Notes: Before I offered up for auction GSM's completion date, I had ten extant, unedited chapters of the fic; I'm going to post them as I edit them. Any new chapters of GSM will be posted as they're written and beta'd if my auction is won for $150 or more. fodirteg and lalaith_niniel were good enough to beta this chapter. Did you miss Chapter Thirty-Three?
Chapter Thirty-Four: The Vagaries of Fate
Severus strode into the drawing room looking composed and forbidding, which caused a hush to fall over his guests. It took him mere seconds to formulate the lie that would relieve him of his duties as host and Supplicant.
"Forgive me, but Miss Granger is indisposed. A relative of hers, a Muggle relative, has fallen gravely ill."
There was a chorus of dismay from the assembled Eligibles, but, despite her obvious suspicion, Evessa rose at once and said, "Why, that explains Harry's absence—and Blaise's. They've been comforting her?"
Severus nodded and then swept his gaze over the room. "Where is Mr Llewellyn?"
The room quieted.
"Ah, Lucien," Seraphina almost purred. "He felt . . . compelled to retire."
William coughed. "Llewellyn asked me to thank you for your hospitality on his behalf, and also to give you this," he said, crossing the room to hand Severus a note.
"Thank you. If you'd all excuse me?"
"Severus, where are you going?"
"I'm escorting Miss Granger to her family home, Evessa. Harry and Blaise will accompany me. I trust that you," he said, speaking to his sister while purposefully not looking at Seraphina, whose presumption was beginning to grate, "will serve as hostess for me?"
"You need not have asked," she replied, her visage devoid of all emotion.
"Indeed, I'm certain that we all understand," Narcissa added, her eyes on Seraphina's obviously disgruntled countenance.
"Again, please forgive me," Severus said. "Barring any complications, I'll return to join you for dinner tomorrow."
With a curt nod, he exited the room and opened Llewellyn's letter in the hall. It was mercifully brief, saccharin of sentiment, and slightly bitter in its tone of disappointment:
I have long admired you, but I see now that your feelings, which I had thought were fixed upon our hero, are, in fact, directed towards the songbird. I can't compete with her. So be it. I think I would have been good for you, but I know enough about unlocking doors to see when one cannot be opened. I shall walk out of yours in the morning.
Excellent. Another one gone, thought Severus, as he approached Hermione's room.
He'd already sent Tippy to unseal it, and he had the foresight to raise a hand to block the path of the expected palm before it could strike him.
Taking stock of her dishevelled clothing and flushed appearance, Severus remarked, "I trust you didn't find your time together an inconvenience," before spinning the indignant Hermione smartly around and marching her back into the chamber.
"That's not why she tried to smack you," Blaise said lazily, half-undressed and reclining on the bed. When he saw Severus' expression, however, he got to his feet and demanded, "What is it?"
"Yes," quipped Hermione. "What is it that made you think you could—"
Severus interrupted her with the truth, more of it than he had intended to impart, and soon Blaise and Hermione understood Lucius Malfoy's situation and something of Harry's. It surprised him to find that neither of them immediately reproached him for his actions.
Though perhaps it shouldn't, considering how both of them suffered at Lucius' hands. "So you understand that I must know what it is that made Shacklebolt suspect Mary," he concluded.
"Forget about that. If Harry's gone back to that woman, he'll need help. It's clear he's been interfered with," Hermione said roundly. "Give Blaise and I the . . . antidote, and we'll go to St Mungo's while you go after Harry."
"That is out of the question. As Aurors—"
"We're permitted to fulfil a standing order," Blaise interrupted, "and the one to subdue by any means necessary all Death Eaters not yet in custody hasn't been rescinded."
"The war is over," Severus protested.
"No, apparently it isn't," Hermione said fiercely. "Blaise is right. Malfoy was never officially arrested, which means that we are legally permitted to 'subdue' him however we see fit."
"So you're comfortable with the idea of murdering a man?"
"It's not murder to put down a rabid dog."
Blaise's expression mirrored Hermione's.
Feeling guilty about what he had done to Shacklebolt in the face of two examples of his excellent training and without further argument—there was simply no time—Severus handed Blaise a phial and said, "Give him all of it, and don't be seen," before Disapparating.
Seven Apparations, one Portkey, three Floo connections, and a broom ride later, Severus found himself standing down the lane from the seaside cottage belonging to the witch who purported to be Mary Millblossom. It was a blustery late afternoon on the island, though Severus knew it was nearing ten o'clock at night in London where Blaise and Hermione had gone to deal with Lucius at St Mungo's.
Lucius could be dead by now. He should be dead, he thought, as it had taken him almost an hour to reach his present location. I hope he's dead! They've surely had sufficient time to—
He tensed and his thoughts quieted as he saw a dark-haired man push aside the curtain in one of the cottage's windows and look out.
Severus raised his wand and slowly walked towards the house, confident that, under Harry's invisibility cloak, which he'd charmed to hang down in spite of the wind, he would not be seen. He'd known from Harry's letters that he always kept it with him, and he'd taken it to avoid having to cast an Invisibility Charm on himself because he also knew that Harry could sense cast magics more strongly than anyone had a right to do.
There's no sign of anyone else in the dwelling, Severus noted, peering into the wide panes of the windows as he circled the house. I wonder if he senses me?
The sound of the front door opening as he rounded the cottage made him stop again.
"Mary? Is that you?" Harry called.
He might just. At least he sounds calmer now, Severus thought, moving forward to the side of the front porch. He could see Harry scanning the path, hear him calling for Millblossom, but he didn't reveal himself. It could be a ruse to suss me out.
"Damn it! Where are you?" Harry yelled against the wind, in obvious frustration.
She isn't here, is she?
With a dispirited sigh, Harry went back into the cottage, and Severus nimbly climbed the railing and went after him, caution be damned.
The cottage was charming, in a studied way. It was exactly the sort of cozy holiday home one might expect—before its occupants had arrived—which Severus found odd.
It doesn't look lived in, he thought, as he crept after Harry, who'd thrown himself onto a sofa in the lounge. No, it looks . . . recently vacated.
There was a queer scent in the room, almost covered by that of lemon, which Severus recognised as being something familiar, though he couldn't quite identify it. When he saw the half-eaten plate of pale biscuits on the table next to Harry, he thought, however, that he might know the origin of his Choice's erratic behaviour.
She drugged him, but why?
The situation was bizarre, but rather than dwell on it, Severus settled himself down on a nearby chair, his fingers curling around his wand, and watched Harry. He was sprawled on his back, his eyes almost closed, tracing patterns in the air with one hand. Tiny sparks flew from his fingers, and he directed these sparks as if conducting music.
No, as if coaching a Quidditch match, Severus realised, as he counted the twinkling lights.
Seven of them were green, seven, red—and there was one coruscating ball of colour that he took for a Golden Snitch.
"Get it. Catch the Snitch," Harry murmured, his voice sleepy. "Catch the Snitch, Harry. Don't let Malfoy have it!"
"Bet he was that angry Sev'rus didn't put him on the Scroll of Eligibles. Bet he was . . . but why? Why not Malfoy? Why me?"
Because I love you.
"Who's there?" Harry demanded, falling off the sofa into an unsteady crouch. "Se—Severus? Is that—"
Severus threw off the cloak and rose in one motion, and before Harry could react, he'd crossed the room and pulled Harry up into an embrace. Staring down into Harry's eyes, he didn't wonder about the vagaries of their apparent mental bond but searched his would-be husband's face for the earlier signs of hostility it had held for him.
Harry blinked and then smiled a sloppy, almost drunken, grin. "You're here. I was wondering why you weren't."
"Where's here?" Harry asked, swaying.
"You're in Millblossom's cottage," Severus replied patiently, greatly desiring to kiss Harry, but knowing that he couldn't lest he become affected by traces of the compound which Harry had ingested. "Do you know why you're here? Have you seen Mary?"
"No," Harry replied, with no small degree of petulance. "She wasn't here when I got—is this Anegada?"
"It is," Severus told him, lowering Harry to the sofa and pointing his wand at him. "Soberius!"
"Wha—" Harry giggled, and then his face cleared, then darkened, and he shouted, "Shit!"
"Good. I wasn't certain a sobering charm would work."
Harry leapt to his feet as Severus sat down. "Oh, shit! I hexed Shacklebolt!"
"You didn't. He hexed you, and it—"
"You think he'll care? Merlin! What . . . how? Did she? Where's—"
Grabbing one of Harry's flailing hands, Severus gently pulled him to the sofa. "Calm yourself. Tell me, do you remember what occurred? Why did you leave the manor?"
"Should know by now that you can trust me."
His heart hammering, Harry stared at Severus. Oh, God. He said he loved me. Severus said— "You said . . . . You want to know what happened."
"Yes." I said I loved you. I do, but—
"Now isn't the time. This . . . thing between us, it's—no—later. I can't," tell you what happened, it's, "I mean, I'm not sure . . . what you want to know."
"I assume that you overheard part of my conversation with Narcissa," Severus replied, ignoring the fact that he had "heard" Harry's unspoken words quite clearly.
"Yeah. I did. It . . . was a shock."
Severus sighed and attempted to Occlude his mind. "You shouldn't have been surprised that I was capable of it, Harry. You know what I am."
"What you were."
"No. What I am. Don't romanticise my participation in the Order following my defection from the Death Eaters. I wasn't a spy for Albus when I accepted the Dark Mark. Do you understand me?"
His eyes slightly vacant, as if he were seeing things in memory, Harry thought, Why? "How could you have—"
"Later. There's no time," Severus said, and it was true; there wasn't time. But I doubt I could answer that question to anyone's satisfaction—even my own—were there more of it. "You came here for comfort?"
Making a visible effort to restrain himself, Harry replied, "Yes."
"Why Millblossom? Why not go to Lupin?"
"He's . . . he's with Mrs Malfoy, isn't he? How could I tell him—"
"Ah. Of course. But what of Hagrid?"
Harry's features crumpled. "Grawp."
"Something happened to Hagrid's half-brother?"
"He died just before Bill broke it off with me, an accident, and I just didn't want to upset him."
"So you came here. Do you remember what you said?"
"I told her everything, Severus. She knows what you and Narcissa did to Malfoy. She knows that you're planning to . . . release—"
"—him. Do you think she's gone to the authorities?"
"Harry, you're a representative of the authorities."
"Not anymore, I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
"What did you do?"
"I'll explain later. For now, I think that, because she drugged you rather than insist you report the matter and is now gone, Shacklebolt's suspicions deserve your consideration."
Harry sighed. "She did drug me, didn't she? I don't understand it. Sure, she was acting strangely when I got here, but—"
"Like one of the Society for Harry Potter ladies. This morning was the first time she'd ever been so . . . fannish? I put it down to her concern. Mary's always been good to me, like a grandmother. I just don't know why she'd want to drug me like—"
Severus straightened suddenly because he knew. "As a distraction—we need to warn Albus immediately."
"You think she's gone to stop you from—"
"Not me—Blaise and Hermione. I sent them to—"
"St Mungo's," Harry completed, his expression darkening as he grabbed Severus' arm. "Right. We need to get there. Hang on."
Severus had no time to protest; he and Harry materialised on the steps outside the hospital before he could even open his mouth.
"Don't lecture me about it," Harry said, running for the doors.
I wasn't going to.
The two wizards raced towards Lucius' room without a word, Severus realising that Harry must have cast some variant of the Unnoticeables upon them, for no one remarked upon their progress through the corridors. At last, they reached Lucius' door and, also by virtue of Harry's magic, passed the Auror guarding it and walked through it into his room.
His bed was empty.
They stood, transfixed on the empty bed; as stunned as he was, Harry could almost feel the despair emanating from Severus in a palpable wave.
"It could have been bad," a deep voice said, from behind them.
Harry spun around. "Auror Shacklebolt, sir! I can explain. I—"
"Don't have to," Kingsley said, his wand in hand as he stared past Harry. "You seem more yourself now."
"Yes, sir. Sir, I—"
"Have less explaining to do than you believe," Albus Dumbledore interrupted.
Harry turned in time to see him materialise in front of Severus by Malfoy's empty bed. "Miss Granger and Mr Zabini were good enough to alert Kingsley and I to the events of this evening, and matters have been taken care of, at least, in part."
"What does that mean?" Severus ground out from between clenched teeth.
"Perhaps it would be better to have this conversation somewhere more private. Harry, if you would be good enough to remove us to Hogwarts?"
"Uh," Harry said, with a worried glance at Shacklebolt, who gave a grim nod indicating his approval. "Sure."
"That wasn't Apparation," Kingsley said, his tone uncharacteristically emotive as they all appeared in the Headmaster's office an instant later.
"No," Albus said, "it wasn't."
"What have you done with Lucius?"
"Please sit down, gentlemen. . . . Severus?" Albus prompted, when he made no move to do so.
"What. Have. You. Done. With. Him?"
"Secured him elsewhere. Kingsley, after I removed your work upon his mind, expressed the sentiment that—"
"Damn it, Albus! Don't insist on going on so calmly! You know what's at stake!"
"Blaise and Hermione," Harry interjected, "where are they?"
"They will return to Snape Manor in time for dinner tomorrow," Albus replied, as calmly as before. "Sit down, Severus. Please," he continued, turning sympathetic eyes to Harry. "I'm afraid we have much to discuss, and some it will not be pleasant."