"Tell me about cheating, boy," Mrs Parkinson demanded.
"What do you want to know?" Harry asked, somewhat confused by the question.
Mrs Parkinson issued an impatient snort and led Harry into the drawing room. Sitting down and gesturing for him to do the same, she urged, "Well?"
"I guess you want to help me, then?"
"I do, now sit down."
Harry sat down on the cushion next to Mrs Parkinson's patting hand. "Shouldn't I be getting back out there?"
"Do you know what to write?"
"I see," Mrs Parkinson remarked, pressing her lips together into a thin line.
"You look a lot like your brother when you do that."
"He's much younger than I, so I believe one might say that he looks like me."
"Er, of course."
"Would it surprise you, Harry, to know that I feel responsible for my brother?"
"I suppose not."
"Edward's concerns about my giving you an unfair advantage in this little game of Blaise's notwithstanding, I mean to do it because I wish for Severus to be happy. You will make him happy, I think, so all's fair."
"'In love and war'?"
"And this is both."
"Mrs Parkinson, with respect, I'm not sure—"
"That's obvious to everyone, which is why you will listen to me. Severus is planning to take his seat in Parliament. That doesn't trouble you, I believe, but what troubles him is that you might also wish a career in politics."
"Sure, yes, I know—hush. Also of concern to my brother is the fear that you'll reject the traditional marriage bonds that the Snapes have employed for generations. He's not wrong in that supposition, I expect."
"No," Harry replied vehemently. "He's not. I won't be cont—"
"Foolish boy! The Binding is no trap for you, not as Severus' spouse. Oh, it could be for some, but for you, not at all. No, Severus would never seek to control your magic, and I doubt that he even could. Because of his doubts, however, he's begun to wonder if he should marry you."
He was actually thinking about me? Harry thought, more pleased than concerned by Mrs Parkinson's words. Casting about for the proper response, however, as she seemed to waiting for him to speak, he said, "I know that . . . there's some concern over certain family members."
"There's no need to be delicate, boy. Michael and Pansy—they're both die-hard pure-bloods and Death Eaters, to boot. I'm afraid that they'd cheerfully sow discord in the political sphere if they could, and that is why Severus feels it's necessary to retain control over their magic. His . . . past experiences have given him a horror of such things, and the Dark Lord, as I'm sure you're aware, didn't have the luxury of Parliament to assist him in bringing others of like mind to his cause."
And from a . . . a position of legitimacy, with the public support of some in Parliament, Harry thought grimly, Parkinson could do a great deal of damage, and probably more quickly than Voldemort managed. Blood prejudice is still so— "But shouldn't, I mean, how is it that the restraint magics work? Why does your son need Severus' seat? Aren't the Parkinsons a Family, themselves?"
"No, dear. Oh, they're pure-bloods, of course, but Unregistered and without any political power—and fleeing to Italy after the Dark Lord's first fall won them no friends here, as you might imagine. John married me when his family's place in society was respectable, but he still wanted me for my connections even then, and since then, he's very badly wanted to see our son sitting in Parliament. I should also mention that, when he began the Negotiation for me with my father, he was certain that Tobias would have no heir."
"He must have been furious when Severus was born."
"Oh, yes, he was that, but he was also in love with me by then. We corresponded in secret. Deeply in love, myself, and hoping that . . . that somehow things might end well, I carried out my end of our courtship knowing that my father never did mean to allow me to marry into the Parkinson family. He was only amusing himself with them, with John and his father. It made T—Tobias feel important."
Harry, having never known his own father, was still struck by the oddness of hearing Mrs Parkinson refer to hers by his given name. What a terrible man he must have been.
In a quiet voice, Mrs Parkinson continued, "My mother was never terribly strong. Father bullied her as he did everyone, as he did me. But I was strong enough to stand up to him, and I ran the household. He always told me that . . . he couldn't do without me, but when Severus was three-years-old, Mother—in the only display of spirit I can ever remember from her—insisted that I be permitted to marry. She'd found John's letters and told Father that such a cache surely couldn't be the only one."
"Why was that important?"
"Don't you understand? Mother blackmailed my father with social ruination. She sent John a letter instructing him to publish my letters to him if he didn't receive permission to marry me in one week's time."
"And that worked?"
"Yes. Father lusted after the respect of society and abhorred the notion of being damned by it. For that petty reason, I was permitted to leave this house and become Mrs John Parkinson."
The pain in Mrs Parkinson's eyes, Harry decided, probably stemmed from having traded a bad situation for a worse one. He knew from Blaise that she wasn't happy with her husband. "I'm sorry," he said, feeling ridiculous; comforting people had never been his best thing.
"Don't be. It was my decision, Harry, but I suppose it would be fair to say that I wasn't completely free to choose my life, and Severus finds himself in a similar position, now. He's consumed by the thought that his past might become his future and prepared to give up the man he wants out of duty. I should like to help him meet his responsibilities and be happy at the same time, and I want your help to do it."
"I'm not going to pretend that I don't want Severus, but the Bind—"
"I've told you that needn't concern yourself with that! Severus is loathe to employ such magic, and I can't believe he'd ever seek to restrain you in any way."
Harry blushed to remember the vision of Severus pinning him down, but his reverie was cut short by Mrs Parkinson's pointed cough.
"You're a clever boy with cleverer friends. Surely you can find a way to assist my brother with his obligations without falling prey to them yourself if you can't stomach the idea of a traditional Binding. Do you understand?"
"You want me to find a way of controlling your son so that Severus won't have to," Harry said, thinking, And he does have to, doesn't he? It's not in Severus' nature to make his problems other people's. He wasn't sure, as he searched Mrs Parkinson's troubled face, if he'd feel the same sort of responsibility. But then, I don't have a family—no Family, either.
"Your friends, I imagine, are dear to you. If one of them, Miss Granger, perhaps, in the course of her duties, say, were to do something you considered wrong, you'd take steps to prevent her from doing it again, wouldn't you?"
Surprised by how near Mrs Parkinson's thoughts were to his own, Harry said, "Yes, I suppose I would. I can understand why Severus feels the way he does, truly."
"Good. Even so, if Michael and Pansy can be brought under control, I believe that Severus might modify or forego the traditional Binding. I can't speak for him, of course, but—"
"It's a big if, I know—and there's a problem here: there's no proof of Michael's being a Death Eater. The DMLE has been looking for it for years."
"Then you lot have been going about it all wrong. There is proof. Michael was known to some of the others—his father and myself, among others—and he told me things during the war, things I'd prefer to forget, but my memory is my own, Mr Potter."
The hairs on the back of Harry's neck rose; it was never a good sign when someone suddenly came over all formal. "What things?"
"Things such as being present during the murders of the Millblossom family—with Bellatrix Lestrange."
"Oh, yes. Michael was there with her, and so was my granddaughter."
"You know where Lestrange is?"
"I can tell you where to find Pansy, at least."
"Why haven't you reported her whereabouts to the proper authorities?"
"Why? How can you even ask that? Have you forgotten that I'm married to a man who sympathised with the Dark Lord's cause to the extent that he offered his only son to the creature—as well as himself? My husband, brother, son, and granddaughter were servants of that monster, and my family would cheerfully see me painfully dead were I to betray them!"
"But Severus isn't a Death Eater any longer! He could protect you!"
Mrs Parkinson stared stonily at Harry.
"Oh. Oh, that's awful. He couldn't because—"
"I've been bound to John in the Old Way, yes, and while the connection of our blood allows him to maintain his control over Michael and Pansy through the restraint magics, it has no power over John's behaviour. It would not have been thus had the Parkinsons, too, been a Registered Family when John and I were Bound, but that was, as I said, not the case."
"But by telling me this now, aren't you—"
"Risking everything? Why yes, Mr Potter, I am, but the need is pressing. Should John discover my betrayal, I'd be as good as dead. Fortunately for us all, he's rather preoccupied with his latest mistress, a woman he met through our son."
Given the conversation, it was not much of an intuitive leap for Harry to guess who that might be. "Bellatrix Lestrange."
"But you just said that you didn't know where she was."
"No, what I said was that I did know where Pansy is. John doesn't entertain his whores in our home because the wards won't permit it—that was part of our Contract. I think, however, that knowing my granddaughter's whereabouts should help you locate Lestrange. If I tell you where Pansy is, will you seek her out and arrest her?"
Harry unclenched the fists he hadn't realised that he'd made and said, "Hell, yes. I'll find them all!"
"Good. I knew you'd see sense."
"Mrs Parkinson, you'll need to come to Headquarters. If I take a squad after Pansy, I'm fairly certain she and your family will know whom they have to thank for our finding her."
"There's no need for that," she replied, her smile brittle. "For you see, dear Pansy has been in this country for several months now. She tells me things, you see, believing me to be her doting grandmother. She's young and reckless and trusting, and I use those flaws to my advantage. I've encouraged her to disguise herself and go out with her old friends, and she's been most gratefully relating her 'adventures' to me through owl post. I'm certain that one of her future missives might be traced. In fact, I'm certain that it might be very possible to surprise her on one of her outings without any blame attaching itself to me. You Aurors have been everywhere, it seems, since the war."
"And here I thought that Severus was the most accomplished spy I'd ever known," Harry said, admiring Mrs Parkinson's strategic thinking. "You've been planning this, haven't you? You've been plotting for years to bring them all down."
Mrs Parkinson nodded. "I didn't take kindly to finding myself married to a Death Eater, as I'm sure you'll understand. Married life has afforded me time enough to learn much that might aid you and the 'proper authorities' in putting an end to the remaining Death Eaters' plot to achieve power in Wizarding Britain."
So much for my holidays, Harry thought, attempting to absorb and think logically about what Mrs Parkinson had told him. "Tell me something: how can you be sure that Pansy trusts you? Forgive me, but why would any of them trust you? It seems to me that your relationship with your husband is . . . strained at best, and you certainly aren't, that is, it doesn't seem as if you ever supported Voldemort. How can you really know that Pansy hasn't been lying to you all along in an attempt to trick you into betraying yourself? How is it that you know anything at all about your family's dealings?"
Mrs Parkinson sighed, and, in a gesture that Harry recognised as stemming from a desire to be perceived as non-threatening, she jerked her right arm and deftly caught her wand as it slid from the sleeve of her robes. Making a pointed display of it, she turned the gleaming ebony cylinder in her fingers until it lay horizontally on her palm and offered it to him.
Harry took her wand and laid it on the table in front of them before producing his own and laying it next to hers, saying, "I can't imagine what you might have to tell me that would require the Surrendering of Wands."
"You're a gentleman to participate, but I know that you don't require your wand to defend yourself."
Harry smirked. "I've seen you work a little wandless magic."
"So you have, a very little, but as you will. We were speaking of, among other things, appearances, were we not?"
Harry frowned. "I'm not sure I know what you mean."
"You just allowed as how I didn't seem to favour the Dark Lord, but none of his supporters were ever supposed to, you see," Mrs Parkinson said, removing her heavy robes and rising.
A leaden feeling settled in Harry's stomach. "Lucius Malfoy was never particularly discreet," he replied, attempting to cover his sudden nervousness.
"And look where that got him," Mrs Parkinson remarked, rolling up the right sleeve of her blouse. "Unlike that fool, I had no choice but to be so, for John was most insistent, in our early days together, that he and I share everything."
With those words, Mrs Parkinson bared her arm to Harry, displaying the faded image of the Morsmordre that marred her otherwise unblemished skin.
Even though he'd worked out what she was about to show him, Harry couldn't help himself; he shot to his feet in amazement. "You're a Death Eater!"
It took all his nerve not to act, but he couldn't prevent his power from rising.
"Ah, the blue sparks. Yes, they are pretty. I read accounts of you and your magic, of how it manifested during the Ministry battle. Reflex, is it?"
"How can you be so calm about all this?"
"I've got used to it over the years," Mrs Parkinson said, secreting her Dark Mark and sitting down again. "I've had ample opportunity to perfect a semblance of ease."
"Merlin, what a monster!"
"Are you referring to my husband?"
"Of course I am!"
"Sit down, boy. There's no cause to gape at me like that."
"I'm sorry, but I've not had your practice," Harry snapped, though he obeyed her.
"If half of what I know of your life is true, then that is a lie. Come, Harry, calm yourself. I was a Death Eater. I did endure my share of meetings—but I never served, I never gave myself to the Dark Lord. . . . No, it was John who did that."
"Didn't you fight him? Didn't you object?"
"I told you, I couldn't object."
"I . . . I know. I'm sorry, it's just that—"
"Yes, I know, and I apologise for shocking you so, but you must understand: I'm bound to obey my husband, to be the model pure-blood wife. Please believe me when I tell you that it's all been lip-service, what I've paid to the Dark Lord's cause, but I—my marriage was a trap, Harry, and I've had to make the most of my cage."
"That's just . . . so awful."
"Many things are, but happily for you, my position as a Death Eater loyalist in my family means that I can now have some measure of revenge—that is, if you'll help me get it?"
"I'm an Auror. You know that I'd help you even if I didn't have Severus to consider."
"You're a good boy, dear, and I thank you."
"Severus knows nothing?"
"No, and he mustn't."
"But why?" Harry asked, as Mrs Parkinson's expression turned from sorrowful to stern in an instant.
"Let us be clear, Mr Potter: I will not help you if you don't promise to leave Severus and I well out of things. He knows what his family is, but he has no proof. The Dark Lord's servants were not all of us known to one another. We wore masks for a reason. I will not have my brother know about me. Is that clear?"
"Yes, but if you were forced to—"
"I've stayed away from Severus for years in order to protect him, telling John that my brother was dead to me. The only reason I'm here now is because, as I informed my husband, I wanted to see to it that the Snape line wasn't 'polluted by inferior blood'. John doesn't know that I've corresponded with Severus. He has no idea of the extent of our relationship, and it's vital that he never know."
"But Severus would never betray you to your husband!"
"Be that as it may, his ignorance protects him, and John, believing Severus to be no threat to him, has contented himself to allow Michael to secure his societal and political position through means other than murder, which Michael's never had much of a stomach for. That is important, Harry, because John has no qualms about murdering anyone in his way. I've survived, myself, these many years by affecting to appear rather too feeble-minded to be of use to my family. . . . In any case, telling Severus anything now would serve no purpose."
"Your family must be feeble-minded if they think you are."
"It suits them to make use of me, believing me to be passionate about our bloodline but little else. I've been sending home in my letters information about Severus' activities that is almost helpful, leaving out those details that might lead to my brother's coming to harm. He's the only one of us who is worth anything, and everything I've ever done was undertaken to keep him safe."
"Severus would understand that, though. There's no reason to hide this from him."
"There most certainly is: I forbid it. His days of spying are over, and now he must be free to focus upon building a proper life for himself. Only then will the Snape name be truly restored, only then will Family Snape's future be secured."
It occurred to Harry how very like Narcissa Malfoy Mrs Parkinson sounded, and, while he didn't understand their desire to protect their Family names, he supposed he could respect Mrs Parkinson's wishes. I don't want to put Severus into danger, either. "Right, I won't tell him, but I don't like keeping this from him. It's . . . disturbing."
The door opened then, and Severus entered the room. "Whatever it is you're keeping from me, I assure you that it will disturb me more not to know about it."
"Severus!" admonished Mrs Parkinson. "You're well past the eavesdropping age!"
Harry saw how pale she'd become and searched his mind for some plausible "secret" to tell Severus, some means of getting to Dumbledore with Mrs Parkinson's information that wouldn't involve Severus.
"That may be, but you'll excuse me, I trust, for making use of a room in my own home. Now then, what are you keeping from me?"
Harry forced himself to laugh. "You sound like you're planning to give your sister a detention, Professor."
The smirk on Severus' face didn't reach his eyes as he replied, "I'm waiting."
"You won't like it," Harry warned, "and the Headmaster asked me not to—"
"He wouldn't have!" Severus interrupted. "He assured me that he'd secure a competent succedaneum!"
It took Harry a moment to remember that a succedaneum was a substitute, but when he did, he found himself smiling with feigned sheepishness and saying, "Well, you know how the Headmaster is about second chances." Please work, please work, please—
"I won't permit it!" Severus shouted. "'O' or no 'O', Remus Lupin is not a Potions professor!"
As the Potions master stormed off, Harry rose to follow him, calling, "Wait for me! I'd love to see Remus!" before turning and winking at Mrs Parkinson in relief.