The Last Battlefield
Chapter 23 - Down the Pub
Gritting his teeth, rubbing the side of his head, he snatched the scroll from the deranged little owl's talons. "Fuck off!"
The damnable thing twittered at him and zoomed around his head in an erratic orbit. Severus swiped at the little beast once with the scroll before unrolling the thing and slipping on his spectacles.
It's Hermione. I'm sorry this has taken so long, but Viktor's taken a while to get back to me. Then, his wife's just had a baby (a girl, Ana Vasilka Krum, 19 inches long, eight pounds even - I'm so happy for him), so I expect he's been busy. God knows Ruby ran us ragged her first couple of months. (Have I ever told you how grateful we are to you?)
There's only one wizard named Pyotr Mosevich on record that he can find: the headmaster of Durmstrang from 1750 to 1762. He went on holiday to the African tropics in the summer of 1762 and never came back. Historians think he was eaten by a lethifold, but there is some convincing evidence that he married a native witch and just didn't come back. (Viktor and I both tried to track down information on his supposed descendants to see if there was any way to link them to Karkaroff, but the last one - who had blue eyes, interestingly enough - was eaten by a lethifold in 1947.)
I'm sorry there isn't anything useful here. Then, it sort of confirms that it is Karkaroff, doesn't it? It's almost as if he's reaching back for his comfortable past as headmaster and trying to disappear at the same time. (Apparently, Mosevich wasn't a very popular headmaster, and Durmstrang has sort of tried to brush aside everything about him, so not very many people know about him now.) The symbolism inherent in his use of the name is fascinating. When this whole situation is sorted, I'm sure there's a paper in this somewhere.
Ron says hi and wants to know when you two can play chess again. He's only had his brothers and me to play against for a while, and he's getting cranky. Ruby misses you, too, of course. Every time anyone mentions your name, she perks right up, and then gets sulky when she sees you're not there. You are coming to the Burrow for Christmas, aren't you? We want to see the two of you again.
Hope you're well. Things will get better soon enough. I'll make sure of it.
PS, I can't believe it's less than three weeks until Christmas! I haven't even done my shopping! Is there anything the two of you especially want?
Severus laid down the letter and rubbed his eyes. He glanced up as something fluffy winged his hand. The mad little owl was still making lunatic circles around his head.
"Would you kindly fuck off?"
It chirruped at him and landed on his head, bouncing up and down, still making excited noises.
"I said 'fuck off', you deranged avian!"
"What's--oh, Pig!" Harry left the kitchen door open behind him, still swinging his broom. The owl gave an almighty twitter and zoomed through the air to land on Harry's head instead.
"Yeah, you know Pig. He's Ron's owl."
"I don't know Pig. Since when have I been forced to submit to owl to contact my chess partner?"
Harry shrugged. Dropping his broom on the table with a clatter, he reached for the parchment. "What's he got to say?"
"Then why's he writing you?"
"It's not from him."
"Of course. Am I not allowed to have my own friends?"
Harry opened his mouth to say something. Instead, he snorted. "Never thought I'd hear that out of your mouth. So what's she got to say?"
"Hmm. Have a look." Severus folded himself into a chair and crossed his arms while Harry scanned the letter. A muscle in Harry's forehead twitched.
"You told her about Karkaroff before me?"
"Does it say that?"
"Well, the last time she was here, I hadn't heard anything about him yet."
"Ah." Severus shifted in his chair. "I thought her journalistic connections might come in handy."
"Liar. You just didn't want to tell me 'cause you thought I'd panic."
"I hadn't had the chance to tell you. Might I remind you, this was at a time when we were barely speaking?"
Harry's mouth formed a narrow line. "Still told her before you told me," he muttered.
"I saw an opportunity for assistance--"
"And just like a good little Slytherin you took it."
Severus' lips curled back from his teeth. "Can you make that sound any more insulting? I'm not quite sure you annihilated every speck of my pride the first time."
"Oh, like you haven't--" Harry broke off, pursing his mouth. "Sorry."
"I said I was sorry! What do you want me to do, get down on my knees and suck you off while I beg for your forgiveness?"
"Settle down!" Severus slammed his hand down on the table. "You will sit down like a civilised human being, take off those horrible robes--"
"And what, shag you into the floor?"
Severus pursed his mouth. "I don't find that funny."
"Wasn't meant to be." Harry gave a surly half-shrug. "'Least it'd show Sirius I don't need to be locked up."
"You've been on about this for four days."
"Wouldn't you be?" Harry flung an arm wide. "What would you say if everyone you loved started whispering behind your back that you need to be put away?"
"Given the circumstances, I'd have probably agreed. Don't give me that look, Mister Potter. I know perfectly well how mad I'd gone."
Harry snorted. He put his head down on the table, resting his forehead on his crossed arms. "No matter what happens to me, you have to have done it first, what? Pissing off Voldemort, going through... that, now going barking. Can I have something all to myself?"
"You've got me."
A pair of owlish glasses peeked up over Harry's orange-clad arm. He studied Severus for a moment. "What about Malfoy and that lot? And that wizard in Torquay?"
Tamping down the little flare of anger bursting behind his eyes, Severus said in a soft, calm voice, "None of them has ever had all of me."
"They shagged you good."
"So all I'm good for now is a shag, is that it? If this is the case, why on Earth are you still here? Unless you've been doing things to me in my sleep without my permission."
"Mister Potter, if I seriously suspected it, I wouldn't be here. As things stand, I have yet to wake in the morning with a particular difficulty walking."
Harry gaped. He gave a low snort and buried his face in his arms again. "You're mad. Completely, utterly mad. You know that, don't you?"
"I'd have to be to put up with you. Still, the first seven years were the hardest."
"Uh, yeah. I hated your guts."
"As I did yours. Why you've signed on for an undetermined number more I doubt I shall ever properly understand."
Harry said nothing, only sighed. After a long moment, he mumbled, "You're not going to let him do it, are you?"
"I'm afraid I have no control in the matter."
"What?" Harry bolted upright. "But--but you're my husband--"
"Partner. Informal partner. In the eyes of the law, at least. We haven't even got one of those bloody certificates."
"But you're my maritus. That's got to count for something, hasn't it?"
Severus closed his eyes, leaning back in his chair. His jaw didn't want to move, to let him speak. "I'm afraid it doesn't. Your godfather is your next of kin."
"They can't just hand everything over to him!"
"I'm afraid that's what annulment means." Severus swallowed and took a short breath. "Unless you can sort out a way to make my watch a legally binding contract for us once more."
"Maybe I will!" Harry grabbed his broom. Twisting to his feet, he muttered, "Wasn't nearly a Slytherin for nothing, y'know."
"For Merlin's sake, I hope you do," Severus said under his breath.
"Then you had best get cracking. Unless you think you truly do belong in Saint Mungo's."
Harry licked his lips. "So what if I do?" he muttered, slinking towards the back door once again.
Severus frowned to himself. Convincing the Ministry to re-ratify the contract hovered in his brain, just out of reach. He chewed his lip, pondering whether Arthur, Blaise, or that insufferable middle Weasley might be able to correct the issue. A scratching at the window jerked his attention away.
An owl he didn't recognise - another one - hovered there. Its heavy talons scraped the glass; a scroll was tied to its leg. As soon as Pig saw it, he buzzed around the room again, hooting like a nutter.
"Settle down!" Severus shot the daft bird a look and marched over to the window to let the other one in. It shot Pig a filthy look as well and lighted on Severus' arm, holding its foot out with a dignified hoot. Severus smirked to himself as he freed the scroll.
The second owl flapped to one of the chairs and stuck its head under its wing. One yellow eye remained fixed on Pig, who twittered and dive-bombed his peer until a heavy wing to the side of the head knocked him in a loop. He gave a single confused chirrup and landed on the table with his legs in the air.
Severus chuckled to himself. He unrolled the scroll and pushed his glasses back into place.
I really hate to bother you, but I've got something important I really need to talk to you about. Is there any way you can meet me someplace tonight after the apothecary closes? I'd sort of like to talk to you about it alone, not around Mum and Dad or Harry or anyone. Otherwise, I'd come and see you (not that I even know how to get there - it's like some state secret).
Please say yes. This is really important.
He frowned. "Wonder what Arsenius is up to now?"
Pushing himself to his feet, he gathered up the letters and headed for Perditus' study to write two very different replies, one owl following with a second clutched in its talons.
Severus ignored Harry, choking back a large glass of that awful, awful substance called milk and scraping up the last of his roast pork.
"Worried it's going to escape, Sev?"
Severus grunted at him. He wiped his mouth on his napkin and swallowed. "I've a meeting to get to."
"Miss Weasley. She said she's got something important to tell me, meeting her down the pub at eight."
"Oh! All right." Harry pulled out his watch. "It's half seven now. We'd best get--"
"She asked to see me alone."
Harry's fork clattered against his plate. "What?"
"I assume it's something to do with Arsenius. I shan't be late. If it looks as though things might run long, I'll bring her back here. You don't need to look at me like that. It's not as if I've sworn back onto women, you know."
Harry's face didn't change. The skin beneath his eyes lay ringed and strained, his mouth drawn down at the corners, his hair falling in his eyes. He stared at his plate. Severus' heart contracted.
"They're my friends. Why aren't they owling me?"
"It's all right. You... go on." He pushed his chair back. "I'll be flying, I suppose."
"It's dark out. You'll hurt yourself."
"It's not as if there's anyone left to care, is it?"
But he was gone. The kitchen door slammed behind him. Severus leaned forward, rubbing his temples in tiny circles. "Why couldn't you have fallen for someone your own age, old boy?"
Upstairs, he changed into his Muggle clothes as quickly as he could. Grumbling at the trousers, he pulled his coat tight around him and took the stairs one slow step at a time. After a quick check to make sure his wand was where he could reach it should the worst happen, he stepped outside.
The wind bit through his hair, driving icy teeth into his scalp and ears. Flipping up his collar, he squinted up at the overcast sky. "Harry?"
Only the wind answered.
"I'm going now. I'll be back soon. If anything happens, I'm only down the pub."
From the corner of his eye, he thought he caught a flash of orange hovering near the old oak tree. By the time he turned to look, though, it was gone. Severus pulled his collar around his chin to hide his frown. He Disapparated.
The alleyway was, this time, free of drunks watering the brickwork. The stench, however, attested to the visits of many in recent days. Severus fished a handkerchief from his pocket and held it over his nose as he hurried through to the pub and the cleaner air he hoped to find there.
What he found, instead, was half the village and a thick haze of blue. Sighing, he swooped up to the bar. Lester nodded, motioning with his pipe.
"Little redheaded girl?"
"You looking for a little redheaded girl? 'Bout six feet tall? She said she was waiting for someone tall and probably wearing a lot of black."
"Lester, stop bothering him!" Millie rolled her eyes. "She's at the back, same booth you always haunt. Miracle she got it tonight, there's football on."
"Ah," Severus muttered, "football. Of course."
She gave him an odd look, but only shook her head. "You want another shandy?"
"How on Earth can you remember things like that?"
"Same way I keep this lot's drinks straight." She motioned to the pub's denizens. Several lifted their pints and grinned at her. "So, another shandy, or d'you want to show that little girl you're a proper man?"
"I'll have a cider, thank you very much, and for your information I'm as queer as a two-Galleon coin!"
"As a what?"
Severus bit his tongue. "A two-pound coin," he snapped.
Millie snorted into her arm; Lester choked on his pipe. Reaching into the register, Millie fished out a large silver-and-brass coin and dropped it on the counter. "Not too keen on the blokes, are you, mate? Had these for ages now."
Severus peered at it. Sure enough, it read "two pounds". He groaned to himself. "I meant three."
"Oh, well, that makes all the difference, doesn't it?" Millie scooped the coin off the counter and dropped it back into the register, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. "Lester, you got one of those three-pound coins on you?"
"Millie! Give the man his drink, let him be." Lester flashed Severus a grin. He pointed his pipe towards the booth at the back. "You'd best get back there. Your friend looked a little upset."
"Hmm. Thank you." Severus peeled one of the "five" notes from the lump in his pocket, slammed it down, and stomped his way between the tables full of football-happy twits.
He stopped just next to the table and gave a slight bow. "Miss Weasley."
She looked up at him. Her eyes were hollow and red, as though she'd been crying. Several curls were loose from her ponytail. She'd pulled one knee up onto the seat and sat there, hugging it. Her drink was untouched. "Hi," she whispered just as a roar went up and the glowing box in the corner screamed, "GOAL!"
Scowling, Severus eased himself into the seat across from her. "This hasn't got anything to do with Arsenius, has it?"
She shook her head and buried her face in the circle of her arms.
"Spit it out, then."
Ginny said nothing.
"I said, 'spit it out'! I've come all the way here. It's a bit rude to make me do that and then refuse to speak a word."
"Sorry." She reached out and picked up her drink. Her hand was shaking so much, though, that it slopped all down the front of her purple jumper. "Oh, Hell."
"Put it down."
"Now tell me what's got me all the way out here or I'm going back home."
"Please don't." She bit her lip. "I... I saw a mediwitch today..." She trailed off, fresh tears starting to swell in her eyes.
Severus slumped. "Oh, bloody Hell, girl. What happened? Forget to check your ingredients?"
"No! No, it's nothing like that. Only, I..." She looked away. "I forgot to take it a couple of times. I s'pose the charms didn't get cast properly."
"Or you simply didn't bother at all."
"Yeah." She reached for her pint again. Severus put a hand on top of it.
"I'll take this, thank you very much." It whined as he dragged it across the table. Leaning forward onto his clasped hands, he growled, "And why, might I ask, did you--?"
"Sit up, have your drink here." A second glass thumped down in front of him. Severus glared upwards.
"Do you mind? We're having a private conversation, here!"
Millie snorted. "Fine, fine, see if I care." She dropped three pounds in two coins onto the table and shuffled off, muttering, "Manners these days, bad enough from the young people..."
Taking a deep breath and dropping his head, he muttered, "Now, tell me, why is it that of all the people in the world, you've come to me for advice on this subject? In case you haven't noticed, I'm not precisely in a position to know a great deal about either pregnancy or how to get there."
"That's not what you told me. You said you thought you'd gotten that woman--"
"Yes, yes, that's completely beside the point. It has no relevancy to the situation now."
"Sorry. I thought you'd understand. I'll go." She untangled herself from her leg and started to slide out from the booth.
"Miss Weasley, I didn't tell you to go. I simply fail to understand why your mind should leap to me of all people."
"Because you knew about the potion. And you weren't afraid to tell me that you'd bollocksed up, all right? And I can't go to Mum and Dad because they'll kill me, and I can't go to Hermione or Ron because they'll tell Mum and Dad, and Fred and George would just think it's a big joke, and Bill's not here, and Charlie's not here either, and we won't even get into Percy, and... I don't know who else to talk to!" She hiccoughed and screwed up her face, turning red as the first squeaks of a sob escaped through her nose.
"Settle down. I only asked."
"Well, you're horrible! You can't ask nicely, can you?" Ginny scrubbed at her face with her sleeve. "You're exactly the same as you ever were. I don't know why I ever thought I liked you!"
"Of course I'm the same as ever! Now sit down, wipe off your face, and tell me what you plan to do. Not as if I haven't had young girls come crying to me with this sort of thing before."
Ginny frowned at him. "What are you talking about?"
"One doesn't spend long as Head of House without having some teary young thing come to him with a sad story about firewhisky and botched charms."
"Oh." She gave him a nervous glance. "Wh-what did you do about it?"
"Normally? Listened to their tales of woe, shouted at them until I was sure they'd got the point, and gave them advice on the best course of action."
"Tell their parents, and typically recommend an abortifacient. These were girls as young as fourteen, mind. One was twelve."
"Shame, really. Intelligent girl, lovely personality. Didn't have to say no twice; always made sure she was understood the first time."
Ginny giggled, shielding the weak sound with her hand. "Did I know her?"
"No. She left years before you'd even started. Moved to Germany to study local history last I heard."
"Hmm." Ginny peeked up through her lashes. "You're not... you're not going to tell Mum and Dad, are you?"
"Miss Weasley, I didn't even tell the husband of the woman I supposedly impregnated. Not that he didn't know about it, but the principle stands."
Her eyes went wide. "Her husband?"
"Of course. Do you honestly believe I would link myself intimately with a woman without having some alternate means of interest at the ready?"
"It was an experiment that went horribly wrong. Let's leave it at that, shall we?"
Ginny nodded, her eyes still bugging out of her head. "Geez, suddenly I don't feel so bad anymore."
Severus arched an eyebrow. "Thank you for that brilliant piece of insight. I feel truly vindicated for my mistakes now."
She shrugged. "Sorry."
Severus took a sip of his cider. With a terse sigh, he asked, "So have you given the situation any thought?"
She shook her head. "I didn't want to think about it until today."
"You've had several hours. Let me guess, you've deliberately avoided thinking about it at all, haven't you?"
Ginny nodded. "Got all the ingredient jars polished."
"Did the mediwitch say anything?"
"She gave me a few pamphlets. Haven't looked at them yet."
"Ah." Severus folded his hands on the table. "Let me tell you what they'll say, then. One will preach the wonders of raising a child. As I know for a fact you've spent time with your niece, you will know that this is utter bollocks. Infants are noisy, consume everything in their path - your sanity included, and create the most offensive variety of sounds and odours known to mankind."
"Silence. Simply because I am mentally equipped to deal with children--"
"Hermione told me you were fighting with Ruby over a crayon."
"--That does not mean anybody else is." He growled low in his throat, making a mental note to have a chat with Hermione in the near future. "Is that clear?"
"Very good. Now, the second option you will discover is adoption. This gives you the worst of both worlds, at least if the child is deposited in the care of strangers. You will suffer all the slings and arrows of pregnancy, including profound vomiting every morning for the next five months, backaches, mood swings, and a complete inability to partake in the fruits of fermentation." He lifted his glass and took a drink to illustrate his point.
"In addition, you will have no control over what happens to the whelp, thus thrusting onto the world the potential for yet another screeching, ill-educated brat begging to leach the soul from the very earth beneath its feet."
"So if I kept it that wouldn't happen?"
"I didn't say that, I only said you would be thrusting the potential onto the world."
"You've rehearsed this, haven't you?"
"Barely a dozen times. Hold your tongue, girl, let me finish." He took another sip. "The third, and typically final, option is to, ah, induce a miscarriage." His mouth twisted into a small knot.
"You don't sound too happy about that one."
"We'll say I let Poppy handle that portion of events and leave it at that, shall we?"
"I already told you to leave it, Miss Weasley."
She shook her head. "What happened?"
"Nothing of your concern. If you ask me another question on the subject, I shall Disapparate here and now and leave you to modify every single memory in this building."
"Harry's right. You are a git."
"You doubted him?" The corners of Severus' mouth twitched when a tiny smile appeared on her tear-streaked face. "Have you any other questions?"
"I don't know." Her smile vanished. She pulled her leg up to her chest again and huddled against it. "What did your parents say about that woman?"
"I never told them. I've no idea what my mother would have said as she'd been dead for nearly twenty years, but my father would have treated me even more like a pariah than he already did, and my Gran would have boxed me around the ears."
Ginny nodded. "Um, how old were you... y'know... first time...?"
"Fifteen. By a matter of hours."
She winced. "That's young."
Pushing a few loose curls out of her face, Ginny muttered, "Sixteen, almost seventeen. D'you remember Justin Finch-Fletchley?"
"Him. Out behind... behind the greenhouses. Wasn't too keen on it, hurt too much. Sort of had to," she took a breath, "learn to like it."
"Ah." Severus lowered his eyes. "Yes, I think I can sympathise with that assessment."
"Not at first, no."
"I thought blokes always liked it. Then, I suppose it'd be a little more like us for--I mean--I--"
"Point taken, and probably yes. Might we get off the subject of sex and back onto the consequences of said activity?"
"Sorry." Ginny dropped her face and fell silent.
"Have you any thoughts?"
"No, not rea--hang on." She peered at him with an odd glint in her eyes. "Professor, have you ever wanted kids?"
Severus arched an eyebrow and glowered down his nose. "Miss Weasley, I see precisely where this is going--"
"No! Listen to me! I've seen you with Ruby enough times to know how much you love babies. If you took him - or her, I suppose, I didn't ask - you'd be able to make sure he was raised properly. I know you'd take care of him."
Severus tried to swallow hard enough to force his fluttering heart back where it ought to be. "Miss Weasley--"
"Please, Professor! He'll even look a little like you. Black hair, dark eyes. He might even get Dad's nose, and he'd look exactly like you."
"I know you want a family. I can see it every time you've got Ruby. Harry loves her, too. You two could take care of a baby. You'd love it. Please, just think about it, will you?"
"This is wholly irresponsible!"
"If I was responsible, d'you think I'd have to ask you in the first place?"
Severus tried to sneer. It got stuck in what he suspected was a slack-lipped stare of shock. No, no, no! You cannot do this, Severus! It's entirely out of the question! "I can't."
"If I were to make a decision of this magnitude without consulting Harry--"
"You don't have to make a decision. Only, think about it, all right? You can follow me around the whole time, tell me what to eat, what I can't brew, shout at me all you want for being a stupid, irresponsible teenager. Only, think about it. Please. I don't want to have to give him to strangers, and I don't know if I want to give him up entirely yet."
"What about your young Mister Yao?"
A shudder went through Ginny's body. "Don't talk to me about that lying, thieving bastard."
"You've parted on poor terms, then?"
"You might say that."
"Ah. So the concept of a marriage of convenience is out of the question then."
"Only if you're offering," Ginny sulked. She snorted. "There's a thought, I marry you, and you and Harry raise the baby. Mum'd have a stroke."
"So would I, I daresay! And Harry!"
"It'd work, wouldn't it?"
"It would not! I refuse to take part in a marriage of convenience when--"
"I know, I know. I wasn't serious. God." She rested her forehead on the table. "I don't know what to do. Hell, right now I think I would marry you just so Mum won't kill me. Or you, either, once she got word you knew about it."
"Nobody is going to be killed."
She looked at him.
Severus gritted his teeth. "That is little more than a cell culture at this moment and shall be for quite some time yet. It can hardly be termed killing."
"Then why did you let Madam Pomfrey handle that sort of thing?"
"For reasons," he growled, "you shall only understand when you have attempted to play God and inadvertently slaughtered a child who was both wanted and anticipated. You asked what atrocities I'd committed through misuse of potions? You've got two now."
The blood rushed from Ginny's skin. She dropped her head, staring at the table. "Oh."
"Now d'you understand why I might be a bit reluctant to perform said duties myself?"
"Yeah," she whispered. "Sorry."
"I also ask you not to mention this to anybody. Not even Mister Potter knows, and I'd prefer to keep it that way."
"Because I said so."
"All right." Ginny rubbed her nose on her sleeve. "You'll think about it, right? I wouldn't even bother you about anything as long as you let me see him sometimes. Maybe like an aunt? Or--or a godmother?"
"Please, Professor? Just in case I want to...?"
Her warm brown eyes, tense and scared and brittle, locked with his. She reached a hand across the table to him. Severus' heart seemed to have broken into a thousand pieces, every one of them pounding in a different point of his body. With a little sigh and a flash of utter joy he did his best to deny, he laid his hand over hers.
"I shall think about it. It will also depend on what Harry--"
"Don't tell Harry. Not yet, anyway. Please. I don't want anyone to know."
"Harry shall have to--"
"Just... give me until New Year's, okay? I'll make up my mind by then."
"And how do you expect me to get Harry's opinion without telling him?"
"I don't know. You're clever, you'll think of something."
"Miss Weasley, I'm upset with you as things stand. I do not suggest you make any more attempts to gain my ire."
"Sorry." She nestled her chin on her free hand. "God. This wasn't supposed to happen to me."
"And yet it did. You're not the first I've heard say that. With luck, you'll be the last."
Ginny gave a lopsided sort of frown. Another roar went up in the crowd around them. She glanced up at him. "We're a lot alike, Professor, aren't we?"
"Don't know what you're talking about."
"We both like potions; we both like drawing; we've both got this mess. Next thing I know, you'll be telling me about the big brother who always picked on you."
Severus jerked his hand away. In silence, he drained his cider and got to his feet. "If you'll excuse me, I have to be getting home."
"Why?" Her brow furrowed. "Did I say something?"
"I don't like leaving Harry. He's... not terribly stable."
"Oh. Right." Ginny grabbed a large, squashy anorak from the seat and slid out of the booth as well. She scooped up Severus' change and held it out. He shook his head and turned on his heel. Her footsteps hurried to catch him.
"Don't you want it?"
"No. I've got plenty." He started to turn the doorknob.
"Oi! Leaving already?" Millie called. "Football's not finished yet!"
"There are things more important than idiot games." Before the crowd could revolt, Severus pushed through the door and out into the crisp, frigid night. The clouds were thicker, whiter. Something tiny tickled the tip of his nose.
"Snow!" Ginny breathed. "It's going to snow!"
"Hmm. Best you get home then." He glanced at her. "Button your coat, you silly girl! D'you want to get sick?"
Rolling her eyes, Ginny closed her anorak and yanked the zipper to her throat.
"And find a hat. If I'm going to be raising your whelp, I'd rather you not make your own attempts to traumatise him before he's even seen light of day."
Ginny's nose wrinkled in a grin. She threw her arms around Severus and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Thank you," she murmured into his neck.
"Hmph." He gave her a pat on the back, not entirely willing to push her away. "Better me than someone with no aptitude for the vocation."
"D'you think Harry'll agree?"
"I don't know. I see no reason why not, but I shouldn't like to say so outright."
"Hmm." Untangling her long arms from their death grip on his back, Ginny shuffled backwards a few steps. She shifted from foot to foot. "God, never thought any of this would ever happen to me."
"I'll decide by New Year's, I promise."
"Good. Should you need to tell your parents..."
"Only my duty as co-conspirator."
She giggled. Planting another kiss on his cheek, she backed off again. "I need to get home. My burner ought to be going out soon."
Severus smirked. "Take care of yourself. Otherwise, I'm going to have words for you."
She grinned. A moment later, her trainers were pounding their way up the sidewalk in a tattoo he could have almost described as giddy.
His smirk grew to a smile. Strolling out of the village, Severus found his thoughts wandering to a small, black-haired, dark-eyed child - that idiot Sheng's blood or not - and falling asleep with a son of his own clutched in his arms.
At the house, he scanned the sky. There was no sign of Harry. "Harry?"
"I'm right here."
Severus jumped and turned on his heel. Harry stood there, his mouth pulled thin in a sulk, broom in hand and the hood of his Quidditch robes shadowing his eyes. "Have fun with my friends without me?"
"Would have had more with you."
Harry glanced up for an instant. He cocked his head. "You look awfully happy. Good news?"
"You might say that."
"Care to tell me?"
Severus' smile grew wider. He lifted Harry's chin with the side of his finger and pressed a soft kiss to his mouth. Harry barely flinched. "I think," Severus murmured, "things are starting to sort themselves out."
Harry sneezed. Again. "Why the Hell are we up here again?"
"I've told you this a hundred times, Mister Potter." Severus flicked the sheet from a stack of books. Dust rose up in a heavy cloud that made Harry sneeze some more. Severus ran a finger over the spines, squinting. "I wish to see if my toys were moved up here."
"Why do you think? I don't want them going to waste, now, do I?"
"Er, Sev, you had a rocking thestral. That's not exactly the sort of thing you just go down the shops and buy."
"Precisely. And that thestral was made for me by... well, some friend of the family or other. I think it was one of Gran's colleagues."
Harry muttered something that sounded an awful lot like, "Nutters," and buried his upper body in a cabinet. He yelped. "Boggart!"
Sure enough, a flicker of movement appeared in the depths of the cabinet. Harry pulled back, only to be followed by a horrible, hooded thing with loud, rattling breath. It pushed back its hood. Eversor stared at them, his mouth forced into a round, toothed hole like a lamprey's.
With a little sigh, Severus cupped his chin, holding his elbow in his other hand. "You know, there was a time when a boggart truly was a frightening thing. They get more and more stupid every year."
"Tell me about it." Harry gave the boggart a cool look. It seemed a bit confused. Harry jumped a little when a loud crack sounded through the cluttered attic and the Eversor-Dementor was replaced by something that resembled nothing less than half a werewolf rising out of a bowl. It gave a grating screech, thrashing as it tried to move. It didn't budge.
Harry snorted and covered his mouth with his hand. "I didn't know you were still scared of Remus."
"Him, no. Being raked down by an enraged werewolf, yes. Is that my Pensieve?"
Harry shrugged. "Wasn't exactly fun," he sulked.
"I agree wholeheartedly." Twisting his mouth into an annoyed sneer, Severus cleared his throat. "Ought we put it out of its misery?"
Two bellows of, "Riddikulus!" and a puff of smoke later, the attic seemed to be more or less free of boggart infestation.
"Not as many pests here as I'd have thought," Harry said, digging through the cabinet once again. "The whole house, I mean."
"It is rather clean on that front, isn't it?" Severus shook out another sheet, once again sending a grey mist of dust into the air. "One of Grandfather Dominus' hobbies was extermination of household pests. Viatrix finally got sick of him releasing doxies in her sitting room so she set up some anti-magical creature wards. I suppose they're still holding."
"Viatrix was pretty cool for someone who married her cousin, wasn't she?"
Severus snorted. "Quite."
"I, um, I saw your mum had moved in with them. She looked pretty happy there."
"Hmm. Can't say I've paid them much attention."
"Oh. Well, she does. She's always chatting with them whenever I see her. Saw her talking with... um, it's Anne, right?"
"She'd come up to visit. I'd never really seen any of them move around before, um, before your folks' picture came down."
Severus smiled to himself. "No, they didn't. I can't remember more than a few cases of them moving around before that. Perhaps they're finally tired of it."
"Hmm." Harry pulled himself out of the cabinet and squeezed behind it. A loud ripple of shaken fabric cut through the room, and a thunderhead of dust rose into the air. "Ha!"
"There's a huge box of toys and your thestral back here! And a door."
Severus nearly broke his neck tripping over piles of furniture and boxes. "Don't touch that door! There's no telling what's behind it!"
"Why? What's--oh, shit. That's his room, isn't it?"
"What else would it be?" Severus squeezed past Harry, letting his hand run over the thestral's mane, and leaned against the door for a moment, listening. He heard nothing; he wasn't entirely sure what he expected to hear, save perhaps a hiss of laughter or derision.
"I think, Mister Potter," he murmured, "we would do best to fetch what we came for and leave."
"Because this was the Dark Lord's room!"
"And? He's not using it now, is he?"
Severus turned his head to give Harry an un-amused look. Harry batted his eyes, smiling in a way far too innocent for any true innocence.
"Your Gryffindor idiocy never fails to astound me, Potter."
"Come on, aren't you at least a little bit curious?"
"The one time I tried to get into this room, Gran nearly tossed me down the stairs. She would have, too, if I hadn't got down them sharpish."
"How old were you?"
"Yes, six. Have you got a problem with that?"
"Uh, Sev? Given that between us we killed him, I think that you've probably learned enough in the last four decades--"
"Hasn't been that long!"
"--That we'll probably be okay. I mean, someone's been up here since he left, right?"
"What about Philia? I don't think she'd have left a room full of unnamable horrors sitting above her bedroom without having a look at it, do you?"
Severus turned his head a few scant degrees to peer at Harry. There was a glimmer in his green eyes that Severus hadn't seen in a very, very long time. A smile twitched on Severus' lips, and the hollow of his chest felt as though it had just been filled with feathers. "Mister Potter, if I didn't know better, I'd say you sounded like your old, impertinent self just then."
Severus swooped in and pecked him on the mouth. "Ten points from Gryffindor for cheek."
Harry frowned up at him. "Are you feeling all right? You've been giddy ever since you went down the pub. S'been four days, you're starting to worry me."
"And why should it worry you that I've had my spirits lifted?"
"Better than having your robe lifted. Would be too weird to think about you... um, yeah, with Ginny."
"What is so upsetting about the idea of me in the company of a pretty young girl?"
"Well." Harry tossed Severus' arm off his shoulder so he could inch closer to the door. "The fact that I spent a night snogging my brains out with her is a start."
"Ah, yes, I seem to recall you mentioning something about that. It went something like this?" Severus grabbed Harry by the waist and bent him back against a mouldering armoire. Harry yelped. He grabbed hold of Severus' shoulders to steady himself. They stared at each other, breathing a little hard, faces a bare inch apart.
"Yeah," Harry panted. He swallowed. "Something like that."
Severus held his breath. Harry shuffled his feet; it pressed him closer, close enough for the heat lingering on his skin to work its way through Severus' robes. Severus cocked his head. Their lips brushed, the barest flutter of surface against moist surface. A faint moan came from Severus' throat. He shifted his grip as Harry's hands found a firmer hold on his shoulders.
"You've no idea," Severus breathed.
"Have a bit."
Their mouths met again, fierce, starving, tiny whimpers and grunts breaking the silence of the attic. Over their heads, a handful of pigeons warbled and took flight in a flapping thunder of wings. Severus' fingers curled into claws. One hand started to work Harry's shirt from his jeans, stroking tensed flesh and the faint curve of his hip. Harry shuddered in his grasp.
"Wait, stop." Two hands came to rest in the middle of Severus' chest. They held him back. "I'm sorry," Harry whispered.
Harry shrugged. "You know." He slipped out from the cage of Severus' arms and leaned his face against the door to Lord Voldemort's old room. "M'sorry. I want to."
"As do I."
Harry gave him a bitter smile. He turned back to the door, pulling his wand from his pocket. "Feel up to picking through Voldemort's old pants drawer?"
"Rather pick through your pants if it's all the same."
Harry said nothing, only flashed the same bitter smile he had a moment before. Flicking his wand at the door, he muttered a few Unlocking Charms. One or more must have been correct because there came a rapid series of popping noises. The door inched open with a rusty squeal.
"Um," Harry said, "how 'bout you go in first? You, um, you're more likely to know what the wards are like."
"Oh, no, Mister I'm-A-Big-Brave-Gryffindor, this is your scheme."
"Right. Right. Um." Harry rubbed his nose on his sleeve. "Both together?"
"Hmm. Very well. Suppose if we're going to die, we might as well go in a cohesive unit." Severus pushed the door open all the way. It squawked at him. The room beyond lay shrouded in shadows, a corner here and there exposed by the light trickling in from the rest of the attic and from the lone window, thick with dust. Severus reached inside with a skittish hand and groped about with his wand until a bit of glass clinked and the room burst into dusky brilliance as half a dozen gaslights popped to life.
"Um?" Harry blinked at the small room; Severus frowned at it. "Not quite what I was expecting from the Darkest wizard in a thousand years."
Indeed, apart from a thick layer of dust the room was as tidy as it ever could have been. A single bed sat next to a small desk beneath the tiny window. It was impossible to tell what colour the bedspread was, but it bore an odd, nubby pattern that almost looked like overgrown flowers. A few pictures hung on the walls; the movements of the photographs within were all but lost in the layers of grime they bore. A heavy cauldron sat upside-down on a modest dresser with a yellowing mirror. Nowhere could Severus see any sign of Slytherin markings or serpents or even a hint of a scale.
He snorted. "Quite."
"You'd think he'd have at least had a bit of style, wouldn't you?"
"I don't know. What club did he follow?"
Severus turned his head to stare at Harry. "You're looking into the sanctum sanctorum of the Dark Lord, and you're asking about his Quidditch preference?"
"Oh, bloody Hell." Severus dragged a hand down the middle of his face. "If you'd had your way, that whole mess down Hogsmeade would have been settled by who caught the Snitch, wouldn't it?"
Harry shrugged. "Wouldn't have minded. Might not have woken up in hospital with my lung cut to ribbons."
"You're the one who married me, mate." Harry stepped inside. When he neither imploded, nor exploded, nor melted into goo, he took another. His trainers left dark prints in the grey mat covering the floor. A braided rug much like the one in the master bedroom sat in the middle of the floor. Harry stopped in the centre of it, looking around and flipping his wand back and forth between two fingers.
"Y'know, I was really sort of expecting more."
"Yes, the security measures do seem somewhat lax. Then, I suppose Gran forbade him from erecting anything too lethal."
"Or he might have felt safe enough without it."
Severus snorted. "Thus proving that you didn't know him personally. The monster was as paranoid as it was possible to be."
"Well, maybe he wasn't back then. Are you coming in?"
"Of course I'm coming in!" Severus paused in the doorway a moment longer. "I'm still looking."
"You can see better in here." Harry took one more glance around and stepped over to the dresser. He had the first drawer halfway open before Severus could stop him.
"What are you doing?" Severus hissed.
"Looking." Harry shook his hand free of Severus' grip and slid the drawer the rest of the way out. With a scowl of concentration, he picked through the contents. "Pants, socks, vests. I know, I know, don't say it, I'll have nightmares."
"Nightmares about leafing through the Dark Lord's underwear?"
A long, slow shudder went through Harry's back. "I told you not to say it!"
"You deserve it! Honestly, of all the presumptuous things to do--"
"How is it presumptuous? He doesn't exactly care anymore!"
"And what if these had been warded?"
Harry paused. He looked at Severus out the corner of his eye. "Er, right. Sev, why in Hell would he need to ward his pants?"
Severus snarled. "That's for him to know and some idiot Gryffindor to fall to dust over!"
"Look, they're pants. Boring ones, too. Here." Harry pushed a handful of thin white cotton into Severus' hand. A short sleeve dangled from the mess. "You go and clean off those pictures. They might be worth looking at, all right?"
"Have you any idea how unspeakably reckless--?"
"Yeah. Learned a few things sneaking around after hours. And I can defend myself, you know. Or do I need to bring Voldemort back from the dead and prove it again?"
"I'd rather you didn't." Turning on his heel, Severus marched over to the nearest photograph and raked at the dusty glass with the shirt. A young woman in Holyhead Harpies robes started behind it and waved her fist at him before doing a double take to her right and swooping away. An unintelligible signature sat on the lower left corner.
"I seem to have discovered his Quidditch affiliation," Severus said in a bored tone.
"How did you know?" Severus glanced over at Harry, who was into another drawer. Harry held up a deep green pencil case with a large gold talon on the front.
"Not what you'd expect, is it? I reckoned he'd have followed Falmouth if anyone."
"I find that comment in exceedingly poor taste, Mister Potter."
"What? Not a mark against you to follow the same club, is it?"
"I suggest you close your mouth while you've still got it!" Severus turned back to the wall and scraped the dust from another photo of another Quidditch twit. He'd finished the entire row of them before he glanced over at the dresser again. A blue woolly jumper hung from the mirror, and a pair of trousers lay in a messy pile on the floor. Severus snorted.
"Oh, nothing, nothing. Only, I can't help but picture how our dear Lord Voldemort would react to your tossing his effects about like flotsam."
"You mean he'd hex the daylights out of me, stab me with a dagger, and sulk for an hour, right?"
Severus smirked. "Something like that."
Harry chuckled and proceeded to dump an armload of folded shirts on the floor. He shifted his feet, his trainers settling in the middle of the pile as he crouched to sort through another of the drawers. Severus forced himself to look away as Harry leaned forward, leaving his arse outlined against his jeans. He dragged the old (and no longer white) shirt over the glass in a photograph sitting on the desk. It fell to the floor and smashed when Harry yelped. A thump echoed out from the dresser.
"OW!" Harry pulled his upper body out of the drawer, rubbing his head with one hand and clutching a book in the other. (To be more precise, the book was clutching him.) "Damn thing bit me! Made me knock my head!"
"Give it here." Severus swept over and knelt beside him. Indeed, the book had clamped down. With a little sigh, he drew a finger down its spine. It gave a little shudder and fell to the floor, open.
"Monster Book of Monsters?" Harry grumped.
"Hardly. Leave it to the Dark Lord to give his diary a taste for human flesh."
"Whoa!" Harry fell back on his hands. "I've already run into his diary once before, mate. You keep that thing away from me!"
Severus gave him a weary look. "I hardly think he's got a basilisk squirreled away in his desk, Potter." Still, he made sure the thing was nowhere near his face as he flicked a page with a wary fingertip.
"Are the pages blank?"
"No. His penmanship was atrocious." Severus fished in his pocket until he came up with his glasses and slipped them on his nose. He still had to squint to make out what he was reading.
7 June, 1947
Harpies over Magpies today, 230-180. Grand! Got an autograph from their new Seeker, a rather fetching young witch named Glynnis Griffiths. Would like to have spent more time chatting with her after the match, but Curtus wasn't happy it had run five hours so we returned before I'd really got my fill of things. It's not so bad, I suppose. When things come down to it, I prefer my studies to Quidditch anyway.
Got an owl from Perditus today. It's his birthday tomorrow. He's already asked Arian to marry him, so I suspect he won't have that watch Madam Westin has got for him for very long. Not entirely sure what the situation with that is. I know the Snapes have always given it to their wives. I'd ask Madam Westin, but I sort of like keeping my head on my shoulders.
Too bloody hot. Must be thirty degrees in here, and the sun's down. Think I'll have a swim.
"Hmph." Severus turned the diary towards Harry. "Almost laughable, isn't it?"
Harry gave him a nervous look before adjusting his glasses and leaning forward just enough to squint. One dark eyebrow rose higher and higher as his eyes moved down the page.
"That's almost sort of... sad," he said with a note of awe.
Severus looked at him.
"Pathetic sad, not I-feel-sorry-for-him sad."
"Hunh." Harry took the diary from Severus' hands and settled into the pile of shirts to read. Severus left him to it and went to check the desk for any more dangerous objects. Muttering countercurses over the thing, he hooked the tip of his wand into a drawer handle and slid it out.
Severus frowned. He flicked his wand at it, muttering, "Finite Incantatem."
The green felt liner flickered and wavered, revealing a stack of papers beneath, before it came back into apparent solid form. Severus poked his wand at it; the tip went through, and beneath it he felt the spongy solidity of parchment.
Glancing back to see Harry still lost in the diary (keeping it away from his face and using the tip of his wand to turn the pages), Severus murmured, "Locomotor parchment." They lifted from the drawer, following his wand to the top of the desk where they fell with a shuff and a cloud of dust.
"What've you got there?" Harry asked.
"Nothing." Severus poked at the top sheet. When nothing happened, he picked it up, blew away the grey layer of grime, and read.
Millicent "Millie" Turpin
Goat and Barrel Pub (barmaid; owner's granddaughter)
Unsuccessful. (Not a bad lay.) Suspect damage might have been done to her more delicate parts. Seems to have taken well to Memory Charm. Pity to say, she shan't be any more use to me. Would rather like another go at her. No matter, she is a Muggle, after all. Ah, the whims of the moment.
Residuals: scar, although Mark still ineffective; looked more like a flower, must learn to draw. Nobody cowers in fear of flowers, unless they've got hay fever.
Shall ask Perditus to correct the issue. Think I found a miscalculation in the secondary generation equation - can't remember the bloody name! It looks like it ought to equal zero, but if I change the variables I get 3=5. That can't be right. Starting to wonder if Perditus isn't as good a friend as he pretends. Then there are also reasons I have him calculate this for me.
Enough about that. Experiment unsuccessful, better luck next time, leave it at that. For Salazar's sake, why all the difficulty?
Severus chewed his lip, narrowing his eyes at the page. Flipping through the stack, he found the rest to be more or less the same, with dates going back as far as nineteen forty-seven. The reports covered various parts of Europe: France, a handful scattered throughout Germany, one in Finland, several in Czechoslovakia. Every single one read unsuccessful, unsuccessful, until:
Freshwater, Isle of Wight
Student (Fourth year, Hogwarts - on holiday)
Success! Foetus formed and stabilised. Mark is active and responsive, although Memory Charms seemed slightly weaker than optimal. Still, will be good enough to hold, although the girl should have no doubts that she is no longer untouched. No matter.
Foetus still present although less responsive than I had expected. Miss Murphy seems to show no knowledge of its presence - I assume her plumbing is still running as it should, although I really haven't got the stomach to ask.
The prospect of growing up again, this time in a proper wizarding family, nearly makes me yearn for death. Then, it shan't be a true death, shall it? Brilliant!
"Fucking Hell," Severus breathed.
Severus waved the parchment in his hand. "Come and read this."
"His diary can wait."
Scowling, Harry got to his feet. "This had better be good. I was almost enjoying him whinging on about having to baby-sit."
Severus only shot Harry a dark look and thrust the page at him. Harry's eyes scanned it; they narrowed. "That's just sick."
"Is it any more than you would expect?"
"Not really." Harry shuddered. "God. D'you reckon that when he died the first time, he went after one of these things and--?"
"Found them uninhabitable?"
Harry nodded. He shuddered again. "No wonder he thought he was immortal."
"Indeed. It wouldn't matter if he lost one body, he could simply take another from his stockpile."
"Yeah." Harry chewed his lip, glancing around. "Um, would you mind if we got out of here? It's just now sort of struck me where we are."
"Gladly." Severus threw the parchments back into the drawer and slammed it. He marched out after Harry. The both of them layered the door with Locking Charms.
They guided the thestral down the stairs in silence. Neither bothered to go back for the rest.
Return to Archive | next | previous