Hermione Granger had been idly rambling along the strand, enjoying the sea air and the bright early morning. She'd noticed an odd bit of metal lying out on the sand, and knelt down to pick it up. Perhaps it's a Roman coin, she'd thought, washed out from where it lay by the rain last night. A souvenir of the summer holidays would be a lovely thing to have at her new school, something to tuck in with the box of pipestems and potsherds and flints and fossils she'd been keeping since she was first able to walk about and stick things in her pockets. Perhaps it's even magical!
But, alas, the instant her fingers had closed on the little scrap of bronze she'd been pulled away somewhere else. It was as if some invisible hand had seized her below her navel and took her away. Confused thoughts of Star Trek transporters and the Tardis mingled in her mind with the old legends of faeries and the Wild Hunt and folk being swept that she'd read obsessively since first she could read and always secretly thought her Nan should have told her about.
And now here she was, in a grimy back room with cracked plaster walls, and a disreputable looking middle aged man was staring at her. He was bald on top, with thick off-brown whiskers that didn't quite compensate, and dressed in clothes that her grandfather would've called quaint and her great-grandfather would've called out of fashion. "So," he said, "a selkie. Hmm... bit scrawny, but I reckon she'll fetch a good price."
"Excuse me, sir, but I'm a human, not a selkie. And how did I get here?" Why did he think she was a seal person? Was he mad?
His eyes went wide. "So, you speak English. Hmm, that could add a few sickles to the price." So, he was a Wizard. In the back of her mind, she began to wonder. Could he be right? Was she part selkie? She'd always loved the sea, and always been a bit different. She forced herself to stop thinking about it.
She stood square and looked him straight in the eye, the way her mother had always told her she should do if she wanted to be taken seriously. "To what price? I don't know what you intend, sir, but I am a subject of the United Kingdom. Even now, I'm sure, my parents will be looking for me. And if they don't find me, well, my dad's got friends at Scotland Yard. If you'll just take me to the nearest constable, I'll tell him it's only a misunderstanding. I'm sure you'll not get into any trouble."
"Misunderstanding? Girl, you picked up my selkie trap. That means you're a selkie."
"I'm sure there's some mistake. I'm a Muggleborn, and I only got my Hogwarts letter this year. I'm sorry if there's something I've not yet learnt. But none of my books said anything about not picking up a selkie trap. I'm very sorry if I've caused you any trouble, sir. I'm sure I can pay you back for anything that's damaged."
He laughed. "Silly little thing! You'd not have even seen that trap if you weren't a selkie, of at least three-quarters blood. Haman Harkness wasn't born yesterday, selkie girl. Stop trying to fool me. Now come along. I'm sure some nice gentleman will buy you in a day or two. Even if you are a bit young to be all that much... fun just yet."
If only she'd had her wand. Not that she knew what she'd do with it, but at least she might could do something. The man seized her by the wrist and pulled her along. She wished she'd at least been wearing something more than a swimming costume and a brief little gymslip that didn't reach her knees. Don't be silly, she told herself, at least you didn't take off your cover-up. And imagine if you were one of those girls on the beach in France, wearing only a bikini bottom or nothing at all. Somehow she doubted this unpleasant man would have given her anything to cover up with. Don't think about that. Think about how Professor McGonagall is going to show up and rescue you as soon as she hears there's one of her first year students in a pet shop. And how you'll explain it to your parents so they'll still let you go to Hogwarts School rather than taking you straightaway to Aunt Mildred in Australia and not letting you come back home till you're twenty-five and have your doctorate.
He led her out into a big room full of cages. There were rats and cats and owls and jackdaws and creatures she couldn't quite name. And one particularly large cage; in it was a blonde girl, slender, with an almost birdlike look about her, dressed in a perfectly ordinary loose white skirt and blue blouse. She was a couple of years older than Hermione, perhaps thirteen or fourteen, and stunningly beautiful. Good heavens, Hermione thought, is slavery commonplace here in the Wizarding World? For the first time, she wondered about her decision to attend Hogwarts. Could this actually be legal? Would Professor McGonagall walk in, pet her through the bars, and say "Nice selkie. What a very clever wee creature you were, making me think you were a Witch." Would someone buy her for a pet? And what did people do with pet selkies?
Hermione thought of something, and pinched herself. Unfortunately, she didn't wake up in her own bed, sweating and resolving never to eat those funny sweets she'd got from the Wizarding shop before bedtime ever again.
The man opened the blonde girl's cage and shoved Hermione through. "All right, you two, don't fight, there's good pets. This is the only cage I've got that's big enough, so I'll have to leave you both in here for a while. Don't mess each other up, or you'll both regret it, you hear me?"
The girl responded with a burst of French, only a quarter of which Hermione could understand. What she could follow expanded her knowledge of French obscenity by at least an order of magnitude. The man laughed, locked the door of the cage, and walked out.
The girl glared at his retreating back, and Hermione felt her knees weaken. What if she thinks our being sold as pets is perfectly normal? What if she just doesn't like me, because... because she's beautiful and sexy and French and I'm not? For some reason the thought was heartbreaking in a way that made the thought of being sold as a pet to some creepy Wizard–-or Witch–-seem like almost nothing.
"Bonjour," Hermione said, holding out her hand. "Je m'appelle Hermione Granger. Et... je pense que vous êtes vraiment belle." She couldn't believe she'd just said that. Her French was failing her. Or at least her common sense was. Perhaps she was simply going mad. Why else would she have just told a strange girl that she was beautiful?
The blonde ignored her outstretched hand, embraced her and held her tight. "Ah, ma belle petite ‘Ermione, il faut me tutoyer, chérie. Merci beaucoup! It's so good to have a friend here at last. And one who speaks some French, and with a very nice accent! I will teach you much more, my little one, and since we are friends I must be tu to you, not vous. I am Fleur, Fleur Delacour. And I promise you that when my Papa comes to rescue me we will not leave you here. I'll take you to France and you'll go to Beauxbatons with me. And no English pig will ever put either of us in a cage again. Did that barbarian kidnap you, as he did me?"
"Um, Fleur..." Hermione said, resisting the urge to snuggle closer to the French girl. She'd read some stories that mentioned girls in gaol doing naughty things with each other, after all. She wasn't altogether sure she wanted to do naughty things with anyone, but she'd been pretty sure she'd rather do them with boys if and when she did do them. Of course, that was before she'd met Fleur, but it was important to try to hold on to one's principles. Or at least she'd always thought so. "I'm so very pleased to meet you. Do... do you mean this isn't legal?"
"Of course it is not legal, darling." Fleur gave her another squeeze and stroked her hair. "Even in England, even with that pig Fudge and that sow Umbridge. We will get free, never fear. Just let Fleur take care of you..." They huddled in the corner on a pile of straw and fell asleep.
Hermione woke to the sound of footsteps, a heavy tread that shook the cage. She heard two voices, a boy’s and a man’s; the man had a West Country accent and laughed often as he talked about owls and jackdaws and hares and rats. She opened her eyes, realising that, one, the business with the coin and the cage and the beautiful French girl hadn't been a dream, and, two, there was a giant in the room. She hoped he wasn't shopping for his dinner.
But no, the huge man in the moleskin overcoat looked and sounded as honest and kind as a friendly countryman in a Famous Five novel. And the boy with him, although badly dressed in what looked like the cast-off clothes of someone twice his size, looked very likeable, at least as boys went. He was about her age, with unruly black hair and green eyes behind thick glasses. And he had an odd scar on his forehead. There had been something about a boy and his scar, in one of her new books.
Fleur was still holding her. She liked that. "Mm, ma petite ‘Ermione," she murmured, her breath fluttering Hermione's hair. She supposed on some level she should be embarrassed to have a boy staring at her while she lay there in another girl's arms and her wearing a thin little dress that showed most of her legs, but at this point she almost didn't care. At least there was comfort–-but wait! What if he buys one of us? And only one?
The boy with the scar was a famous hero from a long line of notable people, she remembered. The giant was presumably an old family retainer. There was only one thing to do, she realised: convince him to buy both of them. He probably had the money, even if his clothes were rubbish. You never could tell what clothes meant with Wizards, anyhow. Especially when they wore Muggle clothes. She'd seen an old man dressed in a paisley lavalava, a Jethro Tull tee shirt, and blue sandals with pink socks just the other day, walking down the street with an owl on his shoulder. He'd tipped his pointy hat to her, and she'd known she was the only person in the street who could see him. Would he have tipped his hat to her if he'd known she was only a selkie and not really a bright little Muggleborn Witch who'd be leaving for Hogwarts in September?
"Err, Hagrid," the boy said, "why are those two girls in a cage?"
Something passed over the giant's face for an instant, but even as Hermione thought he might actually tear the bars open on the spot and rescue them he settled his features back into a placid grin. "Hmm, I ent never seen critters quite like them twain afore. Right pretty, they are, and friendly as well, I reckon. Yeh like ‘em, ‘Arry?"
"Oh, yes. But... there's two of them. And the letter said I could only have an owl or a cat or a toad..." His face fell.
"Don't yeh worry yer ‘ead, lad. I'll get ‘em both for yeh. He's a great man, Dumbledore, and he'll make an exception. I'm sure of it."
"But we're people, not pets," Hermione found herself saying. "I'm Hermione Granger, and this is Fleur Delacour. And--" Fleur covered her mouth, very gently
"Follow my lead, chérie," she whispered, sitting up. Her accent suddenly became very thick. "Ah, most noble Mastaire ‘Arry, eet would be a pleasure for ‘Ermione and me to be your pets. A--‘ow you say?--very great pleasure indeed."
"Are you sure, Hagrid? They must be terribly expensive."
"Course I'm sure. They're a pair, ‘Arry. Ent right ter separate a pair of–-" his lips moved slightly as he read the sign on their cage--"well, a Veela an' a Selkie girl that likes each other. Besides... well, yeh'll unnerstan when yer a bit older, like." The big man reddened slightly. "It's a mort of yer birthdays I've missed, lad. Don't ‘ave much else ter spend money on, besides, as I've no rent to pay and I grow or hunt most all of me grub. An' yer Dad would want yeh ter have ‘em, wouldn't he ever? Not so sure 'bout yer Mum, but she'd've come round in the end. Never could resist a chance to do a kind deed, could our Lily." The big man patted Harry on the shoulder and moved off to the front room of the shop, whistling "Johnny Cope."
"So, I'll call you Hedwig and... how about Aelgifu?" Harry said brightly.
"Fleur," Fleur said. "And ‘Ermione."
He grinned. "Are you sure?"
"You know anyt'ing about nous les Vélanes, we the Veelas, ‘Arry? I do ‘ave claws," Fleur said menacingly. She spoilt the effect by giggling. Hermione didn’t quite understand that, but... I trust her. Besides... I don’t think she really wants to frighten him. She was only teasing him. Why? Oh. He was only teasing us. Something inside her felt very funny, realising that. Boys had “teased” her by saying rude things about her books and her hair and horrible things about what they supposedly wanted to do to her or thought she did to her friends or to Miss Marple the English mistress. But Harry was teasing her and Fleur as if they were friends.
Harry laughed. "Okay. Fleur and Ermione it is."
"Hermione, please," Hermione said softly.
"All right. Hermione you are. It’s nice to meet you, Hermione." Their eyes met, and for the second time in only a few hours Hermione felt something warm in her belly, something that made her knees weak. It was if she were sinking into what was either the best dream or the worst nightmare she'd ever had in all her life, except for the fact that this was real. It had to be. After all, pinching herself hadn't worked.
“It’s nice to meet you, Harry." Then, surprising herself, she grinned and added “Or should I say ‘Master’?”
He sputtered. “Um, only if you really want to.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “I’ve always thought it was wrong to keep people as pets. I mean, I grew up as a Muggle and I never even really thought you could. But I suppose things must work that way, here in the Wizarding world. And if you’re mine, well, I can make sure that you’re safe and happy and nobody’s ever mean to you. I promise I’ll take good care of both of you. If there’s ever anything you want or need, tell me. And if I ever do anything to hurt you, tell me. I’ll make it better, I promise.”
She didn’t know what to say. Part of her wanted to beg him to take her out to the Muggle world and let her go back home to her parents. Part of her wanted to beg him to run away with her and Fleur and leave this mad place behind, to run away to France or somewhere else where they could learn magic together and be friends and never think about cages again. And part of her, terrifyingly enough, wanted to curl up in Harry’s lap like a cat and be the very best pet she could be. I’m sure he’d let me have books, and Fleur could teach us both French... “Okay,” she said at last, hoping the two syllables could somehow stand for everything she wanted to say.
“Thank you, ‘Arry. I think we can be...”
“Friends?” he said.
“At the very least,” Fleur said. Harry slipped his hand between the bars, and the three of them gripped hands for an instant. Then Hagrid was back, with that awful Haman Harkness and his big ring of keys. Hagrid laughed with Harkness as if they were friends, but, as Hermione couldn’t help but notice, his laugh didn’t sound the same as it had sounded when he was talking with Harry. It was a bit louder, a bit sharper. I don’t think he actually likes him at all.
It felt unpleasant to have a leather collar put round her neck, complete with a leash and a little dangling brass tag that read "Please Return to Harry James Potter," but at least she was with Fleur. And Harry truly did seem very nice, despite being someone who'd just been given two girls as pets by his parents' dear old friend. He didn't tug at their leashes, for one thing. "I don't really like this," he said as they followed Hagrid towards the Leaky Cauldron, "but they said I had to, told me I couldn't just let my pets run loose and all that. I'll let you off the leashes as soon as we're out in Muggle London again. I hope you'll not run away..."
Fleur stroked his forearm. "Of course we'll not run away from our ‘andsome Maître ‘Arry."
"You can even have the collars off, if you like." Harry blushed. "Although... they really do look sort of nice on you. On both of you."
Part of Hermione wanted to hit him. Another part, perhaps a larger one, wanted to kiss him. He thinks something looks nice on me! She'd never thought a boy would notice her before she went up to Oxford, and perhaps not even then. She knew she wasn't meant to care about that, but still, it made her feel warm inside.
At least the people in the street didn't gawk at them. Harry kept his head low and brushed his fringe down over his scar. Hermione didn't know if she should be grateful that they didn't stare, or disgusted that Wizards and Witches apparently thought it was perfectly normal for a boy to be walking along with two girls on leashes. Although perhaps it was simply that Wizards and Witches--these ones, at least--didn't attend to anything at all that didn't concern them. The number of people who were talking to either disembodied spirits or the empty air tended to favour the latter hypothesis.
One girl, whom she thought a bit younger than herself, did attend. "Daddy, look! It's Harry Potter, and he's got two gorgeous girls for his pets! Quickly, please, sell me to him!" She bounced up and down, her waist-long blonde hair flying, her radish earrings jingling. Hermione was worried that the girl's pinafore dress, which was made of printed cloth something like the Hawaiian shirts her mother would only let her father wear if they weren't leaving the house or if they were on holiday somewhere far away from anyone they knew, would fly high enough to expose her knickers, but it seemed as if it had been charmed to stay in place.
"Really now, Luna, my little hazelbush, calm down a bit, please. We mustn't make a scene over the poor boy and his pets. They might find it embarrassing, mightn't they?" He was a tall slender man with longish disordered greying hair, dressed in robes that reminded Hermione of those worn by the Victorian wizards in the illustrations of Hogwarts, a History. She couldn't help thinking that he looked more of an age to be the girl's grandfather.
"But... your business is failing! You don't know how you'll feed me! I'll only cost a Sickle, and I'll be a very very good little pet. I'll be wondrous easy to train, and I'll always fetch his slippers for him, and I'll never nip at his fingers no matter how long he might want to spend grooming me. I'll even promise not to go rolling in dead things, or anything else that smells bad."
"The Quibbler's running at a profit, Luna, and Mr. Weasley's Secrets of the Muggles books alone are enough to keep Llanfair Press in business. I made your dear mother a solemn vow that I would never sell you into slavery."
"You'd not be selling me as a slave, Daddy. You'd be selling me as a pet. It's not the same thing at all."
"Oh, all right. I suppose you've a good point there, Luna, my kumquat." He walked over to them, his daughter following close on his heels. "Excuse me, Mr. Potter?"
"Harry, please, sir," Harry mumbled.
"My daughter wants me to sell her to you as a pet. Since you're already keeping two girls, I suppose you'd not mind having a third one?"
"Um, well... Fleur?"
"Of course, mon maître ‘Arry. Buy ze pretty leetle English girl, eef you please."
"Fleur?" Hermione squeaked.
"Trust me," Fleur mouthed. "But of course, ‘Ermione," she said aloud. "Four sleep–-‘ow you say?--warmer zan t'ree, non?"
"Please?" said the blonde girl. "I'll be ever so good to all of you. And I'm especially looking forward to getting to you, Airmyonee. I've always dreamt of making friends with a selkie."
"Hermione, please," Hermione said, by reflex.
"Huzzah! Hermione says yes! I'm Luna, my dear Hermione, and I'm so happy that we're going to be friends! More than friends, we're going to be... pet-sisters!" Luna hugged her, hard. Almost without a conscious thought, Hermione wrapped her arms around the girl. She was kind of cuddly. Almost as cuddly as Fleur.
"Please, Harry?" said Luna's father. "I'm afraid she's going to be quite miserable if we leave here and she's not become your pet. She's only five Knuts."
"Daddy! Surely I'm worth a Sickle?"
"Luna, my little radish, let's not be too greedy."
"Okay. I'm only five Knuts, Harry. Please buy me. Please? Hermione and Fleur said yes, after all." Hermione hadn't really said yes, actually, but somehow the thought of denying this funny blonde girl anything was almost unbearable.
"All right." Harry reached into his pocket and took out five Knuts. "There you are, Mr..."
"Lovegood, Harry. Xenophilus Lovegood. Your parents were very good friends and colleagues of my late wife's and mine. I'm sure they'd be delighted to know that you're keeping my daughter as a pet. A pleasure doing business with you, Harry."
"Thank you, Mr. Lovegood."
"Thank you, Harry. Goodbye, Luna."
"Goodbye, Daddy. Thank you so much for selling me. And have you a collar and a leash for me, Master?"
"Um, no. Sorry."
"Oh, that's just fine. I've got one right here." She fished in her pocket and brought out a brown leather collar and leash. "It's even got your name on it, as I've always known I'd be Harry Potter's pet someday." She buckled it round her neck.
"There's a strong strain of Seership in my family," Mr. Lovegood was saying to Hagrid.
"Right," Hagrid said. "Ent Madam Trelawny at ‘Ogwarts one of your cousins, Xeno?"
"That she is. A terrible shame, what happened to our Sybill. She's never been the same since..."
But Hermione never got to find out what had happened to Mr. Lovegood's cousin, because she turned to Luna and saw that the girl was nuzzling Harry's face. Her eyes were closed and she looked completely content. His eyes were wide open and he looked as if he wasn't sure if he were delighted or terrified. That looks like fun--wait, is she actually licking his cheek?
"Luna! Stop that!"
"Stop what, Hermione?"
"Licking Harry's face out here in the street. It's rude. What will people think of us four if they see you doing such a thing?"
"I'm taking our master's scent, Hermione. It's important to do things like that, if we're to be good pets."
"Not in public, please?"
"We're pets, Hermione. Pets obey the simple, honest rules of love and affection, not the silly conventional rules of social discourse." Hermione was simultaneously appalled and delighted. Somebody my age who knows words like "social discourse." I love her! Even if she is mad as a hatter.
"Pets like us do, Luna," Fleur said gently, hugging the girl. "It makes Maître 'Arry all nervous if we don't."
Luna sighed. "Oh, all right, then. I'll be good. Even if 'being good' means being a bad pet and not licking my master's face so everyone can see how much I love him. And I suppose, my beautiful pet-sister Fleur, you're telling me that, even though we're pets and shouldn't be wearing anything but our collars, I mustn't take off my clothes?" Harry's eyes probably couldn't get any wider. It was cute, actually. Will I ever be able to make him look that way?
Luna sighed and nuzzled Fleur's shoulder. "Well, I've got two lovely pet-sisters and a wonderful master. That's worth breaking a few rules. And, speaking of rules, here's my leash, Master." She handed the end to Harry. "You mustn't allow a fierce wild creature like me to run loose. Especially when you've only barely had any time to tame me properly." She fluttered her eyelashes alarmingly.
The Leaky Cauldron held more strangeness, as if the day hadn’t already been strange enough, between being magically kidnapped and put in a cage with a beautiful French girl and sold as a pet and given as a birthday present to Harry Potter and all the rest. It wasn’t the various wizards and witches reading everything from newspapers and magazines with moving pictures to Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast and Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, or idly chatting about incomprehensible sport and business news. Hermione had seen all of that before. It wasn’t folk gawking at the skinny boy in faded Muggle clothes with three girls on leashes. Just as in the street outside, they didn’t. I would have thought they'd at least notice Harry for being the famous Boy Who Lived.
Instead it began with a red haired boy of about her own and Harry’s age, emerging from the big fireplace. “Come on, Gin,” he called over his shoulder. “We’ve not got all day. If we hurry, we can make it before they open up the new boxes of Frogs. That’s the best way to get a rare card, you know.” Frogs? Oh, right, those sweets. But if the cards are randomly put into the packets and the packets are randomly put into boxes and the boxes are randomly opened and put out in the shop, what difference does it make?
“I’m coming, Ron, I’m coming. Don’t be a git, all right?” A red-headed girl, perhaps about Luna’s age, came through the flames, brushing a bit of ash off the knees of her faded bluejeans.
“It’s bad enough I’ve got to put up with a girl tagging along all day, Ginny. Don’t be a ninny. Or at least not more of a ninny than you must be.”
“Hello, Ronald! Hello, Ginevra!” Luna said. The boy ignored her.
“Luna! Hello!” the girl said. “Why are you... oh!”
“We met Harry Potter in the street this morning, and Daddy sold me to him. Isn’t it wonderful?”
“So, you finally did get to use that collar you’ve had in your pocket for the past two years. How is he treating you?”
“Oh, he’s a wonderful master. Other than him making me walk about with clothes on, there’s nothing I could complain about. And I’m sure he’ll get over that before too long.”
“Come on, Gin,” Ronald, if that was his name, repeated. “I’ve only got enough money for two Frogs. That’s not good odds, so I have to take every advantage I can get, right?”
“Ron, it’s Harry Potter. I’ve always wanted to meet him, you know.”
“Harry Potter, bah. I’ve already got his card. If it were Agrippa, now...”
“Ronald,” Luna said, “if you had another Sickle you could get another Chocolate Frog, couldn’t you?”
“I suppose I could, but where would I get another Sickle? They don’t grow on trees, Looney. Even you know that.”
“You could sell your sister to Harry Potter for a Sickle, Ronald. I’m sure he’d love to have her.”
“I can’t imagine her being worth that much, but if he's willing to pay it, then sure, why not?”
“Ron! Surely I’m worth...”
“He’s Harry Potter, Ginevra. I can testify that he's even better than he is in the storybooks. And you’d get Fleur and Hermione and me for pet-sisters, besides. They’re very sweet, and I’m sure you’ll love them. Just look, aren’t they pretty?”
Ginevra blushed. “Well... I suppose you’re right, Luna.”
“Ginevra’s my neighbour from Ottery St. Catchpole, Master. Isn’t she pretty? You’ve not got a redhead yet. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one? Ginevra is wonderful company. She's a loyal friend, she can sing and play the piano, she's got a brilliant sense of humour, she gives great back rubs, and I can tell you that she’s got freckles all over.”
“Excuse me for talking up your selling points, Ginevra.”
“Wait a minute, Looney. Shouldn’t I be handling this? I’m Ron Weasley. Are you really Harry Potter?”
“Yes, I am. Pleased to meet you.” The boys shook hands.
“Could I see your scar, mate?” Harry pulled his fringe aside. “Wicked! Anyhow, would you like to buy my sister for a Sickle? She’s a bit of a pest, and she talks too much, but it looks like you’ve got some kind of weird thing for girls so maybe you’ll not mind too much. If you can put up with Looney Lovegood there, I suppose you might be fine with her. Better you than me, mate, that's all I can say.”
I’d really like to hit him, Hermione thought. I wonder if pets get in trouble for things like that? Well, they might make Harry put a muzzle on me or handcuffs or something, so I’d best not take the chance. Although it would almost be worth having to go about in handcuffs.
“I’d love to have Ginevra for a pet-sister, Master. She’s my best friend, and she's been dreaming about you since we were five years old.”
“She is lovely, mon Maître ‘Arry. An’ you know what zey say about ze redheads...”
“Hermione?” Harry said. And in his eyes she read a silent plea for help.
She should help him. She really should. But Luna was making the most horrible puppydog faces at her. Hermione sighed, and looked the red-headed girl in the eyes. In the deep, warm, lovely brown eyes. And knew there was only one answer. “Yes, Master. I think she’ll make a wonderful pet-sister.” Nobody deserves having to live with that git she has for a brother. And with any luck at all their parents will be in a rage when he gets home and they'll turn him into a hedgehog until he's thirty. It would be nice not having to see him at Hogwarts. That is, if we're going to Hogwarts rather than Beauxbatons... Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Harry shrugged. “I can’t say no, then.” He fished a Sickle out of his pocket.
“Pleasure doing business with you, mate. See you at Hogwarts, right? And good luck stopping Gin-Gin talking your ear off. But don’t worry--if you wind up putting a gag on her, I’ll understand completely. I'd have done myself, if Mum would only let me.” The red-headed boy ran out the door towards Dragon Alley.
“Have you got a collar and leash for me, Master?” Ginevra said, blushing horribly. “If you haven’t... well, Luna got me one when she got her own. I could put it on, if you like.”
“um, sure. If you want to.”
“Thank you, Master,” Ginny said, with a shy little smile. “And thank you. All of you.”
“Hello,” Hermione said, holding out her hand. “I’m Hermione Granger. Pleased to meet you, Ginevra.”
“I’m Ginny Weasley. Luna’s the only person who calls me Ginevra. Other than Mum when she’s angry, sometimes. Although you can if you'd like to. I'd not mind.” The shook hands. In an odd way, Hermione was almost disappointed that Ginny hadn’t hugged her, the way Fleur had when she offered her hand this morning. But at least the handshake did go on for about twice as long as an ordinary one.
“And this is Fleur Delacour,” Hermione said.
“I am very pleased to meet you, Ginny." Hermione had a vague feeling she ought to be jealous when the French girl hugged their newest... whatever the girls were to each other. But instead I’m happy. How strange.
Hagrid chortled. “Yer dad would be cryin’ with joy, ‘Arry. Not sure about your mum, but she did say she wanted heaps of gran’children some day, like. Anyhow, let’s get yeh back t’ yer family, right?”
They followed him out the door and out into the streets of London. “Wait a mo’,” Harry said. “You can’t be walking about in collars and leashes out here.”
Hermione took hers off, and rubbed her neck. Not that the collar actually itched or rubbed, but it felt nice to be rid of it. It does, it really does, she told herself, pushing down the little part of her that actually sort of liked having it on. Not knowing what else to do, she stuck the collar and leash in her pocket.
Fleur had hers off. Ginny, on the other hand, looked reluctant. And Luna said “Master, I’m a wild ferocious Luna. You can’t go letting me run about loose. Especially when you’ve scarce had any time at all to tame me in. You're very commanding and masterly, of course, and I'm sure you'll have no trouble bringing me to heel, but folk will talk.”
“Luna. People will look at us very strangely. And we’ve already got too much to explain as it is.”
“But before you can let me off the leash in public, Master, you’ve got to tame me. You’ve got to teach me to heel and to roll over and to play fetch and everything.”
“Could you please take off your leash, at least? And call me ‘Harry,’ not ‘Master’? Please, my darling Luna?”
“All right.” Luna unsnapped the leash and handed it to Harry. “If you’ll not keep me leashed, the least you can do is hold my hand.” Seconds later, Ginny gave Harry her leash, and latched on to his other hand.
“Good luck there, ‘Arry,” Hagrid said. “I reckon yeh’ll need it.” A few minutes later, he left them on the Underground platform, saying something about stopping into the Cauldron for a pick-me-up.
“Should we run, Fleur?” Hermione said in her best French.
"No, love," Fleur said in the same language. "Do you not feel it? Our master is a good man... well, boy, for the moment. There is a destiny on him. We belong together."
"Okay," Hermione said. Harry was looking at them, and very politely not asking anything. "We were just talking about going home, Harry. Where do you live?"
"I live in Surrey, in Little Whinging. But... I don't want to take you back there. You're all so nice. I've never been allowed pets before. And Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia might try to make me let Dudley play with you. I can't..." Hermione didn't know why, but the name "Dudley" sounded as dreadful as "Dracula" or "Thatcher" when Harry said it.
“I suppose I could ring my parents,” Hermione said. “But I can’t believe they’ll let us stay together.”
"How much money have you, Harry?" Fleur said.
"Ten quid, fifty p," he said. "And six galleons, five sickles, and one knut."
"Do you trust me?" Fleur said.
"Of course. You're my pet."
"Thank you. And we’ll need a few galleons, if you please. We're going to France. All of us."
“But we haven’t got our passports with us,” Hermione said. “At least I haven’t.”
Fleur smiled gently at her. “That is no problem.”
“We could take the Knight Bus,” Luna said. “They don't ask for identification. But I don’t know if it goes all the way to France.”
Fleur patted her on the shoulder. “Good thinking, sweet Luna. But there is a better way for us to travel. May I summon the Veela Packet, Master?”
“Of course, Fleur.”
“Hold hands, everyone. There may be a bit of a shock.” Luna caught Hermione's left hand, with a squeeze and a sweet little smile. Fleur took Hermione’s right hand in her own left, and held up her free hand in a claw-like shape that might have been a horribly rude gesture in a foreign culture. For a moment, it was as if a half-visible giant bird shared the same space as her body. She sang a short phrase that sounded like a bird call, full of trills. It felt as if there were words in it, but Hermione couldn’t make any sense of them. They weren’t French or English or any other language she recognised. The concrete trembled beneath her feet; perhaps it was slightly stronger than the vibration she would have felt if a train were passing by.
And then there was a ship, something like a small Victorian steam-packet, standing there beside them, as if the Tube were the ocean and the platform a quay. Hermione glanced about, but none of the other people seemed to notice. She had got used to the fact that there were Wizarding things she could see which ordinary people couldn't, but not even the man in leopard print pyjamas, pointy hat, and motorcycle boots with a creature like a cat-monkey clinging to his shoulder paid even the slightest attention to the ship.
There was a gangplank, and a stunningly beautiful woman, tall and fair-haired, dressed as a Napoleonic-era naval officer, albeit one from some country Hermione had never heard of, stood at the rail. She made bird-noises at Fleur.
“Might we speak English, please, Captain?” Fleur said. “My companions don’t speak the Language of the Birds yet.”
“Very vell,” the woman said, in a Scandinavianish accent, which wasn't quite like any of the ones Hermione had heard before. “So, ve have vun lovely quarter-Veela, vun cute young master, vun pretty part-Selkie, and two adorable human pets, yes? Dat vill be vun Galleon, t’ree Sickles. Five Sickles extra for luncheon, ten if you vant pyyamas as vell.”
“Oh, we don’t need pyjamas, thank you very much, Captain,” said Luna. "We're pets, and not meant to wear them. I suppose Master could have some, if he must be shy, although I wish he'd not be."
“Luna!” Ginny said. “Don't forget that Harry’s a boy.”
“And our Master, my darling pet-sister Ginevra. It’s completely appropriate. Look it up in any etiquette book.”
“Yes, we do,” Fleur said. "We will have luncheon, and pyjamas for all of us, please, Captain."
“Are you sure?”
“Very vell, den. Vun Galleon, t’irteen Sickles. T’ank you very much, Miss Delacour. Or should I say ‘Mrs. Potter’?” Fleur blushed, and looked as if she wanted to say something, but couldn’t think what. They walked up the gangplank, which then, as near as Hermione could tell, retracted itself into the structure of the ship's hull without leaving so much as a seam in the rail. “Velcome aboard de Veela Packet Verdandi, my dears."
“Thank you, Captain,” Harry said.
“You are most velcome, Mr. Potter. Oh! It yust occurs to me that England has had recently an outbreak of de Flibbering Flumbledees. Boys and Veelas are, of course, not suitable hosts, but I’m afraid I must inspect your human and part-Selkie pets.”
“If you have to,” Harry said.
"Vell den, girls, dis may be a little bit embarrassing, but I assure you it is necessary. Mr. Potter, vill I examine dem here on de deck, or vould you prefer ve do it in de veel-house?"
Hermione had a very bad feeling the Captain was about to ask them to do something that would make Luna happy. Perhaps we should have taken our chances with my parents, after all? Even if they did try to ship me off to Aunt Mildred’s sheep station, I’m sure Harry and Fleur would find a way of rescuing me.
Fleur broke into impassioned trills and chirping. The captain chirped back at her. “Oh, all right,” she said at last, dropping back into English. “It vas only a little yoke. I yust vanted to see your handsome master and de cute Veasley girl and dat pretty little brunette blush.”
“Are you sure?” Luna said. “I’m very careful to avoid catching them, but you can’t know that, so you should make quite certain. They can cling to the most improbable places, after all, and they love to hide under clothing. Especially underclothes, which is one reason why it's healthier not to wear them, and I certainly wouldn't be if we hadn't been in Diagon Alley.”
“Do you see what I mean?” Fleur said.
“All right,” the captain said. “I only vas yoking, little Lovegood.”
“Yes. Dis yob gets sometimes boring on dese routine runs, you know?”
“But... you shouldn’t joke about important things like Flibbering Flumbledees, Captain. Why, that’s just like joking about Nargles.”
Hermione finally thought to look out over the side. They were moving now. Would she see the Tube tunnel? Or earth and rock? Or some marvellous underground sea, far below the knowledge of humankind? Unfortunately, there was only a thick mist, grey with a faint tinge of violet. “Oh, wait,” she said, “is that something? Why, it’s the Taj Mahal! I've always wanted to see it. But why go from London to France by way of India?”
“It’s only a picture, Miss Harry Potter’s Pet. Ve proyect them so de passengers don’t get so bored vit de scenery. Nobody much likes all dis mist, not even me.”
“Excuse me, Captain, but I was wondering... Why don’t you know my surname?”
“You knew Fleur’s last name without asking, and Harry’s and Ginny’s and Luna’s. Why not mine?”
“I only have memorised de books of Vizard and Veela bloodlines, Miss Harry’s Pet. Selkie and Muggle, dese I have not. You have de look as if you might have some Black in your family tree, but I vas not sure. Have you?”
“I don’t think so. I’m Hermione Granger,”
“Very pleased to meet you, Miss Granger. So, vill you and your Master and your pet-sisters allow me to show you to your cabin?”
“Thank you, captain,” Hermione said. “Although... shouldn’t you be steering your ship or something?”
“Dis is a flock-run company, Miss Granger. Vun of my vives does dat, right now. And dis is my yob, dis vatch.”
“Oh. And what does your husband do?” Hermione said. Oh no, she thought, seconds too late. What if that’s a rude question? Or what if she has a sense of humour like Luna’s, only more grown up, and she tells us all sorts of things about what Veelas like to do in bed?
“He runs de galley, of course. Dat’s de male’s vork, no? Is it not de same on de human ships?”
“I’m not sure, really. I’ve hardly ever been on them, and never on one as nice as yours.”
“T’ank you,” the captain said. She led them below decks. They passed through a lounge where everyone seemed to be either a large brightly-coloured bird, a pale lovely woman, or something in between, and into a corridor lined with cabin doors. “And here ve are! Ve dock at Château Delacour in seven hours. Your luncheon is laid out in your cabin, and tea and coffee vill be brought round vun half-hour before landing.”
Virtually the entire cabin was taken up with a bed. There was just enough space for them to stand at the foot, or to walk to the small door which Hermione assumed was the ensuite. A quiet painting of a snowy landscape hung on the wall, along with a few hooks, presumably meant for clothes. A neat stack of red and white striped pyjamas sat on the foot of the bed, and a huge circular tray piled with covered dishes hovered in the middle, about a foot above the plain white duvet.
“So,” Fleur said, “we should probably put on our pyjamas, eat our déjeuner, and settle down for a pleasant nap, yes?”
“I suppose so,” Harry said.
“I still don’t understand why we need pyjamas,” Luna said. "I've always slept better without any, and now I'm a pet and it's actually bad manners for me to wear them. It doesn't make sense."
Fleur hugged her gently round the shoulders. “Our Ginny and our Hermione and our Master just aren’t ready for that yet. Be kind to them, please, sweet darling Luna.”
“But I want to be kind to them. I want you and Ginevra and Hermione and me to be completely comfortable, with all our skin able to breathe, and I want our Master to finally have the chance to really see how pretty his pets are..."
"Not yet, Luna. These things, they take time."
“So,” Fleur said, “How about if Maître ‘Arry goes into the bathroom to put on his pyjamas, and we girls put ours on out here. Yes?”
“All right,” Harry said. “Which set are mine?”
“I think that they will be all charmed to fit whomever might put them on. Why don't you take these?” He tucked them under his arm and closed the door behind him.
Luna sighed, of course. I have to admit, Hermione thought, that I’d not mind seeing him change his clothes. It’s just the part about him seeing me that I can’t quite face. Wait, that’s not fair. Or right, since he’s the master and we’re the pets. Besides, wouldn’t it be awfully nice to see the look on his face when he sees us in nothing at all? He's so cute, and so charming and kind and gentle, and he really does like the look of us, but he's such a boy that he doesn't even know how to begin admitting it. She pushed the awkward tangle of thoughts out of her mind.
“How very clever you are, my dear Hermione,” Luna said. “If we wait to take our clothes off until just before Master comes out, he’ll see us in the altogether. And if he’s seen us in the altogether already, then why should we put our pyjamas on at all?”
“I was only thinking, Luna." Her face felt terribly warm, both at the thought that Luna thought she was trying to let Harry see her undressed and at the thought of him actually seeing her. It didn’t help that, somewhere in the back of her mind, she had to admit that she might kind of like the idea, or at least that she looked forward to doing such things when they were grown.
“Please put your pyjamas on, my very darling pet-sisters,” Fleur said. She already had hers on. Ginny was down to her knickers. Hermione looked away, hastily. I don’t need to know if Luna was telling the truth about her freckles. I really, really don’t.
“Will you spank us if we don’t?”
“No, Luna, I will not spank you."
“Even if I’m really, really naughty? Or do you mean that you’ll tell Master to spank me instead?”
“Perhaps when we are all grown up. But I do not think we should talk too much about that sort of game until we are older."
“Will you tie me up and tickle me until I beg you to stop? And then Master could take over the tickling, and he'd only stop when I told him I was sorry for being naughty. And then I could kiss his hand, so he'd know I was sorry and that I was grateful for his being firm with me, and he'd hug me and stroke me and tell me I was a good girl.”
“No, I would not tickle you. But I would be very unhappy, and I might even cry.”
Luna hugged her. “Oh, I could never bear making my wonderful big pet-sister cry. I’m sorry, and I’ll put on my pyjamas now.”
“I don’t want to make you cry, either, Luna,” Fleur said, stroking Luna’s hair. “Or Harry, which is why I would like you to put on your pyjamas now.”
“Why would Harry cry if he got to see me properly dressed as a pet? He bought me, after all. Don't masters and mistresses have pet girls so they can hug them and kiss them and enjoy the sight of their beauty?”
“He will when we are older, of course. But we must be careful, dear Luna. You see, the boys, they are more shy and delicate than the girls, at least when we are all as young as we are now.”
“Are they? Ginevra’s brother doesn’t seem to be.”
“If you had tried to kiss him, I am sure he would have been."
“Oh, so was that why he screamed and ran away? I thought it was only because he’d rather have had another boy to kiss. You mean I was so very sad, and for no reason? Well, not much reason. Our wonderful Master Harry is so much better than Ronald that I truly could not care less any more.”
“I suppose I should defend my brother, but I can’t. He sold me for the price of a Chocolate Frog! Sure, it was to Harry Potter, but still, it’s embarrassing.”
“At least you didn’t wind up in a cage in a pet shop,” Hermione said.
“Oh, was that how Harry bought you and Fleur?” Luna said. “How romantic!”
“Clothes, please, my darlings?”
Hermione turned away from the others, and tried not to think about the fact that Luna was quite possibly watching her. When she turned about, freshly pyjama’d, Fleur was sitting on the bed, brushing Ginny’s hair. And Luna... “Shouldn’t you put on your pyjama bottoms, Luna?”
“Why would I do that, Hermione? This shirt goes down to my knees. It must not intend me to wear trousers.”
“Your pyjamas have opinions?”
“Of course they do, my dear pet-sister Hermione who likes to ask funny questions. How else would they fit themselves?”
“That’s...” Hermione looked down at herself, and realised that the pyjamas fit her as if they were made to her measure. “I suppose you have a point. But why aren’t all of our shirts knee-length?”
“Because they know you’re shy?” Luna said. “Or because they secretly intend to shrink away to nothing at all as we sleep?”
“Luna,” Fleur said. “That’s not funny. Hermione is very new to our world. She might not know you were joking.”
“But I wasn’t joking.”
“Luna, do you want to frighten our Hermione? Or do you truly want her to be happy?”
Luna looked as if she might cry, herself. “I’m sorry, Hermione. I wasn’t thinking. I don't want you to be afraid, or upset, or worried.”
“It’s all right, Luna.” Luna looked at her, and she looked at Luna, and somehow they were hugging. “I love you.” Why did I say that? Because it’s true, I suppose.
“I love you, Hermione.”
“Are you decent?” Harry said from inside the bathroom.
“No, Master,” Luna said. “We’re all of us wearing clothes.”
Fleur shook her head. “Yes, Master ‘Arry, we all have changed. Please come out.”
He looked remarkably cute, Hermione had to admit. Cuter than any boy she’d ever met in the flesh, and not only because he wasn’t ignoring her or saying rude things about her to her face or laughing with his mates as they said rude things that she couldn’t quite hear. The pyjamas were freshly pressed and fit him perfectly. The messy hair was appealing, and she liked the idea of running her fingers through it, particularly if one of the other girls were doing likewise at the same time. And it might be nice if we could convince him to let it grow long...
“Master!” Ginny threw her arms about him and clung. Luna was right behind her.
Fleur took her hand. “Come along, sweet ‘Ermione." There was barely enough space for all five of them to stand together, hugging. That was fine.
At least until somebody’s stomach grumbled. Fleur blushed. “That was me. I must admit it has been a while since my breakfast.”
“Then we should eat,” Harry said. They sat cross-legged on the bed, around the tray.
“Coffee, anyone?” Fleur said. “It is appallingly strong, but with the hot milk it is pretty good.”
“No, thank you,” Ginny said. "My big brother Bill let me try his, and I thought it was awfully bitter."
“I’ve never had it,” Harry said. “Does it taste the way it smells?”
“Not really, mon cher Maître. I think you might be happier with tea or the chocolate.”
“I’ll have the chocolate,” Luna said. Harry poured hers and Ginny’s before pouring his own.
“I’ll have coffee,” Hermione said, feeling very grown up.
“Are you sure, chérie?”
“Only a little. That’s how my parents drink it.”
“This is very, very strong coffee, chérie. These Veelas come from a tribe that live in Sweden, you see, and their coffee is vicious. We are lucky that they know we are foreigners to them, and gave us this lovely hot milk.”
“I’m sure it’s fine. I sneaked some of Daddy's coffee last month, and I liked it. Really, I did."
Fleur poured. “Try this, chérie, and see what you think.”
Hermione sipped at it. It was desperately hard not to make a face. “It is... sort of strong, isn’t it?”
“Brave sweet ‘Ermione,” Fleur said, and hugged her about the shoulders. “Per’aps this will be more pleasing.” She added milk and coarse brown sugar. Now it tasted like hot coffee ice cream. Much better.
There was fruit and cold ham and rye bread with butter and cheese. There were potato pancakes with rashers of bacon and tart red lingonberries. There was smoked salmon and a dry chewy smoked meat that Luna said was reindeer. That might have bothered Hermione, but she’d already had some by the time she said so and it was awfully good. There was borscht and vinegary cucumber salad and a covered basket of soft little pies filled with meat or potato or stranger things like curried pumpkin with soft white cheese.
When they were done eating, Fleur twittered at the tray. It floated itself over to the door. “Luna, you’re closest,” she said. “Would you be so kind as to let it out, please?”
This done, Luna turned back to the bed. “Will we have our nap, now?”
“I think that would be very nice,” Fleur said.
“I’m not sure I can–-“ a yawn broke off Ginny’s words “--sleep. All right, maybe I can.” She smiled sheepishly.
“I’ll sleep on the floor,” Harry said. “You girls can have the bed.”
“I’m afraid we can’t, dear Master. If you sleep on the floor, we’ll have to sleep there with you. And there is not sufficient floor for that.”
“It’s fine, Harry,” Hermione said. “We’ll all sleep in the bed together.” She was surprised at how attractive the thought was. Sleeping with Fleur was so nice. Sleeping with Luna, and Ginny, and Harry... it sounds lovely.
“But... you’re girls, and I’m a boy.”
“We’re pets, and you’re a master, Master,” Luna said. “Pets have to sleep with their master. That’s one of the rules. It’s even more important than the rule about pets not wearing clothes. And if you insist on us not sleeping with you... well, we’ll have to make up for it by keeping the other rules more strictly.”
“You mean that if I don’t sleep with you, you’ll insist on going naked?”
“Not to mention being leashed everywhere outside of your dwelling, and taken for long walks twice a day. And you might have to enter us in shows as well.” Oh no, Hermione thought. He’s going to turn round and prove he is a boy, after all, and say yes.
Harry's lips moved for a moment before he managed to get any words out. "Err... isn't that a bit much?"
“Not at all. But of course, Master, we’ll gladly do all of those things even if you do sleep with us.”
“But you won’t insist?”
“Not on all of it, anyhow.”
“All right, then."
“Thank you, mon cher maître.” Fleur turned back the duvet. “Let’s all go to sleep.” Somehow Hermione ended up in her arms again, with Luna in hers. Harry was between Luna and Ginny.
We’re all nestled together like a set of spoons, she thought to herself. It’s awfully nice, but how will we fall asleep? Moments later, the question answered itself.
There was a gentle knocking at the door. “School’s not for hours yet, Mum,” Hermione mumbled into the back of Luna's neck. “Can’t we sleep a few more minutes?”
“Ve dock in vun half hours,” said a voice from the door. “I have here your tea and pastries.”
As Hermione woke, she realised that she was further entangled with both Luna and Harry. Somehow her hand was clasped in Luna’s hand, and both were resting on Harry’s hip. Fleur’s hand was between her belly and Luna’s back, and her shirt had ridden up just enough that the French girl’s skin was touching hers.
“Leves-toi, chérie,” Fleur said. “Let me loose, now, and I’ll answer the door.” The loss of the warm body at Hermione’s back was like a sudden shock. She wanted to burrow further under the covers.
“Hej! Good afternoon, Harry Potter and his pets!”
Hermione blinked for a moment. There was a girl of about her own age standing in the doorway, with another covered tray floating behind her. She wore peach-coloured bell-bottomed trousers and a loose sailor’s jacket of blue and fuchsia, and kept her blonde hair in a long pigtail. By her looks, she might have been the Captain’s daughter or sister. “May I bring your tray in, please? Are you decent?”
“Yes,” Hermione said. “We’re dressed.”
“Oh, dat’s too bad."
“Yes, it is,” Luna said.
Harry blinked and opened his eyes, squinting. “um... it’s not what it looks like, miss.”
“Oh? It looks like Harry Potter and his four pretty pets are yust voke up from deir nap and dey are unfortunately vearing pyyamas. Am I wrong? Has dere been more interesting goings-on?”
“No,” Fleur said.
“A pity,” the girl said. “Any road, here are de tea and coffee and pastries. Vill you be needing anyt’ing else?”
Hermione got herself sufficiently unentangled to sit up, the covers pooling at her waist. Luna and Harry sat up as well. Ginny resisted Harry’s efforts to rouse her. He let her slumber on, her head in his lap, her hand clutching his pyjama top.
The girl didn’t seem eager to leave. “Are you the Captain’s daughter?” Hermione said at last.
“Oh, no! Her first clutch are only little chicks yet. I am her cousin. I am here learning to vork a ship, until I find a flock of my own. You are lucky to be so young, and mated already. Most Veelas, dey don’t meet deir flock until dey have tventy or t’irty years.” Oh heavens, Hermione thought. Is that why she’s hanging about? “I am reading about Harry Potter since I am only a little chick, myself. Even in Vílaheim, his fame has reached us. It is a great honour to meet you all.”
“I didn’t know I was famous before last night,” Harry said. “I never expected any of this, to tell the truth.”
“A hero, and modest,” the Veela girl said. “Such a rare combination! Your pets are very lucky girls.” Fleur, Hermione thought, help! Unfortunately, their own Veela seemed more amused than anything else. Perhaps she grew up with this sort of thing? I’m glad she’s not jealous, but really... “Vell, I suppose I must be going. It’s lovely to meet you all. I hope ve vill see you on de Veela Packet many times in de future. And if you needs anyt’ing at all, my name is Signy Stanislavasdottir. Tak sä mycket!”
As soon as the door was shut behind her, Fleur began to giggle. “She likes you, darling master. And understandably so.” She sat down on the bed and hugged Harry. She held him for a few moments, then held him at arm’s length, looking at him, before she hugged him again. This time, she pulled Hermione and Luna into the hug as well.
“Fleur,” Hermione said at last, “why aren’t you upset?”
“Why should I be? I have a wonderful master and t’ree darling pet-sisters. If a silly little chick thinks she can flirt with us... well, what harm is it? Especially when she hits our Master ‘Arry with all the allure at her command, and he does not even blink.”
“Oh,” Harry said. “Was that what that was?”
“Yes. She has a fair power, for being only eleven or twelve. But not enough to sway you, our wonderful Master ‘Arry.”
“I didn’t really... I mean, all I noticed was that she seemed to want to talk to me. And I didn’t think any of you seemed interested. If you wanted her... I mean, I suppose we could call her back.”
“No, my darling Master. Luna, Ginny, Hermione, and you... that is all I want. If we someday we meet some other girl and we all agree that she should share our lives and our bed, well, perhaps then. But I do not envision that happening, and if it does I do not think it will be happening soon. If nothing else, four different people should offer enough variations for anyone.”
The wheels were turning in Hermione’s head. Several seconds later: Oh, that’s what she meant.
“Is something wrong, darling Hermione?” Luna said. “Your face is sort of red.”
“Nothing, Luna. I’m fine, thank you.” Someday... that sounds really, really nice. Just... not for a while, please?
Fleur squeezed her hand. She looked up, and the French girl smiled, as if she understood exactly what Hermione was thinking. “So, my dears, will we eat? These pastries are not French, of course, but they still look very good.”
Ginny was still asleep. Somehow she’d got her arm around Harry’s leg. He stroked her hair. She looks so sweet, Hermione thought.
“I’d let her sleep,” Fleur said, “but we really must be ready to disembark.” She bent down till her lips were next to the redhead’s ear. Very gently, she nuzzled the ear, and whispered something. Ginny wrinkled her nose and pressed her face more tightly into Harry’s lap. Harry smiled peacefully; seconds later, his eyes went wide, as if he’d been reminded of exactly where Ginny’s face was. Fleur shook the redhead's shoulder, whispering again.
At last, Ginny opened her eyes. She arched her back. “Good morning,” she murmured. “I love you.” She blushed luridly a few moments later.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” Fleur said, patting her on the head. “Eventually, we will all have to become completely comfortable with each other, in every way.”
Good heavens, Hermione thought. She’s right. She was still having a little trouble getting her head around exactly what their relationship would mean as they grew older.
“But we will take our time,” Fleur continued. “So... it’s enough for now if we get used to sleeping in the same bed, and being close together. I don’t think that will be any hardship, will it be?”
“No,” Ginny said. She sat up at last. Harry kept his arm about her. Fleur hugged both of them. Before Hermione knew it, she had her arms about the threesome, and Luna’s fingers were twined with hers as she hugged them from the opposite side.
When they let each other go, they sat down on the bed around the tray and ate little cakes and biscuits and tiny pies full of nuts and honey.
Suddenly Hermione realised that there was something entrancing about the biscuit in Harry’s hand. He’d taken a bite, and then Fleur had made a joke, and he’d paused to answer her. It was an ordinary digestive biscuit with chocolate on one side of it. She’d already had one just like it. So, why was it so fascinating? Before she knew what she was doing, she was leaning forward, and Harry’s hand was moving towards her, and she was eating from his fingers. It doesn’t make any sense, but it tastes better like this. She realised she was licking chocolate off his fingers, and blushed.
Harry was blushing as well. Their eyes met. “Thanks,” he said. “That felt, well... nice.”
“Thank you, Master.”
Fleur ruffled her hair. “Hermione is a good pet, isn’t she? But, to be fair and kind, per’aps our master should feed his other pets, also?”
Watching Harry feed Luna, Ginny, and Fleur was almost as nice as being fed by him. Luna kissed Harry’s fingers, as well as licking them. After a moment’s surprise, Hermione wished she’d thought to do that, herself.
Fleur glanced at the clock. “We really had better get dressed. Even though we’ll have to get better clothes for our Hermione and our Maître, it simply wouldn’t do to step off the ship in pyjamas.”
“Could I stay in mine?” Luna said. “They really are very comfortable.”
“I do not think that they’ll melt away to nothing when you step off the gangplank, Luna.”
“Well,” Harry said, “does anyone need the toilet, or shall I go ahead and get changed?”
“Would you mind?” Ginny said.
“Of course not.” As it ended up, every girl took a turn. After hers, Hermione sat down with Harry and Ginny on the bed. They didn’t say anything, but after a moment she found herself holding Harry’s hand. Ginny pressed herself up against her other side, and Hermione slipped her arm about the girl’s shoulders. It felt very nice, especially when Luna came out of the bath, sat herself against Harry’s other side, and joined her hand with his and Hermione’s.
“You look so sweet,” Fleur said a few minutes later. “I wish we could simply cuddle back together and sleep. But we really must be ready to disembark. Would you please go to change your clothes, mon cher Maître? Unless you feel ready to change them in the same room with your pets?”
“um... not yet?”
Hermione was surprised to realise that the feeling washing through her was as much disappointment as relief. She was so surprised that she didn’t even think about whether Luna was watching her as she changed back into her swimming costume and gymslip.
Harry came out, looking very nice despite his worn, ill-fitting clothes. Hermione looked forward to seeing him in clothes that were actually bought for him, or made to his measure. He’d told them a bit about his life with his aunt and uncle, and never having anything to wear but his bloated cousin’s cast-offs. He deserves so much better.
“I hope we can stop being so shy soon,” Luna said. “I’m wearing my favourite knickers today. I’d love for my master to see them.”
“Someday, Luna,” Harry said. “But for now... this is all very new for me. I’ve never had any pets at all before, not even a hamster, much less four wonderful girls. Could you be patient with me, please?”
“Of course, master,” she said, and kissed him softly on the cheek.
Fleur led them up on deck. For a moment there was the same violetish mist all around them. Then scenery began to come into view. Trees and fields, not at all what one expected to see surrounding one when one was standing on the deck of a ship. Then the mist was gone, and they were outside a beautiful château, much like some of the ones that Hermione had seen on holiday in the Loire valley.
“Château Delacour,” Fleur said. “My home. And yours, now, also.”
“Fleur,” Harry said, “it’s gorgeous. But... are you sure?”
“Sure that it’s my home? Of course. I grew up here. Sure that it’s your home? Of course, also. For are you not my Maître ‘Arry and my lovely pet-sisters?”
“But... won’t your family mind?”
“Of course not, ‘Arry. We are Veela, you see. My mother's mother and my father's great grandmother were both fullbloods. My parents understand these things.”
“But... they’ll let me keep you for a pet?”
“But of course. It would be... polite if we perhaps did not do the things that Luna would wish us to do where my parents and my little sister might see us. But, that aside, to the Veela community, there is nothing wrong with us being your pets. In fact, by Veela law, we are all engaged.”
“Engaged?” Hermione said. “But... Harry can only marry one of us, can’t he?”
“Not in the Wizarding World,” Luna said. “The Potters are an Old House. When we turn sixteen and three quarters, Harry can marry all of us. Although I, personally, would be quite content to be only known as Harry’s pet, Luna. And Ginevra, Hermione, and Fleur’s pet-sister.”
The gangplank was lowered, and its end rested at the gate of Château Delacour. “Goodbye, Harry Potter and his pets!” the Captain said. “T'ank you for sailing vit' us, and I hope ve vill see you many more times!”
They descended to the ground. The gangplank was pulled in. Before they could step inside the gates, there came a sharp whistle. The Captain’s niece, Signy, was standing on the rail, one hand braced on a ratline. She waved. “Goodbye, Harry Potter and his lovely pets! I hope next time you aren’t so shy and you don’t vear de pyyamas!”
“Well, she is a pretty nice girl in the end, isn’t she?” Luna said.
Hermione shook her head. Luna noticed, and stuck out her tongue. It’s an awfully cute tongue, Hermione thought, it might be nice, someday, to taste--Stop that!.
Within moments of entering the gates, they were descended on by what seemed like a mob of parents and family servants. It took Hermione a moment to realise that they were only Fleur’s mother and father, a beautiful tall woman who might easily have passed for her adult sister and a handsome man who wore a neat Van Dyke beard, and a middle-aged woman who might have been the archetype of the kindly matron or nursemaid.
After the initial flurry of French, too fast for Hermione to follow, Fleur said “Maman, Papa, might we speak English, please? My Hermione has a beautiful accent, but she has not yet learnt so very many words of French. And my ‘Arry and our other pet-sisters, they have none at all, yet.”
“But of course, Fleur. I am Apolline Delacour. And I am very pleased to meet my daughter’s charming little friends.”
“Maman!” Fleur said.
“All right, I am very pleased to meet my daughter’s ‘andsome young Master and ‘er charming pet-sisters. Speaking of which, chérie, shouldn’t you be wearing your collar?”
Fleur blushed. “Sorry, Maman. ‘Arry and ‘Ermione were raised by Muggles, and they are shy about these things.”
“Ah. That is too bad, but I’m sure you will be able to work on them.”
“I think we can,” Luna said. “Ginevra and I aren’t shy, are we, sweetheart?” The mad little blonde clasped her red-headed friend’s hand. Ginny blushed and nodded slightly.
Apolline smiled. “Excellent. Just... please keep your clothes on when we others are about, my dear girls? My ‘usband would be a bit embarrassed, and the little Gabrielle is only eight.”
“We will, Auntie,” Luna said. “But could we use your swimming pool, sometimes?”
“But of course, chérie. Fleur’s suite opens onto a lovely little garden with a nice pool. A walled, private garden. Please, treat it as if it were your bedroom. But don’t forget your sun-blocking charms. It would be a pity to get the sunburn in embarrassing places. Especially when you are too young yet to ‘ave that much fun with your Master putting the soothing creams on them.”
Perhaps this is worse than facing my parents would be, Hermione thought. I don’t think they’d encourage me to wear a collar. At least I hope they wouldn’t. She tried not to think of the plush rabbit’s ears on a headband and the fluffy tail attached to a belt that she’d found left in the living room one afternoon when she came home from spending the night at a friend’s house. Not to mention the buttons from a Canadian Mountie's uniform that were scattered across the floor.
“So, Harry,” Fleur’s father said, “you have kissed my daughter, yes?”
“I haven’t, sir."
“Whyever not? And I am not ‘sir,’ I am Gérard. Oncle Gérard, if that is more comfortable. After all, Harry, you are my son-in-law.”
“In any event, my brave young man, you have joined an exalted fraternity. It is not everyone who is chosen by a Veela! But you must... hold up our side, non? My daughter must be kissed. You are young, yes--I was nearly twice your age when my Apolline and I first kissed--but you have valuable friends to help you. These girls whom my daughter has chosen as her female mates and yours, they will have much advice and assistance for you. Once Nurse has provided you with a bath and clean clothes, we shall leave you alone until the supper hour, so that you may get to know each other better.”
A bath sounded nice. Clean clothes sounded nice. Having more time alone with Harry and Fleur and Ginny and Luna sounded very nice. Hermione felt completely content as she followed Fleur’s old nurse away, across the courtyard and up a short flight of steps into a round turret. “This is my suite,” Fleur said. “But now it is just as much yours, my darlings.”
“Fleur,” Apolline called out behind them, “could you spare your papa and maman a moment, please?”
“Go on, my loves. Nurse will treat you well, non?”
“Ouais, p’tite Fleurette,” Nurse said. “I weel treat zem as good as eef zey were my own leetle Fleur! Zey weel shine!”
“Nurse...” Fleur said gently, “they are old enough to scrub their own backs.”
“As you wish, chérie.”
She led them through the door and up a circular stair, past a study with an oaken desk and many book-filled shelves that Hermione desperately wanted to look at, through a bedroom with a large canopied bed, and into a tiled bathroom with a huge tub. It's barely short of being a swimming pool, she thought. She'd stayed in some very nice hotels, travelling with her parents, but this was a quantum leap beyond them.
"It's lovely," Hermione said, "Would you like the first turn, Harry?"
He shrugged and smiled at her. "Um... Why don't you girls go ahead? I can wait."
Something chimed, and Nurse fished a large, peculiar-looking watch out of her pocket. "Ze little Gabrielle comes 'ome from 'er riding lesson soon, an' I must see to 'er," she said. "I will call ze 'Ouse Elf to 'elp you. Minie! Viens!"
A little creature popped into view. There was no other word for it. One moment there was nothing, and the next moment there was a little wrinkled bat-eared monkey-like being, dressed in a sort of a toga, which might have been made from the same material as a pillowcase or a bedsheet, very neatly draped and fastened with a pair of tiny brooches, perched on the edge of the bath. "Ouais, Madame la Nourice?"
They spoke in French, too fast and too colloquial for Hermione to follow. At last, the little... person said "Ouais, Madame la Nourice, Minie speaks somewhat ze Anglais. She weel run ze Meess Fleur's new mastaire an' 'er pretty new pet-seesters ze nicest bath! An' she weel clean ze clothes, an' do all else zat zey need!"
"Merci, Minie! Au 'voir, les petits!"
Nurse was out of the room and away before Hermione could think of anything to say. Minie, if that was her name, snapped her fingers, and the tub was quite suddenly full of gently steaming water and sweet-scented soap bubbles. "Zere ees soap an' shampoo there on ze edge of ze bath. An' does ze young Mastaire an' 'is pets want to scrub each ozzer's backs? Or does zey want Mini 'elping zem?"
"Um... we'll be fine, thank you, miss," Harry said. "I'll... why don't you girls have the first baths?"
"Minie is 'appy zat Meess Fleur 'as a nice Mastaire 'o weel scrub 'er back an 'er pet-seesters'! Minie weel wash ze clothes while ze young Mastaire an' ze pets are 'aving zeir nice bath." She snapped her fingers again. "Minie is 'appy to serve!" She popped away again, before Hermione could react. Something felt different. Was there a breeze in the room that hadn't been there before?
She looked down at herself. "Oh no!"
"Yes," Luna said. "House Elves are very concerned with propriety, the dear things."
She dared a glance over at Harry. He was bright scarlet, his eyes were closed, and his hands, alas, were strategically deployed.
So were hers, of course, but still, it wasn't fair.
"Master," Luna said, "are you all right?"
"I'm sorry," was all he could seem to say. "Um... I'll back out of the room, so you girls can have your baths?"
"Forgive me for saying so, Master," Ginny said, "but you're being remarkably silly." Hermione couldn't help but turn towards her, although she didn't dare keep looking after her first glimpse of the redhead, who really did have lots of freckles, and not only on her face. She looks far too comfortable for a girl who's just had every last thread of her clothes teleported away by a bat-eared Francophone monkey-creature in a toga. Are all witches also naturists, or is it just the ones from Ottery Saint Wherever-it-is?
"Ginevra, my dear friend, I'm not sure that's the most appropriate thing for a pet to say."
"But it's true, Luna. The tub is big enough for all of us, and it's full of bubbles. Once we're in, nobody will be able to see much of anything."
Hermione had to say it. "What about our tops?"
"Fleur's the only one of us who's got anything up there to speak of," Ginny said. "What she does is her business. But if you're so very shy, Hermione, you can keep your chest under the bubbles."
"Please, darling Hermione?" Luna said. "Before our Fleur comes in, and our dear Master gets even more embarrassed when she sees his very handsome unclothed bottom?"
Hermione knew the other girls were right. "Okay. We'll look the other way when you get in, Harry, if you'll close your eyes whilst we're getting in?"
"Although you're welcome to peek at me, darling Master. And so are you, sweet Hermione. I'd make the same offer to you, my dear Ginevra, but it's not as if we've not bathed together almost every summer day since we were old enough to be let near the water, so I don't reckon I need tell you you're welcome to look at me."
"But didn't you have swimming costumes?" Hermione said.
"We, um... my Mum thinks they're a waste of money."
Luna raised her eyebrow. "Swimming costumes? What are those? Is it a joke, or a figure of speech? Sort of like saying 'birthday suit' or 'the dress of Eve before the Fall'?"
"You've never...? A swimming costume is... it's like what I was wearing under my cover-up today."
"Well, you were wearing your lovely skin of course... oh, you mean that stretchy thing. You wear that when you're bathing? In the water? Truly? Don't you worry about trapping Gulping Plimpies and juvenile Wrackspurts right up against your... right up against sensitive parts of your body?"
When Fleur arrived, the four of them were neck deep in the water and quietly chatting together. Harry's face had mostly lost its blush, and Hermione expected hers was about as far along. "What happened, mes chers? Not that I am not delighted, but I had not expected this so quickly."
"That lovely Minie happened, dear pet-sister Fleur," Luna said.
"She charmed our clothes off and left," Hermione said.
Fleur said something fiercely unladylike in French. "Zat leetle... 'ow dare she?"
"It's not her fault," Hermione said. "Nurse had to leave to see to your sister, and she told her to take care of us before she left. I think she thought taking our clothes was part of the service."
"Ah, that does make sense. Well, I suppose all is well that ends well, yes?"
"Of course," Luna said. "Although admittedly I thought it started out pretty well, also."
"So," Fleur said, "allow me to undress and I will join you." She began to unbutton her blouse. "You may look, or not, as you please."
Harry clamped his eyes shut. "She's really pretty, Master," Luna said. "You don't know what you're missing." Not knowing what else to do, Hermione decided to watch Harry. Fleur's so pretty, but... I'm not like that. Not yet, anyhow.
"My Luna, you yourself are watching our Maître, not me."
"But of course," Luna said. "I enjoy the faces he makes, and I know that you would actually feel a little embarrassed if my eyes were on you, darling Fleur. But I can see you with my Good Eye, and I can testify that you are gorgeous."
"Merci, ma jolie petite Luna," Fleur said. "Okay, my darlings, I'm getting in now." The water rippled, and for one moment there was a long velvet-soft Fleur-limb sliding against Hermione's shoulder. "Sorry, Hermione. Here, I am in. You will open your eyes, please?"
"Is it safe?" Harry said.
"Of course it is safe, my silly, darling Master," Fleur said. Hermione opened her eyes. Fleur was leaning forward, her nose almost touching Harry's. The foam seemed to cling to her like a bikini top. "Ouvres tes bons yeux verts." Harry opened his eyes. Will she kiss him? Hermione wondered, and couldn't decide if the thought filled her with wonder or dread.
Fleur and Harry looked each other in the eye for a long moment. Then, very softly, Fleur rubbed her nose against Harry's. "Comme les Esquimaux, non?" she said. "And now may I give Hermione the Eskimo kiss?"
"Of course." It was nice to rub noses with Fleur, even if part of her did wish for lips.
"Is this a Muggle custom?" Luna said softly.
"I don't know," Harry said.
"Err... sort of," Hermione said. "It's... well, Inuit do it, that's what the Eskimos call themselves, and Maurai, that's the native people from New Zealand..."
"But Maurai aren't Muggles, are they?" Luna said. "My Daddy's family lived in a Maurai village for a while, when he was a boy."
"I suppose some of them must be magical, and some of them must not be, just like English and French people," Hermione said.
Ginny giggled. "Does it matter if it's a Muggle custom? Isn't the important thing that it's a Harry Potter and his pets custom?"
"Bien sûr," Fleur said, and rubbed noses with her.
"Err, Hermione..." Harry said. "May I...?"
"Of course," she said. "Or should I say 'Yes, Master'?"
"If you want to."
"Yes, Master," she said, and rubbed her nose against his. It felt ridiculously pleasant. As did rubbing noses with Luna and Ginny.
They talked about this and that as the afternoon wore along. After a while, Hermione realised something. "Goodness. The water's still warm."
"It is magic, chérie. We could stay in here all night and it would stay warm. Although... I don't think it would be so nice to become prunes."
"I'm ready to get out, if my master and my pet-sisters are," Luna said. "Would you show us round the castle?"
"I would love to," Fleur said. "But I think we might need some clothes first. Even though I know how you feel about them, darling Luna."
"Don't worry," Luna said. "I'll be good. Even if 'good' doesn't mean quite what it ought to."
"Minie," Fleur said, "viens!"
The little elf popped into the room. "Ouais, Mademoiselle Fleur? Does Meess Fleur's kind mastaire want 'is clothes, and ze collars an' leashes for Meess Fleur an' 'is ozzer pets?"
Fleur blushed. "Ah... we want clothes as well, Minie."
"But... Meess Fleur is a pet, an' so are les autres filles. Pets don't wear ze clothes!"
"My sentiments exactly, kind Miss Minie," Luna said. "But our Master is shy, and doesn't understand all the rules yet."
"Does ze young Mastaire not value Meess Fleur an' ze ozzer pretty girls? Does 'e not like to see zem? Zis ees not right," Minie said. Her eyes went wide. "Ah, Minie la mauvaise! Je suis desolé, Monsieur le Maître 'Arry! Je vais me brulé les doigts..."
"Good heavens!" Hermione said, but didn't know what else to say. "You mustn't burn yourself..."
"Non, Minie, il faut que tu ne..." Fleur began to say, but trailed off as Harry spoke.
"No, Miss Minie. I value them, very, very much. More than that, I love them, and I'm trying to... to get used to how my Luna wants to dress, even though it's very hard for me, because I never thought such a thing would happen to me. But my wonderful Hermione and my sweet Ginny and my darling Fleur would be embarrassed if they had to walk about in nothing but collars. And Madame Delacour asked that they all remain dressed outside of our rooms, and Fleur wants to show us the rest of Château Delacour. So... wouldn't you please be so kind as to bring us all some clothes? And the collars for my beloved pets?"
"Ouais, Monsieur le bon Maître 'Arry. Would Master 'Arry and 'is pets like the same clothes zey were wearing, or...?"
"Fleur," Harry said, "whatever you think is best."
Fleur and Minie had another conversation in fast, highly dialectical French. At last, the little elf bowed and popped away. "I asked her to bring our 'Arry some of my father's boyhood clothes, the most casual ones, the ones most like modern clothes. And I thought sweet Hermione should have some of my clothes, ones that would fit her and look much more elegant and feel much better than a little short dress and a swimming costume, despite how very cute she looks in those. They are older ones, from before I began to, well, to grow in certain places, but not so old. Is that all right?"
"It's wonderful, Fleur," Harry said. "Thank you." She beamed and hugged him round the shoulders.
"If you don't mind, Fleur," Hermione said, "that would be wonderful."
"Hermione, my darling pet-sister, of course I don't mind. You and I... all of us girls... we share our lives, now. We sleep in the same bed and bathe in the same tub, we have ze same master. With that, it seems only reasonable, and not an inconvenience at all, to share my closet with you as well. Not only do I not mind, I am delighted. Luna, Ginny... would you prefer your own clothes, or would you like to wear some of mine?"
"Even though I wish my Master would undress me instead," Luna said, "I would be very pleased if my darling big pet sister were to dress me." Fleur leant over and gave her a little kiss on the cheek.
"You don't have to," Ginny said. "I'll be fine with my old clothes. I wouldn't want to be any trouble..."
Fleur sighed and hugged her about the shoulders. "Ma chère petite Ginevra, you could not possibly be any trouble. If you wish to wear the clothes you wore this morning when we met, I will not stop you. But I would be delighted to share my closet with you."
"Really? Are you sure?"
"Of course I am sure, chérie."
"Thank you!" Ginny positively glowed. Will I ever be able to make any of them that happy?
Suddenly, as if she could read Hermione's thoughts, Fleur leant over and kissed her on the cheek. "Je t'aime, chérie. Never doubt yourself, or your value, to all of us. I would wish at this very moment to pull you into my lap and hug you, very tightly, but as neither of us is at all clothed right now, I think that you would be embarrassed at the parts of us that would be touching together."
"A little bit, yes."
"Well, we will work on that, won't we?"
Fleur kissed her cheek again. "Well, for now, then, let us get out of the tub and put on our clothes. I think there are several hugs that must be given."
"Goodness," Luna said, "I don't think I've ever actually looked forward to putting on clothes before."
"Are you all right, Luna?" Ginny put her hand on her friend's forehead. "Hmm, I don't think you feel feverish..."
"Of course I'm all right, silly Ginevra. I'm still looking forward even more to the day our Master and our Hermione get over being shy, so we can have hugs without worrying about whether anyone's got clothes on or not."
"Be patient, darling," Fleur said. "Good things come to those who wait, not so?"
"I suppose, but wouldn't it be nice for good things to hurry up and come sooner?"
Fleur sighed, theatrically. "Oh, Luna," she said, and hugged the little blonde.
"Oh, Fleur," Luna said, hugging her back. "I'm glad someone's not shy, at least."
"Well, not as shy, perhaps. But I am not going to let you sit in my lap until we both have got some clothes on."
"Does that mean you will let me sit in your lap when we do?"
"Of course I will, chérie. Why ever would I not?"
"Oh, I don't know. But it's nice to know that you will."
"You can sit in my lap as well," Harry said. Hermione saw the gleam in Luna's eye. Evidently Harry did as well, since his next words were "Once we have clothes on, that is."
"Once we have clothes on, we can all sit in each others' laps," Fleur said. "Speaking of which... Minie?"
"Ouais, Mademoiselle Fleur. Minie has ze clothes laid out in ze bedroom. And Minie has ze towels right here." The elf snapped her fingers, and a stack of towels appeared on a little table beside the bathtub. They thanked her, and she popped away again.
"So," Harry said, "how will we do this? I mean, getting out of the tub and all of that."
Fleur closed her eyes for a moment. "Perhaps we should simply do what Luna would like... and no, Luna, I am only joking. Please do not jump out of the tub yet."
"Oh, pooh. Well, if we must be all shy, maybe our Master should get out of the tub, whilst we all look the other way, of course, dry himself off, take his handsome towel-wrapped self into the bedroom, and put on his clothes? Then he could give us word, and perhaps he could go and sit in your study until we are dressed?"
"I think that would work," Hermione said.
"Of course," Luna said, "it would be even better if he would choose to be a traditional Master and would watch as his pets towel each other dry and, in all their damp glory, troop into the dressing room of the harem, or better yet outside into the garden to let the sun finish drying them. But, as dear Fleur has said, sometimes we must, sadly, wait for good things to come to pass."
"Luna," Harry said in a soft voice, "if it were just the two of us, I would make myself do just what you'd like me to do, even though I'd feel embarrassed watching you run about wearing nothing but your collar. If it would make you happy, I'd even let you, well, look at me. Without any clothes on, I mean. But it's not just us. It's Hermione, and Fleur, and Ginny as well. And they would be embarrassed. I'll do anything I possibly can to make any one of you happy, unless that means hurting any one of you."
"Oh, Master... Thank you. I... I like teasing you. I like teasing all of you. I hope you don't mind. It's just, well, I've never had anyone to tease before. The people in my books were always teasing their friends, in a nice way, so I imagined that if I had lots of friends we'd tease each other."
Concerned, Hermione looked at Ginny. Hadn't the two young witches said they'd been friends for years? I hope Ginny isn't hurt. I think having her be angry at Luna would hurt almost as badly as having one of them be angry at me.
Apparently Luna had the same thought, because she suddenly reached out and pulled Ginny into a tight hug, complete with a kiss on the cheek. The redhead squeaked, as if she were slightly more aware of their nudity than Luna was, but then relaxed into the hug. "I'm sorry, Ginevra. I certainly didn't mean to say you were anything less than my wonderful best friend who didn't mind my seeing things you couldn't and never thought I was mad. It's just.. I always saw Ronald doing mean things to you and then saying he was only teasing and you shouldn't be such a little whinging girl, as if he thought you might have had a choice to be a boy instead, or maybe something else, like a rabbit or a dog or a Niffler? I didn't want to do anything that might make you think of that, so I never felt I could tease you very much."
"Oh, Luna. I know perfectly well you've not got a mean bone in your body. And even if you did have, you never could have done anything as mean as some of the things Ron used to do. Remember when we were seven? The time he took my Harry Potter teddy and threw him in the river? The Twins got my teddy back for me, and they put nearly a thousand spiders in Ron's bed for it, but still..."
"I'm sorry, Ginny. That's awful, your own brother doing something like that to you. I suppose I don't know anything about siblings, since I don't have any, but still, it just doesn't seem right." Hermione wished she herself were like Luna, and brave enough to hug the little redhead right now, without any concern for clothes.
She'd been bullied herself, of course, but at least that was only at school. Imagine living with that horrible little Perkins, or any of the boys who used to steal my books and scribble rude words all over them. The only worse thing would be having to share a house with the mean girls who whispered vicious little stories about the local librarian touching Hermione under her clothes and Hermione not only letting Miss Marley do rude things to her but putting her own hands under Miss Marley's long black skirt because even a clueless bint like Hermione surely knew there was no other reason why anybody, even a lonely woman who dressed like a black and white photograph of somebody's great-great grandmother and spent her life surrounded by books, would pretend they actually liked a bushy-haired horror of a miserable swot.
"It wasn't all bad, Hermione. Ron can sometimes be all right, and my other brothers have always been good to me. Besides, Luna and I found some ways to get away from Ron, didn't we?"
"Yes," Luna said. "That's one reason why Ginevra and I took to going bathing every chance we had. Mrs. Weasley told Ronald he couldn't 'play' with us if we went to the river or the pond for a bathe, and when he found out that it was because we'd be nude he said she didn't need to forbid him because he wouldn't get within a hundred yards of a naked girl for all the Galleons in Gringotts."
Ginny laughed. "After Mum went back to her sewing, I reminded him that I'd be naked in the house every time I took a bath. She never did understand why Ron asked if he could move into the barn. I would've told him that was less than fifty yards from the bathtub, but I didn't really want to see him try to run off to sea. Well, at least I didn't want him to actually do it. Not much, anyhow."
"Oh. I suppose now I understand why you like not having any clothes on, Luna."
"I liked that long before, my dear Hermione. And even if I didn't, I know what the rules are for pets."
Someday, Hermione thought, I'll ask her where she learnt these rules. But right now I'm not sure I want to know the answer. After all, she might hand me some very naughty book that I will know we're all far too young to be reading. And I know perfectly well I'll not be able to resist reading it.
"Err, Ginny?" Harry said. "Did you say you had a Harry Potter teddy? As in, well, me?"
"Yes." The little redhead's voice faltered. "I... I hope you don't mind. Mum made him for me, when I was little. He's got a scar on his forehead, just like yours, and eyes made out of green buttons... I suppose it's kind of silly. I'm sorry if you don't like it, and I won't mention it again..."
"No, Ginny, it's fine. I just... I can't imagine why you would. I mean... I'm told I'm famous, but... why would you want to have a teddy that's based on me?"
"Well... there are all of these books about you. They all talk about how wonderful you are. You're a hero. When you're not eating all your veg, even the sprouts and the peas, or being respectful to your teachers and helping the old witch next door degnome her garden without anyone telling you you should do, you're rescuing little girls from dragons. I always sort of hoped you'd rescue me some day."
"I hope that doesn't bother you..."
"Of course not, Ginny. Um... can I hug you? I'll do it from the side, so we don't have to touch... um, anywhere you don't want me to touch..."
"Oh, Harry, of course. You can always hug me. Whenever you want to. I'm your pet, aren't I? Besides, I like it when you hug me."
He hugged her about the shoulders. "I'm just... I'm sorry I'm not the hero you thought I was. I must be a terrible disappointment."
"Oh, Harry. You're even better than what I thought you were! You're sweet, and nice, and cuddly, and you even rescued me from Ron. I'm fairly well sure that's better than rescuing me from a dragon. After all, dragons only break out of their reserves maybe once every ten years, but Ron is a git to me at least once every day."
"I rescued you?"
"Yes! He'd been perfectly horrible ever since breakfast, he was going to be perfectly horrible all day, and I was going to have a miserable time, cos Mum would be in a rage if we didn't stay together and she'd blame me the most if I left when he was digging through the Chocolate Frogs and dead to the rest of the world. And instead I met you, and you bought me, and now I have a wonderful master and three darling pet-sisters, including the girl who's been my best friend since we were two years of age. If that's not a rescue, I don't know what is." She squeezed Harry about the shoulders.
Hermione felt as if she should point out that Harry had bought her from her brother, and that surely their parents would have something to say about that, wouldn't they? Which made her think about her own parents. The whole experience had been so dreamlike that she'd barely thought about needing to contact them and let them know she was all right. I can't imagine Mum and Dad selling me the way Mr. Lovegood sold Luna, but at least that way I'd know they weren't worried about me. "Err, Fleur? I should really get on the phone or send an owl or... or something and let my parents know I'm all right. I think they saw me vanish, and I suppose they probably would have got in touch with Professor McGonagall right away--she's the Deputy Headmistress at Hogwarts, and she said she was the one we should contact if we had any trouble with the magical world. I really don't want them to worry. Although... I don't want them to take me away, either. I hope they'll let me stay, without anyone doing anything drastic."
Fleur smiled. "Ah, chérie, never fear. Maman and Papa asked me all your names, and they have informed the appropriate parents of your safe arrival here. They will explain matters, and, as a half-Veela and her husband, they understand what is at stake here. We will not give you up, my darling. It would hurt all of us badly, in more ways than simply how inconsolably sad we would be to part."
Ginny frowned. "I suppose I'm glad they're not worrying where I am, but Mum and Dad had better not try to take me away. Ron sold me, Harry bought me, and that settles it. I even have the collar to prove it. And your Mum and Dad had better not try to take you away, either, Hermione. You're my pet-sister, and I love you."
"Err... Thank you. I love you as well. I'm sorry if I'm not any good at showing it, I'm just not good at, at feelings, and..."
"Oh, Hermione," Ginny said, "it's all right."
Hermione couldn't resist. She reached out and hugged the younger girl, from the side, just as Harry was doing. I wish I were brave enough to hug her the way Luna did. I wish I were brave enough to hug all of them just like that, even Harry... but not right now. Not until we have clothes on.
"See, my dear Hermione," Luna said, "you're actually very good at showing feelings, aren't you?"
"Thank you, Luna. My dear Luna."
Luna reached out and squeezed Hermione's shoulder. "You're welcome, Hermione. I love you."
"I love you as well, Luna."
Harry was watching them, with a look on his face as if he were seeing something he'd hoped might exist, but had never really believed he would actually see. I'm going to kiss him, Hermione thought. Not right now, but soon. So I suppose I can relate to what I think he's thinking.
After a moment, Harry seemed to come back to himself. "So, I'll get out of the bath now, right?"
"If it pleases you to, Master," Luna said, with a little giggle. "We'll not watch you. Unless you've changed your mind, of course. In which case we'll be delighted to get out of the tub with you."
"Not right now, please, my Luna. But when we're older, yes."
"I look forward to being older, darling Master."
"So do we all," Fleur said. "But right now, let us close our eyes, my dear pet-sisters."
Harry looked amazingly good in Oncle Gérard's old clothes. He was wearing a pair of khaki slacks and a plain white shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms. On some level, Hermione wished desperately that she were brave enough to simply leap out of the tub, dressed in nothing but suds and water, throw her arms about him, and kiss him on the lips. But it didn't require Fleur's hand on her shoulder, gently caressing, to stop her. Not that I mind it... her touching me feels almost as nice as having Harry do it.
"My darling pet-sisters, is not our wonderful master wonderfully handsome?" the French girl said.
Harry blushed. "Err, thank you. So, I'm dressed. Your clothes are laid out on the bed. Shall I go to wait somewhere?"
"If you would like, my dear Master, you could go down the stairs and sit in my study. The books in English are all on the shelf to the left of my desk. I think there will be something you'll like."
"Really? I mean, you don't mind if I read them?"
"Oh, Master... I am yours. That means my books are yours as well."
"Thank you. Err... and anything I have is yours as well. Not that I have much of anything. Except you and the other girls. Which means I actually have a great treasure, after all, doesn't it?"
Hermione knew she was blushing, herself, just as Harry had done. They all were, even Luna.
"Thank you, Master," Fleur said. Hermione laid a hand on the French girl's shoulder, now. "And now I think you should go to sit in the study. Unless you're ready to see us all aux naturelles, and to touch all of us without us having any clothes on as well, because boys who say such nice things like that, they get hugged by the girls they say them to. And kissed as well, I should think."
"Err... not unless you all really do want me to."
"Perhaps not quite yet, Master," Hermione said. "But... when we're ready, and no longer than that."
"Thank you, Hermione. And thank you, Fleur. Thank you, all of you."
"Go, Master, please. It would be a pity to get you all wet when your clothes, they look so nice on you."
"Okay. I'll see you soon." He backed out of the room, as if he didn't want to waste an instant of time when he could be watching his girls. That felt really, really nice.
"Couldn't that dear thoughtful Minie dry him off if we got him wet by hugging him when we were all dripping from the tub, Fleur?"
"Yes, Luna. But I don't think it is quite the time for that just yet."
"I know. But isn't a nice thought?"
"Yes. It's a lovely thought." Hermione shook her head. "Goodness, did I really just say that?"
"Yes, my darling pet-sister Hermione, you did." Luna pressed a little kiss on Hermione's cheek. "And you're absolutely right."
There was nothing she could say to that, so instead she kissed Luna's cheek.
"You are very sweet, my pet-sisters, but I think we should all get out of the water and get dressed so that we may go and hug our master and each other. Kisses are nicer when we don't need to worry about being embarrassed when we realise what parts of our bodies are pressing against each others' skin, not so?"
In an instant, Luna was out of the tub. "Come along, sweet pet-sisters. We've a master to snuggle with."
Hermione had always hated the changing rooms at school. Even if she'd not loathed games for being something she was miserable at and which frequently resulted in her being "accidentally" hit in the face with a football, she'd have loathed them because they caused her the misery of having to take her clothes off in a room full of girls who were happy to take any conceivable opportunity to say anything nasty about her, whether it was claiming she was looking at them and calling her a lesbian, talking about how scrawny or fat they thought she was, or saying nasty things about her tits and arse. And Heaven help me when I pointed out that last week they'd said only a lesbian would even look at another girl when she had her kit off and here they were going on in great detail about how I looked with my kit off.
But now... not only did she trust her pet-sisters not to abuse her, but, more than that and much to her own surprise, she didn't feel shy at all. It wasn't that she was really looking at Fleur and Luna and Ginny, but she wasn't not looking at them, either. And she didn't mind in the least if they were looking at her, either.
"Minie will take the towels away for washing, my sweet pet-sisters. We can drop them on the floor. She truly will not mind, or feel inconvenienced. If anything, it will make her happy." Fleur did just that. Hermione began to wrap herself in her towel for the walk into the bedroom. But then she looked at her pet-sisters, and something clicked. Surprising herself, she dropped the towel on the floor and walked, dressed just as she was, with the other girls, who were also dressed just as they were.
There were four sets of clothing laid out on the bed. "Minie has good taste, I think. This suits your colouring well, my dear Hermione. But if you would prefer, we can find something else, I am sure."
"Thank you, Fleur. It's lovely." The simple sundress was perfect, actually. It was in a soft shade of blue that looked well with her own colouring, but would have been equally suitable for Fleur. She liked that she could wear some of Fleur's clothes.
"Oh, lovely, you're dressed!"
"Yes, Luna." Somehow, Hermione knew what was coming, and she turned round just in time to catch the little blonde as she glomped onto her. She hugged Luna just as tightly as she was hugged, and nuzzled her hair.
"Don't get me wrong, your skin is lovely and I look forward to the day when I can do this no matter what we're not wearing, but I've been wanting rather badly to give you a proper hug ever since we got in the tub. Thank you."
"Thank you, Luna."
Ginny wrapped her arms about both Hermione and Luna. "I love you, pet-sisters."
Fleur hugged the threesome. "Darlings, I love you. And now we're dressed, let us go to hug our Master Harry. Yes?"
Harry was sitting at Fleur's desk chair, reading a big thick leather-bound book, looking very intent and very handsome. Hermione was torn between the urge to hug him, the desire to find out what he was reading about, and the thought that she herself generally didn't like people disturbing her when she was reading and surely she should give her master the same courtesy.
Fortunately, he heard them step into the study. He marked his place, laid the book on the desk, and got up. The five of them embraced.
"Does our master wish to continue with his reading? Or would he rather cuddle with his pets? Or perhaps there is some other game that he might like to play with them?" Fleur's tone was light, teasing.
Harry turned a lovely shade of pink. Hermione was worried that Fleur might have gone too far. But then he grinned, stood up on his toes, and whispered something in her ear. When he was done, he pressed his lips to the tip of her nose before settling back onto his heels. Now Fleur's face was exactly the same shade as his.
Hermione squeezed them both. There was nothing else for it. Luna and Ginny seemed to have the same thought. It was nice to be caught up tight in a five-person hug. It was even nicer to have four other people whom she wanted to hug, and who wanted to hug her.
"So, would my darling pet-sisters and my wonderful master like to see the garden?"
"If my darling Fleur would like to show us, and if my other sweet pets would like to see it, I'd like nothing better."