"—and I don't think we could have found a better artist to recreate Verrio's masterpiece," Evessa was saying to Crispin Charteris, as Severus entered the chapel behind Elizabeth Dellwood and Drusilla Denton.
Dellwood and Denton had been inseparable since their arrival together earlier that morning, and Severus was beginning to suspect that they had more in common than being Eligibles. Good, he thought, with some bitterness. That makes three more to strike from the Scroll.
"You say this Miss Lovegood wishes to be a portraitist?" Charteris asked.
"Oh, no. I believe Miss Luna intends grander things than that. Isn't that right, Miss Lovegood?"
Lorelai moved through the cluster of guests to stand next to Evessa and Charteris and answered, "Yes, ma'am. Luna paints a great many fanciful 'scapes—landscapes and 'mindscapes', as she calls them."
"Ah, you see, Crispin? An artist. Come, dears. There are some lovely . . . ."
Severus lost the thread of Evessa's conversation as he became immersed in his own thoughts. It's nearly eight o'clock! Where is he?
Denton's high-pitched laughter interrupted his thoughts, and he cringed. Looking up, he saw that the others had left the chapel and were standing on the steps just outside its open doors. Denton was giggling madly at something Dellwood was bending down to whisper into her hair.
Watching them, Severus muttered, "Why did you two bother to come when it's clear that—"
"Master Severus!" a house elf yelled excitedly then, as she appeared in front of his face with a loud pop!
"What is it, Tippy?" he snarled before he could stop himself, reaching out at once to catch Tippy before she could bash her head against a pew. "Forgive me. What is it?" he asked again, more gently.
"T—Tippy is seeing the fire screaming, sir. Screaming!"
"In Master Severus' bedchamber, sir. Screaming."
"Thank you, Tippy," Severus said, walking through the back door of the chapel rather than having to explain himself to his guests. He went immediately to his room and was surprised to find that Tippy was not far off. "Greer! Greer, is that you?" he asked into his fire, from which a loud keening sound was emanating.
"Sev'rus! I can't see you," Greer wailed. "I've been calling, Sev'rus."
"Are you injured? Where are your parents?"
"I can't see you!"
"Greer, have you put your head into the fire?"
"D—do I have to?"
"If you wish to see me, yes," he replied patiently.
Greer's tear-streaked face appeared in the fire, her eyes wide and wild.
"Sev'rus! The seeing lady is bad. She's bad, Sev'rus! You have to make her leave right now!"
"Why are you whispering, Greer? Do your fathers know—"
"Listen, Sev'rus. I'm trying to tell you that the seeing lady is bad. Make her leave!"
"I don't understand you. What 'seeing lady'? And—"
Suddenly, Greer's face went utterly slack. Her eyes rolled back into her head, and she began to chant, "She has put him in the dark place, the place of darkness and no rest. She has put him in the dark place, the place of darkness and no rest to keep him from you. She has—"
"Severus, what's happened to Greer?" Baird demanded, as Ian, or so he assumed, pulled the child from the fire.
"She's having a vision. Don't attempt to wake her—let it run its course. I'll be in touch," he said, abruptly ending the fire-call and racing from the room.
I understand. She means Miranda Frasier—the haruspex, Severus thought, running through his home because he had seen to it that no one could Apparate within its walls for the duration of the Convivium and vowing to remove that barrier for himself at the first opportunity. Frasier must have done something to Harry!
Panic seized him, and all his anger at Harry for what he'd considered to be his thoughtlessness fled. He reached the entrance to the chapel and lunged at Frasier, taking her by the shoulders and shouting, "Where is he?"
Frasier paled but said nothing.
"Severus!" Evessa exclaimed. "What are you doing?"
"Where. Is. He?" Severus demanded again, continuing to shake Frasier as the company drew back.
Severus thrust Frasier towards Hermione and Walden, calling over his shoulder as he ran, "Hold her!"
Hermione, her wand drawn and pointing at Frasier, looked to William Walden, who had done the same.
"Go on, Granger. I've got her."
He didn't have to tell her twice.
Hermione caught up with Severus in the centre of the graveyard, just as he'd entered the mausoleum there. Following him, she saw that it was empty, save for nine marble crypts and the leaves that had blown in through the iron bars of the door.
"Harry! Harry, are you here? HARRY!"
"Don't shout. You won't be able to hear him if he answers," Hermione ordered, concerned by Severus' uncharacteristic behaviour.
Severus fell silent. No one answered him.
"Tell me what's happened," said Hermione, her tone crisp and dispassionate.
"Minerva's great-niece. She fire-called to warn me about Frasier and tell me that she'd locked Harry away in the dark."
"It's not dark in here."
"What?" Severus asked, looking wildly around and casting haphazard tracking spells.
If Hermione had doubted Severus' feelings for Harry before, she didn't now and wouldn't, again, but there was no time to dwell on that. "It's not dark in here, Severus. This isn't the place. What did Greer tell you, exactly? Think!"
"'She has put him in the dark place, the place of darkness and no rest. She has put him in the dark place, the place of darkness and no rest to keep him from you'."
"That sounds like a place where disturbed spirits would dwell. Are there ghosts connected to this place?"
"More than I can count. Harry! Damn it, where—"
"Severus! We may not have much time, so calm down and tell me: where are the most restless spirits?"
"All of them are restless! Where is he? HA—"
"Stop it!" Hermione shouted, grabbing Severus' wand arm by the wrist and jerking him towards her. "Severus, you know that Harry can control spirits if he's prepared. He did it at the end. Frasier must have figured out that they're attracted to Harry and locked him away in the most troubled spot—so think. Where is that spot?"
Shuddering, Severus replied, "Underneath the chapel, in the catacombs. We can get there through here," he told her, murmuring a spell that caused one of the sepulchres to open.
There was a grinding sound, stone moving over stone, as stairs rose in the tomb. Severus climbed up onto them and then continued down into the darkness without looking back.
"Lumos!" Hermione cast, following him carefully.
The steep stair was slippery with moss and spiralled down into a cold, earthen corridor far below. Its walls had shelves carved into them; they were heavily laden with human bones.
Hermione found herself wishing that she'd brought Walden. "Lovely. Is this on the Muggle tour?"
Severus didn't answer her; he appeared to be listening. After a moment, he said, "Frasier couldn't have subdued Harry."
"I shouldn't think she could have. She must have tricked him and then left him to the ghosts. Which way?"
In answer, Severus led her to the right, following the corridor until they came to a fork in it and stopping. Down either branch, Hermione could see the white of bones flashing as her wand-light hit them.
"There are so many Snapes?"
Oh. Oh, dear, Hermione thought, disturbed. "What's to the right?"
"The continuation of the catacombs."
"And to the left?"
"The tombs beneath the chapel."
"Let's go that way."
They turned down the left corridor walking in step; almost at once, Hermione could feel a clammy coldness enfold her. It was like attempting to walk through a wall, and suddenly, she couldn't take another step.
Oh, I really wish we had Walden with us, she thought, relieved that Severus, at least, now seemed calmer.
Severus felt the unearthly frigidity of the air seeping into his bones and took several calming breaths. He'd never liked this part of the manor and had only explored it a few times as a boy. Turning, he saw that Hermione had stopped and was making a sign with her right hand.
"Away and back from me, back to your bones. Away and back from me, back to your bones. Away and back from me, back to your bones."
"What twaddle is that?"
"Feel," Hermione whispered.
"It's . . . not as cold."
"Imagine my surprise," Severus snapped, still frantic with worry but now rather embarrassed that Hermione had witnessed his egregious loss of composure.
"It's been that sort of night, hasn't it?"
"What do you mean?"
"Minerva's great-niece, I gather, doesn't usually have visions?"
"This would be her first to my knowledge, but how can you know that?"
"Given your opinion of 'twaddle', I can't imagine that you'd have trusted her so completely as you did if she were prone to visions," Hermione replied, moving forward again. "I expect you're rather fond of Greer, yes?"
Severus didn't answer Hermione until they reached the heavy wooden iron-reinforced door that he'd known they'd find at the end of the corridor. "You're right. . . . I don't suppose that Luna shared any other . . . chanting wards with you that might assist us?"
"Just the one."
"Are you ready?" asked Severus, drawing his wand with one hand and grasping the doorknob with the other.
Hermione swallowed visibly. "I am."
Severus threw open the door to the sound of something like a windstorm. Hermione charged ahead of him, exclaiming, and he followed her at once. What he saw horrified him.
Harry was curled into an unmoving ball on the floor. What looked like hundreds of spectres were rushing through his body, shrieking maliciously all the while.
No! Severus thought, certain in that moment that Harry was dead.
Into this spectral storm, driven by his grief and fury, Severus began screaming Luna's protective chant. Spell-light, which he was dimly aware must be due to Hermione, flickered in the maelstrom around Harry, which began to subside somewhat.
Still Harry lay unmoving.
Harry, Harry, GET UP! Severus mentally begged, while continuing to shout Luna's charm and moving as close to Harry as the spectres' activity would permit him.
Suddenly, Harry's arm shot out, almost knocking Severus off his feet, and he was shouting something, as well. A blinding light flooded the chamber; it sent the ghosts fleeing through the walls, and a near-palpable silence fell.
Severus opened his eyes to see Harry standing.
Grinning, he said, "It's a damn good thing that ancestor of yours is dead, or I'd kill him myself," before collapsing, unconscious, to the ground.
Severus dropped his wand and fell to the floor next to Harry, pulling him into his lap and examining him hastily.
"Is he injured?" Hermione asked, kneeling down next to them.
Relief made speaking difficult. "Not . . . not physically."
"Harry? It's all right now," Hermione said, rubbing one of his forearms. "Come on, now, Harry. Wake up."
Harry didn't want to wake up, but he didn't want to sleep, either, knowing what he'd dream about. Half-unwillingly, he opened his eyes and found himself staring up into Severus' as Hermione stopped speaking. He was grateful for the silence—and for the way in which Severus was staring at him.
Heard you, he thought. Heard you in my head. Glad. Severus stiffened, as if he'd heard what he was thinking, and Harry smiled because he liked that idea in spite of its unlikelihood. "She . . . she said you were . . . in here," he said, with difficulty.
"Yeah. I got here and," was too nervous to go into the house, so "I took a walk. Frasier, she was by the gate . . . ."
"To the graveyard?" Hermione asked.
"Yeah. There. She said you were all in here. Well, in the mausoleum taking the Muggle tour—"
"There is no Muggle tour!" Severus shouted.
"Oh, my head," Harry said, groaning against the pain as he struggled to sit up.
Severus shifted and pulled him back down to lean against his chest, and Harry didn't fight him. Being in Severus' arms felt more right to him than anything he'd felt in a long time.
"Nice," he murmured. "You smell good."
Hermione coughed. "I'm going to call Headquarters. I don't think it would be a good idea to have Walden or I take Frasier into custody."
"Thank you, Hermione," Severus said.
"Blaise wouldn't have it any other way, I'm sure."
"It's unfortunate that Blaise wasn't here to deal with Frasier, himself."
"No, it's not," Harry and Hermione said together.
"Really, he'd have been furious," Harry continued. "Too furious for his own good."
"Perhaps you're righ—"
"Severus? Hermione?" called Blaise. "Where are you? Have you found Harry?"
"In here," Severus called, just as Blaise entered the way he and Hermione had come.
"What the hell happened?"
"Oh, the usual," Harry said, smirking with a cheekiness he didn't truly feel.
"What's this about Fra—"
"Haruspex," Severus spat.
Hermione added, "Ghosts."
"Competition," Harry completed, laughing weakly and pointing to himself.
"Kindly escort Hermione back to the party and suggest that Evessa lead everyone into the house for dinner," Severus interrupted, in a tone that brooked no disagreement. "The Convivium hasn't got off to an auspicious start, and I'd like to minimise the . . . dramatics."
"Drama's not all bad, really," Harry said, feeling rather light-headed. "I ended up in your lap earlier than I expected." No! Oh, no. I did not just say that.
Blaise chuckled, his anger apparently diffused, and offered his arm to Hermione, who rose gracefully and took it before asking, "You're all right then, Harry?"
Nice smirk, there, Granger. "Oh, right as rain."
"Don't be long, cousin. You are the reason for the party, after all," Blaise instructed, winking at Harry before leading Hermione from the room.
Yeah, the party I just ruined, probably. Severus is going to kill me for being so careless!
Incredibly relieved to have found Harry unharmed, and more than a little encouraged by his words, Severus remarked, "I believe I'd like to hear more about your expectations."
Before Harry could answer, the sounds of crying filtered into the room.
"Oh, that's right," Harry said. "Edmund."
"What?" Severus asked, and then gasped as Harry suddenly became incorporeal and sank through his lap. "Harry?"
"Sorry about that," he replied, floating up out of the floor. "I always forget to warn people. This won't take long," he told Severus, before passing through one of the walls.
"'Always forget'," Severus muttered. "You've only done it once that I know of."
"Well," Harry said, walking back through the wall with Edmund's spectral hand in his, "that's enough to know better than to do it without warning. Isn't that right?" he asked, addressing Edmund.
"Don't know, Mr Harry," Edmund said, sounding somewhat awestruck. "I'm sorry I couldn't make them stop."
"It's all right. You tried," Harry told him, reincorporating.
"You're not dead, then?" Edmund asked, a puzzled expression on his features.
"Nope. Now then, wouldn't you like to go play in the chapel?"
"Yes, Mr Harry. Will you come visit me again?"
Severus saw how nervous Harry appeared as he glanced his way. "Will I? After all this, I mean?"
"Don't be ridi—yes, Edmund. Harry will come visit you. So will I."
With a happy squeal, Edmund disappeared the way he'd come, and Harry turned to look down at him, offering Severus his hand.
"You give interesting parties."
Taking Harry's hand and rising without pulling on him, for Severus was still concerned by how pale Harry looked, he replied, "You make an intriguing guest."
"Yeah?" Harry asked, grinning.
Yes, Severus thought emphatically, unable to look away from Harry's mouth for a moment. That smile . . . . Rallying, he said, "Your recuperative powers are astounding—not to mention this ability of yours to become incorporeal. Have you ever discovered why you're able to do it?"
"If anyone knew where Merlin was buried I could, theoretically, reanimate him and ask why I can do it, but, short of that—"
"No. Spare me any reanimation. You're just as likely to conjure a demon as to raise Merlin," Severus replied, giving a mock shudder at the thought.
"Well, I guess the ability is good enough for one thing other than disturbing Potions masters," Harry said, swallowing and looking up into Severus' eyes as he took a step nearer to him.
"And that would be?"
"It ended that awkward moment we were having just now quite nicely, didn't it?"
Severus reached out and ran his fingers along the warm, dampened skin under Harry's fringe before carding them through his hair and cupping the back of his head, his eyes never leaving the trembling lips of Harry's mouth. "Did it?"
"Yeah, but perhaps awkwardness has its benefits, too," Harry whispered, closing his eyes and parting his lips slightly as he leaned forward.
It was an invitation that Severus couldn't refuse, and he bent down for a kiss, swallowing Harry's soft "oh!" of surprise.
The kiss began slowly, with Harry's perfect tongue moving against his own. Dancing, dancing, dancing, he thought, and then he realised it was not his thought but Harry's that was filling his mind. "It is . . . it is like . . . dancing," he gasped, breaking their embrace. But how in the hell is this possible?
"Language," Harry replied, smirking and raising an eyebrow in an excellent approximation of Severus' own gesture.
"Too many 'Remedial Potions' sessions, I expect."
Severus tried to close his mind and thought, If I'd known then what I know now—
"Professor Dumbledore would have sacked you."
In spite of his confusion, Severus laughed.
"That's a nice sound."
"I don't laugh," Severus retorted, running his hands up and down Harry's back. "You're cold. You should be resting. Do you wish to see someone? Poppy, perhaps?"
"No, but I could stand a cuppa very well." And more of you in my mind, even if it's not exactly fair to the other Eligibles.
"It's the others' problem if they never studied, I think," Severus replied, purposefully not dwelling on the nature of magic-fasting and its signs and hoping that Harry wasn't aware of them. "Come," he continued, taking Harry's arm and leading him slowly towards the door. We'll discuss this . . . conversational development, among other things, later..
Good, Harry silently replied, before snorting. "I wonder if there were any bets about this sort of thing happening?"
"I believe that Madam Rosmerta owes me a great many Galleons for having won the kissing wager."
Harry laughed, and Severus reflected that hearing Harry's laughter was almost better than being the recipient of his smile.