Harry sat on the edge of Lorelai's bed, ignoring the growling of his stomach while watching the witch sleep. He'd charmed her after hearing her tale because it was obvious how terrified she'd been—and not just of him, but of what would happen to her once it was learnt that she'd betrayed her superior. Price, Harry decided as he gathered his thoughts, had to be one scary fuck.
So, Mysteries concerns itself with magical children—studying, suppressing, and even destroying their unorthodox abilities. Very few people know about this mission, and the ones who do know are incredibly . . . loyal. They believe that they're protecting both the children and society through their actions.
Harry sighed. From a certain perspective, he supposed that this was true.
But that's the same logic that's led to some people attempting to preserve wizarding culture and tradition by serving Voldemort—no matter the cost.
It all came down to secrecy. Terrible things could be done in the name of the Greater Good precisely because there was so much secrecy, and because people took it upon themselves to interfere in other people's lives as if playing some sort of game.
It's not just a game. It's fear, too. Some people seem to be afraid of losing their way of life, their positions, their names, their power, so out of selfish fear, they do awful things and tell themselves those things are justified.
The more Harry learnt about "his" culture, the less he wanted to be a part of it, particularly because he, too, found himself tempted to commit terrible acts to protect those he loved. He felt as though he were trapped in a sordid gothic romance-cum-mystery, and never having been one for such stories, he wasn't certain in which way his might go.
There are too many "characters," and they're all connected in some bizarre way without actually knowing what anyone else is really up to. . . . I'm just going to have to bring some clarity to this narrative, even if it means burning the "book."
Suddenly, Harry laughed at himself. Reflection was all well and good, but he wasn't some poncy author, and the turn of his thoughts gave him pause.
"Right. No metaphors. And no going over all Dumbledore, either. I want my son back. I want Severus. I want to save Mary. I want to . . . to deal with Mysteries." I want to kill Bellatrix. "I need to keep things simple, keep my goals in mind, and figure out how to achieve them without doing anything I'd arrest anyone else for doing."
Which meant, of course, that there could be no vengeful murdering of Bellatrix. Harry knew this, but he couldn't stop himself from wishing for it, as well. He was only human, after all.
Let's just hope that I keep control of myself so that I can remain so.
Blaise had great difficulty sitting through dinner, sipping his wine and watching everyone—well, Severus and Harry—going on with such inhumane ease. But he knew his duty, and he meant to perform it, no matter that he despaired of the mismanagement of events to which he was bearing witness.
Someone should be doing something! Hermione wouldn't just be sitting here!
"Blaise?" Harry asked.
"Would it be appropriate to guess the future now?"
Blaise raised an eyebrow at Harry. "Are you volunteering to begin?"
"No, I'd much rather that someone else go first."
"Very clever, Harry," Seraphina said, smiling at him. "Of course you want the opportunity to change your own guess as you hear ours—and watch Severus' reactions to them."
"Exactly," Harry replied cheerfully.
"I'm unafraid to begin."
"Then by all means, Seraphina," Blaise replied, finding himself perversely pleased to see how discomfitted Severus finally appeared as he rose from the table.
The company followed him to the drawing room and settled into the sofas by the fire, all save Seraphina, who took up a standing position in front of the hearth.
"As I told our Harry earlier today, I'm a simple woman. My future will be one of wedded bliss, amorous bliss, with a strong, devoted man. We shall give great parties at which those of influence and import shall mingle to discuss the affairs of the day, and I shall continue to entertain when it won't interfere with my marital or familial duties."
Crispin coughed. "This is more a 'Telling the Future' than a 'Guessing', my dear."
"Perhaps it is, darling, but then, I am a woman who always gets what she wants."
Blaise looked to Severus and was surprised by how complacent he appeared. Turning to Harry, he was equally astonished to see his friend smirking, but his observations were interrupted by William.
"Yes, but what of the Supplicant? You haven't said anything about him."
"So true—but I've a reason for that, darling," Seraphina replied, turning to Severus. "There is no denying that you are a fine figure of a man, commanding, gracious, and an excellent 'catch', but you see, I do believe that life with you, while interesting, would be somewhat . . . lacking."
"Seraphina," Crispin interrupted, his tone amused, "that's hardly the way to a man's heart!"
No, it isn't, Blaise thought, concerned for Severus' feelings and wondering how the hell he could have been so mistaken as to Seraphina's intentions.
"How so?" Harry asked her.
"Harry, what are you—"
"Do allow Miss Solstella to complete her turn, Blaise," Severus said, much to Blaise's confused consternation.
Seraphina laughed. "Thank you, Severus. Oh, you are not lacking in any way, but you could not love me, and a marriage without love isn't one in which I wish to find myself. That is all I meant."
Severus rose and held out his hand to Seraphina, who took it, while Blaise, looking from one face to the next as he surveyed everyone in the room, began to understand.
They're up to something, the bastards. This isn't how things are supposed to go!
But going in this bizarre manner things were, even if Lorelai, for one, seemed to share Blaise's discomfort.
"Miss Solstella," said Severus, "I release you from the Scroll of Eligibles. May happiness follow you always."
Blaise shifted on the sofa to avoid the inevitable turning of the Scroll and was glad he did, and then, with a graceful dip of her head, Seraphina left the room.
"I'm next, I think," Crispin said, before Blaise could say anything. "I shall be astonishingly brief, and merely say that it's been a pleasure—and that I appreciate your generous donation to my foundation."
Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no! Blaise thought. This is indecent! Improper! The Wizengamot will never approve—
"Mr Charteris, I release you from the Scroll of Eligibles. May happiness follow you always."
Blaise glared at Severus as Crispin left but said nothing. Severus' behaviour—he'd obviously bribed at least Charteris to leave—was, while unorthodox, hardly unheard of. It might make the Wizengamot stubborn when it comes time to approve his Choice, but only if someone complains.
Blaise resolved not to complain so that he might help Severus and Harry however he could.
"So, I guess that means it's my turn—if you don't mind, Lorelai?" asked William.
Lorelai, Blaise saw, remained ill at ease; she merely nodded her assent.
"I'm sad not to have made the cut, of course, but your patronage of my application for Registration—once I have found someone with whom to found a Family—is very much appreciated."
Blaise's eyes widened, and William noticed.
"Not to worry, Advocate Zabini," he said. "I'm discreet when it counts, and I'm given to understand that it isn't unusual for former Eligibles to receive favours from their Supplicants."
Severus repeated the traditional, but unnecessary phrase of release, and William left, as well. As soon as he'd gone, Harry stood and approached Severus and took his hands in his.
"You see? I told you they'd understand."
"Well, I don't—and aren't you forgetting someone?" Blaise demanded.
"Oh, they're not forgetting me."
The bitterness of Lorelai's tone was clear to Blaise. "Just what do you gits think you're doing?"
"Miss Lovegood," replied Severus, "has 'volunteered' to remain upon the Scroll. It seems that she's in a fine position to understand the importance of keeping up appearances."
To the unobservant eye, nothing had changed about the house; it was as grand and placid a place as ever, but Evessa could see that the gates fairly vibrated with power as the wards held them shut fast. Could Severus have lied to her? Had there already been a plan to retrieve Aries before she'd left England? She doubted this. No, it was more likely that Narcissa had taken it upon herself to remove the boy.
As I expected. Well then, there's no going home, is there? Evessa thought, Disapparating a discreet distance away from the house to the grounds of the Muggle vineyard nearby.
She knew that if John thought of her, and this was unlikely, it would not be with alarm. Before she'd left Snape Manor, she'd owled her husband to inform him of her intention to visit her favourite Parisian shops.
John would certainly never interrupt my shopping to call upon me to help with regard to his bastard. Of course, Bellatrix will suspect my involvement when she learns of Aries' disappearance.
That was another reason not to provide her husband with her true whereabouts. It was frustrating to feel so useless; Evessa wanted to know what was happening, but she couldn't return to Severus now.
I won't put my son in more danger than he already is.
No, Evessa couldn't return to Severus; she couldn't even tell him where she was because she hadn't the art to conceal her messages from being traced—and she knew very well that Severus would attempt to prevent her from attempting to help. But what could she do?
Eventually, Bellatrix will persuade John that I've betrayed him, so if I'm to do anything, it must be soon.
Evessa's thoughts turned to Mary Millblossom, another witch she knew to be trapped; it was better than contemplating her own death by the stripping of her magic.
Has anyone thought to save her?
It wasn't likely, but to find the woman, Evessa knew that she'd have to speak to Narcissa.
I know that Bellatrix has told her more than Narcissa's acknowledged; she'll know where Millblossom is, I'm sure of it.
Evessa didn't blame Narcissa for keeping things close or for endangering her by arranging for Aries' rescue. An innocent's life was surely more important than her own, and Millblossom was also an innocent and evidence of Bellatrix and Pansy's crimes. To find the woman would be helpful to both Severus and Harry—and perhaps, to herself—so find her, she would.
Right. To Hogwarts. Because that's where Narcissa will go, won't she? Because he's there.
Remus stared at Lucius' near-corporeal form, his eyebrows raised. "When did he manifest?" he asked Neville.
"You might direct your questions to me. I am sitting here."
"Neville?" Remus asked, turning to him.
"This evening. He's provided me with a list of names for the Headmaster—Ministry officials and MWPs, for the most part—who're actively seeking to—"
"Let me see if I have this right," Remus said, turning to Lucius. "You're holding back one name in exchange for seeing Albus, and you've offered Neville the option of being bound so that you can't harm Albus when you meet?"
"Precisely," Lucius replied. "How nice to see—"
Remus turned back to Neville. "You don't understand how the man came to be opaque, but you still believe that I might know how to bind him? Does that make sense to you, Neville?"
"Well, what else was I supposed to do? I can't just allow him access to—"
"Someone so important. I see," Remus interrupted, placing his hands in his pockets and looking down.
Neville swallowed. Putting it like that makes me feel like a right arse.
"Gentlemen, please. Do you or do you not wish my assistance?"
Suddenly, Remus' head snapped up and he thrust a nondescript black box forward in the palm of his hands, practically growling, "Narcissa sends you her regards," as he flipped its lid with his free hand.
Malfoy didn't even have time to gasp before his form shimmered, stretched, and pooled through the air into the box while Remus shuddered. As the last ectomorphic traces of Malfoy's spectre entered the box, Remus fell to the floor. Before it fell on top of him, the box snapped shut, and then rolled under the table.
"Remus!" Neville exclaimed, rushing forward to kneel by him. "Are you all right? What did you do?"
"Bo—ottle," he muttered, shaking his head and pushing himself up to his knees. "The Old Ogden's, please."
Neville Summoned the Firewhiskey, and Remus snatched it out of the air and took a long drink from it, choking a bit.
"Gah! That's rough, isn't it?" he asked, taking another, more restrained swallow before shakily rising to his feet.
"Why? Why would you do that? He told you about the other name!"
Setting the bottle down on the table, Remus straightened, stretched out his arms and then his legs, and turned to Neville, grinning in what seemed a rueful manner. "Lucius Malfoy is a liar, Neville."
"And you have no way of knowing if any of the names he gave you are actual conspirators in whatever plot he insinuated existed. What's wrong with you, allowing yourself to be taken in so easily? You know that he hates Albus. Who knows what he'd have done to him if I hadn't—no!"
"I wasn't going to open it," Neville protested, passing the box he'd retrieved from the floor to Remus.
"Best not to touch it, either," Remus instructed, hastily depositing the object in his robes, "or that," he continued, jerking the bottle of Old Ogden's out of Neville's hand. "It's clear to me that you've done enough drinking today. Now give me this list of yours so that I can show it to Albus."
Abashed, Neville produced the list.
"Don't speak of this—any of it—until we know more, all right?"
"That's it? You're just—"
"Going to leave here at once with what might be important information? Why yes, Neville, I am."
Neville frowned at Remus' obvious exasperation with him and felt like the worst kind of git. Merlin, what I did to Laura—and why? Because Malfoy suggested it! "Oh, gods. What if he . . . ."
"What? Malfoy? What if he did what?" Remus demanded impatiently.
"What if he lied about all of it? About Aries? And I—"
"You're . . . close to this Laura of yours?"
Clenching his fists, Neville nodded.
Remus clasped his shoulder with one hand. Neville felt it shake a bit.
"Nothing's changed, of course, if your skill at Obliviation is sound. You'll just want to . . . take her introduction to certain aspects of wizarding culture more slowly next time, yes?"
"I suppose it might do well not to tell her certain things."
Remus withdrew his hand and sighed as he walked towards the door. "Agreed."
"Wait—shouldn't you rest? It seems as though the binding was rough on you."
Without turning around as he opened the door and stepped outside, Remus said, "I've been through worse, and it seems as though you've more pressing concerns at the moment. I'll be in touch."
Narcissa leant her back into Remus' chest and took comfort from the way he was lightly stroking her arms, her frustration and fear ebbing somewhat in response to his attentions. "Forgive me, but I had no idea what else to do. There was so much that I couldn't tell you."
"And have you told me everything?"
Narcissa stiffened, but covered her reaction by turning over to snuggle into Remus' body. "Of course I have," she lied, "but it doesn't matter. Aries has been taken. Draco will be furious with me. Harry won't understand, and—"
"You still don't know what to do," Remus interrupted, pressing a kiss to the top of her head.
"No, no I don't."
It was easier than it should have been, admitting such a thing to this man. Sometimes, Narcissa wondered at herself for ever having allowed herself to trust any man, but with Remus, she never doubted that she could trust him—even if there were some things she trusted it was better not to tell him, such as the fact that she really had found Pansy, who remained Stunned and serpentine in a sleeping coil in the pocket of her robes. Until she knew more about Dumbledore's intentions and the state of Pansy's mind, she had no intention of reuniting the girl with her son.
She could feel Remus holding himself tightly in check in response to all she had told him, however, and it pleased her to know that he was doing so for her sake.
Lucius never showed me the same sort of strength, she thought, suddenly feeling another wave of emotion pressing upon her.
"Look at me, Narcissa."
Blinking back tears, she did.
"We won't get all this sorted tonight. What you need to do is take a bath, a drink, and me."
"How can you even suggest—"
"Shh. Don't argue with me. You've had an awful few days, and tomorrow will be best faced calmly. Let me calm you however I can. You know you want me to."
"But Draco doesn't know, about us, and I don't want to upset—"
His kiss was gentle, but firm, and Narcissa yielded to it more quickly than she thought proper.
"Mmm, so soft," Remus murmured, breaking the kiss. "Go on. Soak away some of that tension while I speak to the Headmaster. When I come back—"
"I won't want you to be soft," Narcissa said, rising with a smile from the sofa.
Remus returned this smile with one of his own, a promising one.
"—will be fine. There are no secrets between us now, and when Minerva arrives tomorrow evening, it would be best to face her fully rested. We'll sort this out, Harry. We'll find Aries and keep him safe, we will."
"What colour is yours?"
"I don't understand."
"I've got the Green Suite. What do you have?"
"Perhaps now isn't the time—"
"I'm not suggesting that we . . . . Severus, please, I don't want to sleep alone tonight. I don't . . . ."
"I don't want to sleep alone ever again—that is, I want to sleep with you every night for the rest of my life—you're my Choice, as well."