Chapter Sixteen: Cutting Stone
Cracknuckle could see that Friend Snape was nervous by the way in which he kept smoothing his hands down his formal, black and green clan robes, and sought to soothe his clan-brother's nerves. "Your wife's preparations for the Gift Clan's Presentation have been quite thorough, and many present at tonight's gathering are known to you."
"I am certain that Harry would appreciate your compliment," Snape replied, as they entered a corridor that was flanked by goblin warriors in what he surmised to be his Family's livery.
"Hail the Protector of the Goblinate!"
Those don't look at all ceremonial.
Cracknuckle looked very pleased indeed. "Announce us, door guardians."
Through the open doorway, Severus could hear the sound of merriment, and then he saw one of the guards return with a goblin who seemed to hold some authority.
"I am Sharpclaw, the Voice of the Gift Clan. I shall make your presence known."
Severus' heart began to beat faster. I'm not at all prepared for this meeting.
But Sharpclaw had already begun to announce him. "—of the Goblinate, and Father of the Gift Clan, Friend Snape!"
On cue, the Protector willed himself to walk through the mighty door and onto a landing at the top of a staircase that led down into the heart of the hall. The crowd parted, clapping and calling loudly, and though he did know many of the guests, Severus' eyes became immediately transfixed on the majestic figure of his wife who had walked out of the crowd to step upon the dais at the far end of the hall.
A thrill of magic shot from the witch and rushed up the wizard's spine, one of many tendrils of their combined magic that had resulted from their magical bond. He could feel answering tendrils seeking her body from his own as he descended the stairs and approached her.
The Mother of the Gift Clan was resplendently arrayed in a gown of rich green material trimmed with black fur that flowed enticingly over her form in a shimmering drape. Her burnished black hair had been wound into a crown of braids atop her head, and these had been threaded with ribbons of black and gold.
She looks positively regal, Severus thought, suddenly feeling inadequate in his own attire.
As Severus, who appeared as inscrutable and forbidding as ever, walked confidently toward her, Harry felt her stomach tighten into a knot of desire that was fed by the strength of their magic-fasting. Her skin hummed with the blood rushing to its surface, heated by her response to the dashing figure he cut.
So tall, she thought, watching her husband's shapely long legs as they slid out of the clever slits of his robes. And his hair—so long, she observed, desiring greatly to run her hands through it to see if it felt as silky as it looked. He looks like a warrior king come to claim his prize. And an unworthy one, at that. I look like a little girl playing dress-up. I am not ready for this!
At last, Severus climbed the steps of the dais and Harry held out her hand to him as if compelled. When their fingers touched, the meeting of their combined magics made them gasp.
A very low murmur of laughter rippled through the crowd—above which, Albus Dumbledore's hearty chuckles of mirth could be heard.
"Welcome home, my . . . husband," Harry greeted Severus, faltering a bit in her uncertainty.
The catch in the witch's voice made the man believe that Harry's plans did not include a true marriage between them, but there was no trace of this concern in his response. "I am pleased to receive your welcome, my wife."
You're not angry with me?
No. I trust that you are not angry with me.
Harry shook her head, greatly encouraged. "I shall enjoy having speech with you after we greet our guests, my husband."
"Of course, my wife," Severus replied before allowing Cracknuckle to conduct him about the hall and introduce him to various important personages.
Harry was similarly led about by a goblin that Severus did not know, but whom he surmised must be her chief lady-in-waiting.
Sineweaver presented her mistress to the mother of the second clan of the Goblinate, Shriekstunner, who beckoned Harry to lean down.
"Has it been awhile since your man wielded his axe, clan-sister?"
Abruptly, Severus felt the withdrawal of Harry's bond-send and he turned sharply toward where he had last felt her standing to see that she had colored a deep rose.
"Your humor should be talked of, Shriekstunner," Harry replied lightly, hoping that the lady would not press the subject farther.
Sineweaver had told her to expect a certain bawdy familiarity from her equals.
But outright questions about my sex life aren't what I expected! she thought before turning the conversation to the topic of the lineage of the Grindstone Family.
The Protector, feeling cold without the answering caress of Harry's magic, tentatively tested his ability to reconnect with her, and was rewarded when the witch opened to him in a warm wave. He also perceived something of what she was feeling. He was reassured by her fears, which seemed to match his own, and he felt intoxicated. He wanted nothing more than to seize Harry and carry her away from all distraction. Politely taking his leave of the clan-brothers to whom he had been speaking, he made his way toward his bride.
"Hail, Father Snape."
Damn it, Albus! Leave me alone!
"I think not. I simply must tell you how happy I am to see Harry embracing her new culture."
"I agree," Draco said, appearing from behind the older wizard. "Who would have thought that Potter—oh, I beg your pardon—Mrs. Snape would have had it in her to be so gracious and elegant?"
Ginny Weasley joined them. "Behave," she ordered Draco, cuffing him on the head.
"Headmaster, Draco, Miss Weasley," Severus said, nodding to each of his friends before fixing on Ginny. "It is a pleasure to see you." Take them away, Miss Weasley, he willed.
But the young woman's eyes took on a mischievous glint that was worthy of Dumbledore. "My father would like to speak to you, Sir, when you have a moment."
"Of course," he replied, frustrated, but resolved not to embarrass Harry by appearing ill-tempered.
From her position by a group of thigh-mistresses—the goblin term for unmarried women—Harry tried to glance unobtrusively toward the part of the hall in which she felt her husband to be, but a column blocked him from her sight.
One of the ladies whispered, "There will be children in this hall before long."
Harry blushed and turned her attention back to her guests. They spoke of many things, but no mention of the coming Meeting of the Voices was made, as such matters, in goblin society, were considered uncouth subjects of discussion in a social gathering.
And then the dancing began.
Harry and Severus were, by unspoken design, kept from encountering each other as the dance progressed, but the wizard could feel the witch's shock at seeing him dance echo through their bond. It made him smile, and this stunned Hermione, who was sitting with several other pregnant women. But Severus did not see her.
Ron spied his wife, however, and made his way through the crowd toward her bearing a glass of some sweet, innocuous punch.
"A very chatty sort called Tonguepuller assures me that this is a beneficial drink for mothers-to-be," he told his wife as he handed her the glass.
"Mmm, it's good."
"It's good to see Harry looking so happy. Cor, but I was worried about her!"
Hermione heard the forced cheerfulness in Ron's tone. "Are you still?"
"Strange, isn't it, how things have . . . changed?"
The married couple had been staying in the Snape Family's hall for several days. There had been many changes of decoration in that time. Hermione decided to tease her husband.
"Well, Harry wanted to get it right, you know."
"'Mione, I don't mean the decor. I mean, it's just—this is positively surreal!"
"What is, Mr. Weasley?"
"Oh! Hullo, Professor Protector—I mean, Snape—grand, this," Ron said, throwing open his arms to indicate the hall.
"Yes, thank you, boy, for ignoring me."
"Mother! Mother, I did not know that you were here yet."
"And that's a proper greeting, to be sure," Azalea said, standing on tiptoe to give Severus a peck on the cheek. "Well, aren't you going to introduce me to your friends?"
Hermione dipped her head to cover her amusement, and Ron quickly extended his hand to the lady to allow his wife time to collect herself.
Severus tried not to blush.
Harry saw her mother-in-law greet her husband just as Blaise Zabini addressed her.
"Wasn't invited," the witch replied stonily, indicating that Blaise should follow her.
A rippled hush traveled through the crowd as some of the guests saw the exchange. It was known that the Vanquisher had taken another wizard husband before her marriage to the Protector, and the goblins did not quite understand why Friend Zabini was present. The ways of wizards were indeed odd.
"That one's no threat," one of the goblin matriarchs told another. "He couldn't get her with child."
"Yes, but only look at Father Snape!"
The expression in their host's eyes was definitely not friendly.
"Perhaps they'll fight."
In the small chamber off the hall into which Harry had led Blaise, the only sound was that of the steadfast silence of the guards who lined the room.
At last, Harry spoke. "You're angry."
"Shouldn't I be? Your 'marriage' prevented mine!"
"I had no idea—"
"—that you were unfaithful to me?"
"Is there a problem, clan-mother?"
Harry glanced toward the fierce-looking goblin who had stepped away from the wall. "No, Toothyanker. I'm fine," she replied, feeling jealousy soaked rage reach her from Severus's bond-send. "Would you please ask my—the Protector—to attend me?"
"You're afraid of me?"
"No, but I think Severus should be here for this discussion."
"Why? To show your guests what good friends we all are?"
"A necessary step at such a time," Harry replied frostily, disturbed to feel her connection to Severus waning.
"How unlike you to require a man to handle things for you, my lady."
"Heretofore, Harry never had the opportunity to rely upon a man, Mr. Zabini," Severus replied crisply, stepping next to his wife and taking her hand.
He was followed by Toothyanker, Cracknuckle, and Ron.
Blaise was furious. "How—"
"—are you, Zabini?" Ron asked.
"Mr. Weasley was just telling me that he had not yet seen the sculptures near the dais, Mother Snape," Cracknuckle said pointedly as Toothyanker took up his station.
"Severus?" Harry asked, thinking at the man, Should I leave this to you?
In answer, the wizard placed the witch's hand into Ron's proffered one. "I'll join you directly."
When Harry and Ron had left the room, Severus turned his attention to his guest. "You know very well that she was never unfaithful to you."
"Do I? Then how—"
"You're not a healer."
"No, I am not."
"Indeed, Mr. Zabini."
Cracknuckle handed Blaise a scroll. He was pleased with how Friend Harry had deferred to her husband in this matter because it was unseemly for a goblin wife to handle such situations on her own, but he knew that there was still an opportunity for fighting. And that would not do. "This document will make it possible to finalize your divorce, Mr. Zabini. I present it to you with the compliments of the Ruling Clan."
"Thank you," Blaise replied, glaring at Severus. "That was the only time?"
"But . . . all this," the younger wizard said, indicating the hall, "how is it possible that—"
"—I believe that you must understand some of 'all this', at least, in part," Severus replied acerbically. "Goblin customs are rather . . . pragmatic."
"That's an interesting way to view what you did to Harry!"
"What I did was to save her when you could not. Would you have preferred Harry's death, Mr. Zabini?"
Some of the anger drained from the other man's expression, and his shoulders slumped.
Cracknuckle, sensing that the danger of an altercation had passed, withdrew.
"But she couldn't have known that it would have ended like this," Blaise said quietly.
"Harry has accepted her clan affiliation and her position as my wife."
"She's only your wife by goblin standards."
"No, by wizarding standards, we are also wed. We are magic-fasted."
"But . . . but that can't happen unless there is something between the parties!"
"There was—respect, trust, necessity—"
"—love!" Blaise spat.
"On my part, yes," Severus admitted, "but I do not know if Harry—"
"—spare me your gracious doubts, Snape! Any idiot can see that she loves you!"
"Thank you for that. Yes, even I can see it, and I did long before this happened."
"A blunt pick-axe cuts no stone," one of the goblin guards whispered.
Blaise started at the rough laughter that followed that remark, which was quelled by a hard look from Severus.
"Do not persist in entertaining the fiction that Harry ever harbored . . . a romantic desire for me while she was wed to you, Mr. Zabini. Your . . . parting hurt her deeply."
Flushed, the young man glared at Snape, but then his anger drained completely away. "I know. I do know that."
"The situation is difficult, for more reasons than our personal concerns, Mr. Zabini."
"I know that, too. . . . Right. Just, just take care of her, Snape. Keep her safe. I know what comes next, and I . . . I accept it."
"Thank you," Harry said from the entrance of the chamber.
Blaise smiled weakly. "Congratulations, Ree."
Severus tried to quell the rising jealousy that flared inside of him as his wife embraced her soon-to-be ex-husband, and then his frustration when his mother appeared almost immediately behind the woman before he could take her into his own arms.
"I expect that you should return to the hall, my dears. Your other guests are becoming rather . . . curious."
Blaise led Harry out of the room, followed by Mrs. Snape, and Severus exclaimed, "Was ever a man so plagued?"
He ignored the laughter of the guards behind him as he returned to the party.
As the evening wore on, Severus became aware of a low thrumming pulse of power that steadily grew stronger between himself and Harry, as if the witch had put aside all of the doubts he believed her to harbor about their bond. The feeling made him patient, and, catching his wife's eye as she said goodnight to several of their guests, he thought at her, Soon.
Harry blushed as she thought back, Yes. Very soon.
"I learned something in my research of magic-fasting, Severus," Harry told him later as they stood in the center of their grandly appointed bed-chamber.
"And what was that?"
"Watch," the witch told him, waving a hand to dim the light emanating from the stones.
Between them, the tendrils of magic that they had felt all evening became visible as streams of colored lights that swirled between their bodies.
"I was speaking of you, my love."
Harry smiled. "You love me."
"Severus," Harry said, closing the distance between them through a sea of golden and purple light, light that deepened around them as they pressed their bodies together and kissed.
It was a tentative, exploratory kiss at first, but it soon deepened into something passionate and demanding when Harry's thoughts filtered into Severus' mind.
I love you, I love you, I love you . . . .
Harry had no idea when it had happened that she had fallen in love with the wizard, but the particulars no longer seemed to matter as Severus swung her up easily in his arms and carried her to the bed.
"Yes, Harry agreed. Ours."
"Mine," Severus said then.
And their desire to have speech together was quite forgotten as they attempted again a more intimate form of communication.