Chapter Ten: Toward Domestic Tranquility
As the Witching Hour approached, Severus found himself wandering past the shops of Diagon Alley, quite shaken by the events of his evening. He had not been able to face going back to Hogwarts, despite his desperation to know where Harry had gone and how she was. He did feel absurdly grateful to Zoroastrid for preventing him from having murdered Draco and stopping the scene he had caused from getting worse, but he knew that his altercation with the boy on the dance floor would be in all the papers on the morrow.
No, he corrected himself. Later today. At least Harry was not there to see it.
The house elf, Milkie, had told them that Dobby had taken Harry home, so, despite his desire to go to her, to tell her everything before the first run of the Daily Prophet found its way to the school, he could find some solace in the knowledge that his lover was safe.
My lover, he thought, disconsolately. She will never truly be that now, will she? "But how could she doubt me?" he whispered to no one. Zoroastrid's parting words rose as an answer in his mind: "Severus, a girl likes to be told."
The witch had dispensed this bit of wisdom when she had returned his wand to him after Narcissa had insisted that she and her son had to return to the crowd.
Narcissa had always cared more for appearances than anything else.
Had her son looked frightened of his mother? Snape wondered, stopping to examine the glittering dress robes on display in Madam Malkin's window. She had decorated it grandly to reflect the themes of the upcoming Assembly.
The entire situation, once he, Draco, and Narcissa had calmed themselves--nothing ever seemed to perturb Zoroastrid--had been surreal. The unlikely party had drunk wine and discussed trivialities, and then Narcissa had asked him if he really intended to court the Girl Who Lived.
"Really, darling, I cannot imagine what you're about there. It makes me wonder how thorough your care of her has been."
"Cissa, be nice," the witch's lover chided her.
"That is none of your concern, Widow Malfoy," Severus said.
"Oh, I agree with Mother. People might be very interested in such a matter, should the professor press his suit. It's a serious business, the idea of impropriety between an instructor and his student."
Severus had not actually considered that, as ridiculous as he knew it was. I never took advantage of Harry. No one who knows me would--and Albus will vouch for my--"Oh, gods!" he spat, realizing the extent of his guilt.
He had been in a position of authority over the girl. He had toyed with her affections. He was a former Death Eater, and no one other than Albus Dumbledore truly knew him. It did not matter that Sirius Black and Remus Lupin had accepted his declaration for Harry; their reputations were not much better than his own.
And Narcissa's threat--Draco's threat--had been clear: Pursue the girl, and we will see to it that your actions be put on public trial.
Severus could not bear the thought of what such a scandal would do to Harry. He had been a fool to hope that she would ever accept him, that they could ever make an honest life together.
"A normal life," he whispered, knowing that, more than anything, Harry craved domestic tranquility. She could never have such a life with such as I. I must . . I must let her go.
The shop door by which he was now standing flung open a little wider; in his musings, Severus had not noticed it open at all. He cursed himself for his inattention.
The elderly wizard in the doorframe smiled kindly at him.
"Well, good morning, boy," Mr. Ollivander greeted him. "You look like you could use a dish of strong tea, and I am most curious to know what your idea of 'a normal life' might be."
With nowhere else to go, the younger wizard followed the proprietor inside his shop without a word.
Blaise was exultant as he poured himself a fire whiskey and perused the papers on Alastor Moody's--no, my, he corrected himself--desk. It seemed that the old man's last task before leaving the novitiate the previous day--for now it was well after midnight--had been to write the midterm fitness reports on the latest group of trainees.
"Never you mind about your 'tendency toward impulsiveness', the wizard said, reading over the assessment of Rory Stephens that the late master had prepared. "I find your lack of foresight to be an asset."
It was so much easier to lead people who tended toward making precipitous actions.
"Do you, now?" Rosmerta asked from behind him, her voice betraying nothing other than conciliatory sweetness.
The newest master of Novitiate One forbore to comment on the fact that he had not heard his lover enter the room. Since his conversation with Professor Snape after Ree's "final" letters had been read, he had known her secret. In fact, he had suspected it for some time before that conversation. And while he found her secretive ways and lack of emotional openness rather irksome at times, being involved with a vampire had its benefits. As a Zabini, Blaise knew them all quite well.
"Have you come to congratulate me then?"
Rosmerta sat down on the corner of the heavy wooden desk and reached out to caress the boy's face. "I fear not, my love. There is something I have to tell you about your old tutor."
"Tagliaferro?" he asked, concerned.
"The very same. It would seem that your mother's . . . disapproval of us has taken a murderous turn."
Blaise jerked his head away from Rosmerta's fingers. "What do you mean?"
"Did you not wonder, dearest, how a vampire came to be in Hogsmeade? You know that I do not permit such creatures the freedom to roam my streets without permission."
"What are you telling me?"
"Tagliaferro left me rather . . . disturbed. Oh, I did not kill him," the publican lied mildly, "in spite of his insult to me. But it seems that his need for vengeance led him to attack the wrong person."
"But Moody was clearly--I mean, it was apparently clear that he did not--"
"No, he didn't kill Tagliaferro. Did not the gentleman from the Ministry inform you of the particulars? They were remiss not to have given you a thorough report."
In actuality, it was Blaise who had, affecting terrible grief at the discovery of his master's death, asked the wizards from the Non-Magical Creatures unit of the Department of Auror Activities to leave off the description of the man's death. "It's enough, for tonight, to know the man is dead," he had told Messrs. Brown and Gulhilly. Blaise had assumed that the old Auror had managed to destroy his attacker. It was Alastor Moody.
"Who did it? Who killed my mother's servant?"
"I see. You were too ambitious to desire to know before, is that right?"
"Just tell me, damn you!"
"It seems that your very good friend Ree Potter had that unfortunate duty, my darling. It was she who discovered your master being attacked."
"Ree?" Blaise asked, standing.
Rosmerta stood, as well. "Yes. The poor girl was in abject despair over finding Alastor too late. She killed Tagliaferro as he was ripping out the man's throat."
The wizard did not respond. He stood rigidly as his lover enfolded him in the cool comfort of her arms and tried not to tremble in his fury. That bitch! If Draco hadn't made me swear not to kill her I'd--
"Ah, young Malfoy," Rosmerta whispered into Blaise's hair.
He cursed himself for leaving his thoughts so unguarded.
"He does esteem Ree highly, does he not? But then, that would explain it."
"Explain what?" the man asked, nuzzling the woman's neck.
"Explain what Terpsichore told me this evening."
Blaise tensed again, waiting. He hated always being the last to know important information.
"Narcissa Malfoy announced this evening at the Gryphon's Foote that she was filing a Claim of Courtship for Ree Potter on behalf of her son."
Blaise pulled away from Rosmerta. "I know that. I was there."
"Of course you were, darling."
"She did it without Draco's consent! He doesn't want Ree like that. He assured me that the entire announcement was a farce, a way to explain his argument with Snape!"
The vampire laughed, a triumphant sound. "Is that what the clever boy told you?"
"Then why, my dear, did the young man say, in the presence of witnesses as recounted by Terpsichore, that he felt confident his suit of the girl would not fail?"
Without warning, the Auror was ripping through the strings of Rosmerta's bodice with desperate fingers, pulling at them until he had her gown loose enough to slide over her body and pool around her ankles.
"Yes, that's right, my love. Take me. Take me," the witch gasped, allowing Blaise to press savage kisses down her neck and onto her breasts as she deftly unbuttoned his trousers. "I want you. I want you--oh!"
But the wizard did not hear his lover's cries. His every thought was of his need for Draco and his hatred of Ree. I will have you, I will have you, I will have you, he chanted in his mind.
Even if it meant that he had to destroy the object of his beloved's obsession, even if it meant turning oath-breaker in his dealings with she who had served as his benefactress for years, he would have Ree Potter's life.
The Widow Malfoy examined her flawless skin in the gilt mirror of Zoroastrid's dressing table. Her lover was sleeping now, having exorcized her displeasure with Narcissa in quite the most refreshing bout of erotic exercise they had engaged in for some time.
It was always a pleasure to push Zoroastrid so far that the witch lost all control of herself. Narcissa fancied herself the only person who had ever been able to compel such a response from the dignified matriarch of House Zabini. But then, I have had significant practice at it of late, haven't I?
Malfoy felt the triumph of yesterday evening keenly. Finally, my boy is behaving as a credit to his name.
Oh, the woman knew that her "little announcement," as she playfully referred to it, was not what Draco had wanted, but she knew her boy. Draco needs to possess things in order to feel secure.
And Narcissa needed the security that would come from the absorption of Ree Potter into her family, under my control.
With the coming of the Assembly, the witch felt she would finally be in a position to show Wizarding Britain what Lord Voldemort had failed to do, that a return to the old ways was a necessity if it were to remain strong.
Only the purest blood will yield the strongest magic. And soon, she reflected, allowing the confidence that Lucius had always displayed to adorn her visage, we will need all of the magic that we have left at our disposal.
Zoroastrid murmured softly in her sleep, disturbed by the coldness of the bed caused by Narcissa's absence.
Her lover sighed, gazing one last wistful time at the glass. I miss your face, my husband, she thought.
But some sacrifices were worth making toward the preservation of one's race.
"Ree Potter may bear the taint of a mudblood in her veins, but I know how to relieve her children of that burden. . . . Concelarus!" the witch whispered, tapping the book she had been reading before she had indulged herself with the looking glass.
The battered green leather volume of the second copy of the Grimoire Nigromantia faded into nothingness, and Narcissa shrank the invisible book and placed it in the locket around her neck with practiced fingers before returning to bed.
She needed her rest. She fully expected to entertain her honorary "nephew" in the morning. And, of course, there would be the increasing flurry of scrolls from the Ministry with which to deal.
Molly Weasley was furious with her husband. "How can you be so calm about it all?" she demanded of Arthur, who was wrapped around his wife and seemingly oblivious to her distress.
"Molly, she's old enough to keep out of trouble, and you haven't given her a moment's peace since she's been home."
"I'm her mother. I worry. It's unconscionable that she should stay out all night!"
"Perhaps," Arthur suggested as he placed gentle kisses on his wife's head, "Ginny went off to follow your advice."
"Oh, you!" the witch said, rolling away from her husband. "How can you even tease me about such a thing? Our Ginny! Really."
"She's a grown woman, Molly. And she is our daughter."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
Arthur snorted into his arm. "You've always accepted the appetites of our boys, dear. Why should Ginny be any different?"
Molly threw herself out of bed. "Arthur Weasley, don't talk rubbish! Ginevra would never dream of carrying on like a common--"
"Young, healthy, vigorous woman?" he completed in his most reasonable--and his most infuriating--tone of voice.
"Ginny is a good girl. She'll wait for marriage."
The Minister of Magic raised an eyebrow at his wife's hypocrisy, but wisely remained silent. Remaining silent had proved an invaluable skill in both his professional and personal lives.
"You don't really believe that our girl is--"
"Of course not, Molly dear. Before I came up to bed, I received an owl from Madame Rosmerta. Ginny is sleeping at the Three Broomsticks tonight--alone."
"You great beast!" Molly shouted, grabbing her pillow and hitting her husband with it repeatedly. "You've known where she was for hours, and you didn't tell me?"
The man laughed and caught his wife's arm, easily forcing her to surrender her pillow. "Be fair, Molly. Up until a few minutes ago, we were too preoccupied with ourselves to be worrying about Ginny's activities."
Mrs. Weasley glared at her husband, but only half-heartedly. She was almost ready to forgive his idiotic teasing now that she knew that her youngest child was safely under the protection of Rosmerta. "At least someone understands what is due maternal worrying!"
Yes, I'm certain that is Rosmerta's main concern, Arthur thought sarcastically, but he was soon too taken up with his wife's relieved attentions to consider the attributes of any other woman. Molly's consistency is my constant joy, he thought, gratefully taking his wife into his arms once more.
"--and the infernal inconsistency of women is something I will never comprehend!" Severus exclaimed, swinging out an arm in emphasis.
Mr. Ollivander had quickly seen the sense in getting his young guest well and truly pissed. The wizard had been so tightly wound before the old man had offered him a bit of Warder's that he had thought the boy might snap his spine, so stiffly was he sitting in his chair.
But now we're getting somewhere, Ollivander told himself as he surreptitiously cast a cleaning spell on the carpet where the contents of Severus' glass had sloshed.
"Do you mean to tell me that the young woman rejected your declaration of love, my boy? That is distressing, to be sure," he said, refilling his guest's glass.
Severus downed the alcohol in one gulp, a bit embarrassed that he had just made a mess like a common schoolboy. "Pardon me, what did you just say?"
"I asked you," Ollivander replied patiently, "if Miss Potter rejected your declaration of love."
The Potions master stopped his agitated pacing. The liquor had loosened his tongue to an appalling degree, and he had not really been listening to the questions of the wand-maker. This question, however, seemed important.
"Well, I did not make a declaration--not in so many words," he mumbled, wondering why he found it so easy to unburden himself to the other man.
Ollivander gave an inward chuckle. It's always the same with the sensitive ones, he thought, pleased with his company despite the fact that the boy was an idiot. They're so afraid of their own desires that they repress them in unhealthy ways.
His own sons, the man reflected, had been raised to appreciate the necessity of the well-taken risk in the arena of amorous battle. He could see that Snape had failed his only son terribly in this area, but given the wand that had chosen the elder man, it did not surprise him. Willow, seven inches, kneazle knuckles.
"Tell me, son, just how did you convey your regard for the girl?"
Severus started a bit at the other wizard's paternal tone. It was entirely outside of his experience, though not, in his current condition, unwelcome. "I told you--the Terrace, the story, the Declaration of Intent--surely these things were sufficient expressions of love."
"Give me that glass, young man," Ollivander ordered Severus.
He conjured a small dark blue bottle and upended its contents into the empty vessel. Handing it back, he bade the younger wizard to drink it.
He did, and yelped as smoke began to pour from his ears. "Gah! Pepper-Up! Why did you give me that?"
"Don't speak of it so derisively, Severus. It's Madame Rosmerta's finest."
The fog lifted from the Potions master immediately, but he ears did not ring. He would have known that it was one of Rosmerta's brews without having been told. Her potions have always been smoother than mine.
"Now then, you've had your rant and your carouse, and now it's time to consider matters clearly."
"I do not even begin to know how to . . . 'consider' matters, Mr. Ollivander. I have made a cock-up of the entire business."
"Oh, I quite agree with you there."
Calmer now, it suddenly occurred to Severus to find Ollivander's solicitousness suspicious. Almost rudely, he asked, "Why are you being so kind to me?"
The other wizard chuckled. "You wouldn't remember, of course, you were much too young when Mafalda--that was my wife's name, Merlin rest her--and I used to visit your family at Snape Manor. My wife and your grandmother were great friends."
"Were they?" Severus asked, wishing he had some memory of what perhaps had been happier days in his home. "Well."
"'Well', indeed! Tell me, how is Vedette these days?"
The wizard felt a childish pang of longing for his absent grandparent. "I honestly could not say. I have not seen her for years."
"Ah, that was always her way, wasn't it? She has always loved her travels. But come! I won't feel easy in my bones until we've sorted you out, boy. Vedette would never forgive me if I allowed you to persist in your ill-reasoned assumptions about your future."
Slightly offended, Severus took a rather stiff posture on the edge of the well-worn chair in which he had begun his drinking.
"Don't get your back up over my bluntness, young man. You can't possibly see how easily remedied your present predicament is. Trust me for a bit of a lesson."
"And what might your qualifications be to guide me?" the Potions master asked acerbically.
"Sixty-two years of a reasonably happy marriage, seven sons, nine daughters, thirty-one grandchildren, fifty-eight great-grandchildren, and the next generation about to be born any day now."
"Wand-making must indeed be a profitable enterprise."
"You have no idea."
I'm not certain I want one, the younger wizard thought. He had never considered having a family of his own.
Ollivander regarded him as if he knew what was in his mind. "You're never prepared for fatherhood, young man, but I don't doubt that with your passionate nature you'll have a family in no time."
Severus snorted. "You may be the only person to have ever considered me in that light."
"Oh, I doubt that. Now then, enough of this fiddle-faddling about. I know exactly what you need to do in order to remedy this mess of yours."
"Pray enlighten me, Mr. Ollivander," Severus replied as respectfully as he could.
The older wizard leaned forward in his chair and peered at his guest over the rims of his spectacles as if about to impart the most profound secret in all the world, and said, "You need to take what's yours."
Severus knew that he was going to need more than another dose of Pepper-Up Potion to get through his day as he entered his chamber just after dawn. At least I won't have a hangover, he thought, shucking his borrowed robe and hanging it over the hat stand by the door.
Before taking another step, however, he froze.
He was not alone.
There was the sound of bacon frying in a pan, but he did not smell it. Rather, the noxious odor of sulphur and eldritch assaulted his nostrils--the scents one might expect to linger after a banishment.
Uncertain of what to expect, and back in his customary cautious frame of mind, the former spy drew his wand and quietly snuck toward the kitchen.
Granny Jasper stood over a sizzling pan of meat and eggs on the stove.
Without looking up, the witch ordered, "Don't skulk, boy! This is your own home, you know!"
Severus was too astonished to say anything.
His grandmother put down the spatula she was holding and deftly relieved him of his wand, "tsking" at him as she did so.
"It's no wonder you couldn't deal with that annoying haunt on your own as easily flummoxed as you are!" she declared, stretching up to kiss her grandson's cheek and almost immediately pulling away in disgust. "By the Four Great Hells, boy! Go scrub out your mouth--you smell like a brewery!"
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