As soon as I've heard from the winners of my other auctions, I'll put up my squee post about livelongnmarry. *dances*
fodirteg and lalaith_niniel were good enough to beta this chapter (and all of GSM, for good measure, bless them). Did you miss Chapter Thirty-Nine?
Complete header information may be found in Part One. You may find all parts of this story by clicking the Getting Severus Married tag.
"Blaise, there's nothing more you can do here. You'd best be getting back to Snape Manor," Hermione said, as the two of them sat alone in Neville's kitchen.
"I'm sorry to leave you."
"It won't be for long, and anyway, I'm relieved. I don't like to think about how Terry's mismanaged things at the Novitiate while we've been away."
Hermione smirked. "Idiot," she murmured, affectionately tracing Blaise's brow with one hand.
"Auror Boot," Blaise repeated, setting his jaw.
Hermione sighed to see it and replied, "Auror Boot."
"I don't think that it's a good idea for you to be returning to the Novitiate. You're supposed to be closeted with an ailing relative."
"Professor Dumbledore didn't think it would be a problem for me to look in on things, and I'll need to tell Boot about my 'relative' to explain why I'm not at Snape Manor, just in case anyone might think to check. It'll be fine. I'll come right back here after I gather some of my belongings and see how the new trainees are getting on, I promise."
"Are you taking Morgan with you?" Blaise asked, frowning.
"No. He left while you were napping."
"So Master Moody couldn't object?"
"Actually, Master Moody seems to have changed his mind about his grandson's profession. Laura talked to him."
"Laura changed Moody's mind?" Blaise asked, raising his eyebrows. "Amazing."
"She is. From what little I overheard, I gather she was urging him to accept that Morgan needed to find his calling in life."
"His purpose in life. Muggles, particularly Muggles who enter religious orders, refer to their professions as their callings."
"And that did it? Interesting. Who knew the man had a heart?"
"Morgan's the only family he has left. I think I understand his objections to his grandson becoming an Auror."
"You're very understanding," Blaise agreed, pulling Hermione up into his arms and kissing her soundly.
"Mmm, lovely—but you need to go now. It's already five o'clock, and you've the Guess the Future readings after dinner."
"And Severus to face. I'm not looking forward to that, either. He'll never forgive me for not killing Malfoy."
Hermione's smile faltered. "I know. He'll be furious, but . . . at least there will be too many people at the manor for him to make a scene."
"Don't you believe—"
"Pardon me," Spellen Spurlock interrupted, as he opened the cellar door, "but is there anything to eat?"
Hermione quickly removed her arms from around Blaise and jammed her hands into her pockets, while Blaise drew himself up and smirked at her.
"Oh! Good morning, sir. I was just about to bring something down to you."
"Forgive me for startling you, and there's no need for you to wait on me and Auror Tonks. If you'd just point me in the direction of the lavatory, I'd be happy to take something down for us after I freshen up."
"How's Tonks?" Blaise asked, reluctantly moving towards the outer door.
"Upset, and I'm certain she shouldn't be down there alone. That man is her kin."
"You're not suggesting that—"
"I'm not suggesting anything, Auror Zabini. It's just that I think she might be feeling a bit unsettled about having to see her uncle in his current condition."
"That's one way of putting it, I suppose. I'd like to stay and keep her company, but—"
"It's fine, Blaise," Hermione told him, favouring him with a bright smile. "I'll take dinner down to Tonks and talk to her while Spellcraftre Spurlock freshens up—the loo's the second door on the right down the corridor, sir."
"Thank you," Spurlock replied, leaving the room.
"I'll miss you, love."
"I already miss you," Hermione said softly, opening the cupboard to remove two plates.
Taking a deep breath to steady herself as she stepped through the wards to face Tonks, Hermione asked, "Are you hungry?"
Tonks began to speak as if in the middle of some other conversation. "This murdering bastard should be dead. Why are we protecting him?"
"Because Albus Dumbledore trusts us to, that's why," Hermione said mildly, setting the plates down and taking a chair next to Tonks.
"I thought Kings was taking the piss when he told me I was in charge of removing Lucius from St Mungo's. 'Threats against his life'—why should we care about those?"
"Because we're Aurors, and it's our duty to—"
"Ha! It's our duty to protect decent folk from people like him! We should be executing Malfoy."
"It's . . . it's not up to us to decide who lives and dies."
"His lot thinks differently."
"Yes, and look how well it's served them."
"How can you be so calm about this? Why aren't you angry? You've just as much reason to want to kill him as I—"
"Then do it," Hermione interrupted, in sudden nervous irritation. "Spurlock's gone. I won't stop you. If you think you can murder your own uncle, then do it."
Tonks' face crumpled and she abruptly turned away. "He was never my uncle," she whispered hoarsely. "He called me an 'abomination' the only time he deigned to speak to me. He said that my mother . . . that my mother was a 'blood-traitor whore'."
"Sticks and stones," Hermione replied, as coldly as she could manage.
Tonks whirled on her. "What's wrong with you?"
"I heard worse names hurled at me the entire time I was at Hogwarts. My parents' lives were threatened, too, especially in Seventh Year when things turned so awful. And you're right. I do have plenty of reasons to hate this man and want him dead, and I don't like having to protect him any more than you do—but that doesn't mean I want to hear you complain about doing your duty—so if you think it's your duty to kill Lucius Malfoy, carry it out."
"You . . . you're not serious."
"And you're not a murderer."
The fight went out of Tonks, then. "Trust you to make a point so quickly. Sorry, Hermione. I . . . I need some air. Is Moody . . . ?"
"He's minding the front porch," Hermione replied briskly, as if she and Tonks had just been discussing the weather. "Murphy's around back, and there's a squad deployed about the property. I doubt anyone would mind if you took a break."
"Spurlock shouldn't be long, I imagine."
"No, I don't imagine he will be—and Tonks?"
"Listen, you know that, well, that since he's," Hermione said, indicating Malfoy with an inclination of her head, "been taken from the Healing wards, there's a good chance he won't survive. The shock of it—"
"Might kill him. Yeah, I know. I just object to leaving it to chance, is all. I wish you and Blaise had killed him."
No. You wish you could kill him yourself, and you're furious because you can't.
Hermione understood her friend's sentiments. She knew it was an absolute certainty that, had Malfoy ever stood trial, he would have been sentenced to the Kiss; unfortunately, the man's condition made administering such justice a political impossibility: the pure-bloods in Wizarding Parliament had objected to a trial in absentia because Lucius Malfoy was not, in fact, absent, and they'd asserted that to send him to Azkaban for the Kiss would have been a form of torture; therefore, the Minister had felt it wise to wait until such time as Malfoy had recovered to formally take him into custody and charge him with his crimes.
But Marchbanks doesn't know what's at stake, Hermione thought. She doesn't have all the information. None of us ever do, thanks to Dumbledore.
As the wards reset themselves, however, Hermione shrugged off these unproductive thoughts as ungrateful and slid one hand into her left pocket. Wrapping her fingers around the phial resting there, she lifted it out to examine its contents. The potion was blood red and thick, clinging to the sides of its tiny container as if it were sentient and seeking escape; despite this, Hermione knew that it would take some time to administer it.
I don't have long.
Stepping forward, she uncorked the phial and put the stopper aside. She then placed one hand under Malfoy's neck to crane it upward as she placed the open edge of the phial against his lower lip. Thus prepared, Hermione paused.
I didn't lie to you, Blaise. I truly don't like making decisions when I'm angry—but that's not why I insisted we go to Dumbledore.
As the two of them had been travelling to St Mungo's, the way Blaise had worked himself up into a rage—something he'd always done before a mission in which he might have to kill—had frightened Hermione. It had occurred to her that his fragile peace of mind might shatter were he to take part in Malfoy's "release," for Blaise still carried a great deal of guilt over having murdered his family—and what Severus had asked them to do, standing orders or no, was still murder.
Hermione had decided that Blaise couldn't be allowed to commit murder.
Because of this, she'd persuaded him that they needed to receive Dumbledore's permission before carrying out their "mission." That permission had come in the form of Albus Dumbledore's not asking for the potion she now held after she and Blaise had told him of Severus' plan, and it had been reinforced when Dumbledore had said not one word to Shacklebolt of exactly how Severus had intended to kill Malfoy. Further, when Dumbledore had said, as she and Blaise had taken their leave, "I know that I can trust you to do what is necessary," Hermione had known that he'd been speaking for her benefit alone.
"I'm glad to be rid of that phial," Blaise had said then.
Hermione had looked to the Headmaster, and he'd nodded.
She knew that Dumbledore understood the situation, that he'd done something to make Blaise forget, and it had been easy enough for her to completely relieve Blaise of his burden before he could remember it when she'd made her goodbyes to him in the kitchen.
So what are you waiting for? she asked herself, shrugging off her reverie and tightening her hold upon the phial. "This isn't murder," she said, trying out the lie. "It's justice."
"I imagine that it feels like murder just the same, now that the battlefields are empty, and you're not angry."
Cursing herself for her preoccupation, Hermione stiffened, but she made no move to remove the phial from against Malfoy's mouth. "Who says I'm not angry?"
Spurlock chuckled, a grim sound, and replied, "Perhaps you are, but it doesn't follow that you've come here because of that emotion to commit an act of vengeance."
"It . . . it feels like vengeance. I hate this man."
"Albus Dumbledore trusts you," Spurlock replied simply, stepping forward, "and you have your orders."
"I assume that you wouldn't be standing there like that of your own volition."
"It shouldn't be so hard."
"I'm afraid I must disagree with you there. The taking of a life is a terrible act, indeed, no matter the reason, or however much one might believe that someone deserves killing. I think it's to your credit that you're having difficulty carrying out your orders, and I'd like to assist you."
"What?" Hermione asked, alarmed. "No. I couldn't allow you to—"
"Auror Granger, I mean only to give you another perspective."
Hermione's arm was beginning to shake from holding it in one position for so long. She left off staring at Malfoy and turned to look at Spurlock. His expression was dispassionate.
"Perhaps you should consider that Lucius Malfoy has been, while fully conscious and feeling, trapped in a prison of his flesh for years. If he hears us now, it's through a deeper form of madness than that from which he was suffering before he was enchanted. To end his torment would be a mercy, for despite what some may imagine, he could never hope to be restored to his former state of intellect. He isn't whole. He never will be again."
That helps, Hermione thought, her arm relaxing. "I don't want to feel sorry for him."
Spurlock smiled inscrutably. "Understandable, but if you end his life, you'll release him from his suffering. That should be your revenge, Auror Granger, to show mercy to one who couldn't feel it."
"I don't want to be like him, either."
"Do you truly imagine that you're anything like Lucius Malfoy?"
"No. No, not really. You're right—about the battlefields, I mean. It's easier to kill when you know you're in the right."
"So it is," Spurlock said, gesturing towards Malfoy's body.
It was shuddering slightly.
Hermione looked down to see that the phial she held was empty. "You distracted me," she half-accused.
"That is ungenerous of you, my dear. What I did was lend you the moral support you so obviously required. Now give me that phial," Spurlock ordered, picking up the stopper from the bedside table, "and get on with your next task. You were never here, so it's best that no one find you so."
"He knew. He knew that I'd have trouble," Hermione said, handing over the phial. "That's why he told you. . . . Albus Dumbledore never leaves anything to chance, does he?"
Spurlock grimaced. "If it's a comfort to you, do believe that. Now get out. Nymphadora could walk through that door at any moment."
Molly looked up from her darning as Ron and the twins walked through the kitchen door.
"Granmum!" Ronnie and Harry chorused, rushing forward to envelope her in a dual bear hug.
"Oh, what nice arr sounds!" Molly replied delightedly. Looking at Ron, she said, "Your father's in the lounge, dear. Now then," she continued, "would two like to help me bake some cookies?"
"But I wanna see Granpaw," Harry protested.
The sound of Molly's reassuring voice—"You can do that later. Your father needs to talk to him now"—faded as Ron left the kitchen.
How does she always know what I need? he wondered, relieved to find Arthur dozing in his favourite chair.
There were pieces of a Muggle clock scattered over a small table next to the chair, and Arthur's sleep-loosened hand held a screwdriver.
Everything's exactly as it ought to be. "Dad?"
There was a familiar whooshing sound, which was followed by the crisp snick of the door being closed, and then a deep voice behind him said, "Let him sleep."
Ron turned, his wand raised, to see Kingsley Shacklebolt brushing Floo powder off his trousers.
"I see that your reflexes are still quite sharp, Coach Weasley."
"What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you."
"Oh, and why's that?"
"Put that away, and I'll tell you."
"Sure," Ron replied grudgingly, re-sleeving his wand.
"Thank you. Now, how much do you know?"
"How much do you know?"
"I did ask first."
"How many hobgoblins make their homes in Chelsea?" Ron asked abruptly.
"Weasley, that hasn't been the secret question for years."
"Yeah, well, it was the last one I knew as an Auror, so—"
"As an Auror-in-Training, you mean," Shacklebolt replied, a slight sneer twisting his usually impassive features. "In any case, there's still only the one."
"That wasn't the answer."
"One hobgoblin lives happily in Chelsea and is not well liked. Satisfied?"
Ron lowered the hand he'd been raising towards his left sleeve and said, "Yeah. Now, what is it?"
Kingsley snorted and shook his head. "I made money off the last World Cup thanks to you, so I'll overlook your attitude."
"Nice of you, that—again, why are you here?"
Ron had never forgiven Shacklebolt for forbidding Hermione to speak to him for the duration of her training after he'd left his. Their enforced separation, Ron had always believed, was the reason he'd never been able to persuade Hermione to leave the DMLE, as well. He persisted in this belief despite the fact that it was Hermione who'd told him that she wanted a career more than she wanted marriage.
"When I found that you weren't at your home, but that Potter was sleeping, I—"
"How'd you know that?"
Shacklebolt raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, of course. You're an Auror."
"Your wife was kind enough to tell me about Potter. She wouldn't rouse him for me, though, so I decided to find you. Dumbledore suggested that Potter might be in need of this," Kingsley said, handing Ron an envelope, "and I felt it was better that you give it to him. I understand he's had a shock."
"Do you know about what?"
"I know it's to do with his disappearance. I don't know what happened during that time, or what it is I just gave you."
"Well, thanks," Ron replied, not really wondering how Dumbledore had known that Harry would want Aries' birth certificate—Because I know that's what this has to be—and wishing that Shacklebolt would go.
"Dumbledore also requested that I encourage Potter not to share information with anyone who didn't need it," Kingsley added, as he stepped up to the hearth and reached for the pot of Floo powder. "I trust you'll pass that suggestion on?"
"I'll consider it my duty to do so."
Kingsley nodded, shook his head, and then left.
Ron wasted no time in opening the envelope. Inside, as he expected, was Aries' birth certificate. It made Ron's stomach turn to see his best mate's name listed next to Bellatrix Lestrange's as a parent to the same child.
I 'spose this means that Dumbledore's all right about helping Harry, Ron thought, relieved, though hardly surprised. That's good. Harry's going to need all the help he can get.
Ron had some difficulty replacing the certificate into the envelope and soon saw why; there was another, smaller envelope inside of the larger one. Glancing at his slumbering father, he pulled it out. Harry's name was emblazoned across it.
Well, don't you want to know what it says?
Ron had left the boys with their grandparents, and now he and Lavender were sitting at the kitchen table in their home, silently providing moral support for Harry as he stared at the unopened letter in his hands. He hadn't yet looked at the birth certificate.
That's not a surprise. I didn't like looking at it. Come on, Harry. Open the letter already.
Suddenly, Harry turned his eyes to Ron's and raised an exasperated eyebrow. "I'm getting to it."
"What? Were you just in my head?"
"I don't need to be to know what you're thinking," Harry replied, sighing and ripping open the envelope to read aloud what appeared to be a hastily scrawled note: "'We forget, I think, how intimately connected to us are our house elves. Yours has been following you and knows everything. It's he you have to thank for the document you now have in your possession. I'm concerned about you, dear boy, and I hope to see you again soon so that we might discuss matters pertaining to said document. You're not alone, and you need not act without friends'."
"I didn't know that you had a house elf," Lavender said.
Ron sat up straight. "Dobby. It was Dobby? But why didn't he give you the birth certificate, himself?"
"Because he was afraid I'd be angry with him. He must have followed me when I returned to Grimmauld from Hogwarts, and then kept following me long enough to have learnt about Aries before going to Dumbledore for advice," Harry replied. "Is that what you did, Dobby?"
There was no response from the house elf.
"But how would he have known to get a copy—"
"I'm not angry at you, Dobby, and I want your help."
"Harry Potter wants Dobby's help?" the house elf's disembodied voice asked.
"Show yourself, already."
"It's all right, Lavender. Dobby?"
Dobby appeared with a pop! "Dobby is sorry, Harry Potter, but Dobby had to do it. You is crying over the mirror and at the place of dead wizards, because your son is gone. Dobby's duty is to protect his friend Harry Potter's Family!"
"That's very kind of you, Dobby," Lavender said, casting a worried glance at Harry.
Ron followed her gaze. "You all right?"
"It is not fine! The bad Lestrange has taken your Aries!"
"Why'd you think to get his birth certificate?"
"Because, Harry Potter, wizards is supposing to have their sons with them, but Dobby is thinking you shouldn't be going to get your Aries alone. Dobby is thinking fighting might happen, and your Aries must not be getting hurt."
"You thought I'd do something stupid, is that it?"
"Oh! Dobby must," the elf replied, looking around in agitation, "must pun—"
"No," Harry ordered. "Stop it. If you're going to be my house elf, my Family's house elf, I won't have you hurting yourself."
The change in Dobby was instantaneous. "Harry Potter would let Dobby serve his Family?"
Before Harry could respond, Ron said, "But I thought you liked being free. Why would—"
"Harry Potter freed Dobby. He is not going to make Dobby a slave, but Dobby misses having a Family, and . . . ."
"And?" Lavender prompted gently.
Wringing his hands and blushing, Dobby continued, "Dobby is wanting a family of his own, but Winky is not having any 'bad house elf'."
Lavender giggled. "Dobby! You're in love."
"Dobby isn't knowing about love. Dobby knows about family, and Winky won't let him have one if he isn't proper."
Ron uttered a rude snorting sound. "Perhaps it isn't love he's talking about, at that."
Lavender smacked Ron in the head.
"Well," Harry said slowly, "I don't suppose Winky would approve of my paying you, would she, but that could be our secret."
"Harry Potter! House elves is not ever lying to their mates! We is always acting together."
"I think that's a fine thing, Dobby," Lavender said, watching Harry pull the birth certificate towards him. "Ron and I never lie to each other, and we always make decisions together."
"Dobby, I would like you to be my house elf, but I'm not going to make you vow to serve me. I hope that's all right with you."
"Yes, yes! Dobby wishes to be Harry Potter's house elf. And Winky?"
"You want to marry Winky?"
Dobby made a scoffing sound. "House elves is not wizards, Harry Potter. We is knowing our own mates without big books or special words to tell us who they is."
"Oh, uh, sorry. Of course you is, er, you do, but if you're going to be my house elf, you've got to stop spy—helping me without telling me about it, all right?"
"Winky won't mind?" asked Lavender.
"Winky is telling Dobby it has to be this way," he replied, appearing radiantly cheerful.
"Then you'd best go tell her you're moving to Twelve, Grimmauld, and Dumbledore, as well," Harry instructed.
"Will Harry Potter be coming home?"
"Yes, but only to get changed. There's someone I need to talk to."
I hope you mean Professor Snape, Lavender thought.
"Dobby will prepare you something to wear, Harry Potter," Dobby said, disappearing.
"I doubt Dumbledore will care what you're wearing."
"He doesn't mean the Headmaster, Ron," Lavender replied, reaching for his hand.
"House elves are pretty smart, I suppose."
"They certainly are," Lavender replied, squeezing Ron's hand. "We could learn a great deal about devotion from them." Especially you, Mr "I Have a Team Meeting Every Other Thursday."
"Well," Harry said, taking a shaky breath, collecting his things, and rising from the table, "I guess there's nothing more I can do here. I'd best be getting back to Snape Manor."