Author's note: The last scene of Chapter 2 was set several years in the future from the rest of the chapter. This chapter backs up several years so there is considerable overlap as well as a point of view change.
If there was anything that Harry's life had taught him, it was that nothing good ever lasted. Escaping from the Dursleys into the magical world, Sirius's offer to take him in and escape from the Dursleys, having fun with women who cheered him as a hero, being cheered as a hero.
Nothing good ever lasted, so he wasn't surprised when Tracey left.
Things had been going well with their little "family". Harry and Daphne had used his limited savings to go to Poland and buy her a fake identity so that she could "immigrate" to England and get prenatal care. Cecelia and then Harold had been born in a hospital and all their paperwork was legitimate, so that was good.
Though Harry was "married" to Daphne, he slept with Tracey, and everyone seemed happy. Their custom "manufacturing" service was doing well. They'd moved into a large, nice apartment and were living a comfortable middle-class life. He and Tracey had even begun discussing long-term plans in late-night pillow talk. Life was good.
It didn't last.
After a day of successful sales calls, Harry came home to an apartment with a crying "wife" and children, and no Tracey.
It wasn't just that Tracey wasn't home. Her clothes and knick-knacks were gone. And Daphne was crying.
"Daphne? What happened?"
"She left. Tracey said she couldn't bear to live here any more."
"What?! She hated it here? Hated us? She never said anything." They'd had the occasional spat, but the arguments were always followed by fierce, really good make-up sex. Harry sometimes suspected she picked fights just for that.
"It was me she couldn't stand to be around. And Cece and Harold. And the baby in my belly."
It wasn't a pretty story. Tracey had wanted a baby. It was bad enough that Harry had gotten Daphne pregnant almost immediately, by accident, and worse that he'd done it again a few months after Cecelia had been born. It was the final straw when a bottle of wine led to Daphne getting pregnant again shortly after Harold's birth. It obviously wasn't Harry who was unable to create a child. Tracey couldn't stand the daily reminders.
"And then today I complained about you getting me pregnant every time I have a glass of wine and that it should have been Tracey's turn, and it all came out and she packed up and left."
Nothing good ever lasted.
Daphne would stay because she needed him and so that her – his – children would have their father. Harry liked Daphne well enough, but he and Tracey had something special.
He'd thought that they had something special. It hadn't lasted.
When she left, she took not only her own clothes and such but her share of the "family" wealth. Much more than her share. Probably she felt she deserved it because it had been her transfigurations which had been bringing in most of their income. That was going to be a problem. Even with the tiny emergency fund he'd managed to squirrel away, Harry wouldn't be able to both pay the rent and buy food and baby stuff. He'd deal with that tomorrow.
Right now, Harry stepped forward to heat up some leftovers for his daughter and prepare a bowl of mush for his son, all he could eat with his one tooth, and then comfort his "wife".
There was no one to comfort Harry. There never would be anyone he could count on to comfort him, to support him.
He'd gotten sloppy. Soft. Now he hardened his resolve to do things for people only if he got something out of it, or because he'd accepted some obligation, or sometimes because he wanted to.
Harry had obligations to his children, and to his "wife". He would figure out how to fulfill them, but he'd guard his heart and he'd protect his wealth and he'd never trust anyone but himself.
Within a year, the family had grown by two. One was Robert, Harry and Daphne's third baby. The other was a teenage girl. Like the baby, she hadn't been planned.
"Hello, Mrs Johnson. I'm Harry and I'll be your kidnapper today."
Anne Johnson, a Slytherin from the year behind Harry and Daphne and, of course, proud member of a historically dark family, momentarily froze when she recognized Harry but was happy to let them in.
Harry, for his part, was happy to go in. Poverty, poor business, and bills to pay had caused him to relax his ethical standards. Astoria had continued to give Daphne the names of "sold" brides from dark families, and now he wasn't as picky about the level of abuse the brides had to suffer before he would rescue them. Rescue them for a fee, of course.
"Well, Mr Potter, I must say this was a great surprise. No one has seen so much as your shadow for a year or more."
"Yes, I'd had enough of magical life and had to get away. Like you, right? That's why we're here today."
Besides rescuing Mrs Johnson, he was going to loot the family as much as he could in the course of the kidnapping. Mr Johnson had not been a Death Eater during Voldemort's first or second rises, but his business services had been conspicuously available to those who were murdering people and taking over the government. Furthermore, his father's legal services had been provided on a conspicuously apolitical basis. The elder Johnson, in fact, had been the one to suggest fines rather than death or imprisonment for captured Death Eaters. They had both done well, very well indeed, from the troubles of the past few years. They had done very well without doing anything to make things better for anyone but themselves, and the younger Johnson, a wizard in his late forties, had used part of the proceeds to buy himself a young, pretty wife.
"Come in, come in, it's so nice to see you again after all these years, even if you don't look like yourself." Harry didn't remember ever speaking to the woman at Hogwarts, but it could have happened. He'd been pretty well wrapped up in his own problems while at school. Nevertheless, she was nothing but welcoming. Perhaps this was because right now he looked like himself but much more attractive. Daphne claimed that this was the only kind of glamour she could cast.
As soon as he stepped in, Harry saw another young woman in the front room. Anne's sister, to judge by her looks.
Harry shot his client/victim a flat look. "I was expecting you to be alone." If there was anything that three kidnappings had taught him, it was that surprises were always bad.
"My husband is working and I sent our house-elf out for the next hour. Other than that, of course I'm not alone. My children are here in the house, and I couldn't leave my sister Alison behind. Grandfather has arranged to use her to help raise money for our cousins and her wedding is planned for next June, after her fourteenth birthday, and I can't put her through this. I'm sure you can take them, too, they won't be a prob—." She broke off her babbling at his sharp gesture.
Harry was not happy. The plan had gone off the rails ten seconds after he entered the house. Still, he was in it now and both women had seen his face.
Anyone with the least bit of sense could have told him he should have gone in disguise on this job. Harry did have a bit of sense, but it wasn't really an option. Daphne was no good at disguise charms, only minor cosmetic glamours, and Harry was still having trouble controlling his power. He could cast any of the half-dozen disguise spells he knew, but the result either smeared his features like rubbing a wet painting or else caused a blinding headache in anyone who looked at him. True, it kept him from being recognized, but it was hardly useful. The few non-magical disguises he'd tried had the same problem, making him more noticeable rather than less.
Even his invisibility cloak was no good any longer. It had stopped working after Dumbledore's wand was destroyed, or else after Dumbledore had died. Not that the distinction mattered; those two events were only a few seconds apart.
"Yes, it's a problem," he managed to say. "When we were arranging this, why didn't you tell— Never mind. How old are your children and how many are there? How much luggage do you need for them besides what we agreed for yourself? And you, Miss, how much luggage do you have and are you going with your sister all the way to where I'm bringing her?"
"Yes, please, Mr Potter. I don't want to marry a man who's paying extra for a young bride –"
Harry grimaced. He'd caught what Anne had said, that Alison was thirteen now.
"– but the only choices I have now are to marry him or to figure out how to make my own living."
Harry was not happy. Very much not happy. Seething. Luckily, he had a year as a successful salesman and business owner, handling changes to a deal after he'd done his part, which helped him to appear coolly professional despite the emotions roiling under the surface.
Several years as the father of small children and the husband of a witch with very little common sense helped, too. Dealing with people who wouldn't keep a deal, couldn't follow instructions, or did ridiculous things for no good reason was not good for his blood pressure, but did teach him to deal with surprises.
The details of Anne's revised needs were swiftly provided and Harry adapted his plans. The children were small enough to carry and Mrs Johnson had given them sleeping potions good for the next three hours. The combined luggage was easily within his apparition ability, so the only remaining issue was how best to screw over the witch who had attempted to screw him over. An alternative destination was probably the best he could put together on the fly. He could carry this group anywhere on Earth in one hop, and there were plenty of places to drop a newly single witch which were safe enough but probably not where she'd have chosen to settle.
"Because of the children, we're not going to be able to go to where I'd planned to take you. Let's go to Gringotts and split the proceeds while I think about what to do. Oh, and before I forget, as soon as we're done at Gringotts you need to announce that you are no longer part of the Johnson family and taking your children, so the elf can't find you. We'll take care of owls later. But first, everything valuable in the house."
Harry's excess power was put to good use in tearing apart a magically reinforced in-house safe. The look of shock on the sisters' faces was gratifying, and possibly beneficial, if it warned Anne off from trying to change the deal again.
As for the contents of the safe, the galleons and banknotes were nice, but the real value was in the business papers.
"These folders look like details on shady business deals. I'll take them if you can't think of any way to use them when you're out of country."
"Will they hurt my husband?"
"Taking the signed contracts may hurt him. The information on the shady deals will hurt him and his father if I can figure out how to use it."
"Then take them with my blessing."
The papers weren't only shady business deals, or "prospective target list", as Harry was thinking of them. He didn't tell Anne about the outright blackmail material. Harry wasn't sure of the best way to use it, but "confirmed target list" was how he labeled it in his mind.
Anne, alas, did not have a key to the main Johnson family vault in Gringotts, nor was it in the safe or her husband's office. Too bad. Her husband had bragged to her that he had surpassed his father in adding to the family fortune and had brought the vault up to over a million galleons. No point in crying about it.
Harry let Anne keep the pittance in her "household expenses" vault.
"Are you sure you want me to keep the whole thing, Harry? Our agreement was that we'd split everything down the middle."
"Yes, you take it. You need it. You have the kids to take care of besides yourself."
He needed it, too, to provide for his wife and children, but he wasn't a total bastard. He was more able to earn a living than she was, and his half of the money from the family safe would keep his family going for long enough to get more money coming in.
"Is that the last of it? You're sure? OK, I have the kids and the strollers. Both of you make sure you're touching your luggage with your skin, and touch my skin with your skin. Ready? Three, two, one."
Harry's excess power was used again in apparating the group to their revised destination. He couldn't reliably apparate himself a mile, but could carry four passengers a quarter of the way around the world with no problem. And that was after working on his control for two years, since Daphne and Tracey had moved in with him and encouraged him to reclaim his magical birthright.
"What is this place? It's so cool. Where are we?"
"Pretoria. South Africa. It's cool because it's the middle of Winter here, but this is about as cool as it gets." Harry ignored Anne's outraged screeching as he continued. "They speak English here. About a hundred other languages, too, but you can get by with English. This part of town should be safe enough, at least during the day, but we need to get a move on. We're a couple hours ahead of England time. OK now, follow me. First we're going to that office over there, where someone I know will bind us in an unbreakable vow to not talk about where you are or how you got here. After that I'll escort you to a hotel where you'll be safe while you get your bearings. You'll want to get a permanent place to live soon, so you don't use all of your money on the hotel."
After the vow, Anne was quiet as they walked. She needed her breath to keep up with Harry's quick pace. Purebloods were not known for keeping in good physical condition, and she pretty clearly hadn't lost her baby weight.
"This is the border between the magical district and the non-magical. You get back in by tapping the gate handle with your wand. I'm taking you out because the non-magical hotels don't cost nearly as much. Your best bet is that one up there, a block ahead. I recommend you stay for a few days. Like I said before, it's safe." Harry rummaged through his greatly expanded pocket until he found the right packet. "Here are a bunch of names and addresses and telephone numbers you'll want. You can get IDs in a new name, this woman can help you find a permanent place to live, and there's a bunch of people who can give you work or help you find a job."
"A job! Me?"
"Probably. Pretoria is a lot cheaper to live in than London, but you don't have enough with you to carry you for the rest of your life. Now, before I get distracted again, here's a letter vouching for you so the ID people will know it's safe to work with you. I can't stay any longer than getting you to your hotel. There's an arrest warrant for me from when I was tried in absentia and sentenced to death for something that went wrong here a few years ago. But that's just the government. The people I'm sending you to don't have a problem with me."
Not all of Harry's statement was quite truthful. Experience had taught him to lay false trails and red herrings.
Not that Anne cared about Harry's problems. She continued to protest as they walked the last hundred yards, but this had no effect as Harry ignored her or gave monosyllabic replies. They made it to the hotel in short order.
Check-in was accomplished with no difficulty and Harry turned to leave while Anne was distracted, to return to the magical district, from whence he could apparate back home.
"Mr Potter? Could you take me back to England?" It was Alison, alternately looking at her feet and staring up into Harry's eyes with a pleading expression.
"What, you were happy to run away when you thought I'd be taking you to Canada, but now you're having second thoughts?"
"I didn't want to run away in the first place. I was dragged along!"
"You seemed happy enough to come when I first saw you, but I'll give you one minute to convince me."
Alison drew a deep breath. "I wasn't so much happy to come as I was impressed by you. You're a hero. I did a report on you at Hogwarts and you disappeared and I was amazed to meet you. I wanted Mother to fight the engagement legally, but she said that wouldn't work. Old Boys' Network? Something like that. And today Anne made me promise to come with her when she told me her plans because she didn't want me to be able to tell anyone where she'd gone."
"She was right about that," Harry supplied when she paused for breath. "You knew that she'd left voluntarily and who took her, and that I stole the Johnson money and maybe wrecked the house when I pulled the safe out. Even with the unbreakable vow, you can't just go back to your old life. There's too much risk that they'd be able to get something out of you. And your mother was right, too, about the Old Boys' Network. You'd be locked into that marriage again if you went back to your family. You understand that, don't you?"
"I understand. I can't let people see me. And I don't want to go back to my old life, not back to my family at least. But… could I come with you? You have kids, Anne said your wife said? I could babysit and help around the house. Please, Mr Potter, I didn't want to leave England and I don't want to be left here. I'm thirteen. Does that buy me anything?"
Harry felt a twinge of conscience. It wasn't Alison's fault that she'd been dragged down here. Besides, he understood wanting to stay in Britain. He should have left years ago but chose to stay out of stubbornness – he wasn't going to be driven from his home.
"You don't have any other family to go back to?"
"No, none I want to go back to. Death Eaters and a grandfather who sold me to a rich man to keep the Death Eaters out of jail? No, thanks. I'll get a job as shop clerk before I go back to them."
Teenage defiance against older men screwing you over for someone else's benefit? Harry sympathized completely.
"I can't just take you back to London and let you go, not until I can trust you or we work out some way to keep my secrets safe. You sure you understand? I'll have to bring you to my apartment until we figure something out."
"You're a hero. Who wouldn't want to stay with you if she could?" The girl was looking up at him with big, shining eyes.
Eyes which set off an alarm. "I don't want to assume anything about what you're thinking, Alison, but let me remind you that I have a wife and children." Harry had been oblivious in school, but now he had enough experience that he could spot a fangirl a mile away.
Yes, he'd gotten it right. Alison frowned for a moment, then straightened her features.
"That doesn't matter, does it? I need a place to live until the end of the month, then I'll be at Hogwarts. My parents should have paid already, so I'll have a place to live and food to eat. That will give me until next summer to work out what I'll do after that, get a job or something. I could watch your kids for a month to pay my way, while you decide if you can trust me or have me make a vow. Would that work, Mr Potter?"
"Alison! What are you doing! … need your help … ungrateful …"
That did it. Harry didn't have to pay attention to Anne's demands to have a flashback to Petunia and his incarceration with the Dursleys. He made up his mind even before Alison's plaintive "Please, Mr Potter?".
Getting away from Anne without drawing the attention of non-magicals was not the easiest thing in the world, but she was hampered by her children. Harry and Alison made it back to the magical zone and apparated to England before she caught up.
Back in Manchester, Daphne wasn't thrilled by the tag-along but didn't object. Alison's guaranteed silence was easily strengthened. There probably wasn't a magic user on the planet with enough power to break Harry's binding of her oath to Daphne. All she would be able to say was that she'd been grabbed when her sister was kidnapped but released because the kidnappers avoided collateral damage to anyone they hadn't been paid to grab. It probably wouldn't do any good, but Harry thought that getting the idea that they worked under ethical guidelines might possibly help them in some way.
Not everything went so well. The girl wouldn't be able to return to Hogwarts, as she found out a few days later.
"My family has cancelled my Hogwarts enrollment and gotten their money back. They did it the same day Anne and I were 'kidnapped'."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Alison. It probably wasn't that they gave up on you right away, more likely that they needed every galleon they could scrape together to keep paying their fines."
"What can I do, Harry? I can't go to Hogwarts, and they said I had to go to school or turn in my wand, and I don't want to go to my family, and it's almost the end of the month, and that's all you agreed to keep me."
Harry nodded as he thought. "Let me check with Daphne. Maybe you can stay here. You can study some of the subjects on your own. I still have my old books and we can buy a few more, and potions supplies and other things. I can help you with wanded subjects. I can't do most of the spells myself but I know how to do them."
Harry thought it through and did the math in his head. Alison wouldn't eat much and the school supplies wouldn't cost much. Harry's half of the contents of the Johnsons' in-house safe and Gringotts vault would pay his family's expenses for maybe six months.
It wasn't enough. Even without Alison it wouldn't be enough. Harry had been working on his magical control, but it would probably take him another year to get good enough to transfigure widgets as well as Tracey had, or at least good enough to make a living at it. He was making a few sales, but nowhere near enough.
"Maybe you can pay your way, enough that you can go to one of the other magical schools. The day schools don't have Hogwarts's reputation but they're a lot cheaper. Do you know anyone else who wants to get out of her marriage and can pay for it the way your sister did?"
One or two more kidnappings, plus a few burglaries from the list from the safe, would nicely close the family's budget gap. It would keep his children fed and it wouldn't hurt anyone he cared about. And his conscience could just deal with it.
Harry stared with distaste at the parchment in his hand. Post owls were infrequent now. Most magicals had gotten the message, after several years of him ignoring them all, but a persistent few kept up the effort.
After he got his elder children to sleep while Daphne nursed the baby, he asked Alison and Daphne to join him in the kitchen. Daphne poured herself a glass of wine. Alison, fifteen and going through a late growth spurt, had a big glass of milk and a leftover lamb chop.
"I'm getting a little worried about money," Harry led off. "I've been working on my magical control and I'm getting a lot better, but I don't think I'll ever be good enough at transfiguration to be able to charge the customers as much as we did for Tracey's work. We've already lost most of our regular customers and it takes me so long to get the pieces right that I can't do as many per month. Daphne, I know you're busy with the kids and the paperwork, and Alison, you're busy with your schoolwork. I'm hoping one of you has some ideas for either cutting costs or doing our business better, or doing something else to bring in money."
"You don't have to pay my tuition next year," Alison offered, worrying her lower lip. "I'll figure something out. I can just buy the books and study and practice at home, if you two can help me a bit."
"No," Harry immediately refuted. "I took you away from your family when I kidnapped you and your sister. Even if you asked me to bring you back here, you didn't ask to be tangled up in the whole mess. Also, you mostly paid your own tuition with those two women whose names you gave me.
"Daphne, do you think you could try some sales calls? Maybe a new, prettier face would work better than me showing up again. I figure I can do the work at night, and stay with the kids a couple of hours during the day while you're out."
"I can do that for a few months, but only a few months. You got me pregnant again."
"What?! How does this keep happening?"
The youngest at the table snorted. "Well, Harry, when a man and a woman love each other in a very special way…"
"Thank you, Alison! Where would we be without you telling us these things? But seriously, how did this happen? I know Daphne cast a contraceptive charm every time since Harold was born."
"Magic, Harry. Your magic can overcome the charm, if you're enough more powerful than the one casting the charm. All third year girls learn that in my new school, and I learned it last year because I wasn't there for third year."
Harry and Daphne stared at Alison, then at each other.
"No one ever told us that," Daphne said through a choked throat.
Harry shook his head disgustedly. "Once again I have to wonder if this was just more incompetence at Hogwarts, or another plot of the old man's."
"It doesn't matter, does it? I'm pregnant, again, for the fourth time in five years, thank you so much. I can help with your work for a few more months, but you and I both know I won't be good for anything for the last few months, and then I'll have four children to take care of. You'd better not count on me for much work, Harry."
The father-to-be-again nodded quietly. This was a problem.
"So, um, congratulations? The new baby is obviously a surprise, but you're both great parents. I know you'll think of something. I only hope I'll be able to find a man who works so hard to take care of his family. The only examples I have are my father, who thought it was more important to follow You Know Who than to take care of us, and my sister's husband, who was so bad it convinced you to rescue her from him."
Daphne reached for the wine bottle to refill her glass.
Harry reached out to stop her. "You're pregnant, remember? I think you can do without the wine."
Daphne shot him a dirty look. "I'm not that pregnant and not that fat yet, and you're going to want sex tonight. I need to keep you happy so you won't leave."
Harry winced. "We can talk about it in private, later. For now, let's get back to the main topic, money. With another baby coming, money will be even more of a problem. That makes this letter maybe more important."
He set out the letter from the ministry. "You can read it for yourselves, but the short version is, Britain is having a problem with all of the Death Eaters they let go a few years ago, and the aurors aren't able to do anything and the regular people are getting upset. The ministry wants me to come back – they think I'm overseas somewhere – come back and take care of the problem for them."
"Are they crazy!?" Daphne exploded. "After they screwed you over last time?"
"They're offering to pay me this time, the same as an auror. That's ridiculous, but I can tell them I'll do it for, I don't know, ten thousand galleons, maybe. Plus hospital and other expenses."
"I don't want you to do it," Daphne said. "I need you. We need you, to be a father and to support us. The money isn't worth it."
"I thought that would be your answer. What about you, Alison? What do you think?"
"I get a vote? I'm just helping a bit around the house while you're paying for me to go to school, Harry. I'm not your wife, like Daphne."
"She's not my wife. Well, not really. We're… ah, it's complicated. It's kind of a scam, to trick the government into admitting that Daphne really exists."
Unfortunately, no one had any useful suggestions for bringing in enough money to support the ever-growing family plus Alison. Harry was still short on non-magical skills and credentials, and Daphne was too busy taking care of the children – and popping out more children – to get a regular job.
The teenager did ask if he was interested in kidnapping for real, for the ransom, "because you're obviously good at it", but that idea was discarded along with the wadded-up paper napkin Harry bounced off her forehead.
After the inconclusive conclusion of that conversation, Harry asked Alison to step out so he and Daphne could talk about something. Something he couldn't believe he had to talk about.
"Daphne, I'm not going to leave you, even if we never have sex again. I'm not going to leave my children. I'm a little insulted – a lot insulted – that you'd suggest I would."
"Well, forgive me for worrying! I'm totally dependent on you. If you leave, what am I going to do, starve? What about my children, your children, let them starve, too? I need you, and you don't have anything except for sex to keep you here."
"Nothing except for common decency. Jeez, Daphne, what kind of a bastard do you think I am? Even if I'd just leave you, do you think I'd leave my children?"
"Well, I'm sorry! I'm worried!"
Harry sighed. "Whether or not I take the ministry's offer, the regular world knows you exist. Even if I stay right here and don't go hunting dark wizards, I could be hit by a bus some evening. You should be OK if that happens – you're legally an immigrant and the kids were all born here. You'll be able to get food and stuff if you don't have a job. And besides that, you're in my will, you and the kids, for what little I've been able to save. That's not going to change even if we're never going to have sex ever again."
"Fine. Let's put it to the test. I'll sleep in the children's room tonight."
A little while later, beaten down by the evening's drama, Harry entered what had been his and Daphne's bedroom, only to find it already occupied.
"Alison? I'm all in favor of finding young women lying on my bed, but are you sure? I don't want anyone fussing at me, or at you, because you're too young for me. Or because you're dependent on me right now. You don't feel pressured, do you?"
"No, and I'm sure." Before Harry could point out that her fidgeting hands suggested otherwise, she continued in a rush, "I was thinking of it from the day you 'kidnapped' Anne and me, but I thought you were Daphne's, and, really, I was too young a year ago, though I didn't see it at the time, but I was only thirteen then but now I'm fifteen and I'd have already been married for almost a year if you hadn't rescued me. Then I overheard your talk tonight and figured that I'd better take the chance while I had it. Any woman would be a fool not to grab you if she had the chance."
If pressed, Harry would have to admit he was tempted. On the one hand, Alison had just turned fifteen and was almost ten years younger than he. On the other hand, Alison had just turned fifteen and was almost ten years younger than he. And she was cute and on his bed. On the one hand, supporting her and especially paying for her schooling was a burden on Harry and he hadn't gotten anything in return except a bit of babysitting. On the other hand, he still held on to some morals.
"I'm not saying No, Alison, but I am saying Not Tonight. Go back to your room and think about it. If Daphne and I haven't reconciled in a week and you still want to, then I won't say No then. And if you change your mind, I won't say another word about it."
After watching her leave and then going to sleep by himself for the first time in years, Harry hated himself and his standards. Especially because he was going to take that job for the ministry and there was a chance he'd be killed soon.
Harry stared with distaste at the parchment in his hand.
He'd been contacted by a magical ministry again. The good news was that his owl wards worked. The bad news was, they needed him badly enough that they'd go to that effort.
Once the children were in bed (or away for a sleepover, in Cecelia's case), Harry met with the women in the kitchen.
"What is it this time, Harry?" Daphne asked. "Usually when we meet like this it's about money, but I thought we were doing okay."
"Oh, we're mostly OK with money. I do have to talk to you both sometime soon about business and money, but it can wait a bit." Money was always going to be at least a background concern. Just covering the living space and ordinary expenses for seven people was an issue, and he'd been paying for schooling for all of the children, and there were always other things to pay for, and it never ended. If it weren't for the nest egg from the few crimes he and Daphne had committed and then the bounty money the Ministry of Magic had reluctantly paid out, he wouldn't have been able to make ends meet.
"So… what, Harry? Do we have a problem or a decision to make or what?" Alison didn't like mysteries. She preferred to confront problems head on. Daphne sometimes complained about there being too many Gryffindors in the house, even though Harry was the only one. Alison had been a Hufflepuff at Hogwarts, to her family's dismay.
"Both," Harry replied. "The Danish Ministry of Magic is trying to reach me. Don't worry, they can't reach me directly. They got in touch with the British ministry, and they couldn't reach me either but know I go to Diagon Alley sometimes so they left a message with the shopkeepers. Long story short, there's another dark lord rising and they want me to fight him."
The explosion was not long in coming. "Again!? Are they crazy!" Daphne beat Alison by a quarter of a second.
"No, Harry. You have a wife, a mistress, and four children. And I want a baby. We need you more than they do."
"I agree, but this could be a pile of money. Powerful groups keep coming up and it looks like every magical ministry is corrupt or useless and they need someone to solve their problems."
"We don't need the money, right? You said we're doing okay.".
"We don't need it. It would be helpful, give us more of a buffer if anything goes wrong or business turns down. Especially because the tuition for the kids will be going up starting next year when Cece starts magical school."
"It's not worth the risk, Harry." Daphne was adamant. "I want you to stay here. Your children need you."
"Yes. None of us need a posthumous medal. It won't warm my bed and we couldn't sell it for much."
The conversation continued well into the night, but it didn't get anywhere. The women were against Harry taking the contract, but he was keeping a few things from them. He hadn't mentioned just how much the Danes were offering, and he didn't want to worry his women by telling them that the bounty money from five years ago was gone and his regular business didn't earn enough to pay the bills. He didn't see how he could pass this job up, and the risk wasn't that high.
Harry stared with distaste at the parchment in his hand.
He didn't know what enchantments had been used to let it find him all the way here in America, and that worried him. Set that aside to look into later.
"Sweetie? Daphne? After the kids are in bed, can you meet me in the kitchen? I'll have tea for you, Daphne, and a snack for you, Miss Eating-all-the-time."
An hour later, Daphne and Alison joined Harry. Alison, eating for two again, immediately started on the waffles topped with strawberry ice cream, saving the pile of bacon for after. One American custom she'd taken to with gusto was eating breakfast food at any meal.
Daphne had to content herself with a mug of tea. Everyone knew she would rather have a glass of wine with her meals or to get her through any stressful conversation. Everyone also knew that was why the family didn't keep any wine in the house.
Harry tossed the roll of parchment onto the table. "Two things. First, they have another dark lord making a play. Someone doing a check found half a dozen ministry workers under the Imperius back in England and—"
"No!" Alison and Daphne said simultaneously. They looked at each other and then Daphne continued. "Since our marriage you've done ministry jobs three times. Every time you come back hurt or with nightmares for weeks. One of these days you won't come back."
"What she said. I need you, the children need you, our new baby will need you. We don't need the money that much, do we?"
"Do not take that job Harry. I'm telling you."
Harry frowned a little. "You might have let me finish speaking before you started yelling. I wasn't showing you this because I think I should take the job but to show that they managed to find me somehow."
Both women frowned. "You spend most of your time under our wards. You said they should keep anyone from finding you."
"And we're 4000 miles away."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, that has me a little worried, too. I do have to leave our property for work. That must be how they got a lock on me. Even so, it took more than a month for the letter to reach me. They sent it by owl, a regular English post owl, which makes me think they don't realize we moved to the United States. Still, it worries me."
All three sat back to think and fret for a few minutes. Unlike his wife and his mistress, Harry was worried about money. He was able to make a good living with his courier business, bringing packages anywhere in the world in a single apparition, but three adults, five children, and a baby on the way took a large house and a lot of food and a lot of other expenses, and American magical school was pricey, and Alison had expensive tastes and Daphne's shopping had been on the rise lately because she thought she should be doing her fair share of the spending.
If Harry were to guess, Daphne was worried about what would happen to herself and her children if Harry were not around. She didn't think she could provide for herself, let alone four children. With good reason, honestly. The ambition which had led her to being sorted into Slytherin had been drained out of her over the years, replaced by a pool of mild depression. She could help with the business and she was still rather clever when she applied herself, but she'd let her skills atrophy and without Harry pushing her she'd be stuck in menial jobs.
Alison was probably worried mostly about where her next meal was coming from – literally. She had finished her waffles and her bacon and was fidgeting in a way that usually led to rummaging through the refrigerator. Normally Alison was reasonable and sweet natured and helpful, but she underwent a major change while pregnant. As may be, she seemed to completely trust Harry to take care of all problems. That was good for his ego but just added to the pressure on him.
After a minute Daphne looked up from her hands and said, "That was one thing. You said there were two. What is the other? Is it worse?"
"No, that was both. I blurred the things together when you guessed what the other one was and started yelling at me before I got to it. Dark Lord, want me to fight him, found me, what should we do."
"We can't make a living without you leaving the wards," Daphne mused. "Your deliveries are all over the world but either the pickup or the drop off is clustered somewhere near here where we live. Do you think that's how they narrowed down where to look? Would you be able to spread the business out more, so you don't spend much time with your drop-offs and pickups anywhere near here?"
"Yes, I can. Good idea. It will take me a little while to build up more business farther away but it should be doable. The only problem is I would have to work more and be away more to keep the money up, because the finance companies in New York pay the most for quick delivery."
"We're all agreed?" Alison confirmed. "Harry keeps working, and no dark lords. Then the last thing I can think of is, what about robbing some of the Brit families again? If they're having another dark lord, then he has supporters. We care what American law enforcement thinks, but we don't care about the British ministry."
Harry had to think about that a moment before rejecting it. "Too risky, I think. We don't live there any more, to pick up the rumors. I'll keep my ears open for possibilities, but I'm not going to go looking for it." The poverty of the early years of his "marriage" had permanently shifted his moral line, he deduced. Still, he had responsibilities and had to balance risk and reward.
"Good." Alison nodded decisively. "OK, the kids are all asleep, we're all safe, and Harry's going to take care of everything we need. Speaking of, I have some needs."
Harry rolled his eyes humorously as his mistress pulled him to their bedroom. It wasn't perfect and it was nothing like what he'd expected, but sometimes his life was pretty damned good.