"Well, I can't blame you for, er, living frugally," Harry remarked, as he and Severus walked back towards the house.
"And why is that?"
"The spirits filled me in on Sir John."
"Oh, yes. My . . . ancestor."
"Hey, there's no need to sound so uneasy. You're not your murderous family."
Severus stopped walking abruptly and turned to stare blankly at him.
"What? Oh! I shouldn't have made a crack abou—"
Harry moaned and shivered in response to Severus' sudden kiss, shifting a bit to slide one of his legs between Severus' thighs and coming into contact with decisive proof of his desire for him. Merlin, he's so—oh, Merlin!
Severus smiled against Harry's mouth, astounded by his matter-of-fact kindness, and thrust forward, swallowing Harry's gasp of surprise and cupping his arse to pull him closer.
He was afraid to let him go after almost losing him again. All he wanted was to shield Harry from further harm, to rip the damnably thick robes from their bodies and claim Harry amidst the scandalised spectres of his ancestors, to make him cry out with the same joy he felt—couldn't help but feel—for being in his presence.
He'd begun to kneel towards the ground with an unresisting Harry kneeling with him when he heard the sound of someone clearing his throat—and was successfully ignoring whomever it was when the frigid droplets began pouring down upon him.
"What the bloody hell!" he exclaimed, shaking himself and looking up.
A single dark rain cloud hovered overhead, its shower evidently spent.
"Right as rain, I see."
"Damn it, Blaise!" Harry shouted. "We're a bit busy just now!"
"A bit too busy, I think," Blaise remarked, waving the Scroll at them. "From all the spinning, I expect bruises, and while I'm pleased to see the two of you getting on so splendidly, I think perhaps you might remove yourselves to a less-conspicuous trysting spot. The conservatorio does overlook the graveyard."
"I thought I told you to go into dinner," Severus snapped.
"Evessa wouldn't hear of it. She's instructed me to tell you to, and I quote, 'return to the house before everyone perishes from a lack of food and being treated to a display of an excess of civility', end quote."
Harry groaned and leant his head into Severus' chest, and Severus murmured, "Don't worry, I'm sure he's exaggerating."
"As it happens, only Evessa, Hermione, and I were by the window when the Scroll began its latest bout of acrobatics, but if you don't follow me now, I expect the others will begin to desire a better view of the, er, grounds."
Harry laughed, swaying a bit.
"You're tired," Severus told him, holding Harry steady. "Perhaps you should take dinner in your rooms."
"You're in the Green Suite."
"Never stayed in a suite before."
"Then I'll show you to it."
"I'll do that," Blaise said, with annoying officiousness, as he cast a drying charm over them both.
"He's right," Harry said to Severus. "You do need to see to your other guests."
I don't want to see to my guests.
"But you know you have to."
"You should also know," Blaise said, "that using Legilimency in front of people who can't isn't polite."
It isn't Legilimency, Severus thought, too late realising what he'd done. "You're not to speak of it," he ordered Blaise, concerned, for he knew that Harry might find it alarming, the nature of the unlikely bond they'd formed.
"Go on, Severus," Harry told him. "I'll see you later, promise."
May I visit you after— "the others have retired?"
Blaise snorted and turned his back on them.
Is that allowed?
"Of course it is," Severus replied, reluctantly releasing Harry. "I'll . . . Blaise will have dinner sent up to you."
Blaise turned to see Harry leaning after the hand Severus had just removed from his cheek and waited for Severus to move out of earshot before saying, "Right, let's get you to bed."
"I know what you 'I', Harry," Blaise said, laughing despite the uncertainty he was feeling about how close Severus and Harry had suddenly become.
"Tell me about the acrobatics."
"When Severus eliminates an Eligible, the Scroll spins as it removes his or her name."
"And it's done that before?"
"I shouldn't tell you, of course, but yes—at your party. I had to cajole Severus into putting the names back."
"Wonder why he removed them?" Harry murmured, looking too pale for Blaise's comfort.
He placed an arm around Harry's shoulders and steered him towards the house. "You're not serious, surely."
"I know he . . . ."
"Fill in that pause for me, you unobservant prat."
"I know he wants me. I just can't think why, exactly."
"You are thick, aren't you?"
Harry yawned. "'M, not so thick, but this is Severus we're talking about, and he—"
"Could give a toss about any of those other Eligibles," Blaise said, feeling impatient and frustrated. "He wants you, Harry. That's why you're on the Scroll. . . . Frankly, I think he could do better."
"Who's the prat here?"
"You are, no doubt about it. You don't see Severus snogging anyone else, do you?"
"Guess not. It's all just so surprising, is all. Two months ago, I couldn't see him snogging anyone, let alone me—not that I'm complaining, of course."
Please tell me this isn't about novelty for you—or getting a bit of your own back from Bill. Severus doesn't have time for idle fancies. "Harry, you are . . . fond of Severus, aren't you? I know that his interest must be a lot to take in—"
"So I gathered," Harry interrupted.
Blaise sighed. "My cousin's . . . charisma notwithstanding, this is a serious thing, the Courtship Ritual. If you're not approaching it as such—sorry, perhaps this isn't the time," Blaise interrupted himself, as Harry tripped over his feet and groaned.
"I want him, Blaise. I'm serious about that, really."
Wanting isn't loving, Blaise thought in disappointment, but he decided to continue the discussion when Harry was more himself. "Frasier's a menace."
"She's in custody?"
"Shacklebolt came for her, himself. Oh, and I'm to assure you that statements can wait, as she confessed and 'the DMLE wishes to respect Supplicant Snape during his time of ritual'. I still can't believe Shacklebolt said that with a straight face."
"That's ni—ce," Harry replied through another yawn, as he and Blaise reached the house. "I'd've confessed, too, if Shacklebolt'd questioned me."
"Actually, it was Hermione who took the bitch's confession."
Harry chuckled. "Glad I'm not Frasier."
Blaise was practically carrying Harry by the time they reached the Green Suite, and he helped him undress and slide into bed, assuring Harry that it was fine if he slept for awhile.
"The house elves will charm your tray. When you wake up, you can—Harry?"
But Harry's steady breathing was his only response.
Blaise drew his wand and cast a general diagnostic over him, satisfying himself that Harry was well, and then covered him with another soft blanket before summoning Tippy to instruct her and then rejoining the rest of the company, his mind full of concerns that he firmly dismissed for the moment.
"—excitement!" Theodore Tuttle was saying, as he entered the dining room.
"Yes, Supplicant Snape," Crispin Charteris added, "I'd no idea that dramatics were to be part of the entertainment."
"I can assure you that—"
"My cousin," Blaise interrupted as he took his place, because he could see that Severus was about to issue a scathing remark, "was unaware that his 'greatest admirer' was so taken with him that she would turn murderous. How many of us have wished for such a compliment?"
Polite laughter rippled throughout the room.
"I believe I'd much prefer to have the compliment of your song, Miss Solstella," Lorelai Lovegood interjected. "I had the privilege of hearing you in concert at one of your benefits for the Egyptian Museum of Wizarding Antiquities three years ago, and I enjoyed your performance a great deal."
"You're very kind to say so."
"Not at all," Severus replied. "The sessions you recorded for the WWN are some of my favourites."
"Ah, with Paulo Zabretti, yes! He was a joy to sing with. I remember . . . ."
"Very smooth, Mr Zabini," Hermione whispered sometime later, turning from her discussion with Elladina Endicott and placing her hands in her lap.
"Thank you. I try, Miss Granger."
"Just fine. Sleeping it off."
"He slept for over a week after—"
"There's no need to remember all that now, is there?" Blaise asked, sliding his left hand under the table to find Hermione's right one and giving it a squeeze.
"No," she replied, her cheeks colouring slightly.
"You're very pretty when you blush."
"I don't blush."
Blaise smirked and leant down to breathe into her hair, "No, of course you don't," and was rewarded, when he sat back up, by Hermione's more deeply pinkened cheeks. Lovely. So very lovely.
Severus surreptitiously watched this exchange with pleasure, all the while talking to those guests closest to him and wishing he were upstairs. I need to contact Baird and Ian. I want to see Harry. Will dinner never end? "Forgive me, Tuttle. You were saying?"
"That I wonder about the lack of support for Artemis Twist's measure in Parliament. Surely you, despite not . . . taking an active interest in politics, see the wisdom of it?"
"I see no wisdom in stripping the Low Chamber of one of its most important duties. There is no reasonable explanation being put forth by Twist and her supporters for desiring to change a system of suffrage that has worked quite well for over fifteen hundred years."
The room grew quiet, and all eyes turned towards Severus.
Tuttle cleared his throat. "Really, I'm quite amazed by your view of how smoothly the system is running. In just the past 100 years, seven new Families have Registered with the Ministry—people who may not even have had ancestors here at the time of the Founding—and they're now participating in government as if they understood how to run things. It's preposterous!"
"As you pointed out," Severus said, an edge to his voice that was not lost on Blaise, he saw, who was frowning at him, "they are participating in the governing of our affairs. You tax me for my lack of participation, but you haven't seen fit to participate, either."
"Ah, but you've been busy, and I'm attempting to alter my affairs, now, aren't I?"
Don't get your hopes up, you toadying little fop. "Indeed."
"And your . . . business should alter once securing your future, I expect."
"You expect a great deal, Mr Tuttle."
Easy, Blaise thought, as Hermione clutched his hand. Don't get riled—
"I agree," Hermione said. "Just what do you expect the new, Muggle-born family Heads might do to cause a disruption in Parliament? It moves rather slowly still, for all the 'contamination'."
"I never said anything about contam—"
"You implied it, sir."
"So you did, Tuttle," Evessa remarked.
Severus asked, "Well, Tuttle? What do you have to say to Miss Granger's question?"
"I say, is it really necessary to discuss politics when so much beauty is before us?"
"That line would be more effective if you weren't such an affirmed poof," Charteris remarked, almost too quietly for Blaise to hear.
"Quite so," Evessa rejoined.
Blaise smirked at Hermione, who was glaring at Tuttle, and then sighed. And things were going so very well, too.
"Do you know," Margaret Marchbanks said, "that I represent a group attempting to persuade the Low Chamber to introduce legislation regarding enacting protective measures for garden gnomes?"
It was a clear attempt to change the subject, and Blaise was relieved when Hermione and the others seized upon the topic with great conversational vigour. He didn't want Hermione's evening ruined, or for Severus to drum Tuttle out of the house before dessert—but he wasn't at all surprised when he felt the Scroll turn once again. Resolving that it was for the best, he eagerly contributed to the conversation his own opinions about the protection of garden gnomes.
The party retired for the night not long after Seraphina Solstella had completed her post-prandial concert, and Severus, relieved, went directly to his study to contact Baird.
"Forgive me for cutting you off so abruptly before. How is she?"
"Sleeping soundly. She gave us quite a scare! I'd no idea that she'd taken up Divination."
"What? But Greer had a vision."
"Oh, yes, so she did, but what brought it on was nothing more than a children's toy. She was telling some of the other children's fortunes before bed. When she began to tell her own, however, her eyes turned glassy and then she ran off to contact you, apparently."
"I'm glad she did."
"I am, as well, but Aunt Minnie's going to be spitting mad when she discovers that she has a haruspex for a great-niece!"
Severus smirked. "Be that as it may, it's convenient for Greer that she can recall her visions. If she makes a career out of Seeing, at least she'll be a legitimate practitioner of the 'art'."
Baird scoffed. "I doubt it'll come to that. Is Mr Potter well?"
"He is, thank you."
"I expect you'll be wanting an exorcist now," Baird said, yawning.
I don't know if an exorcist could remove the hostile spectres without banishing Edmund. "I'll think on it, Baird. Give my . . . my love to Greer, and promise her that I'll visit soon."
"I'll do that—and you'd best bring this Potter fellow when you come. Now that Greer knows she's had a vision about him, she's demanding to meet him. When I tell her that she actually helped rescue the man, I expect she'll attempt to Floo to you straight away."
"I imagine you're right."
"For now," Baird replied, winking and ending the fire-call.
"For now," Severus whispered, removing his formal robes and frock coat, "because soon I'll have children of my own."
It was a heartening thought, and he carried it with him to Harry's room, where he found him propped up by pillows in his bed and dozing, a dinner tray hovering above his lap, and a book of Shakespeare laying open under his right hand. Moving the chair by the bed closer to it, he settled down into it, his eyes moving possessively over Harry's form as he slid the book towards himself.
I see you've been reading Hamlet. Interesting choice. I didn't even know that you were familiar with Shakespeare. Unbidden, the words of Hamlet to Ophelia rose in Severus' mind, "Lady, shall I lie in your lap?" and were followed by Harry's words to him earlier that afternoon, "I ended up in your lap earlier than I expected."
Setting the book on the night table, Severus smiled to remember how ardently Harry had responded to his kisses, and then he frowned to remember having had to replace the names of his ineligible Eligibles on the Scroll. It had been more difficult, the second time, and he resented the necessity of having had to do it at all.
Because I don't want anyone else.
It occurred to him then that although Harry had seemed to welcome his advances, it didn't necessarily follow that he was interested in pursuing something other than "country matters" with him.
I don't know you half so well as I should like.
Yawning, and encouraged to discover that he and Harry shared a taste for the Bard, Severus decided to set aside his doubts and allow himself to be grateful that the man he loved was well—and with him.
There will be plenty of time to further our acquaintance over the next few weeks, he thought, snuggling more deeply into his chair and wondering how many children Harry desired as he drifted off into a welcome slumber.