Harry climbed the stairs two at a time as he headed to the suite of rooms he had given to Anna. He had, early on, thought of moving her into Westfield Manor but wasn't certain how the other women living there would take to that. While he was certain most thought him fairly clueless in such matters he could see what was happening. I'd have to be dead not to have noticed the looks and glances, he thought to himself. It wasn't all that long ago I thought Luna was the only one I had a chance with, he recalled with a small grin that resembled what his father must have worn in his early days at Hogwarts.
Upon reaching the top of the stairs the young wizard turned down the hallway still a bit lost in thought. Knowing that the women in his life had feelings for him was the extent of his knowledge. His life, up to this point, had done little to prepare him for a relationship. There had been Cho for a brief time as well as Ginny but neither were what Harry thought a truly mature relationship should be like. Not that I know what that is, he scoffed silently to himself as he reached his destination. Pausing for a moment he hastily made certain his clothes were in order and schooled his features before lifting a hand and knocking lightly upon the door.
"Go away!" yelled an irate feminine voice from the other side of the door.
Harry frowned and knocked once again. "Anna, it's me, Harry," he informed her. "Can I come in?"
"Harry?" the young wizard heard the girl repeat in a nervous voice followed by the sound of someone approaching the door from the other side but that soon stopped without the door being opened.
Harry waited a few moments for Anna to say something further but when nothing greeted him but silence he decided to act. "Anna, I'm coming in," Harry warned her as he grasped the doorknob, prepared to do just that.
"No!" Anna yelped just before the door in Harry's hand shuddered under an impact from the other side before he could open it."You can't see me! I look hideous!" she told him through the door.
Harry closed his eyes and sighed softly as he leaned his head against the door separating them. They had been through this before, many times, and it never got easier. "Well then I guess there is nothing to it," he told Anna through the door, deciding to try something different this time. "I'll just have to sit out here and wait for you then," Harry added as he turned about and slid down the door till he was seated upon the floor.
Several long moments passed with neither making a sound."Harry?" Anna's voice reached the waiting wizard through the door.
"Hmm?" Harry enquired.
"Aren't the others waiting for you?" Anna asked, a note of worry in her voice. It was one thing for her not to go but an entirely different thing for Harry not to be there she reasoned. Everyone was waiting on Harry after all.
"Probably," Harry agreed in a casual tone as if it didn't matter one way of the other.
"So shouldn't you be going?" asked Anna after a few more long moments passed and the wizard in the hallway didn't say anything further.
"Not without you," Harry stated.
"But Harry, wo-" Anna started to say only to be cut off.
"Who are you?" Harry asked her through the door only to hear her mumble a reply after a pause. "Sorry, didn't catch that. Who are you?"
"H…Harry's girl?" came the hesitant reply a bit louder.
"Right in one," Harry assured her as a smile slipped across his face. "If I showed up downstairs without my best girl on my arm that lot will think you've finally wised up and tossed me into the rubbish bin where I belong!"
"Harry, don't say that! You're not supposed to talk badly about yourself," Anna scolded him through the locked door. "You're my Harry, therefore you're perfect! Anyone who says otherwise will be dealing with me and that includes you!" she told him reproachfully.
Harry didn't even attempt to stop the grin that spread across his features. "Then what say you open this door and let me escort the prettiest girl here down to dinner?" Harry offered as he got to his feet."Everyone is here to meet you after all."
"Everyone?" Anna asked nervously through the door.
"I brought them all just as I said I would," Harry confirmed. Anna had asked to meet the women in his life and Harry, ever indulgent of her desires, had readily agreed to her request. "They're downstairs waiting on us right now."
"But I haven't got a thing to wear," Anna whined from the other side of the door wanting to look her best when she met Harry's friends.
"They're not here to see what clothes you're wearing, Sweetie," Harry told her, doing his best not to laugh. Just like a girl, always worried about how others will think she looks. Being a male, Harry had no clue just how important that was to a woman. First impressions only happened once after all. "Now how about we go and meet them?" After a minute there was a soft click as the lock was released and the door slowly swung open."That's my girl," Harry affirmed with a warm smile as he greeted her.
"It's ugly isn't it?" Anna enquired as she looked down at her clothes.
Harry eyed the black flats, white stockings which disappeared beneath a red sleeveless dress. Under the dress Anna wore a long sleeved white turtleneck sweated which Harry knew did more than just keep her warm. Dark brown eyes set within a round face framed by chestnut hair regarded the wizard awaiting his verdict anxiously. "Beautiful as always," Harry assured her after giving it serious thought. Harry knew, reply too quickly and she wouldn't believe him, take too long and she would think he was hiding the truth from her. It was a lesson he had learned over the years from Hermione. Girls are so complicated!
"Really?" Anna exclaimed, her entire face lighting up at his words. She really didn't like the outfit, feeling that it made her look far too young and childish but with all her own clothes lost to her, she realized there was little she could do about it.
"Really. Really," Harry replied with a grin, being able to use a line from one of Anna's favorite movies. Offering his arm the young man's face took on a serious demeanor that was only marred by the humorous sparkle in his emerald eyes. "Please allow me to escort you to dinner. I have it on the best of authority that a young lady should always be accompanied to meals," Harry explained, recalling that it was Daphne that had taught him that.
Anna seemed to hesitate for a moment before her eyes fell to the floor around her feet. It was apparent to the wizard that she wanted to tell him something but was nervous about whatever it was. "I…I think I would like to take it off," she told Harry finally. "Just for tonight!" she quickly added.
"Are you sure?" Harry asked, a bit surprised by her words. Since receiving it she hadn't removed it to the best of his knowledge. Susan had even commented on how she bathed and slept with it on as well. Not that he blamed her in the least. Having had a lifetime of people staring at him Harry could appreciate how Anna must feel. At least I only have the one scar.
"W…will you do it?" stammered Anna nervously as she turned her back to him and tilted her head slightly forward to allow him access to the nap of her neck.
"If you're certain?" Harry asked only to receive a nod from the girl before him. Slowly the wizard raised his hands and allowed his finger to dip beneath the collar of the turtleneck sweater, briefly brushing up against the scarred skin beneath. It was only a moment before they emerged once again, a thin delicate gold chain in their grasp. Harry worked the chain about till he could get to the clasp, unfastening it and allowing the glamour the necklace generated to drop.
"Thank you," Anna offered as Harry removed the necklace and handed it to her. "I want them to meet the real me," Anna explained upon noting Harry's questioning look. This didn't stop her from dropping the necklace into her pocket in case it was needed later. Without further words Harry escorted his girl down to dinner.
"Anna?" Hermione voiced her question. "This is the first I've heard of her. Who is she?" Hermione asked as she looked about the table at the other witches seated there. In all his letters Harry never once mentioned an Anna. Then again there were a great many things he never mentioned, she realized as her gaze swept over the others. I mean honestly, how can you forget the fact that there are multiple women living with you?
"Harry's been dating her for some time now. Apparently he is seeing others as well so I didn't figure it to be anything serious," Daphne offered with a thoughtful frown as she realized that she didn't really know anything about Harry's Anna either. Daphne noticed Hermione's eyes narrow slightly at this news. She likes the fact Harry is dating multiple women as little as I do apparently."I'm not sure what Anna's like as none of us have actually met her before."
"Oh she is a sweetheart," said Susan with a tender smile. "Everyone here just simply adores her." About the table several faces looked rather worried at this latest bit of news. It seemed to those there that there might be someone else who was making a play for their wizard's heart.
"Miss Bones," Mary said to get the witch's attention."What is it exactly that Mister Potter is trying to accomplish here?" The Wizarding world wasn't exactly known for being charitable, unless there was something to be gained from it. In the time she had spent at Westfield Manor Mary had found Harry to be quite different from what she had initially expected. There were times when she didn't know if she was supposed to protect the witches from Harry or the other way around.
Not that he's perfect, he is a man after all, she reminded herself. On many occasion she had been forced to insert herself into a conversation to keep it from becoming something less than proper. It was difficult at best keeping an eye on all the young impressionable girls that had been placed in her care but she did the best she could. Mary did not like the manner in which Harry seemed to flirt with all the witches and so had taken it upon herself to see that he was not left alone with any of them for any great length of time. The dark looks from the young witches when she intruded was just something she was prepared to live with if it meant protecting their virtue as well as Harry's.
"Funny you should ask that as I questioned him on that very same thing shortly after being hired on," Susan replied. "He just gave me the most peculiar look and said 'Everyone needs a place to call home. Someplace where they can feel safe and protected.' I'm still not sure what he meant by that but have been too busy to puzzle over it very much," Susan confessed.
Hermione knew, but then again she knew Harry better than anyone else, possibly even better than he knew himself. Growing up Harry had been forced to live with the Dursleys, his mother's sister and her family. Harry had commented once at the end of term as they boarded the Hogwarts Express that he wasn't going home, not really. If anyone knows what it feels like to not have a proper home it's Harry, the bright witch thought to herself.
Mary and Minerva questioned Susan on the Lupin Home and what they had accomplished thus far. Occasionally Andi would comment on some aspect or item that wasn't normal for the Wizarding world just so she could understand it better. Their discussion was interrupted by the arrival of Luna who had finally manage to extract herself from the group of kids who were not about to let the chance to speak with an elf, who worked directly for Father Christmas, pass them by. "He'll be here soon," the blonde witch told them a bit breathlessly as she slipped into her seat.
"Harry?" Tracey asked, puzzled as always by what the younger witch had to say. The former Slytherin was an intelligent witch and could usually follow anything that others said but Luna frustrated her to no end. One never knows what will come out of her mouth!
Luna looked thoughtful for a moment before giving a slight nod,"Him too."
Susan was in the process of thanking the Headmistress for the use of the Hogwarts elves when the words coming out of her mouth just died in her throat. "Oh my…," the last member of the Bones line breathed out as one hand rose to her lips in disbelief. Every eye at the table turned to look in the direction Susan was staring.
A hush fell over the room as all eyes turned to regard Harry in the doorway. The small girl had her arms wrapped around the wizard's neck and her legs securely wrapped around his waist. The child's head was tucked into the crook of Harry's neck but there was no mistaking the scarred skin that was visible in place of the girl's hair. Into the silence a boy's voice rang out."Come sit with us Anna!" it called. "No sit over here, look we saved you a seat," a girl's voice was quick to say. It's wasn't long before a chorus of voices rang out calling for the petite girl's presence at their table.
"My word! Whatever happened to that poor child?" Mary asked as they all watched as Harry deferred to the girl in his arms. Apparently some decision was reached as she indicated a table to sit at. The occupants of the table cheered for their good fortune as Harry carried his charge over.
Like everyone else in the room Susan's eye remained fixed upon the two who walked to the table the small child had indicated. "As near as we've been able to piece together, Anna's sister was a muggle-born witch. A group of Snatchers came for her one night and decided to stay and have a bit of fun with the family. Anna was the only one to survive," Susan told them as the other kids at the table Anna had selected made room for the girl and wizard. As Harry sat down Anna crawled around and sat in the seat of honor, Harry's lap.
"A group of Aurors showed up and after a brief battle chased off the Snatchers who were taking turns using various fire spells on the poor dear. They probably thought it was great fun to torture a muggle that had no magic to defend themselves," Susan informed them all in a steely voice. Is was evident in her tone and expression that she wished she could have the individuals who had harmed the child before her. Revenge was not always a dish best served cold, sometimes it needed to be smoldering hot.
"So Anna is a muggle?" Tracey asked only to see Susan give a nod.
"Why hasn't the Ministry sent a team of Obliviators here to memory charm her," Daphne voiced the question most of the others at the table were thinking. It was fairly common procedure to alter the memories of muggles who accidently discovered the existence magic. As the muggle population grew the Obliviators were kept constantly busy.
Susan gave a small shrug. "The Aurors who rescued her must have assumed she was the one the Snatchers were after, being the last one alive. Perhaps the Aurors were just too busy to care as it was the height of the war," Susan speculated. "Things were crazy as there were Death Eater attacks every day almost. After Anna was stabilized at St. Mungo's she was dropped into a Ministry funded orphanage. When Harry open Lupin Home the Ministry cleaned out many of their orphanages and sent the children here."
"I doubt they know Anna or any of the other muggles are here. Harry paid extra for the best wards that the Goblins could devise. I wouldn't want to be the fool who tried to enter here without his permission," said Susan. Further discussion was halted as the food suddenly appeared upon the table. "I better get back to my area to keep an eye on the little ones," Susan offered as she excused herself.
The volume of noise in the room was what one would expect from so many children gathered in one place. Mary, Minerva and Andi sat and chatted like old friends, discussing Harry project among themselves. The younger witches at the table sat and ate in near silence, each lost in their thoughts as the Yule was not what they had expected or wanted, truth be told. They had each harbored thoughts of spending some time alone with Harry only to find themselves seated without his usual presence there to comfort them.
"I can't believe Harry did all of this with none of you the wiser," Hermione finally said, her frustration at the situation getting the better of her. The fact that Harry and her had a rather nice snog session and now she found out he was dating several others had her more confused than she ever had been in her entire life, which was saying something for a muggle who had found out she was a witch at the age of eleven. A part of her felt betrayed while another part was busy berating herself for having waited too long to tell Harry how she felt about him.
"You're his best friend supposedly, why didn't you know?" Daphne was quick to quip feeling the Gryffindor's anger was directed at her. "I thought the two of you shared everything?" Not having Harry seated next to her did little to improve Daphne's mood. I miss our playful banter, she realized. So much for my plans of finding some mistletoe for Harry and me to share.
"Well, I haven't been living with him for months," Hermione fired back. Daphne's word hurt far more than Hermione let on but only because they were not far from the truth. Why was Harry keeping all of this from me? Doesn't he trust me anymore? she wondered. The library she could understand as it was meant to be a surprise for her. But this….this is something I thought he would have been happy to share with me! I could have helped him organize it, she thought, forgetting for the moment that it was her NEWT year.
Have we grown that far apart? Recalling their playful banter on platform 9 ¾'s and the snogging session in her room she found that rather hard to believe. Harry had stated just the previous evening that he would be lost without her. But in what capacity does he need me? Hermione couldn't understand why Harry had kissed her like that if he was dating other women either. For once the bright witch didn't understand her best friend and that, more than anything else, gave her pause for concern.
"Well maybe you should have been!" snapped Tracey, quick to come to Daphne's defense. She, like the others, was missing Harry presence as he always made her feel safe. To the former Slytherin feeling safe was a rarity and one she was currently missing, even with Daphne there beside her. The fact that she realized she could do little about the man's absence only helped to shorten the fuse on her temper.
"Ladies, it is the Eve of Christmas, do we really have to do this now?" Mary asked in an attempt to head off what she believed to be an unavoidable confrontation between Harry and all the witches currently residing under his roof. I almost pity the clueless man, she thought to herself.
"Yes, how about we try to enjoy ourselves as Harry is," Andi offered, her words causing everyone at the table to look towards the laughing and smiling wizard. The man's absence was part of the issue as each witch wanted to spend time with Harry. Andi's words, while meant to calm the growing storm, only served to remind those at the table of the fact that Harry was elsewhere. "It would seem that he has gone to great lengths to make this holiday a memorable one."
Further talk was interrupted by Luna who started to bounce in her seat and clap her hands. The former Ravenclaw had a huge smile on her face as her eyes shone brightly. "It's time!" she exclaimed to those at the table as if she had not heard any of the previous conversation, which she hadn't. It wasn't that she was purposefully not listening but rather that she was listening rather intently for something else entirely. "He's here!" Luna told them, barely able to remain in her seat.
The faint sound of bells was heard. Throughout the spacious hall conversations paused as voices were stilled. Many tilted their head to one side in an effort to listen better, uncertain if they had heard what they thought they had. There was a long moment of silence when once again the jingling of bells was heard, quickly followed by many excited whispers among the children. There was suddenly a noise that sounded as if a herd of great steeds were prancing across the roof above their heads, while once more jingling bells merrily tinkled through the hall.
Above each enormous fire pits there was a large metal hood which was used to collect the smoke from the fire below it and funnel it outside. Out of the center most hood began to appear a flurry of snowflakes. Many of those gathered in the hall noted that the snowflake did not seem to be affected by the heat of the fire below them. The white powdery flakes drifted about as if they were upon some breeze only they could feel. More and more flakes arrived till they formed a rather large cloud above everyone's head.
Harry stood, and situating Anna in his arms, walked to the head of the hall where he turned and addressed everyone with Anna riding one hip."Recently, through an off chance encounter, I made a new friend," he told those before him as they hung on his every word. "I told this friend about the Lupin Home here and the trying year it has been for all of you and your families. My friend insisted that they come and spend some time with the children and families here."
As Harry spoke the cloud of snowflakes condensed and dropped till they touch the ground next to the wizard. For a moment it was as if someone had shaken a giant snow globe. Snow swirled hither and yon being scattered about in all directions within a confined space. The magical flakes grew closer together joining till the form of a man emerged.
He was tall, nearly seven feet in height. Long curly hair, once brown in color was now streaked through with grey and white, leaving mere hints of the brown it once was. Eyes as blue as glacial ice sparkled with mirth above a long pointed nose and a grin mostly hidden by a long full beard. The man was not fat and jolly as the muggles thought of Santa Claus, but was rather wide of shoulder and had a powerful barrel chest. His arms were thick and muscular from working every day. Long legs with a wide stance held up this mountain of a man who had appeared from the gathered snow. Everyone stared in awe of the new arrival, dressed in long robes of homespun coarse fibers colored in earthly hues of brown, blue, red and green.
"Are you Father Christmas?" piped up Anna's small voice into the ensuing silence at the appearance of Harry's friend. The young girl's eyes were open fully and a smile was plastered upon her face, stretching nearly ear to ear.
The man laughed a deep hearty chuckle from the very depths of his being, causing many there to laugh as well for his laughter was infectious."Hello Anna," the man said with a slight bow towards the little girl was his laughter had worked itself from his body. "I have many names, Mikulas, Babbo Natale, Pere Noel and Ded Moroz to name but a few, and while it is true that I am known as Father Christmas to this land, I have always preferred the name I was born with in Germania, Kris. Kris Kringle at your service!" the tall man offered with a flourish and a deep bow.
"Thank you for coming, Kris," Harry offered shaking the man's hand, as Anna giggled in his arms. Anna's giggles was music to his ears."I'm sure they are all glad you could make it."
"You would have found it hard to keep me away," Kris replied with a merry twinkle in his eyes. Kris and the elves that worked for him had their own brand of magic. For one night of every year there was no ward or alarm that could keep the man from delivering his toys to the deserving girls and boys. Some magics were so ancient that they were only understood by those they belonged to.
Upon seeing Harry gesture to everyone watching, the toy maker turned to address the hall. "Am I right to assume that you've all been good this year?" he asked. About the room everyone nodded that they had however there were a few who weren't so certain and looked rather doubtful."I have a list and I've checked it twice, just to make certain who's naughty and nice. I can tell you here and now that no naughty within this home were found!" Kris laughed as the children's cheers shook the rafters.
A large wooden chair, its arms worn dark and smooth from use over the ages, suddenly appeared behind Kris. Taking a seat, Father Christmas opened his hands for Harry to hand him Anna. At first Harry was worried as Anna only allowed a few people to touch her but the squirming child in his arms soon left him little doubt where she wanted to be and so he handed her over. Anna seemed to have forgotten about the terrible scars that covered her head and body and for once was acting just like a normal child her age. It was the best Christmas present Harry could have received as far as the wizard was concerned.
"Now, I have it on the best of authority," Kris stated with a grin and a quick glance towards Harry, "that you've been an exceptionally good girl this year." Seated on Kris's knee Anna's head bobbed up and down rapidly as she agreed with him. "I can't give you what you've wished for," once more the man's eyes darted to Harry and back again. "At least not yet. Soon though, I think." Kris added in a whisper only Anna could hear.
Anna sighed in disappointment till she heard the last part. Her one wish was to have a family again. She knew that her family couldn't be brought back. Dead is dead after all, she had reasoned. Having lived through what had happened to her family, as well as herself, Anna was a bit more mature than other five year olds. The world was no longer flowers, unicorns and teddy bears for afternoon tea. Magic was real after all and there were evil men who used it.
Kris reached down beside his chair and a brown homespun sack appeared. Reaching inside the bag he pulled out a leather case that was tied shut. "I understand that you're something of an artist," he voiced with a grin as Harry groaned recalling that time. "This should help you with that."
Anna hastily opened the case to find an assortment of brushes, knives and paints. "Oh thank you, Mister Kringle!" exclaimed the little girl before she leaned in and kissed him on the cheek only to giggle."It tickles!" she said, meaning the man's beard. Kris joined her in her laughter as did everyone else that had been close enough to overhear the little girl's comment.
While Anna had been receiving her present Susan and the others had not been idle. With the help of the parents, as well as the witches who arrived with Harry, they had started to make a line of children. Kris took a look at the long line forming and came to a decision. "I think I'll need one of my elves to help me here. Luna, would you be so kind to come up here?"
The blonde witch, wearing a huge smile, quickly made her way to the front of the hall. Children stared at Luna in awe as she passed. Many hadn't truly believed the young witch when she had told them that she was an elf of Father Christmas. "I told you," Luna whispered as she passed Tracey and Daphne who both wore looks of stunned disbelief, having been among the disbelievers.
Harry accepted Anna back from Kris and stepped aside as the first or many children, with Luna's help, took Anna's place upon the man's knee. Rather than standing around in the way, Harry set off to find the women in his life and introduce Anna to them. Spotting Hermione's white blouse the young wizard quickly made his way over. The witch, seeing them headed towards her, stepped away from the line of children so that she could greet them both.
"I know you!" Anna exclaimed before Hermione could say anything at all. "You're Hermione Granger. My Harry says that you're the brightest witch of this age. A bit bossy, but frightfully brilliant," the precocious five year old stated with a serious demeanor on her scarred face.
"Yes, well…apparently your Harry has been telling tales about me somewhat," Hermione stammered with a small smile, her reproachful eyes darting towards Harry more than once."I'm working on the bossy bit," she hastily added a bit defensively. In the hectic work of getting the children in order she had momentarily forgotten she was angry with Harry. Anna's comment served to remind the witch that Harry had been keeping things from her, causing the smile to slip from her face.
"Isn't she a bit young for you, Potter?" Tracey quipped as she and Daphne joined the trio. The words had no sooner left her mouth than she wanted to kick herself for saying them. Her frustration was getting the better of her and once again she had spoken before she had thought.
"I don't know," Harry replied with a grin. He was in far too good of a mood to let anything ruin it. "A bit easier to carry around," the wizard added as he hefted the small girl a bit, eliciting a giggle from Anna which was a sound Harry knew he would never tire of.
"You're just full of surprises today, Harry," said Daphne with a reproachful look. Anna leaned in and whispered something into Harry's ear causing the wizard to chuckle softly. "What?" Daphne couldn't help but enquire as the others looked on.
"It was nothing, Daphne," Harry tried to assure her.
"It sure looked like something," the witch replied, having none of it.
"I told Harry that you were just as pretty as he said you were," Anna offered, causing the blonde witch to blush slightly.
"Go on, tell them what else you said," Harry urged the child in his arms.
"What?" Anna rebelled slightly. "All I said was I thought she would have dressed better."
Daphne's cheeks turned red though this time it was due to embarrassment. I knew I should have dressed differently. A bit more festive and a little less muggle perhaps. Nothing like a precocious five year old commenting on your fashion sense to put you in your place. The child's next words nearly broke all their heart.
"You really are very pretty. I hope one day that I'll be as pretty as you are," Anna stated innocently as only a child can. Those gathered knew that if the damage done could be undone then it would have been while the small girl was at St. Mungo's. The sad truth was that Anna would bear her scars for the remainder of her life.
Harry leaned in and planted a kiss on the side of Anna's head."You already are, Sweetie," he told her.
The afternoon dipped into the evening before Kris took his leave. The man loved by all dissolved into a flurry of snowflakes and floated up the same exhaust hood he had entered by. Harry had been able to introduce Anna to the other witches as the children were far to occupied with Kris and the presents he was giving to cause any problems. Andi and Anna got on spectacularly well, a fact Harry attributed to Andi having already raised one child and working on a second in Teddy.
The small boy had made an appearance thanks to Winky who had brought him over. Teddy, surrounded by so many other kids lost all control of his ability. The poor boy's features never stopped shifting from the moment he entered the great hall. The only time it paused at all was when Harry took Teddy up for his turn upon Kris' knee. It wasn't long afterwards, exhausted from constantly changing his appearance, that Winky took Teddy back to Westfield to tuck him in for the night.
It took some doing but Harry finally managed to say goodbye to everyone amid cries for him to stay. Anna didn't want to let Harry go but a trip upstairs to tuck her in and read her a story soon saw the girl fast asleep. After a few parting words, mostly telling them that their Yule presents were in their bonuses, Harry said goodbye to Susan, Padma and Parvati. It was a very tired, but surprisingly happy wizard, which led his group of witches back home.
The group returned to Westfield Manor to find a fire blazing in the fireplace, the candles on the tree lite and hot tea as well as warm cider awaiting them. The living room was nice and cozy warm thanks to Winky and Kreacher. It had been a long day for them all and a great day for Harry. As the women made themselves comfortable Harry gave a nod to Luna who hugged him before she hurried over to the fireplace only to disappear in a flare of green flames.
"Where's Luna off to?" Hermione asked.
"She wanted to spend some time with her mum and dad as this was apparently one of their favorite holidays," Harry told them all.
"Isn't it a bit late for her to be out on her own?" Mary enquired in a concerned tone, ever mindful of proprieties and the welfare of the girls within her care.
"Normally yes, but I'm having a bit of work done on the Lovegood property so it should be fairly safe," Harry told Mary to ease her fears. "Not to mention that Luna can cast a mean hex when she has need of one," he added with a reassuring smile, recalling their fight in the Department of Mysteries and just how well the witch had handled herself.
"Mister Potter, I-" the Headmistress started with only to pause upon seeing the wizard's raised hand for her to stop.
"Please Professor, you're in my home, I am no longer your student and it is Christmas Eve, can't you just call me Harry?" the wizard asked with a small grin.
Minerva's lips bent upwards into a smile as well. "Well, seeing as it is Christmas Eve and all," she replied with a humorous glint in her eye. "Harry, I have to admit that I was really surprised today."
"The day has just been filled with surprises," Hermione mumbled sourly under her breath.
Understatement of the year, Daphne thought to herself. She had been only slightly relieved to discover that Anna was a small child and hence not a threat to her getting closer to Harry. Several other questions though still nagged at the young witch. Chief among those were, Who are these other women Harry went out on dates with?
"I have little doubt that Lily and James would be very proud of you and what you are doing for those children and families," the Headmistress stated. "You're not my son and yet I find myself being proud of you none the less," Minerva told him bluntly. He might not be her son but he would always be one of her Lions as she saw it.
"Like Minerva, I was equally surprised and touched by what you've done to honor the memory of Dora and Remus," Andi chimed in with quickly. "I know Sirius would be proud as well," she added. "No doubt he would think that using the Black ancestral house and wealth to care for muggles, muggle-born, half-bloods and blood traitors was the best prank ever."
Harry respected both witches and was deeply touched by their kind words. "Well, I'm sure he would find some way to take credit for being the inspiration for it or something," Harry replied with a grin as he stood and made his way over to the Christmas tree before squatting down to get something. "I know I should probably wait till morning to do this but as this is my first real Christmas I find I just can't." Standing and turning back to face those seated on the couches they could see that he had several giftwrapped packages in his arms.
Harry made his way back over to his seat and set the items in it before selecting one and taking it over to Tracey. "I know we didn't hit it off all that great at first Tracey," Harry said, causing the witch to drop her gaze in embarrassment as the reason for that was all her. Tracey's fear and general hatred of men had caused her to treat Harry very poorly at first. It was still a fact she regretted greatly even if he had forgiven her for it.
Harry reached out and slipping a finger beneath Tracey's chin, lifting it till she once again was looking at him. "Sometimes, you have to wait for things in life. It's not always easy waiting but the best things in life are worth waiting for. I think I understand that now" Harry said, feeling certain that the witch was waiting for what he had for her. He was just happy he was able to give it to her now rather than after her mother died.
Tracey Davis felt the heat rise in her cheeks at Harry's words, her mind once again replaying just how terrible she had been to him. The touch of his finger under her chin startled her but as she looked up her eyes met his, all she could do was stare and listen to his words. He thinks I'm worth waiting for?she asked herself in disbelief. Gazing up at Harry she knew at that moment that she had fallen for the man before her. There was no other excuse for the rapid beating of her heart, shortness of breath or the overwhelming desire to lock lips with him right there in front of everyone.
"Tracey?" Harry's brow creased in puzzlement as he had been holding her gift out to her for several moments without any response from the witch. "Are you alright?"
"What? Yes," Tracey replied finally snapping out of her daze and shifting her eyes away from his slightly chapped lips that looked all too delicious. "Just a bit knackered I think," Tracey mumbled as she accepted the gift. The young woman unwrapped the item with hands that were trembling that had nothing to do with the gift she had just received and everything to do with the nearness of the wizard standing in front of her. Merlin I want to kiss Harry Potter!What the bloody hell am I thinking?
The item once revealed proved to be a rolled piece of finely tooled leather, decorative tassels dangled from either side while around the middle was tied a golden cord holding the item closed. Removing the cord carefully Tracey began to unroll the item only to see that there was parchment on the inside. As the writing became visible Tracey's eyes grew larger and larger. "Where did you get this?" she asked Harry, never taking her eyes from the deed which was fastened to the inside of the piece of enchanted leather.
"I happen to acquire it recently," Harry replied evasively with a small mischievous grin as he enjoyed the befuddled look that had appeared upon Tracey's face.
"Harry, this is the deed for Divine Dresses by Davis. My mother would sooner die than part with this!" Tracey stated as her eyes shot up to look at the wizard for an explanation.
Harry couldn't help but recall how it had all played out.
"You're sure this will work?" Harry asked his account manager as the two of them sat within a spacious meeting room within Gringotts awaiting the arrival of the Davises. While it had been his plan, now that it was actually happening Harry wasn't as sure of it as he had been when he proposed it. It was one thing for the Sorting Hat to want place him in Slytherin but an entirely different thing to actually try and think like one.
"There's no reason why it shouldn't," Bob replied. If the goblin was nervous at all it didn't show as far as Harry could tell. Bob knew they held all the cards in this meeting, it was only a question of when they would have to show their hand. "It's too late to back out now," the account manager added just before the door opened and an underling announced the Davis couple.
Helen Davis was a different witch from the one that had sat across the table from Harry and tried to sell him her daughter. The dark circles around her eyes, lackluster hair and absence of any jewelry seemed to confirm the information Bob had received that the Davises were scrambling to sell everything they owned. It was apparent that the woman hadn't had a proper night's rest in a while and her clothes were wrinkled and a mess. As bad as she looked, Benjamin Davis looked even worse. No doubt from bearing the brunt of his wife's displeasure.
"It's a pleasure to see you once again Mister Potter," Helen Davis opened with as she extended a hand towards Harry. "Thank you for meeting with us on such short notice."
"The Pleasure is mine," Harry replied, accepting her hand, having risen to his feet upon their entrance. "I hope you're well," Harry offered as he gestured to the empty seats opposite Bob and his own.
"Yes, quite," Mrs. Davis lied as she offered a forced smile before seating herself. Her life had never been worse. Potter's our last hope, she reminded herself as she sat. I have to play this just right, she thought, her eyes shifting towards Bob whom she suspected was the real obstacle. He was a Gryffindor for Merlin's sake. How hard could this be? She asked herself in an attempt to gather her courage.
"Will your account manager be joining us?" Harry asked, looking at the vacant seat next to Mrs. Davis.
"No," Helen replied, "he had another appointment today and was unable to attend on such short notice." She hoped that Harry wasn't aware of the fact that they had closed all their Gringotts accounts which was why they no longer had an account manager.
"I see," said Harry, already well aware of why Crackjaw wasn't present thanks to Bob. "Well, let's get right to it, shall we?" Harry asked with a smile at them both. "We've gone over the numbers and as much as I would like to help it just doesn't seem like a sound investment at this time."
"What!" Helen Davis squawked in disbelief. "I assure you that Tracey is every bit a lady and still retains her purity! She's worth every galleon we're asking for!" How dare he imply that we're not worth the galleons! she screamed within her mind as what she saw as her last chance to avoid the Gnomes was slipping away.
Harry had a difficult time holding his anger in. I don't even want to know how she knows about Tracey's purity, he growled silently, barely managing to keep his expression schooled. "Yes, I'm certain Tracey is a wonderful witch but I can't help but feel as if it is a bit like slavery, buying her and all I mean." Harry couldn't help but notice that both Davises gave a short shiver at the mention of slavery. "I'm sorry, I just can't do it."
Helen Davis found her perfect world crumbling in on her. Just a few days ago the Gnomes had called in the entire loan owed by the Davises. They had made it perfectly clear that if the loan wasn't paid in full they would claim Divine Dresses as well as the entire Davis family as partial payment. The Gnomes didn't have a problem with slave labor to pay back a debt and were known to sell slaves as a way of recouping their losses.
"No, this can't be," Helen Davis stammered as she shook her head back and forth slowly. "You have to help us Mister Potter! You're our last hope," she pleaded desperately, throwing caution to the wind and going with the truth for once in her life.
Harry did a masterful job of looking remorseful. "I truly am sorry but you're just not a good investment. It's nothing personal, just business you see." The witch across from him paled only for Harry to see her eyes roll back into her head just before Helen Davis fainted onto the table. Harry quickly levitated the witch over to a couch that was along one wall.
"Thank you Mr. Potter," Benjamin Davis offered once he made certain his wife was alright, more or less. "We appreciate your time and consideration of our proposal," the head of the Davis House said as he offered Harry his hand.
Harry shook the hand and moved to the second part of his plan."It's not that Divine Dresses is a bad business mind you. It has good potential I'm told but your customer base is too small and the material too costly as it is right now, Mr. Davis."
"Ben, please," said Mr. Davis.
"Harry then," Harry replied with a real smile. "You know, I may have a way to help us both, Ben. As well as Tracey." Harry glanced to his side and saw he had the man's full attention. "You can sell me Divine Dresses. I'll give you a fair price for it."
Ben's face lost its hopeful look upon hearing Harry's words."I truly wish I could Mist…Harry. It's written into the deed that it must remain within the Davis family. Only a Davis can own it I'm afraid."
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Harry assured him with a feral grin that would have done Sirius proud.
Thirty minutes later Benjamin Davis sat with inked quill over the last document. Pausing before signing it he looked across the table at Harry once again. "You'll take good care of her? See she has everything she needs and has a good life?" he asked in a concerned tone.
"I swear it on my magic," Harry assured the wizard."I'll do everything I can for Tracey."
Ben looked over at his wife still asleep on the couch. The money they were receiving from Harry would allow him and his wife to live out the rest of their days in moderate comfort. It was more than a generous offer what with the Gnome loan due in a day. Harry had assured him that he would take care of that as well. Benjamin signed the form and passed it across the table to Harry who pushed it over to Bob.
"Everything is in order and all forms have been signed in accordance with the agreement and the laws set forth by your Ministry," Bob declared after looking it over and adding it to the stack of other forms that Mr. Davis had signed prior to that one.
Mr. Davis lifted his wand. "I, Benjamin Dent Davis, declare upon my magic as the Head of the Noble House of Davis, Harry James Potter to be my one true heir. Furthermore, I abdicate my position as Head of House, forsaking all claim hence forth." There was a brief flash of light from the tip of the upraised wand as his magic accepted the oath as truth.
Harry looked down as the Davis Head of House ring appeared upon his right hand. For a long moment Harry just stared at it. "Damn," he finally muttered. Seeing the puzzled look from Ben Harry explained. "I'm now the head of four houses. At this rate I'll run out of fingers soon."
"It was business," Harry answered Tracey. Bob had been rather putout that they had to pay the Gnomes an additional five percent for them to lean on the Davises but Harry felt that if it kept Tracey from being a slave it was money well spent. "Now it's your business," he added with a crooked grin. The wizard saw Tracey glance down and confirm that it was indeed her name listed as the owner. The next thing Harry knew there was a witch in his arms with her lips attached to his own, attempting to extract his teeth in the most enjoyable manner possible.
"I don't know how I can ever repay you, Harry!" Tracey exclaimed as she finally released her lip-lock on the dazed man. Minerva and Andi both wore an amused expression while others were not so pleased with the impassioned kiss the two had shared. Mary looked on disapprovingly while Daphne and Hermione both wore darkening scowls.
"Monthly payments will do nicely, Tracey," the out of breath Harry managed to get out. The last thing he had expected was for Tracey to kiss him like that, especially in front of everyone else. Not that he was complaining mind you. "I still own the controlling interest in the company till the loan is repaid," he explained to the witch with rapidly blushing cheeks as she realized what she had done. "I guess you're stuck with me for a while yet," he added with a lopsided grin.
Tracey bravely looked Harry in the eye, flaming cheeks and all."Thank you, Harry. You have no idea what this means to me," Tracey told him, desperately trying to express the multitude of emotions she was feeling at that moment and knowing she was failing miserably. Still, the young woman found the prospect of being tied to Harry for the foreseeable future to be rather exciting.
Harry, a bit embarrassed by the witch's emotional words, gave a slight nod before turning and selecting another gift from the pile he had brought over. Walking over the young man stopped in front of Daphne. "I wanted to get you something that I knew you needed and could use," Harry told her sincerely, his words causing the witch's frown to turn into a small shy smile. "Other than Hermione, I haven't had much experience with buying gifts for pretty girls. Somehow a book just didn't seem your style," he told her causing Daphne to giggle in agreement. "I hope it's something you wanted," Harry said as he offered her the present.
Daphne eyed the gift, finding it rather hard to stay mad at the man, especially when he referred to her as a pretty girl. Tracey on the other hand was another matter. I'll be having words with her later! Whereas Tracey had ripped the paper from her gift, Daphne was very methodical, undoing each piece of tape and unfolding every bend of the paper. When she was done she held a box that was a little over a foot long and only two or three inches wide. Daphne looked up at Harry with a questioning expression.
"Go on. Open it!" Harry told her, clearly more excited by the present opening than Daphne appeared to be.
Truth be told the young woman's heart was racing as she couldn't tell what it was. At first she had thought it to be a wand but the box was a bit wider than what those typically came in. With Harry's urging she pried the lid off the box and peered inside. Daphne slipped her fingers inside and ran them over the material. "What is this made from?" she asked appreciatively.
"Fire Salamander," Harry replied as he watched Daphne pull the item from the box. The light from the fireplace caught the deep red scales and made them glow softly. The effect was quite beautiful.
"It's a wand holster, isn't it?" Daphne asked, marveling at the beautiful skin and how the light made the scales appear to ignite.
"Yup," Harry stated. "And what goes in a wand holder?" he asked as a grin spread across his face.
"A wand," Daphne replied without thinking before it suddenly clicked. Turning the holster over Daphne saw the end of a wand sticking out of the holster and reached for it. The twelve inch bit of elm with a unicorn hair core felt warm to her touch as she experienced the familiar rush of magic from her own wand as she removed it from the holster. "But how?Father had this?" the witch asked in disbelief, wondering if there was nothing Harry couldn't do.
"While reading over Wizarding etiquette I happened to read someplace that it was the responsibility of the Head of House to notify another House when they were sheltering a member of their family who was under age," Harry explained. "So I owled your father to let him know you were here and I asked for your wand so you could protect yourself."
"And he just gave it to you?" Daphne asked in disbelief certain that there was a catch or something she wasn't being told of.
Harry chuckled nervously. "No, of course not. He's just as you described him, a business man. Everything has a price. He was worried about the investment that the Greengrass family had in you and specifically your wand. So I bought it from him!" Harry declared looking rather pleased with himself. "Go on, give it a use so I know I got what I paid for," he urged Daphne.
Daphne knew it couldn't be that easy. It does feel good to have my own wand back again, she thought as she got to her feet and prepared to test the wand. "/Lumos!"/she said clearly only to see the tip of her wand alight almost as bright as the band of magic that encircled the ring finger on her left hand. Her eyes, like everyone else there, were drawn to her left hand and the ring that had appeared there with the Black family coat of arms engraved upon it.
Daphne stared at the ring as her mind shot off in every direction at once in an attempt to explain why she was suddenly wearing the Black family marriage ring. Bloody hell what did I do! was her first thought till she recalled Harry's words to her. 'Go on, give it a use so I know I got what I paid for'. The bright witch started to put two and two together. Harry contacted my father that first night. No wonder father didn't try to have me brought back home for the marriage contract, he got a better offer! The Sorting Hat wanted to put Harry in Slytherin! Bloody hell, Potter's been playing me all along!
Harry stepped in to get a better look at the ring, having no clue what it could be. He never saw the witch's fist coming till it impact his eye. The force of the blow startled him causing Harry to stagger backward and trip over his own feet only to crash spectacularly to the floor.
"You Bastard!" Daphne screamed at Harry, standing over him with her fists clenched in rage. The witch was so mad that she even forgot she had a wand in her hand. When looking back at that moment it would be a fact Harry was truly thankful for. "I trusted you! I thought you really cared about me! You were just playing me all along, Potter! You filthy Bastard!" Daphne screamed as tears began to run down her face. "I…I even fell in love with you!" she sobbed before racing from the room in tears.
Tracey Davis watched her best friend run from the room in tears before turning towards the wizard on the floor. "What the hell did you do, Potter?" she spat out angrily, demanding an answer. The fact that Daphne had stated she loved Harry surprised Tracey far less than she thought it should have.
"I just wanted to get her wand for her," Harry replied weakly, too shocked to even get up from the floor.
"I'm sure there's a logical explanation for this," Hermione offered, not really sure what to make of what happened. If it had been a few months ago there would be little doubt that it wasn't Harry's fault but this Harry was not the same one she knew. Her Harry didn't keep secrets from her. "Let's just calm down and talk about this," Hermione offered as she stood up from her seat.
"Shut it, Granger this doesn't concern you," Tracey snapped, her eyes never leaving Harry. "So you wanted to get her wand and decided to pick up a marriage contract as a bonus gift?" Tracey accused with a sneer that must have seen her channeling her inner Snape. The young witch, having only just realized the depth of her feelings for the man now felt betrayed on several levels. Why is it every time I trust a guy they do nothing but hurt me?
"I'm sure Harry didn't mean-," Hermione tried once again.
"Shut your bloody trap, Granger," Tracey yelled, turning to face the other witch. "Your best friend just managed to get himself married to Daphne. That was the Black family ring on her finger which can only be worn by Lady Black who would have to be married to the Head of the Black Family which just so happens to be your best friend!"
"Married?" Hermione squeaked out as the ramifications of what happened were just starting to sink in.
Tracey sneered, "Married. You can forget any romantic thoughts you had for Potter as he's off the market now it seems." The bitter tone of the witch's voice left little doubt of just how displeased Tracey was with what had happened to Daphne.
"Romantic thoughts?" Hermione stammered, trying to deny what she knew she felt for Harry. "I never said-,"
"You never said it but everyone at school could see it but the two of you," Tracey said, cutting Hermione off once again. "Hell I bet your friend Weasley could even see it!" she added with a triumphant grin at seeing the shocked expression on Hermione's face which told her she wasn't far off the mark probably.
The Head Girl of Hogwarts wouldn't be cowed so easily though. Hermione had stood with Harry against Death Eaters, Dementors and even Voldemort, she wasn't about to back down now. "Me? What about you, Hotlips?" Hermione fired back causing both Andi and Mary to move closer should they need to intercede between the witches. "Who was trying to suck Harry's tonsils out his mouth just a few minutes ago? Don't think we all haven't noticed your looks at Harry. At least I was brave enough to tell him how I feel!" /Mostly/, she added silently.
Tracey made to go for her wand when they were both stopped in their tracks. "I think this has gone on for long enough!" Old habits die hard. From years of attending Hogwarts both witches froze at the sound of the Headmistress's voice. "Now, if Mister Potter would….where is he?" Minerva asked as there was no sign of the missing wizard. Everyone had been so intent upon Hermione and Tracey that they had failed to see Harry slip out of the room.
Harry crept down the stairs into the lowest basement, listening intently to make certain no one was following him. The injured wizard had managed to slip away while Tracey and Hermione were engaged in a yelling match. He was still close when Tracey let drop the fact that she believed he and Daphne were now married. How am I supposed to tell them what happened when even I don't know? he asked himself. Spotting two storage crates against a distant wall with some room between them he eased in backwards till he hit the back wall before sliding down to sit upon the floor. "Bloody hell, how do I get myself into these things?"
Suddenly in his peripheral vision the long neck of a butterbeer bottle appeared. Harry looked to his left, "Kreacher?" The house elf gave a half-hearted grin from his makeshift hiding place and once more offered the cold butterbeer to Harry. "Thanks," Harry said accepting it.
"She-elves," was all Kreacher said as he tilted his bottle towards Harry.
Harry tapped the neck of his own bottle against Kreacher's,"Women," the confused wizard agreed, having no clue what to do next.
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