The Contract

Chapter 131

The group made three different Floo trips to get to the celebration that was being hosted by the Malfoy family. Out of the group of students – who were good friends – the Malfoy's admittedly did have the biggest property and thus it was completely understandable that they would host it.

The others had naturally made their own contributions, bringing drink, furniture, food, and gifts and party bags. The whole thing was being catered to by everyone, and they were determined to make it especially memorable. Their children were soon to be adults, and this was one of the last things – except a graduation and a celebration when they reach seventeen, an adult – that they could for them.

The Malfoy's had gone overboard as they so often did when it concerned their son. Eager to get celebrating their sons passing of his O.W.L's. However, considering he was their only son, it was a given that they'd be excessive. They had nobody else to spoil, that and they genuinely were extremely happy with Draco's scores. He'd actually beaten both Lucius' and Narcissa's grades to their immense pride. Draco was their pride and joy, they would do anything for him, to see him thrive, to see him happy.

This didn't include the new subjects that Narcissa and Lucius didn't get to take while they attended Hogwarts. The group of friends had all taken different subjects, Harry was the only one of them that had taken Art.

"Good morning, Lord Potter, Master Lestrange it's good to see you again," Lucius was as always, very polite when Harry and Rabastan came through the Floo. The others had gone through first, the hierarchy of things. Lord Corvus Lestrange, then his eldest son with his husband and then his youngest son with his fiancé. Or as Rabastan liked to say "Oldest first!"

"Good morning, and just call me Rabastan, Lucius, it won't hurt, I promise," Rabastan teased, "This isn't an official event, let formality go just this once."

"Very well," Lucius stated, "Draco and the others are outside in the gardens if you'd like to join them, Harry." Finding it rather difficult to be informal with Harry. Yes, the boy was his son's age, but it had been made more than clear by the Dark Lord that this youth was his equal and from everything he was reading (from his son) and seeing he was very correct on that front. Thank Merlin Narcissa hadn't fully screwed it up for them. Although, it would hurt her more than him, she was a staunch social climber, had been while she still had the Black name in her youth. It's the only power pureblood witches had really.

"Thank you," Harry said politely, giving a nod goodbye, he left them all and eagerly made his way through the hall and outside. Oh, what a scene met his gaze, it was beautifully decorated. He noticed an area penned off right in the distance, with distinctive white feathers behind it. The peacocks were walled off from getting in the way or hurt. The urge to go to them and pet them was strong.

"Harry!" Draco called out, making a single gesture to come to them, a small smile on his face. Completely composed as he always was whenever there was a single adult about.

Harry grinned, before making his way over, the peacocks forgotten. He would see them before he left though, of that he was certain. Not like they could be forgotten; peacocks were rather loud when they wanted to be. The music that was being played by magic, charmed to play, almost drowned out the peacocks when they made a noise. It was a good job they had silencing spells or he reckoned they'd be much, much father from the manor. He couldn't see Narcissa enduring the noise for more than half a day. Less if she was as impatient as her son. Oh, Draco was so impatient sometimes it was funny to tease him so for it. Which Draco secretly liked, but complied to high heavens about.

"Daph!" Harry said, hugging her, "Did you enjoy your trip to France?" ruffling Daphne's younger sisters hair, who laughed and sorted her hair grinning, she had none of Daphne's serene decorum.

"I honestly wanted to stay there longer, it was very beautiful, but unfortunately the family had other plans." Daphne sniffed haughtily, "To which they didn't even attempt to invite me. Neither of us were impressed."

"Then why not invite him here?" Harry asked taking a seat, setting himself closer to the table. The set was beautiful, handcrafted seats and a table that was rather lower down than usual. "This is an exquisite piece, who made it?"

"We can't upset them, they have more in the way of wealth." Daphne said incredulous at the thought of it. Normally it would be a real deal, since he'd be living off his family largeness, but the truth was he was taking on the Greengrass name and would have access to the Greengrass estate, through his wife. They wouldn't need money and if they were careful for the most part, they could continue to bring in a lot of money every month with safe investments.

"Instead for what? A pittance you're going to put up with a family putting you and your soon-to-be husband down?" Harry asked, a grimace on his face. "How much do they even give him?" it was rude to talk money, but he was amongst friends.

"He gets two hundred galleons a month," Daphne informed Harry, lips making a narrow line showcasing her displeasure of how the family treated Rene.

"That's all?" Draco straightened up, aghast, that was…it was pocket change. "But the family is one of the richest in France." Admittedly that wasn't saying a lot, when compared to his fortune…it was like comparing a whirlpool to a tsunami really.

"His brother got triple that when they were growing up, he shouldn't get that much more just because he was the heir." Daphne said, "It's a shame, they were so lovely when I first met them, the more I get to know my betrothed the more I realise why he has no qualms about moving here to be with me." There was no need to treat anyone like that. It wasn't because he was a spare, her father didn't treat Astoria any different.

"That's just wrong," Vincent said, he had a big family, and they were all given the same amount of money each month. Him and his cousins, their grandmother was very fair, Greg's family was the same. The only except is if one of them was disinherited then it stopped and their vault and contents were absorbed back into the main estate if they were feeling vicious enough. Standing up and moving away, but Harry was distracted once more Blaise joined Vincent at the food table.

"How bad is the damage?" Daphne asked, all of them pleased to see him hearty and whole. The damage that had been described in the newspaper sounded horrific. It was unfathomable that they'd survived never mind that the manor was still standing.

"Honestly, it's like you attract trouble!" Draco said, his critical gaze roving over Harry until he was truly satisfied, he was well.

"That's because he does," Pansy said, sighing exasperatedly, "How many times have you been injured now?" she had zero understanding on how such words could be taken. Luckily those that knew her understood she actually was concerned and it was her way of showing it. She wasn't exactly the best with social situations. She also had grown to be rather caring, she'd been a very immature and angry pre-teen. Luckily the Dark Lord and her parents had set her right.

"I do not! Trouble finds me!" Harry protested, as something brown entered his line of sight.

"Here," Vincent handed over a butterbeer as he re-joined them, "How are you? Are you doing, okay?" well aware that he had been hurt but not wounded. Not sure if it had been discussed but wanting to know himself. As he made his way towards his own seat.

"Thanks Vin," Harry said in gratitude, as he took a seat next to them all, "I'm fine, seriously, don't make a big deal about it." Pleading with them, he hated when everyone was sodding with sympathy and pity. It happened, nothing would change that, just let it go was his motto. They all knew how he was; they'd been friends for five years now.

"How are we meant to not?" Pansy pointed out, "The Lestrange wards are the most advanced wards ever. Our family has good wards, but nothing like their ancient ones. We're really worried that an attack might come for us now. Any one of us actually. I heard my parents talking about it, my mother is refusing to be in the same room as any mail, even the newspaper." Fingers playing with the lid of the butterbeer bottle, tense as she recalled the conversation she'd overheard.

The others all looked just as understanding and if not a little grim.

"Mine too," Gregory confessed, eyes shadowed with worry, "They want to ask you to make the runes array for them, but they're not sure they will have enough funds for what they think you'll ask."

"Think I'll ask?" Harry questioned Greg curiously befuddled.

"We know you; you won't charge much, but our parents don't," Gregory commented, shrugging his shoulders, digging into the food. They had a lot of respect for Harry, along the lines of the respect they held for the Dark Lord himself. They'd never actually ask Harry unless they had a contract set out with a certain amount of money. Which was more than they could give so blasely. "They'd never consider doing the discourtesy of offering you a smaller amount than you're worth."

Harry just continued to stare at Gregory, hoping he'd elaborate because he was well confused. Discourtesy of offering money? He wasn't a Master in runes, he had created it, yes, but just how much were the family considering giving him? Mildly alarmed by the comment. Why would his friends' parents think like that? Surely, they knew they had an in with him due to their children's friendship? It's how pureblood's all thought after all, connections were everything. He knew Pansy's parents wouldn't hesitate to ask the Malfoy's for aid. Or Vincent's parents asking Gregory's parents. Was it because he didn't have parents?

"You're above them all in terms of hierarchy," Daphne explained lazily, but her eyes were shewed, she knew what he was thinking and disabusing him of the notion that it had anything to do with lack of parents. "Any insult to you, is an insult to the Dark Lord. They would never risk upsetting him by not giving you the respect you deserve."

Harry's eyebrows rose up and up as Daphne spoke, jaw unhinged. That's how everyone saw him? Was it something Aurelius had done? Or was it just them guessing and hoping not to insult anyone that could bring them down the social ladder? He glanced over at the adults a thoughtful look on his face. He hadn't thought of it that way before, he did feel rather smug that he was so highly thought of, but on the other hand he wanted to get there on his own.

Then again, did it matter as long as he got there? His reputation and abilities would speak for themselves…and it wasn't as if it was anything to do with his future job. It was just…what it was. The family he had chosen to marry into was also likely a factor. "You're not going to all change on me, are you?" he asked turning back to them.

"Not a chance," Draco said haughty, "I was your friend first anyway." Puffing up proud of that simple fact. Honestly, if he didn't know Harry he'd have thought he was faking it. This was Harry just now beginning to comprehend the hold he had on the most noble houses, pureblood's at his beck and call. When they'd befriends Harry, it was on their parents' behest, no, it hadn't been to befriend him it had been to watch out. However, Harry was easy to befriend. He'd known he had good connections, but not this far, there was a reason he was ultimately a Ravenclaw and not a Slytherin. He did not even think for a moment that this could be a carefully cultivation by Harry himself.

Harry was first and foremost a survivor.

"Not sure that's actually true," Harry teased him, blinking at a plate of food coming into his view. "Thanks Blaise." Smiling in gratitude, suddenly starving, as his stomach grumbled. All of it was fruit with only one cauldron cake on the plate. His friends knew him well and it made him so happy. "How is your mum in all this?"

"My mother isn't worrying, we didn't join a side, Zabini's were prominently neutral." Blaise explained, "She is worried about you though, that attack was brutal." It was aimed to kill, so of course, it would be considered brutal. She knew it they all knew it, despite the fact it shouldn't be revealed, it had been. Taking his own seat, already eating away at a bunch of grapes which were from the French estate the Malfoy's owned, he could taste that much.

"Just how does everyone know?" Harry asked perplexed, he could see Aurelius telling a few people, if only to try and figure out who it was. Delighted that pineapple was there, and freshly cut this morning, it was so soft and juicy. "Nobody here would release that information, not if they value their lives." And Aurors never comment on ongoing investigations, or at least they weren't meant to.

"There's other ways to gather information," Daphne pointed out, "The best they can do is try figure out how it's happening." It was big information; Harry had almost been killed inside the safest most secure wards possible in the United Kingdom except perhaps the Black residences. From what she had been told, the Black's were paranoid and had wards up the wazoo to protect them all.

"I hate the press," Harry groused, "Stupid idiots, they shouldn't be given that much freedom."

"What's this about the press?" Rabastan asked joining them, hands possessively laying across his fiancé's shoulders. Never having really been aware of their age differences as he was at this very moment. He didn't think for a second Harry would desire someone else, or leave him for someone younger. He'd had far greater opportunities to decide this life wasn't for him.

Everyone greeted Rabastan, either a verbal 'hello' or inclining their heads in silent welcome.

"I detest them, I don't believe they should have that much liberty to post whatever they please. There should be severe consequences for anyone writing privileged information, even if they have an informant." Harry commented, his voice and speech pattern noticeably changing when talking to an adult when compared to how he spoke with his friends. Shifting a seat so Rabastan could join them, having no qualms about him doing so.

"They can be rather daunting to put up with," Rabastan agreed, "Especially if they constantly seek you out. Rather a vindictive lot." Recalling putting Skeeter in her place, at least she wasn't out there writing about his fiancé. The necklace had been fixed but Harry no longer wore it all the time. Just special occasions. It was special for Harry, it showed Rabastan was willing to do anything for Harry, even kill. Not that, that had been a problem before.

"It's stupidity to even think about writing anything about Harry, never mind actually going through with it." Draco fully agreed, "Try the grapes, they were picked from the family vineyard this morning." He suggested to Harry well aware of his fondness of fruit.

Harry plucked one, and bit into it, crisp and fresh, "Mmm…they're lovely, Draco,"

Rabastan stole one of his plate, agreeing with Harry's earlier comment, "Exquisite," Harry moved his plate – which was more or less full – so that he could eat as he pleased.

"They weren't negative towards Harry, which is only a good thing," Daphne pointed out before taking a drink of her butterbeer. "Not that any reporter would be stupid enough to actually write anything negative, it would spell the end of their career."

"Speaking of possible careers did you fix the portrait?" Vincent asked, they all knew just how long Harry had worked on that piece. Not only in the dorm, but when he returned home to the manor. They'd gotten a picture of it too, it was a really good piece of work, Harry would make a good artist if he wasn't so determined to be a lawyer.

"That's right, it got singed in the impact, didn't it?" Daphne asked concerned, it was hours upon hours of work, it would suck if it wasn't able to be repaired.

"It wasn't too badly affected, luckily, but I'm starting a miniature for Rodolphus," Harry said wryly, "Keep it quiet though, I think it's meant to be a surprise for Sirius." Watching the two just to be on the safe side, they were chatting cheerfully with Bill, Aurelius, Rodolphus, Rookwood and Barty and a few others he wasn't familiar with.

"A miniature?" Rabastan winced, "Merlin, they're twice as difficult and take an extortionate amount of time if done correctly. I remember my father got one for my mother, he said it took over three weeks, and that was with her working on it every free moment she had." it was one of his most cherished possessions actually. Considering Harry didn't have eight hours – plus – of free time every day there was no way he'd get it complete any time soon.

Harry vehemently agreed, nodding his head leaning against Rabastan sighing softly, "I agree, it's not easy, I think I spent hours last night on a tiny portion of the painting." He explained, turning the tip of his wand into a paint brush and using a magnifier to start the painting. It was going to be a long arduous task. Luckily there was no time limit to adhere to.

"Rather you than me," Draco said, "I've heard sixth year is really hard, we're likely to get a whole lot more homework and between that and studying? We won't have time for much else…I'm worried about the Quidditch eating into my study time."

"The team is amazing, nobody is leaving and you all play really well together." Pansy thoughtfully pointed out, "You won't need to do too many training meetings, especially as the beaters are actually going to be doing their O.W.L's this year."

"She's right," Blaise agreed, "You won the cup last year, you'll win it again." Although it had been a close call, Cedric Diggory was a decent player, and that was high praise coming from him.

"Only if Diggory isn't playing, it was a close call last time." Vincent said, not something he'd ever say at school unless he was safely in the common room. You didn't ever disparage your fellow housemates where anyone could hear. Not that he was disparaging Draco, but if anyone echoed them it would seem that way.

"You are coming back to Hogwarts, aren't you?" Draco asked, and everyone stopped talking, turning to stare at Harry in silent question.

They hadn't thought about it, they hadn't thought for a moment that Harry might not end up at school come time to return. They all knew how protective the Lestrange's – and the Dark Lord – were when it comes to Harry. It wouldn't bet he first time he'd been all but a year absent from Hogwarts. However, he was safe right? The Dark Lord was going to be there with them. Then again, the Lestrange's had been there when Harry was initially attacked.

"Of course, I'm coming to Hogwarts," Harry stated firmly, not even glancing at Rabastan for confirmation. "I'd like to see anyone try and stop me." He refused to change his life, to hide away so the perpetrator thinks (and will have) they've won.

The others all stared at Rabastan blatantly thinking he had more of a say. In turn the Runes Master just smirked at them all, they'd learn sooner or later that even he didn't hold sway over Harry.

"Why are you looking at him? It's my decision." Harry's tone was firm, making it clear to his friends that his partner wasn't going to become his jailor.

"And everyone is alright with that?" Daphne asked, by everyone she was referring to the Dark Lord, Aurelius Slytherin. Yes, they were in the know, but spelled never to be able to talk about it when anyone not also in the know was around.

"My decision," Harry stated emphatically, "Should I expect Rene to be making your choices now?"

Daphne nodded, "Very well," understanding all too well what Harry had implied with that simple statement. "It wouldn't have been the same without you." She confessed.

"You'd miss using the Ravenclaw library," Harry teased, as Barty made his way over.

"Ravenclaw library? It's still there?" Bartemius Crouch Junior asked, eyes sparkling, he had a lot of memories of that common room. They were part of the best times of his life, nobody willing to tell him to stop reading and go out and have fun. He loved his mother fiercely but he'd had no desire to venture into the great outdoors.

"It is," Harry agreed, the only Ravenclaw there, "And it's been added to over the years too."

"Yeah? Still unique books that aren't even in the Hogwarts library?" fondness suffusing his tone.

"You bet! That's why these guys love using Ravenclaw common room to study." Harry said cheerfully, "That and it gets really cold in the common room at winter, even with warming charms and the fire."

"Heat rises, it's always warmer in the towers." Barty agreed with sympathy, "It's why Slytherins and Hufflepuff's prefer using the library." Especially for long-term studying which these guys would likely be doing. The last two years at Hogwarts were brutal and that's without the extra classes.

"Just remember to sleep, you need rest regardless of exams," Barty pointed out, grinning at Rabastan and Harry who clearly were a couple, you could see it in the way Rabastan held him, and Harry was content against his chest.

"This coming from the wizard who got what 12 O.W.L's? And what 11 N.E.W.T's?" teased Rabastan, "You barely slept!" recalling all the times they'd seen Barty's straw hair at all ends, when he didn't wash instead studied, and barely slept. They'd actually had to interfere.

"It's hardly the best," Barty said brushing away the praise, as if it didn't matter.

"Are you kidding? If we went by 'best' then nobody would be happy," Harry said, "We're teenagers when we did them. If you're still unhappy now, why don't you retake them at the Ministry?"

"I can't imagine doing that, I don't have the mind I used to." Barty said, smiling, not quite so angry about that anymore. He was free, able to live his life, it could be a whole lot worse, especially under his father's control. "Plus, I doubt my girlfriend would be best pleased if I decided to spend more time reading." His love for reading had never waned, not ever.

"Don't eat too much," Narcissa admonished as she approached them, brushing her sons hair. Draco had decided to let it grow a little, and it was currently a little untameable. It would soon grow to a length where it was easily controlled. He hadn't wished to take the easy route and drink a potion that grew his hair out. "Dinner will be served indoors in an hour."

"Thank you, Lady Malfoy," came the immediate replies, all of them pushing their plates away a little, showing that they had heard and understood.

"It's hard to believe it's been five years, isn't it?" Draco mused, as his mother made her way over to the animals, presumably where she'd been going the entire time but stopped to talk to them a little. "Four since Dumbledore is gone."

"Isn't your cousin going to be released soon?" Pansy asked, teasing Draco.

"She's been disowned, using that term is stupid, Pans." Draco declared, not quite so easily angered by her teasing and prodding. "They said he'd resembled Bellatrix out of her Metamorphamagus abilities, then her father after the disownment, we won't even recognize her."

"Now you mention it that is worrisome," Daphne agreed.

"She might come looking for revenge," Harry agreed with their concern, "But it's likely we'll get a picture of her when she's released."

"You will," Rabastan declared firmly, he'd make sure the Dark Lord thought of that, that all of them would receive notifications on her new looks.

"So, were you like me then mostly with Slytherin friends in Ravenclaw?" Harry asked Barty, deliberately lightening the conversation.

"You don't know the half of it!" Barty said grinning wickedly. "Three Ravenclaws intended to get a Gryffindor back for the pranks pulled on them when Rabastan ended up dressed as a witch…"

Rabastan groaned, smacking his hand against Barty's mouth, "Tell them and I'll kill you," he told Barty, glaring at him, but it was playful, and Barty realised it. "Ugh Disgusting!" yanking his hand away wiping it on his leg. Kicking at Barty for licking his hand with his tongue, that was gross.

Everyone was laughing, "Tell us!"

"You have to tell us now!"

"You do, and I'm telling them about the time you hid in the dorm half transfigured into a Mereperson!" Rabastan warned.

Harry laughed uproariously, "Really? A Mereperson?" how on earth had they accomplished that?

And that was how they spent their day, true to Harry's desire they weren't giving the person who had dare try and hurt him the time of day. They weren't going to cower away afraid, and they weren't going to dwell on whoever it was. If they found that person, great, if not, well, there was nothing that could be done if the Aurors and Lord Slytherin's teams came up empty.

Harry found himself really enjoying Barty, he was a bit like Sirius and Rabastan actually. It was the first time Barty had actually joined them and it had been welcoming indeed. They learned more about the castle as the tales continued. Including a come and go room, that transformed into whatever you wanted.

Barty was incredibly smart, and liked to think outside of the box. Which reminded Harry of the Egyptian box. The potions in there, the spells, they still needed to be translated. Barty was desperate for something to focus his attention on he could see that. And he didn't have much in the way of money, this would be a good way for Barty to earn an income without it being a hand out.

Hmm, it would take him a while to learn the language, likely until he finished Hogwarts at the end of the year. He'd speak to Rabastan, Corvus and Aurelius about it.

Harry still never got to see the peacocks properly. Maybe one day he'd actually get to see them.

A/N – I looked in wiki it doesn't indicate exactly what house Barty was in, but I think his father would have been even more untrusting and less proud if Barty had been sorted into Slytherin. The prejudice is just ridiculous really, but I suppose they do come from a branch of the Black family so he may have been alright with it. However, I'm just putting him in Ravenclaw hopefully I'm not making a booboo 😊 and have already put him in Slytherin – there's nothing against his name – but I had no intentions of making him a central character so didn't feel the need to. Now I'm branching out lol 😉

Hmm…with nothing happening at Hogwarts I'm wondering how this year will be split for the school year unless Harry returns home for the solstices or will they be celebrating it at Hogwarts and make a big show of it? goodness I'm beginning to fear this story will make it into the 200's :O people will take one look at the chapter number and say no thank you lol anyways R&R please