“OK, but I'll not settle for some Pureblood fan-girl. I need someone who, like Hermione, sees me, Harry and wants to be with me for my sake. Where can I find someone like that?”
“Harry, just turn around and look”
Harry froze. There were only two Pureblood witches in the room and he knew this voice so well. Slowly, he turned to find Susan standing near him, shy and nervous, in way he'd not seen from her since their first year. She was blushing as brightly as any Weasley. He could see the mixture of hope, fear, longing and something else. Something he had never seen before yesterday and the same thing that shone in Hermione's eyes. Could Susan be in love with me? When could that have ever happened. How could I have missed it? She's no fan-girl. I've known her too long to think that of her. She looks so frightened, so apprehensive. I want to hug her, tell it's all going to come out right in the end. But what about Hermione? I know I love her. How will she react?
“Wow. Bloodaxe, would you provide a curved loveseat for three, please?” Harry then seated Susan in the middle, Hermione on one end and sat down next to his Hufflepuff friend on the other side. Without paying attention to it, he noted that Amelia, looking both apprehensive and hopeful, was talking to Em, Dani and Rosie, who all looked shocked. “Susan, when did you start feeling this way towards me, and have I been blind not to notice—no, forget that, I've been blind so long to Hermione, so why not to you?”
“Harry, you know about Hermione's study group, you've been a part of that since first year. Hermione, me, Hannah, Lisa Turpin, Mandy, Daphne, Tracey, the Patils, Luna joining in our second year and Astoria joining in our third. Well, we were just a study group until that Halloween and the Troll. It took a couple of weeks but we were able to get the whole story out of Hermione. We were so furious at Ron! And we were so in awe of you. As you and Hermione became good, then best friends, we started to learn more about you through her. That is why you were invited to join the group. It wasn't that we hadn't asked other boys to join; they just weren't interested, except for Neville and Erik. And that is how we got to first know you, aside from what Hermione told us.
"We found you to be nothing like what the Wizarding World thought you were. We all found you to be humble, enthralled by Hogwarts and the very idea of magic. We found you were thrilled to be accepted and we could see you bloom with our friendship. During the rest of the year, Hermione told us everything that led to your Philosopher's Stone adventure and what the three of you did to stop Voldemort. I'm pretty sure that several of us lost our hearts to you by the end that year.
"For me, it wasn't until the end of the second year that I fell in love with you. After Hermione was petrified, we saw how devastated you were and how you spent so much time with her in the Hospital Wing, just talking and holding her hand. The study group worked so hard with you, so you'd keep up your grades; we felt we owed that to Hermione and to you. When it was all over, and Hermione rushed to you and hugged you, I could see in both your eyes the love you shared. I also realized that I wanted it to be me in your arms; that I felt for you what Hermione felt too. But I wasn't jealous at all, you were and are such dear friends to me, so I hid my feelings; I was too afraid to let either of you know.
"Since then, I have done my utmost to be the best and most loyal friend to both of you that I can. Since then, my feelings for you have grown stronger and deeper. It is why I joined the DA and worked so hard. If I could not be your beloved, I could be your comrade in-arms. And I was. The DOM fight was in some ways the best night of my life. I'm sorry, that sounds so selfish of me. We never expected to lose Sirius, or for Erik to get so hurt, and I share your grief. But I'll never be ashamed that I fought alongside the man I love and I'll do so again in an instant. I love you, Harry, and if you could give me even a bit of the love you feel for Hermione, I will be happy to be your betrothed, and happier yet to become your Lady Black.”
Harry shook his head to clear it and gently squeezed Susan's hand. He did not want her to think he was rejecting her. He thought about what she had said and examined his feelings. Of all his female friends, Susan was dearer to him than anyone, save Hermione. He pondered about the others in the study group. They were all very dear to him and he loved them all as sisters. But, if he could have a deeper relationship than simple friendship with any of them, it would be with Sue. But Hermione was first in his heart, so was there enough left to give Susan what she so much wanted, needed and deserved? He just wasn't sure.
He chuckled, a rueful sound. “What a day it's been. One earthquake after another. Rosie and her revelations, an 8.3 on my private Richter scale, my own Krakatoa. Learning that Hermione really loved me as I do her, a 7.6, my own Frisco. Becoming Lord Potter, then Lord Black and dealing with all that dreck, two 5.0s. And now this, definitely a 7.0. Sue, please don't be mad at me, but I need to ask. 'Mione, tell me what you think of all this please?”
Hermione leaned over and kissed Harry gently, tenderly. Then she hugged Susan tightly and kissed her cheek. “Harry love, I've known about Susan's feelings for you even before I truly knew my own feelings for you. The only question really is if you'll love her in return. Susan is the best witch to become your Lady Black. The others all love you too, but Susan loves you deeper, far deeper, maybe even deeper than I do. We both know the prophecy and we both will be at your side until the end, whenever and however it is. We know that the power Voldemort knows not is love. You have that power in spades, Harry. Susan and I both know that you can love us both, without competition or comparison. I, we, know you will give us the love we need. Just cast out fear, and trust in yourself Harry.”
Harry knew it was his fear holding him back. But he'd never been trapped by fear. He couldn't be trapped now. And he'd never lied to himself. He did know his feelings. He smiled at Hermione, stood and offered Susan his hand. “Susan, please find a pair of rings for us.” Susan beamed at him, went over to Bloodaxe and the box of Black rings.
Choosing two, she returned to Harry and offered one to him. “Susan Amelia Bones loyal and dear friend, I do find that my feelings for you are deeper than friendship. I am afraid that I won't be worthy of your love, but I want to follow this, for as far as it shall lead. Will you walk that walk with me?”
Harry took Susan's right hand and placed the ring on her finger. “So long as I wear this ring, I shall consider no other,” Susan joyously declared.
She took the other ring and held Harry's right hand. “Harry James Black, I love you with all I am. I know of your fear, but that fear only proves how worthy you are. Please trust me, trust in our love. I know neither of us will ever be disappointed.”
Harry bowed, then Susan placed the ring on his finger and heard him say confidently, “So long as I wear this ring, I shall consider no other.” Then, Harry took Susan into his arms and tenderly, gently kissed her. As before, a silver glow surrounded the couple, then was absorbed into them.
“Harry and Susan, I and the Nation congratulate you on your betrothal. May you find the love and support you both need and desire.” Bloodaxe's expression was one of joy, even if to a non-goblin it appeared to be the onset of appendicitis.
Harry chuckled, a sound of true humor for once. “Well, unless there are any objections, let's sort out the Potter and Black real estate and go to Cornwall. This last day plus has to be the single longest run of good luck and joy I ever have had. Let's not temp fate. I'm afraid that in a minute, Millicent Bulstrode will walk in with a marriage contract!” For a long moment, everyone looked at Harry, with blank incomprehension. Then, Hermione began to giggle, and then laugh. That broke the ice and soon everyone was laughing loudly and blew off the tension they had all felt for hours. Finally, the laughter petered out. “Whew! Now master Bloodaxe, let's get all the Portkeys and information about my properties together and we'll get out of your hair.”
“Goblins do not have hair, my Lord,” noted Bloodaxe dryly. “and we'll see quite at lot of each other, especially in the next few years. Still, your point is well taken. Please come over to my desk and we'll get you sorted out.”
Harry walked over to Bloodaxe's desk, where two boxes and two thick portfolios awaited. He accepted the Portkey for Potter Manor, then shrunk the box and one of the portfolios. He held them out. “Hermione, my Lady Potter, please take our properties in hand. There's no one better suited to hold them.” Hermione kissed him, then put the items in one of her pockets. Harry did the same with the Black holdings, turned to Susan and said, “Susan, my Lady Black, please take our properties in hand. There's no one better suited to hold them”. Susan put her arms about him and sweetly kissed him, then put the items in one of her pockets. Then, Harry had his new family take a hold of the Portkey, a medallion on a three foot ribbon, and tapping his wand, they all vanished.
After the usual feelings of travel by Portkey subsided, the seven looked at the impressive estate before them. The manor house was of red brick, built in the Restoration style. What they could see of the grounds indicated several out-buildings, a large 'truck-garden' and what looked to be a combined football and Quidditch pitch. As much as they would have liked to have explored the grounds, they knew that it had to be postponed for the moment. Also, the grumbling of several stomachs reminded them that they had been through a long day and needed to eat and perhaps rest. Approaching the huge, oaken door, Harry saw an indentation on the door's lintel, the size and shape of the stone in the Potter ring. Harry willed the Potter signet to take precedence and pushed the stone into the depression. As he did so, he heard a loud 'click', turned the knob and found the door opened easily and silently.
When they entered the Manor, they found themselves in a formal parlor that rivaled anything found in the novels of Jane Austen. What left them gobsmacked was the small phalanx of house elves standing at attention. There were 24 of them, ranging in age from old elves to toddlers. “Master Harry, Mistress Hermione and youse guests. I is Reginald, majordomo of Potter Manor” The old, though hale appearing elf bowed towards them, with the rest of the elves following suit a heartbeat later. They all noted that these elves wore livery of a deep burgundy color, with the Potter crest emblazoned on the left chest. Hermione was impressed that these elves did not seem to conform to the 'average' appearance of house elves she'd seen, that had given rise to her 'SPEW' crusade. “We'is the house staff for the manor, M'lord. Fifteen of us are staff, nine are too young to take duties. We'is five tends the manor, three tends to the buildins, four tends the fields, two tends the stables and storehouses and ones lawns n pitches. Will you be staying here at the manor for long, or will you be living away from us?” No one needed much insight to know how much the elves wished for a permanent stay.
“Reginald, we will be staying here permanently, at least some of us. Since the entire staff is here, what must I do to reestablish your ties to Potter?” Harry saw all the elves brighten at his words.
“M'lord, yous needs t'announce yourself as new Lord Potter, then states that yous reaffirm the ties between the House and us Elves. This same ting yous doing at t'other properties, when yous visit them.”
“Thank you, Reginald. I Harry James Potter have become Lord Potter by right of blood. I reaffirm and confirm the traditional ties between House Potter and our elves.” The bright light proved that Harry had successfully managed his first duty as a new lord. This earned him a long kiss on the lips from Hermione and a kiss on the cheek from Sue. Before dismissing the staff, Harry felt a few more word were proper. “Since I don't fully know what has been expected of you and might not know for a while, I want you to know you are prohibited from self-discipline. If you think you deserve punishment for something, come to me and we'll discuss it and decide what, if anything needs to be done. Second, unless there is a formal situation, I am to be called Harry.” Indicating. each of the other six in turn, he continued. “This is Hermione, this is Susan, this is Amelia, this is Emerson, this is Danielle, and this is Rose. When it just the family, we need no honorifics. You may return to your duties, except for Reginald.”
As the elves vanished, Harry turned to his majordomo. “Reginald, would you have the cook prepare a large lunch for us? But before you go, will you provide floor plans for the Manor? We will need to have a tour, but that's for later.” The elf bowed and gestured. Six sheets of floor plans appeared on a table in the center of several divans. Then he vanished.
“Let's take a look at these before lunch, shall we?” Harry sat himself, Hermione and Susan on the largest of the divans. Amelia and Rose sat on one divan, the Grangers on the other. Harry commented, “The first thing I'd like settled upon is sleeping arrangements.” Noting smirks on their faces and wanting to forestall the teasing comments he knew were about to be made, he continued. “This is now my home when I am not at school; moreover it is Hermione's, Susie's and Rose's too.” Harry noted the looks of sudden discontent and objection he saw on the faces of the other three and cut them off.
“Look, that's what it means to be betrothed. I'm not flitting from one place to another to another to see my betrotheds and Rose needs her place too. See, here is the Lord's bedroom.” On an impulse, Harry tapped that bedroom with his wand. The box on the plan darkened, and a set of specifications appeared. A low whistle came from Em. “They sure don't do things by halves here.” The specs showed a suite of rooms, including a sitting room, a small study, two large walk-in closets, a large bath, and a sleeping chamber with a double king size bed. Harry tapped two bedrooms on one side of the Master's and three on the other side. The specifications for these were identical to each other, and were like the Master's but on a slightly smaller scale.
“I can't see that we could do better,” Harry noted with more than a bit of awe. For the boy who had lived for so long in a cupboard under the stairs in his relative's house, the space he would have now simply did not register. “So, this would be Susan's and yours auntie next door,” pointing to the two rooms. “And this is Hermione's, with Rose's next and then yours, Em and Dani.” pointing to the other three. Will this be OK?” Considering the nature of the suites, no one could find any reason to object. Hermione and Susan both looked at Harry with new respect. The diffident, hesitating boy was gone. So too was the impetuous, often reckless Harry. Both girls found Harry version 2.0 very attractive and both separately concluded that they would have a talk with each other about Harry and how to make him fully theirs.
Just then, Reginald popped in and announced, “M'lord, if you'll follow me to the family dining room, lunch is ready.” Harry took the arms of his betrotheds and followed Reginald, the others close behind. The family dining room turned out to be an informally elegant room, done in a light blue with a large window having a view over the grounds. The table, made of light wood, seated eight, but the magicals suspected that it could be made to seat two or three times as many, if needed. The settings were very nice everyday china and cutlery, with the Potter crest unobtrusively present on all pieces. Of much more interest was the large amount of a variety of hot and cold lunch foods on the table. Clearly, the cooks wished to see which foods were favored and how much was eaten, for future reference. Before the elf left, Harry asked him to make sure that the rooms he marked would be aired out and ready to be used after lunch.
The family then set to their meal with a famished gusto and for nearly a half hour, the table was silent. As the edge was taken off their hunger, a wide-ranging conversation started, on no particular topic, but all agreed that the food had been more than satisfactory.
“Em, I seem to recall that 'Mione told me once that you were in the Military.”
“That I was, Harry. I served in 2 Para, in the early-mid 1970s. I saw a couple years of active duty, then I tested out of trooper duties and got accelerated dentistry training, that's where Dani and I met. By 1978, I was discharged and married. Now even though I'm a dentist and dad, I still am near fighting trim.”
Harry beamed. “I hoped that was the case, dad. Can you set up a training course on the grounds and a program to get us fit? You see, Auntie Amelia and the Aurors to one side, most wizards don't waste energy doing things, if they can use magic. I want us to have every edge we can get, and fitness might be crucial.”
“You bet I can, Harry. We'll start Thursday, that gives you tomorrow and Wednesday to concentrate on other matters. Five days a week and you'll be in good shape by 1 September and you'll know how to continue, once you are back in school.”
“That is what I hoped for dad.” Harry looked at Susan, Hermione and Rose, whose enthusiasm didn't seem to quite mirror his own. Harry then called for Reginald. When the elf appeared, Harry said, “Reginald, I wish to introduce you to my personal elf. Dobby!” With the faintest of pops, Dobby materialized wearing his slate gray livery, with the Potter crest on his left chest. He and Reginald stared at the other, taking each other's measure, determining whether the other had 'the right stuff' to serve Harry. “Reginald, Dobby bonded to my yesterday, before I knew I could become Lord Potter. I freed, him from his evil masters four years ago and he worked at Hogwarts until we bonded. I hope that he will be welcomed ineo our household. Dobby, this is Reginald, the majordomo of Potter Manor.”
The two elves both nodded, as if both were satisfied with the other. “Dobby, welcome to the Potter holdings. We have heard of your loyalty to our lord and service to him. As you are his personally, you may wear whatever livery our lord decides.” Shifting his attention to Harry, he concluded, “We hope you may choose to clothe him in the House colors.”
Harry realized that this would be a test to see if he could please both elves. “Dobby, please trim your robes with the burgundy of the Potter robe. Reginald, please have all the elves, here and at any Potter holding trim their robes with the slate gray of Dobby's robes. That way, we know we are one House, with different but equal relationships.” Both looked very pleased, bowed then altered their robes. Harry mentally blew a sigh of relief. Now for the hard part! “Dobby, please go to Privet Drive and pack and remove all my belongings, then do the same at the Grangers. When you return, please unpack my things in the Master bedroom. Then confer with Reginald, who will assign an elf to help you. You will then return the Grangers to their house; that includes Miss Rose. You two will then pack all the belongings they wish to bring here. When you are back, you two will unpack their belongings to their satisfaction in their chambers. Miss Hermione has the room next to mine to the right as you face my door, then Miss Rose, then Mr. and Mrs. Granger. You may begin.” And with that, Dobby vanished.
Speaking in a bit of a hurry, to forestall the questions, comments and objections, Harry addressed his godmother. “Aunt Amelia, how many house elves serve House Bones?”
Amelia was slightly taken aback, but told Harry, “We have two elves, Harry. Why?”
“Before yesterday, I was familyless, as far back as I can remember. The Dursleys never counted and my only memory of my parents is that of their deaths, courtesy of the Dementors. Now, there are you six and each of you mean more to me than I can properly say. To lose any of you would kill me, and I'm not being figurative. You are a very high profile person in the Ministry. You could be the next Minister. You have a big target on your back and many enemies. House Bones barely survived the first war; I fear it might not survive the war that's coming. And then too, how could I live with myself if my betrothed lost her aunt. and I lost my godmother?” Harry shot a look at the Grangers. “Or her parents? Please, let me do this for you. I'd never shut you away from the world, but I must know I've gone to the wall to protect my loved ones. Please, PLEASE trust me.”
Amelia looked deeply at her godson, and realized how worried, even anguished he was. A powerful resolve move through her, she would match his effort with her trust. She hugged him, and felt his tension ebb. “Harry I trust you. Mimsy, Poppy!” And two female elves popped in. “Lord Potter, these are the elves of the House of Bones, Mimsy and Poppy. As you are my godson and Susan's betrothed, you may command them as you wish.”
Harry bowed to the elves. “Mimsy and Poppy, please take your mistresses back to Bones manor. Pack all the belongings they wish to bring here. Reginald, please show them Amelia's and Susan's rooms. You should unpack and store their belongings in their chambers, according to their wishes. Then, return home and provide the illusion that they still live there. One of you shall bring Madame Amelia to and from the Ministry each day and stay to protect her from all harm. If she is in peril, bring her here.” Harry then kissed Susan, hugged Amelia and the elves bowed, and took their mistresses away.
Harry looked at the four Grangers, smiled reassuringly at them, then turned to Reginald. “Reginald, the staff member you assign to help Dobby will be on special assignment for a while. He or she shall stay at the Grangers, giving the illusion that they are still living there. The Grangers will tell her or him what to do. Then he or she will also take them to and from their work and guard them, while they are there and return them to the manor afterwards. Can one elf do all this, or do we need two?”
“M'lord, I thinks we's needs twos staffs. Carl, Megan!” The two elves answered the summons. “Whens Dobby 'turns, yous gos w'him to the Grangys' help'em packed. Yous learn'n their 'tines. Whens they n unpacked, Carl, 'turns n makes em thinks the Grangys still live'n there. Megan, ever day Grangys work, yous take'n them then stays n 'tect em. Then yous bringing em home.” The two bowed, acknowledging their instructions.
Harry then kissed Hermione chastely, hugged Em and Dani, hugged Rose and kissed her cheek. “I need to sleep. Let's have dinner at 6:30. Please have someone wake me at 6:00.” Then Harry went off to the third floor, his bedroom and the Land of Nod.