Complete header information may be found in Part One. You may find all parts of this story by clicking the Getting Severus Married tag.
Returning to Malfoy Manor would have been suicide; of this, Narcissa was aware. It wasn't difficult, however, to gain access to the Ministry; the Aurors guarding the building were too used to making exceptions for certain Peers, and when one appeared to belong someplace, others were always loathe to interfere with one. This was a lesson that Narcissa had learnt young.
She had no trouble working her way from the public areas to the catacombs, which could be accessed from the Department of Mysteries if one knew the way, and thanks to Lucius, Narcissa did. Once in the dark, steaming tunnels, she painstakingly explored every inch of them, slipping past Auror checkpoints under a glamour of invisibility until she came at last to what she knew must be, by virtue of the increase in temperature, the room in which the Lethifolds had been incubated.
Only two Aurors. Good.
Two complacent, bored guards, certain that no one would attempt to enter the room they protected, were no match for Narcissa's trickery.
"Hmm?" the second Auror asked the first.
The first Auror drew his wand. "Heard something. Going to investigate."
"Bailey, there's a team at the entrance and each juncture. It's probably just one of the lads having a slash."
An ominous creaking echoed down the corridor.
"Right," the second Auror said, drawing his own wand and following Bailey towards the tunnel's exit, "that's not one of the lads."
When the men had gone, Narcissa slipped into the room they'd left unguarded and, after scanning the area to ensure that no other Aurors were present, allowed her enchantment to drop.
Casting an Imperturbable on the door, she hissed, "You silly cow! I know you're here. Show yourself!"
Something slithered over Narcissa's feet, only to grow larger and more distinct in the dim light from her wand.
"You were expecting her?" Pansy snapped, aiming her wand at Narcissa.
It was the work of a moment to Summon it to herself. "How dare you seek to attack me! How dare you betray Bellatrix like this?"
The girl's eyes widened in fear, but they seemed clearer than they'd been the last time Narcissa had seen her. The Amortentia's worn off, then.
"I didn't! I didn't betray that bitch! You know what she's done to me! You should know. I just wanted it to end!"
Caution prevented Narcissa from revealing anything to Pansy; she had no idea where Bellatrix was, after all. "How?" she demanded. "By bringing the creatures here ahead of schedule? How could that possibly—"
"What do you mean? All she talks about is making the Ministers disappear! That's why she keeps us!"
"And where is your Spellcraftre?"
Pansy's eyes narrowed. "Why do you want—"
"Shh!" Narcissa interrupted, having heard footsteps approaching. "They'll be back any moment. We need to leave, now."
"I won't let you take me back to—"
The voices of the Aurors filtered into the room.
"Take your Animagus form. I'll carry you out of here—but not back to Bella."
"I swear. Now hurry!"
As soon as Pansy had taken her serpentine form, Narcissa Stunned her, scooped her up, and slid her into one pocket of her robes before enchanting herself again—and not a moment too soon: the sound of strangled screams met her ears as she flattened herself against the wall by the door, and then Bellatrix entered the room.
Duelling with Pansy was one thing, but Narcissa had no intention of trying such a tactic against her sister.
"Are you here, sweetling?" Bellatrix called, her voice sing-song but carrying with it an undercurrent of menace. "I've missed you, Pans, and I know that you've been naughty. Show yourself to me, do. I promise, I'm not vexed."
Narcissa held her breath as Bellatrix searched the previously ransacked room.
I wonder what they did with the creatures.
"Pansy, you won't like it if I have to find you."
Swallowing nervously at Bella's tone, Narcissa began to inch her way along the wall towards the door; she knew what was coming.
"Sweetling, this is foolish of you. You can't hide from me for long, and there's no where else for you to go. Now be a good girl. Come out! Come out before I—I've brought your potion, Pans. You know how much you need it," Bellatrix said, lowering her voice as she held up a phial. "Not that you deserve it! Where are you? What have you done to my pets? Why did you leave the island? Did you know he went there? Looking for you? Why would he have come, hmm? What have you been doing? Did you allow that filthy boy to touch you?"
Narcissa was out the door into the corridor and practically flying towards the exit—gliding, in fact, over the remains she observed sliding thickly to the stone floor from the walls—as Bellatrix lost control. The afterimage of bright spell-light stung her eyes as she ran, terrified by her sister's ferocious madness and wanting only to find a living Auror.
But at every checkpoint along the way, there was only gore to greet her.
"Malfoy, how nice of you to visit!" John Parkinson exclaimed, as Draco entered the salon.
Draco took the man's hand and shook it firmly, smiling as if he hadn't a care. "It's good to be back, sir. I was pleased to receive my aunt's invitation, but I thought it best to first pay my respects to you before I let her know I'd arrived. I trust all is well?"
"Quite," John replied, turning to the sideboard. "May I offer you a drink?"
"Thank you, but perhaps that should wait. I see that I've interrupted you," Draco said, nodding to the other man in the room. "Mr Faberge."
"No need to be so formal with an old reprobate like myself, Draco," Faberge remarked.
The man's supercilious, proprietorial leering at him was difficult to bear, but Draco played his role as expected, and grinned wickedly at Faberge before John turned towards him to offer him the drink he'd refused.
Taking it with a nod, he said, "Ah, you do know me well. Thank you."
"And you show good sense, young man, as always," John replied, indicating that Draco should sit, not on the sofa with Faberge, but in a chair just before it.
He thinks Luis will corrupt me, the idiot, Draco thought, taking his seat.
It was exhausting, being the virile playboy for one man while faffing about Europe playing the queer for all others.
But this charade will be over soon.
"My dear Bella is bored, you see, and no doubt seeks to send you on some political errand, but Luis and I have everything—and everyone—in hand. Michael is even now with some junior Ministers, furthering our interests. When the home Parliament sits down to vote on Twist's measure, they'll find themselves supported by the Italians. Unfortunately, Bella finds waiting tiresome."
"I expect that I'll be able to distract her. Mother's just been to Snape Manor."
"Oh?" John replied, frowning.
"Ostensibly, her visit was to wish Severus well in the Courtship Ritual."
"But?" Faberge asked.
"But Severus sent for her. He's completed his testing of Father's cure and wanted to know when he should employ it—but obviously, he didn't feel right taking steps without asking Mother."
"You see, Faberge? I told you that he was ours. It's a pity we won't have any further use for him soon."
"Sir, with proof of Severus' allegiance, perhaps you might consider—"
"Now then, boy, don't get ahead of yourself. Let the," John said, pausing as he shot an amused glance at Faberge, "'old' men do the planning. Snape may be a good servant in his way, but he's also a liability."
"Aunt Bellatrix doesn't trust him," Draco replied, hoping his response was the correct one.
"And we must humour our women when we can, eh?" John replied, smiling indulgently. "In any case, once your father has recovered and is in his rightful place, the measure will pass, and I'm certain that Bella will content herself to wait long enough to see things unfold according to plan, don't you?"
"It's certainly the best option before us, sir."
"Indeed. How you must have missed your father."
"Yes," Draco replied, unable to bring himself to smile but hoping that John would "understand" his lack of joviality. "But as you say, it will take some time for Father to recover and return to Parliament. I just hope that Aunt Bellatrix will under—"
"I'll make her understand."
Faberge snorted. "But of course you will."
"To women," John toasted.
"And good men," Faberge replied, his eyes moving greedily over Draco.
Draco repressed his disgust at the attention and drained his glass. "If you'll excuse me, in this one instance, I expect that I shouldn't keep my aunt waiting."
John, who Draco saw hadn't missed Faberge's glance in his direction, nodded. "You go. She'll want to see you, and little Aries, too."
"Little Aries" was why Draco had come, of course, and he wasted no time in going to his cousin. His mother hadn't known where his aunt was, but she'd assured him that if he would attend to Aries, she would find Pansy. They'd both agreed that, given the obvious break between Bellatrix and Pansy, it was time to act.
It helped tremendously, of course, that Albus Dumbledore, with whom his mother had been in recent contact, had agreed with them.
Please be well, Draco near-prayed, thinking of Pansy.
He knew that his aunt had left him alone, given his known "disinterest" in witches and refusal to insist upon Pansy's being forced to honour their marital contract after his apparent defection. That, and the fact that she had no desire to make use of him in her resurrection of the Dark Lord, had kept him safe for years. Pansy hadn't been as lucky.
She's been under that mad bitch's control all this time! How will she ever forgive me for not rescuing her sooner?
Draco despaired. It had been Pansy's choice, becoming a Death Eater, but he knew that, back then, none of them had truly had what could be called proper choices.
And she never would have spurned me if . . . .
He couldn't complete his thought. All he could do was hope that, once she was returned to him, once she'd recovered from his aunt's "attentions," Pansy might elect to allow him to love her again.
Never stopped, he thought, as the house elf granted him entrance into Bellatrix's house on John's estate, but familial obligations come first.
Draco frowned to think about how Potter would react when he learnt in whose care his son had been for so long but pushed that concern aside to address Pippy.
"Where is my aunt?"
Pippy's ears quivered. "Mistress says Pippy is not to be sharing her business."
Ah. Not here, then. And John thinks he's in control of her. "And my cousin, where is he?"
"Master Aries is playing in his rooms. Pippy is bringing up his tea soon."
"No, don't. I've brought him a surprise," Draco replied, pulling a box from his robes and tapping it with his wand. "Tea today will be from Fortescue's, and I believe we'll take it outside."
Pippy nodded, and then left him with a pop!
This had better work, or I'll have more than Aunt Bellatrix about which to worry, Draco thought, reviewing his plan to remove Aries from the grounds without alerting anyone.
Draco despised relying on anyone else for assistance, but Morgan Moody wasn't just anyone; as an Unspeakable, he could do things with magical wards that Draco had never known were possible until Dumbledore had assured him via his mother that they were, indeed.
I suppose I'll just have to trust the old man. He does know something about subterfuge, after all.
The thought wasn't, Draco found, as comforting as it might have been.
Snape Manor's grounds were peaceful as Harry, having left Ron and Lavender after the latter had insisted he take another calming draught, approached the house in the brisk afternoon breeze.
Hiding in plain sight, he thought, scowling. That's what Lestrange has been doing—or Parkinson—or both of them. How did I miss that? And Mary . . . .
Harry sighed. The Mary he'd known had been an invention. Should she be found, she'd be a stranger to him, and that thought made him sad, but it was better to feel concern for a stranger than it was to worry about his son, or about seeing Severus again.
Or Albus. Or the other Eligibles. How am I going to pretend that everything's nor—
"Mr Potter, Harry," a feminine voice interrupted his thoughts. "How is Miss Granger? And her relative?"
"Oh, er, Seraphina, I—"
"Look exhausted, you poor darling," Seraphina told him, sliding her arm into Harry's. "Come in for tea. You look as if you could use it—and I'll share with you what's happened since you left."
"Well, for poor Lucien. He quite lost his nerve and abandoned the Courtship Ritual. Silly boy! I do believe our Supplicant found him at least a little interesting."
Given everything else that had occurred recently, it didn't come as much of a surprise to Harry to learn that Severus had lied to him about his being able to withdraw his name from the Scroll. Smiling slightly, he allowed Seraphina to lead on.
"With Miss Granger gone—and one assumes that she truly is gone, given her attachment to the Advocate—"
"I suppose that's true," Harry agreed, mentally attempting to place himself in the moment. Who's left?
"I believe that our competition will no longer be so fierce."
Harry stopped walking to regard Seraphina. "You were worried about Hermione?"
"Don't tell anyone, but a tad. That one is most accomplished, and I have no head for politics, you see. I'm a simple woman."
Harry forced himself not to snort. "I don't see that. You're holding your own very well, from my perspective."
"Flatterer," Seraphina replied, moving forward again. "In any case, we're left to contend with Crispin, Lorelai, and William. I believe we'll make short work of them."
Harry snorted. "I take it you believe I'm your only competition, then?"
"But of course—and no wonder—but I warn you, I'm not at all daunted."
I'm not surprised, Harry thought, although he didn't share Seraphina's confidence, no matter what Severus had tried to tell him in the letter he'd sent refusing to excuse Harry from the Courtship Ritual. How can he still want me, when—
"So, how shall we run them off, my dear?" Seraphina asked, as they settled themselves in the drawing room and she poured tea.
Harry accepted a cup and replied, "If you're so confident, why bother? Shouldn't your, er, charms do the trick?"
"Surely you're not so willing to leave everything to chance, and you, an Auror?"
"Honestly? I'm . . . not much of a planner," Harry said, wondering where Evessa was as he fought not to lower his eyes from Seraphina's.
Her gaze was disconcerting.
"I believe our Supplicant is resting. He saw his sister off earlier today, and—"
"What? Eve—Mrs Parkinson's gone?"
"Indeed. She left after breakfast, and I don't think it pleased Severus at all."
"That's true, as I so rarely see my sister," Severus remarked, from the door.
"I trust that Miss Granger was as well as could be expected when you left her?" Severus asked him.
"Er, yeah. Yes, she was."
Seraphina's expression was calculating, Harry noted, as she glanced from him to Severus and back again. With a near-smile, she rose.
"Well, do get some rest before we dine, Harry. I believe I'll find Lorelai for a walk. It's lovely out."
Harry didn't miss the way Seraphina stroked Severus' arm as she passed him, or the light smile of favour Severus bestowed upon her. He's so much better at this than I am.
A few heartbeats after she'd gone, the door closed.
"That wasn't subtle," Harry said, nodding towards the door and wondering where to begin.
There was too much to say, and he wasn't certain how much of it he could.
"To hell with subtlety."
The restrained passion in Severus' voice made it impossible for Harry to remain silent. "Severus," he said hoarsely, rising from the sofa, "I can't do this any—"
The mouth on his proved him wrong: he could do it, was doing it; he was kissing Severus, being kissed, pouring everything into their embrace that he didn't know how to say, and he struggled to sustain that embrace when Severus sought to end it. He needed the comfort.
Don't want to think, to talk, please . . . just let me . . . .
There's much you don't know, Severus' voice caressed his mind, as his tongue moved against Harry's. We need to talk. Now.
"I'm . . . I have a . . . I don't know what to say."
"Shh," Severus interrupted, leading Harry back to the sofa. He sat first, and then pulled Harry into his arms, urging Harry to lie down with his head against his chest. "We . . . I have something, several things, to tell you. I won't ask you to tell me anything you don't wish to. There's no need. I know, Harry."
Harry stiffened, and Severus, no longer caring about caution and afraid that Harry might bolt, held him more tightly as he steeled himself for his admission.
"And you should know that there is nothing about you or anything or anyone in your life that could possibly keep me from . . . wanting you. You're my Choice, Harry."
Given what Harry had learnt of Lestrange, had experienced at Albus' hands, Severus wasn't certain it was the right time to make his declaration, but he didn't care.
We must speak plainly now. There's too much at stake to do otherwise. Harry, I . . . cannot live without you.
"You're . . . you really are a romantic. Narcissa was right. But Severus, there is too much at stake! How can we—I know what you need, why you have to marry. If you choose me, you'll lose everything because I can't—"
"I know you don't trust me, but there—"
"Are you mad? Of course I trust you! Would I be here if I didn't? Severus, this, us, we can't—"
"We can, and we will. Together." Harry, I need you. Please don't leave me. Not now, not when we're . . . .
"Practically—" Practically magic-fasted?
The words, especially unspoken, washed over Severus like a balm. You know?
"I am an Auror," Harry murmured against his lips, "even if I'm not the best one in the world. Of course I know." Thanks to your library—I never believed that this new form of communication between us had anything to do with Legilimency, you know.
"No," Severus whispered, "but it does mean everything."
Nothing seemed right as he "awakened"; all was dark, unfamiliar, yet he still found himself able to exercise his senses to some degree. There was a vague impression of the scent of decay clinging to the earthen walls which surrounded him. He was reminded of a tomb.
I suppose it is a tomb, my tomb.
Of course, he had no intention of remaining in such a dank and ill-befitting place; there was too much to do, and he'd been waiting to see it done for far too long.
Patience, man. You've all the time in the world, it seems, to seek vengeance.
The thought was reassuring, indeed.
"You're certainly taking all this well," Neville told Laura, as he handed her another, recently filled journal.
Sharing his journals with Laura had helped her to understand his life as a wizard.
She tucked it into her bag and laughed, turning back to clasp hands with him. "I've been enjoying reading about your life. You have a writer's eye for detail. Besides, you hardly could have expected me to run away screaming after learning more about your world, not after the incident with the vampires in your sub-cellar."
"I suppose not, but I might have run away screaming if . . . ."
Neville swallowed, looking past Laura's head at the smirking presence that had just risen through the floor. Oh, this is so much worse than vampires!
"Do introduce me to your charming companion, Mr Longbottom," the ghost said, as Laura turned to look over her shoulder.
"Why . . . why aren't you transparent?"
"A better question," the spectre of Lucius Malfoy replied, frowning at the sudden, bizarre chanting of the young woman as he concentrated on not sinking through the chair in which he'd selected to settle, "would be what, exactly, does she believe that she's doing?"
"Laura, I don't think you can exorcise him."
"That doesn't mean I shouldn't try."
"Do calm yourself, Laura," Lucius said, casually flicking imaginary dust off his robes. Wrinkling his nose at their colour, he concentrated on changing it. "Ah, much better!"
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Neville demanded.
"Neville, can ghosts do that?"
"Those of the right class, certainly."
"You're dead! Hermione told me that Spurlock said—"
"Don't speak to me of Spurlock," Lucius spat, before remembering himself. "Do forgive me. It seems that one requires a period of . . . adjustment after being freed from the cage of one's flesh."
"But why are you haunting me?"
"Haunting you would not have been my first choice, but this is where I died. Obviously, I hope to move on to my own home when business permits, but for now, it's just as well that I'm here for we have much to discuss. Do be good enough to sit down."
Lucius wasn't at all surprised when Longbottom and his companion obeyed him, nor by the way they both blinked stupidly at him. In truth, he found it more comforting than flattering.
Hurrah, he thought, sarcastically. I can still make an impression.
If either of the men sharing the room with her had been paying close attention, the displacement charm she'd affected might have been discernable, particularly by Potter. One didn't, however, become an Unspeakable without knowing which charms to employ and when, so she continued to quietly eavesdrop on the half-spoken conversation before her. Given Potter's agitated state, she was fairly certain that he wouldn't detect her presence under so slight a charm—and she'd taken steps to ensure that Snape Manor's wards would welcome her magic as its own.
Tell me about your son, Potter, she willed. What have you learnt?
It was a pity that the Record wasn't more forthcoming in certain respects, but the Arithmancers in her department knew something of magical genetics, and it was of dire importance that she located Potter and Lestrange's child before the DMLE learnt of his existence.
She only hoped that Potter's preoccupation with Snape would continue long enough to allow her to slip away and report once she'd achieved her intelligence.
"You could have just asked me. You didn't have to go to all this trouble."
"Harry, you asked Blaise for written proof that I wouldn't hex you before agreeing to be on the Scroll, and I didn't know if . . . of course I had to go to all this trouble."
"You weren't sure of me. . . . I suppose you were right, but now you're stuck—"
"With you," Severus said, straightening up on the sofa.
Harry shifted position so that he could look Severus in the eye, bringing his legs up under himself.
"Yes, and your son. I'm sorry that you had to learn of him the way you did."
Harry swallowed as he repressed his memory of Aries' conception. "At least I know now, but I still don't know quite how to save him," he answered, before telling Severus about having seen Aries in Sirius' mirror and Lavender's plan concerning Aries' birth certificate.
"It doesn't surprise me that Bellatrix took the mirror's mate," Severus said, when Harry had finished speaking. "She's always been fond of her trophies."
"But to give it to him. That's . . . sick."
"I believe we both understand how unhinged the woman is," Severus replied, "but there's more to tell."
Harry thought that he was going to be ill as he listened to Severus explain what he'd learnt of Bellatrix's plan for Aries from Evessa and Narcissa. His every nerve seemed to be on fire and sensitive to the swirl of emotion and magic at play in the room. Feeling something unexpected as he struggled to control himself, he stiffened.
Someone else is here, he thought at Severus, saying, "Stop. Just stop—you mean they knew, and they never—"
"There's a reason for that. Harry, Aries is . . . magically gifted in an unusual manner."
"So what? Who cares? I'm 'magically gifted in an unusual manner'! That's no excuse—"
The eavesdropper, having gleaned enough from the conversation to have a decent idea as to where the child was, upended the teapot as a distraction. She made for the door and was almost out of the room when she felt the bindings.
"Well, aren't you clever."
"And who are you?" Severus asked, glaring in the general direction of her head.
"You'll forgive me if I can't say," she replied, before Disapparating, she knew, unseen.
"What the hell?" Severus exclaimed, as the ropes fell to the floor.
Harry stared at the empty space in front of the door. "She shouldn't have been able to do that."
"I've only ever seen one other person who could Disapparate from a location warded against it."
"Then we'd best find him, hadn't we?"
"What about the others? You've only just returned, and Albus—shite! Severus, Albus wanted me to talk to Evessa for him. Has she really gone back to Italy?"
"Tippy!" Severus called, firing orders at the house elf as she appeared. "Locate everyone on the grounds. See to it that they remain where they are, and then return to me." Turning to Harry as Tippy popped out of the room, he continued, "We thought it best that she return to protect Aries until—"
"Evessa, Narcissa, and I."
"Fuck," Harry spat. "Thanks for consulting me. When, exactly, did she leave, and how was she travelling? We have to stop her. We've no idea where Lestrange and Parkinson are or what they're planning. And because of me, they know that Evessa's—"
"It was a risk she wanted to take, and I doubt that I could have stopped her if I'd tried."
"That doesn't make any sense! She told me herself that . . . ."
Harry stopped speaking and forced himself to be calm. It was true that time seemed to be in short supply and all he wanted to do was act, but it seemed as though he and Severus still had things to discuss.
Because something's not right here.
He didn't just mean Bellatrix Lestrange's plan for his son, or the bizarre disappearance of the invisible spy they'd just witnessed, but before he could speak of these things, Tippy returned.
"Your guests is all sleeping in their rooms now, Master Severus. I is making sure of that for you."
"Very good, Tippy. That's all."
"Is Master Severus wanting them awake for dinner?"
Severus nodded to Tippy's disappearing form before looking at Harry again.
"Hiding in plain sight," Harry murmured. "Whoever it was could have—"
"Returned to her room before I sent Tippy looking."
"That's true, but I think we can assume that it was probably one of the Eligibles—Seraphina, perhaps, trying to learn more about her competition."
"That is likely. I doubt that Lorelai would have done something like this."
"Is Mrs Malfoy still here?"
"No, she's returned to Wiltshire."
"Well, do you keep Veritaserum on hand?"
"If you're proposing that I dose the dinner wine, I've already decided to do that."
Harry smirked. "Good. And now that that's settled, what haven't you told me, yet?"
"Is there something you haven't told me that you'd assume that I—"
"Your sister's a Death Eater. She claims her husband forced her to become one when they were married."
Severus paled; it was such an uncharacteristic reaction for him that Harry started.
"I'm sorry to blurt it out like that, but—"
"She told me that it was Father."
"What? But why would she lie about a thing like that?" Harry asked, moving to place a hand on Severus' arm.
Harry's hand was warm through the cloth of his shirt, and Severus allowed that warmth to soak into him, fearing that once he made the admission that was on his lips, he'd never feel it again.
"Perhaps because she couldn't bear to think about why she was offered to the Dark Lord's cause. It seems, no, it was because," he said, his voice growing smaller until he could only think the words, Tobias wanted her for himself. Evessa is my mother.
Harry's eyes widened, and the fury that had haunted them earlier, the sorrow, returned; Severus pulled away.
"No, don't do that," Harry insisted, taking Severus by the shoulders. "Not now. We're in this mess together, remember?"
"How can you know and not . . . despise me?"
"Severus! I've told you, I know that you're not your family. Gods," Harry continued, wrapping his arms around Severus, "how awful. I'm sorry. I . . . I don't know what to say—except that I don't care who your mother is—it's you I care about."
The word hung between them like a challenge, and Severus regretted having said anything so ungrateful as Harry frowned in confusion.
"I . . . oh. Oh, Severus, I didn't mean that I don't love you."
But you still haven't said that you do. "Perhaps you're waiting for the rest of my news," Severus said, wishing to spare both Harry and himself from any further lies. It's enough that he trusts you, isn't it?
Harry looked as if he were struggling with his thoughts, but Severus didn't attempt to delve into them. He took what comfort he could from Harry's embrace, his own arms, seemingly of their own volition, having wrapped themselves around Harry. He could feel Harry's breath on his neck. He focussed on that, and on the fact that Harry hadn't rejected him outright.
"Is there something more? I want to talk about . . . about everything, Severus, and I'm sorry to press you, but what did you mean about Aries' magic? And why did Evessa and Narcissa hide my son from me? We all know Lestrange's plan for him, but unless they're actually in league with her, I can't think of a reason they'd want to keep him away from me now."
"I have no proof other than their word, you understand."
"Of what?" Harry asked, pulling away from Severus to look into his eyes.
Severus sighed and made his admission; there could be no prevarication now.
"—and after such a confession, you truly expect Neville to help you? You despicable man!"
Laura's words echoed in the kitchen and rang in Neville's ears. He agreed with her, of course, but they seemed insufficient a curse to lay upon Malfoy, given what he'd told them.
His own son! How could he have planned to sacrifice him? Gods, what an evil bas— "You can't be serious. No witch, mother or no, would allow her child to live knowing that he was an abomination!"
"Bellatrix is not just any mother, boy. She's the Dark Lord's most faithful servant. It isn't the child she seeks to protect, but my old master."
"If I understand Neville, you've been imprisoned in your own body for years. How could you possibly know any of this?" Laura asked.
"My 'doting' wife visited me every Saturday at St Mungo's and delighted in sharing her news. Bellatrix called upon occasion, as well. She was, understandably, given her attempts to defy me with regard to Draco, more circumspect, but I was able to learn a great deal more than she wished to reveal in her rambling. In addition, having access to the hospital's excellent library was something of an education, as I earlier intimated. I learnt much from these sources."
"How could you have used that library? Were you—you were possessing people?"
Neville shared the horror he heard in Laura's voice, but he didn't share her assumption. "No, you weren't, were you? You got out of your body without using other people—that's why you're so . . . solid now. Somehow, you've strengthened your will against . . . the usual deathly condition, right?"
"How perceptive of you, Mr Longbottom, if imprecise. While affected by the Draught of Living Death, I was not, in fact, quite dead. That said, I have always enjoyed an understanding of those arts your sort deems Dark, and astral projection, if we can agree to call it that for want of a more specific phrase, is something at which I became adept over time."
"How nice for you."
"Laura, surely you know that 'stress' is unhealthy? And I did explain, did I not, that I'm no longer an adherent of that half-blood's beliefs?"
"Like I'd believe such as you!"
"And you, Mr Longbottom?"
"What? You think that I should believe you? I agree with Laura. You want something. This . . . story you've told is your way of trying to get it. You're haunting the wrong house, Malfoy."
"What I want is simple: I want my son sitting in Parliament. I want Parliament to continue as it has for centuries. And I want the forces at silent war with magical Britain destroyed so that our way of life may continue without further disruption. What in my history causes you to doubt that I should desire these things? Do you desire that forces outside our government should have a hand in its control? Surely not."
"I find it difficult to believe that you don't approve of Twist's proposal—or of pure-blood governance."
"Twist's blood may be 'pure', but I assure you that her reasoning has been tampered with and isn't quite her own."
"You're scoffing at the notion of blood purity?" Neville demanded.
"As I said, I've read much on the subject to pain me."
"Yet you still disavow all allegiance to Voldemort because he wasn't a pure-blood!"
"Perhaps, Mr Longbottom, but one cannot entirely change one's way of thinking after having absorbed a lifetime of cultural teachings. In any case, it seems that purity of blood is a fiction. I would that this not be so, but having seen the proof, I can no longer deny it. What I cannot abide, however," Lucius said, holding up one pleasantly well-manicured and cheerfully visible hand to avoid interruption, "is the destruction of our traditions, or the end of our kind—and if Bellatrix is allowed to proceed, she will bring down the Muggles upon our heads. It isn't just her desire to return the Dark Lord to the land of the living. She wants the enemies of her cause to disappear completely and will use her pets for this purpose. She is destruction. Even you must acknowledge that, given what she's done to you and yours."
Neville swallowed, hard, and felt Laura's hand on his arm.
"Don't you believe him. This man is nothing but lies, even I can see—"
"Laura, Bellatrix Lestrange destroyed my parents—on a whim. If she succeeds with Harry's son, she'll bring back one of the Darkest wizards in history, but he'll be—"
"Too strong to subdue, and heir to the Black taint of necromancy. He'll raise an army of the slaughtered, and he won't content himself with wizard-kind. The Muggles will learn of us, then. They'll learn of us, and retaliate in far greater numbers than we could defeat."
"They'd win. They'd destroy us."
"Neville! This is madness. You said yourself that your Minister is known to our Prime Minister. Surely that must mean that they'd work together to—"
Lucius laughed. "Fear is the cause of much pain throughout history, Laura. Given your . . . calling, surely you're aware of this? Do you truly believe that Muggles, with no true knowledge of magic, would know how to respond to a Dark lord? Your kind kills what it doesn't understand."
"And yours is so much better? If magic is just magic, then why kill your own kind?"
"Necromancy is different," Neville said, his jaw tightening as he noticed the "us versus them" turn that the conversation had taken.
He feared that Laura now knew entirely too much of his world, and that he'd lost her because of it.
"You're speaking of a child."
"I didn't propose killing the child," Lucius noted, "but he must be removed from Bellatrix's care."
Neville stared at Malfoy, wondering why he hadn't proposed killing Aries. It was the first thing that occurred to me, he thought, starting guiltily as he turned to Laura and saw her expression.
"I'm sorry, but—"
"He says that he just wants peace now, but given what he's done, whom he's served, how can you believe him? And how could you ever condone the killing of a child?"
Neville hung his head, not quite able to believe it, himself. Merlin help me, he's Harry's son. What should I do?
He knew that he couldn't summon Alastor Moody; the man would demand to know everything, exorcise Lucius, and go after Aries without even thinking about it. Aurors understood only too well what damage necromancers could do. And because Neville had no idea what Lucius might do, what he was capable of doing, were he to see Tonks, he silently thanked Merlin that she'd elected to remain outside the house.
Spurlock might have a suggestion, but he hasn't left Malfoy's body since—Malfoy's body! Damn, did Spurlock kill him?
Neville's heart began to pound as he pondered the implications of that. It could be that Dumbledore had sent the Spellcraftre to Longbottom House for precisely that purpose, and it seemed like something the Headmaster might have done to keep Blaise and Hermione out of trouble, but Neville could hardly question Spurlock about it in Lucius' unexpected presence.
"I believe you'd feel better for some . . . disinterested counsel, Mr Longbottom. After you do your duty by the Statue of Secrecy and see your friend home, perhaps you'd care to send for Albus Dumbledore?"
An unpleasant chill ran through Neville as he contemplated Lucius' less than subtle suggestion.
"You know I'm right," Lucius pressed.
Merlin help me, I do.
"Neville, what's he talking abou—"
Mercifully, Malfoy said nothing as Neville stood, stunned, and stared into Laura's blank, wide eyes. It didn't take long to alter her memory or walk her home, but returning to Longbottom House, all he felt was cold.