The empty teacup that Minerva had just been handed filled at her touch as she said, "You lied to Albus, Seph. He won't forget that."
"Merva, It's hardly my fault that Morgan Moody lied to me, is it? He was supposed to retrieve the Lestrange-Parkinson boy for examination before I surrendered the child to Albus, not take him away to 'safety'." Persephone shook her head as if in disgust. "Morgan didn't know it, of course, but had Baird had a chance to apprise me of Aries' presence at the Home, I would have had that examination over and done with before he could have falsified the requisite paperwork."
"What do you mean by that?"
"What do you believe me to mean? The Aberdeen Foundling Home is where all my children are looked after. Did you imagine that I turned them over to just anyone?"
Thunderstruck by this revelation, Minerva demanded, "Why did you never tell me this? And do Baird and Ian know about the special abilities of the children in their keeping?"
"Why ever would they need to? By the time they take them into their care, those have been repressed. It's safer for all concerned that only the people who need to know do know—and as for telling you, well, you abandoned the great work for the great man, didn't you? Nothing Mysteries does is your concern any longer."
Just as Albus is no longer any concern of yours, Minerva thought, enjoying the indecent smugness she always felt when remembering how she'd bested her sister with regard to him. "You've made Mysteries Albus' concern by lying to him—and by interfering with his son, you've made yourself the object of Harry Potter's concern, as well. I wouldn't be feeling quite so complacent if I were in your position."
Persephone leant forward. "But I haven't interfered with Aries, have I? And that's a pity because should the boy's abilities develop uncontrolled, not even Potter would be able to save him." Persephone sat back as a tray levitated towards her. "This has all been very badly managed, Minerva, very badly managed, indeed. Albus must be slipping. He's even let a Horcrux go."
"Ah, so Spellen did tell you about it."
"No, I intuited the existence of the Horcrux from Spellen's sudden interest in arcane magic and growing obsession with Lestrange. Based on his recent movements, it became obvious to me that he believed Lestrange to be in possession of one."
"Oh, well done, you," Minerva retorted sarcastically, watching her sister make a selection from the tray, "but that doesn't mean you've won the Horcrux for your trouble."
"It does if my people find it before Albus'," Persephone said, in that matter-of-fact way of hers that others often mistook for arrogance. She offered the tray to Minerva. "Biscuit?"
"Is that Mother's shortbread?"
"What else would it be?"
"Then yes, thank you."
"—but you're not supposed to say it to elves," Aries protested, as the breakfast tray for which Harry had just thanked Tippy appeared over his lap.
"Is that a rule like 'No biscuits for breakfast'?" asked Harry, as Aries snapped up a chocolate one.
"That's not a'mportan' 'ule."
Harry laughed. "Just so long as we don't break it all the time." Aries handed him a biscuit, which Harry accepted, saying, "You know, Draco told me the same thing about the thank yous, but I think it's only polite to offer them."
"Even if it makes the elves feel bad?"
"Do you really think it bothers her?"
"Tippy!" called Aries.
"Yes, little master?"
"Do you like being thanked?"
Tippy's ears quivered as she looked from Aries to Harry. "Tippy is liking to serve. Tippy is liking that very much."
"Tha—" Harry began to say, stopping as he saw Aries' widened eyes. "That will be all, Tippy."
Tippy's ears straightened in what Harry perceived to be a happy way as she replied, "You is being very welcome, Master Harry," before popping out of the room again.
Now Aries laughed. "She knew you wanted to say it. Elves are smart."
"I think you're right. So, now that you've had your first broom ride and breakfast in bed, what else new should we do today?"
"What am I 'lowed to do?" Aries asked, through a bite of food.
"You're allowed to play, but for that, I suppose you'll need toys."
Aries sat up. "Toys?"
"And friends, too."
"Oh," said Aries, his face falling. "I don't have any friends."
"You've never played with kids your own age?"
Aries shook his head.
Harry bit his lip, hard.
"Doesn't that hurt?"
"Yeah, I suppose it does."
"Then don't do it."
"Good idea. My friend Ron has two little boys about your age. Would you like to meet them?"
"Are they the right sort?"
"Er, what sort would that be?"
"Don't know, really. Mum says I mustn't con . . . con . . . concert? with the wrong sort."
"Consort? Oh, well, yes, Ronnie and Harry are very much the right sort. They're fun."
"Are you angry? You look angry."
Harry forced himself to grin. "Nah, I'm just hungry. My breakfast is waiting for me."
"And Mr Severus?"
"I'll be all right by myself. I've got plenty more biscuits!"
Harry had to stop himself from tousling Aries' hair as he rose. "When you're done, Tippy will help you brush your teeth and take you outside to look around, and after Severus and I take care of some things, we'll come keep you company until Ron and his family arrive."
"You have things to do on a Saturday?"
"Yeah, I'm afraid so, but—"
"I 'spose you're important, too."
Harry's throat clenched as he remembered that being "important" was why Aries believed his mother never had any time for him. I'll never gain his trust if he believes the same of me. "Aries," he said, as steadily as possible.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you angry."
"But I'm not angry. I just wanted to promise you something, something very serious."
"All right," Aries replied, still appearing rather worried.
"I will never be too important to spend time with you."
Aries wiggled his stockinged feet upon the coverlet and beamed at him. "Then I guess we'll be friends, too."
"No shoes in the bed this morning," Severus murmured, as Harry closed Aries' door behind him. "That's a good sign."
"He got himself dressed after we tucked him in, though. You saw that?"
"I did," Severus replied, leading Harry back to their suite.
They got into bed and resumed their breakfast without speaking, but when Harry reached for the Prophet, Severus cleared his throat.
"Yeah?" asked Harry.
"It will take time for Aries to adjust. You know that."
Harry sighed. "It will take more time if I can't figure out a way to explain who I am to him. He doesn't seem to have been particularly close to his par—to Bellatrix and John Parkinson, but they're the only parents he's ever known. That relationship comes with a trust that might be damaging to Aries if broken."
"And you've no desire to lie to him. I understand. Perhaps if Draco explained things?"
Harry shook his head. "No, that sort of thing would be best coming from his mother, but obviously, that wouldn't do. We've no way to control what she'd tell him, and we can't lie to him about Bellatrix because eventually, he'll grow up to learn the truth. If only he were older . . . ."
Severus frowned. "Some things don't change with age."
"Such as?" asked Harry.
"A boy's need to know that his mother loves him."
Harry leant over and laid his head on Severus' shoulder. "I think it's safe to assume that Evessa loves you."
"I don't have to assume any longer. She told me."
"Oh? Oh, well, good."
Severus shifted a bit closer to Harry, needing to feel the warmth of his body. "Perhaps that's something Aries needs to know, so that . . . when he finally does learn the truth, he'll already know the only one that matters."
Harry tensed. "But to lie to him . . . ."
"Even truly horrible people can love, Harry. Bellatrix did see to his care. In her own way, she may love Aries."
"Well, even if that's true, there's no way I'm allowing her anywhere near my . . . ."
Severus turned to see Harry staring at the paper, which had slid into his lap. The headline under the fold read: "Auror Nymphadora Tonks to Receive Order of Merlin for Daring Ploy."
Oh, he thought, glancing up to see Harry staring at him hopefully.
"Would it be . . . such a terrible thing to ask of her, Severus?"
"I'm afraid that I can't answer any of your questions regarding Miss Parkinson's trial, Spellcraftre Millblossom. As I told you, I'm just here to have you review and sign the statement you gave the other day."
Tonks repressed the unpleasant feelings she was experiencing and tried to behave with more understanding. "It's been awhile since anyone's given you your title, hasn't it been?"
Millblossom nodded, her eyes bright. "I expect your fellow Aurors thought I was quite raving the other day."
"You've had a shock. Everyone understands."
Millblossom harrumphed. "Of course they do, but I would . . . like to go to the Guild House. Yes, that would suit me very well. How long will all this take?"
"Now that you've initialled everything, I just need your signature," Tonks told her, as Millblossom scanned the document in her hands. "I'm . . . I'm given to understand that your rooms are as you left them. Apparently, no one—"
"Believed that I would truly abandon my calling. That is to be expected. Change is not embraced by the Guild," Millblossom said, setting aside her statement without signing it to retrieve a copy of the Prophet from her bedside table. She waved it at Tonks. "But what of Spellen?"
Tonks took the paper to cover her surprise. Given what Millblossom had endured, she would have thought that the lady's access to the paper would have been restricted.
"I find myself," Millblossom continued, "hungry to know what I've missed, and the house elves are very accommodating—but there's nothing in the paper about Spellen's funeral. Has it being arranged?"
"The Headmaster might know."
"And why is that? What's he to do with Guild business?"
Taken aback by the vehemence in Millblossom's tone, Tonks said, "He's the executor of Master Spurlock's will. They were friends, it seems."
"I see. Yes, of course they were," Millblossom said, finally signing her statement and gesturing for Tonks to take it and the quill. "You're a credit to your department, I'm sure. Considering your recent triumph, I would have thought that such a banal task as assisting an old lady with her affairs was beneath you."
Tonks flushed. "Again, I can't tell you how sorry I am. My aunt's actions were . . . I'm just so terribly sorry."
"Ah. You feel compelled to take responsibility for what you perceive as 'familial' business. How charming." Millblossom patted Tonks' hand. "Now then, do ask Madam Pomfrey if I might have a word with Dumbledore about Spellen's successor. Given most Spellcraftres' disinclination to attend to administrative duties, I imagine that nothing's been done with regard to him."
"Or her," Tonks said, retracting her hand as quickly as she deemed polite.
"Or her, of course," Millblossom agreed, her expression sharpening as if she could read in Tonks' face her distaste at their contact. "My, don't you look tired."
"Well, if I am, then you must be absolutely exhausted, ma'am—and forgive me, but shouldn't you allow someone else to worry about Guild matters? You've been through so much that surely no one would begrudge you a thorough rest."
"Auror Tonks, it is precisely that sort of attitude that leads to chaos, for if one doesn't seize control in the face of it . . . ." Millblossom smiled, a brittle expression that made Tonks' skin crawl.
"I suppose that's one way to look at things."
"In any case, you needn't concern yourself with me. As you can clearly see, I'm not dead, yet."
Unnerved by Millblossom's unnatural vigour and thoroughly relieved that their interview was at an end, Tonks rose to go.
Harry sent the owl away with the letters he'd written and turned to Severus. "Well, that's done, so I suppose we should discuss the fact that you'll be taking your Seat soon."
"If we must."
"We must," Harry told him, climbing back into bed.
"Do you remember how angry Blaise was when we dismissed the Eligibles?"
"It wasn't fair. We shouldn't have surprised him like that."
"Perhaps not," Severus replied, "especially considering how concerned he's been about safeguarding my reputation since becoming my Advocate and Secretary."
"That shouldn't surprise you. When he's not faffing about with magiceuticals, he always commits himself fully to anything he puts his mind to."
"True, but I must admit that the depth of his dedication to my career has come as something of a surprise."
"Dedication is a good thing, Severus."
"Yes—and Blaise's summaries of Parliamentary matters were more than that. His marginal notes included some brilliant suggestions, in fact, ones that I should like to see debated."
"Are you nervous about debating them, yourself?" Harry asked, not knowing what Severus was getting at.
"That's not it."
"So, good choice in Secretary?"
"Blaise would be wasted if relegated to that position."
"Bollocks! Being your Secretary means everything to him."
"Very nearly so, for he would embrace Peership more completely than ever I would desire to do. With that in mind, isn't it a shame he isn't my heir?"
Harry's eyes widened as Severus' unspoken proposal became clear to him. "But you've already agreed to chair the Suffrage Committee!"
"Do you object to the idea of my adopting Blaise?"
Stunned by the unexpected turn their conversation had taken—hadn't Severus just told Judge Callahan that it was his intention to take his Seat?—Harry inadvertently nodded.
"I see," said Severus.
Harry could feel his disappointment. "No, you don't, and I don't either—disapprove of the idea, I mean. It's just that I thought you wanted—"
"You," Severus interrupted, reaching out to cup Harry's face. "I want you, Harry, and now that I have you, and we have Aries, I—"
"Don't want to think about politics, either," Harry interrupted, as he leant over to kiss Severus. He broke their embrace almost immediately, however, as a suspicious thought occurred to him. "Wait, that was too easy."
"Our agreeing about Blaise?"
"No, not our agreement. You weren't so much asking me about my opinion of your adopting Blaise as telling me that you were planning to do it. You've already discussed it with him, haven't you?"
Severus flushed. "Yes, but only because he might have rejected my proposal. I thought I was half mad for even considering it and didn't wish to raise your hopes unnecessarily, so—"
"You 'protected' me with your silence even though we agreed not to do that to each other anymore."
Severus nodded. "You're right. I should have discussed the idea with you before approaching Blaise. I . . . apologise."
Now that was too easy, Harry thought, shaking his head and smiling as he took Severus' hands.
"You seem relieved."
"I am, a bit. I wasn't looking forward to your being so, er, important—but don't worry, I forgive you. After all, it's going to take me awhile to get used to it, too."
"Get used to what?"
"Us," said Harry, grinning at Severus. "Even considering our bond, it's still odd thinking about myself as being one half of a couple."
Severus squeezed Harry's hands. "And taking into account everything that being part of a couple entails, such as . . . talking."
"Ha! Yes, even 'talking', but I think it's reasonable—and ultimately, wiser—to discuss our life-altering decisions together, don't you?"
Pressing his forehead to Harry's, Severus said quietly, "I couldn't agree more, so perhaps you'd like to share your plans for Price's orphans with me?"
"I've not changed my mind about the general plan we've already discussed, so once Minerva tells me about her meeting with Price—"
"And whether or not she's prepared to accept your proposal—"
"Meet my demands, it would be better put," Harry continued, "I'll tell you everything."
"Good, then perhaps we might return to the subject of Callahan's paperwork."
Harry felt Severus' emotional tension increase through their bond; it made him nervous, as well. "Ah, you want to know whether or not I'll be a Snape, too."
"Will you be?"
"Is it enough that I'm your husband?"
"More than enough."
"Then . . . then let's just say that any children we have together will be Snapes and your heirs, and their Daddy, a Potter."
Severus drew Harry into a fierce embrace, which immediately reassured Harry. In the face of so many changes, Harry hadn't felt right about changing his name, as well. No matter how much he loved Severus, he needed to cling to something that was his, something of his own past. He wanted to remain Harry Potter.
And I must keep my name if I'm to pass it to Aries.
As if Severus understood what he was thinking, he said, "It will be as if Aries were my own son, you know that, don't you?"
"I never doubted that. I just wish that I could be as certain of Aries as I am of you. What if he can't accept me?"
"An impossibility, that. Aries will love you, and in time, he will think of us both as his family."
Harry closed his eyes as he allowed the word to reverberate, reassuringly but weightily, in his mind. That Severus was so quick to claim Aries as his own was more gratifying than he could have imagined, and it made him realise that he'd been selfish to put his desire for familial joy above Familial responsibility; married to a Snape, there couldn't be one without the other, which meant that he could no longer ignore the issue of Pansy's punishment—or allow Severus to face it alone.
He let Severus sense his acceptance of that fact through their bond and was rewarded by a soft gasp and Severus' silent, answering gratitude.
"I appreciate your coming, Professor Dumbledore. You've lifted a great weight from my shoulders."
"Excellent, Mr Longbottom, for I believe that you'll soon be taking on a new responsibility or two."
Neville blushed. "Laura is a wonderful woman, and your fast friend, now that you've removed the effects of my Obliviation from her. I can't believe how stupid I was to have done that. What kind of MWP will I make if I can be so easily gulled?"
"You shouldn't be so hard on yourself," Albus said. "Lucius Malfoy was, as he told you, himself, a liar." Harry Potter's son is not a necromancer. Harry Potter has no son.
Neville blinked. "I'm sorry, but what was that?"
The trick to Delayed Obliviation was patience and repetition while waiting for the spell to affect one's subject, so Albus merely replied, "I was thanking you for allowing me to send Lucius Malfoy here."
"I was happy to help. It wouldn't have done for Lestrange to have got her hands on him."
"No, it wouldn't have done," Albus agreed, pleased by Neville's response and deciding to test him further. "Tell me, do you keep a journal, Mr Longbottom?"
"Er, that's an unexpected ques—oh! I see. Yes, sir, I do, but I didn't record anything about my discussion with Malfoy's spectre in it."
"That was prudent of you." You never spoke to Lucius Malfoy's spectre. He merely arrived here and died shortly thereafter. Neville's expression slackened under the force of Albus' silent spell, but Albus held his gaze for one long Legilimentical moment before allowing him to slump over the table. Thus assured that Neville's Obliviation was complete, he left the kitchen for Longbottom House's lounge.
Vicar Norrington, or Laura, as she preferred to be called, was lying on the sofa where Albus had left her. On the low table before her, a stack of enchanted journals smoldered. Albus bent down to inhale the eldritch emanations and at once, the books' altered contents were absorbed by his mind.
"Good," he murmured, banishing all trace of his spell-work as he straightened himself and yawned.
It had taken all of the early morning—which wasn't a surprise when one was dealing with the strong-minded—but now it was done: Neville and Laura would remember the Aurors having brought Lucius to Longbottom House. They would remember that he died. They would remember those things, and nothing more. Albus had, with the efficiency of an Unspeakable, wiped from their minds the knowledge of having ever seen or spoken with Lucius Malfoy's unbound essence.
Narcissa Malfoy's luggage floated through the Floo before she stepped, perfectly coiffed and spotless, out of it. She was followed by a house elf.
"Pippy, take my bags to the Silver Suite, and then—oh, Mr Potter. How nice of you to greet me."
"It's Harry to you," he replied, taking Narcissa's outstretched hand, "and I expect you'll be wanting to see Aries."
"Very much, but first, I rather thought to speak with Draco and you about what he's been told."
Draco appeared at the top of the entrance hall stairs. "Only that his mother is busy and wishes him to remain here for a time."
"That's all very well," Narcissa replied, "but we all know it won't satisfy him for long."
"Well, what would you suggest?" Draco snapped. "We can hardly arrange for Aunt Bella to treat Aries to a 'proper' explanation."
Harry wasn't surprised by Draco's sour mood, Narcissa's regal entrance into a home that had never been hers, or the fact that Pippy appeared quite unable to obey the orders she'd just received. He bore these circumstances patiently while waiting for Narcissa to realise that her house elf had not left her. It didn't take long.
"What is the meaning of this?" she demanded, turning her attention to where Pippy hovered, confusion written across her features, as she pulled ineffectually at the handle of her Mistress' luggage.
"She hasn't been welcomed into the Household by Tippy, who must, as head of the Snape Family's elves, accept her before Pippy will be permitted to serve anyone here."
"That's nonsense, Harry. Pippy's attended me on more than one occasion at Snape Manor."
"True, but that was before Severus and I were magic-fasted. My husband and I will no longer permit any servants other than our own to function here."
Draco chuckled in a decidedly nasty way at Harry's words, which left him in no doubt as to Draco's current feelings about his mother. As it happened, Harry's own feelings about Narcissa were perfectly clear.
You're not his lover anymore, and I won't have you behaving as if you were.
Despite the circumstances that required Narcissa to be a part of his life, Harry wasn't about to allow her to have any sort of control over it. Over breakfast, Severus had agreed with him on that point, as well.
Smiling, Harry continued, "I'm given to understand that you intend for Pippy to become Aries' servant when he reaches his majority. With this in mind, might I suggest that I take Pippy under my protection until that time?"
"Take possession of her, I think you mean," Narcissa replied tartly.
"I suppose that I must," Harry replied, feeling no such thing, "but it would be rude of me to solicit such a gift. Perhaps it would be better to send Pippy back to Malfoy Manor?"
A look of outrage passed quickly over Narcissa's features as she opened her mouth to speak.
Before she could, however, Harry added, "Or perhaps you might just free her?"
"Doubtful—Mother's never been one for socks."
Ignoring Draco's outburst, Harry waited calmly for Narcissa's decision.
After a long, tense moment, she squared her shoulders, removed the silk scarf she wore about her throat, and held it out to Pippy. "Should you accept this, your service to Family Black—"
Ah, that isn't a surprise at all, thought Harry, as Pippy turned her large, trusting eyes towards him.
"—will be at an end."
"Harry Potter?" Pippy asked, her ears quivering, "is you willing to allow Pippy to serve Family Snape?"
Hoping like hell that Hermione was nowhere nearby, Harry answered, "Master Severus and I would happily welcome you into our service."
The scarf was in Pippy's hand before Harry had finished speaking the ritualistic words, and the moment he fell silent, she exclaimed, "Pippy accepts! Pippy will serve Masters Harry and Severus!"
The next thing Harry heard was Tippy's cheerful, tinny voice as she appeared before Tippy and said, "Welcome, sister elf! Pippy is being very welcome here!"
Harry's ears popped as he felt the manor's wards accept Pippy, as well. It was an odd, warm sensation, but one that he didn't dwell on for long. "Pippy, please take Peer Malfoy's trunk to the Silver Suite and then listen to Tippy's instructions as to your new duties—and don't worry, you'll see Aries very soon."
"Oh!" Pippy, exclaimed, clapping her tiny hands together. "Master Harry is very good!"
"Unexpectedly so," Draco quipped, passing his mother without sparing her a glance. "Going for a walk," he told Harry, as the twin pop! of house elves taking their leave was heard.
"Well," Harry murmured, "that was a new feeling."
From behind him, Severus said, "And one that I know you enjoyed, Mr Potter."
In his mind, Harry heard "Potter" in Severus' voice as "Snape" and laughed aloud.
"I can practically hear that scowl," Tonks said, from the door of Remus' office.
Remus looked up from his desk and replied, "Wotcher, Tonks."
She entered the room and closed the door, moving to sit in the visitor's chair. "I suppose I could have been more pleasant, but I've just been to see that dreadful woman."
"Yeah, and I don't care what Dumbles has told me about her suffering, there's something off about that one."
Remus issued a humourless chuckle. "You probably shouldn't call him that, you know."
"And why not?" Tonks forced a grin. "He knows everything. In fact, he knows that he knows everything, so I hardly think an ironic pet name's going to offend him."
"Typical Auror—brave and stupid."
Tonks let two fingers fly in response, saying, "What is it? I'd've thought you'd be pleased. Your way's clear, now."
"No, with the other fancy bird you've been seeing secretly for months. Of course, with my aunt."
"Lucius' death hasn't yet been announced, so I'm not free to be public with her."
Tonks rolled her eyes.
"What is it?" asked Remus.
"You know what, but since you won't listen to me, never mind."
"The announcement would've been lost amongst all the other news, anyway, so we can always argue about Narcissa later."
"If you'd like."
"You know that I wouldn't—but congratulations. Bringing in Lestrange must have done wonders for you at the DMLE."
Tonks nodded. "I'm up for a promotion, of course, and there's a lot of talk about my speechifying before the nobs, but I'm not interested. In fact, I don't want to think about any of it."
"Hence your taking busy work assignments."
"Is that what I'm doing, Remus?"
"What would you call it?"
"Being a glutton for punishment, I suppose," Tonks said, looking at her hands.
"Don't go over all uncle-y. It's not right."
"What's that?" Tonks asked, pointing to the small black box on his desk.
Remus sighed at his own stupidity for having allowed Tonks to catch him with it. "It's an exorcist's tool, a Soul-Holder. A . . . friend of mine's got haunted house issues."
"A 'friend' or a client?"
"Yes, all right," Remus lied. "I've been consulting again. Severus' lesson plans don't leave me with much to do, and trying to figure out why this thing didn't operate properly is helping to relieve my boredom."
"So, is it broken, or is it just that your friend didn't know what he was doing with it?"
Remus half-chuckled at that. "A bit of both, perhaps."
"Is that why," Tonks asked, leaning forward to peer at the open books on Remus' desk, "you've been reading up on the Dark stuff?"
Remus ignored her jibe; Tonks had never understood his academic interests, but he was in no mood to argue with her about them.
She seemed to understand that because, as she sat back into a less confrontational posture, she suggested, "Consider visiting the Unmentionables if you can't work it out. Those eggheads love this sort of problem."
"That may be, but I doubt the Unspeakables would have any interest in such a banal matter—but speaking of chatting, Narcissa would like to see you now that, er, she's free to do so."
"Oh," Tonks said, beginning to fidget again. "I should have expected that, I suppose, but . . . ."
"She is your family."
"If you say so. Mum'd probably tell her to fuck off if she asked her over to the manor for a reconciliatory tea. The last time they met, it almost came to wands."
"So Narcissa's told me, but even though you don't believe it, things are going to be different, now."
"Perhaps for her and Mum, but my aunt's always been uncomfortable around me. Metamorphmagi take some people that way—and of course, I'm not pure. She doesn't like that."
"She's never said as much to me."
"And you think she would?" Tonks asked, disbelief clear in her expression.
"We do share, you know."
"Not everything, though, right?" Tonks asked, abruptly rising and beginning to pace the room.
Tonks looked at him sharply. "'Nym' was a long time ago, Remus. Does she know?"
"That you were my Order liaison while I was spying on the werewolves? Of course she does."
Spinning upon him, Tonks snapped, "Does she know?"
"What do you think?"
"That it wouldn't please her if she knew you and I used to fuck."
"Must you always be so very crass?"
"Do you really believe she'll ever 'be public' with you?"
"When Draco marries, she—"
"When Draco marries? Remus, Pansy Parkinson's in a holding cell in the Ministry screaming for her trial—Pansy Parkinson, the girl my cousin wants more than anyone—and she's practically begging for the Kiss. Draco won't be getting married anytime soon—Narcissa's using you!"
"For what? A bit of fun? If that were true, then by your own logic, you and she would have that in common."
"That's right, you didn't. You stopped taking my owls after the mission ended and avoided me at every Order meeting until I left off talking about us, so what's your problem with my seeing someone else?"
"You know I don't have one! It's just—"
"A bit of fun. Yes, I've quite worked out you think so."
"If you'd recall, you were worried about the same thing when you first told me you were seeing her."
"Yes, but that was months ago. Now that we've established that you don't believe any woman would take me seriously, perhaps—"
"That's not it at all, and you know it!"
"Look, I know you're trying to be a friend here, but we're just going to have to agree to disagree about Narcissa. . . . I'm in love with her, Tonks. That's not going to change."
"Because she takes you seriously."
"Among other reasons, yes."
"Werewolves Organised for their Lives and Fairness," Tonks unexpectedly said, crossing her arms and glaring at him. "Yes, I suppose it would help your advocacy group to have an MWP in your corner."
Remus stood abruptly. "Are you implying that I'm using her?"
At once, Tonks' anger seemed to leave her. "Oh, fuck. No. No, Remus, I'm . . . being an arse is what I'm doing—and it's not Narcissa I'm bothered about today."
"I wish you'd tell me what the hell is bothering you because this," Remus said, waving a hand between them, "is beginning to grate."
"What?" Remus demanded, instantly concerned about what Tonks might know.
"Seeing Millblossom put me in mind of him, and I didn't like it. She's . . . something about her is just as 'grating' as he was, I'm sure of it."
Remus moved to where Tonks was standing and pressed her into a chair before leaning against his desk. "Are you basing that on what you read in Draco's file?"
"Crap," said Tonks. "I forgot I'd told you about that—and I never should have done it! But Mum didn't know why Draco had surrendered his wand to the department, and . . . and no one pays much attention to paperwork once it's been filed, so . . . ."
"You read the paperwork because you were curious about your family," Remus said.
"That's only natural."
"I don't know if it was or not, Remus, but I do know that Millblossom was full of praise for my kindness today even though I could see that she really thought I was less than nothing. It amazes me!"
"How even after everything she's suffered at the hands of pure-bloods she still hates me for not being one."
"According to 'Dumbles', Millblossom was dying until he shared his magic with her. That alone would make anyone rather unfriendly, and considering that it was a member of your family who put her in the position of needing such help . . . ." Remus said, leaving the rest of his sentence unspoken as he saw a shadow pass under his door.
Mercifully, Tonks didn't notice his having become distracted. "You're right, and I'm sorry," she told him as she stood up. "I should . . . I should let it go—and go, myself. I do actually need to return to Headquarters. I've a report to file."
Remus crossed to the door and placed his hand on the knob, shaking it just a bit in warning. "Still friends?"
"Always," Tonks told him, leaning up to peck him on the cheek.
Relieved that Tonks was more interested in her duty than his 'Dark' preoccupation—there was no way, no matter how close they were, that he could possibly tell her about having been possessed by Lucius—Remus opened the door to an empty corridor. "Let's talk again soon."
Tonks nodded and left, and Remus left the door open as he returned to his desk, certain he'd soon have another visitor.
Striding down the corridor, Tonks could barely repress her desire to swear.
Remus lied to me!
He'd lied to her, and she'd had to wind him up in order hide from him that she'd known he'd done it—and to distract him so that she could think about why he had.
I suppose it's a good thing the arrogant swot's always believed I was a bit thick. An exorcist's tool, really? Arsehole!
As an Auror, Tonks had received training enough to understand that Soul-Holds had nothing to do with removing haunts from houses.
You can't capture ghosts in little black boxes. You can only Banish them to the Beyond!
People's souls, however, could be stolen for Dark ritualistic purposes, which was why Soul-Holds were about as banned as any Dark object could be—and if Tonks hadn't known Remus as well as she did, she would have arrested him on the spot for having had one in his possession.
What the fuck is Remus doing with a Soul-Hold?
"Perhaps it would be best," Albus said, appearing in Remus' doorway, "you put that away. It's not as though it were a simple puzzle box. Why haven't you destroyed it, yet?"
Remus slid the Soul-Hold into his desk drawer and warded it. "Don't worry, Albus. I will—and it was of no interest to Tonks. Please, sit."
Albus did so. "I hope that I didn't cause you to cut short your visit with Nymphadora. She was disturbed, apparently, by her meeting with Mrs Millblossom?"
"How did you know about that?"
"She left Minerva a note for me while I was out."
"Ah. And how is Mrs Millblossom?"
"Keen to leave. Unfortunately for her, Poppy's threatened me with grievous bodily harm if I arrange her leave-taking too soon."
"So what have you been arranging?"
"The reassurance of young Mr Longbottom."
"You made him forget about seeing Lucius."
"And did you make him forget about Harry's son?"
"Ah, so Narcissa's shared with you."
"We rowed about it before she left for Snape Manor. I can't believe she kept Harry in the dark about him!"
"Of course you can, and you understand perfectly well why she felt she had to."
"How can you possibly sound so forgiving? She hid his son from him."
"Because it's done, and we now have other tasks upon which to concentrate."
Remus shook his head. "I still can't believe it, and if I'm as shocked as I am, what must Harry be feeling?"
"Harry is bearing up exceptionally well now that Aries is safe with him, and taking strength from his newly bonded state."
"Narcissa told me the same thing, and it's a comfort."
"But not a sufficient one, I see."
"Albus, not having had your years of practice, I find myself in the position of knowing a great deal more than I know how to pretend that I don't know."
"Please feel free to unburden yourself to me at any time."
"That's kind of you, but there's nothing more to say now. I simply have to wait until Harry tells me . . . about everything."
"Care to explain what took you so damn long?"
"Don't start," Alastor told Aberforth, as he joined him in the goat pen behind the Hog's Head. After a quick swivel of his magical eye, he continued, "I had business. That idiot who got himself murdered by Lestrange outside of Rosmerta's the other night stole something that I had to enter into evidence."
"Not like you to leave such things so late," Aberforth replied, pulling out a pipe and lighting it.
"The delay was unavoidable. I had to commission some delicate Transfiguration work."
Aberforth scowled. "Why've you been copying evidence?"
"Because I don't fancy leaving a lost Dark object where just any curious functionary might find it, is why."
"Ah, so it's to do with my brother, then. Got his Minnie to Transfigure the object, did you?"
"Minerva can be obliging when the mood strikes her."
"Never seen the woman in any such mood, but enough of that—there's to be a fire."
Alastor's magical eye swivelled in its socket to survey the goats Aberforth had been tending. "That's the best you could come up with for this lot?"
"Well, you said yourself that an accident was the only way we could get rid of them all, and the stable's not been warded against the use of natural fire."
Alastor spat. "Damned, incautious fools."
"Right enough, but good for us because any drunkard might wander inside the stable for a private slash and knock over a lantern."
"And that'll be the end of our necromantical pests. Good," said Alastor.
"Can you hide the evidence of arson once the deed's done?"
Alastor nodded. "Hogsmeade isn't truly my patch outside of the Novitiate, but Henderson's a lad. He won't begrudge me an investigation into a fire at my favourite pub. When?"
"In the wee hours, after I send the drunkards home," Aberforth replied, nodding in the Hog's Head's direction.
If owls could have yawned, Hazel would have—in spite of the unexpected and intriguing discussion of "necromantical pests" that was occurring beneath her—it had been a busy few days.
It had all begun when her mother had arranged for the Creatures Unit to be on assignment at St. Mungo's when Lestrange arrived so that Hazel could slip away and secure Voldemort's Horcrux; obviously, the Shrouding had interrupted that task. In its aftermath, she'd overhead Shacklebolt discussing Lestrange's effects with a Healer, and when he'd said nothing of the locket, she'd assumed that he'd pocketed it for Albus Dumbledore. According to her mother, the only person more interested in the Horcrux than Dumbledore was Spellen Spurlock, who had, also according to her mother, unleashed the Lethifolds as a distraction while he attempted to steal it.
Hazel wanted very much to know why her mother knew that, but she'd had no time to ask her about it since her last check in because she'd had to keep on eye on Shacklebolt. Towards that end, she'd persuaded Brendan to accompany her to the Three Broomsticks for a well-deserved drink after cleaning up St. Mungo's—all the better to follow their senior Auror. Of course, with the pub closed and Shacklebolt preparing to remain there, Hazel's next concern had been losing the thirsty Brendan. She'd installed her partner at the Tricky Tentacle and then, after he was well and truly pissed, doubled back to Madam Rosmerta's place to search it before returning, frustrated by her failure, to Brendan so that she could see him safely home.
That had taken longer than it might have done because Brendan had celebrated enough for both of them. Once Hazel had got him clean, sober, and abed, she'd taken herself off to Headquarters to find Tonks' file on the Lestrange recapture. Clumsy by reputation, Tonks nevertheless held the DMLE record for fastest report submission, and there was nothing careless about her attention to detail. Unfortunately, there was also nothing in her paperwork about any jewellery, so Hazel had decided, after drinking the last of the vile coffee in the canteen, that if anyone did have the locket, it would have to be ol' Mad Eye because he'd been with Tonks when she'd brought in Lestrange.
And now here you are, Hazel thought, flapping her wings restlessly, ripe for the picking.
If owls could have laughed, she would have done that, as well, because of course she didn't mean to nick anything from Moody. Semi-retired and not looking for an avian Animagus he might be as he shared a pipe with his friend, he was still as dangerous as fuck and about as forgiving of trespass as her mother; Hazel wasn't stupid enough to take him on by herself.
So what am I going to do?
Right, you can do this, Tonks told herself, as she entered the Department of Records. "Aggie, just the person I wanted to see! Would you mind—"
"Don't even ask, Tonks. I'm behind in my filing because of the days we lost last week, so I can't do you any favours just now."
Tonks drew herself up and kept growing a few inches more so that she could glare down at the woman standing behind the counter. "Junior Records Clerk Miller, I have formal business here, and I expect you to assist my with it this instant!"
Miller started and almost dropped the cup in her hand. "What do you—how may I help you, Auror Tonks?"
"I need to consult the Record to verify some information about Bellatrix Lestrange. You're aware, I trust, that I recently brought her in?"
"Well, of course!" Miller said, beginning to leaf through the papers before her. "But I don't see an authorisation form for any consult—"
Miller jumped. "What?"
"Do you want to be responsible for hindering me in my duties when that hindrance might prevent Lestrange from getting the Kiss? When the reporters ask me why the bitch is still alive, is it your name you want to see in the paper?"
"Certainly not, Auror Tonks!" said Miller, Summoning a ring of keys and gesturing for Tonks to follow her. "Right this way, ma'am."
Once Miller had got the door open and they'd walked back to the one behind which the Record was kept, Tonks said, more gently, "Thanks, Aggie. Er, let me in and then make sure no one bothers me? I'm that nervous about my report. If I leave out even one particular . . . ."
"Not to worry, Tonks. I understand completely," Miller said, unwarding and opening the door. "How frightened you must have been when—"
"It's good of you to be so forgiving," Tonks interrupted, as she stepped through and began closing the door. "I'll just be a tick."
Draco knew that he wasn't as alone as he'd intended to be by coming to the chapel; the ghost of a child was peeking at him occasionally from over the top of a distant pew. He seemed content to leave it at peeking, however, and as Draco had had enough of walking but didn't wish to return to the house, he decided that he had privacy enough for his thoughts.
She's here for Aries, not me. She hasn't even spared a thought for me.
They'd spoken before he'd left Hogwarts, of course; she hadn't been able to avoid him as she'd left the infirmary after seeing Remus. Because she'd known he'd seen her with him, she'd finally admitted that they were a couple—and requested that he not speak of it to anyone.
As if I would. I'm not a child!
What she hadn't done, however, was entertain any of his concerns about Pansy.
Mother won't help me. She wants me to forget about her.
Suddenly furious, Draco shouted, "I can't do that! How could you ask me to abandon her?"
The ghostly child shot up from behind his pew and disappeared, looking terrified, through the painting on the ceiling.
"How?" Draco asked again, through a sob. He clutched the back of the pew in front of him and squeezed until his knuckles whitened, willing himself not to give in to his tears.
Big boys didn't cry. Malfoys certainly didn't, but in that moment, tears were all Draco felt he had—until the large, unfamiliar owl swooped into the chapel to land upon the altar.
Owls don't tend to show themselves so boldly during the day, do they? Alastor thought, taking a puff of tobacco and considering his situation.
He had made some adjustments to his magical eye since the incident with the gnomes, and the gnomes, clustered in small groups at various "hidden" points in the yard, should have been what the owl on the pub's roof was observing.
But you're looking at me, aren't you?
Alastor thought about what he was carrying and who might be interested in taking it from him; the mental list he compiled was a short one.
That'll be one of Price's people, I expect, he thought, making a show of tamping down his tobacco with the butt of his wand before turning in one relatively smooth motion to Stun the bird.
He was just able to catch it before it Transfigured back into human form. Irritated squeaking met his ears as he hoisted the girl over his shoulder.
"I ain't going to harm her," he told the lurking female gnomes, "but if you lot want to stay safe, clear out o' that stable!"
The chiming of a clock ringing the hour greeted Draco as he Floo'd into the unfamiliar sitting room. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he saw two chairs sitting before the fire on either side of a small table that had been laid with a tea service. Ignoring his growing hunger, he turned to place the tin soldier Portkey that had brought him the first part of his way onto the mantle, and when he turned back again, all was silent—and there was a woman sitting in the leftmost chair.
"I'm glad you came, Draco."
"I could hardly ignore such an intriguing summons."
"It was good of you to be punctual. Please, sit down. I trust you understand why Nymphadora felt that she had to rely upon me in this matter?"
"I suppose that I do," Draco replied, turning from his aunt to regard his cousin, who had stepped forward from the shadows into the light behind her mother's chair. "You certainly have reason enough to believe that I'd wish to avoid Aurors, even one to whom I'm related."
"Perhaps we could take the time to catch ourselves up later."
"Of course, Nym—"
"The name's Tonks."
Draco saw a flicker of irritation rise in his aunt's expression only to be immediately repressed, and in spite of his present, bizarre circumstances, he almost smiled. I don't blame you, he thought, of what he knew from his mother to be a long-standing battle between his cousin and aunt. It's a horrid name. "Of course," he said, to Tonks, taking the chair his aunt had offered him. "What do you wish to discuss?"
Andromeda rose and set the teapot to pouring with a flick of her wand. "As this doesn't truly concern me, I hope you understand if I leave you to it."
Taking her mother's chair, Tonks picked up a cup and cradled it in her hands. "There's a lady, a Mary Millblo—"
"I know of her. She . . . she's at Hogwarts."
"Yes, so she is," Tonks replied, staring at Draco in such a way as to make him wonder if she had any Legilimentical abilities.
No, Metamorphmagi are natural Occlumens, not Legilimens. Something to do with mental camouflage.
"I met with her this morning, and something about her seemed . . . familiar."
"I'm sorry," said Draco, "but I assumed I was invited here to discuss Mother."
"Oh, well, I suppose I understand that, but no. I want to talk about your father."
Draco repressed a shudder. "What ever for?"
"I only met him the once, Draco—you don't mind if I—"
"No, please. Draco is fine."
"But that meeting left an indelible impression on me. Among other things, it was his smile I most remember. It didn't reach his eyes."
Draco said nothing. Tonks' assessment of his father's smile was his, as well, but he had no desire to bond with her over it.
"Mary Millblossom's smile was just the same, and after our meeting this morning, I learnt something about her that . . . . Look, I don't quite know what I should say or how to say it, but the fact is, I had to know for sure."
"To know what?"
"If he was really, finally dead."
Draco couldn't keep his expression neutral as he asked, "What could you possibly have learnt about Millblossom that would make you suspect my father wasn't—"
"That doesn't matter now. What does is that I consulted the Record."
Draco straightened, tightening his grip on his teacup. "Oh?" he asked, pleased to hear that his voice didn't break.
In answer, Tonks set aside her own cup and pulled a folded piece of parchment from her sleeve. "This is a copy, a tracing, I made of the relevant page," she told him, unfolding it and holding it up before him.
As the page's words became clear to him, Draco's cup shattered in his hand.