Rabastan sighed again and slumped a little. He was almost certain that Harry would put his family first, he knew his fiancé, and he would put Galleons on Harry choosing family over ambition, there was just a tiny niggle of doubt in the back of his mind that was constantly reminding him that Harry was stubborn, that Harry was wilful, that Harry refused to be pushed around or dictated to. He would write a letter to Harry, and hand it to Lucius to take to Hogwarts. He would floo call his friend and book a private room for this weekend at The Garnet Swan, in the hopes that Harry agreed to a dinner date. He hoped that Harry understood the situation, and agreed with him. Rabastan didn't want to think about what might happen if he didn't.
Chapter Thirty-One – Scheming
Harry was surprised when Snape held him back after their Tuesday morning double potions lesson, and he waved Blaise and Draco away and went up to the front desk, where Snape was standing, glowering down at him.
"Is there something wrong with my work, Professor?" Harry asked calmly.
"No. Mister Malfoy has done an adequate job of instructing you out of the corner of his mouth all lesson." Snape said, having a little dig, but Harry refused to rise to the barb. "A letter for you, passed through the floo to me by your father."
Harry took the sealed envelope curiously.
"Thank you, Sir." He said, turning and walking to the door.
Draco and Blaise were hovering anxiously outside, and Harry waved them both off.
"I'm fine." He insisted. "Father gave him a letter to pass to me."
Draco nodded, and Blaise slung an arm around him.
"What is it about? It must be important." Blaise said.
"No doubt it is. Let's go to the courtyard."
They had a break now before they had Ancient Runes, and Harry had the feeling that this letter was of utmost importance for Lucius to have sent it via Snape, and not with an owl. It was clearly time sensitive information that couldn't wait even a few extra days for an owl to deliver it to him.
Harry sat on a bench, and Draco and Blaise sandwiched him in on either side as Harry broke the Malfoy wax seal and took out the parchment within.
"That's not father's writing." Draco said immediately.
"It's Rabastan's." Harry said quietly, standing up, suddenly wanting to read the letter by himself.
He unfolded the letter, and he read it through quickly, hoping his fiancé was alright, and that nothing had happened.
Harry's shoulders slumped as he reached the bottom, and he relaxed a fraction, throwing a hand through his hair, before flattening his fringe back down automatically.
He sat back down between his friends and sighed.
"Well?" Draco demanded impatiently.
"He wants us to meet up, he has something to tell me. Something very important that can't be put in a letter, or passed on through someone else. He's gotten us a private room at The Garnet Swan for this Saturday."
Harry chewed on the inside of his lip anxiously, wondering what this could be about, and why Rabastan suddenly wanted to meet up, and so urgently.
"Well, you already know that he's not going to break things off with you." Draco said sternly, likely reading Harry's thoughts from his expression. "He loves you, Harry. He loves everything about you, even your annoying habit of putting yourself in danger."
Harry nodded, feeling a little reassured at least.
"I just don't know what it could be about." He said.
"Maybe he just wants to see you?" Blaise offered.
Harry shook his head. "No. His tone was urgent."
"How do you know that from a letter?"
"Because of the way he's written it. It's not rushed or hurried, but there's no teasing, he's straight to the point and almost hard in his words. Our letters are usually light, teasing, with a bit of sexual tension running through them. This letter has none of that, which is how I know that this is serious, and urgent. If he thought I would accept then he would have made the dinner date for tonight."
"Can you offer that?" Draco asked. "You're not going to get any good work in while you're so anxious and distracted. The sooner you get it over with, the better your studies will be."
Harry nodded. "I'll make time after lessons today, I can manage it if I skip study hall. Let me write a reply."
Harry got a quill out of his bag, used the bench as a table, and wrote out his plan for Rabastan, about meeting him tonight, instead of in four days. He wrote his reply on the back of Rabastan's original letter. It would be safer to send it back to Rabastan anyway, just in case he lost his bag or someone took it from him seeing as he was outside of his private rooms.
The three of them hurried back to the dungeons, where Harry handed the letter to Snape and endured the 'I'm not an owl, Potter' jibes, before they had to hurry out of the dungeons for Ancient Runes.
Harry hoped to hear back from Rabastan soon. Draco was right, he wasn't going to be able to concentrate until he knew what it was that had his fiancé so wound-up.
His answer had come as soon as lunch. Rabastan had made their reservations for that night, and Harry nervously allowed Draco to dress him up a little. Not as much as he did for a Ministry party, but enough to look good for his fiancé.
"You should be at dinner." Harry tried to tell Draco.
"I'll go as soon as you look presentable." Draco said distractedly.
"I'll be in a private room for the most part, I think this is adequate, Draco."
Draco stepped back and looked him over. He nodded his agreement.
"Yes, you look good. I'll be here when you get back."
"You don't need…"
"I want to know what was so important that he decided to contact you in the middle of the week, knowing how stressed you are with your school work, to give you a cryptic message and a dinner date for the weekend."
Harry sighed, and he nodded. "Okay, I won't be too late anyway, like you said, it's a weekday, and we have lessons tomorrow."
Draco gave him a pat, and Harry spun on his heel and Apparated to The Garnet Swan. He stepped forward automatically, and took a deep breath to ease his straining, constricted lungs.
"Lord Potter-Black, we have been expecting you." The Maître d said smoothly. "I will escort you to your room."
"Thank you." Harry said politely, as he followed the head waiter, and ignored the people suddenly whispering behind their hands, and nodding in his direction.
He was led up the beautifully carved stairs, the bannisters wrapped with autumn leaves and blooms, all in shades of orange, red, and yellow. Harry loved coming here and seeing the seasonal décor, that wasn't as gaudy as things were at Hogwarts.
It was subtle, a changing of the flowers, a change in the amount of lighting, but Harry loved the addition of the real fires burning all around the restaurant.
"Your room is here, Lord Potter-Black." The Maître d told him, indicating the first door, and bowing to him before leaving quickly, so that he didn't get any sort of peek into the room. The staff here really were well trained.
Harry knocked softly, just for politeness, before he opened the door and slipped inside. He couldn't control the automatic smile as he caught sight of Rabastan.
"Harry, you look lovely." Was Rabastan's rather husky greeting, as he came to embrace him.
Harry angled for a kiss, and he received it. He was at the least more reassured with that than he'd been before.
Rabastan saw him to his seat, and gave him another kiss before sitting opposite him.
"I ordered for you, Harry, if that's okay?"
Harry nodded. "You know what I like or dislike now, I trust you to order for me."
They were again served by a house-elf, who snapped their fingers and the dishes floated onto the table.
"Thank you." Harry said softly, ignoring Rabastan's grimace of distaste.
"Not a word about it, my love." Harry said, almost threateningly.
Rabastan blinked at his tone, then blew out a breath and let it go.
"How are your studies going?" He asked instead, forcibly changing the subject to something that was unlikely to cause an argument, especially with what was coming after.
"This year is going to kill me off, I swear. The teachers are trying to kill us off too. Our first week and we had three pieces of homework per each subject. It's only the third week of term, Rabastan, and I already have a mountain of homework."
"I wish you would listen to me when I say you're taking on too much." Rabastan told him worriedly.
"I can handle it. I have a schedule and it's working well. If things get too much I'll drop from the Quidditch team."
"You're still on the Quidditch team this year?" Rabastan asked, his worry jumping even higher, if possible.
Harry nodded, even as he dug into his starter. "Yes, I've played all through my Hogwarts stay, right from my first year, and it would be nice to do the seventh too. But as I said, if things start getting on top of me, then I'll drop from the team."
"And everything else you're piling onto yourself?"
"I'm doing well now that I've established a schedule, and a rhythm. Everything has slotted in nicely."
"Are you getting enough sleep?" Rabastan asked him.
"Yes." Harry answered, smiling at his fiancé softly. "You don't need to worry, Rabastan. I really am doing okay. I'm not on any potions, I'm healthy again, and yes, I'm getting enough sleep, and enough to eat and drink."
"Speaking of potions, have you noticed anything?"
Harry shook his head. "It's strange. I would have expected him to try as soon as he could, after realising that I didn't buy anything on the train. He is either suspicious of my sudden change in habits and is holding off for a while, or Marcus' runes have worked much better than expected and I haven't noticed any potion effects."
Rabastan reached out and caught one of Harry's hands, squeezing gently. Harry squeezed back with a smile.
"Everything is going to be fine, Basti." Harry assured him.
Rabastan swallowed, and wished that he had Harry's optimism.
They caught up over dinner, and then dessert, just enjoying one another's company, but it was when they left the table, and went to the cosy sitting area with after dinner tea and coffee that Rabastan suddenly became more nervous. He had no idea how Harry was going to react to this request, but he already knew that Harry wasn't going to be happy being told what to do, or how to vote.
"So, not that I haven't enjoyed a dinner date with you, I will always enjoy this, but why the sudden request, Rabastan? Why the cryptic letter sent via Snape? I'm curious, and worried as well. Will you tell me what this is for?"
Rabastan sighed. "I don't think you're going to like it."
Harry sighed himself. "Tell me what it is, and then we'll go from there."
"We've had our orders to ensure that Pius Thicknesse wins the election."
Harry frowned, having not expected the election to be what this was about.
"Oh, okay, but what does that have to do with me?" He asked.
Rabastan looked a little shifty, and Harry closed his eyes, trying to quell the anger he suddenly felt.
"I have to vote for Thicknesse as well, don't I?"
"I'm sorry, Harry. I know that this is your first voting experience, I know that you'd rather do your research and vote for the candidate you feel is the best, but that will interfere with The Dark Lord's plans, and you promised that you wouldn't do that in order to be neutral in the coming war."
Harry gritted his teeth and tried to control the wave of anger. He breathed through it, and calmed himself.
"I am not a Death Eater." He said furiously. "He doesn't get to order me around!"
"Harry, please." Rabastan begged him. "He said that you can vote for Bones if you want to, as long as you don't publically back her. Ideally though we'd like you to publically back Thicknesse."
"I haven't even got around to looking into either candidate. Rabastan, have you thought on how this will look for me if I publically back Thicknesse? If he's a terrible candidate, then my decision making skills will be called into question. I'm trying to pass my own laws, no one will take me seriously if I back the worst candidate for Minister!"
"He's under the Imperius curse, Harry. He does as we want, he says what we want. We'll make him the best candidate because we want him to be voted in." Rabastan swore. "If you still didn't want to back him, that's fine, but please, don't endorse Amelia Bones. You can keep your choice private, you don't have to share it with the world. If you are asked, just say that you're keeping your voting habits private."
Harry inhaled deeply, trying to calm himself. He didn't want to fallout with Rabastan over this. He wouldn't let Voldemort come between them. If voting for Thicknesse was required of him, then that is what he would do. He wasn't happy about it, but at least this would give him a bit more free time for other things, instead of heavily researching both candidates.
"I'll do it. But I'm not fucking happy about it, Rabastan!" He said. "You know that I don't like being played with. I don't like being told what to do."
"I'm so sorry." Rabastan told him sincerely, and Harry eased down a little as he recognised that Rabastan truly was sorry about it. This wasn't his fiancé's fault, the orders had come from Voldemort.
Harry sighed. "Well, at least I don't have to scrape out some time to do the research on both candidates. At the next election though, I get to choose, regardless of what Voldemort wants!"
Rabastan swallowed, but realising that that was the best he was going to get, he agreed. He would deal with the here and now, and then, if it was needed, he would deal with any future elections when they cropped up.
He reached out and pulled Harry into a soft kiss, and all the anger and tension seeped out of Harry, as he sunk into the kiss.
"I'm not a Death Eater." Harry said, almost worriedly, under his breath.
"You're not." Rabastan assured him. "You are not anywhere near being a Death Eater, Harry."
Harry still looked worried, and Rabastan pulled him from his chair and into his arms, sitting Harry on his lap. That made Harry smile.
"You're getting stronger."
"I am almost at the end of my potions regime. I will be able to cut down on them very soon, like you did."
"Really?" Harry asked excitedly. "That's wonderful news!"
Rabastan smiled at him, and cuddled Harry in tightly to his chest, trying to ignore the way his heart was pounding, and his gut was clenching, just from having Harry sat on his lap.
"I swore that I would be as strong and as healthy as I could be on our wedding day, and I mean to hold to that promise, Harry. Both Rodolphus and I have been getting much better in recent weeks."
"That makes me so happy." Harry told him, wrapping his arms around Rabastan's neck and hugging him close.
"I do love you, Harry. I want what is best for you, always, but sometimes my hands are tied. This is one of those times. I want…need to keep you safe."
"I'm one of his Horcruxes, Rabastan. He won't kill me."
"But he can hurt you, he can hurt your family."
"I made a verbal oath with him, Rabastan, when he accepted my gift, he swore on his magic that he wouldn't harm any of you."
"There are loopholes in everything, Harry. He might not harm us personally, or even give the order, but he can send Rodolphus and me on the most dangerous missions, he can do the same to Xerxes and Lucius. He won't kill us personally, or by word, but he can still see us harmed or killed."
Harry was furious, and the red hot anger swelled inside him. His fists clenched and he gritted his teeth.
"If he even dared, I would take him out so fast…"
Rabastan's hand clamped tight around his mouth, stopping his tirade.
"Shhh. Remember where you are, Harry." Rabastan said quickly, in a harsh whisper.
Harry nodded, and took a breath to calm himself. He had foolishly let his mouth, and anger, get a hold of him, and he had forgotten that The Garnet Swan was owned by a Death Eater. Rabastan had been right to shut him up.
"The notion stands." Harry said quietly. "I love you more than anything else, Rabastan. I would do anything for you, even vote for Thicknesse if that is what you want me to do."
Rabastan guided him into a soft kiss, before resting his forehead on Harry's. "I don't want to force you to do anything, but it'll keep us all safer."
Harry sighed, and let it go. There was nothing he could do about it, and he refused to put Rabastan, or his family, in any danger. His own hands were tied, and despite not liking it, he would vote for Thicknesse. Though depending on the promises Thicknesse made to the wizarding populace, how he spoke, and how he conducted himself Harry would decide then if he would back him publically or not. He wasn't about to risk his own future political career for Voldemort and if Thicknesse came over as weaker, and less suited than Amelia Bones, he would vote silently.
Draco had been waiting in his private room for him when he Apparated back to Hogwarts, never more happy that his Lordships, and place on the Wizengamot, allowed him to get through the strict Apparation wards on the school. Harry had told Draco what the urgent letter had been about, and about his feelings on 'having his wings clipped' in such a way, when he'd been looking forward to the elections, and researching the candidates himself, and voting how he felt was right.
He was still angry about it, but he was kept infinitely busy with his homework, and extracurricular activities, so he didn't have much time to stew in his anger. Which was a good thing after all, he needed to be focused on his studies, on his law reforms, his Lordships, his duties to the Wizengamot, and his charities as well, he didn't have time for anything else.
He had held try-outs for another Chaser, and he'd brought in Demelza and Sarah, who would be working with the new selection, and he'd given them a say in his choice. The three of them had decided upon a fourth year named Cory Lutz, who had tried out for the first time, and despite not being in the reserve team last year, showed excellent promise. Harry was holding practice as often as he could spare himself with his heavy workload, but thus far everything had been going well for him.
A knock on the door to his private rooms had Harry looking up at it with a confused frown. It was quite late, Draco and Blaise had only left fifteen minutes ago.
He looked around to see if they had forgotten anything, but nothing stuck out as not belonging. He was on high alert, thinking that perhaps it was Dumbledore as the door knocked again, a little more urgently.
Harry hid some of his more personal work, mostly notes on his law reforms, and he stood and he opened the door, his face pulled into a neutral mask. He couldn't control the shock that broke through when he saw Pansy stood on the other side.
"Pansy?" He asked needlessly. "What are you doing here? Curfew will be soon."
"I wanted to speak with you, can I come in?" She asked.
Harry was wary, he remembered Draco's warning that Pansy would be trying for a baby with absolutely anyone she could, in order to get out of her marriage to Lucan Selwyn, by trapping the father of her baby into a marriage instead, but he didn't see the harm that just listening to her would do. He wasn't about to hop into bed with anyone who wasn't Rabastan, no potions worked on him thanks to Marcus' runes, and he was strong enough to break through the Imperius curse so wouldn't be easily controlled via a spell.
"Sure, come in and make yourself at home. I'll make us some lavender tea."
Harry did just that, as Pansy looked around his private rooms, and then perched awkwardly on his settee. Harry took over two cups of tea and handed one to Pansy, while sitting opposite her.
"What did you want to talk about?" He asked.
"I…Astoria told me that Draco had said to her that you were upset with me."
Harry tried to think why, and he must have looked confused, because Pansy looked away and a faint red hint crawled up her cheeks.
"Because I tried to break your engagement to Rabastan so that I could be betrothed to him."
The penny dropped and Harry sighed. He had calmed down a little over that, after he had put himself in Pansy's shoes. Of course she had tried to break his engagement to have Rabastan herself. His fiancé was looking good these last few months, he was getting stronger, fitter, healthier. He was becoming the man that Azkaban had almost snuffed out indefinitely. Rabastan was handsome, and he was only thirty-seven, though he was turning thirty-eight in a few months. Compared to old, ugly, Lucan Selwyn then Rabastan could have been Prince Charming himself.
"I don't blame you for that, Pansy." He said calmly. "If I were in your shoes then I would do the exact same thing, but Rabastan and I are in love. We love one another very deeply and there is no way that I'll accept anyone breaking our engagement, not even if I disagree with the position you've been placed in."
Pansy's eyes welled up with tears, and they fell smoothly down her cheeks.
"Please help me." She begged. "It shouldn't matter if I slept with two boys, or two hundred, I don't deserve this punishment."
Harry felt helpless, as he didn't know what to do. Unless Pansy did end up pregnant by someone else, then she couldn't contest her father's betrothal of her to someone else, and despite the fact that it made him feel sick, he couldn't prevent her marriage to Lord Selwyn.
"I don't know how." He said honestly.
"Have a baby with me." She pleaded.
He was shaking his head before she'd even finished. "I told you, I love Rabastan. I'm not going to do anything to jeopardise my own marriage, Pansy. Rabastan means everything to me."
Pansy started sobbing uncontrollably, and Harry put down his cup and went to sit beside her, wrapping an arm around her. She turned into him, and unleashed all the grief and horror that she was feeling, and Harry swore that he would help her, maybe that would tie into his plans for Daphne also.
"Pansy, please, don't cry. I'll help you."
"You will?" She asked, lifting red rimmed, puffy eyes to look at him. "You'll have a baby with me?"
"No." He said firmly. "Not like that, I won't risk myself, or my own happiness, Pansy. But the situation you're in now is disgusting, and I won't have it. I'll help you, but you have to be ready to move the moment I tell you to. Options will be limited, but I swear it'll be better than Lord Selwyn."
"Anyone will be better than him, Harry. Please." Pansy begged vehemently and desperately.
"Leave it with me." Harry promised her.
"Thank you." She told him, throwing her arms around him and squeezing tight. "Thank you so much."
Harry patted her back, and then pushed the tea at her again.
"Go back to the common room, just go to bed, and I'll sort this for you, Pansy. No sabotage, no throwing yourself on someone else, okay? Focus on yourself, and on your school work, leave everything else to me."
"I only have until the winter holidays." She told him. "I…I'm set to marry him before Christmas."
Harry nodded his understanding. "I'll make it a priority, Pansy, I promise."
She drained her tea, and stood, and Harry stood with her. He saw her out and then cursed himself for a fool. He threw a hand through his hair and sat back on his settee, thinking about what he had promised and how it was going to be virtually impossible to keep that promise.
The sadistic streak in him rose up, and said that he should put Daphne in her place, exchange her for Pansy because of her cruel taunts and her arrogance, for the way she treated Theo, and everyone else around her as commodities, instead of people. But how? How could he manage it? Was it really any better putting Daphne in Pansy's place? It was still giving a young girl to an old, ugly man.
That sadistic streak was back, and Harry thought that it was better to have Daphne in that place than Pansy. For while he thought that neither girl deserved that sort of horror, Pansy certainly didn't deserve it. His fist clenched. He didn't really like Pansy, and he still remembered how she'd spoken to him, treated him, this time last year, but truly all she had done was have sex with Draco, and Blaise. A bit of teenage experimentation. Her only crime apparently having a pregnancy scare out of wedlock which had lost her her betrothal to Cassius Warrington, the arrogant, stuck up, sloth.
He hated the double standards, the sexism and latent misogyny throughout pureblood culture. Something that he himself was subjected to merely because he carried the gene that allowed him to fall pregnant. His fist clenched tight as he remembered Rodolphus' little 'purity' test with Veritaserum. He had been forced to prove that he was a virgin, because no one had been willing to take his word for it.
His mind made up Harry sat forward and grabbed a piece of parchment and a quill. He tapped the quill against the table a moment, while he thought how best to put his proposition down in a letter.
There was nothing else for it, he'd have to go all out and use threats, and hope that it didn't come back to rip his political career to pieces. He'd promised Pansy that he'd help her, and he would do just that.
"Kreacher!" He called out, even as he quickly sealed the letter with a blob of white wax and no identifying seal.
A faint pop and the old elf was there, bowing to him.
"What can poor Kreacher be doing for his master?"
"I need this letter delivered, Kreacher. It can't go via owl, it must not be intercepted, and no one but the addressee must see it. Am I clear?"
"Yes, Master." Kreacher replied, taking the hastily sealed letter from Harry, and then disappearing with another crack.
Harry threw a hand through his hair and sighed wearily. He really hoped that this didn't backfire into his face.
Charlie tried to mask his emotions as he entered his childhood home to find Dumbledore sat at the kitchen table with his parents fluttering around him, and Bill sat with a new stack of ancient looking books from their old headmaster.
"Charlie, there you are. Where have you been?" His mother asked, and Charlie wanted to scowl. He was twenty-four, and he had only come back here because he'd needed to, otherwise he'd happily be in Romania, with his dragons.
"I was looking for pub work." He lied. "Any extra income will help to pay off Harry's debt quicker."
As usual, at the mention of the debt, his parents went pale, and sombre, and Bill went red with anger.
"I am hoping that I have come here to help with that. As well as to help the Order." Dumbledore told them, with that damnable twinkle in his eyes.
"How?" Bill asked.
Dumbledore turned to him, and Charlie felt his heart accelerate.
"How would you feel about becoming a Lord like William?" Dumbledore asked him.
Both Charlie and Bill grimaced, himself at the thought of putting himself under the same stress as Bill, and Bill for being called William when it wasn't the name he preferred.
"How can I?" He asked, taking a seat at the table and trying to appear relaxed. It was all part of the ruse, the part he had to play. He needed to seem comfortable, open and honest about wanting to help. He could do that.
"I have found the needed laws that will allow you to claim the Prewett Lordship."
"I'm not a Prewett." Charlie pointed out. "I'm a Weasley."
"Harry isn't a Black, yet he has the Black Lordship from Sirius." Dumbledore said calmly. "Your mother is a Prewett, and that is a closer tie than Harry had to Sirius. We need as many people as we can get on the Wizengamot, the more eyes and ears the better, and the more votes we have to try to limit any damage Voldemort and his followers are trying to do."
"I'm not sure I'll be as good at it as Bill." He said, putting up a token protest. He wondered if this would be a good or a bad thing in the long run.
"I'll help you." Bill insisted. "I've gotten better at this now that I've settled in."
Charlie nodded. "Okay, I'll do it. But I'm still not sure how much use I'll be in the actual debates."
"I thought the same when I first started, but it's not so bad." Bill told him.
"Will I have to pretend to be a poncey Pureblood, and renounce our ancestors?" Charlie asked.
"You will, but it is only a front."
Charlie sighed. "Okay, tell me what I have to do."
"I have the application here, though you'll need to go to Gringotts first, to denounce Bilius Weasley and claim the Prewett Lordship."
"Shouldn't Bill be the Prewett Lord? He is the oldest." Charlie tried.
"He should, yes, unless you were to be disowned, legally, but not in truth."
"You want us to disown Charlie?" Arthur demanded. "No. We can't do that to one of our children!"
"It is for the greater good." Dumbledore said calmly. "With Bill and Charlie on the Wizengamot, that is two votes we didn't have before."
"You're asking too much of us." Molly told him. "You're asking us to disown one of our children! Our Charlie!"
"Mum, it's okay." Charlie told her.
"It would only be legally, and the decision can be reversed once all of this is over, you'll just have to re-inherit Charlie at Gringotts." Dumbledore said, as if this wasn't going to be the hardest thing his parents had ever done.
"I don't think I could do it, even knowing it wasn't true." She turned to look at the clock on the living room wall, which could just about be seen from where she was sitting.
"You must be strong in this. We need more voices on the Wizengamot, or Voldemort will win the Ministry without even a fight. He already has the majority control in the Wizengamot. He will target the Council of Magical Law next, after he is done putting his choice for Minister in position."
"There are talks of late night visits and threats being whispered around the Ministry." Arthur said quietly. "The Death Eaters are trying to influence the vote in favour of Thicknesse."
"We must ensure that Amelia Bones wins, though after Rufus Scrimgeour was killed, her life will be in constant danger if she does win."
Arthur shook his head. "Thicknesse is a popular candidate. He's speaking well and addressing some key points that are making people interested. Those who are torn between the two are being threatened by Death Eaters, those who are openly voting for Amelia Bones are disappearing."
"These are dangerous times." Dumbledore agreed. "That is why, now more than ever, we need to take every opportunity that we can."
"But to disown one of our children!" Molly complained.
"Our children mean everything to us." Arthur agreed.
Charlie felt a stab through his heart, and tried not to let his guilt show. He steeled himself, everything he was doing, it was for the dragons under his care. The dragons that no one ever thought about. That no one cared about. If he changed his mind now, then the dragons would be the ones suffering for it, and he couldn't watch them struggle and suffer any longer. Enough was enough, no matter what, no matter who, he would be on the side of those who were looking out for his dragons.
"You have to do this." He told his parents. "We need to do what is best as a whole. I'm not going to be offended."
"But, Charlie…" His mother started, but he held a hand up to stop her.
"If you don't disown me and allow me to take the Prewett Lordship, I will disown myself and do it."
"Is this what you want, son?" Arthur asked him.
"No, of course not. But it's what we must do. The decision can be reversed, but we need to do it now, just like when Bill took the Weasley Lordship."
Arthur swallowed, and closed his eyes, looking so pained that Charlie almost regretted everything. Almost.
He steeled himself and thought of the Dragonologist's face when he sadly told them, the handlers, that the Romanian reserve had been defunded yet again, and how it meant they wouldn't be able to feed all of the hatchlings they'd had that year…that some of them had to be culled despite them all being perfectly healthy. His heart throbbed with agony, and his resolve strengthened. He could do this. For his dragons he could do anything.
"We'll do it. I'll go to the bank and disown Charlie." Arthur said, as if every word were glass being ripped past his throat.
"Thank you." Dumbledore said. "This will help the Order immensely."
"Bill, can you help me learn?" Charlie asked his brother.
"Of course. Come here, let me show you. At least now I can talk to someone who's going to know exactly how boring and dry it is to learn all of this."
"Gee, thanks." Charlie said with an eye roll, as he moved to sit next to Bill.
He still didn't know if he'd done the right thing or not, he would have to go and ask, but not tonight. He had only just come back from another private meeting, and his family would be very suspicious if he went out again tonight.
He didn't know how he had gotten caught up in any of this, he'd only wanted to keep his dragons safer. He'd wanted new laws to protect them, and all dragons. Trade in illegal eggs were still going on, and many of the perpetrators weren't being prosecuted to the full extent of the current laws, which only encouraged others to take the risk. It needed to change, and he had sworn that he would do all that was asked of him in exchange for someone to address these loopholes, to think of the dragons as he did, to help and protect them like he did.
Now it was too late to turn back, he had signed himself over, and in return he was going to get protections for the magical creatures that people ignored and didn't think about.
It was a situation that was bad on both sides, between a rock and a hard place his muggleborn friend liked to say, and Charlie felt like he couldn't live with either decision. But he had made his choice now. He had chosen his dragons, and truthfully, if Harry had abandoned the Order, if he was truly the lover of Rabastan Lestrange and working for The Dark Lord, and all signs pointed to such, then the Order had lost before they'd even stood up to fight. He would need to find a way to keep his family safe throughout this coming war, and hope that they forgave him when all was said and done, and the truth came out at last.
Harry sat on the settee in his private living room, and he played with the dragonhide and silver bracelet on his wrist. It had been a gift from Rabastan, one of the first, and he treasured it.
He was swamped under homework, and all the extra-curricular work he was doing, but he was managing, somehow, to keep his head above the water. Not at the moment, however. He was procrastinating, his mind distracted by other things, other thoughts.
All of the little plots and intrigues he had going on were coming to a head, and it was making him stressed. He felt frayed and frazzled. There was too much going on in his brain and it felt like he couldn't have a quiet moment to himself.
He had struggled through a tutoring session with Marcus, who had shown him no sympathy, or given him any leeway. His homework was piling up in an almost comical fashion, and here he was, putting it off yet again in favour of agonising over Pansy's situation and how he was going to help her.
He'd heard back from his little scapegoat, and he sounded very unwilling to even meet with him, but Harry had threatened him and backed him into a corner until he had no choice but to agree to a meeting with him.
Their meeting was set for that weekend, and Harry was nervous, and worried. Stressed didn't even come close to covering how he felt. He couldn't concentrate on anything else, and he wondered, not for the first time, why he had made this his business when truthfully it had nothing to do with him.
He sighed. He knew why. It had been Pansy's face, her tears as she begged him for help. The horror of her situation that he had seen plainly on her face, stamped into her eyes. He hadn't been able to ignore that. Everyone said that he was too soft, and perhaps he was, but he would rather be soft than hard. He would rather be empathetic than apathetic. He would rather be kind than cruel.
But that left him in this situation, where he was stuck helping people when he already had so much on his own plate, where he was definitely biting off more than he could chew. Well, there was nothing else for it, he just had to hope that his first plan worked out how he wanted. He didn't have a plan B to fall back on, it was either this, or he would have to tell Pansy that he couldn't help her and that she had to marry Lucan Selwyn in December.
His door knocking brought him out of his thoughts, and he stood to go and open it, knowing that it was likely Blaise and Draco, maybe even Theo. He was partially right as Draco and Blaise entered his room, but they were followed by Pansy.
"To what do I owe this pleasant, unexpected visit?" He asked sarcastically.
"You're so rude sometimes, Potter." Draco told him. "We're guests to your living quarters, you're a host now, so offer us tea."
"Get your own damn tea." Harry said playfully, even as he sat back down on his settee.
Draco rolled his eyes. "Mother would be furious with you right now if she could see you."
"Mother isn't here." Harry pointed out, taking it one step further and kicking his feet up on the coffee table.
Draco sat down opposite him, glaring at him, and Harry laughed, but he did get up to go and make tea for his guests.
"Harry, have you done any homework at all?" Blaise asked, sitting beside Draco and opposite Pansy, but he was looking through the massive stack of parchment at that end of the coffee table, to find a dozen pieces of unfinished homework.
"I've had a lot on my mind." Harry said, and he couldn't help his automatic glance to Pansy. Thankfully both Draco and Blaise missed it, but Pansy didn't, and she bit her lip, looking guilty.
"Harry, this is pretty much everything we've been given." Draco said angrily. "Get back over here and do some of it, you can't let yourself get behind like this. Some of these essays are due tomorrow!"
"We'll help you if you need it." Pansy offered in a quiet voice.
Harry made the tea, and brought it over. Draco had already gone through the pile to find his most urgent pieces of homework.
"This is too much to do tonight, you'll be in detention!" Draco hissed at him. "Is that what you want? Even less time to work on your homework?"
"You know it's not." Harry said wearily.
"Why haven't you done any of this?!" Draco demanded, getting angry, two spots of pink colouring his cheeks.
Harry threw a hand through his hair. "I've had a lot on my mind, Draco. It did get pushed to the wayside. I'm sorry."
"Tell that to father when he receives a report of your first term, to find out you've been in detention several times for missing homework! He will force you to give up your extra-curricular activities, including Quidditch, and your law reforms!"
Harry scowled, and dared anyone to force him to give up anything when he didn't want to. He inhaled deeply, and tried to calm himself.
"Let's get you started at least." Blaise said. "Between all of us, maybe we will get all the essays you need done tomorrow finished."
Harry nodded. He hoped so, he really didn't want detention. He didn't need anything else eating into his sparse free time. He had been thinking of too much, though. He had been distracted and he had neglected his school work. He needed to be better, to do better. He knew it, but he had so much on his mind, and with him pretty much blackmailing someone to marry Pansy…he swallowed. Merlin he hoped that didn't blow up in his face.
"Right, we're starting with Potions, because Snape will give you detention if you don't do it." Draco said authoritatively. "It has to be your handwriting, Harry, so grab a quill."
Harry did just that, thankful that, despite their own homework to do, that they were willing to help him.
"I'm good with Arithmancy, so I'll write down all the answers to this questionnaire for you." Blaise told him. "You'll have to copy it to another sheet, however."
"I'm good with Transfiguration." Pansy said, looking for the essay. "If I write down bullet points, you can structure your essay on that."
"Thank you." Harry said gratefully.
"Do not let this happen again, Harry." Draco told him seriously. "If you need our help, ask us. You help us with Defence work, and with Ancient Runes now, because Marcus has forced you so far ahead. You can return the favour, just ask!"
Harry nodded. He hoped that it wasn't needed though. He hoped that once he forced through the marriage of Pansy, that he could go back to his perfectly structured schedule. It was that which had thrown him off of everything else because he had been doing perfectly fine before then. All he needed now was a Wizengamot debate to be called, and he would be sent straight back into crisis with his homework. He could not wait until this school year was over and he'd never have to come back to Hogwarts, or worry about homework ever again.
Harry was naturally rather nervous as he nursed a butterbeer. It was Saturday evening and Harry was in a secret, magical part of Riva del Garda, a very beautiful little town in northern Italy, to meet with the man he was trying to blackmail into marrying Pansy.
If any of his family knew that he had not only left the school, but had actually left the country, then he might as well sign his own life away now. Rabastan would be particularly furious if he ever found out. Harry hoped desperately that none of them ever did.
He was only six weeks into term, it was the second week of October, and already Harry felt pulled apart at the seams. This little venture really didn't help matters, but he had promised to help Pansy, so that is exactly what he'd do.
The chair opposite him was jerked out angrily, and a man sat down, glaring holes into him.
"Giovanni Bellini, I presume." Harry said coolly. "Or do you prefer Rowle now that you've taken over your cousin's Lordship?"
"Rowle." The man opposite him growled. "I'll have you know that I don't appreciate being ordered around, or blackmailed by little boys still in school!"
"Yet here you are." Harry said, sitting up straighter, glaring right back at the young man, who was only twenty-four.
"You don't have anything on me! I had nothing to do with my cousin's death."
"We both know that." Harry said, giving a small smile. "But you are the one who gained the most when he died."
"I have never even met my cousin, he hated my mother, so you can't force me to marry this sullied girl!"
Harry's eyes narrowed. "So even you think that women should remain virgins until they're married? The outdated, archaic practices of decades past, when you're only twenty-four yourself."
Giovanni flushed, and grit his teeth. "I don't. Not usually." He admitted. "I had heard she'd had an abortion though. I will not accept anyone who has done such a heinous thing as abort an unborn child!"
Harry held his sneer back, and bit his tongue on exactly why it was perfectly acceptable for women to choose what to do with their own bodies. Arguing the toss with the new Lord Rowle wasn't his objective here.
"She had a pregnancy scare. She was never actually pregnant, and she didn't have an abortion."
Giovanni looked like he'd rather not believe him. Then he was naturally going to be looking for any sort of way out of this situation.
"I demand her medical records!"
Harry took a file out of his bag and slid it across the table. He had expected this, and he'd gotten Pansy to access her own files, and give a copy of them to him. She was seventeen now, and she didn't have to go through her parents to gain a copy of her own records, which was very fortunate for them.
Giovanni snatched the file, and waved his wand over it several times in a very complicated manner.
Only once he was assured that they hadn't been tampered with, did Giovanni open the file and start reading. He was going to be looking for any sort of discrepancy, for all Harry knew a fucking broken bone would be the excuse to pull out of this marriage.
Harry wasn't going to allow him to pull out though. He had Giovanni bent over a barrel, which is why Harry had chosen him. It was a dangerous double-edge, though. At any moment Harry could be the one bent over the barrel. He couldn't allow that to happen, he had to keep the upper hand here.
"I still do not accept this proposition!" Giovanni said, slamming the file closed.
Harry assumed that he couldn't find any fault with it considering he didn't bring anything up.
"You will accept it." Harry said calmly, threateningly.
"What will happen if I do not?" Giovanni asked him through clenched teeth.
"I frame you for Thorfinn's murder." Harry told him.
Giovanni slammed his fist into the table so hard that other patrons at the outside café turned to look at them.
"I didn't do it, you cannot pin it on me when I didn't do it!" He whispered harshly.
"Yes I can." Harry said simply, confidently.
"I don't believe you. You are bluffing just to get me to agree. I will not!"
"You will if you don't want to end up in prison."
"I am innocent!" Giovanni hissed at him. "My innocence will keep me from prison, you little worm!"
Harry chuckled. "If you actually thought that was true then you wouldn't have even come here."
"You seem sure of what actually happened to my cousin, when we, his family, do not even know. He just disappeared one day in December last year, and all tracers say that he has died. He was last seen on New Year's Eve at…at your parents' home!" Giovanni looked at him with wide eyes, as if suddenly realising the implications of what he'd just said.
Harry smirked at the young man opposite him.
"I know exactly what happened to him." Harry hissed back, adopting the same tone as Giovanni.
"Then you are the one who murdered him! It is you who face prison if this is found out, not me."
"You owe your Lordship to me." Harry told him.
"That is nothing compared to murder."
"If anyone could pin his murder on me, it would have been done already." Harry said confidently, even knowing that if it came down to it, he could claim self-defence. Rowle had been trying to rape him at the time, but considering it had been almost a year since the incident, and he had not told any Law Enforcer about it, and had in effect tried to cover it up, he probably wouldn't have a leg to stand on in an actual trial. "There was no evidence, no leads, were there?"
Giovanni sneered at him, but said nothing, so Harry took that to mean he was correct.
"I can plant evidence, and set anyone I want up for the fall of his murder. I know what happened, I know everything, and seeing as you gained the most from his death, setting you up to take the fall is very convenient for me. Get Pansy Parkinson pregnant before December, and then you will marry her once she graduates, and I won't set you up for a murder we both know you didn't commit."
"How about I just go to the authorities and get them to test you with Veritaserum!"
Harry scoffed. "We both know that neither of our Ministries use Veritaserum in trials. It's too complicated to make, it takes too long to brew, and it's way too expensive. The British Ministry won't even hear a word said against me, even if you did go to the Italian Aurors, they wouldn't be able to touch me and I wouldn't even be questioned. But you will. If I come forward and make a statement against you, with what you gained with Thorfinn's murder, you'll be arrested and in a holding prison within the hour!"
Harry could hear Giovanni grinding his teeth. The twenty-four year old looked like he wanted to leap over the table and murder him. Perhaps he did. Harry would want the same if their roles were reversed. He reminded himself that this was for Pansy. Pansy who was set to marry Lucan Selwyn in just two months, a man who was near enough sixty years older than she was.
Harry felt the vomit crawl up his throat, as he thought of poor Pansy with Lucan Selwyn, and he swallowed it back down under the guise of taking a drink to appear casual and relaxed.
"What is your answer? I don't have all night, Lord Rowle. I will be missed from school sooner or later."
Giovanni was young, he was only twenty-four, and he didn't even have the experience that Harry did with the Wizengamot, he had yet to have his first debate even, despite that Thorfinn had been dead for almost a year. The application was rather lengthy, after all, especially for those who inherited a Lordship, but lived in a different country, exactly like Giovanni, who wasn't even a citizen of the United Kingdom he was now going to have to serve.
His father had told him that Giovanni would have had to take a British citizenship test, and prove that he knew the laws of the United Kingdom, before he was approved to sit on the Wizengamot. The man opposite him had only just passed both, and he would be included in the Wizengamot as soon as the next meeting.
"Why do you care about this girl?" Giovanni demanded. "What is she to you? You are engaged to another girl, are you not?"
"That's right." Harry said simply. "Aceline."
"Why not forsake the girl and take Parkinson for yourself if you feel so strongly about it?"
"Pansy is just a friend, and I promised to help her. Aceline is my love and I am devoted to her. You are stalling, Lord Rowle. What is your answer? Pansy or prison?"
"I will not help you, it'll be you who is in prison. Not me."
Harry smirked. "I didn't really want to use this, but…"
Harry pulled out another folder, and slipped it across the table. Giovanni snatched it and opened it, and just a few seconds of reading, of looking at what the file contained, and his face bleached pale, his eyes widened, and his mouth dropped open. Harry could hear his choked breathing from where he was sat.
"This isn't real." He whispered, as he looked at the incriminating evidence that would see him in prison for Thorfinn's murder.
"We both know that." Harry said grimly. "But when faced with this sort of evidence, they're not going to ask too many questions, and if you try to protest your innocence, they'll just assume that you're lying to save your own skin. I can frame you for his murder, I will have you in prison if you don't do as I tell you."
Giovanni looked at him with loathing, and Harry understood fully that he had just made an enemy for life. He'd known that before he'd even wrote the first letter to the new Lord Rowle. If it saved Pansy from her horrific fate he didn't care.
"I agree to your…proposal." Giovanni said quietly, all the wind taken from his sails.
"You will get her pregnant before December, you will accept her father's demands to marry her to keep your child legitimate. You are allowed to ask for a paternity test before you marry her, to ensure the baby she has is yours, which it will be. You will treat her kindly and with respect. If you dare harm her, abuse her, or treat her as anything less than your wife, a human being, then I will use this file to have you in prison, and I will free her from you, and her obligation to marry. Am I clear?"
Giovanni was breathing heavily, and both fists were clenched tight. He nodded curtly.
"I will set up a meeting with the girl, and I will use fertility charms to get her pregnant by the time limit stipulated. You had better pray that I never get any dirt on you, Potter." Giovanni told him harshly. "With all luck, our paths will never cross again outside of the Wizengamot."
"That depends on how well you treat Pansy and your children." Harry told him. "This file is going to be kept safe, and it will hang over your head for the rest of your life. You raise a fist to her, if you so much as raise your voice, I will find out and see your arse to prison."
Harry reached into his bag yet again, and this time he pulled out a contract. He pushed it over to Giovanni, who looked furious to see that he was going to be held to an actual written contract as well as being blackmailed, but Harry refused to take any chances.
Giovanni read the contract through critically, and Harry got the feeling that he read it through more than once from the amount of time that he took. Harry didn't blame him there. Giovanni was twenty-four, he knew how to read a contract for loopholes.
Giovanni let out a shuddering breath, and took the self-inking quill that Harry gave him, and he signed his name, before using his wand to cause a small wound on his thumb. He squeezed the blood up to make a good sized drop, before he used it to place a bloodied thumbprint next to his name.
"Thank you for this." Harry said, gathering the contract him himself and putting it securely back in his bag along with the two folders he'd brought with him.
"Don't." Giovanni hissed at him, shoving himself away from the table and standing angrily. "Remember my words, Potter, and stay out of my way."
Harry said nothing, he didn't quake or quiver, he stood himself and met Giovanni's gaze head on.
"It's you who needs to stay out of my way." Harry said right back. "Don't cross me, don't harm Pansy in any way, and I'll never have need to use the contents of that file, and you won't go to prison for something that you didn't do."
"You're a little monster." Giovanni spat at him.
"All the more reason to stay away from me. Have a pleasant evening, Lord Rowle."
Without giving Giovanni a chance to reply, Harry spun on his heel, thinking hard about his room in Hogwarts, and when the feeling of his lungs constricting eased, and he opened his eyes, he was safely back in his rooms at Hogwarts.
He blew out a long, hard breath, and he dropped his book bag and walked to his settee so that he could collapse down onto it and relearn how to breathe. He'd never had to blackmail someone before, and he felt dirty. Giovanni's face kept appearing behind his closed eyes, and his last words rang in his head. Was he a monster? In Giovanni's eyes, probably.
It was done now, and he could tell Pansy what he'd done, and who her husband was going to be. It could wait until tomorrow. It was late, and he was exhausted and drained.
He wouldn't have to think about it anymore, though. Giovanni had signed the contract, he had agreed, no matter how reluctantly. He and Pansy would be expecting a baby by December, at which point Pansy could break her engagement to Lucan Selwyn, and her father, Lord Paimon Parkinson, could demand that Giovanni married her instead so that the baby was legitimate.
Harry could start to focus on just himself again, he could start to get back into the flow of his homework, and keep himself to his schedule again. He had kept his promise to Pansy, and he had made himself a lifelong enemy in the process, but it was over now. He could show Pansy the contract, and then leave her to deal with the business of getting a baby from Giovanni and then forcing her father to draw up a contract with him. He'd done his part, and he was glad that it was over.
Harry sat forward and rubbed his hands over his face. He still had a mass of homework to do, but he was too tired to even think of it right now. Tomorrow he decided. Tomorrow he would get back into his schedule and start pulling himself together, and getting himself back on track.
He would get back to his schedule, and he would tackle his homework pile, and everything else he still had to do, but not today. Tonight he was just going to grab an early night and catch up on some of the sleep he'd lost because of this situation. He'd never claw it all back, nor get rid of the stress he'd gathered on his shoulders, but he'd do what he could now to ease it down.
Groaning and standing up, Harry moved to his bedroom and stripped off. He considered having a shower, but felt that he just couldn't be bothered. Instead he tugged on his pyjamas and climbed into bed.
He picked up his book for the first time in weeks and cracked it open. It felt nice to be getting back to his version of normal. He settled his shoulders into his pillow and started reading. He would only read a chapter or two, and then he would go to sleep. Tomorrow was going to be stressful enough, and he couldn't stop his mind from going around in circles. He tried to shove everything out and focus on the words in front of him. He really, really hoped that his family never found out about what he'd done.
A/N: Poor Harry might be a little deluded in thinking that his family will never find out about his cross-country jaunt, but that is for a later chapter. But Pansy is now safe from Selwyn, but Daphne's future is very unclear…we know that Theo is getting rid of her, we know that Harry has plans for his own revenge…she will be in need of a betrothal/marriage, but there's not going to be many people who'll touch her with her reputation. Not that I like slut-shaming her, but I think we can all agree that if anyone takes it too far, it's Daphne. I think it was sleeping with Philip Nott's business friend in Theo's bed that did it. It was at that point I starting thinking that she was irredeemable, but that's again for a later chapter.
This fic wasn't set to get an update for a few more weeks, when I took my Christmas break from uni, but given the happy news coming from America today, I actually feel so happy and relieved for all of my friends in America that I decided to edit this chapter and update it. Human decency, human rights, and equality will prevail. Well done, lovelies, and I hope you've enjoyed the chapter.
StarLight Massacre. X