Complete header information may be found in Part One. You may find all parts of this story by clicking the Getting Severus Married tag.
Severus and Narcissa drew apart as a brisk tattoo sounded on the door, and they were nearly composed when Evessa entered the room without waiting to be invited into it.
"Evessa, what may I do for you?"
"You may come to the table and entertain your Eligibles," she said, sweeping her eyes over Narcissa before saying in tones of begrudging politesse, "you're welcome to join us, as well, Peer Malfoy."
Narcissa stiffened. "How kind of you to issue invitations on the Supplicant's behalf."
"Evessa understands my desire to be . . . hospitable," Severus said, almost stumbling over his words as he followed the direction of his sister's gaze and noticed that Narcissa's lipstick had become smudged. Damn. "Do agree to join us."
"Yes, do. I've asked Judge Shrewsbury and that Auror to remain, as well. There will be time enough for . . . business after tamer pleasures," Evessa quipped, turning on her heel and going as quickly as she had come.
"Your sister has never cared for me, but that was no reason for her to insinuate that I am little better than a whore."
"Finding us thus," Severus replied, reaching out a hand to gently wipe the smear of colour from the corner of Narcissa's pursed lips, "must have provoked her."
Narcissa uttered an exclamation of impatience and took a moment to examine herself in the mirror hanging above the hearth.
"She did give you your title."
"Yes, but only to express her displeasure in how I 'took' it."
"Evessa remembers my infatuation with you," Severus replied, offering Narcissa his arm as she turned to face him, "and damns you as a heartless flirt."
Narcissa slid her arm in Severus' and snapped, "Yes. That explains her behaviour."
Smirking, Severus reminded her, "Well, you did marry beneath yourself."
"So I did," Narcissa replied, favouring him with a grim smile as they left the room. "I married beneath myself and was subsequently elevated to the unfeminine rank of Head of Family Malfoy."
"And one of Evessa's generation could hardly approve of that."
"Perhaps not, but certainly Mrs Parkinson understands that it was nothing to do with me. Mother prized wealth above lineage in fixing my engagement to Lucius. Weren't financial matters at the heart of her own betrothal?"
"Honestly? I don't know, but don't be so concerned," Severus instructed, leading the way to the dining room. "Not everyone present tonight is as old-fashioned as my sister."
Upon entering the dining room, his mind swirling with the coming demands of the evening, Severus feigned solicitousness and introduced Narcissa to the company. Everyone had taken their places at the table before he realised that two Eligibles were absent from it.
"Where is Harry?"
"I was going to ask you that, Severus," Evessa replied.
"I had quite hoped to make that young man's acquaintance," Shrewsbury said, looking rather out of sorts. "Indeed, I am still confused as to why Advocate Zabini is not—"
Seraphina's rich laughter interrupted Shrewsbury. "Why, nothing could be easier to explain, what with the absence of Miss Granger."
A knowing tittering spread amongst the Eligibles.
Even Shacklebolt smiled as he caught Seraphina's meaning. "I'd say it's about time, wouldn't you?" he asked Severus.
Severus nodded. That still doesn't explain where Harry is, he thought, worrying that perhaps their "indiscretion" at Hogwarts had embarrassed him.
"Ah," Evessa remarked, "I should think young Harry is attempting to perfect his Guess the Future entry. Severus has told me that the boy was never particularly fond of writing essays."
"So you have been keeping some traditions."
"Judge Shrewsbury," Narcissa said, before Severus could respond to his thinly veiled insult, "am I to understand that you're present this evening to monitor Peer Snape's progress in the Courtship Ritual?"
Severus sighed at Narcissa's disturbing, uncharacteristic lack of subtlety, and Shrewsbury appeared startled by her icy, accusatory tone.
"Why, what other reason could have brought me here?"
"How . . . assiduous of you," Narcissa remarked, pausing to sip from her wine. "Won't Griselda be pleased."
Shrewsbury preened. "I would be most gratified, Peer Malfoy, most gratified, indeed, to be remembered to the Minister. One has so many responsibilities to which to attend as a Class One Specialist in the Wizengamot's Department of Traditions and Lineage that it is often impossible to think of one's own advancement."
"Of course. Any one of us can see how worthy you are."
"What brings you to Snape Manor, Mrs Malfoy?" Crispin asked, pointedly, or so it seemed to Severus, leaving off Narcissa's parliamentary title.
The Charterises have never accounted the Malfoy name highly.
"How delightfully impertinent you are, Crispin. A man of your . . . breeding, however, must surely be indulged his eccentricities."
Severus smirked. Although he enjoyed Charteris' company more so than many of his Eligibles, he was not unaware—Evessa having informed him—of the philanthropist's current lack of funds. The trust from which he drew them had been closed to Crispin upon his mother's recent discovery of his "deviant nature."
Homosexuality is not, after all, forgiven by every quarter of society.
Crispin's reputation as a patron of the arts, as well as his name, would be enough to permit him to appear in society—and live off it—for some time.
Unwilling to provoke Narcissa into revealing his straightened circumstances, it seemed, Crispin toasted her and then retired from the conversation.
"Speaking of breeding, is it true, Judge Shrewsbury, that you support Artemis Twist's measure in Parliament to remove the right of the Low Chamber peers to participate in the Ministerial elections?"
"Why, William Walden, is it?" Shrewsbury asked. "You know as well as anyone, I would hope, that such as I cannot involve myself in so great a matter. I must remain impartial, you see."
"Of course," William replied, "but I think you can understand that . . . such as I," he paused to grin, as if to display that he was not put out by Shrewsbury's having slyly intimated that his societal rank was not high, "would be quite interested in your learned opinion on the issue. I insist on knowing where you stand."
"O, ho! You do, do you? Well, then let me assure you, young man, that I think Peer Twist's ideas have some merit. It is the High Chamber," Shrewsbury continued, looking to Narcissa and nodding, "that does most of the good work in society. That is one of the reasons the Wizengamot works so diligently to ensure that all of the Peers remember their duty to society and government."
"You don't mean to imply that my brother has been remiss in his duty, do you?" Evessa demanded sharply.
"No, dear lady. Certainly not," Shrewsbury said hastily, taking refuge in yet another glass of wine.
Poor Tippy, Severus thought, watching her hover over Shrewsbury's chair, refilling his glass as he tapped its rim.
"Auror Shacklebolt, I must admit that I'm surprised to find you here."
"Well, Shrewsbury, your duties must have kept you from hearing of the recent unpleasantness."
"Auror Shacklebolt," Severus warned, concerned that he must mean the business with Frasier.
"Forgive me," Kingsley replied, "but that's why I've come. Skeeter has recovered, and her first story since her illness is to be on the Daily Prophet's front page in the morning."
Severus found it disturbing to hear that the haruspex affair was about to be broadcast to all and sundry. Harry won't like it.
"And how did that woman find out about it?" asked Evessa. "I thought the DMLE required one to be discreet?"
"So we were, ma'am. I've no idea how—"
"That's comforting," Shrewsbury interrupted. "You'd think with all the funding your department receives, your training would be better. Really, this is a disgrace!"
Evessa snorted in derision. "Tippy, be a dear and bring Judge Shrewsbury some strong tea."
Lorelai said in the resultant silence, "Well, I think it's quite nice of you to have come all this way, your Honour. I'm sure you'll find tonight's entertainments proof enough that the Courtship Ritual is going swimmingly."
Her condescension appeared to sit well with Shrewsbury, who smiled weakly at her over his teacup.
Edward exchanged a glance with Lucien before saying, "I trust that the readings will take place despite our Advocate's disappearance?"
"They will," Severus replied.
Lucien brightened. "I'm pleased to hear it. I've worked all afternoon on mine."
"Of course you have, darling," Seraphina said sweetly.
Severus wasn't fooled by her tone.
Harry, you're the Parselmouth. Why aren't you here to help me deal with these vipers? he wondered, wishing again that he'd not had to undertake the Courtship Ritual to secure Harry, bridling against the feeling that he was to be forever trapped by society's demands, and worrying again that his impatience had caused some problem between himself and his Choice. My Chosen One.
"They did call you that, didn't they, dear?" Mary said, gently patting Harry's hand as she sat down next to him on her sofa and handed him a glass of water. "Now calm down, and begin at the beginning. Who doesn't trust you? What's happened to upset you so? Are you hungry? I could whip up a batch of those biscuits you like so much in a trice if it would help."
Harry laughed. He felt better already. "You're too good to me."
"Why, how else would I be? Honestly, boy, it's always amazed me how surprised you are to find someone showing a bit of kindness to you. Aren't you deserving of it? You, who has given so much of yourself to others?"
"Oh, Mary, don't say things like that, please. I'm not—"
"Stuff! The way you take on sometimes, one would imagine that you're nothing but a murderer."
"It's true! Do you doubt what you've done? Just think of all those Death Eaters you killed. Think of how you rid us of Lord Voldemort!"
Harry saw how Mary's eyes glittered with fervent light and sighed. How did I never notice it before? She's a . . . a fan. "I . . . I know you mean well, but please don't talk about it. I hate thinking about that sort of thing. It's . . . it was awful," he said, feeling helpless. So much for disinterested counsel.
"Oh, I'm sorry, dear. I didn't mean to bring up bad memories for you. I know how much you've suffered, what that woman must have—no. No, I'm so sorry. I see that I've made you uncomfortable," Mary said hurriedly, as Harry attempted to speak. "Let's put all such unhappy memories firmly behind us, yes?"
"Now then, you sit here, and I'll go fetch us a bite to eat. We'll talk after that, about more important matters, all right?"
Smiling weakly, Harry asked, "And the biscuits?"
"Yes, you've certainly been a good enough boy to earn a biscuit."
No wonder she was so eager to help me with the Lethifolds, Harry thought, as Mary exited the room, remembering all of the "kind ladies" who'd attempted to mother him at home after the war. Such people were one of the reasons he'd left. I'm an idiot. There isn't anywhere I could go to escape my reputation.
"Her—Hermione?" Blaise asked, his head spinning as he regained consciousness and began struggling against the bonds in which he found himself secured.
"Why am I tied down?"
A derisive snort reached his ears.
"Think about it, you arse."
The throbbing of his head made doing so a difficulty, but slowly, Blaise remembered. "Oh. Oh, shit. Hermione, I'm sorry."
"I believe you've ably demonstrated that."
She healed me, Blaise thought, as he felt the post-charm tingling of such care—and a great sense of guilt. "Why did you do it?"
"Why did I kick you in the face, or why did I tie you down?"
"Why did you cast the healing charm?"
"That would be charms, and I cast them because it wouldn't do for the others to see you banged up, now would it do?"
"And . . . the other thing?"
"What other thing?"
Shifting a bit on top of the coverlet, Blaise asked, "Why am I nude?"
When he didn't receive a reply, Blaise decided that Hermione might be embarrassed by what she'd done to him, and this caused him to feel absurdly cheerful. He was so encouraged that his optimism manifested itself then in what he knew was, as soon as he heard Hermione's sharp, indrawn breath, not as welcome a manner as he'd supposed.
Shit! "I'm sor—"
"The nerve of you, Blaise Zabini!" Hermione hissed. "What were you playing at, barging in on me and trying to—what were you thinking?"
His mood rapidly deflating, he admitted, "I . . . I wasn't."
"And are you, now?"
"Actually, I'm attempting not to think. It doesn't appear to be my best—"
The bed dipped as Hermione knelt on it, and then she was staring down her wand at him.
"—thing," he continued, suddenly finding himself quite nervous, indeed.
"You never carried on with Susan that way!" Hermione accused.
Not without a safe word. "Uh, no?" he asked, not wishing to alarm her more so than he already had that evening. "I mean, no, of course I—"
"You're not a very good liar, so you might as well shut it. Talking isn't your best thing, either—at least, not when you're with me."
That's true enough, Blaise thought ruefully, wisely saying nothing.
"I thought that you didn't want me to talk."
"You're impossible. I want you to tell me what that . . . display was about," Hermione demanded, throwing a leg over Blaise's upper thighs so that she was straddling him.
"Perhaps if you'd untie me?" he hoarsely suggested.
Laying the tip of her wand on Blaise's chest and teasingly drawing it down his torso, Hermione asked, "Now why would I do that?"
Because . . . because . . . . "Oh, gods. You are going to kill me, aren't you?"
"If you ever behave so stupidly again, you're damn right I'll kill you," Hermione retorted, drawing her wand back up his chest in tantalizing little taps. "I . . . know . . . that . . . you . . . want . . . me," she continued, emphasizing each word with a stinging tap of her wand tip to his skin, "but what made you change your mind so violently about waiting?"
"Se—Severus' fault," Blaise forced himself to say, while his brain still had enough blood to say anything. "All Severumph—"
His complete thought went unvoiced as Hermione leant down and pressed her lips forcefully to his own, sliding her tongue against his in such a way as to cause Blaise's mind to explode with an inner tintinnabulation the likes of which he'd not experienced in years. Hermione then began to move her hands over his body in searing, not-at-all-tentative touches, and Blaise forgot his bonds utterly for the rush of heat that suffused him. He bucked his hips upward so savagely that he almost knocked Hermione off him, and he would have, had she not clamped down on his thighs with her own.
"I don't think it was Severus' fault, Blaise."
How can she sound so calm when I'm—
"I think it was yours."
"Right. Mine. My fault—now could you please untie me?"
"Do you love me?"
"You know that I—yes, yes, I love you."
"Do you like me?" she asked, sitting back up and removing her hands from Blaise's body.
He whimpered at the loss of contact, but forced himself to focus on the question, even though he thought that the answer should be again perfectly obvious.
"Yes. Very much."
"Do you respect me?"
"You think it's very important to go about things properly, don't you, Auror Zabini?"
Oh, no. No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. "Yes?"
"I'm not interested in becoming one of your conquests," Hermione told him, as she lifted herself off of his straining body. "I've been waiting for you for a long time."
"I know that, but—"
"But you're still not sure of me, or yourself, or something," she said, the frustration plain in her tone. "Fear drives you so much, Blaise. It wasn't love that sent you flying in here at me like that."
"You're not . . . not crying, are you?"
Out of sight again, Hermione sniffled.
Fuck. "I didn't mean to make you cry."
"You're worse than a cave troll in a girls' loo."
"Hermione, gods. Please believe me when I tell you how sorry I am!"
"Have . . . have you been speaking to Ron about me?"
"I know about him—that you still see him."
"I don't 'see' Ron. He's my friend. I have . . . lunches with him."
"Right. Lunches," Blaise spat, becoming angry. "Let me up."
"Fine then. Would you at least throw a blanket over me?"
"You're on top of the blankets."
It was quiet for a long moment, and then Hermione sat down on the bed and turned to look at him, saying, "You hurt my feelings. You made me feel like . . . ."
A whore, Blaise thought, feeling all his anger leave him. "Like your feelings meant nothing. I know." I'm sorry. He couldn't say it; he realised that he'd apologised one too many times to Hermione, and for far too many things. "I don't deserve you."
"Don't you dare say that!"
"Well, do I?"
"Not when you treat me like that," Hermione replied, her voice barely audible. "Why does this have to be so hard?"
"It's my fault. I shouldn't have turned you down before. I shouldn't have let Severus' needling work me up the way it did. I was . . . I was afraid I'd lose you if . . . . I was just afraid." I'm always afraid.
"I checked you for magiceuticals, you know," Hermione said, lying down next to him.
Blaise felt his body pull in her warmth; it was comforting, even though his arms were beginning to feel sore from being bound so long. "I don't blame you."
"Would you be honest with me?" Hermione whispered, spreading one palm over his heart.
"Do you really want to wait?"
"Until we're married?"
"Hell no, but it's about what you want, isn't it?"
"After seeing you naked?" Hermione asked, her voice sounding wry. "No, not entirely—but I think that if we don't do everything right, one or both of us will regret it."
"That's true," Blaise admitted, and then he felt the ropes holding him slacken. He wrapped his arms around Hermione and asked, "Does this mean that you forgive me for being such an arse?"
"Are you going to be one again?"
Blaise smirked into Hermione's hair, enjoying the pomaceous fragrance of it before saying, "I expect that's unavoidable, love."
"Will you have me, anyway?"
"If you'll promise me something."
"Anything," he breathed out, feeling pleasantly sleepy.
"Talk to me. Don't talk to Ron. Don't talk to Severus. Don't talk to Harry. Talk to me when you want to know something about me—or us."
"And I for—forgive you," Hermione said, through a yawn. "But Blaise?"
"You should know that if you ever treat me like that again, I'll shove Hogwarts, A History so far up your arse that you'll be turning its pages with your teeth."
Laughing, Blaise replied, "Fair enough. So, do you like what you've seen?"
"Stop that," Hermione insisted, moving a little away from Blaise's waggling hips. "In fact, I think we'd both best get up and go down to dinner. I'm surprised that no one's come for us, yet."
Reluctantly, Blaise rose and dressed himself while Hermione looked primly away.
"Ready?" he asked, when he had finished.
Hermione walked to the door and placed one hand on its knob. "Yes," she told him, attempting to turn the knob.
"Hermione, what's the matter? Is it stuck? That spell of yours must have—"
"Oh, it's no spell of mine," she muttered, while pointing her wand at the door and casting several diagnostic spells that were familiar to Blaise. "We're locked in!"
Blaise couldn't help himself; he laughed, and Hermione, who glared at him for a moment, quickly followed suit.
"It's . . . it's . . . not funny. It's embarrassing! I imagine that everyone is downstairs imagining that we're up here behaving improperly."
Blaise laid his hands on Hermione's shoulders and pulled her into an embrace. "Well then, I expect that a little improper behaviour is called for, don't you?"
"Just a little," Hermione breathed against his mouth. "We wouldn't want to waste a perfectly good trapping, now would we?"
Sitting in Mary's front room and drinking some kind of miraculously soothing tea, Harry was feeling reassured enough to wonder how Blaise and Hermione were faring. I'll bet they don't even know that they're trapped.
"Have another, dear," Mary urged him, holding up a plate of lemon biscuits. "They're your favourites, you know."