hornswallow has done nothing to us."
Harry relaxed by degrees before he snatched the form and moved off with Daphne in tow. Tracey stayed behind. "Forgive my master," she said, eyes still tracking him to a table with quill and ink. "He is under a great deal of stress due to the upcoming wedding."
Eyes huge, Hornswallow swallowed on a dry throat and nodded vigorously. He rapidly moved away once Tracey joined the other two.
Tracey and Daphne spent the next hour helping Harry fill in the form, resorting to a translation spell on parts of the archaic document. Finally finished, the trio approached the desk again.
Hornswallow, who had been researching the rest of this uncommon situation, was now even more nervous than he had previously been. Wetting his lips, and ignoring the trickle of sweat rolling down his temple, he read over the completed form that Harry handed him. Minutes ticked by before he looked up again. "Everything is in order," he stammered. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath to calm his nerves. Opening them again, he looked directly at Harry. "Mr. Potter, please understand that this situation only comes up at most every few years. I have some things that I must, by law, give to you. Please understand that I have no choice in the matter."
Harry nodded, understanding the unspoken parts as well. This poor clerk was not at fault and asked not to be blamed for what was going to be an uncomfortable few minutes.
First to cross the counter was a small handbook, The Master's Guide. "This is for you." Next were two brochures, The Slave's Responsibilities. "And these two, sir, are to go to your . . . chattel."
Red-faced in anger, Harry accepted the items.
Hornswallow, thankful that his life was not in immediate danger, said, "Only a few last things, sir."
Harry, jaw clenched, stared at him, waiting.
"I must inform you that concubines are not permitted to wear wedding bands."
A short cyclone of wind sprang up and as quickly dissipated, leaving the loose parchment scattered about the room. Harry's eyes, which had flared, were closed as the clerk nervously pulled out his wand and re-ordered the office.
Once everything was back in place and Harry was again looking at the clerk, Hornswallow said in a small voice, "Next, per the laws, sir, they must be given a Mark of Ownership." Hornswallow, correctly guessing that this would not be taken well, immediately ducked behind the countertop.
A bright flash of light and an odd swooshing noise came from above him.
After checking that he still had all his limbs, Fred Hornswallow cautiously came up and looked around.
Harry Potter stood with both hands planted on the countertop. Around each hand, a scorch mark radiated outward in the wood.
Hornswallow stared at the wood. It had been spelled with anti-damage charms long ago and renewed every year by one of the mysterious Unspeakables.
"I. Will. Not. Give. Them. Dark. Marks," Harry bit off.
"No, sir!" Hornswallow immediately agreed. "That was not at all what I meant. A Mark of Ownership can be a mark like that used by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, or it can simply be a hair band or bracelet or something. The only requirements are that it be readily visible and contain your family mark."
"Family mark?" Harry asked, surprised out of his smoldering anger.
"The Potter crest," Tracey answered. "The symbol that has always been associated with Potters."
"There is one?"
All three looked at him in surprise. "Yes," Tracey answered simply. "Haven't you actually read any of the books about you?"
Harry grimaced. "I suppose what they say about me before I was 15 months old is probably right, but based on how many misconceptions everyone always has about me, I can't believe that anything after that point is worth reading."
Hornswallow looked down at the hand-shaped scorch marks on his countertop and found that he was re-evaluating his opinion of the Boy Who Lived.
Harry turned back forward. "So a hair band with the Potter crest on it is sufficient?"
Fred nodded. "As long as it's spelled correctly, yes."
"Spelled?" Harry asked lowly.
"Several different spells, actually. For instance only the master may remove the item," Tracey answered.
Harry frowned at her. "I don't like that, but it makes sense.
"Why aren't they allowed wedding bands?" Harry asked, turning to Hornswallow again.
"Anyone seeing a wedding band would assume it's from a proper marriage. As they're going to be chattel -"
Harry waved him off. "Yeah, we absolutely must keep them as humiliated and downtrodden as possible, right?" he asked in deep sarcasm.
Hornswallow shrugged nervously as Tracey lightly touched Harry's shoulder.
Taking a deep breath to calm down, Harry shook his head, resigned to the situation. "Can any jeweler do this, or is there a list?"
Finally able to give some good news, Hornswallow handed over the list of ministry approved jewelers.
Perusing the list, Harry asked, "Why just these and not anyone?"
"We have to be sure the right charms get put onto the right pieces and nothing extra goes onto them."
"Dark jewelers have been known to put mind-controlling spells on items," Tracey explained.
Harry blanched. "Okay, this list it is, then." He ran a finger down the parchment. "I've heard this place in Hogsmeade is good."
"Joyero's?" Daphne asked.
"Yeah, he does have a good reputation. Jewelry for a previous girlfriend, my lord?"
He gave her a wry look. "Yeah, right; Ron mentioned that he wished he could afford that place to get something for Hermione."
"Once you have the items finished, the jeweler you select will contact us with the specifics, so you don't have to do anything more on that end," Hornswallow added.
"Now, who will officiate?" the clerk went on, filling in the 'office use only' portion of the marriage form.
Harry groaned and buried his face in his hands.
Both girls broke into laughter as Hornswallow looked on in confusion.
"My great uncle is an elder on the Wizengamot and can officiate," Daphne offered quietly.
Harry looked at her gratefully.
"Philosophoclies Greengrass," she said to Hornswallow.
Harry and Tracey stared at her.
She shrugged, mildly embarrassed. "Don't ask me, I don't have a clue."
"When is the service?" Hornswallow asked.
"Er . . ." Harry was stumped.
"Greengrass Manor?" Daphne offered.
"The ministry atrium is sometimes used," Hornswallow suggested.
Harry shook his head. "I've several friends coming and both girls' families have already said they want to attend. Hogwarts?" he suggested to the girls.
Both frowned but nodded. Nobody was all that happy with the compromise, but it was a palatable answer for everyone even if it wasn't anyone's first choice.
The rest of the questions were easily and quickly dealt with and Harry paid the three galleon filing fee.
"We should see Daphne's uncle and then we can hit the jeweler," Tracey suggested. At everyone's agreement, Daphne led them to her uncle's office, leaving behind a pensive clerk.
The conversation with Daphne's Uncle Phil, an ordinary-looking wizard with a mid-sized office down a long hallway with all the other Wizengamot offices, went much smoother than Harry had worried it might. He had already heard the story from his brother and not only harbored no anger toward Harry, but he actually thanked the young wizard for what he was doing.
Similarly, the visit with the jeweler in Hogsmeade went smoothly. Both girls opted for a headband and a bracelet, switching back and forth as desired. Mr. Joyero explained that Harry needed to wear a Master's Band ring worn on the right hand that would connect him with each girl. The set of magical jewelry had only a few spells embedded into each piece. Tracey had already explained that the hair bands and bracelets could only be removed by the master. The ring could put out a mild summoning impulse and could also indicate direction to each of the items tied to it. Harry questioned the man closely, concerned with the similarities he heard in comparison to the Dark Mark. He was assured that it was a very limited set of spells and it would destroy the item if anyone tried to manipulate any of the current spells or add anything beyond what had already been described. Harry authorized payment and then agreed to pick up the items the next afternoon.
It was on the way out of the jewelry shop that all further plans for the day were shot to hell.