Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

A/N: This is a new fic that I have to get out of my brain before I can continue the Pureblood conspiracy. I had originally intended a one-shot of about 10K words, but as soon as I got writing, I found that it took on a life of it's own. I appreciate any constructive reviews.

The Thing About Contracts Is …

Chapter 1 – Not the Yule Ball

December 10, 1994

Harry Potter walked out of his Transfiguration classroom in a daze. 'Dancing,' he thought, 'why did it have to be dancing?' He was so involved in his own thoughts that he didn't even notice that Hermione and Ron were trying to get his attention. She finally got his attention by tugging on his sleeve.

"What? Huh?" Harry responded so eloquently as he was shaken out of his stupor.

"Really Harry!" Hermione said in an exasperated tone, "What did McGonagall have to say?"

"Oh, she just wanted to tell me that the Champions traditionally open the Ball with a dance," he said with a grimace.

"So what's wrong with that?"

"Hermione, you know I don't like the spotlight. Now I have to find someone to go to the ball with me who I can stand to be around for an evening and I have to open the Ball with a dance I can't do. You tell me what's wrong with this picture. I'm just tired of this. Stupid contract. I wish there was a way out of it."

She sighed, "Harry, try to make the best of it. I'm sure we can arrange for someone to teach you to dance. As for a date, there must be someone you want to go with. Come on let's head to dinner."

Harry thought hard as they walked to dinner. He really was tired of his whole life. If he wasn't completely ignored, emotionally abused and isolated from the world at his relatives' house, he was under the spotlight every moment he was in the Magical world at large. He just wanted to be able to live a normal life – whatever that was.

Now the Ball was announced and he would be paraded up and down again and there would no doubt be the inevitable stories in Witch Weekly and The Daily Prophet. If only it weren't for the damned contract forcing him to participate. An idea that would eventually reshape his life sprouted at that moment as certain things fell into place. He looked at his two friends and decided not to tell them anything right now. He still wasn't sure he trusted Ron and if he needed more information to go through the inevitable argument with Hermione.

As for the Ball, his gut reaction was to tell the Headmaster that since he wasn't an official champion of one of the three schools that he saw no need to subject himself to the scrutiny the Ball would inevitably put him under. However he was smart enough to know that would go over as well as a poster of the Marauders appearing in the Potions classroom. So the question was who to ask. Who would treat him like just another teenage boy? There was only one, the person he considered his best friend.

"Hermione," he stopped and asked her, "Can I talk to you alone for a moment?" Looking up at the other part of the so-called trio, "Ron, we'll meet you in the Great Hall shortly."

Ron nodded and ran off. His digestive system had not had anything enter it since lunch and hunger was threatening to take over for Quidditch as the number one thing on Ron's mind.

Hermione looked at Harry with a quizzical face, "What did you need to talk about?"

"Would you go to the Ball with me?"

Hermione thought about it quickly and over the next few minutes made the first of two mistakes that would set the tone of their friendship from here. 'Do I risk our friendship?' she thought. 'Does Harry want to go as a friend or more?' and finally 'What about Ron?'

"Harry, are you asking me to go as your friend or your date?"

Harry paused. He had assumed it would be a date. He had been attracted to Hermione for a while. He was about to say 'date' but then his lack of self-confidence brought on by his upbringing at his relatives came to the forefront, "umm, just friends I guess," he said glancing down at his shoes.

Hermione – also not one for a lot of self-confidence when it came to interpersonal relationships – did not pick up on his body language and she hesitated for a moment. Before she could respond, Harry continued with, "If someone else asks you that you would rather go with then that is fine with me too."

"Harry, I'll go with you as a friend."

Both sighed in relief not knowing the other had the same thought as them – 'It's too bad he/she doesn't want to go as a date. I guess we'll just stay best friends.'

That being settled they headed down to dinner having also agreed to let people know they were already going with someone to the Ball but the would not tell anyone who they were going with. After all this was Hogwarts and nasty rumours get started this way.

That night Harry lay awake. The word "contract" rolled over and over in his head. He got up and wrote a letter. Quietly opening his window he thought hard about his avian friend and within minutes a snowy white owl glided through the window and landed on his outstretched arm.

Words were not needed between the boy and his owl. He tied the missive to her leg and sent her on her way. Going back to bed he smiled – there may be hope yet.

December 11, 1994

Harry was sitting in the common room finishing off his homework waiting for Hermione who had gone to do some research in the Library.

He had finished his Potions and History essays and was now working on the one given by Hagrid on 21 tips for care and feeding of a Blast-Ended Skrewt. Shaking his head he set about trying to come up with answers that would not lose marks for too much sarcasm. He was so involved in this that he did not notice Hermione coming in to the common room blushing with and excited look on her face.

This was her absolute best day ever. A boy – no scratch that – a man had expressed an interest in her. Victor Krum who had as many girls fawning over him as Harry had asked her on a real date to the Ball. At first she wanted to decline but she remembered that Harry had said they could cancel their arrangement if either was asked by someone else. Her hormones kicked in as she locked eyes with the 17-year-old Bulgarian when he asked her. They had studied together in the library all term and if Hermione was honest with herself she was crushing hard on Victor. Knowing that Victor was crushing on her too just got the hormones so charged up that Hermione made the second mistake.

"Umm, Harry?" she asked quietly.

"Hi Hermione, what happened to you? You look positively over the moon."

She sat down quickly beside him and quietly said so no one else could hear, "Someone asked me to the ball today. Harry he's interested in me."

Harry kept a happy face for his friend, but his stomach dropped. "Ah," he said.

"And since we were only going as friends and left it open to accept other invitations, I thought you wouldn't mind."

"Ah … yeah … that's um great – yeah great – Hermione," Harry managed to stammer out.

"I know," she hugged him briefly, "and thanks for understanding."

For the first time in her life Hermione was being a giggly teenage girl who was allowing her hormones to run wild. That, and only that, prevented her from thinking twice before saying "Don't worry about a date for the ball Harry, there's lots of girls from all years who asked me today if you are going with anyone. You just have to indicate you are available and lots of girls will be clamouring to go with Harry Potter."

Now granted, Harry had very little experience directly dealing with a babbling teenage girl. Let alone a babbling teenage Hermione. His experience with her up to this point was that she meant every word she said. With this frame of reference he was devastated inside. His ego was already wavering with the fact that Hermione had another date within 24 hours of his asking her, but for her to play the 'Boy-Who-Lived' card was completely unexpected. He quickly steeled himself not wanting to ruin his friend's mood. "It's OK Hermione. I'll sort it out myself." He then forced himself to say, "I'm happy for you."

She squee'ed ('Hermione squees?' he thought) and impulsively hugged him again. "Oh Harry, can you keep this quiet? Victor and I want to surprise everyone."

"Sure Hermione," Harry said, "I'm sure it will be a night of surprises."

Hermione started to calm down and seemed to switch back to her normal self, well, her normal self with a blush and big-ass grin on her face. "So, how is training coming for the second task? What do you want to work on next?"

Thinking fast, Harry said, "I'm actually going to tone down training and relax until the New Year. We've worked really hard this term and I appreciate all your help. I just want to focus on the end-of-term exams. Even though I'm officially exempted from them, I still want to do well since next year the professors probably won't care that I was in the tournament and will expect me to know all this anyway."

Hermione just started at Harry. "Harry, I'm so proud of you for taking your education so seriously."

Now it was Harry's turn to blush but his self-control was failing him and he had to get out of there quickly. "Actually Hermione, I just need to go look up something in the library before curfew." He gathered up his books and said goodbye and rushed passed the Fat Lady.

Ducking into the first unused classroom he quickly locked the door and silenced it just as the first tears started running down his face. Hermione, his so-called best friend, the one who he thought knew the real Harry Potter had referred to him using his oh so hated fame. Ron he would have expected it from, but Hermione – never. It hurt him. It hurt him down to his soul. The one person he thought would always treat him as 'just Harry' didn't this time and it felt like a kick in the … well, you probably can imagine where.

After a few minutes he composed himself. Years of 'training' under Vernon and Dudley Dursley had taught him how to repress his emotions and not let them show. One of the final drawbacks against the plan that was forming in his mind had just evaporated. He pulled out the books that Hedwig had delivered earlier that day and started researching. If Harry hadn't hidden his studious side well, people might have called him the bookworm. Research was something he had always been good at in secret. He needed information to flesh out his plan. While he may end up going through hell to get what he wanted it was better than maintaining the status quo.

December 19, 1994

Over the past 8 days very few people had seen Harry Potter outside of classes or the Library. He apparently went to bed very late and got up very early, as his dorm mates hadn't seen him since the night of the tenth. Even Hermione and Ron spent time with him during and between classes but he was unseen before first class, after last class and during lunch.

When Hermione asked him about it, he said he was doing research about the tournament and had stumbled on something very interesting that he would share with her quite soon.

In reality, Harry had started to cut himself off from those around him. With Dobby's help he had moved into the Chamber of Secrets and the little elf had nearly wet himself in anticipation of the cleaning job ahead. It took him a total of 24 hours to make the place livable and an additional day to give it a homey feel.

The millennium-old basilisk still had so much latent magic that it had not yet begun to decay and was the most bizarre decoration in Hogwarts. Dobby had managed to scrounge a couch and table for his friend and they had discovered a well-preserved and rather dusty bedroom off the chamber. Harry had even gone against his better judgment and accepted the house elf bond from Dobby. It took 5 days for Dobby to wear down his resolve but in the end they the little elf managed to convince him it would be mutually beneficial for him to have a house elf and for Dobby to have a 'master' of his choice.

The past week had seen Harry using Dobby to deliver correspondence to the Goblins. It had started on the second night in the chamber. Harry had been trying to figure out how to determine his status in the magical world without alerting the Ministry and he sent a very innocent looking request to Gringotts. He simply asked for the status of his vaults, who had access to him and who controlled the access. The last question was the most important since only a wizard or witch who was of legal age could control access to a vault. The response he received set the tone of the rest of the week:

Mr. Potter,

As per your written request received December 13, 1994, we detected an anomaly. I will explain this in a moment but here is the information you have requested:

Vault 687 – Status: Active 1981-10-31 – Current Access: Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter, Molly Weasley – Current Control: Harry Potter

Vault 25 – Status: Active 1994-11-24 – Current Access: Harry Potter – Current Control: Harry Potter

Vault 417 – Status Active 1994-11-24 – Current Access: Harry Potter – Current Control: Harry Potter

Vault 416 – Status Active 1994-11-24 – Current Access: Harry Potter – Current Control: Harry Potter

As you can see from this Mr. Potter you assumed control of the Potter vaults on November 24, 1994. By all rights, these should not have come active until July 31, 1997 the day of your seventeenth birthday. It was this anomaly that required us to investigate.

Based on our findings, you sealed a magical contract with your participation in the first task of he Triwiazrd Tournament. Seeing as you have no legal guardian in either the magical or non-magical worlds you are now considered an adult with all rights and responsibilities that come with this.

There are a few forms you need to fill out and I have obtained them on your behalf. They need to be filled out in the presence of a witness and must be filed with the Ministry for you to be full considered an adult. I suggest that you come to Gringotts in person as soon as possible to finalize your status.

May your gold flow and your enemies whither,


Large Account Manager

That letter answered some questions and raised some others. He had initially written to Flourish and Blotts for any books they may recommend on both Magical and Muggle contract law. Both were very clear that only adults could enter into and be subject to binding contracts. It also said that parties must enter into a contract of their own free will. That meant that he either was not subject to the stipulations of the supposed magical contract binding the champions to compete and that his guardians were, or he was now considered an adult.

What upset him was finding out from Madame Pince that Dumbledore had checked out (well, removed) all of the books pertaining to magical contracts for an important piece of legislation in front of the Wizengamot. Coincidentally he returned them the day after the first task.

What Harry had suspected through his reading had been confirmed in the letter from Griphook – since he did not willingly put his name in the cup, the magic binding the participants to the contract did not apply until he willingly took part in the first task. He could have quit at any time before that and he suspected the old man knew and didn't want him to find out.

He had had his plan to get to Gringotts over the Yuletide break and meet with Griphook to finalize the paperwork. His first hurdle was to make sure no one knew he was gone. That was accomplished by literally moving into the Chamber of Secrets and only being seen for classes. If he wasn't around when classes were out, there was a very strong possibility that his absence would go unnoted.

The second part required Dobby's help. He slipped an 'Intent to Leave for the Yule Break' form into the pile of forms submitted by the first through third year students not attending the ball. Dobby put it in the bottom half of the pile where it would go unnoticed by Minerva until it was too late.

And now the last part – getting to the train. Dobby had found him a spare trunk so that his (now empty) locked trunk would still be in his dorm. He snuck out of the Hogwarts grounds under his father's cloak with his new trunk shrunken and in his pocket.

He left early to get down to the gates and sneaked through just as the first carriage passed by. Making his way carefully through town to the town he arrived at the train station about a half hour before the scheduled departure. He stayed on the platform as the other students boarded the train and only got on once the train started moving.

Meanwhile back at Hogwarts, Hermione wondered where Harry was spending all his time, but he had been absent the entire week. She was sure he would turn up. At the very least she would see him at the Ball. She idly wondered whom he had decided to take.

On the Express, Harry finally took off his cloak. He walked through the coaches looking for an empty compartment when he came upon a disturbing site. There was a bunch of young Ravenclaws standing around an older blond girl taunting her.

"So Loony didn't get a date?"

"Maybe she did but no one can see him."

"She probably scared everyone off."

"I heard Roger asked her and then broke it off once he actually tried to talk to her."

The girl just sat with an unfocussed look in her eyes. Harry recognized the look as one he wore whenever Dudley got the kids to taunt him. Harry's anger began surface.

The younger kids continued to taunt the girl when they felt a presence behind them and froze at the sound of the cold unemotional voice, "You have 3 seconds to leave my friend alone."

They youngsters turned around to see a livid Harry Potter. This was the Harry Potter that the school saw face the Hungarian Horntail and win.

The bravest of the children said, "We were only having fun with Loony here and …"

She grabbed her mouth as Harry cast a silencing charm on her. He said 10 words in a tone that would give the children nightmares for years to come, "Leave now if you want to arrive in London intact."

The children ran out of the compartment as Harry turned and locked the door behind them.

The blond girl looked at Harry with silver eyes. She only said one word, "Why?"

Harry's stern face melted into a friendly smile, "I had to put up with bullying for 6 years at my old school. I always dreamed that someone might come along and stand up for me."

"No one has ever helped me before," she said shyly.

"Well, now someone has." Harry extended his hand, "I'm sorry for being rude. I'm Harry Potter."

The girl's eyes never left his, "I'm Luna Lovegood." Then she looked down, "but everyone calls me Loony. Thank you for sticking up for me. You really didn't need to. I'm used to it."

"Luna," he started with a warm tone as she looked back up at him, "you're wrong. As soon as I saw them bullying you I had to help. If I didn't I would be just as bad as the people doing the bullying. And, as I said, I'm too used to being the victim."

Luna nodded hesitantly and asked Harry if he wanted a seat. The two talked all the way to King's Cross. Harry opened up to another person for the first time in his life about his childhood and what he went through. Luna was unlike anyone he had met before. In her he felt a kindred spirit. Luna in turn started talking to Harry about herself.

Luna asked why Harry wasn't staying at the castle for the Ball and he explained how he didn't know of anyone who would see 'just Harry' and not the Boy-Who-Lived. He smiled, "Well, I do know someone now."

Luna smiled shyly at him.

They continued to talk about everything and sometimes nothing at all. As the train pulled into King's Cross each felt exhausted and that they had mutually started a healing process. They both found the other strong and vulnerable at the same time.

Harry had told Luna of his plans. She understood and gave him the emotional support he didn't realize he needed. As they left the train she invited him to stay with her and her father over the holidays. She knew he had to go to Gringotts so she gave him their floo address for when his meetings were over.

He made his way to the Leaky Cauldron by way of the Tube. On the way he bought a muggle cap to hide his scar. The Cauldron wasn't too busy that night and he made it through unrecognized and then proceeded to enter Diagon Alley and Gringotts.

Harry made his way down the alley unnoticed and entered Gringotts easily. Following Griphook's instructions he bypassed the few customers who wee waiting in the Teller line and went to a desk of at the side by a large doorway and politely informed the goblin at the desk that he was there for his appointment with Griphook.

Once all the pleasantries were dispensed with Griphook got down to business. "Mr. Potter …"

"It's Harry."

"Excuse me?"

"Griphook, I am only 14. Please call me Harry you do not need to address me so formally unless you are uncomfortable being so informal with a customer."

Griphook paused and processed what he had just heard. He would enjoy working with this wizard as his account manager. He continued, "Very well. Harry, I have the forms here that require your signature." He slid parchment and paper across the desk to Harry. Harry looked at the one on paper first. It appeared to be a non-magical declaration for him to become an emancipated minor.

Griphook explained, "Harry this was drafted by our London non-magical law firm of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe. As you know from our correspondence, when we looked into your legal status as part of our investigation we found out that no one – including your relatives – had filed for guardianship of you. The Children's Services and the British courts were amazed that you had gone unnoticed for over 12 years. At our instruction our lawyers prepared briefs arguing that your relatives are unsuitable guardians and that in lieu of naming a new guardian you should be declared an emancipated minor. I provided information that you have the means to care for yourself and one visit to the Dursleys resulted in charges and an agreement that they were unsuitable guardians."

Harry looked up startled at the last statement. He got a broad smile on his face as he realized the Dursley family was going to face some sort of punishment for the way he was treated.

"There is one thing you will have to do for the case to proceed. Children do not have to face their abusers in court, but they do have to testify in a way. You have to attend a meeting at Children's services with your solicitor and your testimony will be recorded for playback in court. I have tentatively scheduled a meeting for tomorrow afternoon."

Harry was nervous. He had never told anyone but Luna about his treatment at the Dursleys, "Griphook, is this absolutely necessary."

The Goblin nodded, "Yes. It will also be beneficial to your application for emancipation."

"May I bring anyone?"

"I believe you can."

"Thank you for arranging all this. I will go to the appointment. What time tomorrow?"

"The appointment is at 11am. It is close by and I will arrange for Mr. Dewey to be here at 10:30 and escort you there and also sit through the deposition."

"Thanks you once again Griphook. I'm comfortable signing the application." He picked up the quill in front of him and signed the forma where Griphook indicated.

They moved on to the parchment, "Harry these are the forms required by the Ministry of Magic indicating that you accept your status as an adult in the Magical world. I have taken the liberty to fill out the forms for you to state that you are not seeking a magical guardian and the you have the means and the will to accept the responsibilities of being an adult Wizard."

"I could have requested a Guardian?"

"Yes, since Albus Dumbledore never officially registered his role as your magical guardian and he your parent's will sealed, no guardian was ever formally recognized by the Ministry. As Headmaster his claim that he acts in loco parentis while children are at school is partially correct. The legislation to allow that specifically limited it to muggleborn children. Being a wizard from an old wizarding family, He does not have the authority to act in loco parentis in your case."

Harry chuckled at this. For once the bigoted pureblood laws benefitted him against claims from the old man. He picked up the quill and signed those documents as well.

Griphook collected the documents. "As per your request these will not be filed with the Ministry until the morning of December 26." He pulled out one more set of papers, "one last thing Harry. These are the other arrangements you asked for."

Harry looked at the forms and smiled. Without saying a word he signed those forms where indicated.

Griphook said, "I believe that concludes our business for the evening. I will see you with Mr. Dewey in the morning."

"Thank you once again Griphook for everything you have done for the past few weeks. Have we exhausted the two thousand galleon retainer account yet?"

"At last count Harry we have charged one thousand four hundred seventy seven galleons, 3 sickles and two knuts. I will inform you should the outstanding balance drop below one hundred galleons. If all goes well, we should not need more but if the Ministry tries to prevent or overturn the filing of these forms, the legal fees may be more than anticipated."

"That's understandable. Thank you for all your services once again. Now, if I could trouble you do you have a public floo I could use? I've been invited to a friend's house."

"Mr. Potter for a customer such as yourself which is located in the waiting lunge near these offices. You more than qualify for access to this floo. Please, let me escort you."