Paying The Piper
Headmistress McGonagall sipped her tea before setting the cup back upon her desk. Though she had moved into the office that had been Albus Dumbledore's she had made very little change to it. Not being familiar with many of the Headmaster's devices she didn't want to risk damaging them by relocating them before she could ask him about them directly. A glance at the wall showed the former Headmaster still sleeping in his portrait. All she could do was wait for him to awaken as the time for that varied from portrait to portrait.
The elderly witch sighed softly to herself as she missed her friend and mentor. Severus Snape, though Headmaster for a while, never had a chance to have a portrait made and so there was nothing left to remember him by except memories. Minerva wasn't certain how she felt about that after what Harry Potter had told her of the late Potions Master. Such a brave foolish man, she mourned. She knew she would miss their verbal sparring matches.
The work over the summer had been long and difficult, even with dismissing the students a month early. Repairs to the ancient castle, even with the use of magic, hadn't been easy. The staff as well as all the school's elves had worked tirelessly through the weeks and months. The living areas were the first to be repaired. The Gryffindor tower had to be rebuilt nearly from the ground up. A team of dwarves had been hired to quarry stone blocks as well as perform the other masonry work that had been required. The new stonework was much lighter in color, providing a stark contrast to the older weather worn stonework that had stood for ages. It was a glaring reminder of the battle that had raged that fateful day when Voldemort and his forces had attacked.
The staff and elves had concentrated on the interior of the castle, leaving the exterior to the Dwarves who knew their work best. Much of the furnishings and other ancient décor had been lost to the many fires that had raged through the castle. Even though the structure was made of stone the majority of its contents were not which had allowed the flames to spread fairly rapidly. Minerva could only shake her head sadly at the loss of those treasured artifacts, portraits and prized tapestries. Several centuries' worth of history lost to the whims of a delusional mad man, she bemoaned silently. If it hadn't been for the heroic actions of Irma Pince and the schools second and third year students the entire library of Hogwarts might have been lost to flame.
Once the living areas had been repaired and were once again habitable their efforts had turned towards the great hall. The enchanted ceiling had ceased to function, most thought it damaged beyond repair. As none knew the spells used to create it in the first place Minerva could only hope that one day it would start to work on its own once again. The transfiguration teacher suspected that parts of the castle were healing themselves, though she couldn't prove it directly. Several times they had stumbled upon rooms filled with furniture of the exact kind they required to furnish some area or another. Hogwarts was helping them repair her, the Headmistress was certain of it.
Thankfully the kitchens hadn't been damaged which meant that the school elves were able to continue to feed everyone through the summer. The classrooms were the final areas to be fixed, with many of them getting a much needed overhaul to make them more modern, at least modern to Wizarding standards. The great stairway had been severally damaged as well and for a span of time brooms had to be used to move from floor to floor. Eventually the sections of stairs had begun to move again, abet a great deal slower than before.
The soft pop of an arriving house elf pulled the Headmistress from her thoughts. "Kreacher?" Minerva said in confusion as she set her cup of tea down, having just picked it up for a sip. Having been a member of the Order of the Phoenix the elder witch was well familiar with the old elf from her time spent at #12 Grimmauld Place for meetings.
"Headmistress," the elf in question replied with a respectful dip of his head. "Master has asked that Kreacher deliver this to you," he continued with as he held out the sealed envelope.
"Thank you, Kreacher," Minerva replied, accepting the letter. Before she could say anything further the elf disappeared with a small pop. "Never did like that elf," she mumbled to herself as she turned the envelope over and extracted the letter within before reading it.
I hope this finds you well, Professor. I know you've been working rather hard all summer to repair the school so that you can open on time. I am sorry that I couldn't offer you any assistance with what I am certain was a monumental task. For reasons which I am certain you will understand I just couldn't bring myself to be there.
Regrettable it is for those very same reasons that I feel I must decline your generous offer. I will not be returning to Hogwarts for my last year. It would be far too difficult in both the memories that Hogwarts now holds as well as in the distraction I feel I would most certainly present to the other students. That would not be fair to them or to the Professors attempting to educate them.
I am not yet sure what I shall do with myself, though I know it won't have anything to do with the Ministry. I've had my fill of fighting and think I may want to just lead a quiet, peaceful life. Whatever I do and where ever I go I know that I shall look back fondly and try to remember the good times at Hogwarts and the wonderful professors there, such as yourself. Thank you for everything.
Harry James Potter
"Well, I can't say that is a surprise," Minerva mused aloud. Truth be told, she had worried about just how much of a disturbance Harry's presence would be at the school. Not that she would have let that keep the boy from his education had he accepted. "I'm certain Ms. Granger would have kept most of them away," she reasoned as she set the letter down upon her desk and took up her cup of tea once more. She well knew that there were many witches who had their eye on the young wizard.
If anything having him here would have sheltered him from the press that will certainly be hounding him. "What a circus that would have been," she realized as she thought of the press waiting to mob Harry as soon as he stepped through the portal onto platform 9 ¾'s. Won't they be so disappointed? she thought with an amused grin. The smile disappeared the next second as she had another thought, "I hope Ms. Granger is taking the news well."
The wizard in question stuck his head out of the den shortly after hearing his name yelled through the house. "In the den, Hermione," he called out. He returned to the sofa and the opened book that was lying upon it which he had been reading just moments before. Harry could hear his friend stomping down the hall towards him. When the young witch entered the room he could tell from her expression that something had happened. "What did Ron do this time?" he asked before Hermione could say a word.
"What? Ron?" she stammered, momentarily confused at the mention of their other friend.
Harry gave a nod as he explained. "You're clearly upset about something so I just assumed," he trailed off with a slight shrug of his shoulder, hinting at the fact that Ron and Hermione seldom saw eye to eye. Harry well knew that they spent more time peeved at each other and avoiding one another than speaking these days.
"While Ronald is a right foul git this has nothing to do with him," Hermione clarified as she walked further into the room.
Harry carefully marked his place in the book before closing it and setting it aside. Whoever she is mad at I'm just glad it isn't me, he thought with relief. Harry hadn't actually seen his best friend for the past week. Hermione had been spending some time with Luna and then Harry had moved out of the Burrow after his discussion with Ginny. Ever since they had returned from Australia Hermione had been rather depressed due to her parents remaining behind. The coming start of the school year had finally seemed to raise her spirits. The intelligent witch had been to see the petite Ravenclaw to talk about classes for the upcoming year. Birds of a feather and all, Harry thought.
"How could you!" Hermione fumed. "Did you think I wouldn't find out?" she accused.
"Me? What did I do?" Harry pleaded as he got to his feet; having no clue as to what she was on about.
"Were you going to wait to tell me when we were standing on platform 9 ¾'s?" the angry witch exclaimed.
Harry suddenly understood what this was all about. "Look, Hermione, it just wasn't working with Ginny and me. I know it hurt her but I just couldn't stay with her. What she wanted isn't what I want anymore," Harry said. "Ginny will be much better off now that we're broken up. She can find someone that will love her the way she wants to be loved."
"What? You broke up with Ginny?" Hermione asked, completely bewildered from hearing this. "No wonder she's been so quiet the past few days," Hermione gasped, suddenly realizing what the reason for the redhead's withdrawn behavior was. The witch, anger completely forgotten, dropped onto the couch dumbfounded by the unexpected news. "Poor Ginny."
Harry sat on the edge of the couch next to her, facing the stunned witch. "It just wasn't working. I think we were together for the wrong reasons," he explained, running one hand through his messy hair. "Looking back on it, we probably shouldn't have gotten back together in the first place," he confessed. "The whole proposal thing was so she'd stop being mad at me for going to Australia with you."
Hermione reached out and took his hand in hers. "Oh, Harry! I'm so sorry," she said, feeling guilty for having asked him to go with her. She hadn't wanted to go alone, fearful her parents would be angry with her, and rightfully so. Ron of course had declined to go as he was rather uncomfortable around that many muggles. Harry had agreed to go without even having to give it a moment's thought. "I should never have asked you to go with me. It was a waste of time anyways," she bemoaned, thinking about her parents who had remained there.
"Stop that!" Harry chastised her gently, knowing full well that she was feeling guilty. "Ron may be my best mate but you're my best friend, Hermione. I wouldn't be much of a friend if I hadn't gone with you. I wanted to be there for you, like you always have been for me, and to help you find your folks. Sure they may not have come back with us but at least now they know they have a beautiful daughter who's an amazingly brilliant witch."
Hermione looked down to her lap as she felt her cheeks blush at being called beautiful by Harry. It was the first time he had ever actually called her that and she wasn't sure how to take it. "Well I don't know about the beautiful part," she said just to see if he would say anything else. It wasn't often that anyone complimented her, especially on her looks, and the young woman couldn't help but want to hear more.
"Are you kidding?" Harry asked in disbelief before reaching over and pulling her into a side-armed hug. "You're one very fetching witch, Hermione Granger. Someday some bloke is going to find himself the luckiest man alive when you give your heart to him," Harry told her in no uncertain terms. "That's assuming he can get past me," he added with a playful smirk.
Hermione sat there for a long moment as her pulse raced and her face turned several shades of red. "I...I am a pretty good witch, aren't I?" she asked in the lengthening silence. I can't believe Harry thinks I'm fetching. I didn't think he even noticed I was a girl. Beside her she felt Harry nod in agreement before he dropped his arm from around her shoulders, much to her chagrin. Hermione nudge the wizard in the side. "Since when did you become so suave with the ladies?" she asked, looking up with a teasing grin and hoping that her face wasn't as red as it felt.
Harry smiled back, not really certain what she meant by suave and completely clueless as to Hermione's blush. "Just stating the truth is all, Hermione," he replied, glad that she wasn't angry at him for breaking up with Ginny. "So how are things at the Burrow?" he asked as he sat back on the couch.
"Well enough, I guess," Hermione replied as she sat back and stared down at Harry's hand which she still held. "Mrs. Weasley was a bit put out that you left without a word and all. I don't think that Ginny has told anyone about the break up. At least not from what I can tell. Tomorrow I'm off to board the express."
Harry chuckled softly. "None of the Weasleys have come by to box my ears so I guess she's keeping it to herself. I'm sure she doesn't want to be questioned by everyone about what happened." The witch beside him gave a slight nod in agreement. "So what did the git do this time?" Harry asked with a chuckle, returning to the topic of their friend Ron.
"He treats me just like he does Ginny!" the irate witch huffed, though with less venom in her tone than she had used a few moments before. "When I told him he should return to Hogwarts and finish his last year of school he told me it was none of my business and to sod off!"
"He didn't!" Harry gasped a bit more dramatically than was called for just to humor her. "I hope you gave him what for," he added.
"I did!" Hermione stated. "I told him he was being right childish and that if anyone could use more schooling it was him!" Harry mentally cringed knowing their ginger friend wouldn't have taken that very well. "The royal git said he didn't need any schooling to become an Auror and that Kingsley had made a special allowance for him. The arse took it too!"
Harry looked a bit sheepishly, having known of the offer and that Ron had jumped at the chance of not returning to school. "Kingsley made us both the offer actually," he confessed.
"Harry, you didn't?" Hermione exclaimed in surprise.
"What? No, I didn't take him up on it," Harry assured her. "I've had a lifetime of fighting and then some. I'm not certain what I'm going to do with my life but is won't be anything to do with the Ministry that is for certain. I think it's time I found my own way in the world rather than have someone map it out for me. I've been doing some thinking the last few days and I have a few ideas I want to look into."
Hermione sat there for several minutes, absently using her thumb to rub the back of the hand still held in hers. "So you're really not coming back to Hogwarts?" she finally asked, not wanting to look up and see the truth in his eyes. Harry not returning to Hogwarts was the original reason she had used the floo to come find him. The young woman couldn't help but feel dejected. It felt as though both of her friends were abandoning her.
It took Harry a moment to reply, being slightly distracted by what his best friend was doing to his hand and not knowing why it felt so very good. "I just can't do it," he finally admitted with a sigh of regret. "I really wanted to be there with you, Hermione. I truly did, but it is still too painful. If I did go back it would just be one big circus what with the press and everyone else. I'm certain my presence would just be a distraction to everyone there. That's hardly fair to them."
Hermione's shoulders slumped in defeat, a fact Harry noticed and instantly felt guilty for. He hated to see her upset, especially when he was the cause of it. "I was actually rather surprised when you initially said you would go with me," she confessed in a quiet voice. "We both knew Ronald wouldn't go if he didn't have to. I thought it would be alright if you were there with me," she mumbled. "Whatever will I do without the pair of you?"
Harry gave the hand in his a gentle squeeze. "You'll be brilliant as always, Hermione," he told her in what he hoped was a reassuring tone. "You'll be Head Girl this year which will keep you plenty busy. Lots of broom cupboards to clean out and all. Without Ron and I there to distract you think of all the time you'll have to revise for your N.E.W.T.'s!" he exclaimed with a forced grin. "Not that you'll need it, mind you. Your certain to get all O's," he hastily added drawing a small shy smile from his friend due to his praise.
"It won't be the same," she answered with sadly. "None of it will be the same without you there, Harry. We've been together almost every day for the last seven years, even spending summers at the Burrow! What will I do without you?"
"I'm going to miss you too, 'Mione," Harry said in a heartfelt tone of voice. "I'm certainly not looking forward to not having you here. Whatever will I do with all the free time now that I won't be revising?" he asked playfully getting a chuckle and a playful nudge from the witch next to him. "You'll be fine," he assured her. "Christmas hols will be here before you know it and we can get together then. You can even stay here with me! It will be just like old times."
"Promise?" she asked in a hopeful tone, realizing that there wasn't much she could do about the situation. Harry, she knew, could be very stubborn once he had made up his mind about something. Staying with Harry for the holidays at least gave her something to look forward to. She had been worried, with her parents remaining in Australia, just what she would do for the Yule break. At least now she knew she didn't have to remain at school.
"Promise," Harry confirmed with a nod just before he was engulfed in a Hermione hug that threatened to split him in two.
September first was a bright sunny Tuesday. Harry went through his morning routine before making his way down to the kitchen for breakfast. After a quick bite to eat, the young wizard used the fireplace to floo to the Leaky Cauldron before making his way to Gringotts. Upon reaching the first available teller and informing him who he was, Harry was shown to a spacious office not far from the main lobby of the bank.
Shortly after being shown to the office a well-dressed, slightly older as far as Harry could tell, goblin entered and addressed him. "Thank you for being punctual, Mr. Potter. Time is money as the Muggles say. I am Ragnok, the Bank Manager." It was very unusual for wizards to be on time. The goblins didn't mind as they simply charged the wizard or witch, at twice the rate, for the time they spent waiting and were happy to pocket the extra galleons.
"It is a pleasure to meet you Bank Manager Ragnok," Harry replied, attempting to be as polite as possible. The young wizard hadn't a clue as to what the proper manner was to address a goblin who was a bank manager, or any goblin for that matter. I'll just treat him how I would like to be treated, he reasoned to himself. "Thank you for taking the time to see me."
"It is your gold, Mr. Potter," Ragnok replied, taking a seat behind the desk. "I assume you are here in reference to your letter?" the goblin asked as he opened a desk drawer and pulled out the letter in question before setting it on the desk before him. "I must admit that we were a bit surprised at your request."
"I would imagine so," Harry responded with, shifting a bit nervously in his seat. "I felt that something ought to be done on their behalf, Sir. As money is not apparently an issue, who better than I to do it? Was there any trouble with the Ministry?"
The goblin chuckled, or at least that is what Harry assumed the growl to be. "They were more than happy to be rid of them, I assure you. The fact that it cost them nothing was an added bonus as they saw it. Were you thinking of using the Black Ancestral Manner for their use?" Ragnok enquired.
"Grimmauld Place?" Harry asked with a frown at the thought of the dark and dismal place.
Ragnok chuckled again, or more correctly Harry assumed he did as it might have been a growl, he still wasn't sure. "Mr. Potter, while the building in which #12 Grimmauld resides in is in fact old, dating back nearly 150 years; the Black Family is considerably older than that, I assure you. The Blacks were one of the founding families after all. Being aligned with the darker side of your Wizarding world could you actually see them wanting to live with a bunch of Muggles as neighbors?" Ragnok chuckled-growled again, Harry thought it was a growl this time.
"Where is the manor at?" Harry asked in a rather surprised tone of voice. Ragnok's words made sense. From everything he had ever heard about the Black family, with the exception of Sirius and Andromeda they had all hated muggles. I wonder why I never realized before just how peculiar it would be for them to have a home where they would be surrounded by non-magicals.
The bank manager opened the same drawer of the desk and pulled out another piece of parchment before setting it atop of the letter and looking at it. "It is located in Harlow, Essex. It is a nice piece of land with plenty of room to expand upon should the need arise. The back portion of it appears to be covered in a small forest. Apparently there are muggle repelling wards in place to keep the locals away from the entire property."
"That does sound like it would do nicely," Harry agreed as he reached for and accepted the parchment from the goblin so that he could read it over. "Says here there is even a small lake and several house elves as well. I think this will do very nicely, Sir. I suspect it will need to be renovated and modernized, especially if it has sat unused for any length of time." This is even better than I had hoped, Harry thought as a large smile appeared on his face at the fortunate turn of events.
"I'll see that the necessary paperwork is drawn up and sent to you for your signature, Mr. Potter," Ragnok said as he accepted the parchment back from the smiling wizard. What an odd fellow, he thought. He's tossing away thousands of galleons and seems rather happy about it. Ragnok grunted in disbelief. The money was going to Gringotts so who was he to question the actions of another foolish wizard. They're all a bit bent if you ask me! "Was there anything else that Gringotts could do for you today?"
"I am curious, I do not want to intrude upon them; however, is there some available land close to where they will be?" Harry asked. "I was recently thinking that I would like to live someplace other than Grimmauld Place. It would be nice to perhaps build a new manor house as I'll be giving this one away it seems."
"Technically speaking, Mr. Potter, you are not giving it away but rather loaning it out free of rent," Ragnok corrected him. Bent I tell you! The entire lot of them! "You still own Black Manor as well as the land it sits upon. The manor itself sits fairly well back and away from anything around it. The southernmost corner of the property brushes up against a Muggle neighborhood at that point. Would that be an issue? It would place the woods between you and the Black Manor, a bit of privacy for you both as it were."
"I don't suppose the Potter's have a manor house someplace I don't know about?" Harry asked with a questioning look. He had never heard of the Potters owning anything other than the house in Godric's hallow but that didn't mean anything. I hadn't heard about Black Manor till just recently either, he thought to himself.
Ragnok reached once more into the desk drawer and pulled forth another document before looking it over quickly. Harry couldn't help but wonder just what else was in that drawer. "Apparently just the house you were born in, Mr. Potter, though now that is owned by the Ministry who claimed it as a historical landmark some years back. It seems that your parents liquidated all their assets before they went into hiding."
Harry thought of the house in Godric's Hallow and quickly realized that if he lived there he would never get a moment's peace from gawking wizards and witches come to see where his parents had died. The town itself was quaint enough but there were a lot of bad memories there as well. "Just as well," Harry said with a dismissive shrug. "Would I be able to get a muggle postal address were I to build where the Black property meets the Muggle neighborhood?" he suddenly asked, not really certain why that was important.
The Bank Manager glanced at the parchment once again before giving a slight nod. "It is on a street named Westfield, so I don't see why not."
"Then let's go with that, Sir." Harry stated excitedly. "How soon do you think I will be able to move in?"
"Well that depends," the goblin replied with a growl as he pulled out a stack of papers and set them before the waiting wizard.
"On what?" Harry asked as he glanced down and saw that the paperwork before him was in fact a contract.
"How much you're willing to pay of course," Ragnok replied with a wide grin, full of sharp teeth.
All told it had taken a little over two weeks. There had previously been a manor house at the location, it had just sat further off the road and faced the woods behind it rather than the muggle neighborhood itself. Not altogether surprising considering who owned the property. The muggle hating Blacks certainly wouldn't want to have to see the locals. The structure had been unused for some time and was rather rundown and dilapidated. The goblins gutted the building, leaving just the four walls. Even the roof was removed and replaced, enchanted to never leak.
The downstairs was left rather open as Harry liked it that way. The kitchen was on the back side of the house with a huge fireplace for cooking. A gas oven and stove were added as Harry just couldn't see himself cooking in the original fireplace. The dining room, which was adjacent to the kitchen, looked out through large French doors at the large expanse of woods on one side and the back garden on the other. A short walk down the hall containing a den and a sitting room and you stepped into the large spacious living room, which was yet unfurnished. Past that, through a large set of double doors, you would enter perhaps the largest room in the house, the library.
Harry, thinking of his book loving friend Hermione, had wanted the library to be something special and it was. The room itself spanned the entire height of the four floor manor house, consuming nearly a third of the structure. Large stained glass windows dominated the outer wall of the room, allowing a flood of sunlight into the library for most of the day. Tall bookcases dominated the room, each with ladders affixed on wheels to be moved where needed to reach any book. There was a central sitting area furnished with comfortable chairs and couches as well as a large table and chairs.
Near the third floor of the manor there was actually the second floor of the library. A staircase from the bottom floor of the library led up to the higher level. This secondary floor was filled with nothing but bookshelves separated by narrow walkways. It was designed so that the reader would retrieve a book and bring it to the bottom floor for reading. Harry already had the entire Black family library relocated as well as all the books he had discovered in the Black as well as the Potter vaults. He couldn't wait for Hermione to see the room!
The second floor of the structure was divided up into several large suites, each with their own sitting rooms. Generous use of expanding charms had been used to make the rooms larger than they actually were. Each room was currently without furnishing with white walls and dark hardwood flooring. Each suite had its own bathroom with a shower that was separate from the large garden bathtub. The third floor of the manor was the same as the second, sporting six different, as yet unfurnished, large suites.
The final floor of the house was Harry's. He had the goblins leave it open in that there was no attic above him, just the roof itself. Large wooden beams crossed the ceiling giving the space a very rugged appearance which the young wizard found appealing. One end of the floor housed the master bedroom with its large four poster bed hung with red curtains sporting gold trim. In one corner was a rather large roll-top desk with a plush high-back chair set before it. A large wooden wardrobe and dresser filled a significant portion of the other wall.
There was a second set of doors which led out onto a porch which encircled the entire house except for where the library windows were. Each floor had a porch which did the same so that the occupants of any of the rooms could sit outside should they choose to do so. Stairs granted access on the outside of the house to the various porches with the exception of the top floor. The only way to access the porch around Harry's floor was from within the master suite itself. Beside the double doors in the master bedroom there was also a set of doors from the adjacent room as well. The ground-level porch across the front of the house had been accented with stone columns and wide steps leading up toward the main entrance of the manor.
The master bathroom was layered in stonework to accent the rugged appearance of the entire floor. A glass shower stall was off in one corner beside a large tub that could easily contain several people. The young wizard had learned a long time ago the benefit of a long hot soak after a hard Quidditch match. The one item in the room that others might call opulent was the large fireplace in the wall directly across from the bathtub. The fireplace was also shared with the master bedroom on the other side of it.
The remainder of the walls were paneled in dark mahogany wood which matched the hardwood floors. There was a billiard table set towards one end of the room and a bar along one wall. The other half of the room was filled with a large couch and several chairs which faced the large river-rock fireplace built into the wall. The appearance of the room, excluding the billiard table, was not all that different from the Gryffindor common room, though much more spacious thanks to the expanding charms.
There were two lower levels beneath the manor house which Harry as yet had figured out what he would do with. He was certain that one of them would become a sort of magical workshop for himself where he could practice spells and possibly dueling. Another area he was seriously giving thought of converting it into a wine cellar. He had found just such a place under Grimmauld Place and he didn't want the wine there to go to waste. Some of the bottles were so covered in dust that the labels couldn't even be read. For now though, the basement floors were empty.
Not to be outdone, the grounds had been completely redone as well. A wide cobbled driveway now approached the house along one edge of the property and wound its way to the front of the manor where it circled a large decorative stone fountain. A tall hedgerow lined the driveway, effectively obscuring what was essentially the garden from anyone visiting. The hedge was enchanted to not only prevent entry but also to prevent others from listening or seeing what was happening on the other side of them.
Harry stood just outside the main doors to the manor with the keystone to the wards in his hand as the last goblin portkeyed away. Before him in the distance were the woods that separated this area from the rest of the Black estate that he owned. Somewhere over there past the woods, was the Black Manor and his other project. It is still too soon to worry about that though, he reasoned silently. The young wizard eyed the lush lawn area between the edge of the cobbled drive and the distant forest of trees. "I wonder if there's enough room for a proper pitch?" he mused aloud before setting off in that direction to find out.