Disclaimer: Go ahead, tell people I created the characters used in this story. Do it in front of me, so I can point at you and laugh.
Author's Note: This was supposed to be one of my "Midgets", just a few paragraphs long, but it grew. And that is the main reason I didn't want to start a collection of story fragments in the first place. Believe it or not, there were shorts and novellas and a children's story and several non-fiction books I was supposed to be working on, things that would bring in income to support my precious babies. This wasn't any of those. OK, rant over. We apologize for the inconvenience.
"Potter. I haven't seen you in a while."
"Davis. You're looking well. And I have good reason for keeping out of sight. Maybe you didn't notice, but everyone and his brother have been wanting me to do things for them every time I show my face for the past six months."
Tracey winced but didn't correct the one mistake in what he'd said. "Ah, that's awkward, since I was about to ask you for help."
Potter frowned slightly but said, "I have a couple of other stops this afternoon. You can walk with me and tell me what you need so long as you don't get too annoying." He didn't say it, but his eyes dipping to the neckline of her robe suggested the reason for his unusual cordiality. Tracey thanked the luck that had her choosing this outfit this morning. She'd been making the best of a bad situation, but getting Potter to let her talk to him was a good bonus.
"Thanks. We might run into Daphne, you remember her, Daphne from school, and if we do I'll have her join us. I saw her a few minutes ago and she has the same problem I do."
"Fine. I'm getting potions first."
As expected, Potter was accosted several times in the few minutes on the way to the potions shop. "Mr Potter, the minister hasn't received your response. We can expect you at the ball, can we not?" "Would you care to endorse our line of …" "I love you!"
Tracey didn't have a chance to make her pitch for Potter's help. She was barely able to get two words in around the pushy petitioners. Obviously she'd have to be pushy herself, but this wasn't the place. She was glad of the delay, actually. She'd spotted Potter by chance and a half-formed plan leapt into her mind and had her approaching him before she finished thinking it through.
Daphne did join them, exiting a beauty parlor just as Tracey and Potter passed.
"Greengrass," Potter said neutrally. "I'd say you're looking well, but it would be a lie."
Neither of the women bothered to correct him. His observation was correct, and the incorrect part wasn't worth correcting. Daphne's hair was perfect and her features were still lovely and she was wearing nice clothes, but she also wore an air of depression. Desperation, maybe. Tracey sympathized completely. If anything, Daphne had it worse than she did.
The petitioners kept pressing Potter in the potions shop and back on the street. The only break was when Potter picked up a pair of boots he'd had repaired, and that was probably only because the boot maker's shop had no room for fan girls and reporters and beggars to come in. If this was what Potter had to put up with, it was no wonder he avoided going anywhere that people would recognize him.
"Potter, this isn't working. All these idiots…" Tracey waved her hand, ignoring the offended look on a predatory young woman's face. "Can we take you to lunch, someplace we can talk quietly? Our treat."
"It'll have to be the Leaky Cauldron," Daphne put in, speaking for almost the first time. "Archer's is redecorating and their private rooms are closed. We can rent a room with a table at the Cauldron and have lunch sent up. The food will be plainer, but we'll have some privacy."
At the pub's counter, Tracey asked Old Tom for a private dining room for a meeting, speaking up so that onlookers could hear. She knew there were no private dining rooms, only large bedrooms which had a table and chairs, but perhaps the loud request would stop tongues wagging about Harry Potter going up to a rented bedroom with two women he was not married to.
Not that she particularly cared about Potter's reputation or his problems, of course, but in this instance her reputation would be dragged down with his. Worse, even, because of the male-female double standard and because of the family situation that was currently weighing her down.
Lunch arrived in their rented room before the three had gotten beyond pleasantries and a bit of catching up – although the catching up frequently ran aground because most of Tracey and Daphne's friends and relations had been on the opposite side of the war as Harry. His statement, "Jeremy Vining? I don't know why his family told you that. He didn't leave the country to get away from the war. I killed him about a year ago in an ambush." resulted in an awkward pause, and it was a relief when Hannah Abbot, who apparently had gotten a job as waitress, knocked at the door.
They spent just a moment catching up with their old classmate before Tom bellowed for her to stop lallygagging and get back to work. Tracey cursed to herself. She'd wanted to make sure Abbot realized this was a working meeting, not a tryst. Abbot hadn't been a major gossip in school, but she'd sometimes been a spiteful blabbermouth.
"How lovely to see her again," Harry said sarcastically. "She wore one of Malfoy's badges in our fourth year and bad-mouthed me a couple of times that I overheard. Then her trying to suck up to me in fifth year, after I told a couple of people about some of my, um, adventures, that made it worse, really.
Once again, Tracey had to hide a wince. She and Daphne had worn "Potter Stinks" badges, too. They didn't have much choice in the matter, but that might not matter to him.
After the adequate but not fancy lunch was finished was a better time to raise her request with Harry, Tracey reflected. More to the point, after the third adequate but not fancy bottle of wine had been opened was a better time.
Unfortunately, even after most of a bottle of wine to herself, Daphne was still quiet and depressed. Tracey would have to carry the conversation.
"I was wondering if you were going to work up the nerve to ask me whatever you were going to ask me for."
"I was waiting for the right moment." And it sounded like the wine was affecting him a bit. Good. "To make a long story short, Daphne and I are married."
"Congratulations, I suppose. But I guess your marriages have something to do with whatever your problem is."
"Yes. Our husbands bought us from our families."
"'Bought'? What? Slavery? Chattel wives?"
"Not quite. After You Know Who's side lost, all the marked Death Eaters and a lot of survivors were arrested and trials were scheduled."
"Yes, I know. I noticed how the aurors appeared again after the war was won. Not won by them, I'll point out. And I noticed that most of the trials never took place. Just imagine how happy I was to see wizards walking around free a month after I beat them and captured them when they were doing a midnight attack. I should have killed them all, not taken any prisoners."
This time Tracey couldn't keep the wince from showing. Daphne covered hers by taking another sip of her wine.
"I can't say you're wrong, but some of those wizards are our family. Of course my grandfather and Daphne's uncle were going to do whatever they could to keep them alive and out of prison."
"Yes, no matter how much it cost to line someone's pocket," Harry sneered.
"I don't think it was bribe money, Harry. Or not much. The Wizengamot allowed the prisoners to pay fines to avoid a trial. The fines were to be used to rebuild all the destruction."
"Bribes would have been less than the fines, I think," Daphne put in. "It looks like we have an honest minister for once. My uncle was complaining about it."
Harry snorted. "It doesn't matter if he's honest or not, his bodyguards are honest and report to Conner in DMLE. He's watched too carefully to be as corrupt as Bagnold, last time, or Fudge more recently."
"Be that as it may, a lot of families had to come up with a mountain of galleons in a hurry," Tracey continued. "Not everyone had the cash available."
"So get a loan. Mortgage the manor house. What's the problem? And why is this my problem?"
"The manor houses can't be mortgaged because they're, ah…"
"Entailed," Daphne supplied.
"Yes, they're entailed so they can't be sold or mortgaged. Our family sold some of our jewelry and other properties, but it didn't bring in nearly enough. Four of my uncles and cousins were facing trial."
"My father sold his business for sickles on the galleon. It wasn't enough, either."
"So, what, you want me to loan you money to keep your cousins out of the Veil of Death? Fat chance. Even if I had any money, which I don't, I wouldn't use it to help Death Eaters."
Tracey had to bite her tongue. Getting Potter to help them was their best bet, or at least the best she'd thought of so far. Besides, the conclusion he'd leapt to wasn't unreasonable.
"No, we're not asking you for money. Our grandfather and uncle made arrangements, and our relatives have been freed. How he raised the money…"
"I'm with you. You mentioned your husbands bought you, but then I got distracted when you talked about freed Death Eaters. OK, so some old, rich men bought themselves teenage wives. What's the problem? You agreed to it, right? So, what, now you want out of the deal, after you got the money?"
Tracey glared at her friend and former housemate. To be honest, she'd love to get out of her marriage to the heir-apparent of a rich mercantile family, a wizard who made up for his lack of charm and social graces with arrogance and body fat. However, Daphne blurting it out didn't help their cause. If you ignored the claims of proven liars like Draco Malfoy and the Daily Prophet, Potter – Harry – had the reputation of being painfully straightforward and honorable. He'd defeated You Know Who and all his Death Eaters almost single-handed, then never tried to use his popularity for his own benefit, to become Minister or anything else. He did it all because it was the right thing to do. A man like that wouldn't help them cheat their way out their half of an arrangement.
Harry's next words confirmed her fears. "Right. Count me out. You made your beds, so lie in them. Literally, I'm guessing. See you around, or not."
Damn Daphne! To be fair, Daphne had it worse. Her husband was a shriveled, wrinkled, saggy centenarian who'd outlived his wife and children and other descendants and needed a young, fertile brood mare to make him an heir. He "serviced" her twice daily, insisted on her degrading herself to get him in the mood, and punished her when his ancient body did not get her pregnant.
Tracey's husband, by contrast, was in no hurry to get her belly swollen and make his glittering trophy wife less attractive at the endless, pretentious parties they went to. On the bad side, he was also in no hurry to roll off of her when he fell asleep on top of her every night. Oh, it was a delight, two minutes of lying there while he enjoyed himself, followed by ten minutes of struggling to get free so she could breathe.
"No, Harry, please don't leave just yet," Tracey said, putting a hand on his arm as he stood. "Ignore what the Sauce Princess says. While Daphne and I would be delighted to be free of our husbands – so long as it didn't put our relatives back in DMLE custody – I wasn't about to ask you to do anything dishonorable. Even though our husbands aren't exactly keeping their end of the deal. They did give our families the money, but they sure aren't honoring us as their wives."
"Gemma and my husbands both told us that we don't deserve any better because of our families, and they'll treat us however they like and the DMLE won't do anything about it," Daphne said quietly. "I never would have agreed to it if I'd known what it was going to be like. I thought I was going to be a wife, not a, a slave and a, a…" She downed the rest of her goblet and lapsed back into silence.
Harry looked at them both skeptically. "Fine. You bought lunch, so I'll stay and listen at least as long as the wine holds out."
Tracey pointedly moved the wine farther from Daphne. The half bottle remaining wouldn't last five minutes if the blonde wasn't stopped.
"OK, so back on track, what are you asking me for? And I'll ask you again, how does this have anything to do with me, and why should I get involved? Especially, why should I help you two? Just like Abbot, I saw you two wearing those badges back when we were fourteen."
Damn! Tracey had hoped Harry hadn't noticed or hadn't remembered or at least wouldn't hold the badges against them.
"I'm not going to defend myself for wearing it, Harry. I will ask that you not hold it against me. Us. You have some idea of what being in Slytherin was like, don't you? We did what we had to, to survive."
"It was nothing personal, Potter," Daphne added. "As Tracey said, we pretty well had to do it. You weren't really on my radar at all in school. You were small and scrawny, not a stud like you are now."
"Thank you, Daphne," Tracey said, rolling her eyes and trying and failing to protect the last of her goblet of wine from a quick grab. "Perhaps you should leave persuading Harry to those of us who are sober."
Her friend wasn't entirely wrong. Harry wasn't the scrawny, raggedy waif from their school years, but if he hadn't defeated You Know Who, no one would be asking him to pose for posters. No doubt Daphne was comparing him to her raisin of a husband. Add beer goggles – wine goggles – and it was a surprise that she wasn't dragging Harry over to the room's bed, just behind her chair.
Damn herself for thinking that! Harry didn't look bad at all, now that she was sitting here and taking a good look at him. He didn't weigh forty stone. Certainly not half that. Not even a third. His arm when she had touched it was muscular and firm, not fat at all.
Tracey realized she'd better wrap this up quickly. She pushed the last bottle toward him. "Here, Harry, you finish this. I think we two have had enough." Deprived of her sustenance, Daphne just sat and nodded agreement with whatever Tracey said, which she kept up for most of the rest of the conversation.
"Fine," he said, emptying the bottle into his goblet. "So, again, what do you want from me?"
"Honestly, I don't know. I saw you this morning and just had the idea to ask for help. I know that we, Daphne and I and a few other young witches from similar families, are very unhappy with what we've had to do, and I know that we want to keep our families safe, and I know that we don't know what to do."
Time to turn it up a bit. "I'm not sure that all of us 'purchased' brides are safe. I should be fine, but Daphne's husband is abusive. I've heard stories about some of the others, as well. Please, Harry, can't you find it in your heart to do something?"
Harry thought for a minute, sipping the last of the wine. "You want to get away from your husbands but you don't want them to know you've left and take the money back from your families. The only thing I can think of – and this is just talking, I'm not saying I'll do anything and it's just because you've gotten me pretty drunk – the only thing I can think of is to fake your deaths. Or fake kidnapping yourselves, leave a ransom note and disappear. I don't know if that's a good idea or not. Maybe if I think about after I've sobered up I'll see a problem with it or think of some other ideas."
"Harry, that's brilliant! Do you think you could? Could you help Daphne and me?"
"Hey, hang on! I said I was just talking. I wouldn't even know how to fake a death."
"But you killed You Know Who when no one else could! You can do anything!"
"Yah, I killed him. I spent a year learning everything I could and then tracking him down, then I fought his people and then I fought him. I almost died fighting him.
"And when I got out of the St Mungo's, do you know what I got for everything I'd done?"
"A medal. They announced a ceremony to give you the Order of Merlin, but you didn't show up. Someone said later that you turned it down."
"Yah, they offered their heart-felt thanks and a medal that came with strings attached – if I wanted to get it, I had to support the Minister and the aurors and go to all sorts of events so they could show me supporting him. Of course I turned it down.
"No, the only thing I ever got was a hospital bill. The aurors got paid for working – not that they did much in the war – and if any of them got hurt the ministry paid for it, and they weren't even there when I killed Voldemort. I did the work and didn't get paid and got a hospital bill that emptied my vault and still left me in debt. I've had to take some of the endorsement deals for a broom and whatever, even though they ripped me off, just to have money to live on."
"That's terrible! I had no idea. But… but what about girls? You're a young man, and just this morning I saw how pretty young witches were trying to get your attention. Surely that should keep you happy, at least for the time being."
Harry shot her a dirty look. "You've never thought that through. Have I ever seemed like an attention hound? Ignore what the Prophet was saying when Fudge was smearing me, and ignore that scumbag Snape. No, never. I want my privacy and a quiet life.
"Now think about the kind of girl who wants to have a quick fling with someone famous. Ignore the young teenagers, just look at a grown-up fangirl. She wants the attention. She wants everyone to know she scored with The Famous Harry Potter. She wants the glamor, fancy restaurants and expensive gifts and parties. I don't want any of that, and even if I did, I don't have the money for it."
"You're right. I'd never thought about it."
"I'll admit, I didn't either, not at first. I went with a couple of the fangirls and spent more than I could afford and had a fun night or a fun week, until someone waved a copy of Witch Weekly in my face, where the girls had sold their story. Including about what a tight-wad I am.
"It didn't take me long to realize that I couldn't trust any of them. Couldn't trust anyone wanting to be my friend, couldn't trust anyone with the ministry. Couldn't even trust anyone wanting to do business with me, because they wanted me to trust a handshake deal and wouldn't sign a contract, and then didn't keep up their end afterward.
"I worked my heart out for everyone else and almost died and now I have nothing. I'm worse off than I was before.
"So you'll excuse me if I ask what's in it for me before I lift a finger for anyone ever again."
"I understand. You need to get away as much as we do. I think we can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement." Tracey nodded slowly before stepping around the table. She made sure Harry was looking at her before she slipped her robes off her shoulders, letting them pool on the floor. Daphne's followed, seconds later.
She'd expected Harry to help them just because they needed help, but this was better. As she said, a mutually beneficial arrangement.
I can't be the only one who gets tired of the fanon (and to some extent canon) trope of Harry nobly giving his all for the benefit of others, whether or not they'd injured him in the past, and getting virtually nothing for it, and then saying "Thank you, Sir, may I have another?"