"It looks like a dirt bomb exploded out—hey! Are those gnomes?"
Neville, who'd been adjusting weather charms, quickly pushed Harry back into the house. "I don't see any gnomes," he said, loudly, "and you promised not to look at the garden until I'd sorted it out."
"You knew the old shrubbery would have to be dug up," Neville continued, handing Harry a glass of pumpkin juice from the tray that Dobby had prepared for them, "and I've had to remove all the spent soil and replace it with fresh because the Blacks neglected things for years."
"I just didn't expect all the destru—"
Harry was interrupted by a large brown owl then, which swooped into the open doors and landed on the back of a chair. It held a large envelope in its beak. Harry set his glass down, took it, and gave the owl a treat.
"From Severus," he said, grinning as he opened the envelope. "Whoa."
"What is it?" Neville asked, even though, given Harry's wide eyes and flushed cheeks, he was fairly certain that he knew.
"It's . . . I don't know," Harry said, slowly running his fingers over the letter. "I can feel . . . I mean, I can . . . is that even possible?"
Neville snorted. "Is what possible? You're not making any sense. Perhaps you should go back to bed," he suggested, cringing as he heard something crash in the garden.
Harry, apparently too distracted by his letter to notice the noise of what Neville knew could only be the statue of Walburga Black being razed, handed it to Neville. "Here," he said, looking at his hands curiously.
Neville took it, and as he'd expected, felt nothing. "It's nice parchment."
"You can't feel anything?" Harry asked, taking back the letter. "I feel . . . emotions, I guess you'd say."
"If that's your invitation to Snape's house party, then you're supposed to. What you're feeling is his impression of you."
"He respects me, Neville, and, er, I think he must not hate me an awful lot."
Realisation dawns, however slowly, for our befuddled hero, Neville thought, with affectionate sarcasm. "And are you happy to know that he doesn't hate you?"
"I just find it a bit hard to accept, is all."
"Why? You've been corresponding with Snape for years. He wouldn't have written if he weren't interested in you, Harry."
"I know, but . . . wow! This is . . . this is all real, isn't it?"
"Perhaps you should stop stroking the invitation to shreds," Neville suggested, banishing any mental images of Harry stroking anything else of Snape's. Yes, your appalling taste in men is real. Hooray.
"Oh," Harry said, blushing and laying aside the letter. "Sorry."
"No need to apologise, but I expect you'll be wanting to pack—after you send your acceptance, of course."
"I wonder what the other Eligibles got."
"You shouldn't. It isn't polite."
"You don't think he's—"
"Harry, Snape clearly has an interest in you. Focus on that and have a good time during the Convivium. Don't worry about the others. Use the time to get to know Snape better. That's the point to all this 'reality'."
"But the others are a lot more accomplished than I am, and—"
"What did you just say?"
"They're all so—"
"None of them defeated Voldemort, you prat! None of them killed Lethifolds. None of them have better odds in the pool at the Three Broom—damn!"
"Madam Rosmerta is taking bets on the Courtship Ritual?" Harry asked, his eyebrows raising.
"She is. You're the favourite, if it's any consolation."
"How much did you put into the pot?"
"Well, to bet, you had to put in one, so it was a pretty generous bet."
"I'd say it was too generous, and what was the bet?"
"Er, the main one is that you'll be Snape's Choice."
"And the others?"
"That you'll be the bearing wizard."
Harry flushed more deeply and demanded, "Anything else?"
"Well, there are a few side bets, but I didn't pay much attention to them."
"Trust me. You don't want to know."
"Fancy a pint?" Harry asked, walking out into the hall and reaching for his cloak as Neville followed.
"That's not a good idea. It'll just embarrass you to know."
"Then you'd best save me the embarrassment, hadn't you?"
"You're a stubborn git, you know that? Fine. One of the side bets is that you and Snape will shag before the Binding."
Harry blanched and ran a hand through his hair.
"The other is that you'll refuse to accept marital binding spells of any kind. I put money on that one, too, if you must know."
"I just can't see you allowing anyone to control you."
"Well, you're right about that," Harry replied, sighing. "Nev, for the Binding, do you really think that Severus would . . . I mean . . . ."
Neville sighed, as well, uncertain as to how to respond. He realised, now, that Harry was falling for Snape, and it worried him because he couldn't see any relationship between them ending well.
Avoiding the issue, he said, "I'm surprised you're not more worried about the bearing part. I would be."
"Yeah, I don't know how I feel about having myself Transfigured. The whole process seems very complicated."
"You've been reading up on it, then?"
"Put your cloak back and let's—what's wrong?"
"This isn't mine. It's Severus'."
"Stop leering. No one's won that bet. He left it here after we fought after—never mind. I'll pack it with the rest of my things and take it to him," Harry said, hanging the cloak up and walking back into the drawing room where he threw himself down on the sofa.
Neville didn't mention that Harry had included Snape's belongings with his own. I know he didn't mean it that way, not consciously, he thought, taking the chair across from the sofa. "So, how do you feel about possibly bearing Snape's babies?"
"Honestly? I don't know. The idea of marriage is weird enough to contemplate without thinking about the rest of it."
"It seems as though you've been researching it, anyway."
"You can blame Hermione for that. She says it's always best to prepare before making any decision."
Good old Hermione. "True, but tell me, have you given any thought to the Potter line?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're the last Potter, Harry. If you Bind yourself to Snape, your line will end."
Harry sat up, his eyes widening. "I didn't think of that. I suppose I'm just not . . . wizard enough—culturally, I mean—to have thought of it. But I don't suppose it matters, really, because it's not like my family's part of Wizarding Parliament, right?"
"It does matter, not just to fanatical pure-bloods, and the Potters have been MWPs in the Low Chamber for generations. Hasn't anyone ever discussed this with you before?"
"I'm not really one for politics, Nev," Harry said, shrugging.
Someone should have told him! Neville thought, furious to discover that Harry had been so neglected in terms of his political destiny, as well as everything else that had been denied him, and greatly disturbed by Harry's apparent disinterest in government. "Did you know that Snape's Family have a seat in the High Chamber?"
"But Severus isn't a politician."
"No, but as Head of Snape Family, he is a Minister of Wizarding Parliament. His vote would count directly if he chose to cast it," Neville instructed Harry, attempting to keep his disapproval of Snape's lack of participation in government from bleeding into his tone. Snape should have been married long before now.
Harry leaned back into the sofa cushions. "And that's significant because everyone in the Low Chamber votes, but theirs only counts as one together?"
"Yes, exactly, with the Minister for Magic's vote being cast as a tie-breaker if necessary. The Heads who make up the High Chamber aren't as active as they might be. They don't all participate in governance on a regular basis—unless there's something important to them under consideration, of course, or it's an election year. The Lower Chamber tend to be more active, despite their weaker powers. You've read about the movement to remove their part in the election of the Minister altogether, surely?"
Harry bit his lip, and Neville saw that he'd made him uncomfortable but couldn't be arsed to care.
"Should I have?"
Merlin, what a bloody stupid question! "Yes, Harry, you should have. I know the idea of sitting in a room full of old farts and listening to them drone on isn't exciting, but it's still a fight of sorts, and an important one. People's apathy is what's given us 'leaders' like Fudge in the past."
"So, I guess you're politically active, then?"
"I am, and I'll be more so when I take my seat in the High Chamber."
"The High Chamber? I didn't know, Nev."
"Yeah, my Family's pretty old. You remember from school how it works, right?"
Harry looked down at his hands.
Neville sighed. "Right. The Fifty—the Families whose members and retainers made up Merlin's army in his fight with the goblins and whose Heads subsequently at the Founding participated with Merlin in writing the Laws of Governance for the Magical Realm—gave themselves and their heirs the right to sit in the High Chamber, with their votes each being fully counted. The Low Chamber was composed of all other Families that Registered with the Ministry at the time of the Founding. Merlin disapproved of Registration—he felt it was too controlling and an unnecessary infringement of people's privacy—so, Unregistered and unmarried, he took the position as the first Minister for Magic. Of course, no one minded, given that he'd just brought the goblins to the table to sign the Wizard-Goblin Accords—not that it would've mattered much if people had, of course."
"Obviously. Merlin was too powerful. I guess it's good that he wasn't Dark. Why'd you make a point of saying that he was unmarried?"
Did you not study? Neville thought, taking a deep breath and answering, "Because the law says that unmarried wizards aren't permitted to sit in either the High or Low Chambers. Interestingly enough, Merlin did support that law, but I suppose not enough to marry, himself. In any case, that's why I've not yet taken my seat. And Registration was established, at least, officially, for the 'noble' purpose of naming everyone who made up society, and by everyone, you should understand it to mean everyone who 'mattered'."
"Right. Furthermore, the births and deaths, among other things, of Registered Families are tracked by the Record. Tell me you've heard of it?"
"I'm an Auror. Of course I have."
"Well, you remember that the Low Chamber is composed of the Heads of Families who weren't present at the Founding, right?" Harry nodded, and Neville continued, "Their vote counts as one, as you noted, and should serve to prevent any 'tie' in voting, but, because not all members of the High Chamber participate and it throws off the numbers, sometimes there's a need for the Minister to step in and cast the deciding vote on legislation. You following?"
"Yes, I'm following."
"I didn't mean to irritate you, but you did intimate that you weren't sure how our government worked."
Harry felt like the worst kind of idiot. How is it I didn't know most of this? I should know all of it! I should have studied more.
He was glad that Neville was being so patient with him by explaining things, so he tried to think of a question to ask that would make him look like less of a prat in Neville's eyes.
"Can any member of Parliament propose legislation?"
"No, actually. Only the Low Chamber can put forward a piece of legislation or propose a candidate for Minister—Merlin worked hard for those considerations."
"I think I remember that from History of Magic."
"Good. The point was to prevent the High Chamber from controlling the affairs of the wizarding world, but, of course, there's a lot of corruption."
"I'll bet. Wait, you keep mentioning wizards, but can a witch Head a Family and sit in Parliament?"
"Sure, but only for the past two hundred and ten years. Narcissa Malfoy occupies her husband's seat in the High Chamber currently, but I expect that will change once Draco marries."
"No wonder she's trying to do something about the Malfoy name."
"She offered to help me during the Negotiation if Severus Chose me. I thought I'd mentioned that."
"You didn't—and I find the idea appalling—but it makes a lot of sense from her perspective, I suppose," Neville replied, appearing thoughtful. After a moment, he asked, "You know what's funny?"
I can't think of a thing, Harry thought, dispiritedly. "What?"
"You worked so hard to save our world, but you really don't consider yourself part of it, do you?"
"Just because I don't know every little detail of wizarding government doesn't mean I feel like an outsider, Neville," Harry replied sharply. "I mean, there was that business with Voldemort," he continued, waving his arms around in frustration, "and who had time to explain things to me then?" Besides Dumbledore, he thought bitterly. "Sorry, I didn't mean to sound—"
"Don't apologise. You're right, and I didn't mean to sound like such an arse. I just feel passionately about government. I would've told you about all of this sooner if I'd known you didn't know, and I'm happy to answer your questions, Harry, truly. Ask me anything you like."
It was a generous offer, and Harry tried to feel glad of it. Instead, it merely reinforced his sense of alienation from the world he had never truly felt a part of, no matter his assertion to Neville that he did. I'm the bloody hero of the wizarding world, and I didn't even know that I could help govern it! Of course, that seat in Parliament is wasted on me, isn't it? Someone like Hermione should be able to—
Neville cleared his throat. "You all right in there?"
"Yeah. I was just thinking that Hermione would make a better MWP than I would."
"Perhaps, but that would mean a change in the law. As it stands, a witch can only sit in Parliament if her husband dies and leaves her his hereditary seat to fill until she passes it to their son."
"That's hardly fair. What happens if there are no sons?"
"Then the seat falls to the next male heir in the Family."
"Then how do new seats get added to the Low Chamber?"
"A wizard Registers himself with the Ministry for seat sponsorship by a member of the High Chamber."
"You mean if a wizard can't find a sponsor, he can't sit in Parliament at all?"
"That's right. It's not fair, either, but the law stems from the belief that the Founding Fifty would be reasonable judges of the 'new' Families who wished to participate later. Really, it was a way—"
"To retain power," Harry said, frowning. "It's why some Heads use their magic to control their junior Family members."
"Exactly, and even if the law were to change to permit women to Register, I don't see Hermione establishing herself as Head of a Family she doesn't have. She'd have to be married to start a Family, and I seriously doubt any wizard would permit his wife to sit in Parliament in lieu of himself."
"You'd better not say as much to her," Harry warned. "You know she's likely to avoid marrying altogether and start campaigning for change straight away if you do."
Neville chuckled. "I can imagine worse things. In fact, I think it's high time for some decent changes to be made in how Parliamentary seats are established—but for Blaise's sake, I won't say anything about it to Hermione."
"Do you think I should take my seat?"
"You'd be a very influential voice, you know. Many MWPs in the Low Chamber who've been persuaded by those in the High Chamber to bring up all that 'restructuring' rot might think twice if you were there to fight against it. Most of them only work with their 'betters' for the prestige, but the favour of—and I'm really sorry to say this, Harry—the 'Man Who Lived' might be worth more to them."
"Hell, at least you didn't say 'boy'."
A loud clanging issued from the garden, and Harry raised an eyebrow at Neville, who said, "Er, I think I should be getting back out there," just as Dobby came flying into the room after a small being who was speeding towards the doors and holding something that looked suspiciously like a spoon.
"No! No gnomes in Dobby's kitchen!" the house elf cried, sending purple sparks flying out of his fingers to zap the heels of the gnome.
Harry raised his other eyebrow at Neville.
"What? I couldn't keep them cooped up in that crate forever, and it's against LSPCGG policy to set them loose in public areas because the dim buggers won't hide themselves from Muggles. Besides, gnomes need the comfort of a home environment."
"You're a part of Lavender's group?"
"I'm co-chair of the LSPCGG. Lavender and I founded it after forty gnomes living in the weeds behind a London home were poisoned by a developer. He didn't even try to relocate them."
"Dobby is not thinking of poison, Neville Longbottom, but gnomes is not welcome in houses!" he exclaimed, popping back into the room.
"Why don't you like gnomes?" Harry asked. "They're pests, but they don't do any real damage, do they?"
"Gnomes is being very destructive—and thieves—Harry Potter!"
"Gnomes like shiny things," Neville explained.
"Oh, well, maybe if we put those globe things in the garden they'd stay out there," Harry said, noting the look of horror that crossed Neville's face. "What? I like those things."
"I'll see what I can do—short of gazing globes, the awful things."
"That's me, known for my taste," Harry replied, chuckling.
"Right. I'd best get back out there," Neville said again, rising and walking towards the doors that led to the garden.
"And I'd best send my reply to Severus. I don't need to send him my impression of him, do I?"
"Do you even know how that's done?"
"No. Magical ink?"
"Got it in one, but unless you brew it yourself, it's expensive stuff."
"Something on the order of fifteen Galleons per ounce, I believe."
"Yep," Neville said, exiting the room.
Wow. Severus could make a fortune if he ever opened a shop, Harry thought, idly sipping his pumpkin juice. I wonder what his political ambitions are? I can't think why he keeps teaching. He certainly never seemed to enjoy it . . . .
Now that he'd discussed politics with Neville, something he'd overheard at the gala made sense to him. Two elderly witches had been discussing how odd it would be if he accepted Severus because, as one of them had put it, "He'll be busy enough with his career soon enough." At the time, Harry had thought she'd meant some sort of promotion within the DMLE.
Now I understand. Some people think I'll take my seat in Parliament. I wonder what Severus would say to that? I wonder what he expects of me, would expect of me, if we did get married?
He had a great deal to consider. Politics confused him. His place in society confused him more. The incessant fawning after the defeat of Voldemort had been one of the reasons he'd left it. Thinking about it, however, he realised that people had treated him with more . . . respect at all the parties he'd attended during the Presentation.
At least, most of them were a little more respectful of my privacy—but there's still the hero thing to contend with.
Harry didn't feel that he did anything any other Auror wouldn't do in the course of his duties, and it made him uncomfortable to be treated as something special. Actually governing the wizarding world, rather than merely protecting it, seemed just as important a duty.
If not more so. Neville's right. I should know more about politics. . . . Great. That means more research. Oh well, it's nothing that will kill me, and if it means helping to stop all this "traditional wizarding values" business, perhaps I should consider becoming more active politically.
With this in mind, Harry resolved to be a better wizard.