Complete header information may be found in Part One. You may find all parts of this story by clicking the Getting Severus Married tag.
The Scroll turned in his robes as Blaise ran towards Hermione, but he barely registered it in his fear of losing her to Ron. The primal urge to take her, to mark her as his own, thrummed through his veins to the chaotic tempo of his wildly beating heart.
Mine, mine, mine, pounded in his mind as he reached Hermione's door, kicked it in, and stormed into the room without noting how the door remade itself and slammed shut behind him.
Hermione was lying under a knitted blanket on the chaise longue near her bed and reading a book when Blaise burst into her rooms, and she nimbly dove off it into a roll as he threw himself at her with an incoherent grunt.
She was on her feet and pointing her wand at him by the time he'd managed to untangle himself from her afghan, which had been charmed to wrap itself snugly around the body of its user.
"He can't have you!" Blaise shouted, struggling to his feet.
"Neither can you."
The next thing Blaise knew, he was watching the outer wall of Hermione's rooms repair itself from the floor of the corridor outside of it.
"Eee!" squeaked Tippy. "Master Severus is not saying anything about the walls!"
"Wha—what?" Blaise asked. "What did you say?"
But Tippy had already disappeared.
Blaise picked himself up and lunged towards the rapidly contracting hole in the wall, barely managing to squeeze through the opening before it closed around his waist. With a snarl, he realised that he was stuck.
Then he felt the fist.
"Get out! Out!" Hermione raged, punching and slapping at Blaise's head. "How dare you burst in on me like this? Get. Out. Of. My. Room!"
With each shouted word, she efficiently landed a new blow. Blaise yelped and twisted his head frantically, trying both to free himself and avoid Hermione's fists, but it was hopeless.
Finally, he gave in and yelled, "StophittingmeI'mstuck!"
"Stop hitting me! I'm stuck!"
Breathing heavily, Hermione fell back and dropped her arms, following them with her head; thus bowed and drawing in deep, heaving breaths, she grunted, "No. That's not what you said. I distinctly heard you scream, 'StophittingmeI'mstuck'!"
Stunned by the undercurrent of humour lacing Hermione's gasping and obviously still-furious tone, Blaise was about the laugh when he felt a decisive shove against the soles of his boots, the force of which propelled him back into Hermione's room to land face-down before her flawlessly manicured toes. The wall behind him loudly repaired itself, and then there was only the sound of their laboured breathing until Hermione spoke.
"Does this . . . mean . . . that you want . . . to shag me now?"
Afraid to move lest his nose fall off, Blaise forced himself to roll over onto his back and stare up at the gloriously dishevelled picture that Hermione made. Gods. I don't want to know what I look like, he thought, attempting a small smile in spite of the pain he was in. Sheepishly, he said, "Yeah, I suppose it does."
Blaise saw the heel of one perfect, tiny foot rushing towards his face as Hermione growled, "Bad penguin!"
Harry watched Hermione's heaving frame as she stood over the incapacitated Blaise and waited until he was certain that she wasn't going to do Blaise any serious damage. When she began casting Healing charms, he withdrew his incorporeal form from the remade wall and the powerful containment charm set upon it, and then re-materialised in the corridor. He wasn't sure what had possessed him to shove Blaise back through the hole out of which he'd been thrown, but he suspected, based on his remembered conversation with Severus at the gala, that it was Severus' doing.
I wonder if this is Severus' way of avoiding the Guess the Future readings? he asked himself, walking slowly towards the landing of the main staircase.
He hung back in the corridor as he heard voices filtering up from beneath him.
"I am certain that you are mistaken, Supplicant Snape. Advocate Zabini was quite adamant that I meet with him tonight and—"
"Shrewsbury, you'll forgive me, but my business here is pressing—"
Is that Shacklebolt?
"And the Wizengamot's business is not?" interrupted Shrewsbury, his tone unctuous and offended. "Perhaps you are not aware of it, Auror Shacklebolt, but this house is a place of ritual. Whatever 'business' has brought you can surely not be as—"
"Important as mine," a decisive, mellifluous voice rang through the hall.
"Mrs Malfoy?" Harry whispered, daring then to peek around the corner, too surprised by the witch's arrival to again exercise the gift that had allowed him to spy upon Blaise and Hermione.
"Tippy!" Mrs Malfoy called, and Harry saw that the house elf came at once at her command.
She's been here before, he thought, not sure when or why, but certain that Mrs Malfoy was behaving in too familiar a way with Tippy to have been only an occasional caller.
"Take my cloak and lead these gentlemen into the library to await Mr Snape," Mrs Malfoy said, turning to Severus. "I must speak to you."
With those words, Mrs Malfoy strode into the drawing room without waiting to see if Severus would follow her; he did, and Kingsley shrugged and followed Tippy, with the portly Shrewsbury trailing them.
"Well, boy," Evessa whispered unexpectedly in Harry's ear, "are you going to just stand there?"
Harry spun around to face her. "Damn. I didn't see you there."
"It's no wonder, what with you hanging about gawking. Go on, then, do. I have little trust in that woman, and I expect you can conceal yourself far more easily than could I."
"I can't just eavesdrop on Severus."
"You didn't scruple to concern yourself about other people's privacy when you pushed yourself into Miss Granger's bedchamber," Evessa quipped pointedly.
"You saw that?"
"It's a wonder your lot won the war. Now go."
"But . . . dinner?"
"I'll entertain the others. Really, boy, a hero you may be, but you're not much of an Auror, are you?" Evessa chided him, sweeping down the staircase.
At the bottom, she paused only to Summon to herself a tiny cord that had been snaking its way from the door to the library to the drawing room, and, catching it up, she blew into the nodule on the end of it before jerking the Extendable Ears up and shoving them into a pocket of her robes.
Ouch. Poor Kingsley, Harry thought, going downstairs and feeling slightly disgruntled by Evessa's comments. He was, however, too curious about what had brought Mrs Malfoy to the manor to ignore Evessa's command, so he allowed the familiar sensation of "pulling apart" to wash over his body, discorporated, and walked through the closed door of the drawing room.
Severus and Mrs Malfoy were staring at each other as the stood before the hearth.
Severus looked pale. "You're not serious."
"And you've known where she was this entire—"
"No! I told you, Bella's been leaving me letters there, but I've never discovered how she's been delivering them, or where she was. The letters have all been untraceable. The salient point is that my sister believes they've found a cure," Mrs Malfoy said, her eyes narrowing as if in anger.
But she's not angry. She's afraid, Harry thought, fascinated despite how tired he was feeling from the emotional exertions of his day. A cure for what?
"You should not have come here like this. How will we explain it?"
"Don't do that, Severus. We haven't the time."
"Then we must make it. You've put yourself at great risk by coming here. Bellatrix is most likely having you watched."
"No one followed me here. Shacklebolt will say nothing, as usual, and Shrewsbury can be easily made to believe I'm here to persuade you to take up your duties as an MWP. He's such a toadying fool that he'll consider it an honour that I've come to do his job for him."
"Perhaps," Severus replied, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before opening them again. "Narcissa, if this is true," he continued, "then you know what I must do."
Harry felt the air charge in the room, and, out of habit, placed his right hand near his wand pocket while he waited for Mrs Malfoy's response.
"I forbid it."
"The decision is not yours alone."
"Be reasonable. You told me when we planned this that there was no cure for the Draught of Living Death. You said—you promised me—that my husband would never be free of his prison!"
In his current state, Harry did not truly feel physical tension, but his mind froze briefly in alarm as he contemplated the meaning of the witch's words.
"Faberge's resources are vast. If it's true that John Parkinson and Bellatrix have enlisted his aid in discovering a cure, it would be beyond foolish to permit them to administer it. You know what damage Lucius could cause were he revived."
"You," Mrs Malfoy began to say, her smooth visage crumpling in a pretty approximation of betrayal, "you've been working on a 'cure', yourself!"
Harry was stunned. Lucius Malfoy . . . Severus knows—Severus caused—
"And I believe that the past several years that Lucius has lain entombed in his own body are a sufficient sentence for his crimes. Death, true death, is what we must give him now."
"How dare you work behind my back to—"
"I dare because it is my place to do so," Severus snapped. "I dare because it's time. We cannot allow Lucius to become the figure around which those who still share Lord Voldemort's vision rally. Do not allow your desire for revenge blind you to what must be done!"
Harry watched as Mrs Malfoy clenched her fists and glared at the floor, at how her jaw tightened, at how her body became rigid in her fury. He'd never seen her lose her composure before, nor had he ever heard Severus speak so dispassionately about murder.
Malfoy should have had a trial. He should have answered for his crimes, he seethed, his own anger rising, but he controlled it so that he wouldn't betray himself; it took concentration for him to remain invisible, rather than appearing as an apparition, when he dematerialised.
"They don't need Lucius. They only think they do, but Bella told me herself that 'the plan' was almost ready."
"To make their enemies disappear, what other?"
"Is that what she said, exactly? Because it sounds very much like her characteristic raving."
"Oh, Severus, you should know that my sister is effective in her way—and she's patient. She's been working towards this for years. She doesn't need Lucius," Mrs Malfoy insisted, her voice almost breaking. "We'll . . . we'll move him. We'll hide him and—"
"They'll find him," Severus rejoined, taking a step towards Mrs Malfoy and laying his hands upon her shoulders. "They'll find him, and nothing we've done will matter. . . . You should have told me that she was in contact with you."
Mrs Malfoy jerked away. "That would have done nothing but get me killed—get my son killed! Bellatrix is convinced that Draco's 'defection' was a fiction wrought by me to keep him safe for her grand future! She's only left me alone because she believes that I still love Lucius. Do you know how much I die every week when I force myself to sit by his bed? Do you have any idea how . . . how difficult it has been to play the role of the grieving near-widow? How lonely? And you—if I hadn't convinced Bellatrix that you were doing everything in your power to find a cure for Lucius, she would have come for you long before now!"
Severus dropped his hands to his sides as if in defeat, and that was difficult for Harry to bear. How is it that I didn't know any of this? he wondered. How—
"I know what you've borne, Narcissa."
"Of . . . of course you do," she replied, collecting herself so quickly that it occurred to Harry that she was playing a role. "Forgive me. We've both of us been playing a very close game."
"I don't consider the matter before us in that light. Your safety has always been a high priority of mine."
"Hence my name not being among the Eligibles."
She loves him. She . . . loves him?
"Stop it, Narcissa."
"Why? What does it matter? You don't love me—you obviously don't care about my feelings at all."
"Stop it," Severus repeated, and Harry could tell that Severus felt some pain to hear Mrs Malfoy's words.
The weight of everything he didn't know about Severus came crashing down upon his shoulders. Just what the hell do I think I'm doing?
"You stop it—if you can. Go on, kill Lucius. Give him his 'true death'. It won't help matters. She doesn't trust me. I don't know her plans. I don't—"
"You don't love me," Severus interrupted, his voice losing all concern. "You fancied yourself in love with me when you thought it would be easier to manipulate me in that way. That has always been your method, has it not?"
Mrs Malfoy said nothing; she snapped shut her mouth until it formed a bloodless line.
"I doubt that you'll find your current . . . paramour as easily led as once I was. That is, if you ever deign to acknowledge him openly."
Harry didn't know why, there was truly no reason for him to jump to the conclusion he had, but suddenly, he thought he might know exactly who Severus meant. He held his breath.
"Of course I do," Severus half-accused.
"Remus would understand what we've done—if he knew."
Shit! I was right. Remus!
"No. I don't believe that Lupin would either understand or approve of what we've done to Lucius. He lived too long in his own sort of prison for that to be true."
"Are you chiding me for keeping private our relationship? My sister would have had no compunction against slaughtering him like the animal she's always believed him to be—like the animal you've always said he was—were she to learn of our . . . of our . . . ."
Fuck, Harry thought. Remus and Mrs Malfoy? The moment was so strained that he wanted to laugh to relieve it when he thought of how Draco would react were he to learn of his mother's lover, but he hovered near the two interlocutors in silence because, no matter his feelings for Severus, he realised that such an opportunity to learn about the wizard with whom he knew he was falling in love might never come again.
"Relationship," Severus said evenly, completing Mrs Malfoy's thought. "Yes. I agree. And I know that you've been manoeuvring to keep all of us safe under the most trying of circumstances—but that choice was your own. The matter of Lucius is—"
"Not so clear! If you're wrong, you may not cure him but revive him, yourself. Have you thought of that? I've told him, Severus. I've sat next to him and smiled and told him everything."
"Your . . . understandable indiscretion notwithstanding, you need have no fear that my cure will fail to kill your husband. It is ready, and I mean to administer it as soon as—tonight. Yes, it must be done tonight, since you have no true knowledge of Bellatrix's plans."
For one moment, Harry was certain that she meant to draw her wand. Instead, Mrs Malfoy threw herself at Severus and clutched him. "Please, don't do this. Don't risk it. Please, let me just take him away."
Gently but firmly, Severus removed Mrs Malfoy's grasping limbs from around his person and held them down at her sides. "Listen to me, Cissa."
At the use of the diminutive, Mrs Malfoy stopped struggling. She looked up at Severus, tears shining in her wide eyes, and even Harry, on whom feminine whiles had never had much of an effect, was moved.
Damn. She's good.
"I will say this once: You made me love you once, and I did as you asked. Knowing that I had been of service to you, that I had saved you, was . . . almost enough to live on, after. But I'm not a boy any longer, and I've set aside my own . . . feelings for Lucius. He is no longer my idol, my brother, or my boggart. He is what he is, despite his incapacity, and that is why he must die. After dinner, I will see to it that he finally does, and you will do nothing to stop me. You know that you won't. You know why. Tell me that you will not interfere."
"I'm afraid," Mrs Malfoy whispered.
Coldly, Severus replied, "I don't care."
The fear left Mrs Malfoy's face at these words and she glared angrily at Severus. "Fine. So I see. You don't care. And you're right, so I won't stop you."
"Tell me why you will not," Severus ordered.
"Because John Parkinson isn't strong enough. Because Bellatrix isn't sane enough. Because only that monster has the necessary gravitas to lead them. He's the only one the others would follow without a thought."
"He's the only one among them strong enough."
"Yes," Mrs Malfoy spat, "as you say. If you fail, he'll—"
"I won't fail," Severus insisted, pulling Mrs Malfoy to him and holding her. "Narcissa, Lucius will die."
Harry had no love for Lucius Malfoy, but, as he stood there taking in the bizarre scene, he couldn't help but feel conflicted. I don't necessarily disagree, but . . . but I can't just allow murder to be done! As he watched Mrs Malfoy yield to Severus' embrace, he felt jealous. Perhaps I was wrong about Severus. Perhaps . . . he doesn't love me, he thought, struggling to remain in control.
Nothing seemed at all clear to Harry, and the constant state of confusion in which he'd found himself since agreeing to be an Eligible was beginning to grate.
How am I going to protect him, now?
How he was going to prevent Severus from murdering Lucius Malfoy and bring Malfoy to justice without implicating Severus—or Mrs Malfoy, towards whom, on Remus' behalf, Harry now felt protective—he didn't know. For the first time since he'd become an Auror, he felt trapped by his oath.
I may not be the best Auror in the world. I may not even be the best wizard, but even I can see that a trial might help expose just how wrong Malfoy and the other Death Eaters were in a way that could persuade the idiots calling for suffrage reform to see that it's just another form of despotism.
Even as he thought these things, Harry knew how naive believing them made him, but he didn't care.
Neville's right. Getting involved in our politics is a battle, one we've got to win if we're ever truly going to contain the pointless blood prejudice that has poisoned our society. What Severus is proposing isn't right, not in a time of peace, not after everything we fought for! There's got to be another way. I've got to speak to Albus, he'll know what to—
Mrs Malfoy's muffled voice interrupted Harry's thoughts then.
"Does Dumbledore know of your decision?"
"Albus has always been more than my instructor or my employer."
"Of course. He's been your confessor, as well."
Severus didn't reply, and Harry, who could not have been more shocked, backed out of the room and through Evessa Parkinson as she was raising her hand to knock upon the door.
He felt betrayed.
Albus knows? Albus, who was so worried I might use my power to work Dark magic that he never explained it to me fully, the man who I've always trusted to tell me how to do what was right—he knows about all this? He sanctioned this?
The knowledge hit Harry like a blow, and suddenly, he had no idea with whom he could discuss matters, in whom he could trust; he felt angry that, despite everything he'd done for the Order, Albus had not trusted him sufficiently to share with him the knowledge of Malfoy's true condition. It was clear to him that, no matter what Severus might say about wanting a partner—a "friend"—his former professor must still believe him to be nothing more than a boy who needed protection.
He's been manipulating me in much the same way as he's been manipulating Blaise and Hermione. I'm on my own in this.
The problem for Harry, in that moment, was that he felt like he needed protection—or, at the very least, wise and disinterested counsel.
And then he remembered something that he found so powerfully soothing it knocked him back into his corporeal form.
"Mary," he whispered hoarsely. "I can always talk to Mary."
The demons of his own self-doubt chasing him, Harry wasted no time in willing himself to Anegada, caution be damned.
No one's going to notice my leaving, anyway, he thought bitterly, as he walked up the lane to the Spellcraftre's door and raised his hand to knock upon it.