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-Six?
Chapter Thirty-Seven: The Truth about Aries
Harry woke up alone and relieved to find himself so, though he was not certain why. Disoriented, it took him a moment to realise that he was in his own bed at Grimmauld Place. He was wondering how he'd come to be there when the reintegrated memory of what Bellatrix had done to him came crashing back into his consciousness.
He barely managed to make it to the loo before he was violently ill.
When he had finished, it was all he could do to clutch the sides of the toilet and keep his head out of it while he sobbed in disgust. He was in that dingy office at the Ministry, and Bellatrix was with him. He could see her face, hear her taunts, feel her—
With a desperate effort, Harry pushed himself up from the floor and clambered over the side of the bathtub. He turned the taps and huddled against himself as the hottest water he could stand rose around him. He wanted the soap and his flannel, but he found himself too weak to reach for them; instead, he turned off the taps and sat still, his mind buzzing, until his senses settled enough that the only thing he could feel was the now-chilled water.
"Aesto!" Harry murmured, taking some comfort in the renewed warmth of his bath.
Running his hands through the water, he stared at the way the linen sleeves billowed around his arms and realised that he was in his nightshirt.
He had no memory of undressing himself.
Suddenly angry, he shouted, "Albus promised he wouldn't leave me!"
His exclamation echoed against the tile.
"Accio glasses!" Harry cast, as he rose from the steaming water, gripped the edge of the sink, stepped out of the bathtub, and scrubbed at the mirror above the basin to clear it.
His glasses landed on the edge of the sink with a click, and he picked them up and put them on before looking into the glass.
The haunted face of the man glaring back startled him.
I don't recognise you, he thought, abstractedly raising a hand to push aside the damp fringe clinging to his forehead so that he could see his scar.
It didn't hurt. It hadn't hurt for years.
It hasn't hurt in so long that I thought I could forget. I thought it was over.
"Well, that was stupid of you, wasn't it?" the man examining him choked out, and when his face crumpled in sadness, Harry felt his own brow furrow and realised that it was his face he was watching.
Somehow, this realisation made him feel murderous.
"I'll kill her."
Evessa and Narcissa both flinched at Severus' words but said nothing.
"I'll kill you," he said, pointing his wand at Narcissa. "You knew about this, and you did nothing!"
"No, dear," Evessa said to Narcissa, laying a hand upon her arm and rising to stand in front of her.
"Get out of the way," Severus ordered. "She knew."
"You're in shock, boy," Evessa told him, taking a step towards him. "You've had one too many revelations, but you won't do anything stupid."
Evessa took another step towards Severus, who didn't move, and laid her hand upon his wand arm. "No, you won't."
"Get out of my way."
"No. . . . Now give me your wand. You don't need it."
"I don't?" he asked, as if just noticing that his mother was standing in front of him.
"No," she told him, gently sliding the device from his unresisting fingers. "You don't. Come, sit down. . . . Severus?" she prompted again when he didn't move.
Narcissa secreted her wand and said nothing as Evessa guided Severus to the sofa.
"But she knew."
"I did," Narcissa admitted. "I'm sorry, Severus, but—"
"Sit by me," he interrupted, his eyes clearing as they stared hard at Narcissa.
Evessa drew away from the sofa to place herself between Severus and Narcissa again. "That isn't a good idea."
"I'm well aware of that," Narcissa snapped.
"Go back to the manor," Evessa told her.
"Snape Manor. We'll sort this out later."
"Severus," Evessa chided, "you've—"
"All right," Narcissa interrupted, answering Severus. "I won't leave."
"I told you to go."
"If I give you my word that I won't harm Narcissa, will you return to the manor?"
"It's late. Your guests will be abed. There's no reason—"
"I give you my word that I won't harm Narcissa. Go."
"That is absolutely out of the question, boy! None of us should be here, in any case. I expect Dumbledore to send Aurors before long, and I won't leave without the both of you."
"I won't leave without answers."
Turning to the door, Harry caught sight of the two hand-mirrors hanging on the wall next to it and his heart skipped. He was in despair, but not of what he could now see in his mind; he was in despair of what he'd never seen in the smaller of the two mirrors.
He'd tried, once, to call to Sirius in that small mirror and had received no response. He'd always assumed that this was because his godfather hadn't had the mirror's companion with him when he'd fallen through the Veil, so Harry had never tried to seek Sirius within it again.
But I never did find its partner, did I? Mundungus Fletcher, he probably stole it when he took the locket. I wonder who has it now? I . . . I probably shouldn't, he thought, though he removed the smaller of the mirrors from its hook.
He didn't think about why he did so as he padded wetly out of the bathroom and looked around.
His clothing was discarded in a heap at the foot of his bed.
I must have come back here on my own, he thought, reaching out with his senses to test the wards.
They were set, and through them, he knew that he was alone in the house. Upon further examination, he also realised that he'd set them to prevent anyone from entering.
When I left Albus.
Harry sighed, the strength of his anger spent, and sank down onto the carpet in front of the fire. Lifting the mirror, he stared at the back of it and thought about turning it over and calling to Sirius again.
"Don't be stupid," he told himself, even as he slowly turned the mirror while a half-hearted flutter of hope beat inside of him.
He just couldn't help himself.
I just want to see him again. Just once. Just . . . . "Sirius?"
There was no response.
"Right," Harry spat, shaking the mirror. "I should have known. I should never have—"
The glass seemed to swirl with mist then, and a partially obscured face appeared in it. The face wasn't Harry's, and he gasped to see it.
"—and he favours Sirius. He's a lovely little boy—inquisitive, intelligent, well mannered—"
"Then he doesn't favour Black at all," Severus interrupted Narcissa, sneering. "How could you have left him with that woman?"
"'That woman' is my sister."
"No, Mo—Eve—no. It's true. Narcissa may comfort herself by imagining that it was Rodolphus and the Dark Lord who twisted her sister's mind out of tune, but we both know that Bellatrix was barking mad long before she entered into her marriage and subsequent 'service'." Turning to Narcissa, he promised, "There will be no saving her, for if I don't kill her, Harry surely will."
"We'll have to prevent that."
"No," Evessa said, "we won't."
"She's his mother!"
"Yes," Severus said to Evessa, "and you've known that since?"
"John's been keeping her in one of the homes on our estate. I know that he believes Aries to be his son—that much has always been obvious—but he told me that the boy was Bellatrix's by Rodolphus, that he was protecting them both out of a sense of duty."
"How did your husband explain the presence of Narcissa?"
"I'm Bella's family, Severus," Narcissa replied. "He didn't have to explain my presence."
"Narcissa has been very good to Aries, Severus," Evessa asserted. "She's been able to influence most of that whore's—woman's decisions regarding his upbringing. I assure you that no harm has ever come to the child."
"He calls me 'Aunt Cissa'."
"And how pleased Harry will be to learn of it. Again, what possessed you—either of you—to leave the boy in Bellatrix's care?"
"We did what was right, Severus. We had no choice," Evessa almost pleaded. "I assure you of that."
"You'll forgive me if I don't trust your judgement of the rightness of any choice made on a child's behalf."
Evessa recoiled as if Severus had slapped her.
"Don't speak to her like that," Narcissa hissed. "You haven't the right!"
"Don't I? Be consistent. You were only just chastising—"
"Do you want to hear the truth, or don't you?"
"Are you capable of speaking it?"
"It was Lucius," Narcissa continued, ignoring Severus' insult, "who insisted that Draco surrender his wand before the war began in earnest. I thought he meant to protect our son, and I was surprised—for Lucius had been furious with Draco for his reticence to take the Mark."
"So I recall."
"After Draco had gone, I tried to discover what I could about the Dark Lord's plans. Dumbledore asked me to when—"
"Albus knew of—"
"No! He knew nothing, but when he interceded with the Aurors on Draco's behalf, he suggested to me that France would not be safe for anyone if—"
"The Dark Lord won."
"Yes, and you know . . . how 'well' Lucius took my questioning of him."
"That was another of the reasons I agreed to use the potion," Severus said, his expression grim, as he pushed the memory of seeing Narcissa under Imperius firmly out of his mind.
It had been a tricksome thing, persuading his old friend that such measures weren't necessary in dealing with his wife's curiosity.
"Bella was angry, as well, when she learnt of how 'I' sent Draco away—at first. She was distressed on Pansy's behalf, I believe. After Lucius spoke to her, however, she left me alone. And then Lord Voldemort fell, and I didn't hear from her for months. I began to suspect that she'd been killed, but then I received a letter from her—"
"An 'untraceable' letter?"
"Yes. I didn't lie to you about the letters. But in her first to me, all Bella wrote that was coherent was that she had Pansy and would look out for her 'better than my dear nephew ever could'."
"It was one of the tasks the Dark Lord set for her."
"Yes, so it was, but Bella has always been . . . proprietorial of Pansy. She became more so after Draco left and Rodolphus was killed—and after they disappeared and Bella's letters started arriving, she spoke of Pansy in such . . . glowing terms that I was surprised when my sister admitted that she was about to give birth."
Evessa broke the silence that had fallen by adding, "By then, she was installed as a permanent 'guest' on the castle grounds."
"When did you realise that Harry was the father of her child?" Severus asked Narcissa.
"When Bella gave birth. Her reticence to speak of her plans left her during labour. I tried to give her something for the pain—I thought she was raving—but Pansy wouldn't permit it. She and I fought so badly that—"
"She sent to the house for John. He wasn't at home, so I—"
"You assisted in the birthing of a child you thought to be your husband's bastard?" Severus asked, scandalised.
"I did not, though you are correct in what I assumed. I merely ordered Pansy away. Narcissa served as her sister's midwife."
"I was shocked by what she told me that night," Narcissa continued, her voice low and filled with emotion. "Bella said that her baby was going to be the saving of us, that when Lucius was restored to us, when her 'little god of war' was old enough . . . ."
"Go on," Severus pressed, as tears began to form in Narcissa's eyes.
With an effort, she composed herself and continued, saying, "She has a locket—Slytherin's locket. Somehow it contains a fr—fragment of Lord Voldemort's soul."
A Horcrux? The Dark Lord made more than one?
Severus remembered the diary that Lucius had slipped to Ginny Weasley. He'd learnt later, as he watched the newly restored Voldemort discipline Lucius for having lost it, what it was. At the time, the Dark Lord had explained to his inner circle that he no longer felt the need to 'splinter himself' in such a manner, and he'd hinted darkly of having found another way of achieving his long sought after immortality.
The soul-stealing spell.
"Severus? What is it?" Narcissa asked.
"Is it Bellatrix's intention to transfer the . . . contents of that locket to Aries?"
"Yes. She believes doing so will bring him back. She thinks that Aries, being Harry's son—but stronger than Harry for having Black blood running through his veins—will be the perfect . . . vessel. In Lucius' papers, I discovered that he thought a pure-blood would be a more appropriate candidate. He was only allowing Bella to believe that she could use Aries as a means of revenging herself on Harry so that he could control her, but his true plan was to sacrifice Draco."
"So that's why you wanted Lucius to suffer a living death. . . . But knowing of this plan, knowing that Aries might be selected as the 'vessel', you left him with Bellatrix. Narcissa, Draco is your son, but Aries is your nephew—and a child. How could you have—"
"Don't you understand? Bella was waiting for Lucius. I thought that there was time. I thought that I'd convinced her that you were still working for 'our' cause, that you were investigating a means of curing Lucius. At first, she seemed to believe me, for she said herself that the matter was a difficult one, but—"
"She's never truly trusted me."
"No, she hasn't," Evessa said, "and through my husband, she met others of like mind, including—"
"Yes, and there are others, many others, who are waiting for the Dark Lord's favourite Death Eater to produce their master. Although John doesn't often confide in me, he believes me to be faithful and has always included me in his 'social' gatherings at Castella Di Armonia. My home is where the remaining Death Eaters and their sympathisers come to plan. It is through their influence that Wizarding Britain now finds its government in crisis. John has his agents working for change from within, you see."
"Ah—the 'reorganization' nonsense—our government is not the only one in which the matter of half-bloods' participation in electing their leaders is being discussed, is it? . . . I assume that you will provide me with a list of the names of the architects of this strategy?"
"When the time is right, of course I will."
"What? What better time than now?"
"We must first find Lucius, Bellatrix, and Pansy," Narcissa answered.
"Yes," Evessa added, "and we must also retrieve Aries from Italy."
"You could have done that long before now!"
"How?" demanded Evessa. "By seeking the aid of those who would have jailed me for being a Death Eater? For if I'd told the Ministry anything, that is what I would have had to admit in order to make them believe me."
"You could have revealed the existence of Harry's child without admitting anything. You could have told me about Aries."
"No, Severus, that I could not have done."
"Why not? Why haven't you—is there something more?"
"Answer a question of mine, first," Evessa said.
"No, you can't," Narcissa protested. "We promised each other that we'd protect him!"
Evessa ignored Narcissa's outburst and asked of Severus, "How would you have felt about Harry if you'd known that his magic was grounded in necromancy?"
Whatever he'd been expecting Evessa to ask, it wasn't that. "I've known Harry Potter since he was eleven-years-old. He is not, nor has he ever been—"
"Yes, but if you had believed him born a necromancer, could you have loved him?"
"Necromancers are abominations, Evessa!" Severus exclaimed, echoing the sentiments of most of the wizarding world. "At Gordon Talbot's funeral last year—"
"You knew Talbot?" Narcissa interrupted.
"Of course I knew Talbot. He was the finest Potions master with whom it has ever been my privilege to correspond. He'd long been refining upon Albus' eighth use of dragon's blood, and I considered him a friend. He died a natural death and would have lain in peace had not that necromancer reanimated him to glean his secrets. The only thing I could think of at Gordon's memorial was how I would have cheerfully destroyed Morecrafte myself if the Aurors hadn't got to him fir—this is ridiculous! Why are you asking me this when you know the answer? Boy Who Lived or no, if Harry Potter had shown even a shade of necromantical ability, the Ministry would have had him killed. All necromancers are . . . ."
"Put to death upon discovery," Evessa concluded, when she saw that Severus had made the connection and was unable to complete his thought.
"No," he exhaled more than said. "It's not possible." It's too cruel. It can't be true.
Narcissa reached for Severus' hand and pressed it. "We love Aries, and we've been trying to find a way to save him. He's just a child. We couldn't have told you that—"
"Aries," interrupted Evessa, "is not like other boys."
Harry stared into the mirror in shock as he realised that he was looking at the coalescing features of a young boy.
"Who are you?" Harry asked the child, his surprise distracting him from his disappointment.
"I asked you first," the boy said, smiling in triumph, "so that means you have to answer me."
In spite of himself, Harry smirked. "Does it now?"
Somehow, no matter how awful things became, he could always be calm when dealing with children. It was important to him that he was.
"That's the rule," the little boy replied, his expression smug.
"All . . . all right, then. Sirius is . . . was my godfather."
"Oh. A con-stel-la-tion name! I have a con-stel-la-tion name," the boy said carefully, clearly pleased that he could pronounce such a "big" word. "Do you think many people have them?"
"You've asked two questions," Harry said, remembering how Ronnie and Harry always insisted on playing any game strictly by the rules, "and you haven't answered my first one."
"Oh, well, that's fair, I suppose. My name," the boy said, drawing himself up proudly, "is Aries Parkinson."
Harry's heart began to beat faster; he could see that the child, who appeared to be about five- or six-years-old, believed what he'd said. But I don't. He looks too much like— Coughing to push his words passed the lump that had formed in his throat, he said with enforced calmness, "Yes, Aries, a lot of people have constellation names."
"I haven't met any, well, except for Mummy. Go on, ask—it's your turn."
Oh, God. Please, please no, Harry thought, fighting back tears. Please be wrong. "All right then, Ar—Aries, what's your mummy's name?"
Aries' smile widened into a grin. "Bellatrix Black Lestrange."
Harry dropped the mirror.
"Hey! Where'd you go?"
Scrambling for the handle, Harry grabbed it and demanded frantically into the mirror, "Aries, can you tell me where you are?"
"No fair! It's my turn to ask a question," Aries complained, before he suddenly turned his head as if he'd heard something.
"Go on, then," Harry said, feeling desperate again. "Ask your ques—"
"Can't," Aries whispered. "I have to go now, but I might be able to come back later," he continued, moving his face out of the frame before returning almost at once. "It was very nice meeting you," he said formally, and then he was gone.
"No! Aries? Aries, come back! I need to know where you are!"
But the mirror once more filled with mist and went glassy.