After having spent the previous day and half the night in his rooms summarising all matters currently under discussion in Parliament for Severus and writing to the Wizengamot on his behalf, Blaise had gone down to the kitchen to make himself a snack; he'd wanted to spare Tippy from having to make yet another visit to his rooms. He hadn't expected to find Draco Malfoy and Harry's son sitting at the table with Severus and Harry enjoying a light meal, but his surprise had given way to relief and then amusement as Aries, even as he'd been fighting sleep, had insisted on involving Blaise in what had been, apparently, the little boy's fifth game of Exploding Snap that morning.
Aries had fallen asleep on top of his cards not long after they'd been handed out, and Harry and Draco had gone to tuck him in as Albus Dumbledore had fire-called with news.
"Damn. I was so busy with politics that I didn't read the paper yesterday. Lestrange, captured! Lestrange, escaped! It's a good thing that not many people know she got out, but I wish I'd been with Hermione when she heard about Lestrange's being taken into custody the first time. What a party I must have missed!"
"You should send for her," said Severus. "There's no reason for her to remain at Longbottom House any longer."
Blaise grinned, suddenly seized by an excellent idea. "Sod sending for her—I'm off!"
But only slightly now, thanks to Hermione's good influence, Severus thought, smirking as he rose to join Harry. It's time we were all in bed.
Harry couldn't sleep. He knew that Albus had assured Severus that the Ministry and "others" had matters well in hand, but he was still unnerved to have learnt about Bellatrix's escape, no matter that she'd been subsequently recaptured by Tonks.
The Horcrux was missing.
Of course, he thought, as he stroked Severus' arm, it's not a certainty that whoever found it knows what it is. . . . But whoever took the Lethifolds to St Mungo's clearly did it with the intention of freeing Bellatrix, and I'll bet whoever it was is the person whose name Lucius Malfoy refused to give to Neville before Remus trapped the bastard.
Albus had explained that Malfoy was no longer a threat to anyone because Remus had trapped his soul with some device Harry had never heard of and then destroyed it, but Harry couldn't help wishing that there were still some way of questioning Malfoy about that last name on his list. Given everything that had occurred, it would have been reassuring to have been able to arrest another one of Bellatrix's conspirators, especially one that Malfoy had thought important enough to use as a bargaining chip.
Perhaps he said something to Neville that might help us figure out who he was. "Shite, I never fire-called Nev."
"Why would you have?"
"Well, I did sic Dobby on him, and before that he had to deal with Malfoy's spectre—"
"Which is something that Draco—"
"Doesn't need to know—but Nev went to see his parents, at St Mungo's, I mean. I don't know if they were among the casualties."
"I forgot to tell you that they weren't. Albus mentioned that to me when I fire-called him after contacting Draco earlier, so there's—"
Severus!" Harry interrupted, sitting up and grabbing the arm he'd been stroking. "Your Mark, it's gone."
"I know. It faded after we fixed our fasting."
"And you didn't tell me?"
"You were rather preoccupied not feeling jealous of Draco's relationship with Aries."
"I'm not jealous."
"Concerned, perhaps, but . . . but this is good!" Harry continued, smoothing his thumbs over Severus' now-bare skin.
"We're good, together. Our magic is stronger than that which created the Mark."
As much as Harry wanted to focus on that, the Auror in him wouldn't let him stop thinking about his other concerns. "Yes, but with it gone, you wouldn't be able to feel it if . . . ."
"He's not coming back, Harry. The Dark Lord is dead."
"Malfoy's dead, as well, and we don't know who his last traitor was—just like we don't know where Voldemort's second Horcrux is."
"I've been thinking about that. I'm not convinced that the locket is a Horcrux. When Lucius was reprimanded for losing the diary, Voldemort was very clear that it had been the only Horcrux he'd created. His every thought was bent towards opening the Chamber of Secrets so that he could activate the Soul-Stealing Spell and use it to fuel his immortality."
"So you said, but Bellatrix certainly believes that it's his."
"Bellatrix is insane, Harry, so insane that she . . . did extraordinary things to ensure that the Dark Lord would never be lost to her. It's possible that she couldn't accept his loss and took Slytherin's locket from Riddle House as a keepsake, coming to believe over time that it was a Horcrux."
"Or that someone lied to her about the locket as a way of keeping her under control."
"That is also possible. Lucius, as the Dark Lord's lieutenant, often employed such trickery where Bellatrix was concerned. And we know now from Narcissa that Lucius was a party to Bellatrix's plan for your son, and that Lucius intended to use, or at least allowed Bellatrix to assume that he intended to use, Draco for the same purpose. If Bellatrix thought that she was safeguarding the Dark Lord's Horcrux towards turning that plan to her own purposes, it would have kept her preoccupied while Lucius attended to other concerns. He was a master at such manipulation."
When Harry said nothing, Severus decided that it was time to bring up the less pleasant aspect of having found Aries. Harry appeared calm, but that didn't mean he wasn't still suffering from having learnt how his son had been conceived—or from having reabsorbed the memory of it. Severus could feel Harry's emotional turmoil as if it were his own.
"You haven't asked for a calming draught, and I was wondering if—"
He stopped speaking as a wave of unquestionable gratitude washed over him and Harry spoke.
"You know, our magic-fasting seems to have . . . not made me forget, not exactly, but made me feel stronger. I know I'm safe. I know I'm loved. I can feel you and what you feel so strongly that it's hard to dwell on anything else. You've made me so happy, Severus—and I know it's only been a few days since I found out about what she . . . about Bellatrix raping me, about Aries, but it feels as if that all happened years ago—and I can't be upset about Aries. He's a great kid."
Severus pulled Harry back down beside him and shifted so that Harry could lean his head on his shoulder, admiring the way that Harry always named his fears rather than shrank from them. "He is, and I'm glad that you're not . . . overly upse—overwhelmed. But should you feel the need to discuss—"
"No Mind Healers. I don't need them. I have you."
"I'll bring the subject up again when things have become more settled."
"I know you will, and I love you."
"For being concerned?"
"No, just because I do. I love you, Severus. You're all I need. . . . What about you?"
"Hmm?" Severus asked, too pleased by Harry's unqualified declaration of love to concentrate on anything else for the moment.
"Do you feel like talking to someone about, er, about Evessa?"
Harry tried not to smile at Severus' vehemence. "So, I guess we'll just stay fucked up together, then?"
Harry did smile at that.
"And there is nothing wrong with you. I'm the frea—"
"Severus," Harry said, moving to straddle him, "let's not compete with each other on that score. Yeah, you're actually an incestuous bastard, but I got hot for Bellatrix fucking Lestrange."
"Please don't say things like that when you're grinding your pelvis into mine—and she gave you a lust potion. Your reaction was beyond your control."
"And your parentage was within yours?"
"So, about grinding—this conversation's terribly off-putting, but I can't seem to stop wanting you."
"That's a side-effect of the Knowing. I don't mind it."
"I like that."
"That I don't mind?"
"'Knowing', it's a good name for what we feel like together."
"We feel hard," Severus replied, unceremoniously tipping Harry over onto his back and moving to trap his arms above his head.
Harry gasped as he remembered the position.
"Do you not like this?"
"No—I mean, yes, I do. I had a dream about it, but, er, there was chocolate in my dream," Harry said, leaning up into Severus' nose which he felt nuzzling his neck.
"Much better than Horcruxes, thinking about chocolate."
"You mean 'Horcruces', don't you? My Latin's not that good, but even I know—"
"Who was the Death Eater here, you or . . . ?"
"Still," Harry insisted, thrusting his hips up into Severus'.
"I heard him speak of them."
"Voldemort, you mean?"
"Yes. He said Horcruxes."
Wrapping his legs around Severus' back, Harry turned his head to kiss him. You win. Horcruxes it is.
No, Harry it is. "Accio Tippy's chocolate fondue!"
Tippy turned from her breakfast preparations to share a look with herself across the kitchen as she began furiously making chocolate fondue and shook her heads when the filled, spell-called pot levitated out of the kitchen, followed by a platter of fruit.
"And they is not even making the babies now."
But herself didn't answer, having already completed her task and gone to answer the door.
"Gentlemen, forgive me for disturbing you so early, but certain matters require attention."
"Oh?" Harry asked, helping himself to a cup of tea from the tray that levitated by the hearth in Severus' study and glancing at the clock. Is it really eight, already?
"Judge Callahan, this is Harry Potter, my husband."
Harry felt the challenging edge of Severus' voice as if it were pressing against him and straightened to extend his hand to Callahan.
"Judge Sean Callahan, Wizengamot Department of Traditions and Lineage."
"Oh, so you're responsible for, er, the testing and whatnot?"
Callahan smiled. "In your case, Mr Potter, I believe that we can dispense with any testing. Were you and Peer Snape incompatible, you wouldn't have been able to magic-fast."
Relief flooded Harry, but not his own.
"I see," Severus replied. "I take it, then, that you're here to discuss Parliamentary matters? And please, do be seated."
They settled into the chairs by the hearth—one appearing behind Severus just as he began to sit down—and sipped from their various beverages.
"Peer Malfoy informs me that you've accepted her offer of the Chair of the Suffrage Committee, and in spite of the recent arrests and Peer Twist's unfortunate hospitalisation, you must know that your presence would be most welcome. The debate continues and strong voices are needed."
"So I understand, and it is my intention to take my seat."
"And you, Mr Potter?" asked Callahan.
"You're a Mugwump, right? You work with Albus in the Confederation?"
"So you're in a position to know."
"All this being polite is fine, but could we please speak plainly? You know about my son, don't you?"
"Albus did mention to me something of your more . . . unorthodox activities during the war, yes."
Harry's eyes flew open, but feeling Severus' hand clasp his own, he didn't speak.
"Don't misapprehend me, Mr Potter, in spite of my profession, I'm not one to judge a man's personal concerns. War makes strange bedfellows, and Albus assures me that during your famous disappearance, you were able to learn much to aid our cause. It's the way of the world, when unintended consequences result from such . . . dealings."
And that's his way of being straightforward? Harry asked Severus, not certain if he meant Callahan or Albus.
Do you mind Albus' cover story?
No, but— "So I'm within my rights to claim my son?"
"Certainly," Callahan replied. "Even were there some question about custody, Bellatrix Lestrange has been certified insane. She's not fit to care for a child. Given her illegal activities and the fact that she hid your child from you, her parental rights are forfeit in any case. So you do intend to claim the boy?"
"Why wouldn't I? He's my son."
"I'm pleased to hear you say so with such vehemence, of course, but some men would not be so quick to lay claim to a child born of such a mother, even were their reputations as sterling as your own."
"I don't give a damn about my reputation. I just want Aries to be . . . oh, oh crap." He doesn't even know that I'm his father, but Bellatrix—Aries won't understand about her. How am I going to tell him?
Severus spoke then, addressing Callahan. "I believe that Harry is concerned about how Aries' life might be affected should it become widely known who his mother is."
"Yeah, I mean, yes," Harry said, feeling only a little surprised that Severus had spoken for him.
"And that was to what I was alluding," Callahan replied, "but while I have had access to the Record, as well as, unfortunately, Judge Shrewsbury—and please do accept my apologies on his behalf for his overzealousness in following your Courtship Ritual, Peer Snape—your son's complete parentage need not become widely known, Mr Potter. It is your choice, as well as your son's, to reveal it or not."
"I'm sorry, but I've only just noticed, you haven't called me Peer Potter."
"Well, you did just side-step my question about it, and one doesn't like to presume, sir."
"Well, er, thanks for that," Harry said, feeling increasingly nervous but realising that it was more Severus' emotion than his, at the moment.
"If I may, Harry?"
Harry nodded to Severus. Sure, ask what you need to.
"Judge Callahan, you accessed the Record to review whether or not Harry and I could safely . . . ."
"Begin a family of your own, yes, and there is nothing in either of your histories to prevent it. Further, please be assured that I am always discreet, Peer Snape."
Ah, then you know of Evessa, Severus thought, taking comfort in the press of Harry's hand.
"My but it's been a long time since I saw such a well-matched couple. To Know one another as you do must be marvellous, indeed."
Judge Callahan's a gentleman.
Severus took only slightly more comfort in Harry's voice in his mind than he did in Callahan's change of subject as he replied, "I find it so."
"If you'd accept some advice from an old man?" Callahan asked.
"Of course," Severus replied.
"It's a strengthening thing, being so closely knit, but there may come a time when one or both of you long for the privacy of your own thoughts."
"You mean Severus might get tired of me being in his head?"
"Or you, or either of you may wish to shield your emotions from the other. The advantages of magic-fasting are great, but privacy needn't be sacrificed to it. There are techniques one may employ to—"
"Forgive me, but is this sort of lecture really necessary? Harry and I are just magic-fasted."
Harry understood Severus' irritation, but he didn't find Callahan to be officious in the same way. "Er, it sounds as if you actually understand, what this feels like, I mean."
"I do, and I meant no offence. I've been magic-fasted to the same woman for forty-two years. And Aisling, my wife, has written on the subject. I've taken the liberty of bringing you a copy," Callahan told them, pulling from his robes a book which he handed to Severus.
Don't be grumpy. He means well, Harry urged, smiling at the judge.
"To Know without Knowing: A Practical Guide to Keeping the Mystery in One's Magic-Fasting. Thank you, sir."
"Yes, it was thoughtful of you to think of us," Harry said.
"Oh, it's a quite a popular book as such books go. Aisling's sold fifteen copies of it, not counting those provided to libraries," Callahan replied, good naturedly. "Magic-fasting is relatively rare, but it still occurs on the average of three times in every generation."
"Well, so far, Severus and I seem to be able to, er, manage the 'without knowing' thing well enough," Harry said, laying the book aside, "but it should be interesting, learning more about all this—and we're really married now, legally, I mean?"
"You will be once I enter your Certificate of Magic-Fastment into the Record. You'll need to sign that in the presence of Advocate Zabini and myself. There are also some other papers to be signed, of course, including your marital contract if you also intend to wed in the traditional way—"
"Harry and I do have legal matters to settle, Judge Callahan, but none will require a marital contract along Binding lines."
"Very well, then that just leaves the document pertaining to how you wish your names to be reflected in the Record."
"I'm sorry, what?" asked Harry.
"It is customary for an Eligible, once Chosen, to take the name of a Supplicant—but that is a tradition that doesn't have to be followed, of course, given that the two of you are not planning to be Bound. Of course, one could argue that there is no closer bond than a magic-fasting, but it is a mutual situation. Neither party holds control over the other's will."
Harry felt himself withdraw from Severus slightly, then, even as he held his hand more tightly. He hadn't thought about taking Severus' name, tradition or not.
Severus cleared his throat. "I expect that we can dispense with paperwork for now? Given recent events, including the unexpectedness of our Knowing, Harry and I haven't had time to discuss all matters pertaining to our future."
"As you will, Peer Snape, but please do remember that your Certificate of Magic-Fastment must be entered into the Record before you or Mr Potter may take your seats, and you will eventually have to make provision for any children resulting from your union with regard to whose Family they shall be a part of."
"So our children won't be ours?"
"Of course they will be, Mr Potter, but should both of you take your seats, it must be clear who your individual heirs are. It's a tricksome situation, of course, but not without precedent. Only in the case of two High Chamber Heads is it forbidden for each to retain his seat. I looked it up. The case law is over three hundred years old."
"And if I don't elect to take my seat, would Aries still be able to take it?"
Harry could feel Severus' surprise, albeit slight, at his question.
"Again, as you haven't surrendered your Family rights by becoming Bound to the Snape Family, you are still free to hold your Family Seat for your son," Callahan said, his brows furrowing, "but of course we'd hoped that you would participa—forgive me. To answer you plainly, yes, the seat is yours unless you elect to Surrender it or become Bound to Peer Snape."
No Binding, Harry and Severus told each other at the same time.
Greatly reassured, Harry asked Callahan, "So I'm still eligible to take it because my father never Surrendered it before he died?"
"Yes, and in cases where a Family line ends, or the last surviving son is deemed unfit—and so little, it seems, can result in that, these days—a seat is removed from the Low Chamber."
Severus, necromancy—that would definitely be something that would preclude Aries from taking his seat, but Callahan hasn't said anything about it.
There is nothing that could have induced Albus to reveal Aries' condition to a judge of the Wizengamot, but you're correct. Should it become known . . . .
"Well," Harry said, "you've given us a lot to think about."
"And I've intruded enough upon your time," Callahan said, rising.
Harry and Severus rose, as well, still clasping hands.
"Yes, it is good to see such a loving couple. Peer Snape, if you would instruct your secretary to contact me with regard to the requisite paperwork, I'll see to it that whatever changes, if any, are added to the Record and have your signing ceremony scheduled so that you can begin your political career—or careers, as the case may be. Congratulations, both of you, on your union."
Severus could feel Harry's unease as Tippy appeared to lead Callahan from the room. "That was a lot of information to absorb."
"You have a secretary?"
"He meant Blaise. Advocates often serve Supplicants in more than one capacity. When I take my seat, Blaise will become Secretary of Family Snape—and you needn't take my name, Harry. I never expect—"
Harry laughed, interrupting him. "You can't tell me you weren't hoping for it. You feel pretty traditional to me," he said, moving into Severus' arms.
"Perhaps. You feel . . . warm."
"We feel warm. Sorry I withdrew a bit, but . . . there's so much to think about. I don't know how to tell Aries about me, about his mother, and . . . ."
"You don't want a political career," Severus finished for Harry, concerned that perhaps he did mean to continue his Auror one.
He wasn't sure how he felt about that. He wanted Harry with him, and safe.
But what if he doesn't want me to—
"I know what being an MWP means to you. I wouldn't try to stop you from taking your seat—and at least you'll be able to do it without worrying about Parkinson and your brother."
"Nephew," Severus replied, more sharply than he'd intended, given Harry's assumption.
Harry's smile faded, but his warmth didn't. "Nephew, of course. And Evessa will remain your sister, but don't you think you ought to speak to her about . . . everything?"
Severus wasn't prepared to think about Evessa, let alone speak to her. It was enough that he had to contemplate Pansy's future, for what Callahan had been too tactful to bring up was that, as a judge of the Wizengamot, he was in a position to know that her arrest was imminent, no matter Albus' efforts on her behalf, which Albus had made because Severus had wished to spare Draco the loss of her again.
But to keep her out of Azkaban, there can be only one solution, one for which Harry may never forgive me, he thought, releasing Harry and moving to stand alone by the hearthstone.
"John Parkinson's arrest is useful because it means that he won't be able to harm Evessa by stripping her of her magic. That must be done by ritual, and to conduct that ritual, one has to possess a wand."
"That's a huge relief. No wonder you weren't worried about her."
"She's survived this long, but yes, knowing that John had been taken into custody was a great relief."
"But you're still worried about something."
"I had occasion to speak to Albus about the intelligence he received about Evessa from you—when you led me to the school after Remus to distract me from learning of her revelations to you."
Harry flushed. "I'd almost forgotten about that. She'd been trying to persuade me to find a way to deal with Michael so that I could marry you without your having to Bind me to you. She knew I wouldn't accept that sort of marriage."
"And you were trying to spare me, protect me, by making me think you'd been discussing Remus serving in my place."
"When I told you that about Remus, er, implied that he was your substitute, that was actually just a guess. I did want to distract you. Evessa didn't want you to know about her."
"I understand, but I'd prefer it if we stopped protecting each other with lies."
Severus sat down and gestured for Harry to do the same. "In the spirit of honesty, you should know that while I have no wish to employ my . . . hold over the Family, as far as Pansy is concerned, it cannot be avoided."
Harry frowned, and Severus found himself afraid that Harry's disgust with him would be so great, that he might leave him after what he was about to say.
Yes. You won't like this.
"Well, go on."
Pansy, Severus thought at Harry because he couldn't bring himself to speak of it, is going to be arrested. She is a Death Eater. She was involved with the Lethifolds and imprisonment and torture of Mary Millblossom—
"She was there when the family was tortured and killed. Evessa told me that, too."
Severus shook his head in dismay. "Yes, we touched on that upon your return here. Do you remember?"
"So much has happened."
"Yes, well, no matter that Pansy was under the influence of Amortentia, the Wizengamot might elect to sentence her to the Kiss for her actions."
"Because proving the influence of Amortentia or any other potion can be tricky, I know, but also because Pansy became a Death Eater willingly, at least, that's what they'll argue. So far, I'm not upset. It's what I expected."
"Frankly, that she's a Death Eater is enough to see her sentenced to death."
"And you're planning to do something about that, as her Family Head?"
Severus swallowed. Yes, Harry. I'm planning to secure her release into Draco's custody if she'll agree to the stripping of her magic.
Harry thought that he was going to sick up; he didn't like Parkinson, but he couldn't imagine life without magic. "That's . . . that's your idea of saving her? She'd probably wish for death over that!"
"And I'll give her that choice, of course. But there is no other way that she will ever live freely."
"Does Draco know about this? Do you think he'd even want her after that?"
"It was Draco's idea. When I contacted him this morning to tell him that Aries was here, the Aurors had already arrived at Hogwarts to take Mrs Millblossom's statement. She was adamant they be summoned, and that Pansy was responsible, in part, for her kidnapping. She wants blood, and she's well within her rights to request a trial."
"Right, that's right. I don't actually know Mary, do I? I suppose I don't blame her for how she feels, but . . . but you don't want to use your authority in this way. I can tell. Why would you agree to something so awful?"
"That kindly old judge who was just here congratulating us is also a stickler for tradition, Harry. I'm the Head of Pansy's Family. Tradition calls for me to deal with her if I will, and Callahan is, apparently, shocked that I never dealt with her before her behaviour got out of control. He was too polite to comment on my own past, but as he told Albus, people will talk about that, will wonder what my intentions were and are even now, because of my having been a Death Eater."
"Pansy deserves a trial—just like Lucius Malfoy did, I might add. Why can't you just let the charges be read and stay out of it? Is your reputation so important to you that you'll do anything to preserve it?" Fuck. I shouldn't have said that. "What I meant is—"
"No, you meant it. Let it stand," Severus said, and Harry could feel the chill in the room.
It came from inside him because of Severus' emotional withdrawal.
"Your intentions will be clear enough once you start your political career," Harry insisted. "There's no reason for you to use magic in a way that hurts you."
"I'm not so fragile, and perhaps Callahan is correct. I have not done my duty by the Snape Family, by the Snape name."
"And you'd know that how? Your extensive knowledge of wizarding tradition?"
Severus couldn't quite hide from him his immediate sorrow for what he'd said, but Harry could also feel his anger, his disgust, and was sure both emotions must be directed at him. He knew that Severus was right, that he didn't know enough about the wizarding world's traditions.
I have no idea what Heading a Family means.
And he didn't want to, but Severus' words hurt him as much as his withdrawal did. It was difficult to lose so complete an understanding of one's partner's emotions and thoughts so abruptly. He was going to need Callahan's wife's book, that much was clear to him.
"Harry, I shouldn't have—"
"Like you said, you meant it, so let it stand. I'm . . . I'm clearly not cut out for this sort of thing, so I'll just leave it to you."
"I really do need to speak to Draco about my own familial concerns."
Severus stood alone in the room, his every muscle taut. He'd never wanted it, the responsibility for his Family. Not ever. But there was no one with whom he could share it—and it had driven Harry away, just as he'd thought it would.
I never imagined that it would happen so soon.
"What have you told him?" Harry asked Draco, who was sitting by Aries' bed, reading.
Draco raised a finger to his lips in a gesture for silence and rose, joining Harry just outside the door and closing it behind him. "Nothing, well, just that there are problems at home and his mother asked me to take him away for awhile. He's not clear on how Morgan came into that, but he's sufficiently distracted by my presence not to care—for awhile, at any rate."
"You're looking pensive."
It was a leading statement if ever there was one, but Harry had an answer. "I don't know how to tell him. Is Aries . . . I know that he's fond of you and your mother, but . . . ."
"Let's go down to breakfast, Potter."
"Harry. We've a lot to talk about."
"Actually, if your stomach can stand it, I'd rather take a walk."
"Would you object to mother coming to stay?" Draco asked, following Harry.
"Isn't she too busy with politics just now?"
"Mother is never too busy for family."
As they wandered out into the greensward behind the house, Harry sighed. You knew it would be like this. "I suppose I wouldn't mind, but I don't know about Severus."
Draco almost said something about his mother's having been to Snape Manor before when it had served as one of the Dark Lord's meeting places. But Harry doesn't need to know that. "I imagine that Mrs Parkinson will be coming to stay."
"You're probably right. Does she know Aries well?"
"No. Mother and Mrs Parkinson met at gatherings at the Parkinson estate, but it would have been awkward for Mrs Parkinson to have gone to see Mother while she was visiting Aunt Bellatrix. Of course, they had . . . other interests to connect them."
"I can't imagine Bellatrix liked being excluded from the great house."
"She hated it, but the wards wouldn't allow her to pass its threshold. In any case, old Parkinson doesn't think much of women. There were never too many present during certain meetings, and it's not as if Aunt Bellatrix wanted all of Parkinson's associates to know about her. She was paranoid about everyone."
"Merlin, Draco! How'd you keep it all straight? The convoluted relationships, the secrets . . . I could never do that."
"You'll learn how to quickly enough as a Peer, I imagine. It's part of politicking."
"I'm not going to be a Peer. I don't even know if I'll retain the Potter Family Seat, to tell you the truth."
Draco stopped walking, stunned both by Harry's admission and the fact that he'd made it to him. "You'd give up your birthright?"
"Do you think it would be right to expose Aries to that kind of scrutiny? Really?"
"You have point there. Damn, I wish that cat hadn't have died."
"Sourball, Aries' first and only pet. He was crushed by a planter in the garden when Aries was four. He and I built a cairn for him, but at some point later that night, Aries snuck out onto the grounds and pulled him out of it. He was petting Sourball when Aunt Bellatrix found them. You can imagine how proud the bitch was to find the cat purring."
"What happened to him?"
"Well, inasmuch as John Parkinson had already been told about the tragedy and had made plans to replace the animal as a treat, Aunt Bellatrix strangled the cat. She later told Parkinson that Sourball the Second had run off and urged him not to secure a third because Aries was too upset."
"She didn't want him to know about Aries."
"No, of course not. Parkinson's not so very different than most wizards, and because of that, Aunt Bellatrix knew to keep Aries' ability a secret from him."
"So that's your only proof that Aries is a necromancer? Couldn't Sourball merely have been stunned?"
"I've seen him do the same with birds, insects, trees, he's—"
"Trees?" Harry asked, Summoning two chairs and a small fire to sit by.
As they took their seats, Draco continued, "I don't truly understand reanimative magics, Harry, but I know that Aunt Bellatrix was fluent enough in their lore to know how to test for necromancy. Mother verified it, as well. Aries is what he is. If I may, I'd like to suggest that you set him to gardening. He's good at it, and whenever I see him doing his, er, 'trick', as we call it, I take him to the garden so that he can practice his magic on it. Training, with training, he might stop trying to make everything live. That's what Mother and I think, anyway."
"That's actually a brilliant idea."
"It's worked well so far, and we've also tried to make Aries understand that things die, that living things—except plants, obviously—have souls, and that it's not right to keep souls from going Beyond once freed."
Harry suddenly felt tearful as he realised how much for which he had Draco to thank; to forestall crying, he called for Tippy.
"Could we have breakfast out here?"
"Yes, Master Harry, proper breakfast."
Before Harry could say anything, the fire disappeared, a tent appeared over them, a table before them, and several dishes popped! into place; Harry hadn't even heard Tippy leave them.
"I should have thanked her."
"No, you shouldn't have. House elves hate being thanked. Mmm, excellent warming charm."
They tucked into their meal said nothing for several moments until Harry could stand the silence no longer.
"You've really looked out for him, haven't you?"
"He's family," Draco replied, as if that answered everything.
Harry was beginning to believe that it did. "Did he see much of his . . . parents? Aries mentioned that they were both 'important'."
"Oh well, you can guess the state of my aunt's ego, I suppose. When she was home, John Parkinson came to the house to say goodnight to Aries, but he never did that when Aunt Bellatrix was away, and Mother had her convinced that it wouldn't do to spoil Aries with too much attention if she wanted to encourage him to be strong. I don't know why the bitch accepted that, given that her own parents doted on all their girls, but at least it kept her from interfering too much. Mostly, when I or Mother wasn't visiting, Aries was left to Pippy."
"A house elf?"
Harry could imagine worse things.
"And Pippy, as it happens, is one of our Family's elves. Mother gave her to Aries as a present when he was born, and Pippy had strict instructions as to how he was to be treated—even by his mother."
"I suppose it was good that Pippy trusted you."
"You have no idea. In any case, Mother instructed Pippy to return to the manor should Aries disappear, which was an order guaranteed to confuse even the most dutiful house elf, but she obeyed. She's since been told that Aries' is safe."
"Why didn't you just have Pippy take Aries away? Why trust Morgan?"
"In order to install Pippy at the estate, she had to be shared to some degree. She's Aries' house elf, but children can't give house elves orders, so Pippy had to pretend to be Bellatrix's.
"But really, she took orders from your mother?"
"And will continue to do so until Aries' reaches adulthood. My point is that even knowing where her loyalty lay, Mother wasn't certain how Pippy would react to any plan to take Aries from his parents."
"Ah. Well, things worked out, didn't they? I'm glad that Tippy didn't share Pippy's confusion about duty."
"I'd watch her if I were you. However efficient she might be, it's unusual for a house elf to act so independently."
"Do you remember Dobby?" Harry asked, smirking at Draco's expression.
"I liked Dobby. He was nice—and you did trick Father into freeing him. That was low."
"Perhaps we shouldn't talk about house elves," Harry suggested. "Look, I have . . . a lot to do, and I know that you'd probably like to see Pansy—"
"Has Severus told you about my plan?"
"Yes," Harry replied, frowning.
"And you don't think much of it, clearly, but Harry, what else can I do? It will still be her choice, and—"
"Draco, if you make that suggestion to her, she'll probably refuse to see you ever again."
"Oh, but I've already made it, and she's already told me that I should have my skin removed for daring to. She wants her trial. She's . . . she's not well. I don't think there's any other way for me to help her. I doubt that . . . I doubt that the Wizengamot will take into account what she's been through," Draco said, pushing away his plate and staring down at his hands.
It was bad enough that he'd almost cried in front of Draco. Harry didn't think that he could stand to see Draco cry in front of him. That was too much closeness for so new a friendship.
And that's what this is, isn't it? he thought, rising from the table. "Hey, I think Aries should be up by now. Shall we? I've still no idea how to explain things to him, but I suppose I ought to start by letting him get to know me."
Blinking, Draco sniffed and rose, as well. Harry was amazed by how quickly he'd composed himself but didn't mention it. He did notice the tent and table things disappearing bit by bit before turning to walk with Draco back to the house, however, and resolved to try not to thank Tippy if it really seemed to bother her.
"It's not a bad plan," Draco said.
"It's the only one I have, so that's good," Harry replied, beginning to make a list of everyone that he needed to talk to and why. Ron and Lavender will need to know that Aries is safe. Oh, hells! Hermione doesn't even know about him, yet. There's still Price to deal with. I'll have to talk to Minerva about her after discussing my idea with Lorelai and Morgan, and then . . . .
"—that's why I want to bring them here. It makes perfect sense, Severus. You have a ghost problem. Gnomes eat ghosts. What could be simpler? Besides, it will put you in the good graces of Harry's friends. I should think you'd appreciate that."
Evessa watched Severus' face fall and saw that it wasn't his typical expression of disgruntlement.
"What is the matter? You've won your Choice. The Family situation couldn't be better. You're free to enter politics without anything hanging over your head. I should have thought I'd have found you otherwise occupied when I got here. What did you do?"
"Why do you assume that I've done anything? Why is it always my fault?" Severus demanded, rising and tossing down Callahan's gift into his chair. "And how can you be so easy about the 'Family' situation?"
Though taken aback by Severus' outburst, Evessa rallied. They've had a spat. That's hardly surprising. New couples often—oh. The Family situation. Damnation.
She'd been so pleased by the news of Severus' magic-fasting, Aries' safety, and John and Michael's arrest, so happy to be free—not to mention her feelings of continued smugness at how easy dispatching Lucius had been—that she'd forgotten about that other matter of family.
"I didn't think you'd wish to discuss it. You know why I did what I did. You know . . . that I care for you. Why do things need to change? Are you regretting what you said about Snape Manor always being my home? Because if so, I can—"
"Stop," Severus said, flinging himself down in the chair—only to catch the edge of the book in his arse. "Damn it!"
"You're not a child. You might behave with more decorum and less—"
"And you might," Severus replied, pulling free the book and slamming it down upon the table, "stop resorting to euphemisms. It would be good to know."
He couldn't bring himself to tell Evessa precisely what it would be good to know; he felt like a child merely for wishing it.
It was clear that Severus required comforting, but Evessa had never been particularly good at that sort of thing. Michael had been, until his father had begun to take an interest in the boy, a sweet child, but Evessa hadn't been close to him since he was seven. She couldn't even remember the last time that Michael had wanted her comforting—comforting that she'd never given Severus. It was distressing to contemplate, but she could remember how desperate for affection Severus had been as a young boy. She'd seen him so rarely, but when she had, he'd always put himself forward for hug—that is, until he'd entered Hogwarts. Severus had never attempted to hug her after that, not even at Tobias' funeral.
Right, that will be enough of that. "Stand up."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said, stand up. There is nothing wrong with your hearing."
Glaring at her, Severus did so. "Now what?"
Steeling herself, Evessa moved to embrace him. Severus stiffened, which made the awkward situation even more so, but she ignored his reaction and patted his back, if perhaps a bit too hard.
"I am sorry. I should have . . . . I'm very proud of you, and . . . you're a good boy."
His arms came up to embrace her and he relaxed. That was uncomfortable, as well, as his chin came to rest too sharply upon her head, but Evessa didn't let go of him.
In for a Knut, in for a Galleon. "I love you, Severus."
To Evessa's alarm, Severus began to shudder at her words; she realised that he was crying of all things.
"Do you really?"
His voice was small, almost childlike. "You poor boy. Of course I love you. All I've ever wanted was for you to be safe and happy. You are happy, aren't you?"
"Yes. I think. I don't know. . . . Yes."
Someone definitely needs a nap, Evessa thought, gingerly pulling away so that she could see her son. My son. Being able to think of Severus in that way made her want to cry. Which you will not do, she told herself sternly. "Accio handkerchief! . . . Blow," she ordered, pressing the linen to Severus' nose.
He drew back in horror, snatching the handkerchief and wiping his eyes before blowing his nose rather more forcefully than Evessa felt was necessary, but she didn't remark upon it. She was too busy smoothing down her robes and attempting to recover from the stress of physical affection.
"I love you, too," Severus said with great dignity, holding out the handkerchief for her to take, which Evessa only stared at until he started, remembered himself, and stuffed the sodden cloth into his pocket. "Forgive me, I—"
"We won't speak of how overwrought you were feeling today."
"No, we wo—I mean, good."
"And I really do wish you'd stop being so stubborn about the gnomes. Children like them, you know, and the dear little things are so excited by the prospect of living here."
Gnourl clung to the stalk of a plant in the garden box and cursed, just as did the watch gnome of the Red Hat Clan, whose name he hadn't quite caught as their introduction had been cut short by the arrival of the wizard, whose mate's Time was upon her, judging by the violence of their rutting.
Clan-mixing was a difficult business at times and required caution, which was why Gnourl had waited for a sign from the Red Hats' watch gnome before approaching him, but now Gnourl felt he would cheerfully engage in the process anywhere that didn't bring with it the threat of being squashed by a witch's arse.
"Dive!" the Red Hat shouted, as that threat suddenly slammed down into the dirt.
"Fuck! Fuck, Blaise! Fuck!"
Grunting, Blaise bit into Hermione's neck as he reestablished his hold on her and pulled her back up, groaning as her legs tightened around him once more and spinning them both towards the wall.
Hermione raised no objections to his fucking her into it.
Upstairs in the kitchen, Neville and Laura sat blushing over the teacups. Blaise's visit had been unexpected and was apparently going quite well.
I suppose it's been awhile since they last saw one another?" Laura asked, setting her cup aside.
"Refill?" Neville asked, doing the same and reaching for the pot.
Laura placed her hand over his and stopped him from picking it up.
"Actually, I rather thought we might—"
"Yes, I, oh, Blaise!"
"Take a walk?" asked Neville, laughing as Laura she beat him to the door. He took her hand. "I'm sorry, you were saying?"
"Your latest journal entries have been fascinating."
Laura squeezed his hand. Neville stopped walking.
Fuck. My journals. "I . . . forgot about those, didn't I?"
"Clearly, because the entry about our conversation pertaining to the Draught of Living death and the disturbing events surrounding one Lucius Malfoy's being brought to Longbottom House, in which you reflect upon your relief about how understanding I was about your world, isn't one that I can call to mind. Why is that?"
"There's a spell."
"Do tell? What sort? A forgetting spell? And here I was only a few hours ago reading about how 'understanding' I was, too. When did I stop? Understanding, I mean?"
"Laura, I'm sorry. It's . . . it was complicated, and I wanted to protect you."
"I . . . I suppose I deserved that."
"That wasn't for making me forget. That was for what you wrote about the soup I made for you and this Mad Eye person after I showed up looking for you because you'd missed our dinner date—which I had forgotten you'd forgotten, as well, by the way, what with being made to forget that you had some sort of dangerous criminal in your home."
"I'll tell you about it, all about it, but you'll probably just smack me again."
Laura took Neville's other hand and squeezed them both. "My soup isn't watery. It's clear."
"And you will explain what happened."
"And wizard or not, you will never make me forget anything ever again."
"No, I prom—"
Oh, Neville thought, as Laura kissed him with greater urgency than she ever had before. Oh, that's all right, then.
Hermione opened her eyes. She felt cold, sore, and boneless in the best possible way as she found herself lying on sacks of potting soil next to Blaise.
And gnomes. Gnomes! Oh, Merlin, did we really—
The half circle of gnomes in red and green hats standing about her head were eyeing her warily.
The tallest one spoke. "Oh, so you're not dead, witch friend of my wizard friend. That is good because the big box of dirt just there," he said, pointing, "has fallen over, and we can't seem to find one of our clansmen."
"Oh, no!" Hermione exclaimed, scrambling up and pulling down her skirt—out of which tumbled a youngish looking, red-faced gnome.
"Not so different where it counts, I reckon," he said.
Hermione cringed in mortification as the other gnomes laughed.
"I knew it! Getting an eyeful, he was, a big eyeful!"
"To the crate, all of you!" the tall gnome in the Red Hat ordered. "Into the crate, or I'll tell our women of this!"
And that did it; the gnomes ran to the crate so quickly that Hermione saw red and green afterimages. And then, with a roguish tip of his hat, the sniggering watch gnome ran off, as well.
Blushing furiously, Hermione squeaked, "Fine, I'm glad he's fine. We'll just be going. Sorry to disturb. Blaise! Blaise," she insisted, poking him in the side.
"Ermph, so soon?"
"Blaise, Severus called. He's decided to give up his seat and—"
"What?" Blaise demanded, sitting straight up.
"I knew that would work, Secretary Zabini."
"That was mean, but I suppose you might make it up to me."
"Stop leering and help me with this planter. We've made an awful mess catching ourselves up."
Blaise pulled on his clothing and laughed. "Yes, it was a loud 'discussion', but I couldn't help myself."
"I'm glad, but I'd like Round Two to take place under an Imperturbable and upon a mattress."
"Rounds, yes. I quite like the idea of that. We have so many intriguing topics left to explore."
As Blaise caught her around the waist and moved his hands up to fondle her breasts, Hermione almost gave in—but the high-pitched laughter of the gnomes from the crate proved too much for her.
"We are definitely living in a haunted house after we're married!" Hermione exclaimed, pulling Blaise towards the stairs.
Much later that afternoon, after Hermione and Blaise had left Neville an apologetic note, returned to the manor to face Severus with regard to Lucius—all had been forgiven—and Hermione had been introduced to Aries, Hermione met Blaise emerging from the library; Severus had needed to speak to him privately, and Hermione was curious to know why.
"Love, are you sure that you don't have a little Seer in your family somewhere?"
"Why, what is it?" she asked.
"I'll tell you after dinner. Little pitchers."
Hermione turned around to look in the direction that Blaise was and saw Aries. "Hello, there. Are you looking for Draco?"
"No, Miss Hermione, I want Harry. Cousin Draco says he's pouting."
Hermione bit her lip. His serious face is just like Harry's.
"Well, that's because you're better at Exploding Snap than he is, surely," Blaise said.
"Could be, but I won't tease him. I'm a quick learner, Tippy says so. Not everyone's like me."
"True enough," Hermione replied, offering Aries her hand. "Shall we look for him together?"
"I'll see you two at dinner. I've some letters to write."
Hermione kissed Blaise goodbye and allowed Aries to lead her towards the back of the house.
"Miss Hermione, did you know that some boys kiss other boys?"
"Why yes, I did. Does that bother you?"
"Nope, as long as they don't kiss me."
"Well, that's good."
"And Mr Severus seems nice. I like it here. I wish Pippy was here, though."
"Were here, you mean."
"Were," Aries replied dutifully.
They walked out onto the terrace, and Hermione drew her wand to add a warm collar and cuffs to Aries' robes.
"Can you make it purple, please? Mummy says purple is the colour of royalty," Aries said, scanning, she presumed, for Harry.
"Look up," Hermione told him, changing the colour. I don't doubt you're flying, having to worry about "Mummy."
"He's up on his broomstick! Hello, Harry! Hello!" Aries shouted, waving excitedly.
Hermione laughed. Boys and their broomsticks. Ron will love you. She ruffled Aries' hair and urged him forward as Harry landed. "Go on. Perhaps he'll give you a ride."
"I hope he doesn't, Granger."
"That's odd, Malfoy, given your noted love of broomsticks."
"Scurrilous lies—and you must call me Draco."
"Malfoy," Hermione repeated, albeit pleasantly.
"You're a hard case, Granger."
"I'm just winding you up, Draco. It's nice of you to be helping Harry get to know his son."
"They both are. I thought Aries was going to break my fingers, he was holding my hand so tightly. This must be very scary for him, no matter how brave he's being."
"I suppose he takes after Harry," Draco said, wincing. "That's too fast."
Hermione giggled as she watched Harry, who was flying very low to the ground, go whizzing off towards the trees. "And that's something I believe that you never thought you'd say about a broom ride."
Draco snorted. "Funny how life turns out, isn't it?"
Dinner had been a cheerful, strained affair, but Aries hadn't seemed to notice. He'd been too busy regaling everyone with the story of his first real broom ride. And when Severus had gone up to bed, Harry had been able to tell that he wasn't expecting him to join him—but he'd meant what he'd told Severus about never wanting to sleep alone again.
So much remained uncertain, but flying through the air with his delighted son, Harry had come to a decision: there were other people in the world to worry about its troubles, and the only thing that truly mattered was family.
After readying himself for bed in his own rooms, he joined Severus, who looked up in surprise and dropped his book as Harry appeared.
"We've talked enough today, I think," Harry interrupted, climbing up onto the bed and moving To Know without Knowing to the table. "I'm sorry I was an arse."
"I'm sorry, too."
Harry raised an eyebrow in irritation and allowed Severus to feel it.
"For what I said, not for . . . ."
The love radiating from Harry seemed to fill the room. Severus could almost taste it, as Harry opened to him completely. His own defences dropped, as well, as he reached for Harry to pull him down into a kiss.
Everything's going to be fine.
And Harry seemed so sure of it that Severus couldn't bring himself to doubt him.
Finally nestled into the warmth of her lovely, nest-like bed, Tippy sighed happily. The Household was as it should be. The Family were all in their beds—Tippy had twice had to attend to the broken one in the Blaise's room that day—and the not-guests were almost happy, playing a game and smelling less like house elves and worry, which made Tippy feel much better about her hospitality. She was glad that Master Harry had spoken to them, and that she could finally rest.
So it was with no little irritation that she rose only moments later to prepare another batch of chocolate fondue for Master Severus—she knew, somehow, that he wasn't even going to use the all the fruit she'd have to chop to go with it.
But at least I is getting to stay in bed, she thought, as herself glared at her before leaving with an annoyed pop!
True rest would come with the addition to the Household of more house elves, the Blaise had promised her that.