"Potter, if you ever want to dream of touching me, you won't sully your hands by touching that freak."
Hermione was going to deliver a scathing retort because she had gotten tired of this ignorant little pig's insults but she was preempted.
With a thunderous look on his face, Harry stood up, grabbed Parkinson by the elbow, and dragged her out of the library.
He returned an hour later, alone.
"Are her ears still ringing? Did you yell at her until she cried? What?" Harry was staring at her. "Don't you think I get tired of that retarded inbred and all the other inbreds insulting me all the time?"
"Don't you start, too, Hermione. I just read Pansy the riot act and left her alone to think it over. I'll do the same to you if I have to."
"What? How can you take her side against, against anyone?"
"I'm not taking her side. I'm not taking anyone's side. I just need… I have enough pressure already. I don't need insults and yelling and fighting around me. And for your information, Pansy is not an inbred. Most purebloods aren't. I found out last night. They keep their families' histories going back centuries. Do you really think that they wouldn't have noticed what happens if you keep marrying your cousins?"
Hermione wasn't used to Harry arguing against her. And being right! This could not be allowed to stand! "We'll examine the question of inbreeding later. Even without that, you can't deny that she's stupid and ugly."
"Stop it, Hermione. She's not going to insult you anymore. I don't want you insulting her anymore, either. Just, ah, maintain a distrustful neutrality, like they say about countries."
"What happened, Harry?"
He described the trip down to the Chamber of Secrets and his threats to Parkinson. It was interesting, and Hermione wondered if simply asking would get her a tour or if she had to make him angry first, but it wasn't what she was getting at.
"No, Harry. I meant, what has happened to you? You're getting hard and short-tempered. Are you still the Harry who has been my friend for three years?
"Parkinson happened. And Dumbledore happened. Even back over the summer, the Death Eaters happened. Mostly it's the marriage contract. I'm trapped and that old fool screwed up in making me trapped, and the contract could have killed me or worse if I hadn't found out about it. I have to start taking care of myself and I can't let anyone get away with screwing me over or making my life harder."
Hermione agreed. Hermione understood. Hermione extrapolated her understanding of what he had just said to the conclusion that first-generation magic users had to start standing up for themselves against the prejudice of the inbreds. Harry would probably help, though she hesitated to ask, not until he had settled some of the other drama in his life.
On that matter… "Here is a summary of my – our – research into marriage contracts and relevant law. Is it enough, do you think, or do you need me to continue researching?"
"It's enough, I think. Thanks. Here's my idea…"
Daphne Greengrass wondered why she had been asked to accompany her friend Pansy in meeting with Harry Potter and some others. All she could think of was that, after being thrown into a hidden, underground chamber by an unexpectedly forceful Potter, Pansy needed a witness any time she was going to meet with the little psycho. Daphne wouldn't be much good as a bodyguard. Proper pureblood girls were not encouraged to learn to fight and in any event the Greengrasses were thinkers, not fighters.
Potter was accompanied by Hermione Granger and Weasley, of course. There were rumors about what the three got up to, being together almost all the time. That kind of rumor, taking into account Hermione's heritage. Everyone knew that muggle girls were easy; in fact, many pureblood boys would admit that the only reason they took Muggle Studies was to learn to fit in well enough to pick up girls.
Daphne had never paid much heed to the rumors about the Gryffindor Three because she knew Hermione from several shared classes, but even she had to wonder. It wasn't normal for a teenage girl to have no female friends and to associate only with a pair of teenage boys. It wasn't normal, unless the teenage girl in question needed something that girl friends couldn't provide, which took her right back to the rumors.
On Pansy's side of the table were only the two girls. This might be a power-play by Potter's team, attempting to tilt the negotiating field, if that was what was going on here. Nevertheless, Daphne nodded at Hermione. There was no bad blood between them.
"Thank you for coming, everyone. You all know about the marriage contract between Parkinson and me, right? Ah, that means you, Greengrass. I know everyone else knows. It's nasty, but last night we found – that is, it was mostly Hermione that found – a bunch of loopholes. I'll just talk about the important one for now. Hermione, correct me if I get anything wrong.
"The important loophole is that Parkinson – Pansy – and I have to be married but we don't, mostly don't, have to act married. There are a couple of things we have to do to keep up the pretense and satisfy the magic of the contract. We have to mostly live in the same place – 'sleep under the same roof'. Parkinson has to take my name. We can't try to kill each other. That's about it."
"That's great, Potter. How does that help us?"
"Weren't you there last night when we were talking about it?" Daphne could almost hear Potter thinking You really are stupid, aren't you?, though his lips didn't move. "What I just said is all we have to do. We don't have to do any of the normal things for being married."
"Normal things like what?"
"Harry is primarily referring to the customary conjugal relations between spouses."
"What is that supposed to mean, you filth–?" Pansy bit off what she was going to say, looked fearfully at Potter, and instead said, "What's that supposed to mean, Granger?"
"Let me explain it, Harry, 'Mione. I speak pureblood. Look, Parkinson, there will be none of this in your marriage, and none of this, and definitely none of this." Weasley made hand gestures which offended all three girls and led to him being smacked by Hermione.
"Actually, Ron, there probably will be, ah, that in our marriage. Just not with each other."
Daphne lifted an eyebrow. "Just what are you saying, Potter? It seems that I'm here to help my friend, so I want to know what you have in mind."
"I don't like this marriage contract. I don't like being forced into it and I don't like being forced to be with someone, especially with someone I don't like. I say we make a mockery of the whole thing, rub it in their faces, Dumbledore and everyone who had anything to do with it. We have to pretend to be married, go through the motions, but we don't have to act like a normal, married couple.
"I'm planning on dating whoever I want to. Not now, I mean. I mean, whenever I was going to start dating anyway, I'll do it. Parkinson – Pansy – you should do the same. Date is much as you want, wherever you want. Heck, get caught in a broom closet if you want to. I won't care. But I'll support you if anyone, like a prefect or Dumbledore or your father, try to give you problems about it. You do the same for me and we'll call it even."
Pansy seemed too overwhelmed to speak or perhaps a little slow to pick up on what he was saying – she was on the slow side, but a decent friend nevertheless – so Daphne answered for her. "I understand, Potter, and I'll make sure Pansy understands. Do you have any limits on whom your wife can date? And do you have any plans for whom you intend to date?" Daphne leaned forward and stared deep into his eyes when she asked this. She wished that she'd thought to loosen a button beforehand. She found that she quite liked this forceful, confident Potter, nothing like the nonentity in classes or the perpetual victim everywhere else.
"Ah, no, no restrictions. Anyone she wants to, except me."
He seemed to have missed her hint. He might be forceful and confident, but no smarter than usual. His attractiveness to her went down a notch.
It never entered the pretty girl's head that, as a self-declared friend of Pansy's, her attractiveness to Potter was much lower than she thought it should be.
"Greengrass, the reason I asked Parkinson to bring a friend today was mostly as a witness. If anyone asks, you can confirm that your friend's husband said it was okay for her to date. OK?"
The conclave discussed a few more ways to fulfill the letter of the marriage contract while violating the spirit and then broke up, appropriately taking different routes to the Great Hall for lunch. Daphne gossiped with Pansy about Professor Snape's nose having been broken in the last Potions class. He'd bashed the door open as he usually did for his dramatic entrance, but the sticking charm had failed and the heavy door had bounced back and bashed him in the face. Most of the fourth year Slytherins had helped the professor to see Madam Pomfrey. Hermione had taken charge of the classroom, over the protests of the Gryffindors, who wanted a free period, and the remaining Slytherins, who objected to a Gryff thinking she could tell them what to do. Regardless, it had been one of the better Potions classes in over three years. Hermione's ranking in the eyes of her peers had probably jumped from dead last to only near the bottom.
Theodore "Call Me Teddy And I'll Kill You" Nott was in luck. Early that evening Pansy Parkinson had sat next to him in the common room – sat very close next to him – and told him that if he got her in the mood she would be interested in a bit of romancing. Getting her in the mood had involved presents, so after a pound of chocolates from Hogsmead and a hand-me-down ring which had been in the family for a couple of centuries but which he didn't really need, Theodore found himself in a private spot with Pansy.
Making out was good – it wasn't his first time, but this was the furthest he'd ever been allowed to go – but then Pansy told him something amazing.
"Have you ever made out with a married woman, Theodore? I'm married to stupid Harry Potter because of an old marriage contract."
Theodore backed away from Pansy, at least as far as the closet would let him.
"Doesn't it turn you on? Knowing that you're getting one over stupid Potter? And do you want to know what's even better? I'm married, so Pomfrey gives me all the contraceptive potion that I want."
That was all it took.
But before either of them finished, the door burst open and there was McGonagall. Theodore was too frightened to be traumatized.
"Mr Nott! Miss Park– Mrs Potter! Just what do you think you're doing?"
Theodore thought of asking the professor just what she thought they were doing, but he wasn't suicidal.
McGonagall had just hit her stride in yelling at the two students and assigning detentions when she was interrupted.
"Excuse me, Professor. As it was my wife who was caught having an obvious affair, I believe their punishment is up to me. Please cancel the detentions and excuse us, if you would."
"Quite right, Mr Potter. Keep in mind that Mr Nott is under sixteen years of age and therefore you are not allowed to execute him." And with no more guidance than that, the deputy headmistress stalked off, leaving them at Potter's mercy.
Theodore shot a pleading look at Daphne Greengrass, who had come up behind Potter for some reason, but it just slid off her icy demeanor. He was more frightened than when McGonagall was there. Sure, everyone said that Potter was a wimp, but under the law he could do almost anything if his wife had an affair… and McGonagall had left them with him, and Theodore's wand was with his clothes, crumpled over in the corner.
"You've got to be more careful, Parkinson. That's the third time I've had to cover for you. I won't always be there, you know. And cover yourself up. No one wants to see that."
Everyone said that Potter was a wimp. And they were right!
Theodore pulled the door shut and got back to what he was doing.
Pansy walked with the thick-set, thick-headed, and, well, thick Derrick up to the Great Hall, where the Goblet of Fire awaited slips of parchment from any daring, talented, and of-age student … or from Jedrek Derrick. Derrick wasn't the type who normally got her in the mood for a date – to cut to the heart of the matter, his family wasn't rich enough – but his being over seventeen and not too clever to be tricked was good enough for tonight.
"Are you sure it's OK for me to put Potter's name in for him? Things have been happening to people who get on his bad side and I don't want to get on his bad side and have bad things happen. Nothing bad is going to happen and I won't get on his bad side, right?"
"Oh, no, of course not. I'm not trying to kill my husband. My wonderful husband" – Pansy couldn't believe those words were coming out of her mouth; well, she was sure she'd be wanting to brush her teeth after this date, so the toothbrush could take away the taste of the words while she was at it – "who lets me have fun with anyone I want. No, I want him to become more famous so he can take care of me better. He can't put his name in himself because he can't pass the age line."
"But why didn't he ask me to do it? I don't mean you're tricking me and you did a good job of convincing me" – meaning she'd done a bit of groping while convincing him – "but I don't want Potter to set his sights on me. Look at what's happening to Snape. Bad things."
"Potter – I mean, Harry – couldn't ask you himself to put his name in the Goblet, or even ask me to find someone, because Dumbledore or someone might ask if he knew how his name was entered or who did it. We have to play a careful game here. Harry was so smart to figure that out." Pansy threw up a little in her mouth, but a small part of what she had said was nothing but the truth. She had to play a very careful game here, setting things up to get what she wanted (the Potter money, mainly, but freedom from stupid Potter, as well) while not tripping the law's or the contract's penalty clauses for trying to kill her husband.
Pansy watched Derrick drop the parchment into the Goblet and then hurry back to her for his payment. Another, mismatched, pair of eyes should also have watched him approach the cup, but this year's Defense Against the Dark Arts professor was working on a way to escape from a small group of resourcefully relentless Fourth Year students.
Hermione reassured her uneasy friend as they waited for the feast to begin. "Look at it this way, Harry: every year there's a plot against you or some dangerous situation involving you. Also, every year the Defense professor has attempted to harm you. In the past three years we got significant clues about the plot on Halloween, but the plot or situation wasn't fully revealed until June. Similarly, the Defense professor's most dangerous attack was not launched until June. This year, the problematic situation was revealed right at the beginning of the school year. You should be free of plots until next year. On the other front, we kept Professor Moody occupied all evening and then watched the Goblet ourselves all night to make sure he couldn't tamper with it to your detriment. If, that is, this year follows the narrative pattern of earlier years."
Harry's answer made no sense at all. "Er, Hermione? I think you've been spending too much time with the books. We aren't living in a story, and the real world isn't as neat as all that."
Ignoring his nonsense, she continued, "Honestly, Harry, what are you worried about? You already have a wife you don't want, you've terrified half of the school when they tried to torment you, and we don't know of anyone who is currently trying to kill you. What's the worst that can happen?"
"If you just jinxed me, I swear I'm going to… I'm going to…"
"If you're thinking of giving me a spanking, I'll have to refuse. First, I am both too old and too young for spankings. Second, you're a married man, and I don't see myself as ever allowing a married man to give me a bare-bottom spanking."
"I wasn't going to suggest a spanking, but it's good to know the direction your mind goes."
Hermione rolled her eyes at her friend but had to admit she'd started it. Curse her subconscious! "Hush. Dumbledore's getting up."
Half an hour later, after Harry's name had come out of the Goblet, he turned to her and asked, "Do you want your spanking tonight or do you want to wait until the weekend to give your bottom time to recover before having to sit in class all day?"
Hermione waited outside the room where all of the champions had gone, defying the prefects and two professors who had attempted to chivvy her up to the dorms with the rest of the students. When the champions and judges and miscellaneous Hogwarts professors gaggled out of the room, Dumbledore also attempted to run her off, saying "Run along, Miss Granger. None of this concerns you."
"Excuse me, Headmaster, but who is speaking for Harry tonight? He was the only under-age person in that room and he didn't have anyone to advise him or uphold his rights. All of the other champions had their heads of school but Harry had no one."
"Are you suggesting that I cannot adequately represent Harry's interests as well as Mr Diggory's?" Dumbledore asked, eyebrows up.
Of course you can't, Hermione thought, but it would not be helpful to say that out loud just now. Fortunately, Harry came to her rescue as she struggled to find something accurate but acceptable to say.
"Of course you can't. Look at how you blew it this summer, saddling me with Pansy Parkinson for the rest of my life."
"Potter! Fifty points from Gryffindor for disrespect. Granger! Fifty points and a detention for disobedience."
Before Snape could even draw another breath, one of the Great Hall's floating candles lost its magic and dropped. Greasy hair goes up like a torch.
Catching each other's eyes, Hermione and Harry walked up to Gryffindor tower to face the music. Party music, as it happened. Their housemates were raucously celebrating the youngest champion's trickiness in cheating his name into the goblet.
On the way to an early breakfast the next morning, Hermione voiced a thought that had been bothering her as she shifted uncomfortably during the night. "A classic narrative pattern is to foreshadow a major plot point by showing a lesser version earlier in the story. Do you suppose the unbreakable marriage contract was a foreshadowing of the unbreakable tournament contract? The first was annoying but no worse, a lesser version of the potentially fatal second contract."
"Sometimes I worry about you, Hermione."
"Hmmph. How do you plan to face the tournament?
"I don't know yet. They, that is, Crouch and Bagman, told me that I have to compete or I'll lose my magic. I've been thinking about it. I mean, I grew up without magic and I can live without it and if I don't have any magic than that blasted 'little boy' penalty in the marriage contract won't affect me, right? So the question is, what's worse: giving up my magic or risking my life and having to stay with Parkinson?"
"Put like that, it does seem rather clear-cut. One thing you didn't mention is that you are still a minor. If you aren't attending Hogwarts, you would have to live with the Dursleys, wouldn't you?"
"I know. That's why I'm still thinking about it."
Sitting down to breakfast, Hermione grimaced and then glared at her friend. "How did you talk me into letting you do that? And next time, don't spank so hard."
Severus Snape was delighted. He kept it buried deep inside, of course. No student would ever see him smile, except at the misery of others.
But of course, this was a situation which allowed him to not only rejoice in the misery of another, but to increase the misery. And not just any misery. He'd make sure this splattered on that blasted Potter!
"Potter! What are you doing in such a state of undress with a boy who is not your husband?"
Pansy Parkinson – Severus knew full well that she thought of herself that way and hated the name Potter – stammered an explanation even as she tried to cover herself. Severus was briefly tempted to offer her a way to get out of detention but could not immediately think of a way to torment Potter with the knowledge that he'd enjoyed his wife which would not cause more trouble for Severus himself.
"I suppose I should not be surprised that you have to seek male attention from other than your husband, but that does not excuse his conduct. I think two detentions, as well as five for your husband for not being manly enough, should cover this offense."
"Excuse me, Snape." The well-known and well-hated voice grated in Severus's ears. "I'll take it from here. Pansy's punishment is mine to determine. You may leave now."
"Mr Potter. What a surprise to find you within a mile of a naked woman. Your lack of respect to your betters has earned you another week's detention." This was getting better and better. Snape almost let the smile out.
"I'm afraid I can't accept that. You have no grounds for assigning me any detentions. Rather than bother to report your abuse of authority, I'm going to just ignore you. Less paperwork that way."
Severus couldn't believe the arrogant brat's nerve! "That's another two weeks of scrubbing cauldrons, Potter."
"Pansy and whoever you are, you're free to go. Pansy, come find me later to discuss your punishment."
"Get back here, you two! How dare you ignore me?" Potter's disrespect and disobedience were to be expected, but Severus couldn't believe that the other two ran off despite his orders. Potter's attitude must be contagious. Oh, how he'd pay for this. "Potter! You get back here!"
"I have to go check on my friends, Snape. I have a lot of friends at the castle, friends that you wouldn't expect. House elves, poltergeists, all kinds of friends. You wouldn't understand."
"Potter! How dare you ignore me? Get back here!"
Severus reached for his wand to bind Potter and drag him to the headmaster – surely not even Dumbledore and his infinite forgiveness could deny that this was grounds for expulsion – when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned, confident that no student would attack them but not foolish enough to risk it, just as the battle ax from a nearby suit of armor fell and cut off half of his right foot.
Severus thought he heard "Lots of friends" echoing in the corridor as he worked to stanch the bleeding.
Hermione sat, petrified, in the stands around the dragon pit. It might have been better if she'd been magically petrified. She wouldn't be scratching deep gashes in her cheeks as she watched the first three, older, contestants barely survived their dragons.
How was Harry going to survive? He'd told her a few evenings before that he'd decided to forfeit the tournament, accept the loss of his magic, and leave both Hogwarts and Parkinson. But the announcer – Badman, or something like that – made it sound like there would be four champions, as if Harry hadn't managed to hide or escape.
Hermione was sitting alone in the stands. Even Pansy's company would have been better than worrying about Harry all by herself. In fact, Hermione realized as she looked around after the third dragon was led away, Pansy was nowhere to be seen. Where was she? The entire school (except for Snape, who was confined to the infirmary; he'd been poisoned by contaminated healing potions that Madam Pomfrey had been using to treat his amputated foot) had been called out to watch this spectacle, this bloody entertainment, the feeding of Christians to lions. So where was she?
Finally, Harry came out onto the field. Even from up here Hermione could see he was moving very stiffly. Had the other champions attacked while they were alone in the tent?
Moments later, Pansy slipped onto the seat next to her.
"Where have you been?"
"Taking care of business."
She'd been in the girls room for over an hour?
"If things go right, five minutes from now I won't have this stupid marriage contract to stupid Potter."
"What. Did. You. Do?"
Pansy was too excited to notice the warning in Hermione's voice, or simply discounted her as a threat. "Stupid Potter was refusing to do anything for the tournament today, so the headmaster asked me to persuade him to participate. I asked him what was in it for me, of course. He tried to tell me that my husband would have a chance at fame and fortune, blah blah blah. I wasn't going for it, of course. Gold is a girl's best friend. Dumbledore said he didn't have any gold to give me, but what he had was good enough: ten 'Get out of detention' passes, good for getting caught undressed or anything else. Ten should last me a week, maybe, if we're careful and don't get caught too many times.
"And there was another part of my 'pay' that I didn't mention to the old man, getting rid of this marriage to stupid Potter. We'll see.
"Once I had a good enough bribe, I didn't even have to persuade stupid Potter. I just tricked him. It was easy because he's so stupid. Dumbledore told me where he was hiding, so I went there and started talking and talking and talking. I already knew stupid Potter doesn't like that and I already knew that stupid Potter would have to listen to me if I said it the right way – it's all in the contract, if you know the tricks.
"And so I talked and talked. I told stupid Potter about what I want out of life and he had to listen. I told stupid Potter how he needs to change to be a better husband and he had to listen. I even told stupid Potter that I won't let him date unless he pleasures me before and after my dates and he had to listen to that. I led him to the tournament tent and he didn't even notice we were outside the castle until that fat quidditch player shook his shoulder.
"And then he was so mad at being tricked that I'll bet he won't even remember he has a wand when he's thrown out to face the dragon. Oh, but look! He doesn't have a wand. He must have dropped it. I'll give it to him later … if he's still around later."
Before Hermione could respond, or strangle the manipulative witch next to her, the judges started the task. As if she had been waiting for the signal, the dragon roared at Harry.
He stood there and took it for a minute, cringing from it slightly, then he straightened and screamed right back at her.
The sound was incredible.
Hermione had never heard anything so loud, not even the Concorde taking off when her parents took her to see it as a child.
Harry walked over to the nest, stepping around the inverted and vomiting dragon. He looked much more relaxed than a minute before. Screaming could be therapeutic, after all.
"I didn't know dragon puke burned," someone said very loudly. He was still probably deafened.
Harry made it back to the judges' stand with the pieces of his golden egg in his hands.
"So what do you want me to do with this piece of junk? Hey! Old people! Are you taking a nap while I'm risking my life?"
The judges didn't answer. Two were passed out and the other three looked well on the way to "completely stunned".
Shrugging, Harry tossed the shards of his egg over his shoulder and walked away without waiting for his score.