Title: His Choice
Author: sarhea
Fandom(s): Harry Potter
Categories: AU, gen, het, romance
Summary: Harry Potter makes a conscious decision to select a wife of his own choice. He was not going to propose to who everyone expected him to. He was not going to let someone 'older and wiser' push him. He was going to stop and think, use both his mind and his gut feelings.
Characters/Pairing: Harry Potter/Millicent Bulstrode, Luna Lovegood, Andromeda Tonks,
AN:
- EWE, AU B7.
- I tried to be true to the prompt but on the flip side I didn't want to write a 50K fic going all out into the political and Pureblood society wrangling. So I decided to end it as I did. Read and find out.
- OOC Harry. Face it … he's come out of a war, of course he's changed.
Warnings: none really
Spoilers: Some references to events in B7.
Rated: T (PG13)
Word Count: ~5200
Status: Complete

Beta: blithelybonny on LJ. Thank you so much for your feedback and the fast turnaround.
Disclaimer: "Harry Potter" is the property of J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. This work of fiction/art was created entirely for fun, not for profit, and no copyright infringement is intended.

For: LJ Community hprare-cliché 2015
H18 Prompt Submitted By: lrthunder
Preferred Pairing: Harry/Millicent, Harry/Pansy, or Harry/Daphne
Cliche Of Choice: Politics!fic, Matchmaking (not friends or family); Bonding-marriage/on purpose
Scenario: Harry is head of the Black family due to Sirius's will, but Narcissa decides he needs to learn more about pureblood culture. To that end, she "suggests" that he marries a respectable pureblood witch.


~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~

~ooO His Choice Ooo~

Harry Potter frowned as he swayed and rocked his god-son while he paced across Andromeda Tonks's living room. Six steps, sharp about-face, and repeat. Thankfully Andromeda was more than willing to let him work out his nervous energy. Most of the other witches in his life would have badgered him for explanations and answers by now.

It had been six weeks since the Battle of Hogwarts, and the survivors were beginning to emerge from their shock-fear state. Now there was building pressure on Harry: to join the Ministry, to become an Auror, to be a leader, to replace Dumbledore. Harry didn't know what he wanted. Now was the first time in his young life that he was truly free to make his own decisions, with no guardian figure to impose their views on Harry.

He paced for another three minutes before slowing and moving to join Andromeda on the over-stuffed, aging settee. He stared into the flickering flames for another minute before he began speaking.

"Everyone is expecting me to become an Auror."

"And do you want to become an Auror?"

"No."

"Then don't become an Auror." Harry stared at her, confused and stunned. The older witch smiled gently. "What? Did you expect me to be like everyone? I was born and raised a Black! We march to our own tune." Her eyes turned intent. "And so do you, Harry. You might have had to follow others who had more information and influence, but that doesn't apply now, does it? You are an adult wizard. You've completed your OWLs. You don't have to go back to Hogwarts if you don't want to. You have enough money to hire private tutors if you want to take your NEWTs in a few years. Or travel if you want to."

Harry relaxed a tiny fraction. "I've had similar thoughts, Andromeda. I don't want to go back to Hogwarts. It has so many memories. Most of them are bad now. I want to make some good memories before I go back. If I go back."

"That's perfectly acceptable. And if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, tell them to eff off."

Harry snorted at the crude phrase uttered in polished tones.

"It's hard to do that. The Weasleys―"

"You owe them nothing! In fact they owe you plenty. Life debts and monetary debts." Harry's head whipped around to meet Andromeda's gaze. "I know about Ginevra and Arthur. Nymphadora told me. And the Weasley twins never could have afforded to rent and open a store at their age. Not without a strong financial backer."

"I gave them the Triwizard thousand-galleon prize."

"You didn't want to keep tainted coins."

"Yes."

"OK. So ignore everyone and everything. Do what you want to do."

Harry bit his lip. "I was planning on leaving. Travel for a bit. Mostly in North America or Australia. Any country that speaks English."

"What's stopped you?" She smiled at the confused look. "Something must have. Otherwise why would you be talking to me," she stated bluntly.

Harry slowly stroked Teddy's back as he answered the witch.

"Narcissa Malfoy visited me last week. She was not arrested like Draco and Lucius, because she wasn't Marked and she saved my life by lying to Voldemort's face."

"Why did she visit you?" Andromeda was justifiably wary of her sister's actions.

"She wanted to discuss the Black Inheritance."

"Oh?"

"It's been in abeyance for more than a decade with no true head. Walburga was never the Head and Sirius never claimed Headship until almost near the end. And then he wasn't interested in sorting out the finances and contracts with everything going on."

Andromeda had a bad feeling about where this was heading.

"What did you find out?"

"There are quite a few Black marital contracts — non-specific ones that are currently dormant. Some of the families contacted Narcissa to feel me out, to find out if I was interested in activating one of them."

"You don't have to activate anything! Let the future generation deal with them in time. Or if it is cost-effective, break them. And aren't you seeing Ginevra? She will not be happy to hear this."

Harry's expression turned pained. "I broke up with her at Dumbledore's funeral."

Andromeda frowned. "She certainly hasn't been acting like it! The way the girl's going about, everyone thinks you have gotten back together."

Harry shook his head. "No. We haven't. And we won't." Seeing Andromeda's curious look, he explained. "She sees The Boy Who Lived, not Harry. I don't want that."

Curiosity turned to pity mingled with understanding. "It's going to be hard, finding someone who sees Harry."

"I'll settle for someone who doesn't idolize and bow down to Voldemort's Killer." He sat up a tad straighter, still cradling Teddy in his arms.

"So, do you want my help going through the contracts? To make a short list of potential wife candidates?"

"Not quite. I want information on magical marriage traditions. Types of ceremonies. Significance of the ritual used or date-time. Are they permanent or completely binding? Do they have clauses if both partners decide to have other partners, or a third? Do we have to share a household or can we have separate lives? I want to know everything."

Andromeda smiled slowly. "That I can teach you. Why don't you put Teddy in his cot and join me in the kitchen? I'll make some tea."

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

Harry looked around the recently renovated Black Family Library of 12 Grimmauld Place. He had spent a good chunk of Galleons having the townhouse gutted and redecorated to more neutral tastes. All the Dark stuff was in special warded storage rooms and waiting to be sorted out. Harry had refused offers to 'help' him sort through the Dark Artifacts. He was not going to let anyone else pick and choose what was acceptable and what was not. He had already found several volumes that were blood linked to the Black lineage, books that described how to make, locate and destroy Horcruxes… books that could have helped them during the Horcrux Hunt, ended the war sooner, saved many lives. They were books Molly Weasley had refused to let anyone read. Even Sirius, the legal owner!

If Dumbledore had used his brains and asked Sirius to go through the Darker sections of the Black Library… Harry wondered why Hermione had not insisted on going through the Library. But then they had not known about Horcruxes during the summers when they were living at 12 Grimmauld. Dumbledore had told Harry in Sixth Year, and after he died, the Order was too disorganized with no clear head, alternate plans or defined goals. Dumbledore killed many with his tendency to horde information.

Harry was determined to not be another Dumbledore, ignoring what he didn't want to hear, pretending everything was okay. He spent weeks going over all the possible contracts with Andromeda, hired a Gringotts financial advisor to evaluate the Black and Potter investments, and retained an Italian barrister to act as his advisor for wizarding politics and law.

Stephanos Giabanni had been horrified to hear about Harry's upbringing and ignorance of his own magical heritage. House Heirs were supposed to be trained in the theory of familial magic from their ninth birthday. Their cores were mature for actual practice once they turned fifteen-sixteen. Harry spent four months cramming like crazy, reading diaries and grimoires to teach himself. Stephanos had located tutors willing to make Unbreakable Vows to teach Harry and keep his secrets. Harry knew he was nowhere near where he needed to be politically and magically. Magical power was useless without knowledge and finesse, not if he wanted to build and create, not destroy. He sorely regretted following Ron's lead in Hogwarts, goofing off and taking easy classes instead of Arithmancy and Ancient Runes.

At their last meeting, Stephanos had done the unthinkable and recommended Harry look for a Pure-blood wife, or at least a Half-blood born to a traditional family; a wife who could help him with the political and social side of things, or even with the finances while he worked to increase his magical mastery.

Harry knew most expected him to propose to Ginny ― a pretty Pure-blood witch from a light family, sister of his best friend. After his lessons with Stephanos and Andromeda, Harry knew Ginny was the worst possible choice, an insult to those reaching out to him, the families he would have to work with in the future if he wanted to make his dreams, of a more equitable Magical Britain, a reality. Anything Dark was unacceptable to Molly Weasley. She would expect him to obey her, especially if he became her son-in-law. And Ginny would expect him to do the same, to toe the line and keep a united 'happy' Weasley family. Harry had seen and done too much to go back to the innocent naïve boy he had been. He was more than willing to get his hands dirty if it would get things done.

If he had the choice, he would have approached Hermione. She had been by his side through thick-and-thin, suffered similar hardships and wanted a fairer, equitable Magical Britain. If he explained his plans, he was pretty sure she would agree and support him. In the past Harry had refused to see her as anything but a sister because Ron had made it pretty clear he had strong feelings for her in Fourth Year, the Yule Ball. But after Ron left them in the middle of the Hunt, he had basically destroyed Harry's trust and loyalty. Hermione had been devastated, but only a total berk would have taken advantage of her pain. The biggest barrier to pursuing Hermione was the Black Familial Legacy.

A Black consort had to be at least a Half-blood with a magical legacy at least four generations old. Every Black Patriarch arranged and signed non-specific marital contracts so their descendants always had choices, options. Hermione, being Muggle-raised, would not understand. She would simply see marriage contracts as an out-dated, archaic tradition that had no place in the Modern World. Just like how she labelled the symbiotic relationship between wizards and House Elves as slavery. She had no knowledge of familial magic that hadn't come out of a published book. Harry could easily read the books himself but Stephanos insisted he hire tutors to explain the subtle, and sometimes lethal, nuances that were not specified in the books.

Harry hated to admit it, but Stephanos was right about a Pure-blood or Half-blood witch from a traditional family being the best choice. Unfortunately most of them were Death Eaters or had similar sympathies. Harry did not want to risk being stabbed in his own bed or poisoned by his wife.

Harry sat down at his personal desk and opened the folder Stephanos had just dropped off. It was a short list of potential candidates based on the Black marital contracts and the current situation. Harry immediately filtered out the witches who were more than two years older or younger than himself. He did not want someone too young and immature or someone much older. He was inexperienced, but he did not want to be the 'weaker' controlled half of a marriage. It was easy to discard witches with whom he had a bad history: Cho Chang, Marietta Edgecombe and Pansy Parkinson, among others. He set aside the witches that were total strangers — he could go back to them if needed. This reduced the list to five names he recognized: Susan Bones, Daphne Greengrass, Morag MacDougal, Ivy Florescue and Millicent Bulstrode. It was easy to remove Susan and Daphne who were in semi-serious relationships — he did not want to break up a couple. That left three: Morag, Ivy, Millicent.

He leaned back in his chair and tried to recall if he had any meaningful interactions with the three. Not really. Morag was a quiet Ravenclaw, almost too quiet. Hermione had mentioned forming a study group with a few Ravens and Puffs but none of the Gryffs had been interested, so Harry hadn't spent any time with Morag. Ivy was two years younger and in Hufflepuff. Sure he had seen Millicent around Pansy, and Millicent had put Hermione in a headlock after losing a duel to Hermione in Lockhart's Dueling Club, but she had never actively trash-talked or hexed Harry or his friends. The only time she had was in Fifth Year when she was part of Umbridge's Inquisitorial Squad. From this side of time, it was pretty clear peer pressure was a terrible thing, and refusing Umbridge would have only brought trouble down on Millicent's head in Slytherin House.

It had been a long time since he had last seen them, and he had grown up a lot with all that had happened. Maybe they had grown up also. The best thing would be to talk to them personally. Or at least see them before trying to talk to them. It was possible they were already in a serious relationship.

He pulled a sheet of parchment and self-inking quill to begin penning a missive. He needed a legitimate excuse to visit during a Hogsmeade weekend.

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

Luna Lovegood knew Harry was wife hunting and she was not one of his targets; she was just a cover, a blind to hide how he was watching two particular witches.

"Why Morag and Millicent?"

He put down his butterbeer and turned to face her. "They seem quietly strong. Like Neville. Like you. And stable."

Luna frowned. "What about Ginny?"

Harry smiled, a small bitter curve of his lips. "Ginny wants the Boy Who Lived, the Wizard Who Won. She doesn't want Harry. And I don't want pretty, slightly self-centered starlets. I want a witch who has enough self-esteem to be herself, who doesn't drag others down to make herself look better, who doesn't demand my attention all the time."

"Then it's best you ask her out on a date."

"Who?"

"Millicent."

"Oh? Why not Morag? House unity and all that."

"Morag is quiet. She doesn't like being the focus of attention. She's more of a scholar."

Harry nodded thoughtfully. "And Millicent?"

Luna's response was immediate. "She's the ultimate Slytherin."

"Really? She seems like a follower, hanging around Pansy's clique."

Luna grinned slyly. "The perfect cover to deflect attention. No one expects her to lead or take charge so she goes off and does her own thing. When they ask her where she was, or what she was doing, she just shrugs and acts dense." Seeing Harry's inquiring look, Luna expanded. "She's actually a good student. Always ranked eight-to-ten in her year consistently in all her classes."

"And?"

"Harry, that's just not possible. Everyone has a class in which they are weaker or stronger. Even someone like Hermione who is good in every class is noticeably weaker in a class like Herbology or DADA."

Harry's expression turned thoughtful. He had practiced a similar strategy himself, to get lower grades than Dudley, so Vernon and Petunia wouldn't accuse him of cheating and cut his food rations.

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

Millicent Bulstrode was not enjoying herself. She agreed to the Hogsmeade trip to get Tracey off her case. She was going to spend the minimal time ― twenty minutes to finish her butterbeer and listen to Daphne and Tracey gossip a bit ― then head back to the Library. The only reason why she bothered returning for an eighth year was to get access to the Library for her private studies. Millicent was preparing privately to write her NEWTs in Enchantment, History, and International Law, in addition to the standard NEWTs offered by Hogwarts: Transfiguration, Charms, Arithmancy, Runes, Potions, Herbology. Only her mother knew of her plans to pursue an Artificer Mastery, to avoid being sold as a broodmare to some decimated traditional family. It was common knowledge that Slytherin witches were betrothed soon after graduation, and if they were lucky to be matched with a modern-thinking wizard, they could continue studying or work. Millicent doubted she would be so lucky, so she had to make plans to protect her interests.

"All right girls, it's back to the grindstone for me," she announced. Ignoring the protests, Millicent pushed her stool back and stood up. "And you should do the same if you want good NEWTs," she added.

Daphne sighed. "What's the use of good NEWTs if whoever Daddy finds will want a house witch, not a working witch?"

"And what if he dies a few years down the road? Do you want to go back to your father's house and let him arrange another match?" Daphne and Tracey shook their heads vigorously in negative. "Then study! Try to find something you can do at home, like brewing common household potions."

Daphne's expression turned thoughtful. "I'm good at Potions."

"You don't need a Mastery to brew simples, just a space and a good supplier."

"What about cosmetic potions?" Tracey suggested timidly.

"That's up to you. Keep in mind there are two ways of making money: you have to sell fairly cheaply to many, or you have to set high-prices to a select few. If you're interested in the first, you may want to talk to Patil and Brown in Gryffindor. There was some gossip about them planning on opening a store for witches."

And with that Millicent made her way out of The Three Broomsticks.

She had made her way half-way up the trail to Hogwarts when she heard the soft sounds of someone following. Curious, she stopped and turned to see who it was. The identity of her follower threw her off.

"Potter!"

He inclined his head shallowly. "Bulstrode." Someone had been teaching him Pure-blood manners.

"What do you want?" she asked brusquely, turning away to resume her walk back. His answer made her stop a second time.

"Stephanos Giabanni suggested I talk with you."

"Oh?" Millicent wondered if it would be more prudent to pretend she did not recognize the name. Unfortunately Potter wasn't biting.

"Yes. Your International Law tutor."

Hastily, she looked around to see if someone could have overheard. There was no one. She turned back to Potter. "What do you want?"

"I wish to make an offer."

Millicent frowned, uncertain of where this was going. Unfortunately this was not a good place to discuss anything along the lines of a contract. But she highly doubted Potter would be looking to screw her over. She hoped.

"Not here. It's too public."

"Over lunch? In Muggle London?" Then he named a Muggle café Millicent preferred to eat at whenever she was in Muggle London. She wondered how he had discovered her tastes.

"When?"

"Does today work?"

Millicent debated for a brief moment before coming down in Potter's favour. She was technically ahead in her planned schedule of study. If she grabbed an early lunch in London, it wouldn't hurt.

"Okay. But I need to be back by two." The returning Eighth years did not need permission to leave the Hogwarts grounds in non-class time. A Hogsmeade weekend definitely qualified as non-class time.

He glanced at his watch and nodded. "Can you Apparate? Or do you need a Portkey?"

Millicent shook her head. "I can Apparate. I'll meet you in London." And then she named an Apparition point before vanishing with a faint popping noise.

Harry followed her soundlessly.

~ooOoo~

Potter was being too polite, chit-chatting about inconsequential matters until food was served and they had the chance to eat, break bread together — someone had definitely been teaching him Pure-blood manners. Millicent's active imagination began listing possible reasons for this meeting while they waited for their order to be served. Finally the waitress came and set down Millicent's buttered toast and frittata and Harry's BLT club sandwiches and fries.

Once half her frittata was gone, Millicent decided to take the first step.

"Okay, so what's this about? You said you had an offer?"

"Yes. I want to marry you."

Her brain froze and refused to compute. "What?"

He repeated more slowly, "I want to marry you."

The gears began shifting slowly but not fast enough. "Why me?"

The answer she received was more honest than she had expected.

"I need a wife that can help me navigate wizarding society without being penalized."

Millicent put her fork down and sipped her peppermint tea. He looked pretty serious. But still… "Is this a joke? Surely you can find someone else." Someone not Slytherin, was what she really meant.

"Maybe. But I don't want to choose a witch that makes everyone else comfortable. I want to choose a witch who is best for my House."

Those words resonated strongly within Millicent. But she was still not sold. "What about Granger and Weasley? Or even Chang?"

"Hermione might be smart, but she doesn't completely understand wizarding culture. I'm sure you've heard what happened with the House Elves."

Millicent snorted softly. "Yeah. What was it? SPIT?"

"SPEW. And she has a tendency to bull-doze her way without asking other people's opinions. I've learnt the hard way that is not a good idea. I know, I know nothing about wizarding society and culture and history. And I know I need to learn, or I'm going to get screwed over. I need someone who will watch my back. Someone who is bound to my successes and failures."

"Like a wife," she stated neutrally.

"Like a wife."

"And Weasley?"

"The Weasleys ignore wizarding traditions and have a habit of making enemies of people in power. I've already made plenty of enemies in my ignorance; I don't need my wife making enemies for me."

"Then what about a Claw or Puff? Lovegood might be loopy, but you made plenty of cow-eyes at Chang. And you went out with Patil. And what about Bones?"

Harry took a small bite of his BLT and chewed slowly. His expression was distant and thoughtful all at once. Once he swallowed, he began speaking. "As the Boy Who Lived and the Wizard Who Won, Voldemort's Killer, I have the support of the Light families. What I need is support or goodwill from the Grey and Dark families."

"There are plenty of Grey families with daughters who didn't support Voldemort, like Daphne Greengrass and her sister Astoria."

"Narcissa Malfoy is pushing Daphne Greengrass at me and that is enough to give me hives. I want someone who will be on my side, not the Malfoys'."

"Then why me?"

"My advisor gave me a short list of suitable witches, and I did my homework. The Bulstrodes are not big on blood purity, just on traditions. Only a few Bulstrodes from the cadet branches joined Voldemort the first time, even fewer this time, and none from the main family both times."

"I'm not pretty or photogenic. Everyone will think I've potioned you."

"I've talked to Andromeda Tonks about possible marriage ceremonies. We could use one with a purification component." He hesitated before continuing. "And one that asks for an elemental blessing." Seeing her shocked look, he continued rapidly. "My instincts say it will work for us. And no one can challenge an elemental marriage bond."

"How can you be so sure? You don't know anything about me!"

"Luna Lovegood suggested I ask you, not anyone else on my short list."

That baffled the witch. "Really? I'm not really friends with her."

"Luna doesn't have many friends due to her unconventional behaviour. But I know Luna is perceptive and she sees things others do not. And she's a good friend; she wouldn't lead me astray like most folks, 'for my own good'," he added sarcastically. "She suggested you, and I took it seriously. There is nothing against you and you've got some good character references for you, mainly Luna and Stephanos."

"So you think I'll be happy to accept your proposal, just like that?" Milllicent was torn between hurt and ire.

"No. I expect you to take your time and think about it. And dig into my past for skeletons if it'll make you feel better. But honestly I would prefer if you asked me directly than read the Daily Prophet and Teen Witch or talk to people who know nothing about me."

"What if I want to talk to Granger?"

"I'd like to talk to her first. To tell her she can be honest with you. Other than that, I have no issues. But I would prefer you don't talk to Ron or any of the Weasleys. Maybe Arthur or Bill. But the rest, I'm not sure how they'll react to finding out I would rather marry you than their daughter or sister."

Millicent nodded. "I understand." She took another bite of her frittata. "I do need some time to think about this."

"I understand. I'll talk to Hermione, Luna, and Neville; tell them to answer your questions about me."

Millicent smiled wryly. "Look Harry, you're nice and honest — a better match than any wizard my parents will find for me. My answer is most likely going to be yes. I just want to ask Lovegood why she recommended me. And I'm not worried about Granger and Longbottom; they'll support you unconditionally once you prove that you aren't hexed or potioned."

Harry smiled and relaxed. "Okay. So how about dinner next week Saturday? You can give me your answer then."

"OK."

Then they focused on finishing off their meals and eating a sweet – rice pudding for Millicent, treacle for Harry. The conversation was slightly guarded but focused more on sharing opinions and views and the reasons why, not judging. Harry learnt a lot about the little things in wizarding culture, common traditions followed by the more conservative families. Millicent learnt bits about Muggle life and why Muggleborns behaved so differently from what she was used to.

They parted amicably, Harry to 12 Grimmauld Place and Millicent Apparating back to Hogwarts. The gates were unlocked to allow the many Eighth Year students to re-enter the grounds. She was not too surprised to be met half-way up the main path by Luna Lovegood.

The tiny blonde witch smiled cheerily at the much taller black-haired witch.

"So how did it go? Are you going to marry him?"

Millicent sighed, uncertain of how to proceed. She was not used to being smiled at by someone much smaller and from a different House.

"Lovegood, why did you suggest me? I honestly thought Potter was going to propose to Weasley any day now."

"Ginny may want to be Mrs Potter, but she'll be a terrible Lady Black. And honestly, she doesn't understand Harry, or that sometimes you have to choose between bad and terrible, or that you may have to cooperate with people you hate to get things done."

"Then why me?"

"Because he deserves a cunning help-mate who is both honest and loyal. You have both in spades Millicent."

"I can't stand proper society."

"But you know how to deal with it. How to get things done. How to avoid fights and win allies," Luna pointed out. "Look, I've observed plenty of witches who want to be Mrs Potter, but they don't understand Harry, aren't on his side or don't understand the nuances of politics of magical society and law. The Patriarch of House Black cannot afford to be ignorant, or his power base will be lost and that would be a terrible thing. As long as Harry is there to contain and guide it, a great deal of good will come, but if some other family steals it, you know what will happen."

Millicent's eyes turned haunted as she remembered her early lessons in proper society customs and magical history. "Oh I do."

"So, are you going to marry Harry and help him or let him stumble around on his own?"

Millicent's spine stiffened. "You know the answer, so why are you asking me?"

Luna grinned.

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

Harry nervously sipped his lemon water while he waited for Millicent to arrive. He didn't know how he was going to last through dinner without asking her— A sudden faint magical surge caught his attention. He turned to the main entryway, and there was Millicent being led to his table. She caught a lot of attention with her full curvy figure that looked like it was poured into a emerald green silk. It had a square-neckline, black lace over the green bodice and fitted long-sleeves made of just black lace. Unlike most of the other women in the restaurant, she wore black ballet-style slippers with green ribbons winding up her calves and disappearing under the mid-calf hem of her dress.

Harry stood up and waited for Millicent to be seated before sitting down himself. He gave his order to the hostess while Millicent glanced through the menu and made her choices as well. Once the hostess left, Millicent poured herself a glass of lemon water and took a sip. After swallowing, she spoke.

"I'll marry you."

All the tension, twisting every muscle and sinew, drained out of Harry's body in one shot.

"You will?"

"Yes."

He blinked a little, surprised by the agreement. "Just like that? No negotiations? No terms? No contracts?"

Millicent wrinkled her nose slightly. "My parents are smart enough to know having their daughter marry Harry Potter will only help the family in the long run. And me, I've seen you grow up from an idiot Gryff to a not-Gryff wizard. You've been smart and cautious by retaining Stephanos and not listening to everyone giving advice. You want to do the right thing because it will ultimately benefit all, and I agree with you."

Harry fumbled slightly as he removed a small velvet box from his trouser pocket and opened it. The ring inside was old-fashioned with a large Fire opal set with diamonds on either side — stones that enhanced and stored magic, a Black family ring. He removed the ring from the box, reached across the table to take Millicent's left hand and slid the ring onto her finger.

He watched her lift and move her hand to see the Fire opal flash multi-hued colours from different angles. "Do you like it?"

She looked directly at him and smiled. "Yes. I'm honoured you chose this ring."

"Most witches would have expected diamonds or some other sparkling gemstone."

"They're idiots. Fire opals are rare, and a flawless one this size is a treasure."

Harry smiled, relieved that she liked his choice. "So, what do you want to do next?"

"I think you should ask Granger to join us for lunch tomorrow, so we can tell her about our engagement." Seeing his baffled look, Millicent expanded. "She is important to you, so she must know before everyone else. We can tell anyone important at Hogwarts after lunch — Lovegood, Longbottom, any of the Professors or students. After that we'll need to visit or send notes to anyone you want to tell before the public finds out from the announcement in the papers."

After hearing what Milllicent just said, Harry knew this relationship was going to work because Millicent was including Hermione, Luna and his special people. She was not trying to cut them out or control their access to him. She was not acting like Cho or Ginny. She was treating him like an equal partner, not a wayward child to be indulged or controlled.

Harry grinned broadly and made a mental note to find something nice for Luna. If it wasn't for her, he probably wouldn't have considered Millicent as a Number One possibility.

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

The End