Complete header information may be found in Part One. You may find all parts of this story by clicking the Getting Severus Married tag.
Harry sat quietly, waiting for Albus to explain.
"Sherbet lemon?" Albus asked, reaching for the crystal bowl of them across his desk.
Severus' hand shot out and grabbed the edge of the bowl, preventing Albus from moving it. "Enough. I want to know what's going on."
"As do I," Albus replied, removing a sweet, unwrapping it, and popping it into his mouth. "I'm merely trying to decide how best to begin the explanations so we can glean that very thing. Kingsley, perhaps you should explain about Osric."
"The new Defence professor?" asked Harry.
"What does he have to do with Lucius?"
"Snape," Kingsley said, his tone carrying with it an edge of warning.
Severus leant back into his chair and crossed his arms.
"Alastor picked Kent up during the war for selling defective protection charms. During questioning, Moody realised that the man's mind had been tampered with. He—"
Harry interrupted. "Remus has already told me—"
"—suspected improper Obliviation," continued Kingsley, shooting a quelling glance at Harry, "so he sent Kent to Master Spurlock at the Spellcraftres' Guild for examination."
"That's standard procedure."
"Yes, Potter. It's good to see you cognizant of—"
"Ahem," Albus cut in. "Perhaps I should continue. . . . "Spellen—that's Spurlock's given name—is an old friend. He contacted me when he realised that Osric been Obliviated more than once."
"How'd he figure that out?"
"By using a Pensieve to extract Kent's memories for examination, Harry, and some of those memories relate to our present circumstances."
"The ones pertaining to the Homorphus Charm, Severus, a charm we now know was not developed by Gilderoy Lockhart, but by Osric. Spellen also discovered that Gilderoy had Obliviated Osric so that he could take credit for his charm."
"Of course he did," Severus retorted snidely. "I take it that you invited Kent to teach here so that you could delve more deeply into his mind?"
"Quite right, and what I found there was . . . unsettling."
Harry felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. As angry as he was at Albus for having kept information from him, he knew that he must have had his reasons. And only something truly awful would disturb him.
"Be good enough to end our suspense," Severus insisted.
"I discovered memories of Osric meeting with someone who claimed to be Voldemort's representative."
"What?" asked Harry and Severus, as one.
"Who was he?" demanded Severus.
"What did he want?" asked Harry.
"She wished to have the secret of Osric's charm so that Voldemort—"
"Could use it as a threat against Fenrir Greyback?" Kingsley asked, obviously not having heard this part of the story before.
"That makes sense," Severus replied. "The Dark Lord was always interested in new magic, and he had difficulty controlling Greyback. Threatening him with a 'cure' would have been most effective."
"I'll bet," Harry said. "I had trouble just killing him."
There was no mistaking the undercurrent of suspicion in Kingsley's tone as he turned to Severus and asked, "You didn't know about the plan?"
"I didn't, but it sounds like something the Dark Lord would have asked Bellatrix to do. Who was the witch?" he asked Albus.
"Ah. That is where things become unclear. She gave Osric the name of Mary Millblossom."
Harry started. "How is that possible?"
"I find it difficult to believe," Severus added, "that Ms Millblossom would have willingly assisted the Dark Lord in any manner, not after the murder of her family."
"I agree," said Albus. "I found it most odd—and unlikely—for at the time of this meeting, Mary Millblossom was accounted present at the Spellcraftre's Guild. In any case, Osric refused the woman's request, and it was only later that he met with Gilderoy."
"We think that Millblossom, or the witch calling herself that," Kingsley said, glancing at Harry, "put Lockhart in Kent's way. We know for certain that the woman pretending to be Millblossom now can't be her because Dumbledore asked Master Spurlock for her old research journals to compare the handwriting within them against her recent correspondence."
"You begin to see, I hope, why I felt it necessary to have Mary Millblossom investigated."
Harry had too many questions to ask only one of Albus, so he remained silent as Severus questioned Kingsley.
"What did you discover?"
"For one thing, that Millblossom retired to Anegada by sending Master Spurlock a letter from the island three months after the murders of her husband and daughter."
"Spellcraftres don't retire," said Severus.
"No, Harry, they do not," Albus replied. "Guild membership is a lifetime obligation—a calling, if you will—that only seven people have ever relinquished, and only two have been forced to give up."
"Well, see how much you'd want to keep working if your family were slaughtered."
Kingsley cleared his throat. "Potter, in our lifetime, the only two individuals to have left the Guild were Mary Millblossom and Pansy Parkinson."
"And my great-niece," said Severus, "was forced out after it was learned how she let the Dark Lord into Hogwarts. Spurlock drummed her out without waiting for the arresting Aurors to arrive at the Guild, I believe."
"Spellen has always been quick to anger," remarked Albus, appearing aggrieved. "He has since come to regret his actions."
From the expression on his face, Harry decided that it was probably lucky for Spurlock that he and Albus were friends.
Kingsley's gaze was impassive as he replied, "Your great-niece, Snape, was Millblossom's apprentice at the Guild upon her graduation from Hogwarts. She was also—"
"Bellatrix's mentee within the Death Eaters," Severus concluded for him. "Yes, I'm aware of that fact. We're all aware of that—"
Harry stood up. "Why are we just sitting here? It's obvious to me that the real Mary is being held somewhere against her will. What have you done to find her?" he demanded.
"Harry," continued Albus, shaking his head at Kingsley, "while examining Osric's memory of his meeting with Voldemort's representative, I learnt that the witch had spoken to him of a plan, a plan that Bellatrix Lestrange had conceived in order to 'save' Voldemort should his attempts to cast the soul-stealing spell in the Chamber of Secrets go awry."
Harry paled and sat down. Mrs Malfoy spoke of her sister's plan.
"Why," said Severus, "would anyone have been stupid enough to speak of such an unrelated matter?"
"It was not unrelated at all, for 'Millblossom' attempted to recruit Osric with a great deal of boasting. She spoke to him of a locket that she said contained great power, and questioned him about how she might open it. I should tell you," Albus said, holding up his hands to prevent Harry's interruption, "that the witch appeared to be quite inebriated at the time of the meeting. This, perhaps, sheds some light on her identity, does it not, Severus?"
"Perhaps. The Dark Lord disapproved of Bellatrix's drinking, and she made up for her enforced abstinence when out of his presence."
"And that made her careless," Kingsley remarked.
Severus straightened in his chair. "One pissed witch is hardly enough evidence to conclude—"
"Indeed, it isn't, but based on Osric's remembered description of the locket—which I felt may have been the one for which Mundungus Fletcher was murdered—"
"You mean the one from Grimmauld Place?" Harry asked. "The one that used to belong to Salazar Slytherin?"
"The very same. Aberforth, as you may recall, refused to purchase it from Mundungus on the very night that Mundungus was later murdered. It was unfortunate that my brother was unable to inform me of the matter sooner, for I had long known that the locket was a Dark artifact. Any number of people might have wished death upon Mundungus in order to secure it for themselves."
"Fletcher's death was nothing to do with you," Kingsley said. "The man was a thief, and his death, nothing more than a case of running afoul of a more determined one."
"Perhaps," Albus said. "In any case, I felt it possible that Bellatrix Lestrange was the representative, so I arranged to questioned Rabastan Lestrange in Azkaban."
Rabastan Lestrange had been recaptured during a skirmish with several Aurors in Hogsmeade as he fled from the would-be destruction of Hogwarts.
"Well?" Harry demanded. "What did he say?"
"Under Veritaserum, he informed me that Pansy and Michael Parkinson, as well as Bellatrix Lestrange, had been the Death Eaters responsible for torturing the Millblossom family—and then killing them—when Mary would not agree to serve Voldemort."
Harry furrowed his brow and leant forward. "But Mary told me that she wasn't there when—"
"The Dark Lord wished to recruit Ms Millblossom?" Severus asked, reaching out to lay a hand on Harry's arm.
In response to the touch, Harry settled back in his chair.
"Millblossom's specialty at the Guild was in the creation of spells that affected the mind," Kingsley said, "something that would have been of great interest to—"
"I was under the impression that Ms Millblossom's area of expertise was Magical Creatures," Severus interrupted, squeezing Harry's arm briefly before removing his hand. "Her understanding of the Lethifolds—"
"Can't Spellcraftres be good at more than one thing?" asked Harry
"That is not traditional," Albus replied. "It is also not the relevant point."
"And that would be?" asked Severus.
"Lestrange," said Albus, "was under the impression that all of the Millblossoms had been killed."
"That's just what," Evessa said, "I mean, just how can that be?" Harry corrected himself, hoping that Severus hadn't "heard" what he had left unsaid. "We've all seen Mary! Even though the handwriting in her journals doesn't match the handwriting in her recent letters, if Bellatrix is using Polyjuice to pretend to be Mary—"
"Then it is almost a certainty that Mary Millblossom is alive," Albus concluded. "But before you go mounting a rescue party for the lady, I'm afraid that there is yet more I must tell you about what I learnt of Bellatrix's plan from her brother-in-law—and yet more you may be able to tell me."
"Is that all he told you?" Neville asked Hermione, as they walked up the stone stairs from his sub-cellar to his workroom.
"There wasn't a lot of time, not after we explained what we knew."
"I'm impressed. You and Blaise make a good team, fooling the Professor like that."
"Don't give us too much credit. We didn't intend to trick him—not at first—and Severus was very upset."
"He loves him, then?"
"I think that much is clear," Hermione replied crisply, un-warding the door leading into Neville's cellar and re-warding it just as quickly as her friend passed through it before changing the subject. "With Master Spurlock and Tonks down there, Moody and his squad up there, and these wards, I think we're safe—for now."
Neville leant against the closed door and yawned widely. I didn't want to talk about Snape and Harry, anyway. I just don't . . . understand the attraction. Realising he was ignoring Hermione, he told her, "It's not as if anyone's going to think to come looking for Lucius Malfoy in my sub-cellar."
Hermione sat down heavily on a nearby stool, starting as a gnome appeared at her feet holding over his head a bottle of butterbeer. "For the witch friend of my wizard friend!" the little man sang out. "Drink!"
"Thank you, um, what's your name?"
The gnome drew back in astonishment. "She asks my name, wizard," he complained, to the sounds of gnomish offense being taken from the low spaces of the room.
"She doesn't know," Neville told him, accepting a bottle of butterbeer from another scandalised gnome before turning to Hermione. "They never give their names to anyone with whom they can't see eye to eye. It's a gnome thing."
"Oh! I'm sorry," Hermione called to the floor, but her only response was a diffuse, squeaky chattering. Sighing, she said, "You've had a rough time of it."
"I wouldn't say that."
"Neville, you were almost eaten by a Lethifold!"
Thinking about what Blaise had been telling him on the journey from the Ministry to his home, Neville thought, And you were almost eaten by a— "So, how are things going with Blaise?"
Hermione blushed. "What did he tell you?"
"Suspicious, aren't you? He just said that the Professor locked you in your rooms—to talk."
"I see that look, Longbottom."
"I'm just making conversation. What else can we do?"
"We could get some sleep. That would be excellent."
"Yeah, I agree. It's been a long day."
"It's tomorrow, Neville."
"Is it?" he asked, glancing at his watch. "Weeds!"
"Where?" demanded several gnomish voices.
"That's just an expression, you lot!" Neville exclaimed. "Go to bed!" Turning to Hermione, he said ruefully, "It's almost two in the morning. That only makes me about nine hours late for my date with Laura."
"You could always tell her you had a wizard thing."
"Would you accept an excuse like that?"
Hermione quickly took a sip from her bottle.
"I thought not. . . . This was going to be the first meal she made for me, too."
"Now there's optimism for you," Hermione replied, clinking her bottle against Neville's and grinning.
"A man can hope."
"Things are going well there, I take it?"
Neville blushed, and Hermione laughed.
"Don't you start. I really don't know how I'm going to explain all of this to her. Hell, I don't know how to explain it to myself. How is it that Professor Dumbledore allowed this? Shouldn't Malfoy have been arrested?"
Hermione frowned. "There's something more to it, definitely. I mean, I understand why they would have wanted to stop Malfoy, but I can't think why Professor Dumbledore would have approved of Severus' decision to use the Draught of Living Death. Why not arrest him?"
"That's what I just asked."
"I doubt we'll be getting any answers until Professor Dumbledore's good and ready to give them—if he ever is."
"True enough. What I'd like to know is how Lethifolds came to be under the Ministry."
"So would I," Blaise called down the stairs, "but, as we're not likely to receive any of these answers tonight and you've company—and a time of it she had, too, getting by Master Moody on your doorstep—you might want to come upstairs and explain to Laura about your 'great-uncle'."
Neville's eyes widened. "Laura's here? And you told her that Moody was my great-uncle?"
"How else was I supposed to explain him?" Blaise asked Neville, who'd already passed him on his way up the stairs. "I wasn't able to explain Morgan, though. You'll have to do that on your own, all right?"
But Neville had already gone.
"May I have another bottle of butterbeer for my other wizard friend?" Hermione asked.
A disgruntled looking gnome emerged from a corner carrying a butterbeer over his hat, and tapped his foot impatiently until Blaise relieved him of it.
"Cheers," Blaise called after the gnome, who had scampered up into one of Neville's raised garden beds. "So, is that what I am, your 'wizard friend'? It sounds like a euphemism for someone one doesn't wish to introduce to one's parents," he continued, a wicked smile spreading over his face.
"Of course I'm going to introduce you to my parents! How can you be so cheerful? Severus will be furious with you."
"With us, you mean. And 'of course' I'm bloody cheerful. We got there first. Isn't that the important thing? I haven't spent all this time trying to get Severus married to let him go down for murder. That said, I'm curious to know how much about all this Narcissa Malfoy knows. Do you think it's possible that she—"
"Does it matter? Perhaps Severus was right. Perhaps—"
Blaise pulled the other stool in the room over to Hermione's and sat down, leaning into her. "I'm sorry, love. Look, whatever's going on here is too complicated to make it more so. I'm just glad that Dumbledore was at Hogwarts when we contacted him."
"If he hadn't've been would you have been prepared to murder Malfoy?"
"We were both prepared to do that before we left the manor, weren't we? If you hadn't thought to warn Dumbledore—"
"I was angry—too angry. I hate making decisions when I'm—"
"You do?" Blaise asked, leaning down to set his half-drunk butterbeer on the floor. "You seemed fine with the decision-making earlier."
"That was different," Hermione replied primly, colouring slightly before continuing. "I'm worried about Harry, Blaise. He obviously didn't take the news of . . . all this," she said, waving one hand at the door to the sub-cellar, "well. I wish Severus had told us how Harry found out about it. What if this ruins things between—"
"It won't. They're practically magic-fasted now. They're in each others' minds."
"Well, even if they do get past this Malfoy problem, there's Millblossom to consider. She must have something to do with the Lethifolds, I just know it. Why else would she have got so close to him so quickly? Why else would she have happened to know exactly how to help him?"
Blaise took Hermione's butterbeer bottle from her hands and set it on the edge of one of the raised garden beds and stood up, pulling her after him and drawing her close.
"It's all very alarming, but it'll get sorted out. Then we'll sort out Harry and Severus, and then," he said, pulling back a bit to look into Hermione's eyes, "we'll sort out ourselves."
"I'd . . . I'd like that," Hermione told him, suddenly feeling a bit breathless but slightly annoyed at Blaise, as well, for trying to distract her. "We've got to think about this. Millblossom's career was based on—oh!"
"Like that, do you?" Blaise murmured, continuing to rock his hips against Hermione's. "I like it."
"You do feel awfully g—good next to me."
"Against you, you mean. I feel good against you. Imagine what it will be like when I'm—"
"I h—have, but . . . but you're impossible, Blaise! We can't be doing this wh—en, I mean, ohh, that's lovely," she murmured, as Blaise began to draw his nose along her neck, "but—"
Blaise felt Hermione tense and stopped. "Hermione, you're not still afraid of me, are you? Not after what we almost—"
The sound of lascivious giggling burst forth. "Wizards! Wizards in—"
"No, stupids! There aren't two of them. One's a witch."
"—love!" the chorus of gnomes completed its teasing cry.
"No wonder there're so many of them," called a lone admonishing gnome.
"A baby!" cheered his unheeding fellows. "Soon there'll be a baby, a baby, a baby, soon there'll be a baby, a baby, a baby . . . ."
Both of them flushing, Blaise and Hermione abandoned their bottles and dashed up the stairs to Neville's kitchen door, the taunting song of the gnomes ringing in their ears.
"I've never been afraid of you," Hermione whispered emphatically, one of her hands grasping the knob, "but I think that, when we're married, we should live in a haunted house."
"Why ever for?"
"Because ghosts can't stand gnomes, so if there are ghosts," she answered, turning the knob, "there—"
"Won't be gnomes," Blaise completed, laughing as he followed Hermione into the kitchen—only to find Neville and Laura locked in a rather heated embrace. "'Soon there'll be a baby', indeed."