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 returned home just after dawn, relieved to discover that his Eligibles were keeping aristocratic hours because it meant that he could breakfast in the semi-private, walled garden attached to his laboratory without fear of interruption. The garden wasn't frequented by ghosts, and he found that the chill of the air—somewhat mitigated by an atmospheric charm—helped to sharpen his sleep-deprived mind.
Mother, Severus thought, you might have told me. You told me so many other things.
He didn't mean Evessa but Eileen Snape, the woman whose pitiful spectre had haunted his childhood. He'd spoken of her visitations to his father only once.
"Ghosts grow attached to their lies," Tobias had told him, wiping the blood off his fists. "Don't you believe them."
Severus had been seven-years-old then, the day he'd received his first real beating at his father's hands, and too young to do anything but huddle in the corner of Tobias' study while his father had fought with his nanny. She'd wanted to treat Severus' wounds; instead, she'd been sacked.
She was kind to me, and I don't even remember her name. Gods. . . . Does Aries have a nanny?
Severus hoped that he did, for Narcissa couldn't always have been with him, and it seemed unlikely that Bellatrix would play the doting mother to a child she intended to sacrifice.
Narcissa said that she believed Bellatrix would seek her in Wiltshire, he thought, moving around the eggs on his plate. I know that she lied to me. I know that she's gone to attempt to discover Lucius' whereabouts.
Severus understood why, of course, for he shared Narcissa's concerns.
Lucius needs to be killed, but there is yet time to deal with him. Albus will have him secured somewhere in deference to Hermione and Blaise—no, in deference to his own machinations—but I doubt that he has any true designs on preserving Lucius' life.
The more pressing concern was Aries' safety, and towards that end, Evessa had returned to Castella Di Armonia to ensure that the child was well. Her intention was to inform John that she'd chased off most of the unsuitable Eligibles and now thought it likely that Severus would be marrying a pure-blood. While Parkinson wouldn't welcome such news, for it would do nothing to further his own political ambitions, it would assure him that Evessa had no idea what those ambitions were—and position her to be of use in their rescue of Aries.
What of Harry? Severus wondered. Harry will know by now of Bellatrix's . . . violation, he thought, closing his eyes in pain. Damn you, Albus! You must have suspected . . . . You should have allowed me to remain!
Albus had insisted that Severus return to his guests. Even though Severus knew that the manipulative old bastard had been correct about keeping up appearances, it was all Severus could do not to seek out Harry, whom he felt he'd abandoned.
Does he know about his son? Would Bellatrix have tormented him with the truth of her actions, believing as she did that Harry was about to die? Yes. Yes, of course she would have done. . . . Which means that Harry will have set off to find Aries by now. He never thinks things through. He never asks for help.
Severus had contacted Albus as soon as he'd returned to the manor, and Albus had told him that Harry had taken himself off to Grimmauld place and warded himself into it. Severus hoped that was where Harry had remained.
But he easily could have slipped past the Aurors waiting for him to emerge. He always plays the hero, and he's never had as much provo—
"Tippy is sorry, Master Snape, but here is a letter," the elf said, interrupting his thoughts as she proffered a neat rectangle of parchment.
"When did this arrive?"
"The big white owl is just leaving."
"Send one of our owls after it immediately," Severus instructed, "and set a tracking spell on the creature," he continued, before breaking the letter's seal and reading:
8 February 2006Severus' eyes lingered for a long time on Harry's signature, and then he cast a spell on the mottled parchment. It had been charmed not to show the tear stains.
What Albus helped me to remember is that Bellatrix Lestrange is more dangerous than we suspected, and she's not alone. I'm still an Auror, there are still Death Eaters, and it's still my job to catch them. My job is all I know, and I doubt I could give it up to become the kind of partner you need. Because of this, I'm withdrawing my name from the Scroll of Eligibles.
I hope you can forgive me for being so abrupt. I wasn't playing with you, I swear. I just can't see myself making you happy, and I've been neglecting my duties for too long.
Harry James Potter
"Damn." He knows. He knows about his son and is planning to rescue him. He believes that I would never accept him, now that to do so would mean I also had to accept his child. He knows, and he used his father's name to provoke me into becoming angry enough with him to let him go. How unexpectedly manipulative of him.
It was a surprise to note how receiving Harry's letter had cleared his mind. Calmly, and certain now of how he would proceed, Severus drew a sheet of parchment from a drawer in his desk, picked up his quill, and wrote:
Dear Harry,His response written, Severus had only to wait for Tippy's tracking charm to activate. When it did, he would be able to send his letter to Harry.
In the spirit of the honesty that you displayed in your last letter, I must inform you that only a Supplicant may release his Eligibles from their participation in the Courtship Ritual. I regret that you didn't understand this before agreeing to become my escort. In any case, I don't elect to remove your name from the Scroll of Eligibles at this time; I find that your company pleases me, and I shall miss it while your devotion to duty precludes you from returning to Snape Manor for the duration of the Convivium.
In later stages, I trust that you'll provide me with the opportunity to demonstrate my willingness to compromise on any matter of importance to you, including your desire to remain in the DMLE, and that you'll exhibit your respect for me by allowing me to ascertain for myself who and what will make me happy.
Towards that end, I suggest that we resume our weekly correspondence. Doing so would allow you to uphold your duty to me as my Eligible, something that is of the greatest importance for a wizard with designs on sitting in Wizarding Parliament. The Wizengamot takes a dim view of oath-breakers, and were you to be perceived as such, you might find your fitness to take your hereditary seat called into question. Despite my unpleasant history with your father, I assure you that I wouldn't wish to see the end of Family Potter's participation in government.
Please think carefully about what it is that I'm offering you before you make any decisions that might adversely affect your own happiness.
I'll soon know where he is, he told himself, squeezing his eyes shut against the pale light of the early morning and trying to feel reassured by that thought.
Worry had given Lavender a headache, one that was steadily growing worse as she and Ron sat silently in their kitchen, studiously not discussing whatever it was that had caused Harry's current state. They'd been studiously not discussing matters for well over an hour, and it was beginning to alarm Lavender. She'd been at school with the Boy Who Lived and remembered exactly what sort of trouble always seemed to follow him.
I don't want him to bring it here, she thought, feeling at once selfish and self-righteous, and disliking herself for feeling both emotions.
Little Harry was resting, Ronnie was still at his lesson with the speech therapist, and Lavender was attempting to figure out how to make her husband trust her enough to tell her what had happened when Ron asked, "Will he be all right?"
"The potion I gave him should restore his nerves, at least temporarily. Even though I never finished my training, my calming draughts are sound—but Ron, if Harry doesn't deal with whatever caused—"
"DAMN HIM! He can't DO this! Not NOW!"
Despite Ron's protestations, Lavender ran after him up the stairs to Harry. Little Harry, Lavender knew, wouldn't have heard his uncle's shouting; she'd set a silencing charm on his room against the possibility of the elder Harry succumbing to nightmares.
"Harry, what is it?" Ron asked, throwing open the door to the guest room to find his friend clutching a crumpled letter.
Lavender shut the window through which, she assumed, an owl had just flown.
"It's Severus! He says that I—shite! Lav, I'm sorry, I—"
"Need to calm down," she replied firmly, pressing Harry back down onto the bed. "Now, what's all this about? What's Professor Snape done?"
"No. I won't have secrets kept from me in my own home."
Harry looked from Ron to Lavender and sighed. "It's all right, Ron. She'll find out soon enough—I've quit the Courtship Ritual. At least, I tried to, but Severus won't let me! He says that only a Supplicant can release an Eligible."
Ron took the letter and scanned it. "Shit."
"Give me that," demanded Lavender, seizing the letter. "In the spirit of the honesty that you displayed in your last letter—" Subtext. What a surprise, she thought sarcastically, reading the rest of the letter and then saying, "The professor doesn't seem to want to let you go. At least he's being a gentleman about it."
"But I don't—"
"Look," Lavender said, sitting down next to Harry while Ron looked on, "I don't know what's going on between you and Professor Snape, but it's clear enough that he isn't angry with you about it. He says he's willing to compromise. Isn't that a good thing?"
Harry sighed again and clenched his fists. "I . . . I suppose so."
Ron sat down on Harry's other side. "You did say that you needed time to, uh, think about things, and it's probably best not to do anything that would . . . disturb appearances."
Lavender understood quite clearly that neither wizard intended to be direct in her presence. Of course not. I'm only the wife. "Whatever it is, if you need to be . . . discreet, can't you be that at Snape Manor?" And not here? "Ron's told me how much you seem to . . . esteem the professor, and, well, surely your argument couldn't have been that bad?"
"You wouldn't want the other Eligibles thinking that you were out of the running."
"I can't just go back there as if nothing's happened, Ron."
"Why not?" asked Lavender.
Ron and Harry looked at her.
"Love, you don't understa—"
"No," interrupted Lavender, "I don't, but that's beside the point. Whatever is really going on—and please believe me when I tell you that I know it has nothing to do with some misunderstanding—don't you think that to make a spectacle of yourself is the last thing you ought to be doing? If you're in trouble, why look like it? Won't that just show whoever it is who wants you to be in trouble that his plan is working?"
Inexplicably, Harry smiled, albeit wanly.
"Oh. Forgive me. Her plan."
Ron started. "What makes you think it's a her?"
"'She', Ron," Lavender quipped in annoyance, "and I think it has to be a woman, doesn't it? After all," she continued, turning to Harry, "you did ask me to find you that book. You can't let the bitch win, Harry. Bearing wizards have a much easier time of it than they used to do."
Harry's smile widened. "Lavender, I—"
"—know you don't think this has anything to do with What to Expect When You, the Wizard, Are Expecting."
"Oh," Ron said, wrinkling his forehead. "I didn't know you were reading that."
"So you don't know everything then. How nice."
"For Merlin's sake! Harry's my friend as well as yours—I'm allowed to help him!"
"You're right," Harry replied, as his smile faded. "I'm not being fair to you. It's just—"
"Complicated. Yes, I know. It's always bloody complicated with you. I sometimes think that's because you—"
"Lavender!" Ron exclaimed. "Don't."
"—make it complicated. Just tell me, already. I'm not an imbecile. I might be able to help you—and I think I've the right to know what kind of trouble you're involving my husband in," Lavender finished, folding her arms over her chest and glaring.
"Ron, would you excuse us, please?"
"No you don't, Potter. I want to see Ron's face while you tell me."
"So that you'll know if I'm lying. You're a hard woman, Lav."
Lavender tapped her foot impatiently. "No, I'm not. I'm scared—for you and my boys," she replied, glancing at Ron, who reached out his hand to her. Taking it, she demanded of Harry, "Well?"
It was easier, Harry found, to tell his story the second time.
Lavender gripped his hand as she looked at Ron and said, "I think that you should take Little Harry and go get Ronnie, and that you," she continued, blinking back tears as she turned to Harry, "should lie down for a bit longer while I make you something to eat."
"All right, but—"
"Just listen, Ron. You need to take the boys to the Burrow. I want you to ask Arthur to go to the Ministry, and I don't think that we can risk a fire-call."
"I don't understand, and you know that the Ministry's been closed."
"Right. For a 'gnome infestation', but that's a lie, isn't it, Harry? They wouldn't clear the entire Ministry for a bunch of gnomes, would they?"
"I doubt it, but you're right. The Ministry isn't closed because of gnomes. They found Lethifolds in the catacombs—well, Neville did. The gnome infestation is just a cover story."
"What? You didn't tell me that! Lethi—"
"Ron," Lavender said patiently, "don't interrupt. Harry, the Prophet reported this morning that Ministry department heads were being asked to assist with the 'sorting out', which means that Arthur could easily manage to get into the building and slip down to the Record Room, isn't that right?"
"Why do you want Dad to go to the Department of Records?"
"She didn't say that. She said she wanted him to go to the Record Room," Harry answered. "Why do you want Mr Weasley to consult the Record?"
"Because Bellatrix Black Lestrange is from a Registered Family and bound to the Record."
"I don't understand."
"I think I might," replied Harry. "The Record keeps track of births, marriages, and deaths. After making a kill—a pure-blood kill—an Auror has to sign the Record."
Lavender squeezed Harry's hand. "I'm sorry to make you think about how many times you've had to do that, but you're from a Registered Family, as well, and—"
"My name will be recorded on Aries' birth certificate in the Record next to . . . to hers," Harry whispered, clinging to Lavender's hand and trying not to be ill.
"Exactly," said Lavender. "The Record will have automatically recorded the live birth of a male child to Harry James Potter and Bellatrix Black Lestrange. Traditionally, when a child of a Registered Family is born, both parents go to the Ministry, sign the birth certificate, and add their baby's name to the Record. Lestrange didn't do that because she wanted to hide her son's existence from his father, and that's against the law."
"Wait—we didn't do that when our boys were born, and . . . and what if Aries wasn't born here?"
"The Record is magical, Ron," Harry said. "It doesn't matter where Aries was born."
"And even though the Weasleys are an old, pure-blood family—lowercase eff—you're not a Registered Family—upper case eff—so St Mungo's just sent Harry and Ronnie's birth certificate to the Department of Records."
"Does that bother you?" Ron asked.
"What? Of course it doesn't bother me."
"But you're from a capital eff family, so—"
"So what?" Lavender demanded. "So there's an incomplete birth certificate for our boys in some stuffy old magical book designed to keep track of a bunch of stuffy old Registered people—do you really think I care about that sort of nonsense?"
In spite of himself, Harry smiled. He'd never realised until that moment how much Lavender loved Ron, and it was . . . comforting.
"I guess not, but it's no wonder that your mum hates me."
"She doesn't hate you. She—"
Harry coughed, pointedly.
"Sorry," Ron muttered.
"Go ask your father to check the Record," Lavender pressed. "We need a copy of Aries' birth certificate, and I'm certain that Arthur can generate one without anyone knowing."
"Even if we get proof, how will that help us find Aries?" Harry asked. "I don't think it's a good idea to let her," he said, pausing for a moment to consider that it was just as bad to say "her" and mean Bellatrix as it was to say "the Dark Lord" and mean Voldemort, and then continuing, "Bellatrix know that I know about Aries."
"She won't know. The Record just records. It doesn't notify. She wouldn't know about a copy being made."
"I still don't understand how you think having Aries' birth certificate will help."
"It will help, Ron, because all magical governments have similar records of their pure-blood lines, and none of them approve of anyone preventing a wizard from knowing who his children are—or where they are. There are political agreements in place to assist wizards anywhere in securing their heirs."
Lavender nodded at Harry, saying, "'Parental' rights are taken rather seriously. I learnt about all this during my Healer's training at St Mungo's."
Which you gave up to marry Ron and start a family of your own, Harry thought, noting how uncomfortable Ron suddenly appeared.
"Healers testify before the Wizengamot when parentage is disputed—in cases involving the non-Registered, that is. However, if both parents are in the Record, the Wizengamot and other countries' magical courts will favour the father's claim. You see how that might help matters, don't you?"
"Not just their courts," Ron said, "but their governments and law enforcement, as well. I remember that much. Harry, don't you see? Even though the Minister could never get the Italians' assistance in searching for Death Eater Lestrange in their country, they'll fall all over themselves to find Child Stealer Lestrange. Right. I'm going."
Ron kissed Lavender and clapped one large hand on Harry's shoulder, and then he left.
After a moment, Harry said, "It's good to be a Magical Wizarding Peer, or nearly one, I guess. . . . Why MWP, though? Why not just WP?"
"Because Squibs are part of the wizarding world, as well, Harry."
"But they're not allowed to take seats in Wizarding Parliament."
"No, they're not. Listen, you've had a distressing time of it. I know you must be tired. Why don't you rest, and when you wake up, I'll have something nice for you to ea—"
"Lavender?" Harry asked, lying down on the bed.
"Oh. I'm mothering you too much, aren't I? I'm sorry. It's just that—"
"Thank you for what you said. I'm glad you want to help, especially considering—"
"Not another word, Harry. I meant what I said before—you're my friend. I want to help you. I'm so sorry for what happened to you, but it's going to be all right."
With those words, she rose and left Harry in an almost peaceful state, very much the kind of calm, reassured condition which talking to Molly Weasley could always produce.
Mrs Weasley, he thought. I'm glad there are two of you. It's nice being mothered.
As he drifted off to sleep, however, Harry tried not to dwell on what kind of maternal care Aries had known.