Chapter Ten: The Ministry Gala Continues
Harry followed Severus' progress through the crowd and occasionally spoke to other guests as they passed his position near the doors. Constance Dellwood's sister, Elizabeth, had just left him when he was approached by the last person he'd wanted to see that evening.
"Chatting up the competition, Potter?"
"Mother sent me to tell you that it's not considered handsome to brood."
"How kind of Mrs Malfoy to take an interest."
"Yes, isn't it?"
"What do you really want, Malfoy?"
"You're not seriously considering allying yourself with the Snape Family, are you?"
"What business is that of yours?"
"It's just that it wouldn't be particularly wise."
Harry pushed off the wall, clasping his hands behind his back so that he wouldn't give in to the urge to throttle Malfoy. "You're not seriously threatening me in public, are you? You're a coward, sure, but I didn't think you were stupid."
Malfoy's eyes narrowed, but he continued to smile as he said, "I'm merely pointing out the obvious—something that perhaps your head's too far up your arse for you to notice."
Harry and Malfoy had never got on well, especially since the latter had submitted himself to the Ministry for questioning about his father's activities rather than become caught up in them—and then spent the war with relatives in France. Upon his return, Malfoy had received serious death threats, and it was Harry who had been assigned to protect him.
"And what would that be?" Harry asked, even though he was no more interested in Malfoy's opinions now than he'd been while working his protective detail.
"Honestly? I think there's been enough weakening of the Great Houses by the admixture into their lines of lesser blood, but also because I can't think you'd enjoy being a bearing wizard for any man."
"It's nice to see you haven't changed," Harry retorted, his jaw tightening.
"I am what and who I am, of course, which includes, however tenuously, being connected to you through my mother."
"What are you talking about?"
"She was Sirius Black's cousin."
"I'm aware of that."
"And, should you make it to the Negotiation, you will need someone to serve as your Familial representative. You did know that?"
"We're not family, Draco."
"Of course we are, Harry."
"Draco," Narcissa Malfoy, whose approach Harry had missed, said then, "it's frightfully rude of you to use someone's given name without permission."
Draco smirked. "Of course, Mother. I apologise, Eligible Potter."
Mrs Malfoy, dressed elegantly in a long silver sheath, handed her empty champagne flute to Draco and favoured him with a significant look.
"Excuse me," he said.
"Now then, Mr Potter, I don't pretend that there has ever been any intimacy between us, but Draco is correct about the Courtship Ritual, and it would be my pleasure to assist you."
The snap and pop of a photograph being taken prevented Mrs Malfoy's immediate response.
"Smile, Mr Potter. It will look much more interesting if you do not," she said, turning towards the cameraman and following her own advice.
After their picture had been taken again, the cameraman moved away appearing visibly disappointed, and Harry looked at Mrs Malfoy expectantly.
She surreptitiously cast an Imperturbable Charm on the floor beneath their feet before saying, "You find it odd that I would want to connect myself to your affairs."
"It's not so complicated. You saved my son's life on more than one occasion, and I did, in my way, love Sirius. As Lucius' wife, of course I could never show this, but then, you may not be aware that my marriage was arranged. Lucius was not my Choice."
Harry noted the bitterness in Mrs Malfoy's voice and replied, "I'm sorry. I didn't know that."
"Surely you must have suspected it the day you and your team arrived at the manor to find my escaped husband dead in the front hall by my hand?"
Harry blinked, truly gobsmacked now. The cause of Malfoy's death had not been listed on his death certificate because there hadn't been any proof that he was dead at all—and certainly no proof to connect his state of "unlife," as the Healers had called it, to his wife. That Narcissa Malfoy would admit her guilt to him was bizarre. She hadn't said as much to Tonks, who had been part of Harry's team that day, and the one responsible for transporting Lucius Malfoy's body to St Mungo's, where it lay, still.
"Mrs Malfoy, I—"
"Please call me Narcissa."
"Narcissa," Harry said, too stunned to call her anything else, "why are you telling me this?"
"Because I still have a son who must bear Lucius' name, and that name means very little to people beyond what they know of rumour and the Family fortune. I want to rehabilitate the Malfoy name, Mr Potter, and serving as your representative in the Negotiation would greatly aid me in achieving this goal."
"But . . . but there's no guarantee that I'll even reach that stage." Why are you even considering this?
Narcissa laughed. "My dear Mr Potter, you must not esteem yourself so poorly. I've known Severus Snape for many years, and you're just the sort of man he would favour. He's always been a romantic, and a hero, well, I must say his restraint in your presence is admirable."
Harry blushed. Again with the hero business. "I don't know about that, and I'd never have called Severus a romantic."
"Well, you're only at the beginning of the Courtship Ritual, aren't you? You'll come to know him better as it progresses. Consider my proposal, Mr Potter. I'm sure we'll speak again," Narcissa told him, ending her spell to glide towards Draco, who was approaching with her champagne, and leaving a confused Harry searching the crowd for his friends.
Severus didn't miss the fact that both Draco and Narcissa had spoken to Harry. What were they discussing? he wondered, continuing to appear interested in what Albion Argyle was saying to him about the state of Gringotts and wizarding banking.
Argyle was tall, slender, and pasty, and Severus was certain that bearing any children might kill him. This was enough—if Argyle's uninspiring, pedantic droning was not—to make him mentally remove the wizard from the Scroll.
"I say, you're just the best listener, Mr Snape. Most people don't have the necessary strength of character to put any effort into understanding my position. I'm quite enchanted," Argyle simpered.
Hermione nudged Severus.
"That is very gratifying to hear."
"Mr Argyle, if you would excuse us?" Hermione asked.
"Oh, oh, of course. I hope to see more of you, Mr Snape."
"Of course," Severus replied, allowing Hermione to lead him away. "Thank you for that."
"Your eyes were beginning to glaze over. I felt I had to."
"You didn't truly believe that I'd consider Marazelle a suitable wife, did you?"
"I expect not."
"What happened in the corridor?"
"Hermione, what happened in the corridor that caused Blaise and Harry to follow you?"
"Your relation is very opinionated."
"Ah. I'm sorry she treated you badly."
"So am I, but it wasn't really something from which I needed rescuing. I'm used to it by now."
"You should not have to be used to it."
"It's funny you should think so, given—oh," Hermione interrupted herself, her cheeks colouring.
"Given my social background and history?"
"Yes. Don't get me wrong—I'm very impressed by the statement you're making in choosing so many of us—"
"My Advocate selected the Eligibles, as well you know."
"Right. As I was saying, the statement you are making in selecting so many non-pure-bloods, but I confess that it is a surprise."
Stubborn woman. "Yes, I imagine it is. I've long been of the opinion that it's one's character and actions that dictate one's worth, however I may once have felt."
Hermione smiled. "I'm glad to hear it, Severus. I think it means a lot to those of us who do face discrimination based on our bloodlines. I know that Harry appreciates what you're doing."
"Harry certainly doesn't receive that kind of treatment, does he?"
"Fame is an antidote to a Muggle-born mother in most respects, but Harry takes any slights directed towards his friends as being directed towards him."
"Of course he does," Severus replied, looking around the room in search of the man in question, only to find Harry's eyes already upon him.
The way the younger wizard started at being caught staring made Severus' mouth go dry.
The dinner chime sounded, and then Harry was lost in the general push to the dining room.
"Shall we go in? I believe our names will be on cards at our places."
Severus nodded. He already knew exactly where they would be sitting.
In the dining room, Severus, Hermione, Harry, Blaise, Mary, and St John Ollivander, who couldn't seem to keep from fidgeting, sat down together.
"M—Mr Snape," Ollivander said, "h—how are you, this evening?"
"Tolerable, and you are?"
"A . . . a little overwhelmed by all the attention, I h—have to admit."
"Looking so striking," Blaise interjected roguishly, "it's no wonder."
Severus repressed a smirk as Hermione shot a venomous glance at Blaise before remarking to Ollivander, "Wand-making must be a fascinating profession."
"Oh, yes. It is," Ollivander replied, brightening.
He and Hermione then became engaged in a discussion on the subject, while Blaise and Mary talked of Anegada, which left Harry and Severus sitting quietly next to each other in what was for Severus an uncomfortable silence.
"Professor Dumbledore couldn't come?" Harry asked Severus, forcing his hands to be still. Well done, Potter. Wonderful conversational gambit.
He looks bored. You're boring him, Harry thought, taking a sip of wine from the glass before him but promising himself not to drink too much of it. "Did that cabinet of yours ever get repaired?"
"What? Oh. Yes. Kent had managed to repair it by the time I lifted the compulsion charm."
"I expect he's been more respectful of your supplies since then."
"He has. Why Albus cannot engage a competent Defence professor is beyond my powers of understanding."
"You mean you haven't figured out his evil plan, yet?" Harry hazarded, the warmth of the wine spreading through his stomach in a reassuring manner.
"What 'evil plan'?"
"Ron and I worked it out as Seventh Years. The Headmaster is trying to encourage his students to teach themselves. Bringing in the evil and the incompetent to teach Defence—that's his idea of an object lesson."
"You believe that Albus intentionally hires malevolent staffers."
"I do. Think of Monroe in my sixth year—he really was a vampire—and after Nev staked him, all of us knew exactly how to handle the undead."
"Oh, come on. You didn't really despise Nev enough to want him dea—never mind," Harry said quickly, snorting, himself. "And then there was Silvia Argent when I was a Seventh Year. She was so full of Veela blood that learning to withstand her charms was an excellent test of will, wouldn't you agree?"
"I never felt drawn to her."
Harry laughed. "Neither did I, but," he said, lowering his voice, "saving Ron from her 'charms' was . . . well, let's just say that I was never so happy to be gay as I was then."
"I imagine so. It's just as well that you discovered she was siphoning off the sexual energy of her 'victims' and selling it when you did, though I wish you'd subdued her without allowing her to set fire to half the bloody school. Hogwarts stank of smoke and damp for days."
"That only proves my point about Dumbledore's evil plan. I mean, who knew it wasn't just full-blooded Veelas that could throw fire when angry?"
"That is not a convincing argument for hiring dangerous creatures as instructors, Harry," Severus said, with seeming fondness.
Harry shivered a bit. He liked the way that Severus said his name, enunciating both syllables as if with great care. "Perhaps it isn't, but the lesson served me well in Ireland."
"Ah, yes. Ireland. You didn't count on a male of Veela descent," Severus said, an edge to his tone.
Harry flushed to remember everything he'd left out of his letter to Severus about that encounter. "No, I didn't." And I probably shouldn't have brought that up, should I?
"Tell me, are you content to wander the world on assignments, or do you ever mean to settle down?" Severus asked.
He sounds almost jealous, Harry thought. No, he couldn't be. He probably just thinks I'm a careless prat who needs looking after. Thinking this made him feel the need to be brave, and that made him reckless, so he said, "Well, I suppose that depends on whether or not I make it to the Negotiation."
"And I suppose that that depends upon whether or not you can keep yourself out of danger for a protracted period of time."
"I expect I can manage to do that," Harry said, thinking, now that I have a reason to be careful.
The thought startled him.
"Can you? You've never displayed a tendency towards caution or care in your dealings. Consider the matter of the Lethifolds, for example. Using oneself as bait to capture—"
"Oh, I never intended to capture them, Severus."
"Of course not. Even so, you could have been killed, and you can't seriously expect to make it as far as the Negotiation if it's your intention to continue putting yourself in harm's way. I shouldn't like to marry only to become a widower so soon after the Binding."
That's his way of telling me not to get my hopes up, Harry thought, feeling oddly disappointed. "No, I expect you wouldn't like that, would you? Not when you'll be needing heirs—and someone with whom to raise them."
"That's exactly it, Harry. I do need someone to bear my children, but I want . . . a partner, as well. Marriage shouldn't just be—"
"If I might have your attention?" Griselda Marchbanks called then.
Damn, Harry thought, wishing that Severus had had time to complete his thought on marriage.
He picked at his now-cold food as the awards portion of the evening began, hoping that there would be time later to finish their conversation. Soon it was his turn to take the stage, and after the riotous applause had died down and he'd been presented with his token of the Ministry's thanks, Minister Marchbanks encouraged him to "say a few words."
Shite. I hate public speaking. What can I say? he asked himself, staring out over the heads of the people in the crowd as Hermione had taught him to do on such occasions. He cleared his throat and thought quickly. "It's always nice to be recognised for one's achievements," he began, thinking that he sounded rather pompous, "but tonight's not really about me. You've all met Mary Millblossom," he continued, pausing at the polite burst of applause. "Yes, her transmutation contribution to the Lethifold-killing spell is definitely worth cheering about. I was fortunate to have met her when I did. I've also been fortunate to know the man yet to be honoured tonight for his contribution, Severus Snape."
Harry paused again; slowly, a smattering of clapping began, but the applause ended rather sooner than he thought appropriate.
Ungrateful bastards. "I don't think I would have survived my education if not for Severus Snape, and I know that Lethifolds would still be plaguing Anegada. His skills have proved invaluable to me in my career, both at school and as an Auror, and I've never properly thanked him for any of it. I invite you to help me do that now. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Severus Snape."
With those words, Harry stepped in front of the podium, gestured at Severus, and began to clap enthusiastically; the audience followed his example.
Severus rose and bowed to the other guests, looking almost flushed—Harry supposed it was due to the room's lighting—as he made his way to the dais.
"Severus Snape," the Minister said, as Harry stepped back, "the Ministry of Magic is proud to award you the Distinguished Service Medal for feats of brilliance in potions making towards the protection of all our citizens," she intoned, placing the gold disc around his neck as he bent down to allow it. "Please, dear, say a few words."
"Thank you, Minister Marchbanks. I accept this award for myself, though I share it equally with Mary Millblossom and Harry Potter. It is always gratifying to have one's achievements recognised, but still more to know that one has been useful. That a former student of mine should have done so well in his career and credit my assistance with any part of his success is, however, most welcome of all. I know that you will join me in thanking Mr Potter for his many contributions to the protection of us all," he concluded, stepping back and applauding just as Harry had done.
Harry flushed with renewed pride, and after a moment, nodded at Marchbanks in a plea for her to move on with the ceremony. As he and Severus left the dais, Harry was pleased to see how many people stopped Severus to shake hands with him, and he knew that Severus was blushing by the time they returned to their table.
Looking human suits him, he thought, grinning.
"Nicely done, Severus," said Blaise.
Hermione smiled. "And you, Harry. That was an elegant speech."
"Yes. Well done, boy," Mary agreed.
St John shook both Harry and Severus' hands. "Quite an evening, eh?"
Harry caught Severus' eye and smiled at the approval he read in his face. Now that his nervousness had passed, he found himself amazed by what Severus had said, amazed and happy.
Perhaps he doesn't think I'm such a careless prat, after all.