Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Desire to Shield
Harry had a feeling that Severus wouldn't want to repeat the lengthy series of Floo jumps that had brought them to the Three Broomsticks that afternoon, but he wasn't sure it would be a good idea to offer to Apparate them back to Snape Manor directly. He could Apparate over distances for which most people required Portkeys to travel, but Shacklebolt had ordered him not to publicly display such prowess because of a letter, purportedly written by Bellatrix Lestrange, that had been published in the Prophet not long after Voldemort's defeat. The letter's author had warned that Harry was more of a threat to wizarding society than the Dark Lord had ever been, and some people had believed the assertion that Harry might easily become a "Lord of Light" and "seek revenge on his enemies."
Shacklebolt had ordered Harry not to respond to the letter and to "pretend to be normal."
What's normal? Harry mused, wishing he could show off a little for Severus—as he almost collided with him. "Oh! Sorry," he said, smiling sheepishly. "You done satisfying yourself, are you?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Er, satisfying yourself that Remus is a proper succedaneum, that is?"
"Thank you for the clarification," Severus replied, beginning to walk down the corridor. "Yes. And have you satisfied Albus' curiosity?"
"Slow down, would you?" Harry asked, falling into step with Severus as he did so. "Yeah, for now, anyway."
"What did you tell him?"
"That I'd consider it. The future's still—" Shit!
"I still haven't written my Guess the Future essay."
"Five points from Gryffindor for poor planning."
"Give those back!"
"There's nothing to return. I can only take points from students."
"So Minerva didn't really deduct any from Slytherin for your 'display'?"
"I guess I should've realised that, but it's been a long day. Still, I'm afraid there's no way I'll be able to produce anything decent in time."
"How is it that you've found an afternoon of picnicking wearying?"
Harry felt the warmth of Severus' arm as it pressed into his and wished again he could find a way—a better way—of getting him alone. "I'm, uh, not much for socialising, to be honest."
"Then perhaps you might take this opportunity to tell me about our—about your future."
It pleased Harry to know that Severus didn't look upon him as a sure thing—and to know that he did make Severus nervous. "Wouldn't that be cheating?"
"Since when do you mind bending the rules?"
"I never break my own rules."
"No? How sporting of you."
"So, when we get to the pub, are you planning to collect your winnings from Madam Rosmerta, for our kiss, er, our kisses?"
"Mr Potter, are you encouraging me to be indiscreet?"
Deliberately misunderstanding him, Harry said, "Well, I did like being indiscreet with you."
"Did you?" Severus asked, pivoting gracefully and raising one arm to splay his right hand against the wall, effectively trapping Harry between it and his body. "But what of your rules?"
It's not the same as being pushed down into a bed, but it'll do. "I think we're talking about your rules, now."
Severus hesitated. He wanted to tell Harry everything, tell him that he was his Choice, but there were still too many variables to consider. Careful, he told himself, weakening in his resolve as he contemplated the wide willing eyes staring into his own. "You're not afraid of me," he said at last, and wished that he could take back his words at once because he didn't know what he'd meant by them.
"I've never been afraid of you, and I'm not afraid of what you have to offer, either."
"You have no idea what it is that I have to offer." But you could tell him, couldn't you? You should tell—
"Know what?" Harry whispered, leaning up to speak his question against one corner of Severus' mouth.
"No. Tell me."
"I've never been much of a planner."
When Severus opened his mouth to issue whatever scathing retort was already undoubtedly on his lips, Harry boldly slid his tongue past them to wrestle the objection silent. He took Severus' mouth in a passionate, deliberate exploration, showing him how much he was willing to give, how much he wanted to give it, and soon they were locked in an indiscreet, grasping, shuddering embrace.
It took Harry several, panting moments to realise how far they'd pushed discretion.
"Oh . . . wow . . . I'm, well, I'm . . ." Harry said, slumping against Severus and laughing helplessly. "I'm really sorry."
"You are," Severus replied in a dangerously low, but deliciously sated tone, "incorrigible."
"It's too bad that you can't . . ." take me, "take points then, isn't it?"
"It's too bad that I can't free your prick and lick it clean."
Harry's mind blanked, but the tingling sensation of a cleaning spell brought him back to reality and he began straightening his clothing. "I know we've got to get back, but I wish—"
"So do I, but I'm expected. Someone will soon notice our absence if—"
"Don't worry about it, about this, I mean. I know you have to see the Courtship Ritual through, and I, well, I know that just because we want each other, it doesn't mean—"
Severus' embrace him stopped Harry from speaking. "Don't be ridiculous. It means everything."
"I am not in the habit of . . . Harry."
It suddenly felt to Harry as if his heart were in his throat; Severus spoke his name with such passion—and something else, something entirely unexpected: love. "Oh. You . . . I . . . well, I mean," he said, forcing himself to be clear, "I'm not in the habit of . . . seducing former professors for sport."
"I should hope not."
"This isn't a game to me. You understand that, right?"
"I trust you, Harry. I trust you not to trifle with my—with me."
"And I trust you—with everything," Harry said, wishing that he could tell Severus about his sister's intelligence.
But somehow, that didn't seem right.
It's my turn to look out for Severus the way he's always looked out for me, Harry thought, asking, "Hungry?"
Severus smiled predatorily. "Yes."
There are some meals, Harry reflected, just before he and Severus made the first of their many Floo jumps back to the manor, worth waiting for.
"I can't believe they left, and together. It just isn't done!" Blaise exclaimed, looking again at the gilt clock in the library.
"I enjoyed our walk," Hermione said, laying a roll of parchment in Blaise's lap before sitting on one arm of his chair. She'd known she'd find him in the library. He always comes here when he's got something on his mind. I like that. I like how much in common we have.
"My response for Guess the Future."
"You didn't have to do that," Blaise snapped.
Merlin help me, I did. "Yes," she said, swallowing hard. "I did."
"'Moving on' notwithstanding, I'm still an Eligible, Advocate Zabini." But I don't want to be anymore. Oh, perhaps I shouldn't have written it, she thought, more than a little nervous as she watched Blaise frowning at the scroll in his lap.
"Damn the Wizengamot! If Shrewsbury hadn't have interrupted our conversation, we could have sorted all this by now!"
"Aren't you curious about what I wrote?"
"No. Not at all."
Well, get curious, you prat! Hermione silently ordered him, gathering her courage and trying a different approach. "Blaise, read my response," she pressed, leaning forward and smiling mischievously. Before I take it back again.
"Oh, very well." Unrolling the scroll, he read, "'While it may be difficult to find time with the Supplicant after he marries and enters public service, I foresee many happy afternoons visiting Snape Manor with my husband. I expect the Granger-Zabini'—Hermione!"
"What? You'd prefer 'Zabini-Granger'?"
Blaise snorted, continuing, "'—and Snape children will grow up making trouble together, and that their parents will try not to notice most of it. I expect that I will find myself in spirited debate with the High Chamber's Suffrage Committee chair on myriad topics, and that my husband and Mr Snape's partner will laugh at us for taking things so seriously. I expect that at least one of my daughters'—How many children do you want, anyway?"
Hermione cleared her throat, and Blaise grinned and read on.
"'—will follow me into the DMLE, which I have every intention of heading in the next twenty years, and that my husband's cousin will have found the time to teach all our children enough of Potions lore—and that my husband's cousin's spouse will have instructed all our children enough of shielding charms—that any of them might find themselves eligible to serve as Aurors. I expect many things of my future with the Supplicant as a member of his Family, and I cannot wait to discover what I now cannot even imagine of my life to come'."
Blaise sat there smiling down at the parchment but saying nothing.
"Well?" Hermione demanded.
Looking slightly dazed, Blaise looked at her and said, "I never imagined that you'd, that is, this is—"
"Too brief?" Hermione interrupted, her stomach twisting into knots. "I thought so, too, but I'm sure that at least some of the others will be long-winded, and I—oh!" she exclaimed, as Blaise rose from his chair and pulled her against him.
"You are decisive—I stand by it—but I haven't even found you a perfect stone, yet."
"I'm not a penguin, you git!"
Blaise burst out laughing. "So you aren't, but you are a—you are too good for me, aren't you?" he asked, only half-seriously.
"Don't say that. Never say that," she chastised. "I love you."
"You must mean that, or you'd never have written what you did."
How can he still be so uncertain of me? "Of course I mean it. Severus doesn't have any other cousins, does he?"
"Second cousins," Blaise replied, attempting to appear calm, but failing miserably because he couldn't stop trembling; knowing that Hermione truly wanted him was almost too good to believe—and he'd never wanted her more. I'll never survive to see our wedding night at this rate, he thought, trying to disengage from their embrace before Hermione could realise the extent of his need.
She held him fast. "Idiot. I'm a virgin, not an innocent."
"Is . . . is that permission, Auror Granger?"
"Do you want me to fill out a form?"
"That isn't necess—oh!" Blaise gasped, as Hermione undulated her hips.
"Well? Aren't you going to . . . you know?"
Oh, by the Four Great Hells, I do know.
The realisation was like an unwelcome torrent of cold rain.
"Hermione, stop. We can't."
"We can't. We can't do this, not now. It's not right. I haven't even met your parents."
"I'm not planning on inviting them into our bed," she snapped, jerking out of his arms and glaring at him.
"I know that, but listen. Please? I think you've waited this long because it's what you want—to be properly married in the Muggle way, and—"
"What do you know about 'the Muggle way'? I just told you that I want to go to bed with you!"
"No, you asked me if I was going to 'you know'."
"And if I'd asked Ron that, he wouldn't be standing here talking about my parents!"
Blaise found himself forgetting all his concern for Hermione's desires in his unexpected fury at her words. "It's always Ron with you, isn't it? I should have known—you're still in love with him!"
"How dare you tell me I'm in love with Ron after I just told you that I'm in love with you!"
"Because you brought him up! You're always bringing him up! I'm surprised he never got it in, what with all—"
Hermione had stormed from the room before the hearing returned to Blaise's left ear.
"Stop slapping me, damn it!" he shouted, clenching his fists in an effort to stem his towering rage and disappointment. "FUCK!"
"I don't expect you will. At least, not tonight," Severus remarked calmly.
"Where did you come from?"
Severus entered the library and shut the door, turning to consider Blaise before replying, "A family marked for its members' sophistication and poise."
He easily deflected the large book Blaise hurled at him with an unspoken shielding charm.