Complete header information may be found in Part One. You may find all parts of this story by clicking the Getting Severus Married tag.
Draco didn't like the feeling of ease he was experiencing in carrying out the plan; it made him suspicious. He could taste failure upon his tongue, he was so frightened about Aries' safety. He tried, however, to take comfort from the warmth of Aries' hand as he helped his cousin swing from his own.
"Where's Mummy and Aunt Cissa?"
Draco sent Aries a bit higher into the air on his next flight of leaping. "Where are Mummy and Aunt Cissa, you mean."
Aries giggled and exclaimed, heedless of Draco's correction.
Draco smiled at Aries' desire to fly and was reminded of how full of energy he'd been as a child. "I don't know where they are just now, but I've brought you a surprise," he said, stopping under the tree line near the edge of the property to produce his box.
"What is it?" Aries demanded, beginning to bounce around Draco in circles.
Reflexively, Draco coughed in a quelling manner, and Aries went still at once.
"Thank you, Cousin Draco."
The guilt he felt at having compelled such a dignified display from Aries, who was now standing at polite, expectant attention and looking wary, made Draco's stomach muscles clench. Oh gods, that's something Father would have done. Rallying, he replied, "Three guesses," grinning at Aries in hopes of lightening the mood.
Aries peered at the box in Draco's hands. "It's a box."
"We won't count that guess. You know that the surprise is in the box."
"Is it a Golden Snitch?"
Draco snorted. "You have a Snitch."
"No broomstick, though."
"Cheeky monkey, you know you're too young for your own—"
"Two more guesses, Aries," Draco replied lightly.
Aries frowned in concentration.
"Don't worry," Draco added. "You may still have your surprise if you don't guess what it is."
Suddenly, Draco found himself on the ground from the force of Aries' having hurled himself at his legs to hug them.
"You're the best cousin in the world!" Aries exclaimed, climbing up to sit on Draco's chest as he attempted to pry the box from his hand.
"Oh, I don't think so!" Draco said, rolling away from Aries and running towards the trees—slowly.
When Aries tackled him again, he relented and released the prize amidst much laughter.
"Here you are, you little pirate."
"Arr, ice cream! But . . . it's so small."
"And what be the reason for that, me little sea dog?" Draco asked, as Aries brought the open box up to his face to lick its contents.
"This be a magical loot-holding box!"
"Aye," Draco said, tapping the box with his wand.
He was pleased to see that it had retained its chilling charm and that the three-scoop cone it held remained unmelted as the box enlarged to its proper size. I just hope that the animation charm didn't wear off.
The frogs in the ice cream were charmed only to wriggle by Fortescue so that they would remain a part of the confection, but Draco had wanted them to be more of a challenge for Aries.
"Ooo, peppermint-chocolate-frog!" Aries practically shouted, abandoning all piratical pretensions to stab at a miniature frog in mid-leap from the topmost scoop with his tongue.
"That's right, don't let them escape," Draco encouraged.
"Ears ors?" Aries asked, speaking through the two additional frogs he'd captured.
"I was naughty and ate mine for breakfast."
"Ah ahs aughty," Aries agreed happily.
"Morgan, it's good to see you," Draco said, striding towards his friend to shake his hand.
Aries, still occupied with the frogs that were closest to the surface of his scoops, was nonetheless watching them with interest when Draco turned to regard him.
"Aries, this is my friend, Morgan."
The little boy held out his cone in greeting, and Morgan knelt to examine it.
"Thank you, but tragically, I'm allergic to chocolate."
Aries gulped down his frogs. "That's horrid."
"Yes, but I'm old now. I've got used to the deprivation."
Draco snorted. "Twenty-two is not 'old', you git."
"S'pose not, but before any of us get any older, shall we tell him?"
"Tell me what?"
"You, Mr Aries Thomas Lestrange Parkinson, are about to take your first grown-up trip."
"How d'you know all my names?"
"I told him," Draco said quickly, "when we were planning the trip."
Aries pushed himself to his feet, sucking another frog into his mouth. "Aht ip?"
Morgan laughed. "Three guesses."
"Us at ean ah cahn' o if ah on' ess?"
"Of course you can go if you don't guess," Morgan answered, rising.
Draco was impressed. "I didn't know that you spoke 'Mouthful'."
"I know loads of interesting things. For example, I know that it wouldn't be fair to leave Aries behind if he couldn't guess—because we haven't given him any clues to guess with. Right, Mr Secret Names?"
Aries nodded through a swallow. "But where are we going?"
"What? No guessing at all? Well, all right. But without guesses, I expect we should let Draco go first and then follow him together."
Draco observed how Aries' eyes narrowed at Morgan's suggestion. "It's all right. Morgan's better at Side-Along Apparation than I am, so it's best that you travel with him."
"Aunt Cissa says I'm never to go with strangers."
"And she's very smart to say so, but I'm your cousin's friend."
"So he's not a stra—"
"You've never talked about him before," Aries interrupted, his cone forgotten, it seemed, as he allowed it to slip from his fingers.
Recognising the signs of incipient bolting, Draco swung Aries up into a hug while Morgan advanced on them with his wand drawn.
"Put me down! Put me—"
"What did you do?" Draco demanded, clinging to his now sleeping cousin and refusing to relinquish him to Morgan.
"It was just a mild soporific charm. Give him to me and go. You know the wards won't permit you to take him."
"And they'll prevent anyone from passing through them once Aries does," Draco acknowledged, reluctantly handing him over to Morgan. "But we shouldn't have scared him."
"Don't worry. He'll be fine. I promise you that."
Draco stroked Aries' fringe back from his forehead and kissed his cousin, and then, with a nod to Morgan, made his first Disapparation towards Hogwarts.
Severus wasn't surprised when Harry pulled away from him, but he was startled by Blaise's sudden presence in the room. "Don't you knock?" he demanded, when he spun around at the sound of the door hitting the jamb.
"A son?" Blaise asked, entering the room and locking the door behind him before casting an Imperturbable on it—and something a little stronger.
"That won't keep him here, Blaise. Traditional wards can't, and well you know it," Severus rebuked him.
"Oh. I was wrong. It's not just Moody and our spy who can Disapparate through wards, is it?" Harry said, appearing startled to have forgotten his own abilities.
"Would someone please explain to me just what the hell is going on?"
"—told you, I don't know, Mr Malfoy," Albus said, leading the distraught young man to a chair and attempting to press him into it. "Morgan Moody was supposed to have arrived by now. Perhaps he encountered difficulties and is lying low until it's safe to proceed."
"That's a lie! You know exactly what's happened, don't you?"
"He doesn't," Minerva said, entering the room with a letter in hand. "But I'm afraid that I do."
"Where's my cousin? And Mother? What have you done to—"
"I'm sorry for that, but you needed a good slap, going for your wand as you did," Minerva said, shaking her free hand to ease the sting. "Now put it away and sit down." Turning to Albus, she continued, "You are the worst kind of meddling fool! How could you have applied to her?"
"I don't know what—"
"'You will no doubt be angry with me, Merva'," Minerva read, "'but these things must be handled discreetly and without delay once they're discovered. It's for the good of the children'."
"Ah," Albus replied, sitting, himself. "How indiscreet of Persephone."
"Who the hell—who is Persephone?"
Minerva glared at Albus, saying, "My sister, Mr Malfoy. Persephone works in the Department of Mysteries. Her job is the study of extraordinary magic."
Draco leapt to his feet. "You bastard! Mother trusted you!"
"Mr Malfoy, do be quiet and listen. Persephone won't harm your cousin. It's part of her mission to protect any children who are thought to be heir to necromantical magic. The Minister is unaware of this, I assure you, and given Albus' lack of discretion in telling Persephone outright that the boy was a necromancer, of course she had to act."
"How so? What has she done? How do you know about it?"
"I've already told you more than I should have, young man—and before I say another word, I'll need to know what you thought you were doing, and in whom you placed your trust."
"Minerva, I don't think—"
"That much is clear, Albus, but I wasn't speaking to you," Minerva said, turning away and casting her Patronus. "The boy is safely away from his mother. Tell his father, but do nothing more for now. I'll come to you with an explanation soon. . . . Now then, Mr . . . ."
"—Malfoy, how convenient to find you here," a woman's voice echoed through the Brain Room.
"Who are you? Where are you?" Narcissa asked, wondering how anyone could see through her charm and clutching her wand.
"My name is Persephone Price," the woman replied, stepping out from behind a case of brains, "and I don't think you realise the extent of the danger that you're in. You're not alone here."
"I don't mean myself. I mean the Aurors. I permitted them access to the catacombs through here so they might more easily waylay your sister."
"But they're all dead! I saw—"
"No, that was a glamour designed to take the form of the expected. You heard the screams, so I believe that you saw something rather unpleasant, indeed."
"Expected the screams. I don't wish to speculate about what she saw. In any case, Aurors Shacklebolt, Bailey, and Greene are the only Aurors below, and they should soon have your sister in custody. You, I think, returned here for something else. Isn't that so, my dear?"
Narcissa's grip on her wand tightened. "Why should I tell you anything?"
"For a start, I'm looking right at you while you're 'invisible', but perhaps the more pressing reasons are that you may wish some assistance in getting out of the Ministry without being placed under arrest—and then there is the fact that I know where Aries is."
"You're lying. I know where—"
"You know that your son went with one of my Unspeakables to free him," Price said, conjuring a cup of tea, "but what you don't know is that I've had other agents looking for Aries for some time now. It's all just been a matter of time."
"—so you see, Morgan was never going to bring Aries here."
"How did she know about Aries before Dumbledore told her?" asked Draco.
"Persephone's people monitor the Record. When a . . . match produces a child who seems likely to display particularly strong or unusual magic, they seek the child out to observe him or her. If necessary, they remove the child from the parents' custody for testing and protection."
"But . . . but they have no right to do that!"
"I agree, but do it, they have—for generations."
"I don't believe you. What of Vol—the Dark Lord? And . . . and Morecrafte?"
"Tom learnt his magic," Albus said, before Minerva could. "He was powerful through art and experimental bodily transformation, not breeding. His power was beyond Arithmantical calculation's powers to predict and quantify."
"And Morecrafte was from an Unregistered family. Mysteries wouldn't have concerned themselves with him. Well, they couldn't have, having no way of knowing he existed until he committed his crimes, most of which were carried out in foreign countries."
Draco paled. "You said something about testing?"
"Not all children with the potential for extraordinary magic develop it."
"Oh, I see. He's special, of course no one—"
"Persephone did come see me with regard to Harry, but we agreed that I would take responsibility for him. Such is the agreement we struck concerning Aries, or so I'd thought."
"Idiot," Minerva spat. "Harry's magic is more in keeping with Merlin's, and Merlin founded the Department of Mysteries! You should have known better than to trust Persephone not to keep a child like Aries!"
"Well, she's not keeping him for long," Draco declared. "I'll—"
"Be arrested and thrown into Azkaban for giving aid to a necromancer—if you take this public or do anything else rash. Your Family will be stripped of its Parliamentary seat, as well, and your mother will suffer greatly."
"As will Miss Parkinson," added Albus.
"How do you know about her?"
"I agreed to provide her with safe haven at your mother's request. She remains on the list of wanted Death Eaters, as well you know."
Draco's mouth went dry. "But Mother's gone after her. Won't they take Mother into custody at the same time as Aunt Bellatrix?"
"No," said Minerva. "Persephone means to aid your Mother in returning here, in exchange for your silence with regard to Aries, which I hope you'll keep. Mysteries has never revealed this particular concern of theirs to the DMLE, and surely you understand why."
"Of course I do! They kill children like Aries, but you can't think that we won't fight to get him back! And Potter, he'll never stand for this!"
"I believe he will, temporarily, should he accept that his son is safe."
Minerva crumpled her letter and tossed it away in disgust. "My sister and I may have few secrets between us, Albus, but where she keeps 'her' children is not something that she's ever shared with me—not since I left Mysteries to teach here. I told you when you brought the subject up to find another way! Do you have any idea what she does to those children? Do you?"
"Some form of advanced Obliviation, I imagine," Albus almost whispered, "to suppress the children's knowledge of their . . . natural abilities."
"Yes. Quite harmless, really, from a certain point of view."
"Yes, Minerva. Yours," Albus replied. "That is why you've never sought to prevent her activities. You've no wish to see innocents die."
Morgan stood outside the building feeling happy to be, for the moment, perhaps, alive, while cradling Aries and watching the light spilling from the windows. He allowed his mind to wander freely for a time so as to calm himself and was annoyed when it lit upon a memory of Draco's arse. His assignment had seemed pleasant, at first, because he'd been certain Draco was as bent as he was. But no, he'd quickly gleaned that Draco's "accessible" act was just that, and thereafter he'd focussed instead on gaining Draco's trust so that he might learn where Aries was.
And now it's come to this. I'm in violation of my orders and probably shouldn't even contemplate returning to the Ministry. Career? What career?
He knew that Most Silent Unspeakable Price would have his head for not bringing her the child—she'd no doubt send the agent officially in charge of Aries' case after him once it was learnt that she'd failed to suss out his whereabouts, and that was alarming, contemplating going up against a more experienced Unspeakable—but it didn't seem right, "orphaning" a little boy when he had people to care about him. He'd seen enough of children's sadness at the foundling home. Growing up alongside true orphans, it had always been a relief, leaving his playmates at the end of his mother's workday to return to the tiny cottage hard by the Home where he and she had lived in exchange for her toil.
His grandfather hadn't wanted them living with him after the death of Morgan's father, and if the old bastard had ever given a thought to how his family's financial situation had changed after his son had died, Morgan had seen no sign of it. All he knew of the great and heroic Alastor Moody was the man's disappointment in him—because of course Morgan had never been able to tell his grandfather of his profession, and he certainly couldn't have revealed that it was his job to monitor the man in between other assignments. His taste for men, however, he'd never even tried to hide, in spite of the fact that it had only ever disgusted his grandfather.
Not that I care what he thinks about me, Morgan lied to himself.
In any case, he knew that he had to hide Aries somewhere safe—which made applying to his grandfather for help rather pointless; Aurors were superstitious, unyielding twats, the lot of them—and he couldn't think of a better place to leave the boy than at the Home while he figured out how to explain things to Draco and further, how to protect Aries from Price. If his mother had still been alive, he'd have taken Aries to her.
And been more certain of a welcome. Gods, I hope they say yes, Morgan thought, taking a deep breath and working out what to say, because I'm not going to stand by and watch another child's mind be stolen for the Greater Sodding Good!
The Patronus dissolved.
"That must mean that Dumbledore's done something to help," Blaise said, finally unable to bear the distressing silence a moment longer.
Harry realised that he was shaking and began taking deep breaths. It was almost too much to take, the constant fucking series of surprises that comprised his life. He was exhausted.
"I'm . . . it's been a long few days. I'm going to get some kip before dinner."
Blaise moved to stand in front of him as he made for the door.
"Don't start. I would've just left if I'd been going to."
"What about our 'guest', Harry?" asked Severus.
"I don't care."
Harry took the stairs two at a time, making for a particular room and caring very much, indeed, about a certain Eligible whose magical signature made her feel more like a Squib than a witch; it was the same, inert sort of sensation that he'd felt from the old woman who'd turned out to be Bellatrix Lestrange just before she'd dropped her glamour to duel with him in Hogsmeade, and he'd ignored it because he was on holiday.
"I'm such a bloody idiot," he muttered, upon achieving the landing.
Most wizards had to use a wand-directed spell to suss out such subterfuge, but not Harry; he'd always been able to detect magic and magic users while vigilant. He suspected, based on his recent research and long experience with this particular ability, that it stemmed from his never having been taught as a very young child to suppress the occasional, random bursts of uncontrolled magic that most children experienced; there'd been no one to explain to him that it was "proper" to use a wand until Hogwarts. Of course by that time, his fear of his uncle's reactions to such outbursts had made him repress his abilities, and he'd not begun to experiment with them again until Severus' "remedial" training sessions.
But magical theory wasn't of interest to him presently. No, instinctively, he'd figured out who their spy was, who she'd have to be, and he was in more than a truth-seeking mood—it felt good, shaking the sneaking bitch roughly awake.
"H—Harry, what are you—"
The objects in the darkened room took on a bluish cast as Harry's power rose and his prisoner fell silent.
"Now that I have your attention, I trust you won't be going anywhere. You have to know," he said, hoping it was true, "that my magic is stronger than yours—and that's what your lot does, right? Studies unusually strong magic?"
"Good. You know, I actually like you. You seem nice. I guess that's what makes you such a good Unspeakable, yeah? Don't answer that. Just listen. . . . I think I know why you came here. You wanted to find my son. You're certainly not here for Severus."
The witch merely stared at him.
"That, you can answer."
"It wasn't a ques—ow!"
Sparks flew from Harry's body and sizzled against her skin, which smoked as it burnt.
"Don't fuck with me. It's a health hazard."
"Yes, I came here to discover his whereabouts—but we're not planning to harm him!"
"I don't care what you're planning. What I do care about is my son's welfare. Shut it," Harry hissed, before she could interrupt. "You'll tell me everything you know, the names of everyone involved in your plan, and you'll tell me now, or I'll stop controlling myself."
"Lorelai, I've done a lot of sick shite in my time. There was a war on, of course, and the people whom I hurt were the enem—"
"You're treating me as the enemy, and all I want is to save—"
"Yeah, you'll tell me all about your intentions, as well, but you're right."
"I am treating you like an enemy—like a kin-stealer, in fact—and in case you don't know your Magical Code, Kin Stealing? Is punishable by lifetime imprisonment—and sometimes, death."
Neville knocked back two more fingers of Old Ogden's, enjoying the way its warmth helped him to brace himself against the chill of Malfoy's disturbing presence—and information.
"The Wizengamot will be sentencing people for weeks," he said, staring at the list of names that Malfoy had provided him. "Are these all of them?"
"There are quite a few on that list for Azkaban, Mr Longbottom, but Shrewsbury's is, if I understood Bellatrix correctly, and I'm certain that I did, the most important of all. He's been her creature since before Voldemort fell the last time. He wants to Register himself as a Family Head and take a seat in the Low Chamber. For that, I believe he'd do anything, and there are those in the High Chamber who would help him, as they've 'helped' Artemis Twist."
"I don't doubt it, given how they've helped themselves to Harry's son."
"Indeed, but why do I have the impression that none of this political intrigue bothers you as much as your . . . concern for Potter?"
"He's my friend. Of course it concerns me that his son's a—"
"I was speaking of Potter's participation in Severus' Courtship Ritual. You don't like my old protégé very much, do you?"
"Not a bit," Neville admitted.
"I'm not fond of him, myself, but then, he did have a hand in my destruction."
"And who else are you seeking to destroy, besides an innocent child and these people?" Neville asked, smacking the parchment upon which he'd been writing with the flat of one palm.
"In general, anyone involved in this plot of whom I'm not yet aware. In particular, well, that doesn't matter, does it? I'm dead. I no longer have power over the living."
Neville found himself in some doubt as to that but said nothing.
"Now then, why don't you contact your revered puppet—I mean, Headmaster. Coordinating the arrest of so many people will require an internationally known and connected wizard of his calibre, as I'm sure you'll agree."
"Dumbledore's the one who took your son from you, isn't he?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Yes, you do. He's the one who brokered Draco's protection deal with the Aurors."
"It was my wife who did that."
"But I imagine that you hate Dumbledore more. If not for his interference with your plans—"
"I'd have successfully participated in the destruction of wizard-kind. Voldemort was bent on genocide. We would not have survived him, any more than we, well, you, will survive if Bellatrix's plan is allowed to succeed. The prize in this, for me, is in leaving a sound legacy for my son, and a better world for my grandsons. The name of Malfoy must not go down in history damned as one connected to a failed half-blood maniac."
"Thank you for the names, Lucius," Neville said, rising.
"You won't contact him?"
"Not until you tell me the truth, your truth. What's your endgame? I know you have one, and I won't help you hurt anyone else, even if it means destroying this list," Neville finished, walking towards the cooker and turning on a burner.
"There is one name missing from that list. I'd hoped to barter it to Dumbledore in exchange for achieving my 'endgame', as you put it."
"I will tell you and Dumbledore together. You may bind my spirit however you like to protect the old man if you're so concerned for his safety—but I will not reveal all until he is here. I'm not so feeble-minded by my spectral condition to expect you to honour your promise to me."
"Well, I don't know anything about binding spectres, and I haven't promised you anything, so you can just forget it."
"You might apply to the intrepid Auror Granger for assistance."
"That's out of the question!"
"Surely you know someone familiar enough with the Dark—pardon me, I forget myself, my reform being so nascent—the defence against the Dark Arts to whom you could apply for help?"
"Remus Lupin. He's teaching at the school—Potions, now, but I suppose he might know what to do with you."
"I find it odd that you believe that . . . person would be better prepared to deal with me in my current state than the great Albus Dumbledore."
Neville snorted and poured himself another bracer. "I don't, but you're not seeing Dumbledore until I know exactly what you want from him—and time's short. Moody will want to speak to Spurlock before long, and Spurlock's got to know that you've died by now."
"Spurlock is a doddering old fool and no doubt sleeping peacefully next to my decaying corpse. But if you must know, my endgame is nothing more sinister than a desire to be returned to Malfoy Manor. To achieve this, I must have Dumbledore's assistance. He is, as we both know, frighteningly competent."
Neville sighed and wished that Hermione, whose own brand of frightening competence would have been incredibly reassuring to him at the moment, had returned. Having to deal with a dead Malfoy would be easier to take if she were here, but I expect it's for the best that she isn't.
For one thing, she wouldn't approve of his having yet another drink so soon after his last one.
"Perhaps we shouldn't do it tonight," Blaise said, taking a sip of tea and being surprised by the fact that it hadn't occurred to him to pour anything stronger.
"What shouldn't we do?"
"Hold the blasted Guess the Future readings that I suggested. Harry can hardly be expected to pretend that everything is fine now."
"I think it best that you allow Harry to decide what he's capable of. Too many people have interfered with him as it is."
Blaise couldn't object to such logic.
Lucius smiled at the boy's no doubt alcohol-inspired decision as Neville thrust his head into the hearth. Well, that was easier than I imagined it would be—even given the presence of so many dreadful gnomes.
Lucius was glad of the ease with which his plan was unfolding because, while he didn't understand the abhorrence he'd felt for the gnomes since achieving his relative freedom, it was taking a great portion of his will to remain near them. It helped, of course, that he was no ordinary spectre, and that the damned gnomes were reassuringly far below the main level of the house, but he wasn't quite certain how long he could withstand their pull upon his essence. It seemed likely, however far-fetched, that some unique property of the creatures allowed them to absorb spectral energy.
When I've returned to the manor, I must consult Grassingsby's text on the removal of unwanted magical fauna for more information on the subject.
Thoughts of his library made him long more strongly to be home, and to reclaim all that was his.
He'd not enjoyed the control over Narcissa that his father had experienced with regard to his bride, but then, the Blacks had not held the Malfoy name worthy of such consideration when negotiating the marital contract for their youngest daughter. That hadn't mattered much to Lucius at the time; his mortification at being rejected by Andromeda for a Muggle-born wizard had been extreme, and Narcissa's pretty wooing of him—no doubt upon the orders of her father—had done much to make him accommodating.
But after the years of quasi-confinement, which he'd spent educating himself about magical genetics and watching the results of pure-blood inbreeding wither and die in their cribs, Lucius found the utter destruction of his old world-view nothing to the discovery that Narcissa had replaced him with a monster.
Convincing Bellatrix to stay her hand hadn't been easy, especially as circumstances had dictated that he communicate with her via a possessed Healer. When she'd discovered her sister's appalling indiscretion, she'd at once wanted to rend Narcissa's polluted flesh from her bones.
But that flesh is my flesh, and I will taste it again before long.