Chapter Seven: Unexpected Developments
"What do you mean, she's still your wife?" Giancarlo Zabini demanded of his wife's son and his nephew.
The younger wizard scowled at his mother's third husband, the eldest brother of his father, and replied, "Exactly what I said, Uncle. Apparently, my divorce from Harry was never completed because she and I failed to conduct a Sealing Ceremony for the baby."
"Now, Mother, if I knew that, I would have been able to avoid this unexpected development."
Blaise spoke with feigned calmness. In truth, ever since he'd been informed by the clerk of the Hall of Records that he could not be issued a marriage license, and why, he'd felt a powerful agitation that ate at his mind.
How could she have kept her pregnancy from me? Why? Why did she--oh, gods! No wonder she pushed me away. Oh, Ree, I've failed you.
Zoroastrid perceived her son's distress, and said, more gently, "If you still care for her, then we'll just have to find her and bring her home to you, darling. Would you like that?"
"It doesn't matter. Ree's gone, and I doubt," Blaise said, looking at Giancarlo pointedly, "that any of us could compel her to return."
"Don't blame me because you couldn't handle your wife, boy. You knew what was expected of you."
Yes, I did.
The Zabinis followed the Old Ways, which meant that their head of house was the absolute authority over all members. As soon as Voldemort's death had been announced, Giancarlo had pressed Blaise to persuade his bride to "formalize" their bond, a process that would have knitted Harry's magics to those of her family, and resulted in a large measure of her personal will being stripped from her.
Harry had refused to participate in any such ceremony.
Yet I kept after her about it until I drove her away. No wonder she never told me about our baby.
"If the Parkinsons learn of this, they'll have us in court for fraud and breach of promise both," Giancarlo said angrily. "You're to be married in less than a week!"
Blaise and Pansy's nuptials had been scheduled for May Day.
"This is a nightmare!"
"Perhaps not, my love," Zoroastrid replied mildly. "There must have been some reason we don't yet understand for the girl to have kept her pregnancy a secret."
"You mean, besides the fact that she didn't want to enslave her child to 'our' cause?" Blaise spat.
"Watch yourself, boy," his step-father said menacingly before turning his attention to his wife. "If we could prove that the baby wasn't his, perhaps the Wizengamot would grant the divorce."
"No! I'll not permit you to drag Ree's name through the mud! Of course the baby was mine!"
Zoroastrid placed a restraining hand on her husband's arm. "How can you be so sure, darling?"
"I . . . I just am."
"Come now, Blaise, the girl was . . . popular, you know."
"We need to be certain, my son."
Blaise thought quickly. He did not like the expression on his mother's face. "I . . . I could see Hermione. She would know."
"What makes you think you can trust anything that mudblood has to say?" Giancarlo demanded.
"Because she's my friend."
The Zabinis watched the scion of their house storm out of the room.
"I think it may be prudent to consider having a child of our own."
Mrs. Zabini repressed a shudder as she smiled serenely at her husband. Giancarlo had an unsavory reputation, though none of the myriad deeds attributed to the man had ever been proven. Only Zoroastrid knew of his affiliation with the Dark Lord, and of how he had murdered Marco, Blaise's father and her first husband, and Italo, the middle Zabini brother and her second husband, when neither man would accept the Dark Mark--or Giancarlo's plans for their House.
No one but Giancarlo knew that it was Zoroastrid who had brewed the poisons that had killed the men, making their deaths appear to have been of natural causes.
"Beloved," the lady replied, "don't let's be hasty. Blaise loved Ree very much, and that affects his judgment. He is also too friendly with the Minister's daughter-in-law to be easily . . . dispatched. It would be better to seek an honorable disengagement for the boy from the Parkinson chit. In time, we can arrange a more suitable match for Blaise--after we've found Ree and . . . dealt with her, should she continue to refuse the re-bonding."
"And how might we find her? I've tried, you know," he admitted, despising his failure more than his wife's son.
"Have you? I didn't know . . . , but nothing could be more simple. Ree loved my son as much as he loved her. I'm certain that she would never have parted with her wedding band. Muggles are so sentimental, you know--even half-breeds."
Giancarlo smiled slowly. "My dearest, I've taken you for granted."
"Nonsense, my love. You are the best of husbands."
"You disloyal prat!" Hermione exclaimed. "You've no right to ask anything about Harry--she's not your wife anymore, you know."
"Actually, she is."
"What are you talking about?"
"Ree was pregnant, Hermione, so our divorce was never finalized."
No Sealing Ceremony, of course, the witch told herself. Damn! "Well, why should I--"
"Because my mother has access to my wedding band," the wizard said, waiting for the implication of his words to be understood.
"You mean they--your parents--want to find her?"
Hermione reflexively touched her own wedding band as if to calm herself. She remembered how nervous Blaise had been about proposing to Harry, and how romantic the proposal had been.
He'd secreted the simple band of white gold into the snitch used in the final game of their seventh year between Slytherin and Gryffindor, and exhorted Harry to catch it if she wanted the surprise of her life. Hermione had never seen her friend play more fiercely.
She knew that after the game, Harry had joined Blaise in the Room of Requirement where he'd revealed the ring and asked the witch for her hand in marriage.
Blaise had always been conscious of the fact that Harry despised being treated with the deference traditionally reserved for witches by wizards, but in this case, Hermione had told him that his girlfriend wouldn't mind. It was she who had persuaded him to incorporate the Muggle custom of exchanging rings into his proposal.
"Oh, no, Blaise! What can we do?"
The wizard removed the long golden chain that he had worn next to his skin ever since Ree had left him. On it dangled his wedding band. "Here. Take it."
"If I do--your step-father, he'll--"
"--that doesn't matter," Blaise told her, turning to leave the room.
Hermione blocked his passage. "Yes, yes, it does."
As displeased as he was to receive her, Giancarlo bid his servant to admit Mrs. Granger-Weasley into his study. His spies had reported that his nephew had left the medi-witch's home that evening and gone directly to the tap of the Gryphon's Foote where he had proceeded to become well and truly pissed. Zoroastrid had contacted Pansy and told her where to find Blaise, explaining to the girl that she would have to expect such behavior as a matter of course. By all reports, the resultant row between the "love birds" had been very productive, indeed.
"Good evening," he greeted his guest.
"I apologize for the lateness of the hour, Sir, but after seeing Blaise this afternoon--"
"--Mrs. Weasley, never apologize for gracing my home with your presence. What may I do for you?" Giancarlo asked, holding out a chair for the woman.
"It's Granger-Weasley, actually," Hermione replied, removing a small box from her robes after sitting down and handing it to the man.
"Harry left this with me, Sir."
Damnation! Say it isn't--
"It's her wedding band."
Giancarlo sat down heavily and clutched the box. "I see."
"It's awkward, you know, coming to see you like this, but Blaise seemed so desperate to have news of Harry today--he even told me how much he regretted not giving her a child so that she might have stayed with him," the witch said earnestly. "And so I thought, well, that you might find the appropriate moment to give the ring to him. It might help him get over his wedding jitters, and I know it must be a family heirloom."
It most certainly is not, you Muggle cow! "How very thoughtful of you, Madam. I'm certain that this will be . . . helpful."
"Good. Well then, I should be going. Thank you for your time."
Giancarlo wasted no time, once Mrs. Weasley had left, in examining the ring. It appeared genuine.
I shall simply have to employ another method of finding the wayward Mrs. Zabini, he thought sourly.
Giancarlo was a hard man, and a patient one. He had survived Voldemort, and he would survive the transparent machinations of his nephew.
I will select his next bride myself. She will be a proper witch--and ugly, too.
Any thought he had entertained of murdering Blaise had dissipated earlier in the evening after he had considered his bride--and her devotion to her son--more carefully. He knew how Zoroastrid dealt with the men in her life who disappointed her.
And I intend to survive 'Zor, as well.
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