Disclaimer: Don't be fooled by the revisionist history that the liars would have you believe. JKR did not create the Harry Potter universe. Nor did she assassinate JFK.
Author's Note: This story fits in the universe of my Coach Granger. It's not a sequel, exactly, but it's a possible Year 7 following CG. Some of the events here may become part of a proper sequel. (Or may not. This is really not what I should have been writing, considering my for-pay queue, but it got in my head and I couldn't do anything productive on the for-pay work that I really, really should have been working on. Very annoying, quite frankly.)
Hermione was working in the library alone one evening late in September. Earlier in the year Harry would have made sure to sit with her, but this evening Hermione had finally told him that she would be fine, she could take care of herself, she didn't really care that she had no other friends in the castle, she didn't need a nanny, and he should go bugger off with his girlfriend. "No, wait! I'm sorry, Astoria! That's not what I meant to say!" At least it got a smile out of Harry, almost the first since the train ride up at the beginning of September.
She was focusing on non-magical A Level studies tonight, but would trawl the Hogwarts library for something interesting when she had done enough studying. She wasn't sure what she wanted to do with her life, but she was sure she wanted to keep her options open. Besides, after last year's accomplishments, she had no real need of any of the Hogwarts classes. She'd study a bit so she'd do well on her NEWTs at the end of the school year, but otherwise didn't bother with studies or homework. Perfect, former prefect Granger even skipped classes if she didn't feel like going. What were they going to do, take points? Expel her? She'd taken a lesson from Harry last year: they needed her here as a control on Harry more than she wanted to be here, so she was calling the shots.
"Granger, do you know if Harry is coming back to the library tonight? Harry Potter, that is."
Hermione looked up to see Eveline March. "No, Harry left a few minutes ago to spend some time with Astoria. I should see him later this evening, if you'd like me to tell him to keep an eye out for you tomorrow. And how are you doing? I don't think I've seen you since you had to leave school last year after that duel."
Eveline fingered her eye patch self-consciously. Hermione guessed that magical eyes were too expensive for the Marches' budget and of course the school would never pay for an injury that happened during a class. Or possibly the patch covered up damage beyond the eye itself; that might be a bit of scar tissue peeking out over the girl's nose. "I was able to study enough at home that I didn't have to repeat Fourth Year. I'm having trouble hitting things at a distance with only one eye. I had been thinking of asking Harry if he would help me practice, but now something more urgent has come up."
"Is it something I can help you with? You and I weren't friends, but we are not enemies and last year we were somewhat associated through Harry and Astoria. Considering how busy he's been, I'd be glad to help him by helping you in his stead."
"No, I don't think … Perhaps you can help me. You can't do for me what I need done, but you can help me ask Harry to help me. It's very private and sensitive. Could we find someplace private to talk?"
Hermione gathered up her schoolwork, to Eveline's curious gaze. "These are textbooks on some of the subjects I'd be taking in a non-magical school if I hadn't come to Hogwarts. I can tell you about the difference between paper and parchment and a bit about modern printing technology later, if you're interested."
"I may take you up on that. Depending on how things work out, I may need to learn more than I ever wanted about the Muggle world if I have to leave the magical world."
Was Eveline an anti-Muggle, pureblood bigot? Hermione wasn't inclined to help her if that were the case. And even less inclined to help if Eveline couldn't control her mouth well enough to disguise her prejudices around a Muggleborn witch whose help she wanted. Hermione kept her thoughts off her face. This was about the millionth time she'd noticed a lack of cunning and subtlety in the house of cunning.
Privacy charms in place, Eveline drew a deep breath. "I need Harry to save me from an arranged marriage."
"Not another one! How common are they?"
"What? Who else has Harry had to save?"
"He hasn't had to save anyone from an arranged marriage, so far as I know. I was referring to the existence of arranged marriages. Daphne Greengrass was hauled into one of them by her parents last year. Harry offered to help get her out of it, but she actually was happy with it."
"Yes, not only happy with it, but pregnant already."
"Oh! That's news to me. Quick work there, Mr Morris." She'd heard from Astoria about the late June wedding, though she had been unable to attend. (And Harry, as the bride's former lover, was understandably not invited.) "Between us girls, it's my understanding that the marriage contract called for Daphne to bear four children. She and her husband must have decided to get started right away." And now Hermione was mentally kicking herself for passing along gossip about a friend. Controlling her mouth, indeed.
"I'm in a much worse spot. My betrothed is much older and would have children older than I, except that they all died. He's looking for someone to give him heirs."
"That's terrible! I can understand why you would want to avoid it."
"It's worse. Much worse. I would be … I made a mistake over the summer when my grandfather first brought up this arrangement. My grandfather told me that because of my eye and my scars, I won't be able to get an ideal husband and that I would have to lower my standards and accept that someone willing to take me would likely have some shortcomings of his own. I objected quite strenuously when I found I was being married off as a brood mare to a poor, pureblood widower my father's age. My grandfather confined me to the house until school started and then rewrote the contract as … as a chattel marriage."
"'Chattel marriage'? As in, your husband would own you? That's terrible! Why would your grandfather do that to you?"
"I defied him. My grandfather is not a wicked man, but he rules the family absolutely."
"I'm sure Harry will help you if he can. Exactly what help do you need?"
"The only thing I can think of is …"
"I understand what you're asking, Eveline, but I can't believe it's your best bet. Even if everything works perfectly, you lose almost everything. Why can't you refuse to go along with the marriage? It's not like the ministry would force you to go along with the marriage, would they? Or if you had to, renounce your family and refuse to go along with the marriage?"
"Because I'm dependent on my family and if I don't do what my grandfather orders I'll be cut off. I'd have nothing except what I have here at school: clothes and books and about ten galleons. My tuition is paid through December, which means I'd have room and board until the end of the year, but after that I'd be on my own."
"Hogwarts has scholarships, right? Or what about asking family or friends for loans or gifts? Or even leaving Britain and seeking asylum, like in the United States?"
"Hogwarts scholarships are allocated at least a year in advance, Harry, and there's never enough to go around," Hermione put in. "Purebloods in good standing are given priority, of course. As for asylum, I don't know about most countries, but the US magical community will not help people to get there. If you get to the US on your own, they may grant asylum, but you have to get there first."
"I hadn't thought of asylum. As for asking friends for money for tuition, I'm afraid I don't have any friends who would be willing and able to give me enough. I might be able to beg or borrow a few hundred galleons. That's not nearly enough."
"All right. I'm not promising I'll do what you want, but I'm keeping my mind open. If you, either of you, can think of any other way to get you out of this, let me know right away. What time frame are we looking at? When is the wedding or formal betrothal or some other important date?"
"As soon as possible, please. The wedding date is not set, but I'm worried about … If you look at the paragraph about a foot down in the parchment, you'll see that the groom is expected to assure himself that the bride will be able to fulfill her responsibilities. That means he'll get me with child before the wedding date will be set. I'm dreading every morning's owl post."
"Right. As soon as possible. I'll need to talk with Hermione to figure out what I can do and what I should do. I'll let you in on a secret: she's the only reason I've gotten anywhere in my life." Harry winked at Hermione.
"Please, Harry. I'm begging you, help me." She closed her eye and drew a deep breath, obviously bracing herself. "Harry, is there anything I can do to persuade you? Granger, could you give us some privacy?"
"No no no! I'm with Astoria. You know that.
"Hermione, you've already copied the contract, right? Eveline, it's getting late. Can you get back to the Slytherin dorms before curfew or do you need an escort? Right. I have classes all morning tomorrow but I'm free the first hour after lunch. Can we all meet here at 13:00? Right. Goodnight, Eveline. Sleep well. I'll probably be able to help you without any deaths or other drastic measures."
After wishing the younger girl well, Hermione asked Harry, "You're going to help?"
"I think so, unless you have a good reason I shouldn't. This is just more pureblood garbage. I'm tempted to let them all wallow in their own problems and kill their own culture, but Eveline's, what, fifteen now? It's not fair to make her suffer from a culture she didn't make."
"It is her culture, though. She's picked up some of the attitudes already. She seems rather disdainful of the non-magical world. If you help her, perhaps you can make her payment that she learn more about normal people and become less parochial. Or maybe I'm reading too much into an off-hand comment. Do whatever you think best. You will anyway."
"Of course. From what I know of the story, it doesn't sound like her grandfather or, uh, Mr Middleton is really a bad guy. Evil, I mean. I don't like the chattel wife bit, but it is their culture. I don't think there's any call to murder either of them. More to the point, I'm still living by my guidelines, and these two haven't hit the threshold for me to kill them."
"You're probably right. I suppose we could do some investigating and see if either was an unmarked supporter of Voldemort. But of course the same could be said of almost every purebred. And of course we're both rather busy already and we're both pretty well tied to the castle while class is in session."
"I'm guessing this contract is legal and solid, or what passes for solid in this world. Do you have any better ideas than what Eveline wants? Assuming we decide to help her, that is."
"Let me look over the contract for another hour and think about it. She's probably right. As we've been saying all evening, she's a part of this culture and from what she told us, marriage contracts are a not-uncommon topic for the purebred girls."
"I have to ask: are you at least somewhat discreet in saying 'purebred' around the purebloods?"
"Of course, Harry. You're the one whose mouth gets him in trouble. My mouth is as innocent as a newborn babe's."
"You're a babe, all right, but I'm not quite certain that your mouth is so innocent. That's not what I remember from our private time last year, Miss Granger."
"And I'm quite certain that this conversation has become inappropriate, Mr Potter. All other considerations aside, you're an almost-engaged man, and I'm not the lucky woman. And speaking of last year, you practiced only no-holds-barred fighting and assassination. Do you know anything about formal duels?"
"A little. The basics. As soon as you leave I'm popping over to the library – my library, that is – to see what I can find."
"Are you sure you weren't even a little tempted when Eveline offered to persuade you?" If you can't torment your friends, whom can you torment? "I'm assuming that Astoria still wants to be a virgin bride and that you aren't getting any. And then along comes a damsel in distress offering to throw herself at you."
"Yes, virgin bride. No, not getting any. Thanks for reminding me. Screw you, Hermione."
"Is that a come-on, Mr Potter?" Hermione laughed, then gave Harry a hug and kiss. "Goodnight, Harry."
"Goodnight, Hermione. Take care."
Hermione shook her head as she walked, disillusioned, to her rooms. Disillusioned in more than one way. It seemed that every time she'd plumbed the depths of the purebred wizarding world, they managed to dig even deeper. She didn't admire British magical culture at all, didn't respect it at all, didn't like it at all. The only question was, should she overthrow this society and fix it, or simply step back and watch them fester in their incompetence and stupidity and inbreeding? Which would she enjoy more?
"Granger, help!" Eveline hurried over to Hermione at breakfast the next morning. "Do you know where Harry is? It's today. Here, read this."
She read the letter that Eveline had thrust into her hands and saw that the girl's betrothed had some time free and so he would be coming to Hogwarts at lunchtime. She was to make herself ready to greet her lord and to spend the weekend with him.
"Can you find Harry and ask him to meet me? Beg him, please!"
"Relax, Eveline. Harry and I researched last night and agreed this morning that he'll help you. Right now he's telling Professors McGonagall and Flitwick what might happen, to avoid damage to the school and its reputation. Harry will attempt to persuade Middleton to cancel the contract. Failing that, he'll challenge him to a duel. For this morning, go to class if you can. Your education is still important. If you can't do that, I'll escort you to the infirmary. You seem tense enough that I'm sure Madam Pomfrey will allow you to stay for a while."
"Harry will help me? You promise?"
"Thank you, Hermione. I'll go to class."
"Good. Meet Harry and me at the Defense classroom before lunch. Relax, Eveline. It will turn out all right."
Lunchtime came. With it came a plainly dressed, balding wizard, escorted by a Minerva McGonagall who was wearing a look of distaste that would have done the late Narcissa Malfoy proud. "Miss March, please come here."
"Show time, boys and girls," Harry muttered as he stood up with Eveline. "Mr Middleton, can I persuade you to drop this contract?"
"What? Why would I give up what's mine? And who are you, Boy?"
Hermione nodded to herself. Not surprisingly, a middle-aged wizard who was buying himself a teenaged girl was not terribly bright. Sure, Harry had filled out a bit and his scar had faded a bit, but he was the same boy whose picture had appeared a thousand times in the Daily Prophet.
"I'm Eveline's advocate. As her advocate, I ask that we take this conversation elsewhere to keep her affairs – I mean, her business – private."
"There's no conversation and she has no business. The girl is coming with me. Come along, Girl!"
Harry closed his eyes a moment and then looked at McGonagall. She'd been filled in and now gave him a tight nod. McGonagall had acted much more responsibly this year. Whether that was because she'd had to step up to run the school or because of Hermione's emitting of a "responsibility" aura, was impossible to say.
Taking a few quick steps toward Middleton, Harry brought his hand up, conjuring a glove in mid-swing. "Dog, I challenge you for possession of your chattel, Eveline March."
The older man's head had been smashed to the side and when he turned back to face Harry his face was scraped and bleeding. That wasn't surprising. Harry had conjured an armored leather gauntlet, not a simple glove. If Middleton had a brain in his head, he'd realize that his opponent had wordlessly and wandlessly conjured detailed steel and he would concede immediately because his opponent utterly outclassed him.
Instead, Middleton's spell splattered against the shield Flitwick had hastily raised between the two.
"Not inside the school. Go outside for your duel. I will officiate."
The combatants and other interested parties went out the main doors, followed by what seemed to be the entire school. The professors and upperclassmen put up shields to protect the on-looking students. Hermione didn't bother to help. If they couldn't protect themselves and didn't have the sense to stay away from a fight, then they deserved whatever happened to them. Besides, she was holding Harry's most valuable possessions and needed to stay near him to present them on request.
"What are you putting up, Boy? I'll go easy on you if you put up enough."
"Against your contracted wife – an untrained and unskilled witch – I'll place a Firebolt broom in perfect condition. I don't know what a young witch goes for when you're buying a slave, but the broom was appraised at three thousand galleons."
"Agreed! Get this over with so I can leave with my wife and my broom."
Flitwick went through the formalities then waved the two to their starting positions. "Terrence Middleton, are you ready? Harry Potter, are you ready?" On hearing Harry's name for the first time, Middleton's eyes opened wide in what was clearly a flicker of fear. "Go!"
Middleton tossed off a quick spell but then put up a strong shield and bunkered down. Harry dodged the bone breaker while banishing dozens of cobblestones toward the man. They all deflected off the admittedly strong shield and Middleton got ready to cast another attack…
… and then the stones came circling back and battered him from behind.
"Potter wins! Headmistress, can you create a portkey to St Mungo's?"
Hermione walked over, smiling, as Eveline ran up. "Thank you, Harry! Thank you, thank you!"
Astoria came up more slowly, her face carefully neutral. "Congratulations on your victory." More quietly she added, "Why is this the first I've heard of this?"
"It just came up, Stori. Let's all get to my rooms and talk it over. Headmistress, is there anything urgently requiring that I meet you immediately?"
McGonagall looked at the tearful Eveline and the others. "No. Come up to my office after dinner tonight. Bring as many of your entourage as you think necessary."
The four quickly headed to Harry's suite within the school – permission for his friends to visit him was the least of the concessions he had wrung from McGonagall – but even so they heard the whispers. "He was talking about him buying March as a slave." "He also said 'wife'." "It must have been a chattel marriage." "She's ruined now."
"I'd like to hear your explanation for this, Harry. Is it true that Eveline is now your chattel wife?"
"Er, maybe? She was going to be that guy's, but I won her. What does the contract say, Ev? Hermione?"
"Don't call me 'Ev'. Excuse me. You may call anything you like, My Lord."
Harry frowned. "I don't like the sound of that. Eveline, if you're my chattel, then I free –."
"No, don't do that," Astoria interrupted. Her face was still blank, probably a mask for severe irritation or distress, but she was helping her classmate and former bodyguard. "Letting her go in that manner would be tantamount to announcing that she isn't good enough for you. Eveline would be a laughing-stock among the purebloods, would likely be cast from her family, and would have trouble marrying or finding good employment."
"I did tell you that last night, My Lo– Harry. From the moment my grandfather signed that contract, this is the best I could do. Being your chattel is hardly what I dreamed of as a girl, but I have to be a realist."
"You only heard about this last night, Harry?" Astoria's face relaxed a bit. "I forgive you, then. You should have informed me, but under the circumstances your omission is less. If you'll excuse me, I have to think about what your new wife means to our relationship."
Harry slumped. Hermione didn't blame him. The hits kept on coming.
"Harry? Can you take a bit more pressure?" He looked warily at her. "Where do you want Eveline to sleep?"
Harry slumped more. "I have just the one bedroom and this sitting room, Eveline. I can transfigure the couch into a bed, but it would still be awkward. Will your change in status be a problem in the dorms? Or in classes?"
"I don't know. I'm sure there will be teasing. I don't know if it will be worse than that. May I use your rooms as a refuge if I need it?"
"Of course. I'll keep you up-to-date on the password."
"It's partially your fault, Harry."
"What? How is any of this my fault?"
"When you were goading Middleton into a duel, you referred to Eveline as a slave."
Harry slumped further, if that were possible. "I'm sorry, Eveline. If I'd kept my mouth shut, you could have gotten on with your life."
"Perhaps not, My Lord. If you hadn't goaded him, he might have refused the duel and I'd have been stuck with him. And even if he had dueled, I'm sure that the truth would have come out when my family refused to pay next semester's tuition or when one of my cousins let something slip.
"I meant what I said earlier, Harry. My life was destroyed when my grandfather signed that contract. Today was the first time that I met that man and you saw how he treated me. This is all a surprise to you but you still are doing what you can for me. I meant what I said earlier: being attached to you is the best I can hope for now."
"I'm not ready to give up. I don't know what to do next, but we'll think of something."
"You do have to claim me as your chattel. Otherwise there would be nothing stopping my grandfather from writing another contract."
Harry sighed, beaten down by the situation. "I have to get to class. It's not fair to the students if I miss it. If you want to stay here and, ah, hide, that's fine. If you think you can handle going to class, you should do that. If you go to class and have a chance, please tell Stori what –. No, scratch that. I have to talk to her myself. Hermione, please, pretty please, will you come with us to McGonagall's office tonight?"
"Yes, Harry." "Of course I will."
"Thank you both. I really have to run." And with that he took off, literally running to get to class on time.
"You look about ready to collapse. I take it you didn't sleep last night?"
"A little. I was very upset, as you might guess."
"Why don't you sleep here? Harry already invited you. The bedroom is through that door. I was going to the library for my own work, but I can stay with you if you don't want to be alone."
Eveline went pale. "I realize that I'll be sleeping in Harry's bed eventually, but I'm not ready for it yet."
"What? No! Harry would never force you."
"I want children someday. I'm maimed and scarred and I'm a chattel wife at fifteen and I won't be able to finish school unless Harry can pay for it. Who else would take me?"
Hermione didn't know how to answer. "You're cute even with the eye patch. I'm sure we can find something to help with the scars. Harry's very resourceful You're smart, from what I recall, and if you do well in school and develop some notable skill, that will help you find a husband who doesn't care so much about a mishap. As for the prejudice against chattel wives, you could marry a Muggleborn wizard who doesn't care. Or you could emigrate."
"Thank you, Hermione. It's a lot to take in and it's just hitting me. I'm already late for class and Slughorn won't let you in if you're tardy, so I'll just take a nap on the couch."
Hermione studied and wrote her essays for the next hour, tactfully ignoring the quiet crying from the couch. Then she worked in Harry's rooms for the rest of the afternoon as Eveline slept. She could have gone to a couple of classes but there was no real point; she was getting hardly anything from any of the Hogwarts classes.
Dinner time neared. Hermione wondered whether Harry would stop by his rooms to pick up Eveline. She could have checked the Marauder's Map but she didn't know if Harry wanted anyone, even his chattel wife, to learn his secrets. "We should head to dinner. I'll leave Harry a note in case he comes here first."
They did meet up with Harry and Astoria in the hallways on the way to the Great Hall. Astoria's face was coldly neutral again, while Harry looked even more beaten down than before. In the Great Hall, Hermione steered Eveline toward the small table Harry used, placed between the Gryffindor and Head tables. Astoria pointedly sat at the Slytherin table.
"Your talk went poorly, I take it?" Hermione had put up the silencing charm. Poor Harry didn't seem to have the energy to do it.
"She's very unhappy that I have Eveline at my beck and call. Sorry, those were her words, not mine. Stori will not share and I have to decide between her and my wife. Yah, it went poorly. The only reason for having any hope at all is that I told her we were trying to find a way to settle this which wouldn't ruin Eveline's life. She told me she's giving me a week to fix everything."
"I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to ruin your life."
"It's not your fault. I'm not happy with your grandfather, I will tell you that much."
"Eat, Harry. Even if you're not hungry you need to keep up your strength. And you can't fall into one of your funks. You have to teach your classes and grade papers and continue to make your lesson plans. That's a responsibility you accepted."
Hermione frowned to herself and then warped the privacy bubble to cover only herself and the other girl. "What shape are you in? Do you think you can help Harry take care of himself? That means make him eat and sleep. He takes failures very hard and he needs someone to keep him centered. That had been Astoria, and myself before that. Can you do it now?"
"I'll have to. I'm tied to Harry unless we can find some solution to this problem."
Hermione nodded in satisfaction and then put the bubble back. "Harry, perhaps Eveline can help you grade papers for the lower years. I can help you create lesson plans. And all of us can study together. I'm sure we can get you ready for your OWLs by the end of this semester, Eveline. That way, even if you are not able to continue with formal schooling you'll be able to take the tests in June."
"Thank you, Hermione. Harry, does that plan meet with your approval?"
"Yes. You don't need to get my approval for every little thing. We'll need to work out what's best for you so that you can live your life but not be shunned by this stupid society."
"… so you see we didn't have any choice, Headmistress."
"You should have come to your head of house or myself first, Miss March."
"That's 'Mrs Potter', and please direct all criticism to me, Professor. If I'm responsible for Eveline, then I'm responsible.
"And why should she have gone to you? It's not like the staff has been very –"
Hermione had put her hand on his arm. "Harry, look at it from the headmistress's point of view. You challenged an outsider to a duel and he attacked in the presence of children. This affected the safety of the school. The headmistress should have been fully warned what might happen."
Harry nodded slowly, accepting her point. "I'm sorry I challenged him in the Great Hall. I should have waited until he was walking out the front doors. But as for telling you about it, Eveline found out yesterday and asked me for help in the evening. I talked to you before breakfast this morning, then Middleton came at lunch. What else could we have done? Everything happened very quickly."
"Apology accepted, Mr Potter. If I could give you detention, I would. Instead I'll have to think of some other punishment for putting students at risk."
Hermione knew that was a mistake even before Harry bristled.
"Putting students at risk like by encouraging potions accidents? Or by encouraging students to attack each other by not punishing the attackers? Or –"
Again Hermione had to quiet him. Yes, McGonagall was more responsible than before, but Harry was not about to forgive six years of passive abuse.
"You've made your point, Harry. Headmistress, what do Harry and Eveline need to do for her to stay enrolled as a student and to be able to take OWLs in June?"
"Mr Potter will need to register as Miss March's guardian immediately. This can be done by registering the marriage contract at the ministry on Monday. This will also make Miss March officially Mrs Potter. Fees for the next semester are due by the first of December.
"It is my understanding that this marriage was not desired by either of you. As such, I will allow you to choose whether to live in the Slytherin dorms or with your husband-to-be, Miss March."
The rest of the conversation concerned the Hogwarts fees and the ministry fee for the OWL test. Hermione was shocked at how expensive it was; she'd had no idea that her parents had been paying almost as much for her shoddy and dangerous Hogwarts education as they would have for a premier non-magical boarding school. There was no way that the blue-collar Creevys could put two children through Hogwarts without massive scholarship assistance.
Unless, she mused, McGonagall had told Harry an inflated price. Perhaps she thought that the Potters were an old, rich family and could afford extortionate rates. It was even possible that McGonagall was penalizing Harry for all the "trouble" he'd caused over the years, not taking into account the several times he'd saved the school.
There was nothing to be done for it at the moment. Hermione would quietly ask around and get an idea of tuition rates and ministry fees, then put a bug in Harry's ear if called for. He hardly needed another excuse to help her tear this society down to the ground.
Hermione visited Harry's rooms on Sunday evening. She'd kept to herself over the weekend; catching up on several years' worth of normal schooling was very time-consuming.
"Hello, Eveline. What are you doing? Excuse me, that's obvious. Hello, Harry. I stopped by to see how you were doing. Did I come at a bad time?"
"No worse a time than any other. We're figuring out how to arrange things so we can both live here and still have some privacy."
"Rather than using the sitting room as a bedroom, have you thought about a partition in the middle of the bedroom? Each half would be rather small, but no more crowded than the Gryffindor boys' dorm."
"That's a good idea. Thanks, Hermione. Dobby! Dobby, please divide the bedroom into two halves with a wall down the middle. We'll need two beds, two wardrobes, and so on. If you can, find bed frames that sit on a chest of drawers so we'll have a little more room. Thank you, Dobby."
"I hadn't thought about it before, but are the other professors' rooms larger? Did you get a small suite because you're the most junior instructor?"
"I don't know. Snape had more room, but he was down in the dungeons. Maybe it was a trade-off, or maybe it was just because he was Dumbledore's pet. I haven't been in any of the other professors' rooms. Ah, Eveline, it looks like we'll be spending more time together than we'd hoped. I have a lot of secrets that can't get out. You can talk to Hermione about any of my secrets, but not anyone else, not even Astoria."
"Astoria isn't talking to me. When she asked this morning what we were doing to fix my problems, I told her we were going to the ministry tomorrow. She then declared that we weren't trying to fix the problems at all and that she needed to talk to you. I was going to tell you, but didn't want you to be mad at me."
Harry closed his eyes and slumped again. Hermione didn't know whether she should give him a hug. Harry's almost-wife was right here. Even if that relationship was not one that anyone wanted, it wouldn't be right to be comforting her almost-husband right in front of her.
"Eveline, anytime you have bad news, you might as well give it to me right away, or as soon as we're alone. Putting it off just makes it worse. It's too late now for me to talk to Astoria this evening unless I go into the girls' dorms, and I don't think I'd be welcome tonight."
"I'm sorry, Harry. Are you mad at me?"
"No, not mad. A little upset. Just tell me next time."
It occurred to Hermione that this would be a good time for her not to be here. "I'm sure you two have a lot to work out. Don't hesitate to ask if I can help with anything. Let me know how things go tomorrow. Good night, you two."
She did wonder just why Eveline was moving in with Harry, though it didn't take much imagination to picture serious harassment in the common room and dorm. But it wasn't her problem, and Eveline had Harry to help her, and Hermione had her own problems to deal with.
As it happened, Harry and Eveline didn't make it to the ministry building until Tuesday afternoon because their class schedules were too full before then. Hermione noticed that neither was at dinner, so she stopped by Harry's rooms. As expected, the two were eating a Dobby-prepared meal. She could always identify the meals Dobby made for Harry by the little extras, like garnish around the entrées. Dobby, serving a small group, could take extra steps that the kitchen elves, cooking for hundreds, could not. Winky, alas, was not much of a cook. The Crouches' tongues must have been made of dried leather, judging by the amount of salt she put in every dish.
"How are you two doing? How did everything work out?" Hermione asked, pulling up a chair. "Thank you, Dobby," she added when a place setting appeared before her.
"It's official. We're married."
"It's not how I ever dreamed my wedding day would be," Eveline added glumly.
"I understand. I'm sure you'll be able to have the real wedding of your dreams someday later, after all this is cleared up. You can look forward to that."
"I suppose." She didn't seem at all cheered by the prospect.
"What's the real problem? I can guess, but there are so many possibilities that I'd probably guess wrong. You don't have to tell me if I'm just being nosy but, Harry, I want to help you if I can. You, too, Eveline, because if you're miserable, my best friend will be miserable."
"It's Stori. 'Miss Greengrass', I'd better start calling her. How can I tell her that, yes, I'm married, but I want to keep dating her and get married when she's older? And that's not fair to Eveline, either. How can I tell her, yes, I'm married to you but I really want to be with another woman? Er, sorry, Eveline."
Hermione winced. "Have you spoken much with her lately? I know you've been very busy, these past five days, but you're the expert at getting around any place at any time."
"No. She refuses to speak to me until I've 'fixed this mess'."
"My poor Harry. Oh, excuse me, Eveline. He's not mine, any longer."
"It's all right. Harry's not really mine, either."
"How about you? Is there anything I can help you with?"
"It's my wedding night."
Eveline didn't say any more, but glanced at Harry and then looked back down.
"Ah, right. If you'll excuse me, ladies, I think it's my turn to patrol the halls for half an hour."
"So what's the real problem?"
"It's my wedding night. I never thought I'd sleep alone on my wedding night, but I don't want to sleep with Harry, either."
"He'll never force you. What would you have done in an arranged marriage, an ordinary one, not this chattel farce? You'd have slept with your husband, right?"
"I would have, but I wouldn't want to. I'm fifteen! Don't I get a chance for romance? Don't I get to fall in love? It's not fair!"
"No, it isn't. It's all so unfair to you and to Harry and to Astoria. The world isn't fair," Hermione pronounced with all the authority of her eighteen years, "but we have to deal with the way things are, not with what we think is fair. And, really, you could have it so much worse. Harry is a very good man. He'll do right by you even if it hurts him. He's already done it. He's probably lost Astoria, and I know that your tuition was more than he could afford. I'm not trying to make you feel guilty, simply show you that it could be worse. Harry is doing everything he can for you. The least you can do is not be miserable around him and make him feel guilty."
"It's still not fair."
"No, it isn't. I can tell you one more thing, which may make you feel better or may make you feel worse. Harry is good in bed. Compared to most pureblood wizards, from what I understand, he's fantastic. You could do so much worse."
Eveline looked down and blushed but at least she wasn't whining any longer.
"Why don't you get cleaned up and decide what you want to do. I'll go out and see if I can find Harry to send him back. Please, for his sake if not your own, cheer up. You haven't been sentenced to death, you're married to a good man. Goodnight, Eveline."
"Goodnight, Hermione. Thank you."
The next week passed without crisis or drama. Eveline went to classes. Hermione went to classes when she felt like it, studied for her non-magical exams, and continued to practice mastery-level spell work in preparation for NEWTs. Harry taught classes, better than any of their other DADA instructors, except possibly Remus Lupin. Hermione spent time with the Potters, chatting and helping him put together useful lesson plans from the wreckage the previous instructors had left behind. Astoria stayed away.
One evening while Eveline was serving a detention – a legitimate one; the professors understood that she was under a lot of pressure from the marriage and from the teasing of her erstwhile peers, but she was nevertheless expected to keep her temper in class – Hermione brought up a topic that her sometimes thick-headed friend probably hadn't considered.
"Harry, I know you don't think you're in a real marriage, but could you pretend, for your wife's sake? She's very unhappy. She feels she's been cheated out of romance and falling in love and even a wedding ceremony." Harry slumped. He was doing too much of that, this past week. "If you sit like that too much, your spine will freeze and you'll look like a hundred-year-old man before you're twenty." Hermione laughed when Harry hit her in the face with a conjured pillow. "That's better. Seriously, I know this is not what you want, but for her sake, try to make her feel special. Eveline has it so much worse than you. She's trapped and dependent on you. Try not to make her feel like a burden. Show her a little romance. She deserves that much, at least."
"I've never learned to romance anyone. Daphne was just sex and hanging out. Luna just wanted to be with me and didn't care about anything else. And you, well, you're special. I've never had to put on any kind of act with you."
"I do love you, Harry. That's why I want you to be happy and to have a happy marriage, at least until you can figure out how to end it.
"But what about Astoria? I can't imagine she would let you get away with not treating her the way she expects to be treated, including romantic gestures."
"Er, not really. No one's ever showed me how to be romantic. Over the summer sometimes she hinted pretty strongly what I should do, like escort her to someone's summer party and bring a white corsage and how I should act when I was there. Not much. I was only able to see her a few times over the summer, and since school started we haven't had much chance for romance. I have to behave a little bit properly, plus I've been so busy."
"I see the problem. Luckily for you, your best friend's thoughtfulness is exceeded only by her preparedness."
"And her modesty. What have you got for me?"
"A list of suggestions for small, romantic gestures ranging from foot massages to arranging to have dinner alone several times a week. I was going to give you a book, but all that I saw were not practical for teenaged, magical newlyweds living in a boarding school. Instead, I wrote a list of little gestures that I would appreciate from my spouse or partner."
"I appreciate it. I'm sorry I never did any of these for you last year."
"You told me you love me every day, Harry. Not in words but in actions. That's enough for me. I love you, too."
And, with the perfectly bad timing that one would expect, Eveline walked through the door just as Hermione made her declaration.
"Ah, it's not what you think, Eveline. Mrs Potter, that is. Ah, I'll leave you two alone. I'm sure you have a lot to discuss." And Hermione beat a rapid, and cowardly, retreat.
Early in the morning two days later, exactly one week after the marriage was registered, Hermione saw Eveline stomping toward the owlery, Harry following more quietly.
"What's the problem? Can I help?"
Harry slowed a bit and let his wife get farther ahead. "Her grandfather claimed that the contract was not fulfilled because the marriage is a sham because it's not legal because it was not consummated, and so Eveline is still in the March family and still under her grandfather's control. Last night she got a letter demanding that she come home and get ready to be married off again."
"She's refusing, of course? You're both refusing? I take it she's sending a nasty reply."
"Nasty, yah. She, ah, she… We consummated the marriage last night and when I, ah, finished, she, ah, she sat on a piece of parchment. She's mailing the parchment to her grandfather as proof."
"Yuck. I'll give her this, once she stops moping, the new Mrs Potter doesn't mess around. Oh, my goodness. You've got quite a temper of your own, Harry. Your children will be monsters."
"Children!? I can't even think about that. You suck, Hermione."
"Maybe I do and maybe I don't, but you're a married man, Mr Potter, and should not be speculating about such things."
Hedwig was just flying out the window by the time they reached the owlery. Eveline certainly could move quickly when in a huff.
Her "letter" didn't put an end to her family's harassment. Hermione noticed her becoming tense with every morning's owl rush and becoming angry or distressed every other day.
After a couple weeks of this, Hermione happened to be sending off a letter of her own when she found Harry in the owlery, tying a red letter to Hedwig's leg. Hermione hadn't cast the spell which allowed her to see magic, but even her unaugmented eyeballs could see the power rippling from the howler.
"Harry, you aren't planning on committing murder by owl post, are you?"
"Planning? No. Don't care if I do? Yes. My wife's family are making her miserable. It doesn't matter that she's not the wife I want, she's my responsibility. They're insulting me, too. I don't care what they think, but it gives me an excuse to attack back."
"Remember the lessons from last year, Harry. You can't be seen, you can't leave proof, you can't let anyone know if you act against your enemies. Destroy that howler and write another, normal letter ordering them to leave your wife alone. And then you can start thinking of what you can do to get back at them. Something that isn't pointlessly destructive and which can't be traced back to you. It shouldn't be too difficult for a man of your many abilities, should it?"
"You're right. Of course. Thank you. You're the best, Hermione."
In addition to sending a somewhat threatening letter to the head of the March family, Harry told Dobby to accept all of the owl mail addressed to Eveline or himself.
"Come in, Hermione. You're just in time for mail call."
"Mail call? I'm familiar with the term, but the normal usage wouldn't seem to apply here."
"Have a seat. You'll see. Dobby! The mail, please."
"The Great Harry Potter from the ministry. The Great Harry Potter from the Interchangeable Wheezies. The Wonderful Mrs Potter from Adam March." Dobby handed all of the letters to Harry, who set aside his own mail and opened Eveline's letter.
"More of the same. Do you want to read it?"
"No, thank you." Eveline looked depressed at the continuing bile from her family – her former family – but smiled a bit when he transfigured the parchment into a mouse and transfigured a shoe into a cat and let them play together.
Dobby had one more letter. "The Wonderful Mrs Potter from May March."
"Do you want to read this letter yourself or do you want me to check it first?"
"Check it, please. I couldn't take it if I had to read my mother being angry at me."
Harry opened the letter carefully and scanned it. "It's fine. You'll like this one."
Unfortunately, relieving her former family's harassment did not relieve all of her woes. Hermione caught only what the Potters shared with her. She wasn't in any of Eveline's classes, of course, and no one was likely to run up to her and eagerly share what they'd just done to make the unwilling bride unhappy.
Nevertheless, Hermione was very skilled at getting around unnoticed. At Harry's request, she began to keep an eye on Eveline as she'd kept an eye on Luna and Astoria last year. And what she found was … truthfully, not that much. Eveline was being teased, but nothing worse than that. It wasn't even as bad as Hermione had had to deal with as a firstie; Eveline didn't hear chattel or slave any more often than Hermione had heard mudblood. Either Eveline was very thin-skinned or the teasing was simply too much because it was adding insult to injury. Literally, that.
"I don't know what to tell you, Harry. Nobody is doing anything that's all that bad. You can't go and smite students, as Luna put it, for name calling. It wouldn't even do any good to tell the students to grow up and leave your wife alone. They're teenagers. You know as well as I that that would simply make them worse. Do you think it would do any good for you to tell Eveline about some of what you've had to go through, to show her that teasing isn't the end of the world?"
"Maybe. I haven't told her much about my life. I haven't really told anyone except Luna, and that was only because she never judged me even once and because her life was as bad as mine, at least after her mother died. I never even told you all of it, but I didn't have to, did I, Miss Too-Clever-By-Half?"
"Oh, Harry, you say the sweetest things, you silver-tongued devil. I don't think there's anything to be done about the teasing. Can you make your wife's life happier or more secure so the teasing won't bother her so much? Have you paid her Spring tuition yet? I'm sure that would take a load off her mind."
"No, I haven't. I can't afford both the tuition and fixing my house so that I, we, can live in it. I've been putting it off, trying to figure out how to do both."
"Pay it, or tell Eveline what else you are doing to take care of her."
Hermione drew herself up short. "I'm sorry, Harry. I was trying to help you by helping you to reduce the stress in your life, and here I am, bossing you around again. I never learn. You don't have to bankrupt yourself to pay for your unwanted wife's schooling. Truly, you don't owe her anything. If you want to, you can set her free and let her find her own way."
"I can't do that. You know I can't. I accepted the responsibility, even if I didn't know how bad –. Even if I didn't know how much work and cost it was going to be."
"I might be able to help you a little on the 'cost' part of that. I've been talking to other students, asking how much their families were paying each year. It seems to be a flexible rate based in part on a family's perceived ability to pay. Perhaps if you explained to McGonagall that you inherited almost nothing, she would reduce the amount she asked of you."
"Maybe. I can ask, I suppose, but she still doesn't like me or my 'disrespect for authority'. She hired me only because she was desperate for an instructor, and I'm being paid so little supposedly because I don't have a Mastery in Defense – though neither did Snape or Lockhart or Quirrel; not sure about the other two. And the only reason I don't have a mastery is because the ministry wouldn't allow me to be examined because I'm too young. Did I tell you about that? They figure it takes at least two years of dedicated study from graduation to mastery of a subject, so you have to be at least twenty before they'll examine you."
"No, you didn't tell me. I'm not surprised. The rules must be designed for the stupid purebreds. They can't have the purebreds being shown up by the smarter, stronger, better newcomers, can they?"
"If I didn't know better, Miss Granger, I would suspect that you were prejudiced against magical society."
"If I didn't know better, Mr Potter, I would suspect that you were dosed to the eyeballs on calming potions. How you can possibly have stayed here in spite of what magical society has done to you, and not even think about killing every last purebred, is beyond me."
"What makes you think I don't think about it?" Harry smiled at Hermione. It was not a nice smile. "Have you noticed that I haven't told them Voldemort is dead? Let them be afraid. I'm also waiting to see if anyone tries to declare himself a new dark lord or just recruit some more Death Eater wanna-bes. I'll let the ministry come running to me for help and charge them through the nose. And demand pardons for both of us, too."
"Why, Mr Potter, how positively Machiavellian! I am surprised and gratified."
"Thank you, Miss Granger. I am pleased to have made you happy. If only I could do the same with my wife. It's too bad you don't like boys…"
"It'll be alright, Harry. Things will work out somehow. And I like boys just fine, so long as they're you."
Harry had talked himself back into a funk. Hermione hugged him for comfort, and to comfort herself as well. And of course that was when Eveline came back from the library.
Over the solstice (or Christmas, or Yule) break, the Potters left the castle for his house on Grimmauld Place. In the preceding few weeks, Harry had resumed training with Hermione early in the morning. Before he could feel justified in doing that, he had to quiet his wife's concerns: concerns not only about her future but about her husband having an affair right under her nose with his best friend. But that latter concern tied back to the first, of course.
Paying her Spring tuition relieved most of Eveline's fears. At the least, she'd be able to finish the year and take her OWLs and keep her wand and be at least minimally qualified to support herself.
Harry's paying the tuition supported Eveline emotionally, as well. With good reason, she was afraid that Harry didn't want to be with her and especially didn't want to be responsible for her. She was afraid that he would tire of supporting her and would cast her aside and she'd have to scratch out a living or go crawling back to her family. She was worried that Harry still wanted to be with Astoria and she was terrified that he'd throw her over for Hermione.
All this, Hermione had to get from Harry. There was no way Eveline would reveal her fears to her biggest threat.
In any event, Harry was eventually able to convince Eveline that he and Hermione would be practicing to improve their skills, not having a tryst. They worked mainly on his control over his magic, regaining the peak he'd attained last year.
Hermione didn't see much of the Potters over the break. Her parents missed her and had taken time off from work to spend time with their only child. Harry did bring his wife to share a meal once, turning the evening into a Muggle Studies lesson which was educational for Eveline and educational in another way for the Granger parents. "Mum, Dad, you might best think of purebr– purebloods as Amish when it comes to modern life. They've seen autos but have never ridden in one. They have no clue about television or gas ranges."
On the train ride back to Hogwarts, Hermione noticed that the youngest professor and his wife seemed more relaxed. "You did it? There were no problems, I take it?"
"Not a single problem. Mrs Potter has a nest egg of her own in case she wishes to become Miss March again. She has what would be a fair dowry, plus school fees for another two years. And I've been reimbursed for her tuition this year."
"Excellent. And congratulations, Eveline. Will your family – your former family – notice the missing gold?"
"I'm certain they will. Three quarters of the gold from the family vault is now in my own vault. I can't feel any guilt. The March family has several members working and some rent coming in. They won't starve and won't have to sell their bodies."
"How did you get the key, Harry? I deduce that you must have done it because I can't imagine you risking Eveline entering the house."
"You know my methods, Watson."
"You misquoted, but I do indeed. Well done, the both of you.
"Why don't you go patrol the train, Harry, I mean, 'Professor Potter', or do some other responsible act suited to a man of your station?"
"Yes, Ma'am. I can take a hint. Do either of you need anything from the snack cart?"
"No, thank you. So, Eveline, are you feeling more secure now, or less insecure? You have the money to take care of yourself for the next several years no matter what happens, correct?"
"Not really. I'm Harry's chattel, remember? Everything I own, he owns. If Harry wants to throw me to the curb with nothing, I can't stop him."
"You can't believe he'd do that to you!"
"I've been let down by everyone who was supposed to watch out for me: my family, the professors. I've been maimed and sold into slavery. I can't trust anyone. I have to be able to take care of myself, but it's so hard with everyone working against me."
"Not Harry. He's done nothing but help you. Surely you can see that."
"He wants to be with you. And you want to be with him. Don't deny it."
Hermione sat still for a long time. "I don't deny it. I can't picture myself with any man but Harry. But I promise, I won't do anything to get between you. I've been helping the best I can since your marriage.
"If you two stay together, I may ask your permission to have Harry's children. That's years away yet."
Her honest answer surprised Eveline, who in turn sat for a long time. "Promise you won't go behind my back. You can hug him, but only if I'm there or you tell me about it. And promise you won't do anything to break us up until I'm done with school."
Hermione blinked. "I promise. Honestly, you don't have to be afraid of Harry kicking you out with nothing, but I see it will take a long time for you to believe that. He's been let down by everyone, too. You two should talk. You have that in common. I don't know if it's enough to learn to trust each other, but it's a start.
"Is there anyone you trust completely? Your mother, perhaps? Can you give her your money to hold for you? Harry wouldn't be able to order you to give him all your money, because you wouldn't have any. Not that he would. He's never given you any orders, has he?"
"He told me not to tell anyone his secrets. I took that as an order. Perhaps he didn't mean it that way."
"I'm sure –" The door opened, revealing a few fifth-year girls. Hermione recognized one as having teased Eveline in what seemed to have been a good-natured way. "Would you like me to leave you alone with your friends? Ah, are these your friends? If they're sworn enemies, I'll stay here to help you."
All the girls laughed. Eveline waved them in and told Hermione she was welcome to stay. Hermione did, but soon wished she hadn't. She later tried to suppress the memories: thirty minutes of the worst possible combination of gossiping, giggling, purebred posturing (though in an unconscious fashion), and Boy-Who-Lived fangirldom. Eveline handled the teasing about her status much better than she had before, presumably because she felt more secure than two weeks before. She even went so far as to confirm some of the rumors: Yes, Harry was experienced. Yes, she was very lucky. Yes, he did his best to be a thoughtful husband. Yes, she was very lucky. No, she would not lend her husband to her friends, not even her best friend whom she'd known for ten years.
Hermione was wondering whether jamming a conjured icepick into her ear would hurt less than listening to these girls' voices, when the door opened and Harry returned. The gossip cut off as if by a switch, to be replaced a second later by tittering as the girls hurried out.
"Kill me. Kill me now." Hermione was almost in a fetal position, arms wrapped around her head.
"Er, alright. Is there any method you would prefer? By the way, the drama queen look doesn't suit you. I'd go with the regal Dark Queen look. Though you'd have to do something about your hair." Harry then learned that he wasn't the only one who could hit someone in the face with a conjured pillow. "Aside from Hermione wanting to die, did you have a good talk? And here. You said you didn't want snacks, but I didn't believe you. I got some drinks, too."
The rest of the trip was unmemorable. "I didn't think about it before, but without Malfoy coming around with his stupid threats, this is a very long, boring train ride. I'm almost wondering if I should go and make a new enemy just to keep from being bored."
"Don't you dare, Harry!"
"Husband, I would be most displeased with you if you were to deliberately make enemies or seek trouble."
Harry blinked. "Only married three months and I'm already hen-pecked. Woe is me! Hermione, if I put you out of your misery, would you put me out of my misery after?"
Eveline was not able to conjure a good pillow with which to smack her husband, but Hermione's hadn't dissipated yet. After that, the three were able to chat in a much more relaxed way than on the first half of the trip.
Winter passed without any significant drama or trouble. Hermione's magical studies didn't take up much time, being nothing more than review of material she'd learned years before. Her normal coursework was finished on schedule by March, leaving three months of review before taking the tests. Harry's flippant remark a year ago had gotten Hermione thinking, and she found that she actually was interested in studying how magic worked.
Eveline seemed much happier now that she was more secure. She spent more time with her friends even as Harry spent more time in his office, grading papers there rather than in his rooms. Hermione didn't blame him; no work could get done in the midst of a giggle-fest.
In fact, on top of grading tests and homework, Harry was putting more and more time into his lesson plans as well as OWL and NEWT preparation. He announced extended office hours for fifth- and seventh-year students and encouraged them to come see him if they had any concerns about doing well on their DADA tests.
"Partly it's to help them do well after so many years of bad teaching," he mentioned to Hermione one evening after she'd helped him demonstrate how two people working together could undo hexes that were beyond one person's ability. "It's a responsibility I accepted, like you told me a couple times. And partly it's because I heard a couple of Fifth Years complain that Eveline was practically cheating because she lives with the professor and could ask me for help any time she wanted. Not that she ever does. But I don't want to give the other students something to give her grief about and give her another excuse to complain to me."
It was obvious that another part Harry's spending so much time in his office was to get away from his wife. Hermione kept her peace though she didn't like what she was hearing.
But then a while later Hermione walked with Harry to his suite, talking a mile a minute about her upcoming exams and her preparations for them – typical behavior for the Hermione of years past, as Harry pointed out, glad to see the return of the enthusiastic girl he'd known. All was well until they went inside and through the open bedroom door Hermione saw that the large bed was gone and that the two beds and dividing wall had returned.
Harry shrugged when she turned her worried eyes to him. "It's not working out. It's better this way."
"Would it do you any good to talk to someone? A marriage counselor, perhaps?"
"I did. It took a while to find one that knows about magic, but I did. The problem is, for him to do any good, we have to want to stay together. I don't, not really. I don't know what I want, but I don't want to be complained at and nagged and nothing's ever good enough. I get enough of that from the whole magical world. I don't need it at home."
"My poor Harry. I had thought that it was insecurity that was making her so, ah, unpleasant."
"I didn't think so, but it was worth trying. I think it was the way her parents were. From a couple things she's said, I think her mother nagged her father into what she wanted. Eveline said it was good because her mother had goals and never would have gotten them if she hadn't pushed her father to do more than he wanted. Something like that."
"That doesn't sound very stable. Or pleasant. Why don't you tell her to move back to the Slytherin dorms? You don't owe her anything, Harry. Ah, forget I said that. I promised I would do nothing to break you two apart."
"I can't, or won't, tell her to move out because I made my own promises. I don't have much, Hermione, but at least I have my self-respect for keeping my word."
"You have me, too. I'll always be there for you, Harry."
Harry's life went from bad to worse, from what Hermione could see. One day she went up to the Room of Requirement to get in some high-level transfiguration practice, only to find Harry in the middle of a combat simulation. He was mowing down all of his opponents – twenty of them?
"Harry! What were you doing? Are you insane?"
"I have to blow off some steam. I can't take much more."
"At least your skills are enough to keep you alive during such a foolish stunt."
"Yah. It's the only thing I'm good at. I sure don't know anything about dealing with nagging and complaining. The only thing I know to do is keep my head down like with the Dursleys, and it isn't working. I'm not any good at dealing with people except by fighting them."
"Don't put yourself down, Harry. You've been a very good teacher this year."
"That was all because you helped me with planning the lessons. I'd have been another Lockhart without your help."
Hermione frowned, then conjured and levitated a handful of pillows to repeatedly hit Harry in the head. She might not be in Harry's league, but she had more power and control than anyone else in the castle. "Listen, Emo-boy, I don't give out empty praise. If I tell you that you are a good man with many wonderful attributes, then you will listen to me! Now snap out of it! If you can't live with your wife, then make plans to live apart from her. In another month she'll have taken her OWLs and can get a job or continue school or whatever she wants. She won't need you to be responsible for her. Go! Live your own life!"
Harry nodded. "I was already thinking the same. The other reason I was up here practicing was because I've heard about some magical crime groups around the world. I've been looking at how to get paid for stopping them. Not many wizards can and will do anything, so it seems there should be good pay in stopping them.
"Another thing: the Ministry still doesn't know about Voldemort and they're still sending me letters all the time about working for them and even drafting me and forcing me to hunt Voldemort down and kill him. I was thinking of taking the job and the salary, but then go wherever I want, 'following rumors', and basically getting paid twice for any criminals or dark lords I fight."
"I approve of that plan, Harry. Not so much the hunting criminals part but the cheating the ministry part. I'm spending the summer with my parents, then off to university. I plan to either live by myself or to have a magical roommate, so feel free to pop by anytime you're in the country. And if you ever decide to overthrow the ministry and take over, I'll join you. I'd appreciate you waiting four years so I can earn my degree without interruption first."
"Haha. I'll let you know." Harry left the Room to Hermione and went to take care of his mountain of responsibilities. "Not too much longer. I can handle it."
The end-of-year exams were taken and graded. OWLs and NEWTs were done. The students and staff collectively threw themselves down and relaxed. Soon enough they were sitting at the Leaving Feast.
"… regret to inform you that Professor Potter will not be returning next year. I'm sure we all wish to thank him for his excellent instruction in a course which is vital in these dark days. Fifth- and seventh-year students should be especially grateful for his extensive tutoring, an example other professors may wish to emulate."
"What about Eveline, Harry, I mean, Professor Potter?" one of Mrs Potter's friends called. "Are you going to let her come back next year?"
"You'll have to ask her if she's returning. By next week, Miss March won't be any of my concern."
Hermione winced. The past few weeks must have been terrible for Harry to say that in public.
McGonagall appeared taken aback, just like most of the school. "Ah, well, I'm sure we all wish Mr Potter well in whatever endeavors he takes up in the future."
Harry filled in Hermione when she finally caught up with him late in the evening. "Yah, I'm done with Hogwarts after breakfast tomorrow, and start work for the Ministry right after breakfast tomorrow. I'll ride the Hogwarts Express to London 'to provide security', then spend the next week getting briefings from all the Voldemort 'experts' on where he might be and what he might be doing, then I'm off to see the world at the Ministry's expense."
The trip to London went as expected. Hermione hugged Harry farewell at the station. She didn't see him again for several years, and when he returned, Emo Harry was gone and Avenger Harry was fully in charge.
Notes: I was doing several things with this story. One was writing teenage angst. I feel all icky after getting that all over me, but now I can check off that box. Besides, considering how much angsty tripe is for sale, it's apparently a marketable skill. So don't bother complaining about the angst. I know! That's why I tagged it Angst! On the other hand, if you want to tell me that you started cutting yourself after reading this story, I'll take that as a compliment.
More importantly, I was getting a bunny out of my head. The genesis of the idea was from Rorschach's Blot's Odd Ideas, chapter 41. (Seriously, the guy is like a tanker truck of ideas, spraying plots like memetic semen from a hose and inseminating every mind they touch. OK, maybe not the greatest of analogies.) For a couple years I'd been thinking of writing a continuation, and it finally gelled a couple days ago. You'll be forgiven if you didn't recognize his chattel marriage plot because I contorted it quite a lot. I should also point to Crys's Chattel on fanficauthors - dot - net, another story inspired by the same Odd Ideas chapter, except that the wizarding society he described is even more screwed up than anything I've come up with. Quite an impressive feat, I must say. Note that I came up with the title for a derivative story independently and didn't rip off Crys's; it's an obvious title for this subject matter.